Looking back, looking forward

Now that the end of 2020 is in sight, I figure it’s as good a time as any to do some reflecting about the year and my sewing life.

I didn’t really feel great about my sewing productivity this year. I felt the same about the outcome much of the time, but writing this out actually helped my outlook on it. Here’s the list of everything that I’ve managed this year, starting with the things I’ve showed:

  • Visby Henley (Itch to Stitch, fairly successful. I think it could use some fitting tweaks, but I overall liked it.)
  • Mila shirt (Itch to Stitch, successful)
  • Mimi G chambray shirtdress (McCall’s, flop. I wore it once and it’s been sitting in my refashioning pile since. )
  • Lucy dress (Peekaboo Pattern Shop, successful, though not for its intended purpose. The update is that I used it for an at home first birthday photoshoot, since the opportunity for her baptism still hasn’t happened yet.)
  • Colorblocked Pony Tank (Chalk & Notch, one of my most worn me-mades for the remainder of summer)
  • Shenanigans Skort (5 Out of 4 Patterns, successful, though could probably use a bit of a fuller butt adjustment)
  • Chemainus top (Itch to Stitch, see last post.)

And a couple of things that I didn’t show here yet:

  • Two Blackwood cardigans, from Helen’s Closet. I already knew that I liked the pattern fit, though I haven’t worn my first iteration much due to the extremely light weight/ limited coordinating options. I had fabric for two more that I got last Christmas, and sewing them up within the year is actually good, for me! I cut both out near the end of winter. I made the charcoal one from a hatchi knit, near the end of summer, while my serger was still appropriately threaded. The ivory one is my most recent make, from this cabled quilted type knit. In retrospect, I should have added a little more ease to the sleeve on this one, since it doesn’t have nearly the stretch that the hatchi does. But it’s still quite wearable, and so warm!
  • I made dinosaur tails for the boys, instead of full Halloween costumes since I wasn’t sure if going out in any form would be an option. We ended up cobbling together costumes from things on hand for our church’s trunk or treat, and a spaced out Halloween parade with our usual trick or treat buddies. The Harry Potter costumes from a few years ago made a reappearance. And though I seem to need to add a little more velcro on the waist ties, the tails have seen some use for play at home. Also, not pictured, the boys were so excited about getting to pick out the fleece for their tails that they also requested blankets. So they each have one of those no-sew tied edge blankets made from these fabrics, too.

As I said, I haven’t been feeling great about my sewing, largely due to the timing/time suck of making my big flop of the year. But realistically, 10 projects over 11 months with 3 little kids in the house really isn’t bad!

There are other factors, though. There’s been a lot of grieving this year, and it’s definitely affected my enjoyment of this craft. Thankfully, everyone I know personally who got sick during the pandemic has survived, including an aunt who caught it while working as a hospital nurse. My entire immediate family has stayed healthy, thank God. But my flute teaching career vanished overnight, since neither of the two remaining students I had after my last maternity leave were situations that worked virtually. At this point, I still don’t know if I’ll get any students again, or if the tentatively planned involvement I’ll be allowed to have in my community orchestra this season will even work. I’ve never lived in a world where simply being a musician makes me considered to be dangerous. And since there’s always been ensembles to play with for the entire time I’ve played the flute, there’s been a lot of mourning over that loss, as I try to figure out how to learn to enjoy playing alone. (And trying to brush up on the piano, as the kids let me.)

My husband also lost his job suddenly. That one turned out for the best, as it was a constant source of stress for him, and he’s since found a new job that he’s much happier in. But it still caused a lot of uncertainty.

I’ve spent a lot of time on school this year. I’d already been doing preschool at home with my oldest, and had already planned to continue with him for kindergarten. It’s a good thing, because my state ended up being completely noncommittal to a plan for the current school year for a really long time, like until 2 weeks before school started, and I know I would have been panicking if I’d had to make the decision about what to do at the last minute. It’s been a bit of a learning curve, and it’s not all idyllic days at home, but I do think it’s been the best choice for us. We’ve also still been able to meet with our small co-op community in person, and that weekly interaction with other kids has been so good for him.

There’s been other stressors, too. Our remaining golden retriever died, and we’ve been having to adjust to not having a pet for the first time in our marriage. (Hopefully in a few years, but we want to wait until we’re done with diapers.) I didn’t see my closest friends in person for over half a year. The kids have obviously been affected too, as I’m constantly being told that they miss going to playgrounds/library storytime/playdates. It’s just a lot, as I know it’s been for everyone.

