Thursday, 27 March 2014


Despite being a proselytising atheist by nature, I decided to do two things for Lent. Firstly I gave up wheat, realising I had a rather dependent relationship with my bread bin and that my diet needed shaking up a bit. The first few days were pretty tough, but then I made a batch of flapjacks which got me through a few long afternoons (although they possibly didn't do a lot for addressing my afternoon carb cravings). It's getting easier, but I'm still looking forward to a raisin bagel for breakfast on Easter Day.

Secondly, I decided to try to challenge myself to sew for an hour each day. I must say I haven't always managed, but some days I've done more so I think it about evens out. I've enjoyed the practice of trying to carve out time for things, but generally it's easier to carve out time for things I can do out of the house (like running or going to the gym) because there are a lot of distractions at home. That said, I have got loads done, and it makes me realise how much you can achieve with just one hour a day. Next year I might do a whole year of one hour a day, but with different things. It would make for a fun experiment!

So I made my Geranium dresses for my friends daughters. They are currently in transit from the US to the UK so I hope they get there and she likes them. I mean they like them. In a rare moment of snowlessness I managed to photograph them in the yard.

The top one is an age 4 with gathered skirt, patch pockets and frilly cap sleeves.

The other one is age 6, with a notched neckline, pleated skirt and inseam pockets. I like how they are clearly from the same family, but not identical!

Snowlessness does not equate to windlessness so they're blowing about a fair bit. Also the neighbour's kid was out shooting hoops at the end of the road and giving me funny looks. I didn't want him thinking I was sewing dresses for my boys (although it was tempting to try them on them).

The sunshine was deceptive, it's still hovering around freezing, but I caught sight of a brave crocus which made me yearn for the sun and summer. So optimistically I decided to make a little denim skirt out of some thrift store jeans and yellow bias tape. For some reason I have yard upon yard of yellow bias tape. Clearly I made if for some project or other, but seriously, there's yards.

There's more snow forecast for tonight so I'm not anticipating wearing this any time soon.
Looking back at my list, I think I'm doing quite well:
  • More pjs for the boys: DONE
  • Another couple of Wiksten tanks for me: one DONE
  • A Wiksten Tova: fabric allocated.
  • A pleated skirt for the summer. Maybe this Zinnia. And a Moss. Not done, but I'm hoping for the patterns for my birthday.
  • A Lola dress (I actually have fabric for 3. Whoops). DONE
  • Geranium dresses for a friend's daughters. DONE
  • Finishing the Impromptu quilt I started last year. DONE
  • Making the Pigeon quilt I bought fabric for a year ago. DONE

But now in other news, I have something else to finish. A Marathon. Yep. A Marathon. 26.2 miles. I did a half, really only with 6 weeks notice, figuring it was about time I pulled my finger out and did something with my time. Other than sewing, obviously. Whilst I was training, applications opened for the Marine Corps Marathon. There's a possibility I got a bit carried away in the moment, but I entered the lottery and, oh dear, got a place. The website tells me it's in 215 days. Best get training.

Wednesday, 19 February 2014

Finishing February

Sometimes I just don't feel like sewing. I don't know what to sew, or there's too much to do and it's all over whelming, or I forget how much I like hiding in the basement, surrounded by lego and Skylanders (no, I don't know what they are either) with my sewing machine and a podcast. But sometimes me and my sewing mojo are just in sync. And I tell you, now is one of those times. The last few weeks have been super productive, which is weird, because on a daily basis I feel like throttling everyone at the thwartedness of all my plans. DC has had a lot of winter snow, to the extent that of the seven weeks since the Christmas holidays, my boys haven't had a full week of school. One week they should have done, in that there weren't any weather related closures, but there were 2 teacher work days. 2. It was like teacher planner people laughing in the faces of despairing parents across Fairfax County. I hope they put them to good use. But I still seem to have got things done.

My husband is really supportive, and I love him for it. But today, when I wanted to go to a gym class, and there was (another) two hour school delay and I couldn't he tried to say he understood. But he doesn't. He doesn't have his plans thwarted day after day by children, illness, snow. He just has to go to work and have nice lunches. But then apparently that thwarts his inclination to stay at home and do lego and find out what Skylanders are. You can't win, can you?

