Dec 30, 2012

Walk of Fame/Shame — Highs and Lows of 2012 Sewing

Everybody's doing it. And even though the best things I made this year were actually made in 2011 (make sense to any of you?), I'm throwing down my best/worst of 2012 post.

I find doing something like this is instructive: looking at what self-made things I loved best this year tells me a lot — most importantly, that my favorite projects weren't even for myself. (And many of them weren't even sewn). Which explains why I have nothing to wear.

This shirt was perfection. Unfortunately Ryan's new job demands much more sitting than he's used to, and he has to work really hard to keep his weight down. So this shirt doesn't fit him right now, and I cut the actual paper pattern for the size medium (resolution for the New Year: trace, goddammit!), which means I would have to grade it up to a large if I want to make him another that fits. That seems like a lot of work. Instead I'll just hope his new gym membership makes a difference.

I'm still really proud of this one — even though on Halloween my kid refused to wear the hood because she was hot (we were outside and it was cold, but her Scandinavian/Canadian blood runs hot; lesson learned. Next year she can go as Tinkerbell, who basically dresses like a burlesque performer).

3. Bombshell Dresses

This clearly illustrates why I don't have much that's practical in my closet this year. I love making bustiers, I guess, and spent the better part of my few sewing hours making these three dresses. Still, looking at the photos above, I just want an occasion to wear these dresses I made. 

I wore this jacket a ton this year (thanks to global warming, it has been appropriate in nearly all seasons in NYC in 2012), and got compliments on it every time I did. I still want to make another, but this time with pockets on the outside. I just can't deal with no-pockets. 

I love the print on this dress I made using Burdastyle's Cap Sleeve Dress with Dirndl Skirt Pattern — which required A LOT of alteration to make fit so nicely. (I also nixed the dirndl skirt because I already have hips, thankyouverymuch. I drafted an A-line skirt to go with this bodice instead.) 

Honorable Mentions (all the stuff I made that you can't wear):

This took so many hours to make, but it was so fun. And now I'm contemplating career choices that involve building in cardboard.

This took me nearly a month to make, and involved learning so many new things. I can't wait to make next year's video. We already have a concept and a plan (Anyone in NYC want to be an extra?)

And now for the WORST of 2012:

I would still stand by this pattern (McCall's 6404) and this concept, it's just the fit is bad around the knees, and the faux leather is cheap — so I find little black flakes everywhere when I wear them. Yuck. I'm currently ripping them apart, so I can try to remake them in solid grey. I love the ponte knit I used, and don't want it to go to waste.

I can't reflect on this one without getting mad about this wasted fabric. I love this cotton print, which I also used to line my Minoru coat. But I didn't make a muslin to test the fit, and the neckline gaped so badly, I ended up cutting off the skirt and throwing a waistband on it. 

Alright, I know that's only two misses. But I didn't sew as much as I would have liked this year, so I didn't have as many chances for failure as I did in past years. Still, the lessons I've learned from looking back are:

• Trace your patterns; don't cut. People grow!
• Test commercial patterns by making a muslin before you cut into your fabric. (I know; duh.)
• Avoid cheapo fabrics; you won't end up wearing them because they're hot, uncomfortable, and fall apart.

Happy New Year everybody!

Dec 29, 2012

What We've Been Up To This Holiday

The Wisconsin string art I made for my husband, in its new home on top of a bookcase
I hope you all enjoyed your Christmas/White Anglo Saxon Winter Privilege Night (anyone else on here a Schmidt fan?). We really did. My husband has had the entire week off and we've been making the most of this time together; he starts his new job Jan. 2, and it will be back to rare sightings as he works hard to prove himself. 