More specifically about sewing, I also had to get rid of a lot of favorite things that just don’t fit anymore, and it’s left me struggling to put outfits together on a near daily basis. I realized that a huge portion of what I sewed was for things like church and teaching, and both of those were gone for months. On days we’re just at home, I’m mostly just being the stereotypical frumpy stay at home mom in joggers and tees, because that’s what fits and can hold up to messes. But I’m not really enjoying getting dressed these days, which is having a major impact on my desire to do the thing that will help me fix the problem. Go figure.

To be perfectly honest, the Instagram sewing community was a tough place for me this year, too. Between the endless chatter about masks back in the spring, and all of the shaming of people that wanted to keep politics out of our sewing, I had to take a big step back from it. Frankly, I think it’s inexcusable to shame people for needing one place to have a break from all the chaos, given how many of us use sewing as a mental health aid, and I’m still irritated about it. I’m not entirely sure where this will lead, as I’ve still had very little desire to spend much time on my sewing Instagram account, though I’m still using my private one regularly to share photos with family and friends. I do know that I’m feeling more of an urge to write here instead, like I used to. I started this blog more as a project journal for myself, and the interaction was a nice perk. It’s hard to get that on Instagram now anyway, with algorithms and the hashtag disabling they did, so I haven’t missed being on there like I once expected to. I’ve also been helping my friend Brooke to get a new community off of the ground on Locals, and while it’s not very active yet, it’s been nice to have that smaller community feel again. What can I say, I’m an introvert, I get overwhelmed by all of the crowd noise. But I’m still hoping that it will pick up.

So in lieu of sewing, and aside from the obvious things like raising kids and homeschooling, I’ve been reading lots of books. I’ve gotten really into digital scrapbooking this year, to the point where our family album pages are pretty caught up most of the time and I’m starting to work on redoing some of my old paper albums. I also got asked to join a designer’s creative team on Pixel Scrapper, which is where I’ve been sharing my pages. So that’s been a fun challenge, and a good craft for me on days where I don’t have much brainpower at the end of the day, or want something creative to work on that I can do while the kids are awake and I can’t have sharp objects out.

I think this step back was needed for me, since this year has basically been a forced midlife crisis for me. (No, really, as I’m turning 40 in a few months.) I’m beginning to feel more motivated to get my wardrobe back into a better place again, that hopefully fits both my new stay at home lifestyle and my personal style. I’ve also been taking baby steps to get myself physically in better shape, since between the last sedentary-out-of-necessity pregnancy and quarantine weight gain, it’s not been a great combo. I have plans formulating, and I hope to share more soon.

February in review

IMG_3600Now that it’s a third of the way through March, right? I’ll start off with another project that isn’t quite substantial enough for its own post. Having learned from my complete fail with Hobbit’s Christmas stocking, which is still cut out and completely disassembled, I decided to be more on top of things and make his Easter basket early! I got the instructions from here, and I’m not entirely sure I did it right, since mine looks very shallow in comparison with the picture. Let’s blame the fact that I’m still only averaging 90 minutes of sleep at a time before Hobbit wakes me up at night, ok? But it works. The outer light blue was from my stash, leftover from an apron that I made as a gift for a friend’s bridal shower. The stripey inside was from my mom’s stash, since she quite happily lets me bust her stash when I don’t have the right quilt cotton on hand. I tried to make it not babyish, so it can grow with him and be reused every year.

IMG_3601And here it is with the stuff we’ve collected to give him this year, minus one thing that I just can’t seem to quite remember to bring upstairs to put in it. Babies that put everything in their mouths but aren’t quite ready for finger food are hard to stuff Easter baskets for! Hopefully subsequent years will be easier.

(Yes, that is a stuffed BB-8!)

State of the Stash

Well, I added a lot more than I wanted to, since in-laws left unwanted fabric at my figurative doorstep again. But I’m only counting what I decided to keep, since I already gave one piece away and the other three bolts are not things I can think of any use for. So those will be heading to the thrift store soon. Also, I did end up having to purchase a piece of fabric for diaper inserts. But I did also give away a significant portion of my scraps and small yardage pieces to my sewing student– yeah, that finally started up again this month, and she’s more likely to make doll clothes than I will anytime soon. In fact, she jumped right into two of those pieces at her last lesson to do just that!