And it's interesting, because I have more going on at the moment than I have for a while, but I still have time, it would seem, to make for sewing. More time even. I'm running lots, going to the gym and sewing. But not all at the same time. That would be complicated. A time comes, doesn't it, a while after having a baby, when you remember who you are, and what you love and you remember to carve out time to do it. And somehow you rediscover the energy to do it. And then it snows and it's back to chocolate biscuits and gin.

And snowgheritas. They're like frozen margheritas. But with real snow.

So, finishing. I have Done Well.

Less well at taking pictures and all that though. Still, baby steps.


Firstly, pyjamas for the boys. My big boys are getting to that age where they want to wear sweats and branded tshirts. We compromise at cords and character tshirts, but I'm fairly sure hell would freeze over before they wore something homemade. Unless it's fancy dress of course, where different rules apply. But they do like a homemade jammie. Particularly when they get to make the tops. This is a fairly failsafe formula I've developed over the years: make the bottoms, hack the top. So each of these is a store bought (or in the little one's case, hand me down) tshirt with the sleeves cut off and replaced with the trouser fabric. Then I use the sleeve fabric to make the trouser cuff, which kind of ties things together. Each set reflects the boys' interests, from left, bugs, dragons and fishies (does not bode well for hand me downs. Should have thought that through). The big boys got to draw on their tshirts with fabric markers. Months ago. Seriously, before Christmas.
Eventually I did get round to starting the trousers, but made a complete cock up of the dragon ones by using an old pattern I'd made from their old trousers, and then deciding to convert it into a one piece pattern which just didn't work. Then I had to wait for my friend to come home from holiday to buy new fabric and blah blah blah they took ages.
Lessons learned: use a proper pattern (in the end I used the free one that you get when you sign up for emails from Sew Can She). Don't promise children things until you're sure you can deliver. Don't try and take photos of 3 children in one go. Measure twice cut once. Don't look at 'pjs for 3 kids' as one item. Seriously, that's 6 items of clothing. Don't forget you have a fourth child. He was holding my legs whilst I was trying to take photos.
Secondly. The Impromptu Quilt. I started this months ago. I have a love hate relationship with it. Mostly hate related to the foul polyester fabric I chose for the surround, not entirely realising just how much of it there would be. And how polyestery it was. Still, it has been completely redeemed by binding. And now I quite love it. I just haven't photographed it.

 I have a lovely friend in the UK who is very keen on giving me hugs. I am not very keen on receiving hugs, and apparently it's quite off putting to hug someone who is flinching (although I am told I have got better over the years, and now only flinch internally. She still knows though). I am hoping that the quilt will serve as a proxy hugger whilst we are overseas, and that she will know I am thinking of her. Like me, she is a mother of boys and so, perhaps, is in need of a bit of pink and floral in her life / house. There certainly isn't much of that here.
Lessons learned: Those deceptively simple quilts you see online are actually fiendishly complicated a lot of the time. Buy the best fabric you can afford not the cheapest you can find. Don't leave a project out on the spare bed for 6 months - the children will rearrange it. Don't give up on something (but do step away for a bit). Read the instructions. Make the backing bigger than the front. Yes, really.
So those two projects were both things I had already started and needed to finish. The third thing I had bought the pattern for, and fabric for, but not got any further than that. So this counts really as in 'finishing (using up) stuff I already own' rather than finishing a project. It's a Lola dress from Victory patterns. It has pockets. Big ones. I tell you I'm never sewing anything without pockets again.


It came together really quickly after the inevitable faff of printing, cutting, sticking, tracing, cutting and pinning that you get with download pattern. And my sewing machine did a good job with its zigzag stitch, rather than the recommended serger.
Lessons learned: don't get your (well, mine) husband to take photos of you. Don't wear thick welly socks to have your photo taken. Don't stand by your kitchen bin to have your photo taken. Really the learning points here are photography related. Also, trust the measurement size and don't say 'surely the pattern must lie, and really I am 2 sizes bigger than that', because probably the pattern doesn't lie. I'd very much like more of these in my life, but one size smaller. And (see points from above) in a better fabric. $3 a yard is a bargain for sure, but it's kind of thin and see through. And I give the children electric shocks.
Fourth project: a Wiksten tank. This was an upcycle from a friend's cast offs - actually a shirt of her husband's. She's a bit smaller than I am, so the top's a bit tight on me, but I was really pleased with how it turned out. I made a tank dress last year, (with hacked pockets, clearly) which is now too big, and love the pattern. This time and particularly because I was sewing for someone else, I really paid attention to the finishing, sewing French seams inside and being really careful with the bias tape. I even ironed it.

