December 31, 2012

the "Charlotte" skirt

So the truth is, I hesitate to even claim that this is a Charlotte skirt because it bears essentially no resemblance to the hot-mama creation as drafted by the gals at By Hand London. But neither do I bear any relation to the namesake, whose curves are to die for and whose legs are approximately 80 miles long. So in retrospect, it kind of makes sense that my skirt would end up quite differently, right? The best I can bear to do is call it a "Charlotte" skirt and tell you how I got there, so here we go!

"Charlotte" skirt

The eagle-eyed among you might recognize the fabric that I used as the Nicole Miller wool/rayon blend that was gifted to me by the kind folks at Kollabora a few months back. It's been weighing on my conscience that I received this amazing gift and I hadn't done anything with it yet, so I made it a goal to get to it before the end of the year. I had originally planned to sew up New Look 6103, which was the pattern that Kollabora sent along with the fabric, but they didn't provide enough fabric to do that. New Look 6103 has a cool pleated vent that requires an extra bit of width to create, and I wouldn't have been able to take advantage of the border print had I made that one up. No point in having a cool border print like this if you can't use it, right? So I had to find another pattern.

Lucky for me, the super sweet gals at By Hand London had just sent me their two new patterns, which I'm sure you've seen popping up all over the webs. Charlotte and Elisalex are the first offerings from this company, named for the founders. I'll tell you, I literally squealed when I unwrapped these patterns, and anyone who knows me will tell you that I am not a squealy girl. The packaging is just amazing. It's true, I'm a sucker for great packaging, but these ladies seriously nailed it. There's a slipcover, and cool art, and I could go on and on. But I won't. Just buy a pattern for yourself and see if you don't squeal too. Truly amazing. Alright. Moving on!

Anyway, I thought it would be fitting to marry my newly gifted Charlotte skirt pattern with the gifted Kollabora fabric, especially since Charlotte has such a narrow silhouette which made it perfect for my limited fabric. But before I started, I held the tissue up to myself so I could enjoy a nice laugh. I know I'm short, but the full length of the skirt pieces reached nearly to the floor. I folded back about 8" of length and decided that length would be better suited to my size.

Wool blend "Charlotte" skirt

I traced a 6 from the hem through the hips, then out to a size 8 at the waistline. Then I had just enough width left in my fabric to add the 1.25" wide vent from Sunni's pencil skirt vent tutorial to the back pieces. I love the look of the slim, below-the-knee, pegged Charlotte as drafted, but I'm pretty sure I'm way too klutzy to actually walk in it. As it is with the slit that I added, I can just lift my leg high enough to get up and down our stairs!

Back vent

Since I've learned so many things this year, I knew that it would be very important to baste this close-fitting skirt together first, so that's what I did. Right after I stitched up the (8!) darts, I basted the sides together and slipped it on with the back pinned shut. It immediately became clear to me exactly what it is that darts do. I mean, yes, I knew intellectually what they did, but I had a true light bulb moment with this skirt and all those darts and I was like: "OH!! Right!" It just made so much sense.

I mean, the whole idea is to take a wide width of fabric and narrow it, right? Progressively- so that you end up with a certain amount of width removed from one end. Duh. I know! But it wasn't until I saw this skirt and all those darts on my very rectangular body and realized that it was pretty crazy of me to think that it would have ever fit me as drafted! Because it didn't. The back seam where the zipper was destined to be was about an inch away from coming together where it belonged.

Front view

But thanks to all that I've learned this year and that insight-filled light bulb moment, it became very clear to me very quickly that all I would have to do was narrow those darts up a bit and I would gain back some of that width in the waist. Apologies to all of you who actually know something about fitting, but for me this was a real revelation! And now that I've had it, I feel like things are going to be so much easier from here on! Hooray!!

I recognize that this all must sound ridiculous- but I had never previously considered that I could or should change the size of a dart to match my measurements. I had always viewed the dart as just a part of a design that yes, you might need to move around. But the proportional aspect of it, and the fact that you can mess with that too, was a serious revelation. It makes so much more sense now that I can really get that there is math involved. Logic makes things much easier, don't you think?

So I narrowed each of my (8!) darts in a very non-scientific way (baby steps, people!), leaving really not much more than a pin-tuck for the outermost darts in the back. My side seams slid out to where they belonged, and the seam allowance for the zipper magically appeared.

Back view

All along I had been trying to decide how to handle the waistband, as I wasn't sure that I wanted to leave the overlap as drafted and thought that maybe I would put the zipper all the way up through it instead. I basted the waistband on to see what I thought, and realized that I didn't particularly like the way it looked anyway. I had cut mine out extra wide, to take advantage of the print again, and it just wasn't working for me. I've never worn anything that high waisted, and I realize that it may be an acquired taste, but I think it just made me look really squat. No good.

pencil skirt lining & waistband

I decided to turn the waistband into facings instead, and drafted some using my skirt pieces as a guide. That left me with a "Charlotte" that hits me an inch or so below my natural waistline, which feels more natural and comfortable to me. I also decided to add a lining, because the wool and the print make it feel like a wintry skirt and I was afraid it might stick to tights if I didn't. I found a complementary grey shade of Bemberg and went back to Sunni to see how to put it all together. Her tutorials for drafting a vent lining and sewing a vent lining were lifesavers! I really wish I would have listened when she stressed the importance of marking my notches, but it all came together okay in the end anyway. But mark those notches! No excuses! In my defense, I actually did mark them, but then I serged over them and they got lost. I was too lazy to re-mark, but next time I won't be. I promise!