Fabric sewn: (3.25 yards for the Appleton dress, .5 for the Easter basket, for the Plantain raglan, plus scraps)
Fabric given away: (3.25 yards plus a bunch of uncounted scraps to student)

Total in: about 14.5 (3 for the diapers, about 11.5 for the two bolts that I decided to keep from the in-laws.)
Total out: about 8.75
Total in stash: about 416. Hopefully this month I will manage to use more than I bring it. Surely that has to be the last of whatever Doug’s grandmother wants to unload…right?

a little owl cape

The nice thing about sewing on Saturdays is that I can instantly post! I literally just finished this project about 10 minutes ago, minus photography/writing time.

Anyway, as I mentioned in the last post, a friend of mine emailed me while I was on the Paris trip to ask if I’d be willing to help her out with a Halloween costume for her foster son. I’ve made some capes for her before, for her own boys and her nieces/nephews, and the idea was pretty cute, so it was hard to say no! The boy loves owls, and really wanted to dress up as one. This was the inspiration link she sent me. And she bought the owl mask herself, so my only responsibility was the cape.

Owl cape, frontAnd this is what I came up with. I made this one a little differently than the others, mostly in that it involved a half-circle rather than a rectangle. The bottom-most level of feathers is the cut edge of the cape, but all of the others were cut and sewn on. I was also able to use all stash fabrics! The boy’s favorite color is green, so I was glad to find a piece of cotton that didn’t have a girly-looking print on it.

Owl cape, backAnd here’s a view of the back, as best as Donna could model it. I’m sure her shoulders are wider than a little boy’s! I left all the edges of the feathers raw, because it would have taken forever to make this otherwise, though I stitched the edges about 1/4″ away from the edge to prevent too much fraying as it gets washed and worn. I figured a little fraying would actually be ok for this one, to soften the feather edges! The rows of feathers are just zigzagged on, so I did add the lining that you can see above in order to hide that. The rows got pretty crooked in some spots! I know there’s this huge span of tan at the top, but honestly, I ran out of the green so I had to improvise!
Owl cape liningOne more detail my friend requested was some “handles” so he could use that to spread his wings. I made them pretty wide in order to accommodate growth, but it’s just two pieces of ribbon stitched on so that the feathers above it were left free (minus the hem feathers, of course.)

I sent her some pictures in progress and she was excited about how it was turning out, so I’m hoping the boy loves it! This was more of a fabric hog than I thought, too– I only have scraps left of the tan leaf print and the darker brown. So all in all, about 3.75 yards of fabric. I’ve been remiss in keeping track of the numbers on my spreadsheet lately–I still have some subtracting to do for the DragonCon projects and my TARDIS bag. So I’ll have to catch up on that soon so I can at least see how I’m doing on my Stash Diet at the end of the month!

Are you doing any Halloween costumes this year? Or are you all too busy sewing your fall and winter stuff, like I need to start doing?

the slowest of sewing

I figure I’ll have to do a few more in-progress posts for awhile, since I’m not speedy enough to whip out a winter coat in no time! Also, I’ve gotten a little sidetracked by a sewing request from a friend that I couldn’t pass up. (Because it’s costume-related and for a little kid–how could I say no?)

All I’ve managed to get done on my coat so far is to cut the outside and underline the pieces. My fabric doesn’t look like a loose weave on the table, but when you hold it up to the light, it tells a different story!

If that much light gets through, it seems reasonable that winter winds could do the same! I had a large piece of silk organza left over from making this dress, because I seriously overestimated how much I would need to underline it. I also ruined the light color of it back when I made that dress, because I threw all of the fabrics in the wash together and it turned sort of an uneven, hand-dyed-looking grey. So I didn’t want to use it as a press cloth, and I couldn’t use it for any interfacing-type roles on lighter colored fabrics. However, I did have just enough to squeeze most of the outer pieces of this coat onto it, minus the two front pieces. (They were supposed to be interfaced anyway, and overlap when the coat is buttoned, so I was ok with making an exception there.)

The grain may be wonky on a few pieces here and there, because if you’ve ever worked with silk organza, you know how it shifts. At first, I tried cutting out the pieces and then basting it onto the main coat pieces, but of course things were shifting like crazy. So since the fabric itself has a bit more grabbing power than the usual things I underline, I tried a different approach: laying the pieces directly on the organza, basting them on, and then cutting them out. The other advantage to this was that I could tweak the layout to fit as many pieces of the coat on as possible, since I was working with leftovers!