Lessons learned: Don't take pictures in your hallway either. Or of a too small top that you're wearing over leggings. Good finishing really pays off in a lovely finished garment. Don't throw anything away ever because it might come in handy to turn into a lovely tank. Don't write epic posts about everything you've done in a month because it's exhausting.

Still, I think that nails February!

Sunday, 2 February 2014

New year's resolutions... busted

So, Christmas, new year, came and went. I never did write that post about buying sustainably made clothes. Or about Christmas crafting. Although I did actually do some. And I resolved that this year I would get my act together, and I would sew and craft and create and I would photograph it and write about it and I would do at least one post a month. Well. That hasn't worked, has it. In my defence, I've written this post a dozen times in my head. Does that count?

I thought for my January post I would write about what I want to do with this blog for the year. Whether I want to keep it going or not, and if I do, then how I'm going to actually manage it, and what I want to achieve with it.

And so my theme for the year is going to be 'Finishing'. Finishing in various senses of the word, firstly as in completing projects which I have either started or at least envisaged, and secondly, in the technical finishing of a piece, so making sure the threads are knotted,  and tied. Hems are pressed. Grafting is done. And also that details are included. Pockets. Buttons. Finishing touches. That's kind of point 2.b. But also thirdly, in the spirit of being more environmentally conscious, finishing things I already have, so no more fabric for a while. Unless it's gorgeous. Or a bargain. Or necessary.

So what am I going to make this year? No doubt other stuff will creep in, but broadly I would like to make / finish the following:

  • More pjs for the boys
  • Another couple of Wiksten tanks for me
  • A Wiksten Tova
  • A pleated skirt for the summer. Maybe this Zinnia. And a Moss. Which I know isn't pleated, but I have just the fabric for.
  • A Lola dress (I actually have fabric for 3. Whoops)
  • Geranium dresses for a friend's daughters
  • Finishing the Improptu quilt I started last year. Oh dear. I just looked at the Flickr pool. Everyone else finished ages ago. 
  • Making the Pigeon quilt I bought fabric for a year ago

And challenging myself a bit, with new projects and blog stuff
  • Making more things from the books I  already have
  • Making a dress for me. Like a proper fitted dress, not a sack, and then wearing it! Maybe a Coffee Date Dress
  • Participating in something bloggy. Kids clothes week is now, so it ain't going to be that! Perhaps if I can get my head round it I might do Me Made May

I also seem to have remembered how to knit again, so would like to do a couple of things. I already made an O W L sweater, which I've wanted to do for years. Now I have my eyes on a Quince studios Camilla.

So, 2014. A year of blogging and finishing. 1 post down. 11 to go. Phew.

Monday, 23 September 2013

Not going shopping

For a while now I've been thinking about buying new clothes, but something seems to stop me. I think in Bristol, I combined shopping at independent shops with the odd bit of high street shopping and quite a lot of clothes swaps, so there was always something new (to me at least) going around without having to endure a big trip to the mall. Here, however, it's pretty much mall or nothing. And blimey, what a mall. It's huge! However, huge isn't the same as great, and I find myself panic buying cheap and cheerful / shoddy clothes in big stores like Old Navy and H&M.

I don't think I'm the only person who has been questioning using these shops, especially since the terrible accident in Bangladesh earlier in the year. It's prompted me to consider my relationship with clothing and fashion and shopping and making, which leads to some quite uncomfortable thinking. For example, do I really need a new this or that, when I already have one / some? Should I wear things until they are literally falling apart? Can I justify buying new things if I give old things away?

Part of this thinking is environmental: there's an impact to each purchase on natural resources, on energy usage, on transportation. There's waste generated in making the garment, packaging it, replacing previous items which aren't always recycled responsibly.

Another part is social. Most clothing, especially cheap high street fashion, is made by people in appalling conditions with very low pay in the developing world. Whilst the accident in Bangladesh highlighted it, it's hardly new news and is something many of us have been aware of for a long time.

Related to this is a growing distaste at the big business nature of shopping. Even shops which purport to be smaller, or to emulate local independent retailers are likely to be owned by huge multi nationals. Profit does not go to shop staff, clothing manufacturers, even clothing designers, who are likely as not to be employed to copy high end design rather than to come up with original designs of their own.