"Charlotte" skirt

So there you have it. It's not really a Charlotte anymore, but those are the pattern pieces that I started with, so I guess it kind of is. At least as close as a Charlotte will ever get to fitting me, anyway! So yeah. I think I love it! And I highly recommend the pattern anyway, even if I barely made it. And even though I kind of hate them, I might like to try a peplum version someday, but I'm just not sure I could pull it off. Maybe if I have a fun party to go to or something. Spoiler alert: I won't! But Charlotte makes it look so great! Can you blame me?

A warm & cozy "Charlotte" skirt

And yes,  granted, it's not exactly a great fit for my life, given that it's not machine washable and it is quite narrow even with the vent, but I think I'll still wear it. I absolutely loved working with this fabric- it's much nicer than the bargain basement stuff I usually buy, and this was my first Bemberg lining too. I can see why it's so popular! I think this skirt was the perfect final project for the year. I feel like I was able to use a lot of different tricks and knowledge that I picked up reading blogs and sewing this year and was able to successfully navigate a project that might not have worked for me otherwise.

So yay! What do you think? Have you seen the new By Hand London patterns in real life? Do you love this border print? I do. But you should know, it's listed on Kollabora as navy, but I think it's actually black. No, it is black. Don't be fooled! And be sure you buy enough width for your skirt! You'll need more than a yard if you're bigger than a size 0. Especially if you're making that New Look pattern that they have listed with it.

Happy New Year to you all! Be safe and have fun, and see you in 2013!


December 29, 2012

Top 5 of 2012- lessons learned

Top 5 of 2012 

Time for the latest installment in the 2012 Top 5 posts, inspired by Gillian of Crafting a Rainbow. This time around, we're reflecting on the year and noting the lessons learned (either practical tricks and techniques, or life lessons). So without further ado, here are mine:

1) I'm not a "joiner". Early in the year, I was excited to pledge my allegiance to the awesome and inspiring community that is The Sew Weekly. And I love the idea of The Sew Weekly, I really do. I thought that I would benefit from having a theme and pre-packaged inspiration each week, but ultimately I ended up feeling limited and uninspired by the ideas. I made one garment "on theme" for the challenges before Juniper was born, and I continued to check in with the boards for a while to see if anything caught my eye, but it just never worked out.

I did absolutely sew weekly in 2012, usually even daily, but not always for myself, and not always clothing. I pretty much completely abandoned the idea of sewing along with the group by March or so, but I continue to read the feed and have thoroughly enjoyed seeing everyone's creativity this year. I can honestly say to this community: it's not you, it's me. Sew on!

2) I'm sure a rule-follower though! I have a hard time NOT making up a pattern exactly as instructed the first time, and I always use the instructions. The Charlotte skirt that I just finished (post is coming!) was really the first time that I felt free to interpret as I went, in an effort to make something that I'm more confident will fit my lifestyle, and my body. What a revelation! I think this is partially due to my personality- I have to follow instructions, it's just programmed into me- and partially due to my growth as a seamstress this year that I'm moving beyond that strict rule-abiding attitude.

I think when you're learning, it can be really helpful to just do what they say sometimes, because you get so much out of the process. And for me personally, I have a hard time visualizing things abstractly, so it's not always possible for me to "wing it" and end up with a successful end product. The more I sew though, the more I'm able to be creative and do things a different way than what is called for and still end up with something wearable. Hooray for cumulative knowledge!

The "Charlotte" skirt of many revelations.
I'll tell you all about it soon!

And thank heavens for this blogging community- I have seriously learned so much by seeing what everyone else does and reading tutorials- it's almost like I've made all those things myself but didn't actually have to spend the time. I love this generous community that is so willing to share their knowledge. Thank you!

3) Which brings me to my next revelation. This (read: blogging/sewing/life in general) is a lot more fun when you're interacting with other living, breathing humans. I have read blogs compulsively for years, and have written here since 2009 (2008?) but being kind of socially anxious, even in cyberspace, I've only actually started commenting on other's blogs this year.

When I first started posting here, I really kind of valued the anonymous nature of it- it was a great place to just get things off my chest without having to interact with people, and even though I knew intellectually that people might be reading it, there's still a certain comfort in the distance that electronic media provides (at least for weirdos like me). But it turns out there's so much more to it than that!