The pieces are all cut out and ready to go, including the two interfaced front pieces. I’m hoping to finish my friend’s project–an owl cape for her foster son to wear for Halloween/his early November birthday–before the weekend is over, so I can give it to her on Sunday. I do have a little sneak peek of that, aside from what I’ve been posting on Instagram here and there, because Doug got bored while I was working on this last weekend and started goofing off with my camera. I guess a good side effect of our Paris trip is he’s a lot less nervous about using it now!
So many feathers. But the good thing is that I was able to completely bust a few pieces of quilt cotton from my stash!

And a little peek at me in my sewing room. It had been awhile since I had a nice chunk of weekend time to sew, so I was a happy girl!

The feathers didn’t go quite as far when I pinned them on for real after edge-finishing, so I cut out what I hope is the last of those last night. The only work I have today is teaching a couple of lessons, so I’m hoping to get those edges done so I can finish up the sewing ASAP!

Friday Favorites, Episode 34

It’s baaaaaaaaack! 2009 may only be about a week old, but already finding some good ideas cropping up.

1. First on the list is a post from SewStylish about “dressing for her DNA“. No, it has nothing to do with how tall you are, or hair color, or anything like that–more of a speculation of what she would wear if her wardrobe reflected her family background. So I wonder what would happen if my predominantly Anglo-Celtic mother’s side (which I admittedly take after far more in my looks) took on my dad’s Germanic, Pennsylvania Dutch side? (I think the Celts would win, given my fondness for things that look like they could come from a Renaissance Faire or a fantasy movie!) So I may give this a try at some point soon.

2. I’ve noticed a tendency in my sewing over the last year and a half or so– I’ve been slowing down. Not so much that I’m not sewing as that I’m putting a lot of time into things to try and get them really finished-looking and well-fitting. And I’m mostly ok with that, but sometimes I just want a fast project. So I liked this quick, one-seam skirt at CraftStylish.com. (Bonus– I need all the patterndrafting practice I can get, if I ever want to successfully make one!)

3. I’m not a coffee person at all, really–I’m thoroughly addicted to tea. (I blame that aforementioned predominant Anglo-Celtic side.) But I still liked this coffee cup cozy from Whip Up. (Us tea-drinkers probably actually need it more, as all we’re usually given at the coffeeshops is a cup of boiling water with a tea bag dunked into it!) But it’s cute, would be easy to just toss into your bag, and projects that use up scraps are always good.

4. Got two things from Dollar Store Crafts this week. The first would be a great project to do with kids–how to make a knitting loom from stuff like popsicle sticks and toilet paper rolls. The second is a planter made from a bread pan–the person who made it used succulents like aloe plants, but since it’s made from a kitchen item anyway, I bet it would also make a really cute windowsill herb garden!

5. Last up for today– not a tutorial, but I love this idea at Oh Happy Day. She made her husband a “Leisure Book”, to give him one place to keep track of things like movies he wants to watch, bands to listen to, things like that. I’m definitely stealing this idea– I’m constantly losing my lists of that sort of stuff. Especially my bands and my books. And I have the dayplanner from the last couple of years that would be perfect to recycle into this– it has the binder rings, and the tab dividers. It’s just falling apart in my purse, but recovering it and keeping it near my compy would work great! (Found this one via OnePrettyThing.com.)

And now, I must go do some cleaning so I can work on my pajamas some more. Hoping to finish the machine work on the top before Cassie comes over for the Stargate Atlantis finale *sniff*/Chuck marathon/crafty evening. So that way I’ll have some handwork to do–that and some more embroidery, maybe. Of course, I’m more in the mood to deconstruct than sew…

Shirts, Soup and Students

I just wanted to give a shoutout to my flute students– as I was reminded today, they’re such a wonderfully creative group of kids! And not just with music…
This isn’t actually from today– it was part of a Christmas gift that one of my long-time students gave me this past year. I’m not sure if she or her mom did this one, because they’re both kind of crafty, but I love this thing. It’s basically just a little cardstock sleeve for a pack of post-its, held closed by a little teeny piece of velcro. I love the play on words with the music stamp, of course. And I’m trying to protect it in my bag as much as possible, because I seriously want to keep using this thing once the post-its are gone!

This is what made me think to blog about them– I teach once a week after school at a private school in the area, and they’ve been on spring break for the last two weeks. One of my girls went to Flordia over her break, and she came in today and announced she had a present for me. So I opened it up to find this– a handmade necklace of a seashell on braided embroidery floss. She immediately said I didn’t have to keep it as a necklace if I just wanted the shell, but as I told her, I love seashell necklaces so this is perfect. (Tried it on and it’s a good length, too, so I’m definitely keeping this as is!)