In the days before Christmas I was hurrying to finish illustrating this book that I wrote for my daughter. It's about a raccoon who's unfairly accused of stealing an egg. In order to clear his name, he has find the real culprit with the help of his friends: fox and squirrel. Lucy was pretty delighted with the book, though she solved the mystery much earlier than I thought:

I also once again made a Yule Log for our Christmas Eve celebration with friends. It's made with chocolate cake, chocolate mousses, and chocolate ganache. The mushrooms you see are made of meringue and cocoa. It's an amazing dessert, worth writing about. But there's always a point in making it when I scream, "I'm NEVER doing this again!" and everybody in my family runs away as fast as they can. It requires so many steps — like a whole day of prep, baking, whisking and assembling, and the crucial rolling of the mousse-topped cake is a difficult task I always mess up. I'll probably make it again next year. That's how good it is.

On the eve of Christmas Eve, we went to our friends' apartment for a little party. It was a little late to bring along a kid, but I campaigned hard for us all to brave the bus ride to Washington Heights. And it was an amazing night thanks to our friends, performers both, who are so generous with their talents. My four-year-old was ready to join the circus after a night spent spinning plates, juggling, and watching our friends perform their hilarious faux hypnotism act. Matt also made everyone pipe cleaner mustaches: 

It's so worth breaking routine for making memories with friends.

On Christmas Eve we went to our good friends'  apartment in Inwood, where we ate some traditionally American dishes as well as Dominican food, and — of course — the Buche de Noel (Yule Log) cake. We sang carols, cuddled their baby, and tried to keep the excited energy to a manageable level for these two:

Soul sisters
 My kid was the most gracious gift-getter this Christmas. Everything was amazing. All of it was her favorite. She was all smiles for the entire day, no tantrums, no whining. A Christmas miracle:

Yesterday we went skating at Van Cortlandt Park in the Bronx. It was definitely weird for this Canadian to ice-skate in the shadow of the elevated 1 train. There were more people hanging on the boards than I have ever seen. But at $13/person I can understand why our neighbors here in the Bronx aren't making skating a regular winter activity. It was more than we could afford, but we did it anyway, and it was so worth it. Lucy took to it like a true (half) Canadian. 

I haven't sewn a thing these past few weeks, which causes me a little guilt, but there's an alleged blizzard coming our way today, so I may take a few hours to get deep into the new class I started before the holidays hit. It's Kenneth King's "Jeanius" class, which is all about how to reverse-engineer your fave jeans/pants. 

I've been watching the videos, trying to figure out what jeans to use for this project. I don't actually have a pair that I like, which is definitely a requisite for finding an item to copy. Fortunately, before Christmas I shopped for some new clothes, and found this perfect pair of tuxedo-style cropped cigarette pants (I don't yet have a pic, or else I would show you what I mean by that description). 

They're by W118 Walter Baker, which is not a brand I have ever heard of, but they are divine. I'm pear-shaped but they magically balance out my frame a great deal. I feel really good in them. They're not jeans, obviously, but the method Kenneth King teaches in the Jeanius class can be employed in copying pretty much anything, I think.   

That's the update from here. I hope your holidays have been just as fun!

Dec 21, 2012

Ornament Exchange BIG REVEAL!

Did that title get you excited? Are you sick of seeing other's Christmas trees yet? Not me. 

Other than the eight new ornaments I received from the other participants in this exchange (which were SO delightful to get in the mail!), I'm most excited about the new colored lights we (OK, I) opted for this year. Ever since I've had my own tree, I've done white lights. But since our tree ends up covered in mostly kid-made ornaments, I was wanting more of a retro, family-friendly vibe, a la "Christmas Story":

Yes, it is a small tree. And yes, it was still hella expensive!
We don't usually do much decorating other than the tree. We live in an apartment, so we don't have a mantle. Any shelf space we've got is prime real estate for stuff we actually use....but this year I did switch out pictures for a Christmas-themed cluster that includes the embroidered titles from my family Christmas music video (Have you seen it already? Go check it out.)

And now, for the ornaments (follow the various links to go straight to the tutorials posted for each):

Kelli of True Bias started this little ornament exchange. She sent me this whimsical little red peacoat, which I loved so much, I tried out her tutorial — twice! (see below)

These are my two attempts at Kelli's pattern. I opted for more sewing over gluing (pom-pom buttons!)