It was really The Sew Weekly that made me really realize that there was a whole active culture of readers and commenters that I had not previously even considered. I have always read my blogs in Google Reader, and had never bothered to click through to see comments before, much less leave my own. The few times that I did click through, I always felt like I didn't have anything meaningful to add to the discussion, or that someone had already said what I was going to say. Lately though, I've been making an effort to comment anyway. I like to tell writers thanks for sharing if I tried their recipe and it turned out well, or that they look cute in the skirt they just finished. And I might just be a little voice in a giant crowd, but that's okay.

The list grows every day! I love discovering new voices.

I still don't comment on all the blogs or every post that I read, for a combination of the above reasons (also because I read a LOT and I have to do other stuff too). But I've realized just how great it is to have someone tell me that I've done a nice job or that they think my project looks good and I really appreciate someone taking time out of their busy day to reach out and be a part of this community. It doesn't make sense for me to value that feedback so much and not reciprocate, so I'm working on it!

4) It's not "selfish" to want to sew things for myself. I sew pretty much every day, often for hours at a time. Much of what goes through my machine is for my shop, and that business helps support my family. Since Juniper arrived in February, I've really felt the pinch on my time, and it's become even more important to me to try to squeeze as much as I can into my day. I've since grown my business with two more shops, try to keep the house reasonably clean, make a worthy attempt at keeping healthy food in the house and cooking dinner every night, and I sew, sew, sew!

Perhaps it's because I've been making mostly the same items for a few years now, but lately it's been really hard for me to get excited about some of the things that I sew for twilltape. Unfortunately, it's also really hard to find enough time to bring all the ideas in my head to fruition. I'm absolutely guilty of escaping that pressure by sewing for myself. And you know what? That's okay! I deserve it! I never buy myself clothes and half of what is hanging in my closet doesn't fit. Slowly filling that closet with things that I've made myself gives me a sense of accomplishment and gets me excited about sewing again. I think it can be really hard when you turn your hobby in to a business, because you run the risk of destroying the joy that the hobby brought you in the first place. I think that sewing for myself has helped me to keep that from happening. So hooray for selfish sewing!

5) And that brings me to this final realization: I can't do it all. And that's okay! I have a hard time saying no, and always think that I can accomplish a lot more than I really can in the hours that I have to work with. This year I've made the hard (for me) decision to pass on a few projects and guess what? Life went on! There are other people that know how to hem jeans and do alterations and repairs, and not every item in Lincoln's and Juniper's wardrobes need to be lovingly stitched by me. Even special things like Christmas dresses aren't worth making myself if adding that to the list will mean it will all just be too much for me. This is a hard one for me, and I'm still working on it, but I feel much better about not being able to do everything and trying to prioritize what I do.

Puppet Show tunic front
Junie's Easter dress, which she never wore again because she outgrew it in the blink of an eye.
Another vote for selfish sewing!

And with that, we're nearly done! With the Top 5 of 2012, and with 2012 itself. I don't know if I'll get the last two posts finished before the year ends, but that's okay. See #5 above. And have yourself a safe and wonderful New Year's celebration! Drink a glass of champagne for me, and try to stay awake long enough to watch the ball drop. Doesn't always happen in this house, I'm afraid!

December 25, 2012

2012 Top 5 Sewing Fails

Round two of the 2012 Top 5 posts is all about the things that missed the mark. Gillian suggested highlighting the items that are UFOs, were worn once, or were just complete disasters. She followed up in her own post on the topic to say:
I didn’t mean for it to make us sound like we are trash-talking our bodies or sewing skills… In truth, I was just curious which clothes don’t get worn!
This is definitely a topic that I had wanted to investigate myself, as I'm trying to do a better job planning projects next year. I feel like there are a lot of items in my closet that I don't wear (me-made and otherwise) because they don't fit or flatter anymore, and why keep that junk around cluttering up my life? Identifying the problems can also hopefully help me avoid making similar mistakes in the future. 

As I was going through my garments for the year though, I was pleasantly surprised to find that I didn't really make anything that I would call a true failure this year. The me-made garments in my closet that I don't wear are from mostly all from 2011 and before, and my skills and taste have changed, so it makes sense that I won't necessarily wear some of those items anymore. Probably as the years pass, I'll start to pass on some of my successful makes from 2012 too. Wardrobes must evolve, right? But anyway, I was able to identify the five that stand out as my 2012 misses, which for assorted reasons I don't or can't wear any longer.

First up, my one and only official contribution to The Sew Weekly- the Garden Tour dress, inspired by a garment of the same name from Mod Cloth. 

Simplicity 2145
Problem? Maternity size!

As you can see, I was pretty large with child at this point, and I knew when I made this dress that I was going to have to go back after baby came and make alterations if I ever hoped to wear it again. Well- guess what? This dress is hanging on the door of my sewing room, where it's been hanging since I wore it the first and only time I ever did. 

It really shouldn't be too hard to rip the skirt out and remove the five or six extra sizes from the width, but I'm sure that won't be the only change that needs to be made once I get going, and this dress is fully lined and really nicely constructed. Of course, that's a good thing, but I'm just not convinced that I'm interested in tearing into all that hard work. Maybe next spring, when I might get some instant gratification out of it I fix it. Future TBD.

