Sunday, October 19, 2014

A Scarecrow and a Pumpkin Walk Into a Bar

A couple weeks ago the folks at Penny Cottons asked if they could send me some of their fabrics and see what I could come up with. I told them "Sure!" without having any idea what was coming through the mail slot, so I couldn't get my thinking cap on until I had the goods in my hands. They sent me a roll of their yarn-dyed fabrics (which I forgot to take a picture of in it's rolly cuteness). I kicked around a couple ideas (pillows, a boy-themed baby quilt, etc.) but really felt like doing something more crafty than sewy. Upon seeing the fabric, the phrase 'plaid pumpkin' popped into my head and would just not get out. So I decided to go with that. I was walking around Joann's (I go there without purpose and just wander around sometimes) and saw a few papier mache pumpkins on mega-sale (and I also had a coupon that applied to sale items so I couldn't not get them). I bought one of each size and almost skipped home.

I did add a few strips of my own for a little more color variety (the red, green, and yellow are mine).

I got out the Mod Podge and my sponge brushes and set to work. I painted the glue on the pumpkin one section at a time and smoothed a strip of fabric up the side. I started the strip at the bottom, pulled it towards the top, roughly smoothing it out (I was going for homespun and rough-shod), and then trimmed around the stem. 


I had to double-up on a few colors as I didn't lay things out in reality as neatly as I had in my head.


Once that was all in place, I slathered Mod Podge all over the whole thing, making sure the edges were smoothed down. I did have a few fray strings hanging out, but I didn't obsess about those too much, as it added to my homespun look.


For the second one I cut the rest of the strips I had used for the first pumpkin into rough squares (remember--homespun), and then just glued those down in a random patchworky manner. My mom worked on one side and I worked on the other to speed the process. Then that one got slathered in Mod Podge too, and set aside to dry on a piece of waxed paper.

I used a few of the remaining strips to tie bows around the stems. Raffia was my original plan, but more ended up everywhere else but tied in a neat bow.



I haven't made a fall-inspired craft in a while, and I love the way these turned out. My mother kept telling me "I don't know, I don't think I'm going to like this" but she then told me they're her new favorite thing. I still have almost half of the roll left (minus the two strips I used for the bows) so I'm thinking of maybe a couple of place mats or a small runner or a pillow or something like that....

Thank you, Penny Cottons, for the fabric for this project! They also sent me a little something else to work with, so I'll be doing that today and sharing it with you soon.

* The punchline to my title is "I told you the kids would be cute!" 
** It's actually not. I totally made that up. All of it.

Linking up here:
Sundays: Submarine Sunday
Tuesday: Homework
Wednesdays: Your Whims Wednesday

Sunday, October 12, 2014

Paging Doctor A-train!!

When my sisters were little they had this fabulous Fisher Price doctor kit that came in a "real" doctor's bag and everything. A lot of hours were spent playing with that set. It looked like this:


I think my brother and I may have had a similar kit, but an older version. While I don't remember the contents, I do feel like I have a vague memory of the box--


Going through images on Google it looks like the Fisher Price doctor's kit hasn't varied much over the years, each bearing these essential contents (A-train loaned me his gear for a few minutes)--


When Rachel brought the tot over one weekend with his little doctor's kit, we all saw the bag it came in and looked at each other like "What the hell?" Apparently this is what FP considers suitable for an aspiring doctor to carry their necessities in--


As a current former kid I found this appalling. It's not even a nice tote bag. It's quite cheap feeling. I had full intentions of making a new bag for a while, and last week a new pattern and new fabric came together in a light-bulb moment for Saturday sewing motivation. My blog pal Jane (who sells patterns and sews bags and has a delightfully wry sense of humor) put out her new pattern for her Little Boxy Bag. I loved the shaping of it so I bought and printed that puppy out right away. Then I remembered that my sister Alicia's co-worker gave her a nice-sized cut of faux leather, which she was perfectly willing to share with me. I have never sewn with the stuff before, so I was a little bit nervous as I had no idea what to expect. My scissors sliced through like a hot knife through butter, and my 80/12 Microtex needle and Teflon foot showed that stuff who was boss.


I was so amazed at how nicely it came along (as this is surely the type of thing I'd mangle right out of the gate). The fabric was very soft and supple, and felt almost like real leather. Even the top-stitching had me grinning (I'm not going to lie--a lot of the time I put into making this was me staring at it at various stages, just admiring how nifty it looked as I was nervous I was going to do some unimaginable sort of thing to it along the way).


