Dec 26, 2010

Our Etsy Little Christmas

At 3:40 a.m. today we awoke to the sound of two guys fighting in the street outside our apartment. Loudly, of course (is there any other kind of streetfight?). It was all in Spanish so we had no idea what the fight was about or if threats were being made, but we called 911 nonetheless, because hearing someone get beat up wasn't how I wanted to come down off my holiday high. And, as usually happens in these types of situations, as soon as we dialed 911 the streetfighters took their bout elsewhere. 

Anyway, with our semi-sick kid in our bed we awoke this morning to play with our new toys, some of which were bought on Etsy. Next year I might try to buy all my gifts there. The wooden sewing machine above was a steal at just $25. I know, it's a little "Just Like Mom" considering what I do all darn day, but there's only so many years in your child's life during which they actually look up to you before they turn to scorn and ridicule. I'll be making the most of that time.

 And here's my favourite gift: a handmade spool rack, which I sorely needed. I think my husband bought it for me because I had threatened to make my own using a power drill, chopsticks, a 2X4, and wood glue. It was a good idea, though I'm not sure our little apartment could withstand the rigours of woodworking too. Better to leave that up to the experts ...or at least someone in Pennsylvania with a woodshop in their garage.

Dec 24, 2010

I did this, so you don't have to

I'm pretty sure my mom has zero recollection of what it's like to have a small child. Or maybe she simply blocked out all the less-than-happy memories about what life can be like day-to-day with a toddler. How else to explain why we have so many conversations like this:

Me:  Yeah, so we took the train upstate to visit some friends this weekend. 
Mom: Oh! How long is the ride?
Me: About two hours.
Mom: That must have been fun!
Me: Uh, the first five minutes,'re kidding, right?
Mom: Kidding? Why?
Me: Have you ever met a two-year-old who likes to sit in one spot for two hours?
Mom: But she must have had fun looking out the window.
Me: Maybe if Elmo was running alongside the train juggling hotdogs. So: no. Not really. 

Anyway, there are a lot of things in New York City that sound super fun, but aren't really when you have to drag a toddler along. Seeing Santa at Macy's is high on that list. (I tried explaining to my mom just how brutally long the line is, and how excruciating it is to stand behind some obnoxious, bronzed four-kid family from New Jersey. Seriously, is Santaland worth crossing state lines?). 

Still, we braved the midtown Manhattan crowds yesterday because Ryan had the morning off and I really wanted to see the holiday window displays. Admittedly, morning is not the best time to see Christmas lights and windows (plus the glare gets in the way of a good photo), but we live an hour from midtown and the prospect of going there post-work-rush-hour-dinner-hour was just too much for me.

The best holiday windows are found at Macy's, Saks, Lord & Taylor, Barney's, Bergdorf Goodman and Bloomingdales. (Here's a map for anyone who cares.) We were only able to see Macy's (we had to go there to buy shoes for the kiddo), Saks and Lord & Taylor. The three Bs (Bergdorf, Barney's and Bloomies) are all about 20 blocks uptown from the others so we couldn't fit them in this visit. But you can go to Gothamist for more photos (all better than mine because they were taken at night). And WNYC has a nice breakdown on the windows plus a walking tour planned out.

My favourite in the three we saw was Saks, whose windows featured one-of-a-kind designs by Alexander McQueen, Calvin Klein, Jason Wu, Kaufman Franco, Marc Jacobs, Marchesa, Nina Ricci, Oscar de la Renta, Proenza Schouler, and Sophie Theallet. Lucy called the little girl featured in each diorama "Goldilocks," though she may be more of a sci-fi Little Red Riding Hood. Here she is catching mechanized butterflies:

Riding on a robot elephant:
Driving her futuristic bubble car:
And hitching a ride on a mechanized octopus:
Down Fifth Ave. is Lord & Taylor, another fancy-person's department store that I have never once set foot in because I couldn't afford to buy a luggage tag there. The store polled its customers for their favourite holiday memories and used them to create sentimental dollhouse scenes from various eras, like the following:

Now it doesn't take a demographer to figure out how diverse Lord & Taylor's clientele probably is: rich, very rich and stupidly rich. Oh, and totally white apparently because this little guy (who appears ready to climb up the fire escape) was the only person of colour in the store's 12 different vignettes:

Macy's throws up the same windows every year — a series of tableaux from the Miracle on 34th Street. It's much more kid-friendly than the artsier windows uptown, but the glare was really bad and in every photo I took you can see Footlocker and T-Mobile across the street better than you can see the Santa scenes:

Dec 20, 2010

Final Project for FIT

Okay, so styled appropriately, the Anne Klein knock-off blouse I made for my final patternmaking class project is not all that horrible. I was on the fence about it, and then my UPS guy told me I looked lovely. " It is a size 10, and my dress form at school sorta had a fat back, so it puffs out on me a lot, though belted it kinda looks purposeful. If I worked in an office, I'd probably wear it. But I don't. Moving on. Here's the front (note the princess line seam over the bust; also: flat-felled seams)
 And the back, which I do like, though it was complicated to sew. Our teacher called this style a "princess kimono." That basically means it has princess line seams PLUS kimono-style sleeves. What that means is a buttload of sewing, and a whole lot of pattern pieces — 12, I think. I think if it actually fit well, it would be a marvel of design. But as loose as it is on me, it's....not so hot. Check out the back:

After this, I feel ready to tackle a more complicated blouse. Maybe knock-off something I would actually wear, like this blouse from Anthropologie (ignore the fabric):

or maybe this, but in red:

Dec 15, 2010

Felt Toadstool Ornaments

Slitting open the plastic wrap on a box of new matching Christmas balls or snowflakes or whatever just seems wrong to me. I don't know what it is. I like my ornaments either handmade, vintage or as gifts. I like being surprised by what I see on someone's Christmas tree.  Uniformity (of colour/of ornaments/etc) can be lovely of course....but in a department store tree, not in a family tree.
 If I were to go for uniformity (which would mean not hanging up so many sentimental ornaments, a thing my husband would never allow, the big softie), I would go with a woodland theme: acorn garland, pinecones dusted with fake snow or glitter, clusters of holly, little fabric birds nestled on the branches, and toadstools — like the little red and white felt one pictured above. I was inspired by the toadstool rattles and terrariums my friend Holly makes (and will be selling at City of Craft in Toronto next weekend).  It was so easy, I barely had to neglect my child to make this one in about 15 minutes. Of course, you can see that my stitches aren't even, but I wasn't aiming for that sort of aesthetic. (Call it a design decision, and you don't have to apologize for your mistakes.)


-scrap of red felt
-scrap of white or off-white felt
-handful of poly batting
-needle and thread (I used brown because I wanted my stitches to show, but white or red would look good too)
-6-inch piece of string for hanging the ornament

Cut out the following:
-3-inch diameter circle of red felt
-2 1/2-inch diameter circle of white or off-white felt
-Approx. 2-inch square (for stem) you can see in the picture mine's a bit bigger.
-3/4-inch diameter circle of white or off-white felt
-a few small circles of white or off-white felt for the spots on the top

You don't have to follow the instructions in this exact order. But this is what I did. First, I pinned the white circle to the red circle (the red circle is bigger, so it will gather as you sew. This will give you a nice, round top when you stuff it. Pin one side together, and then the other. Then pin between those two, so the excess on the bigger red piece is distributed evenly). Then stitch together. Don't worry about being perfect. Stop stitching when you have just a 1 1/2-inch opening left, like this:
 Then stuff it with your batting, like so: (aw, doesn't it look like a shy little turtle shell?)
Ahem: finish stitching all the way around.

Next, grab your square of white felt, and make a tube, overlapping a little. Stitch together along that seam, like this:
 When the tube to stitched shut, grab the little 3/4-inch circle you cut out earlier, and stitch it to one end of the tube, closing it off. Then stuff with a little bit of batting.

Take the stem and the top and stitch together like this:

I think it would be easier to stitch your spots on first, but I did it this way so they would follow the curve of the toadstool top. It may not really matter. Either way, stitch your spots on, like so: (I put on three, but you could do more)

I used a short piece of hemp to make the string for the ornament, but you could use embroidery floss, string, or whatever you have. I tied a knot in one end and then sewed it onto the toadstool top using a couple loops with my needle and thread. Done!

Dec 9, 2010


You know how awesome the online fabric store Spoonflower is? When I go there, I never even make it off the front page. It's a crazy start-up that lets any old person design, print and sell their own fabric designs. Kind of like Etsy for textile designers. But everything is priced the same (starting at $18/yard for quilting cotton and up to $38/yard for silk crepe de chine — fancy!), which I think is cool because everyone's work is valued equally. I'm such a socialist. You can buy other people's designs printed on a variety of fabrics. Or you could upload your own design/drawings and have it printed for a special project (Holly Handmade, get on this!). All you do is upload a JPEG/GIF/TIF/PNG or whatever of a photo, your artwork, or a design you created in Photoshop or Illustrator. If I needed a new hobby, textile design would be it. (Some tips for creating an image).