This next top is really a garment that I hate to call a failure in any respect. This was my first FBA, which at the time I made this at about 6 weeks postpartum, I definitely needed. 

"Triple C" top up close and personal
Never grew on me, never wore it. Dyed it, donated it.

Sewing this top was a great learning experience and I'm really proud of the finishes. It has bound seams and perfect plaid matching, and those fiddly little button loops even came out perfectly! As a work of sewing art, this top qualifies as a hit, but I just never felt like it was me, so in the end, it's a miss.

At least 80% of the problem I had with this top can be chalked up to my fabric choice. I was trying to work with my stash and this vintage yarn-dyed plaid has a nice drape and feels great, so it should have been a good choice. I just don't wear these muddy, muted colors though, and I always felt like it just didn't work. As a last-ditch effort I overdyed it with a rich burgundy shade but it didn't make me feel any better about it. This top had been hanging around in my sewing room for too long, so about a month ago I set it free and donated it. Hopefully someone will appreciate the craftsmanship and will love it more than I was able to.

The next item on my miss-list is one that doesn't really belong here, but came to be on the list thanks to my own clumsiness. It's a modified Renfrew that I made during Me Made May with an open-knit that I found at the local fabric outlet.

May 31
Problem? Stained!

This top was a great basic, worn frequently and integrated seamlessly into my wardrobe. Who doesn't need more simple white tees? Sadly, the last time I reached for it I noticed that there was a mysterious stain on the front, so I sent it back to the laundry to soak with stain remover for a while, but to no avail. Whatever it is, it's there to stay, so this one gets retired to loungewear or pajamas. I think I might actually have enough fabric to revisit this one (or at least cut a new front), but I can't be bothered. I've got more exciting things to sew on my list!

Things like this dress, which also did not earn it's spot on the misses of 2012 list, in my humble opinion. I really love this dress, and it's impeccably finished and lined in fantastic, slinky polkadot lining. I love the color, I love the shape, I am incredibly proud of this dress! 

Destroyed by stain remover! Test!!

So what's it doing on this list? Well, again, this one landed here due to my own ineptitude. The skirt was stained with a greasy stain, and I took a (natural) stain remover to it, determined to save it. Well, the greasy stain is gone, but I was left with multiple large spots of discoloration from the stain remover! 

I haven't decided what I'm going to do to try to salvage this dress yet, but I will do something. Maybe a soak in something will help? I honestly have no idea. I guess I could try dying it, but I don't know how the stained area would take the dye. I might be able to cut a new skirt- I'll have to see how much fabric I have left. Anyway, this is a sad one, but as the dress won't be worn in this condition, the misses list is where it goes for now. Future TBD.

And last, but not least, one of my most recent makes brings us to five. It's another Renfrew, the Renfrew of Quiet Desperation. You may recall that I mentioned the curious nature of this fabric when I posted this finished object a few weeks ago.

Distorted by distaste for water!

It's "foil jersey" and the bolt was labeled dry clean only and also marked with a warning that the fabric may crock. I haven't uncovered any evidence of crocking, but perhaps I was mistaken in my initial assessment that the mysterious fibers in the fabric were unicorn hair. It seems more likely now that they derive from a water-hating creature akin to the Wicked Witch of the West, as this garment did not survive a trip through the wash.

Well, that's not entirely true, I guess. The garment survived intact, but I could see the moment I pulled it from the load that things were not well. The top is now approximately 2/3 its former length, and cartoonishly wide. Finding this curious, I ran a 5" x 5" test swatch of the fabric through a delicate wash and dry cycle to see just what would happen. After the wash cycle, the swatch measured just 3.75" long and was nearly 6" wide. There was no change after drying and ironing. That same math seems to apply to my new (crop) top.

But Tiffany, you ask, didn't you prewash the fabric before you made the top? Everyone knows that's the first thing you should do! And yes, I really always do, but in this case, obviously, the answer is no. I did not. But I refuse to take all the blame here! The bolt said dry clean only, and I hadn't yet determined how I was going to care for this garment once it was sewn. Perhaps just a quick freshening steam bath in the dryer? Alas, I never had a chance to decide, because my ever-so-helpful husband threw it in the wash the day after I wore it for the first time and it's now crazy short/fat size and residing on the back of a chair waiting further instructions.

I'm actually really tempted to buy another small piece of this stuff and make this top up again. I'll prewash the fabric this time, obviously. Despite the weirdness of the material, I really did like this top, and it was a nice basic addition to my wardrobe with just enough sparkle to make it interesting. If there's any remaining in the 50% off bins the next time there's a sale, you may see another rendition in the new year. With a bigger cowl, maybe. And less pinking shears.