I got very nervous at the side where the pleating is done, and I thought "Oh, OK, this is where your lack of forethought is going to bite you in the rear." I had an extremely bulky thing to stitch through--four layers of pretty thick faux leather, and four layers of cotton, with a zipper in there. I thought my machine was going to throw a tantrum and a repair bill might ensue. But I simply said "Harriet, you can do this." And she did. She sewed through about a half inch of layers like it was nothing. I was floored. Pleased down to my toes, but shocked. It was one of those things where you want to run up to anyone and say "Look at this seam!!! Now feel it!!!" 


My pull tabs got a little eaten in the seam, but, as my mother keeps reminding me "He's two!" And I know that, but he's two with a perfectionist auntie. However, I know how to pick my battles and a smaller than intended pull tab is a nice trade-off for a successful everything else. I was going to line this in red, and started to before I remembered a fat quarter of fabric I had from something else that might work. I already had the zipper gusset sewn in, so that was staying. But I was able to make the bottom of the lining in this most perfect print--


And everything fits in there, snug as a bug in a rug (which is a creepy expression if you think about it too much, so don't).


I gave this to him today, and my sister exclaimed "It's even better than I thought it would be!" Which, thanks, I guess, hahaha. The A-train immediately listened to my heart (which, coincidentally, is right behind my belly button) saying "Lub-dub, lub-dub...sounds good" and then went back to playing trains. 


This may be one of my favorite things I've made (which, I feel like I say that a lot about things I make for my nephews--I think it's the love in the stitches). I can rest easy knowing that a sufficient doctor's bag now exists.

As for the pattern--absolutely superb. Plenty of photographs and descriptive text. Nothing is left to question like some patterns. As I've made bags before (just a few :) I could skim some of the directions, but for the parts that were new to me (those side pleats) I took it step by step, and boom--perfect pleats in one shot. The only issue I had was bulk, but that was entirely due to my choice of using faux leather instead of regular fabric, and that just required some trimming and no real difficulty. That's how awesome the pattern is--the only trouble was no trouble at all. It also took not much time to sew--this could have very easily been maybe a one to hour project, but I had thread color changes and presser foot changes that slowed me down (as well as the stopping and grinning and strutting around, which takes more time than you'd think).

All in all I had a fabulous fabric weekend. I finished testing another bag which I can hopefully share soon, and made up another project for fall which will be up as soon as I can get pictures (these earlier sunsets are still taking me by surprise as I don't have the time in the evenings for sunlit photos as I did what seems like only yesterday). But I'm not complaining--it's getting close to sweater weather!!! Which reminds me...I've got knitting to tend to. Later, taters!


Linking up here this week:

Sundays: Submarine Sunday
Wednesdays: Your Whims Wednesday

Wednesday, October 8, 2014

I Sewed a Shirt

Sometimes I go on a little kick where I want to sew clothes. They're usually pajama pants and t-shirts, as I really don't know much about fitting and darts and shaping and all that, so I go with easy patterns and fabrics (i.e. knits). A few months ago I bought a raglan shirt pattern, and a few weeks ago in a moment of pure whimsy I bought a fabric I normally wouldn't (because even I have to admit it's a little much). After careful cutting and pinning and sewing and serging I had a new shirt. A shirt I have mixed feelings about (and not because of the fabric).

Behold this rare instance where I appear on my own blog:

Take a gander at my short fat fingers I'm always griping about :)

Yes, I'm headless, but be glad of that. It's really hard to take photos of yourself without looking like an absolute dingus (whatever that is). I looked demented or cross-eyed or high in each one, so I hope you don't mind that I cut my own head off.

So, the shirt. I know the foxy fabric (I bought it from Girl Charlee) is nudging that fine line, but I like it (age appropriateness not being judged at this time :)  As for the shirt itself the fit is good enough--it's long enough, and that's always a good thing.


But here's my problem with it--the neckline.


First, I feel that the pattern has a neckline that is too wide for a shirt like this. It just didn't feel right on, if that makes sense. I felt like I was constantly adjusting it, and that it often looked more like a scoop neck. It almost felt like it was hovering over my body instead of laying on it, as I'm pretty sure a t-shirt is supposed to do. Then there's the slight puckering and the fact that the neckline doesn't lay flat as it should. So here's where I'm going to give you my two cents (actually closer to a nickel) on this pattern. I do have some experience sewing clothes, and I know what patterns should look like. From my understanding of pattern grading, you don't make a size (presumably your own) and then simply draw lines all around (say a half inch away, for example) to make the next size up, and then the same for the next size up, and so on and so forth, so what you're left with is a concentric looking pattern. So that was my first clue that this might not end up as peachy as I was hoping, that the grading was just not looking right.