See an example of awesome large-scale print that would be great to stretch over a frame and hang over your couch (just tilt your head to the right and imagine):

 There are also a number of print, cut and sew dolls. You would be a Christmas morning hero with this set of hand puppets:

Also super cool: fabric printed with calenders. From one yard you could make four wall hangings (or tea towels, or however you think it best to gift a textile calender) to give as gifts:

Dec 8, 2010

Crafty Corsages for Christmas

Last year my husband and I spent more on our holiday tip for the building's super than we did on each other (we had a $25 limit). And the only other person we purchased a gift for was our daughter, who was around 18 months at the time and in need of new toys (I hear people -- mostly moms -- say this all the time: "We just have sooooo much stuff!" like it's such a huuuuuge problem. Too much stuff. I wish we had that problem.) Anyway, instead of presents we shot a Christmas music video with the three of us and sent it out to family. I'm sure there were some who just thought we were self-centered and cheap. But really, the reality was we could not afford to buy Christmas gifts. And we were not going to accumulate more debt to do so. There was no moral high ground there. Just the shameful reality that people are going to buy you presents, and you are not going to be able to return the kindness. Even making stuff would have cost too much for us at the time. Purchasing materials was just beyond our mid-recession budget. 

This year, things are better. But we are still committed to living within our means, even during the holidays. But at least we can afford handmade this year. Like the above felt flower corsage, which I made a bunch of for grandma gifts (Lucy has three official grandmas, plus one honorary grandma, and all of them are so good to her). I didn't make it up myself. I followed this tutorial at My friend Lizzi hates it when I say something like this is easy, but it really was. (Just get your 10-year-old to make you one). I think it would look cute on a wool coat, or a hat or even a tote bag.

Dec 7, 2010

I Believe It's Called a Bait-and-Switch?

  The tricky thing about Christmas with a small child is that everything about the holidays is shiny and sparkly and so, so pretty....for a few weeks you pull out all this stuff that's all new to them because their memories don't extend back 12 months to last Christmas. So of course they want to manhandle everything in sight. That means broken decorations (or not bringing them out at all, sniff).

I thought it made sense to make something my kid could get her grubby paws all over without a problem. And maybe (though who am I kidding) that would keep her eyes off the other stuff: like the vintage glass balls found at a antique market in Winnipeg or the retro bubbling faux candles on our tree, for, example. (Who knows what that liquid is inside the little glass tube. All I know is it stains hardwood floors — badly. That can be good. Anyhow...)

I remembered seeing these little fabric stacking trees from the Small Object blog and thought they'd be perfect. Toddlers love building, stacking and then doing demo. Also: a great way to use up all the scraps I'm creating sewing up doll carriers for my Etsy shop lately.

  My plan, it worked. She plays with these things for, like, minutes at a time. Seriously: minutes.

 I'm not going to reinvent the wheel and tell you how to make these. Just follow the link if you care: The Small Object . There's even a PDF pattern you can easily download, though tracing a couple bowls and cutting each circle in half would be just as easy.

Dec 4, 2010


First they came for our Christmas sweaters. Next they appropriated Sally Jesse Raphael's sassy red specs. Now, corduroy. Is nothing nerdy sacred anymore?

I missed the 5th annual meeting of The Corduroy Appreciation Club last month in Manhattan, mostly because I'd never heard of this band of ironic wale-wearing hipsters but also because I didn't have anything to wear (there's a two-Corduroy-item rule, and yes, they capitalize the word "Corduroy" out of respect). I would like to join the never-ending battle against velvet. But I guess I'll have to wait until next year. From the Corduroy Club's official website:

Both the NY Times and Gothamist jumped on the warm and wintry textile bandwagon with tongue-in-cheek stories about the club's annual meeting. I can't believe this is what the cool kids are doing for fun these days.

Anyway, the skirt below is the first project I've sewn from the book "Twinkle Sews," a great collection of unique and fashionable tops, skirts and dresses — many of them quite difficult. This was not, and printing out the zillion pages of the pattern, taping them together and then cutting it out was the most laborious part. It makes drafting your own pattern easy in comparison. See front:

When it comes to corduroy, there's a fine line between hipster and Hasidic. I had to cut four inches off the bottom of the skirt because a) I'm short and b) when I tried it on I looked a little Orthodox for my liking.

Dec 1, 2010

Final Class Project for this Semester

Sigh. See this white button-up blouse above (captured on my cellphone)?  It's an Anne Klein number, which is surprising given the hideous elasticized elbow-length sleeves. It's also the final project for my patternmaking class at the Fashion Institute of Technology in NYC. We have to replicate the above blouse, but to fit our dressform using the slopers (the main building blocks of all clothing patterns) we made earlier this semester. A little disappointing considering last semester's final project looked like this:


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