Wednesday, March 31, 2010


She sits at a square card table with a green vinyl top. The white sewing machine sits in front of her, its whirring motor lays a warm hum over the entire room. From somewhere close by, I smell baking bread.

From my vantage point underneath the card table, I watch her foot on the black machine pedal -- push and release, the motor responds to each movement. I am playing with dolls, dressing them in clothes made by my mother --- though the project she's working on in this memory is something else, something much more mundane like curtains or hemming some pants. I watch her hand reach over the edge of the table and into a green plastic case of thread. She has a stack of fabric in the hall closet that I love to look at: orange flowers with green centers, red patchwork, lots of gingham check.

When the scene changes, I am older--- dressing Barbie in something polyester and horrible (though I love it). Again watching my mother sew, admiring the way she holds a pin in her mouth, her eyebrows drawn down in concentration. At some point, I start to grab fabric bits from the floor and twist them around Barbie in wild attempts at fashion. I use pins to hold things together, but eventually I realize that this idea of sewing could be useful.

I ask my mother to show me how to use the machine, but first she teaches me to use a needle and thread--- the basics of sewing, she says. She is patient as she shows the intricate in and out of the needle--- pushing it through the fabric, keeping things even.

Eventually I move on to the sewing machine. She tells me about the pedal, how it makes the needle go up and down through the fabric. She talks about threading the machine, filling the bobbin. I am given strict instructions to be careful, and go slow.

Which is what I do: sewing bits here and there. Black thread against pink flowered calico.

Sometime before high school I sew my first skirt: a simple affair, nothing fancy. We use a pattern. She teaches me how to pin the tissue-thin paper to my fabric, how to match the sides up before I sew. It's the last project we do together for a very long time.

There's a thread running through everything here: the patience of a mother, tired and busy with four children--- her daughter asking for a moment of time: teach me something. A lesson that will last longer than the doll clothes or the blue calico skirt.

When I sew, I inevitably think of my mother: rounded shoulders bent under yellow light. A quiet hum of busyness and industry.

It feels good to make something with my hands, to fashion a flat piece of fabric into something Bean will wear in the world. But sewing is more than making something out of raw materials. It's that same thread that runs through the lessons my mother taught me--- a line going from me, to my mother, to her mother, and to others--- following a line of personal knowledge shared and passed on from one generation to the next. Sewing isn't just an act of creation. It's an act of faith, a recognition of sacrifice, trading spare moments for a tangible garment that gives meaning to the women who have come before me.

All this, from sewing.

You can bet I'm going to teach my daughter.

Monday, March 29, 2010

how to make fairy flags

This is the stuff of gauzy dresses
frothy wings of pink
afternoons of make-believe
tiny cakes adorned with
wee flirty flags...
How to Make Fairy Flags

Step 1.
Ingredients: a glue gun (mine is a terrible curmugeon), some kebab skewers, a selection of ribbon (any will do), and a pair of scissors.

Step 2.
Take your piece of ribbon.
Step 3.
Put a small dab of blue on the ribbon - and work fast for these next few steps since the glue will start to set and harden very quickly.

Step 4.
Place the skewer on the dab of glue.

Step 5.
Wrap the ribbon around the skewer with your fingers.

Step 6.
Trim the ribbon.

Step 7.
If you don't need the skewer full-sized, you can cut it down and use the remaining piece to make another fairy flag.

You are done.
But here's a warning: they are addictive. You will want to make more.

Use them for adorning presents.
And cupcakes.
And birthday cakes.

Or just because.

Friday, March 26, 2010

how to make a t-shirt dress

Sometimes warm, fresh from the dryer.
Sometimes crumpled on the floor.
Sometimes sweaty---sticking to your skin.
Sometimes just folded, cool in the drawer.
But always so soft.
Always so comfortable.
Always the perfect t-shirt.
And when it's no longer a t-shirt you want to wear, why not pass it on to a little one?

I pulled out a long-sleeve purple thing from high school (I don't know why I still have it). Knew that I wouldn't be caught dead in it. But Bean? Might just be able to carry it off as a dress.
Whimsy's Refashion: A Child's T-Shirt Dress From an Adult T-Shirt

Step 1.
The ingredients. You'll need a sewing machine, thread, scissors, and an adult t-shirt (size large or extra-large).
Step 2.
Turn the t-shirt inside out, and place it face up on your work surface.

Step 3.
You will need to know the approximate length you want for the dress. I wanted Bean's to go just below her knees to allow for some growth, so I measured the length from her shoulder to just below her knee

Step 4.
Fold the t-shirt directly in half - make sure that all the seams line up exactly.