Mika of Savory Stitches must have a ton of patience. Just look at all the beading on her lovely peace dove ornament:

 Lucy just LOVES this narwhal ornament by Jen of Grainline Studio. In fact, she was pretty pissed at me about it. Pissed that it's mine, and NOT HERS:

As for Dixie DIY's tasty-looking peppermint ornament, I had to remind my kid twice not to lick it:

This Holly Jolly Pug by Sonja of Gingermakes almost didn't make it onto our tree. My kid was convinced she needed to send it to her aunt, who actually owns two pugs. I told her Anne can make her own pug ornament (that's what these tutorials are for, right?):

I'd never seen Miranda's One Little Minute blog before this exchange, but this lady is seriously talented (in case you need more evidence than this intricate paper reindeer ornament she designed, go see her blog. She's a woman of many talents. And prolific too.)

And last, but never least, Maddie's adorable yarn ball ornament, which looks like a neat, easy one to make in a pinch for a gift:

So there's my tree! I better get back to work on my final Christmas project: a picture book I wrote and am illustrating for my kid. It's proving to be a little ambitious, just because of time constraints. I'll post a preview pic soon!

Merry Christmas all,

Dec 13, 2012

Introducing our Semi-Annual Family Christmas Music Video!

Hey Blog buddies! I have a special gift for you today: The semi-annual Paulson-Beaubien Family Christmas music video! (That's me and my crew, just in case that's not clear). I'll spare you the details until after you watch it (but knitters and embroiderers should watch for some handmade offerings):

Our family got the best early Christmas present earlier this month: a full-time job for my husband, thus completing his career change and ending our year of self-sacrifice. (Can I get a "WOOHOO!"?)

That said, it doesn't start until January, so we'll be enjoying another lean Christmas this year. But I didn't want to forgo giving completely (I know what you're thinking: make stuff, dummy! But the cost of shipping adds up to more than we can afford; we both live far from our families and closest friends, and I've learned that even a nice batch of homemade caramels can end up costing you a fair amount when they all have to travel 2,000 miles).

A video seemed like something we could share widely to bring joy to our family and friends, without spending any money. And I knew grandparents especially would love to see Lucy. (We did it once before, in 2009, when Lucy was just one. I still love watching that video, even if my drumming was pretty poor.)

The concept was mine, but Ryan and I wrote the song together (a super fun thing to do with a bottle of wine on a Saturday night). I did nearly everything else, including video editing, making embroidered titles AND a knitting project gone wrong (purposefully, I swear). Lucy was quite obliging, though somehow she manages to yawn in the middle of a good take, making it look like she's just so over it. Four-year-olds. What are you gonna do?

I hope you enjoy the video. Feel free to share if you do (like the song says, it's easy to re-gift this Christmas song!).

Merry Christmas!

Dec 11, 2012

Show Your State Some Love With DIY String Art

Do we have Bon Iver to thank for inventing the concept of Wisconsin pride?

(Of course Texans have always had it.) 

Actually, most Americans are pretty into their state's shape. They're often offended when you can't name it based on a squiggly outline, to which I reply, "Find me a household object shaped like Saskatchewan!" — an easy exercise because Saskatchewan is shaped like a board. (I'm not actually from Saskatchewan. I'm from British Columbia. I just like watching Americans say the word "Saskatchewan" as they briefly consider the breadth of all that they do not know).

Anyway, people from the Midwest are practically Canadian for their humble lack of overt state patriotism. I like that about them.

My husband is from Eau Claire, Wisconsin, which is actually Bon Iver's hometown. Ryan's never met him, but he does like to recall listening to Justin Vernon's first band out of high school. It sounded a lot like Jack Johnson, apparently.

So for Christmas this year I decided to make him a piece of string art in the shape of Wisconsin (with a heart where Eau Claire is located).