So there it is. I'm pleasantly surprised that I don't have makes on my list that I just did a truly sucky job of sewing, or that fit terribly horribly wrong. And I don't think I abandoned anything this year to languish as a UFO. If I did, I buried the evidence so deep in my sewing room that I've long forgotten about it... I'm mostly pretty proud of the things I made this year. For the most part they're well constructed and I keep learning new things about fit and making things work for my body, which is great! I have high hopes for next year. I just need to be more careful so I don't spend all my hard-earned time on things and then ruin them with coffee or sloppiness or whatever. But also, at the same time, I'm a mom- and my life is messy! I don't want to have to treat my clothes with kid gloves, or insist that my toddler not touch me with his chocolatey hands. I wash. And my clothes do too. Or at least, they should. And with proper precautions, they shouldn't shrink! Ah, well. Live, learn, etc. 

But it is interesting to see what happens to the things we make after we make them, isn't it? I always wonder if items are getting worn in real life or not, and I always feel like I really like things the moment I finish them, but then the shine wears off and I don't exactly love them so much later. I think it's helpful to go back at the end of the year and really revisit and see where they are now. Don't you?

December 24, 2012

My Greatest (sewing*) Hits of 2012

Top 5 of 2012

I decided that I'm going to play along with Gillian of Crafting a Rainbow as she celebrates her year in sewing with a few Top 5 posts. I had already been thinking it would be interesting to do an end of the year wrap-up of some sort (interesting to me, obviously, less so to you) to get an idea of what exactly I did make this year, how it's holding up, if I ever wear it, etc, so Gillian's Top 5 idea was the perfect starting point. 

And, following Gillian's lead, I think I'll also start with my "Top 5 Favourite** Creations (most worn, or most loved!)" from 2012. And they are:

In 5th place: The pink Thurlow shorts.

Pink Thurlow Shorts

These shorts marked a pretty huge moment in my sewing career, as they were the first garment that I sewed where I really had to change the pattern to fit to my body. I was pretty thrilled when it turned out that I was successful at accomplishing that task, and I wore these shorts a ton over the summer. I also love the fabric and the color combo, even if no one sees the fun yellow lining once they're on. The only reason these don't earn a higher place in my list is because we live in Seattle, where it's too cold to get any use out of these for like 80% of the year.

4th place goes to another Sewaholic pattern- a stripey Renfrew:

Stripey Renfrew

I stitched this up during Me Made May and it's been a staple of my wardrobe ever since. It's one of those items that goes from the wash to my back, then back to the wash regularly (a cycle that admittedly can take a couple of weeks around here sometimes, with a long layover in Crumpledheapsville on the couch). I love the fabric for this Renfrew most of all- it's thick and stable with great recovery and it just feels good on. Solid pattern plus awesome fabric equals huge win! But still fourth place because it's just a boring tee shirt.

In 3rd, my new Tiramisu:

Tiramisu Dress by Cake Patterns

I haven't actually worn this yet except to take pictures, but I have high hopes not only for this rendition, but for the pattern in general. I predict that Tiramisu will be turned to often to create more fabulous knit magic.

Further proving my love for all things Sewaholic, 2nd place goes to my Dottie Cambie:

Cambie View A

Comfortable, versatile, nicely finished on the inside, this dress is just awesome. And I can definitely imagine revisiting this pattern too, probably in a nice breezy summery print and the full-skirted view for when I'm feeling particularly girly.

And that brings us to first place, and I admit I'm cheating a little and calling it a tie. I made five skirts this year (still need to show you the latest), and these two are hands down my favorites:

Fuzzy PicMonkey collage- not sure what's up with that. It hasn't happened before?

They're the Math is Hard skirt (New Look 6106) on the left, in dark slub denim with an exposed metal zipper; and the Emergency Red Skirt (New Look 6030 in cotton twill) on the right. I still don't love the fit of the red skirt, but that doesn't stop me from wearing it regularly. It's a great basic, just like the denim skirt, and that's exactly what I need in my wardrobe. I love clothes that are just a little bit nicer than jeans and a tee, but don't make me feel like I'm playing dress-up. These pieces are it.

I'm going to try to keep all of these winners in mind as I plan my sewing projects for 2013. I made 21 garments for myself in 2012, including 4 dresses, 8 tops (3 woven and 5 knit), 2 pairs of shorts, 2 pairs of panties Rosy Lady Shorts, and 5 skirts. My pattern stash is definitely disproportionately dress-centric, and I'm always attracted to dresses that I see other bloggers sew up and when I'm pattern shopping. And yes, I like wearing dresses, but separates are really more my style. I like being able to mix it up so I don't feel like I'm wearing the same outfit over and over even if I am constantly repeating elements. And as much fun as fancy party dresses might be to drool over and dream about, my life is decidedly lacking in parties. I would love to sew more things that I want to wear every day, and things that I really need in 2013.

I was actually kind of surprised when I started making this list to see that I had sewn as many things as I did, considering I was hugely pregnant for the first two months of this year and living with a newborn and toddler thereafter. And also a bit surprised that I can honestly say that I do wear almost everything I made this year on a fairly regular basis, with only a few exceptions. You'll see what those items are when I post my 5 misses, and why they made that list...