Step 5.
Using a dress or slightly-big t-shirt from her closet as a guide, you'll trace the outline onto the soon-to-be-repurposed t-shirt with a pencil or pen. Only trace HALF, so that when you cut it out, it will be the same on both sides. As you can see, we'll be using the already-existing t-shirt neck. As you can also see, I'm tracing the outline bigger for a seam allowance.

As you get to the arm area, you'll allow extra room for the arm seams (note: the next time I do this, I'll actually make the arms bigger - her arms just barely fit into the sleeves right now, so not a good option for growth).

If you're using a child's t-shirt as a guide, once you have traced the arms, you will want to expand the dress beyond the outline of the child's t-shirt. A proper t-shirt dress should be a little flippy.

I extended the skirt area almost to the edges of the t-shirt.

The finished outline.

Step 6.
Pin the edges of your t-shirt so that you can cut through both layers of fabric without anything sliding around.

Step 7.
Keep the t-shirt folded in half, and cut on your traced lines.

Step 8.
Once you've cut it out, unfold the t-shirt and then carefully pin around the edges.

Step 9.
Keep the pins in as much as possible and sew up the sides of your creation. I used my machine's overlock stitch to do this - it is similar to a serged edge. But if your machine doesn't have this, just use a simple straight stitch and then go back and zig zag the edges. OR you can just leave the edges as-is. It might get a little rolled up inside there when you wash the dress, but it will still be fine.

Make sure you DON'T sew the arm holes or bottom closed!
Step 11.
Now that your sides are sewn up, you'll need to hem the arms and the bottom of the dress. Pin them up first, making a nice hemmed edge. If you'd like, you can iron these up so it will be easier to sew them.

Step 12.
Hem the arms and bottom.

Step 13.
Turn right side out.


The perfect addition to some leggies---- or over jeans---- or even just plain.

(Note: because we used the existing shirt's neckline, it will be a little big on a little girl - this is easily solved by layering the dress over a onesie or undershirt.)

Thursday, March 25, 2010

the thing is

Last night at 9pm I made a decision. Several decisions, in fact, but all centered on one thing:

You need to do what is going to work for you, what is going to ultimately help you. Sometimes that means doing the hard thing. Sometimes that means saying no. Sometimes that means powering down and shutting off.

Sometimes that means changing a plan.

There was a tutorial slotted for today but I decided to delay it a day--- it upsets my entire plan of a WEEK LONG CRAFT EXTRAVAGANZA but I'm embracing the whimsy (and embracing The Whimsy) and saying pffft - it'll be fine.

Tomorrow: t-shirt dress tutorial.

And next week: one last tutorial and the big Etsy shop reveal.

For your Thursday reading and discussion and contest-entering pleasure, please consider:

1. Wandering Nana has a contest up for the next round of the Golden Minion Box of Awesomeness. If you haven't entered already, do it now. Be awesome.
2. What is your feeling on FLAKEY? Do you allow flakeyness in your life? Do you allow it (or like it) in the people around you? Do you think it's something to avoid or grow out of--- or do you think being flakey is a higher plane of being?
and this one:
3. Does anyone else think that Dr. Oz looks like a gremlin/goblin/creepy fairy tale creature?

Wednesday, March 24, 2010

how to make a superhero costume

It is my own personal opinion that every child needs a super alter ego. A cape to don, a special insignia--- something to show that this child is special. Super even.

As they are.

This particular tutorial came about because Clueless But Hopeful Mama asked for ideas to expand a dress-up box.

I considered tutus (which are awesome and very easy to do WITHOUT A SEWING MACHINE, y'all).
Chef garb.

Some fancy clothes.

But none of them really grabbed me.

You know what grabbed me? Thinking about Bean as she will be in a few years, when she can't get enough of sparkly pink princess junk and it is All Royal All the Time. I am not going to tell her she can't live and breathe the fuschia glitter.

But I am going to try to offer her as many options as possible. See if she'll be interested in trading the tiara for a cape. At least occasionally.

Here's hoping.

How to Make a Superhero Costume: the Whimsy Tutorial

Step 1.
For the ingredients you'll need a child's shirt (preferably white), some fun fabric, scissors, two 1-inch pieces of white velcro (or the color to match your shirt, i.e. black for black, etc.), an iron, an ironing board, and double-sided fusible web (found in your local fabric store).

Step 2.
Trace the outline of a letter - this is the letter that will go on your child's insignia shirt. I chose A for Alice, but you can do whatever strikes your fancy, of course. You could also do a simple shape in place of a letter, like a star or lightening bolt. Once you've traced the letter, cut it out.

Step 3.
Familiarize yourself with the fusible web. The webbing itself is sandwiched between two sheets of paper. One piece is easily removeable, the other is not. Make sure you're tracing on the paper that is NOT easily removeable during this step.
Take the fusible web (the not-easily removeable paper side facing UP) and your letter/symbol. Flip the letter/symbol over so it is backwards and then trace it onto the fusible web.