I got the idea from this Mississippi artist's Etsy shop, which I found through Pinterest. If you don't have the patience to hammer a couple hundred nails into a board like I did, I recommend placing a custom order with Curiously Wrought. She's even made the map of Canada, an impressive feat considering the shape of our three coast lines.

I, however, am short on money — but long on patience. And I have an assistant who demands only cookies as payment.

It should be noted: in order to get anything done with a child underfoot, you must involve them in some small way (but make their contribution seem really significant or they'll lose interest). Also, handing over part-creative control to a preschooler may mean you end up with an orange art project, which is what I did.

She was right though; her dad claims orange to be his favorite color. But when it's a project paying homage to a state known chiefly for its contribution to cheese culture, it can seem a little....literal. Ryan is a good man though, and I'm sure he'll love it all the more knowing Lucy picked the paint chip.

What you need:

-A piece of wood. We reclaimed a board that had been a shelf in a friend's closet. (With her permission, I swear).
-A bunch of 3/4-inch nails (I estimate I used about 250 nails, or approx. 3/4 of a package)
-String, a lot of it (mine was from the dollar store)

Optional: Paint (Orange or any other hopefully non-questionable color), tracing wheel and projector (though you could probably find another way to transfer the shape of your state onto a board!)

To start with, Lucy and I sanded the board a bit to get rid of any splinters and make the paint stick better.

Then we painted a couple thick coats of orange and let it dry completely.

I knew if tried to draw the outline of Wisconsin freehand my husband would end up making fun of me. (Again, damn Americans and their fierce devotion to their state's shape!)

So I set up the projector  (my husband bought one for a solo show he performed a few years back), and traced the shape onto a large piece of pattern paper. I drew a heart where Eau Claire is located.

(The upside of re-discovering our projector: my kid was so thrilled to watch an episode of My Little Pony projected onto the wall of our apartment.)

Then I taped the pattern paper to my board and used my tracing wheel to transfer the outline of Wisconsin onto my board. It was actually a pretty great way to do this because I had ready-made spacing for my nails: every three holes I placed a nail.

Then the hammering began.

Lucy only banged my thumb a couple times.

Winding the string was fun. I simply made a slipknot on the end and wrapped it around a nail. Then I zigzagged from the outline to the heart, all the way around, knotting it at the end.

The effect is pretty heartwarming for a cheesehead, dontchathink?

I don't know where in our apartment this is going to go. It's pretty heavy, and the walls in our pre-war apartment are crumbly as an oatmeal crisp. There's no mantle either. Maybe atop a bookcase? (WWBID?)

So that's one of the things I've been working on these past few weeks. Lucky for me, my husband never reads my blog, so I can share this DIY with you even though it's still weeks until Christmas.

What about you? You got state (or province) pride? How do you express it?

Dec 3, 2012

Ornament Exchange 2012!

When the lovely and talented Kelli of True Bias asked me to participate in an ornament exchange this holiday season with a bunch of other bloggers, I didn't have to consider it for long before saying yes. After all, the darkest days of the year are definitely easier to take with a little extra glitz. (I consider the lights on my Christmas tree a sort of S.A.D.-preventing device).

Plus the thought of receiving a tiny package from each of the eight other bloggers involved, each containing a completely unique handmade ornament, throughout the month of December? My kid might just lose it from the excitement. (And me too). 

Brainstorming ornament ideas, I tried to think of what aspects of Christmas decor I loved most. And I kept coming back to tiny details. Stuff like Bergdorf Goodman's Christmas window displays, the Metropolitan Museum of Art Baroque Creche and Christmas Tree, and the Holiday Train Show at the New York Botanical Garden really floats my boat. (We haven't been yet but became NYBG members this year just so we could go see the intricate models of iconic NYC buildings and landmarks made completely from natural materials like acorns, bark, twigs and fungus.) And though I'm not Christian, I still adore nativity scenes for the miniature lambs, camels and fancily attired Three Wise Men. Dioramas, obviously, are also up my alley. Searching for and appreciating tiny details on Christmas ornaments is just so magical to me. 