Second, I really get irked when I spend money on a pattern and am told at a certain point to just make it fit, be it clothing or a bag. No, designer, I gave YOU money, YOU make a pattern where things fit. That was how this neckband was. My very first sewing project (and one that I made a bunch of times after that) was a t-shirt, and the neckband was a ring that you sewed to the neckline, matching your notches and so on. It worked perfectly every single time. The new trend in t-shirts seems to be that you stretch your band to fit your neckline (leaving a shoulder unsewn), and then sew that shoulder seam. This leads to a couple things. First--the neckband usually doesn't lay right. The front usually curves more deeply than the back, and so needs more of the fabric, which it doesn't get with this stretch-to-fit method. Second, you don't have nice enclosed seams on the neckband--you have a neckband seam that is part of the shoulder seam and just looks a bit amateurish.

Finally, when I write tutorials I assume that the reader doesn't have much experience so I explain a LOT. I feel a garment pattern should tell you which direction to press your seams (and if they should be open or to one side) so that even a beginner can have a decent looking product. This pattern lacks that. Since I'm a firm believer that a good press is one of the easiest ways to get a professional looking result, this bugs me too (as pressing is not mentioned once).

One of a gazillion shots that didn't turn out--the best is the one where you only see the tip of my elbow. I just thought we needed a visual break in the midst of my ranting.

So would I make this pattern again? No. I have a similar raglan pattern that I could modify to get the waistband and armbands (which I do like), but that would fit much better overall and that I'd be happier with. I'm glad that I bought this pattern on a day when they were donating that day's pattern proceeds to a certain charity and that my money didn't go to the designer of a pattern that even I (with my minimal clothing sewing experience, but with a lot of sewing reading under my belt) know is messed up.

My ranting might seem over the top for something trivial, but in a time when buying from indie designers is supposed to be the in thing to do because they're "better" I really get annoyed when one of my 'Big 4' patterns (alleged to be inferior) is the one I prefer for a multitude of reasons. Also, consider the cost of sewing--it's not the cheaper option anymore. People want good results for the precious time and money they're investing.

Phew. I don't like being critical of someone else's work because I know what goes into it, but I have seen a lot of people make this pattern and sing its praises. I suspect it's because they're all more slender than I am and are making a size truer to the baseline pattern that all other sizes stem from (as the designer is a slender gal herself). While I try to be more of a booster, I don't believe in false boosting for the sake of being saccharine and in love with everyone and everything. That helps no one, and doesn't fit my belief that your work should speak for itself and not rely on cheerleaders. My personal feeling is that this pattern did well due to the site being pretty well-known, and not because of the skill of the designer (which, let's face it, clothing pattern design takes a bit of know-how and some quite technical knowledge). I suppose in the interest of full disclosure I should tell you that this is the Lane Raglan from Hey June. I wrestled with sharing that as I didn't want to seem like that person, but I also wanted you to be aware if you had eyes on this pattern.

If you've made this I'd love to hear if you had any issues of any sort with it (not in a gossipy, validate-my-rant sort of way, but so that I don't feel like the only one and therefore possibly crazy).

UPDATED: Apparently I AM the only one. I've been perusing the internets this morning and there's nothing but love, but also a fair bit of this not-right neckline. And each one I see I think "How is that not driving them insane????" So I guess I'm crazy. You were probably already aware.

Sunday, October 5, 2014

Sooooo I Painted Something

I was recently informed that I have been remiss in posting to my blog. What actually happened is my mother said "You're slacking on your blog." I'm not sure how it happened or why, because I have been sewing and knitting (heavens, have I been knitting. I'm knitting and purling in my sleep!) but the sewing projects have been functional things--fixing zippers and the like. And I'm not sure that even though the yarn I'm using is beautiful that you'll want to see pictures of endless heathery tan ribbed knitting. I'm hoping to break the low-blogging habit I've gotten into. I have noticed, though, that blogging in general seems to be fading a bit. I guess it's because Instagram can make it so easy to share a picture and a description without logging on, uploading pics, and trying to think of what to write. Still, I'm a wordy person and I am very low-skilled at texting in an efficient and quick manner, so I prefer my blog, actually. Consider that long-winded thing an apology for my absence, haha.