There's also a gendered dimension to it. Buying new clothes could be seen as conforming to a patriarchal stereotype of what women should look like, and that I should concern myself with my appearance rather than world affairs (heaven forbid I can do both). Furthermore, the majority of garment workers are women in the developing world, whereas the profit goes to men in the developed world, perpetuating both a gender and geographical divide. 

So, in short, I haven't shopped in a while. There are other options: firstly, obviously, make your own; secondly, buy from small businesses, eco lines and the internet; and, thirdly shop vintage, whether, again from the internet, from thrift or from consignment sales. But even these options don't come without consideration. For example, if I make my own clothes, I have to buy the fabric from somewhere, but the fabric stores near me are themselves big businesses. So is it better to buy fabric from Walmart or a dress from Anthro (which might present an independent aesthetic, but is clearly a big business)? Are conditions in fabric factories better than those in garment factories? By buying fabric and making my own clothes, am I taking job opportunities away from the developing world? Are clothing manufacturers more efficient (undoubted) at making clothes, and therefore am I making more of an environmental nuisance of myself by stopping them? If I contribute to a secondhand market for mass manufactured clothes, am I also stimulating the primary market for them? If I opt out and make all my own clothes, will anyone ever invite me to anything smart again? If I buy clothes from thrift stores or yard sales, am I reducing the pool of clothing available to people on lower budgets?

Obviously I could just not buy anything, although eventually I might need to, that wouldn't happen for a year or two. I could go to the logical extreme and grow cotton or keep sheep to make my own fabric to make my own clothes. But I'm not prepared to (and the landlord might have something to say about it). Or I could just be a bit more mindful. Try to shop vintage, or from environmentally friendly companies, or clothes made in guaranteed conditions. Make more of my own things. Borrow from friends. Swap. So there it is. I'm not pledging anything. I'm not giving up shopping. But for now, I will try not to buy 'fast' fashion.

I'll let you know how I get on.

Tuesday, 6 August 2013


I know I'm a bit late on this old band wagon, but what with have boys, it's a bit hard to keep up with girl fashions. Still, you'd have to live in a hole not to know about the Geranium. I've also been a bit of stinge with not buying patterns I only thought I would use a couple of times, but then I remembered these ladies write their lovely blogs for free, and that if I bought their patterns, I'd be supporting them as well as getting something nice. So I paid up, got the fabric and set off.

See what I made:


Two little dresses and a shirt (not a geranium - it's actually from the Sewing for Boys book, which I've had for a while and largely ignored)

 So, little shirt, meant for an 18m old, modelled on my 3 year old. I think there's going to be room for growth. I really liked this pattern, which came together quickly and looked very professional when I'd done. In my imagination, I'll be making more of these. In reality we'll see.


Oh look, there it is again. I particularly like that it looks like a proper shirt with a granddad collar, but doesn't have buttons or anything. Makes it super speedy!

So then I made two dresses with the same range of fabric, which was fun. Although I would say, it's worth consulting the pattern to see how much you need before you blithely say to your fabric toting pal, 'oh, I'll just have a yard of each'. Cos 7 year old girls are tall, and take a lot of fabric. Anyhow, I think it looks nice with the contrasting bits. Just as well!

I lined the bodices with the same fabric as the trim, and put a bit of piping in to tie them together.
I also made the gathered skirt for the younger girl, and the pleated one for the older one. I like how they coordinate but aren't too matchy. And they all have pockets. I swear, I'm never sewing anything without pockets again.
Another learning point: don't try to size up patterns. I enlarged the bodice slightly, but then forgot about the skirt, so the pleats didn't line up too well. And then the next week, Rae released a bigger size anyway. So I've bought that too.
It was a lovely pattern to follow, and I'm happy with the dresses and shirt. The instructions were way better than the ones you get in the paper patterns, so it was easy to follow. I just need to be more attentive!


Monday, 17 June 2013

Stuff I've been making...

... and just not got around to blogging about. Life, you know, gets in the way.

A dress for a friend's daughter (upcycled from a maternity tent)

A dress for my friend's other daughter. Twins. Phew, tired just thinking about it.

A Wilbur Wright costume for my first born

It's a repurposed men's shirt and some old corduroy.

Sadly the hat's a bit small, but the cravat has been incorporated into everyday wear.

2 little dresses from the same fabric as the little trousers

And a Black Forest Gateau. All that sewing made me hungry.

Monday, 20 May 2013