Part of the deal here is providing readers with a tutorial to make whatever ornament we came up with. And I was trying to work with materials I already have on hand — that way I would keep the costs low for me, and also insure that readers can try their hand at making it possibly without having to spend any money themselves. (I care about your budgets, people!). I wanted something simple and fast to make, but infinitely customizable, so readers could add their own details if they have the time, materials and crazy will to make something weird this holiday season. 

The starting point is a simple corduroy and muslin mouse with button eyes, an embroidered nose and whiskers made from a few strands of thread:

The pattern I created is terribly simple — so simple I hesitate to call it a pattern. (It can be downloaded by clicking the image below):

But the details are what make it special. Consider this mouse, who I call "Craft Blogger Mouse" for her balls of yarn and on-trend chevron-printed dress:

Or this one, who is clearly from Brooklyn:

If there was ever a time to stage a craft intervention, now's the time:

Gangnam Style Mouse
OK, back to simpler, actual Christmas-themed ornaments. The Mouse King (from The Nutcracker, another of my holiday favorites), made with a muslin crown painted with gold fabric paint:

And the Sugar Plum Fairy, wearing a wee tutu and toting a fabric-wrapped button for good measure:

Poor dear is a little cockeyed, no?
Using the pattern posted above, cut two body pieces, one each from your two fabrics, and four ear pieces — two from each fabric. I used muslin and brown corduroy, but feel free to use whatever you have on hand. (Save your fabric money for a nice dress instead and make this from your scraps. The tiniest pieces will do!).

At minimum, the only other supplies you will need are two buttons for eyes, and some black embroidery floss. This is what you will start with (plus a handful of polyfill):

Then, right sides together, machine stitch (or hand sew, if that's how you roll!),  3/8-inch from the edge most of the way around the body and the ears, leaving an opening along the bottom of each to turn right side out: 

Then turn the body right side out, using a chopstick or some other pointy object to get those little corners pressed out:

And do the same with the two ears, setting them aside for the moment:

Now sew on your two buttons for eyes, using a couple strands of black thread, keeping them level with the widest point of the mouse's face:

Thread an embroidery needle with black floss, and stitch your nose at the bottom point of the face. I used just four stitches to make my nose, starting with a small horizontal stitch, and then a couple slightly longer stitches above it:

Thread your embroidery needle again and knot the end. Poke the needle through the underside of your mouse face, pulling the thread all the way through. Snip the thread so it's about 3/4-inch long. That's one whisker. Repeat this process three more times. From the underside it will look a little messy, but don't worry; it won't show: 

Tired of hand stitching yet? If so, warm up your hot glue gun...and then glue down the mouse's face. (You can also stitch it, if you're anti-glue).

Stuff the mouse's body with some poly fill, using a chopstick to pack it in nice and tight:

Thread a needle with some brown thread (or whatever color works best depending on what fabric you chose), and make gathering stitches all around the bottom open end of your mouse:

Pull the thread tight, closing the opening, and then make a few stitches to secure it shut:

Now it's time for the ears. Using a dab of hot glue (or a couple stitches, if you prefer), fold your ear in half at the open end, securing it in place. Then glue or stitch the ears to the back of the mouse's head:

The last step (minus any embellishments) is securing an ornament hanger to the top of the mouse's head, using a few stitches:

All that's left is adding some details. Like Reindeer Mouse:

Or Angel Mouse:

To celebrate, do your best Gangnam Style Dance:

Not into adding rodents to your tree this Christmas? That's cool. I get it. Check out tutorials today from the eight other bloggers who took part in our little ornament exchange. I can't wait to see what these other ladies have cooked up for the holiday!

Sonja of
Mika of
Miranda of
Megan of
Jen of
Dixie of
Madalynne of
Kelli of


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