OK, so anyway. The only things I can really do are sew and manipulate yarn with a hook or some needles. I can't make jewelry, I am not a good cook, and I certainly don't have a bone in my body that can draw anything (unless we're talking about a house with two windows and a door, an apple tree, and possibly a rainbow--because I'll nail that). A few weeks ago, though, my sisters got all "Hey, do you want to do Painting With a Twist?" I don't know if you have that where you live or anything similar, but you basically go to a place, bringing your own snacks and drinks (alcoholic or otherwise), and sit in a room while an instructor and some assistants help you to make the featured painting for that particular night. I fell in adoration with the painting for that night, and figured if I was stinkeroo that I would just switch it with my sister's (who has painted before and is pretty good for the dabbling she does).


There are a few long tables in the room, and you're kind of packed elbow to elbow (I would have liked a little more room and a few more paper towels, though). The instructor tells you exactly what to do--where, how, what brush, what color, and so on. It's almost fail-proof. I was feeling really nervous because I'm much more comfortable behind my sewing machine. Having the first step being blending your paints in a way that looks like moonlight didn't ease my nerves much. I was feeling kind of "Oh, dear" about it at first.


But as I looked around the room I saw that everyone's moonlight looked like one of those Halloween treats where you wrap a tissue around a lollipop and call it a ghost. The instructor told us to paint a shadow on the moon, but my Sheldon Cooper brain wouldn't let me (I couldn't help wondering what would be casting such a shadow, and that it would have to be a planet or something to really have an impact and then we wouldn't be painting a full moon and I wasn't going to get anywhere so I skipped that part in the interest of science).

Then you pick up another brush, and hold it this way, and do this, then hold it that way and do that, and before you know it you have some terrain and a spooky looking tree.


I felt much more comfortable doing this part as it was much more defined than the blending colors part. That weird sheen is just the wet paint. You get a few minutes to blast it with a hair dryer so you don't get black all over the next part. You get a sponge, dip it in some paint, and dab it on the branches. My critical self (which never shuts up) thinks this part could use some work, but my logical self knows that it's a first painting and not bad, and my creative self absolutely loves it for what it is and for the fact that I have it hanging in the bedroom and that it makes me gaze at it for a few minutes each night before bed.


I like how the tree looks like it's hugging the moon. My pink splotches could be more logically placed, as it looks like the moon has a bad case of pink eye, but the stars and the moon I just absolutely love. Love!

So if you have something like this available to you I super recommend it. I initially said yes in the interest of girls' night cohesiveness but was very nervous about being able to make anything other than a mess. My mother felt the same way, and almost literally looked like a deer in the headlights as we started. But all of us left feeling quite successful and proud of ourselves--and you can't really beat that as a business model.

Sunday, September 28, 2014

Review: Hank Has a Dream

Hello, lovely people! I've got a delightful book to share with you today, one totally out of the norm from what I usually get asked to review. This one is called Hank Has a Dream, by Rebecca Dudley. 


The unique thing about this book is truly the artwork. It's not drawn, not painted, not doodled, but photographed. And photographed in an amazing way--she creates the miniature world that Hank (an adorable bear) lives in, from trees and bridges, to birds and grass, and then sets a miniature scene that is photographed. It reminds me of looking into a Viewmaster (remember those? I still have mine. I used to love that thing). 


Every one of those leaves was created in miniature just for this scene. I mean...geez. It blows my mind to think of the time it took to create this book.

I do love the way this book is laid out. When Hank is telling his little bird friend about his dream, the photo on the left shows his little reenactment--


While the photo on the right shows what his dream looked like--


And look at this adorable little face--


Even the frontispiece is cute, and reminds me a little of Winnie the Pooh and the Hundred Acre Wood--


About two seconds after I closed this I hopped on Amazon and ordered the first book, Hank Finds an Egg. Photographed in the same way, this story lacks words, but the photos do a wonderful job of telling the story. 

 

Plus you get to see how Hank becomes friends with that adorable little bird with whom he shares his dream :)

I know we're not supposed to talk about Christmas yet, but if you've got some little ones to buy gifts for (books make excellent gifts) these would be delightful. You could keep your kids busy with these too--for those of writing age they could write their own story. They could create their own story scenes to photograph and write about. For family reading, the kids could take part in telling the story by taking on the roles of the characters in the photos. So many opportunities to take these books further than just flipping the pages (and that's not a common thing in children's literature--so many things are contrived or forced or written just to sell instead of to provide a quality reading experience).

I'd like to say "But you don't have to take my word for it..." a la Reading Rainbow, but I don't have any kids to segue to, so you will  have to take my word for it.

I was not financially compensated for this post. I received the book at no charge in exchange for an honest review. The opinions are completely my own based on my own experience. For my complete disclosure policy, click here.

Thursday, September 25, 2014

A Teeny Confession About a Conflict of Total Unimportance

Fine. FINE. You've dragged it out of me. I confess. I bought a handbag.