Big thanks to Gillian for the great year-end wrap up ideas! It's been really fun to read the other posts I've seen on the topic so far- I love seeing how productive everyone is! It's totally inspiring. And I hope everyone is having a wonderful Christmas Eve if you're celebrating, and a wonderful Monday if you're not!

*Obviously, my greatest contribution of 2012 is my precious little Junie. That goes without saying! And it's been a while since I've photobombed you with my kiddos, and it's Christmas, so indulge me:


Juniper thoroughly enjoyed her first carousel ride, and her first taste of candy cane. Santa did not impress her quite so much though!


Merry Christmas to all (and to all a good night)!

**Isn't that cute? Gillian's not a bad speller, she's just Canadian! ;)


December 17, 2012

The craftiness so far.

Turns out, that Christmas Elf can be a demanding little fella! But we've had lots of fun following his suggestions for crafty Christmas fun and activities that have been left in our Advent Village the last two weeks. 

Here are a few of the Christmas Elf's notes, and the resulting projects:
Gingy* needs a home! Let's make a gingerbread house today!

Trader Joe's cute (and inexpensive!) little Gingerbread House kit came in handy for housing Gingy. In the past, I've purchased Wilton kits from JoAnn, and I think I actually prefer TJ's version. The gingerbread in this kit is soft and actually smells spicy. I suspect it might even be edible, whereas the Wilton kits have rock-hard slabs that look fine and gingerbread-ish, but I'm not sure I would put them in my mouth. The texture stamped on the pieces in the kit from Trader Joe's is nice, too. And the little sugar people are totally cute. Definitely worth the $7.99. The only problem we've had has been convincing Lincoln that we shouldn't eat it for dessert EVERY NIGHT after dinner.

This next one was my job, but that didn't stop the Christmas Elf from getting involved somehow.


The morning after I finished Juniper's stocking, the Christmas Elf left this note in the village:
Juniper's stocking is finished! Help Mama pick out a hanger!
Of course, by this time, stocking hangers were on sale everywhere and pretty scarce. I ended up finding one when Lincoln wasn't with me, but he hasn't noticed/doesn't care in the least. Short toddler attention span FTW!


In case you fancy making your own stockings, I made ours a couple years ago, using a free pattern from McCall's that used to be on their website. Sadly, it's gone now, but it's really a pretty basic stocking shape, and I imagine there are other free patterns and tutorials that would give you a similar result.

The next project is one that I found when I was looking for ideas for this whole Activity Advent thing a couple weeks ago. The materials are cheap (the plastic canvas is about $.50/sheet, and the beads were about $1 for a bag of 50 or so) and the whole thing is easy enough for a reasonably coordinated toddler to do with just a bit of help from a grown up.
Ooh, sparkly! Let's make beaded tree ornaments today!

The original source tutorial that inspired this is a highly simplified version, but I couldn't help complicating things a bit. It's in my nature. But for the record, I only made the one in the middle on the bottom row entirely by myself, as a sample to show Lincoln what the Christmas Elf was talking about. For the ones he made, I tied the yarn on for him, and threaded his (dull) needle for him. He decided where to place the beads, and did the stitching himself. They were cute as-is when they were done, but I wanted to make a lasting Christmas keepsake out of them, so in the evening in front of the TV, I turned them into proper ornaments.


I backstitched around the outermost row of grid with plain thread, attaching them to felt that I already had around. Then I cut away the excess felt and embroidered Lincoln's name and added the ribbon hanger. I envision them as package tags for the Grandmas, but Lincoln insists that he doesn't want to give any away. Time will tell who will win that battle.

Lincoln's favorite activity so far has probably been making Christmas lollipops. No surprise there, the kid does love candy. I picked up Wilton Candy Melts during a 50% off sale at JoAnn, along with a Santa lollipop mold and some sticks. The Christmas Elf left this note for us:
Santa loves sweets! Let's make Christmas lollipops!

The detail in Santa's face is much more evident in the examples on Wilton's website, but I barely have the patience and motor control to pipe the candy into the tiny little nooks and crannies, there was no way that was going to happen with a toddler in charge. Instead, we just used a spoon to dump the candy in the molds sans precision. Naturally, that meant a special bonus, because at the end we could lick the spoon!

For obvious reasons, Lincoln has requested that we revisit this activity, and I think we probably will this week. The bags of candy melts go a long way, and these come out so cute for minimal effort. I also picked up a snowflake mold designed to candy coat Oreos, but I can't stop eating all the Oreos before we get to the project. We may or may not see that one come to fruition!

Also on the agenda, depending on the whim of the Christmas Elf:

Borax crystal snowflakes, like these at Martha Stewart.
Spritz cookies, my own personal fave from my childhood.
Peanut Butter Reindeer Fudge via Niki at Fancy That. Maybe as teacher's gifts for Lincoln's school?

I also picked up whole walnuts, because both David and I remember doing strange little crafts with walnut shells as kids. Though we've not been successful in unearthing any ideas for what to do with them yet.