I figured while I’m at it, I’ll also share one of my favorite soup recipes. I love this because it’s easy and rich and has a bunch of vegetables in a way that I don’t mind eating them (I do try to eat healthy, but seriously lack a natural inclination to eat veggies!) I adapted this from a recipe in a make-ahead-and-freeze cookbook that my mom brought home for me once (I’m chronically in need of things I can just make and stick in the freezer for when I get home from teaching and I’m starving and/or have limited time to eat before teaching again.) So without further ado…

Beef Barley Vegetable Soup
2 tbsp. olive oil
1 1/2 lb beef stew meat, cut into bite-sized cubes (and I cut off as much fat as I can too)
1 bell pepper, chopped (I like the red ones, but you can do whatever color you like best)
1 c. carrots, chopped (or you could probably use the pre-chopped frozen ones)
1 tsp. dried thyme
1 bay leaf
4 beef boullion cubes (I actually use this beef boullion paste stuff in a jar instead– sooooo much better than the powder stuff!)
1 14.5 oz. can diced tomatoes in juice
2/3 c. uncooked barley
1 c. frozen green beans
1 c. frozen corn

In a medium soup pot, heat oil. Brown the beef stew meat over high heat and remove with a slotted spoon. Turn heat down to medium, then saute the bell peppers and carrots in the soup pot just until tender. Return meat to soup pot. Add 5 1/2 c. water, thyme, bay leaf and beef boullion; simmer for 45 minutes to an hour. Add tomatoes (with juice), barley, green beans and corn, then simmer for another 25 minutes. Remove bay leaf.

The original recipe called for chopped onion too, but I’m not a fan of onion so I replaced that with the carrots. You could add them though, just saute them with the pepper. I also cut back on the original amount of tomatoes and had to add more water than it called for. Seriously, you could probably add whatever veggies you want. It’s a very thick, hearty soup, and freezes great, and is perfect for a quick meal (once it defrosts) on a yucky, cold, wet day like this that makes me think that weather that’s warm enough to allow me to wear my recent sewing projects is never going to get here!

Speaking of sewing, I started sewing on my adaptation of BurdaStyle’s Azalea dress yesterday afternoon. I’m making mine as a tunic top, so I eliminated the underdress (the drapey top stuff is thick enough to not be see-through, and if I’m going to be wearing this as a summer top I don’t want an extra layer that close to my skin! Not with Mid-Atlantic humidity!) and shortened it a good bit. It’s been a pretty easy sew so far– the thing that took me the longest was the zipper, and that’s because I’m trying a new technique to do lapped zippers instead of a center one in the side seam. (Not definite yet, but there’s a chance I might be teaching a friend’s daughter how to sew with patterns– the mom can sew, and the girl has her own machine and can make simple things like quilts and pillows, but she really wants to learn how to make clothes. So my friend said she doesn’t know how to use patterns very well, and I offered to help out. If that’s the case, I want to see if this type of zipper is easier than the centered ones, because I remember when I was a kid, zippers were the most frustrating thing to sew ever. Sometimes they still are. And the lapped ones look nicer anyway. Not that I’m going to let her start with zippers, mind you, but you know it’s only a matter of time before she wants something that involves one.)

Anyway, I’m nearly done with the tunic already– still have to finish the yoke (ran out of time and bobbin thread around the same time) and then hem it. And then I have to make a belt, because it looks like a serious maternity top without it. I saw one in Threads that looked interesting– a bias-cut tied one that hugs curves very well, which might be perfect to cinch it. But I need to see how much fabric I have to deal with, because I decided that I wanted to make a shrug out of the yoke/belt fabric as well (since I’m an ice queen and get ridiculously cold in over-air conditioned spaces. Which, around here, is pretty much any building that’s not my house. Plus then I can wear it sooner, because that will make it good for spring as well.) I don’t have a pattern for the shrug– my plan for now is to stick the Azalea on my dummy and drape something with kimono-like sleeves and see if I like it. And if I don’t, it’s off to dig through the pattern stash.

But first, off to actually sew!

Edit, 9:57 PM: Oh, this could be bad. I sewed the wrong straps together, so the armholes are in the front and back instead of the sides. And I did some major trimming/corner chopping. Oh, I hope this is fixable without redoing the entire yoke….