Step 4.
Cut out the fusible web-traced shape (loosely cut out, as you can see - don't cut on the lines yet). Also take your cute fabric. Flip the fabric over so the wrong side is facing up. Remove the easily-removeable paper from the fusible web to reveal a slightly sticky substance. Now press the web to the wrong side of your fabric. Run your hand over it a little so it sticks.

Step 5.
Cut out your shape (you now have a fusible web/fabric sandwich). As you can see, there are some frayed edges here because my shape is very curvey. The more straight edges your shape has, the less frayed edges. But I don't think it's a big deal either way - you can trim them at the end.

Step 6.
Here are both of my shapes. I'm an overachiever and so I am doing a multi-layered design (lightening bolt on bottom, letter on top).

Step 7.
Have your shirt ready to go on the ironing board. Position your shape on the shirt, but remember: you still have that other piece of paper backing on the shape, so it's not going to stick. Yet. Once you're happy with the position of the shape on the shirt, remove the paper backing and then stick the shape down on the shirt.

Step 8.
Using an iron set on the highest setting suggested for the garment (in this case my shirt is cotton so it's set as high as it can go) - WITH steam, iron over the shape and the shirt. You'll iron over it for 20 seconds or so. You don't have to press extra hard or anything, just iron for 20 seconds and then you're done with the applique. As you can see with mine, I did the lightening bolt first and then the letter.

Step 9.
Place your shirt on your work surface and look at the front of it (ignore the ruler in this picture). You will be sewing two pieces of velcro on to the shoulders of the shirt. Make sure you use the SOFT side of the velcro for both shoulders - the scratchy part will be going on the cape.

As you can see, this is why it's important for the velcro and shirt to match - white on white allows the child to wear the shirt without the cape, if he or she so chooses.

The finished shirt with velcro attached. The next time I do this, I'm going to move the velcro forward a little bit more toward the front of the shirt. It's still fine, but I think having it moved closer to the front will make the cape a little more cape-y, if you get my meaning.

Second: THE CAPE.
Step 1.
Cape ingredients: 2/3 of a yard of fabric (I actually used part of a sheet I found on clearance ages ago), the other sides of the velcro tabs (scratchy sides), sewing machine, iron & ironing board.
Step 2.
Cut your fabric. Width: 20 inches. Length: about 8 inches shorter than the child's height (in my case, I just measured the distance from Bean's shoulders to the tops of her shoes - I didn't want the cape to be skimming the ground). You can make the cape wider if the child is older - it's a pretty flexible size so I doubt you could do this too wrong by playing with the size a bit.

Step 3.
Using your iron, you will create a hem along three sides of the cape: the two long sides and one of the short sides. I did about a 1/2 inch hem, but again--- you can play with this. Nothing is set in stone. Once you've ironed the hem, sew it up. You will have one raw edge on the second unhemmed short side.

Step 4.
The unhemmed short side will be the top of the cape. This is going to be gathered. To make a gather, you simply sew a straight stitch along the edge, about 1/4 inch in. Leave the long tails of the thread at the beginning and the end of your line of stitching.

Step 5.
Now you're going to pull the fabric along the strings very gently, creating a gather. I purposely left both sides closest to the edges ungathered.

Step 6.
Remember this picture of the shirt? You will want to measure the distance from one piece of velcro to the other - essentially finding out how wide your cape should be at the top. In my case, this was 9 inches. I made sure to gather the cape to be 9 inches wide.

Step 7.
Put the cape aside and pick up your piece of cape fabric again (whatever is left). Cut a piece of it 2 inches longer than the width of your cape (that measurement you took between the velcro), and about 4 inches wide. This is going to be a little hem casing for the top of the cape, to cover over the gathered bits.

Step 8.
Using your iron, you'll iron the piece of hem casing in half lengthwise, then unfold it. Then fold up the bottom portion and iron it. Then fold down the top portion and iron it until you have a finished piece of hem casing. Notice that one side of the hem casing is slightly wider than the other - this is done on purpose, to make it easier to sew everything together.

Step 9.
Open up the hem casing and put the gathered side of your cape in it. Treat this step like you're wrapping a present. You'll want to tuck in the ends of the casing on both sides of the cape - do it any way it will work for you, there really isn't a right or wrong way. I trimmed up some bits of it to make this easier. Pin everything in place.

Step 10.
Sew it all up.

Step 11.
Place your two scratchy velcro pieces on both ends of the cape top. Sew them on.

This is super easy: you just stick the cape on to the velcro bits on the shirt and GO.

Flying optional.