We made an attempt at pipe cleaner crafts one evening, but that was kind of a bust. Lincoln didn't know what to do with them, and so we sort of just messed around for a few minutes after dinner before stacking the leftovers in a heap on the kitchen counter. Yep, that pile is still there.

And in a terrible bout of miscommunication with the Christmas Elf, we were instructed to make pinecone peanut butter bird feeders one day last week, but we still haven't actually purchased any bird seed to do so. Again, sometimes Lincoln's not the most observant little fella, so he hasn't mentioned our failing in that regard.

He did, however, take note of the time that the Christmas Elf left candy but no note (bad idea), and of each time that the Elf has left a note but no candy (fortunately, the Elf has some concerns about Lincoln's oral health).

Twice now I've gone to bed and awoken in a panic because I forgot to deliver the Elf's message to the appropriate drawer, and have had to stumble half-awake downstairs to my secret note stash to select an appropriate one.

Advent Village

Overall, I think our Activity Advent village has been a success. It's forced me to organize a little bit so we do little bits of fun activities throughout the week, instead of trying to cram in a bunch of stuff on the weekends. And none of the projects have been expensive or time consuming. It can be challenging to come up with an appropriate project that you have all the materials for every day, but we haven't been perfect and no one has cared or complained. I did cheat a couple days, once by omitting the note, and once by leaving the following:
Lots of love from the Christmas Elf. You've been such a good boy this year!
This actually left a huge proud smile on the boy's face, so I didn't feel bad about it for a minute. Daddy's birthday on Sunday also earned Lincoln an extra piece of chocolate so he could share with Daddy, and a note wishing Daddy Happy Birthday from the Christmas Elf. And for the record, he DID have a happy birthday, 'cause this happened:


Yep, I got to go, too! It was crazy fun, and we would both totally go back in a heartbeat. Have you been? What other Christmas fun are you up to? Indoor skydiving, or otherwise?

*We're big Shrek fans around here. In case you're not and suspect I'm referring to Lincoln's little red-haired friend, you should know that Gingy is actually Shrek's Gingerbread Man compadre.

December 16, 2012

My first Tiramisu

It's finally done! I was so excited to see my copy of the Tiramisu dress pattern when it arrived way back on December 1st, that I ripped into it and started prepping straight away. I had to put it away for a bit to take care of some of my actual responsibilities, but as soon as my schedule cleared out a couple days ago, I got right back to it.

Tiramisu, as you should know, is the first pattern from Steph C's Cake Patterns, and I would like to officially nominate it as the most perfect knit dress ever. It's completely customizable, with 20 size variations for the front bodice alone! This woman (Steph, not me) understands fit. Seriously. I can't wait for future Cake offerings (like Pavlova, which I may or may not have already pre-ordered) so I can make my own completely functional and beautiful wardrobe a la Steph.

This fabric was a piece I picked up cheap at JoAnn forever ago, planning all along to make it into a dress but never settling on a pattern to use. I knew it would be perfect for Tira, because it was a nice big chunk, and that full skirt takes some yardage. In retrospect, I really should have taken advantage of the extra wiggle room I had and made an effort with the pattern placement- especially in the boob zone- but oh well. I'm not too concerned about it.


I actually ended up cutting the bodice twice, and still have a bit of fabric left. I must have had three yards to start with? I don't know, it was a big piece. Anyway, based on my measurements, I started out with the size 35B bodice pieces, but when I pulled it on for the fit check that Steph has brilliantly written in to the pattern instructions, I was swimming in fabric.

I visited and perused the Tiramisu support section and tried to assess my next move. I felt like the whole thing was too big, so it made sense to go down to the size 30 bodice pieces, but I wasn't sure which way to go with the cup sizes.

I had picked 35B fairly easily to start with, given the roughly 2" difference between my high bust and full bust measurements, and the handy chart on the pattern envelope. My initial instinct was to try the 30B, to maintain the 2" proportional difference in the bodice pieces, but the finished garment measurement had me worried- it seemed so small! Then, I thought maybe 30D would be the logical downgrade, so perhaps I should try that. But I'm not a D cup, at least not when I'm not pregnant, so that sounded like it would be all wrong too. Then I found an article on that talked about the bodice sizes as more of a proportional thing than a cup size thing, and I thought maybe I was on the right track with the 30D after all.


Since it was late Friday night and my couch and my hubby were calling my name, I decided to pose my question to Steph in the comments on the bodice sizing article and deal with the whole thing later. By the time I checked back the next morning, Steph had replied with a thoughtful and helpful suggestion for salvaging my already cut bodice pieces, but also suggested that yes, I might be better suited to a 30D. I had plenty of fabric to mess around with and I hate ripping serged seams, so I just recut, and it's perfect!

And hello? Steph is amazing! I know we occupy vastly different time zones, but I seriously think it's incredible that she: A) took the time to reply, and B) did it so damn quickly! In the midst of Pavlova Circus preparations, no less! It's not been my experience of late that people are so quick to respond to inquiries (if they respond at all) so I'm grateful and impressed. As I have been with everything that she's produced, to be quite honest. This gal's a rock star!