Fun fact: I kind of made exactly this face about twenty seconds ago when Tim Gunn told Alexander his design was butt ugly on Project Runway. 

Background info. Normally in the winter I wear one coat, and it's usually a ski jacket/parka kind of thing, that's in a bright color and all that jazz. The problem comes in when I need something a little more subdued and...I guess grown-up? (blech!) and I'm all "Well, I've got this turquoise and lime jacket." In the past I have had a beast of a time finding something like a pea coat because I need a tall size for my long torso and long arms so I don't look like I'm wearing a three-quarter sleeve in the dead of winter. A few weeks ago I found one--it's a hunter and navy plaid, sized tall, fits great!! with perfect sleeves, and I got it on super-clearance so I feel like I got it for free. 

BUT, ever since I bought it I have been trying to think of what fabric would work with it for a new handbag. I love plaid, but couldn't overdo it. And many other prints would just not look good. I was seriously vexed (because for someone who could live in her yoga pants and oversized tees I do get slightly neurotic about small things like this). So I was in Target the other day and saw a bag that I liked. Wait until you see it--it's totally not what you'd expect of me.


It looks gray (the actual color is 'mushroom') but it's really that cross between gray and brown where it will look like either depending on what you pair it with. It's fabulously slouchy but also a bit chic. 

I know, I KNOW, how weird to post something like "I bought a handbag." But let me tell you--I don't know the last time I bought a handbag. If I look through my bags every one of them is handmade (except a red polka dot cross-body affair I bought last year because red polka dots). I don't know how many times I've looked at bags in stores and lingered, and walked away, telling myself that I make bags, therefore I don't need to buy them. But sometimes you just want to buy one, y'know? If I had been able to find fabrics that made my heart skip around the room I would surely have made one, though. Old habits are hard to break. 

How about you? Do you have weird conflicts about buying things you could make? Or are you over it? I hope this is the biggest problem I ever have to face, haha. 

Sunday, September 21, 2014

Spectrum Tote

Happy Sunday morning to you! It's gray and gloomy here, so I hope it's nice and smiley wherever you are. A few weeks ago I was asked to test a bag for Sarah of Cozy Nest Designs (the designer of this highly versatile bag). I agreed immediately, because I loved the sample photos she sent (in case you haven't notice I happen to adore color :)  Inspired by a paint chip (!) this roomy tote has endless options for color and fabric play. I had a wicked hard time deciding on fabrics. Nothing was jumping out at me and I was seriously fretting over it. When I went through my stash I found a big chunk of fabric I've had for a long time, so I decided to make mine out of one fabric with contrasting strips, instead of various colors and patterns. I thought I was being super original, until I saw some of the other testers' bags. And yes, I do notice the irony of stating that I love color and then showing you a bag entirely devoid of it.

Anyway, here is my finished version of this bag:


I was thinking I might use this as a handbag, but it's a little too roomy (even for me, and I gravitate towards larger bags, even if I don't carry much). Any problems I had were purely of my own creation (you know how sometimes I like to pretend I know everything?), as Sarah's instructions were spot on. If you do what she says, you won't need to rip a stitch out. I've never tested a bag before, so I had a bit of a time following the instructions as I see "zippered pocket" and go rogue, instead of following the directions to make sure they make sense (as I was asked to do...ahem...). Once I got into the groove, though, all was well.

One of the key things with this bag is labeling the pieces (and there are handy labeling sheets included in the pattern). I got my pieces confused and caused myself some trouble that way, so use the labels! I was also super excited with this as I was going to use a generic version of the recommended Soft and Stable (generic version meaning headliner fabric (like what's in your car's ceiling?) that you can buy off the roll at Joann's. I underestimated my measurements and didn't have enough, so I used Thermolam Plus fusible. It has nice body and structure but I was a bit disappointed in my miscalculation (does anyone else get excited about new interfacings? It's a very unique kind of geekery). Luckily I've got another bag to test that calls for it, so interfacing joy shall hopefully be mine in the near future :)

You can see the inside peeking out a bit--it's a light tan with wee white polka dots on it. There's a zipper pocket in there, and the pattern includes directions for slip pockets but I didn't include those. There is a fair bit of cutting time involved between the pattern and the fabric, but the assembly really is quite easy breezy. I'm looking forward to making this in more summery colors and fabrics, but I'm going to wait until the fabric lines change up in the stores and I need some color in my life to get over what will become the winter doldrums in about February.

If you're interested in making these (it's really a great size for a tote--I'm going to use mine for my supplies for a garment sewing class I'm taking) you can find the pattern here. Happy sewing!

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