So anyway, enough gushing. Once I got the bodice sizing nailed down, this thing just flew together. I assembled it almost entirely on my serger, with a 4-thread safety stitch and wooly nylon in the loopers. The only exception is the side seam, which I stitched up with a lightening bolt on my regular machine first (due to the start and stop around the pockets) then finished the seams with the serger after the fact. But I'm really not sure why you couldn't just zip all the way around the pockets too in one go, actually- is there a good reason not to do that? I would love to know for next time.

The only place where I went off the instructions was with the sleeve binding. I applied it last, after stitching up the side seam, so it wouldn't have a visible seam in the underarm. It's a minor thing, just a preference for the finished look of the arm binding, and something that Lauren pointed out in her review as something she might do differently next time. As usual, I'm always happy to benefit from the wisdom of those who go before me, so I tucked that tip away for my own version. 

I cut the skirt one size shorter than drafted, and I can't decide if it's still maybe just a little longish for me. In the photos here, the skirt's still unhemmed, so that would obviously change things. I haven't decided yet though, and my jersey is lightweight and happy to remain unhemmed, so we'll see. I just love how the full skirt drapes so beautifully! And the pockets are just swallowed right up in all that volume. It's so feminine and comfortable- not to mention practical. I LOVE this dress! 

I can't wait to try a striped version, and I'm so happy that I won't even have to think about the stripe placement because Steph has drafted guidelines right on to the pattern tissue. Brilliant! And foolproof. Love it. Go! Buy your own Tira now! You won't regret it, promise.

December 4, 2012

Inventing Advent

I'm just popping in for a minute to brag. We are so on top of things this year! The tree is decorated, the stockings are hung, even the outside lights are up! This is not the way these things usually go down around here in Procrastinationville, let me tell you! I'm pretty impressed with our efforts so far.

Mantle with Advent Village & Stockings

And check out the cute little Advent Village on the mantle! We got it a couple years ago and have only used it for decoration since Lincoln was too young to know what it was for. This year I decided that I wanted to paint it glossy white and jazz it up a little bit so we could really enjoy it. And, since everything I know about Advent could fit in one of those wee drawers, we're really just kind of making things up as we go along.

Lucky for me, "The Christmas Elf" has remembered to deposit a note and a bit of chocolate inside the appropriate drawer each day of December so far, and Lincoln is thrilled! The notes serve as instructions for various ways to find holiday cheer, including things like: select the very best tree from the tree farm, help Daddy hang up the lights outside, and sing a Christmas carol in the car on the way to school. I like the idea of an activity-based advent, so I gathered a few craft supplies and we'll try to coordinate with the Christmas Elf so we can use this excitement to get a few things crossed off our list in the process.

Advent Village

As for the village itself, it's made by roost and I picked it up at a sample sale when I worked in the showroom. It was plain unstained wood with tiny engraved numbers on each drawer. I liked that look, but I thought for a house with kiddos we needed something a little more fun. 

I sprayed it with a few coats of paint, then used a 1" round punch to cut some circles from holiday papers and glued it to the front. Since the numbers were really small and hard for toddler eyes to find, I put the paper over the top and added the numbers again. I used these plastic scrapbooking numbers, because I wanted a little dimension and can't trust my handwriting to write or paint the numbers on myself. Also, they were the only numbers at JoAnn that contained enough 1's in the package to even come close to completing this project without needing to purchase fifty million sets. Incidentally, they did not contain enough 2's, but I didn't figure that out until about 10pm on Friday night, when I was putting this all together. We're still missing 21 and 23, but I figure I have about 15 days before that's going to be a problem.

Advent house detail

And since Lincoln's list of favorite things includes: glue, puff balls, and counting, I thought I better go ahead and make this cute little Santa's beard advent calendar too. It's a free printable that I mounted to a piece of chip board and strung a ribbon through to hang. The puff balls are .75" balls found in the weird craft section of JoAnn where all the pipe cleaners and feathers and random crap like that is found. I initially purchased 1", but they were a little too crowded, so in case you would like to try your hand at this I would recommend smaller. Little cotton balls would work too, obviously.

Santa's Beard advent calendar

It's kind of hard to read in the picture, but it says:
Santa's beard is very bare. On his chin there is no hair. So each day add a puff of white. When they are all on, he'll come that night. 
I thought this was so clever and unique, and I've never seen anything like it before. A quick Google search turns up a million variations of the same thing though, so perhaps I'm just a little behind the times. I still think it's adorable, and as predicted, Lincoln LOVES gluing the little puff ball on each morning and counting the empty spaces that are left.

I was actually thisclose to taking the time to make something similar up out of felt, so we can use it again and again, but I stopped myself. I'm trying to reign in the need I have to MAKE EVERYTHING in sight. Sometimes, I just need to work with things that already exist. No one will suffer, and I'll possibly enjoy my life a little bit more. These are important lessons that I'm trying to learn. But next year- you watch this space for the new and improved felt advent. It's going to be awesome!