Nov 20, 2012

Christmas Crafting: The Slippery Slope to Scrapbooking

Nothing against scrapbooking. It's just, you know, this blog is mostly about sewing actual garments and  for some reason I feel apologetic posting about anything but.

(And anyway I know what you're thinking: Where's the finished Lauren Moffat top knock-off? It's ready to be photographed, and I even have a gorgeous new accessory to wear with it — which I will tell you about soon — but vanity demands I wait because this week I got my annual Fall coldsore, and nobody is taking pics of me until it is gone.

Speaking of vanity, I'm also going next week to see a plastic surgeon about "revising" the scar I was left with after being punched in the face last year. That may be an overshare, but for some reason it has me nervous and is consuming my thoughts. I don't know what has me more spooked: the scalpel, or the thought that this surgeon will think me vain for wanting to erase the physical memento of my mugging. It's small, but it casts a shadow, it sticks out so far.)

Back to crafting: I totally stole this cute Christmas ornament idea from Pinterest, where I saw a pic of this lady's handiwork. She sells these adorable customized ornaments on, but appears to be so backed up, she's no longer taking any more orders this holiday season (so I don't feel too badly for stealing her idea and making my own). Also, if the parents of these tots read this post, I apologize for spoiling the surprise:

Since it was someone else's idea, I'm not about to show you how to do this and steal away her business or anything. But if you have some hand stitching skills, it shouldn't be hard to infer how to make this onesie ornament. Mine measure 3.5 inches square. The "hanger" is a bent paperclip. I drafted this little onesie by hand (on the center front fold so it would be perfectly symmetrical). It's made from two layers of white poly felt, with blanket stitching all around. (Just google "blanket stitch" if you don't know how. There are a million good tutorials out there).

What's the best idea you've stolen recently? Let's give a little credit where it's due!

Nov 15, 2012

The Big Reveal! Amy's Dress I Made

My favorite wedding photos are always the ones where the bride or groom is overcome with emotion. Not, like, Claire Danes cryface:

More like, holding back tears gracefully. Especially if it's the groom at the moment he first sees the bride. That just kills me.

 But I'm going to do my friend Amy a solid and not post the pics of her in tears at her recent post-wedding celebration at a castle in Scotland — even though those pics are my favorite and technically she said I could post ANY of the pics in her album. Instead I'll let you see her in the dress I made, using the print she designed using Spoonflower's tool.

Amy accessorized beautifully. How much do you love her brooch by Poppie Jasper, an American living in London?

And the purple shrug made by Amy's new husband's Aunt — love that deep purple color paired with the autumnal hues in the print!

Of course the best accessory is a big smile (and a heart filled with love): 

Regular readers may remember that this dress was sewn from's Bustier Dress With Draped Detail Pattern, with a skirt drafted by yours truly. I've sewn the bodice several times now, with the aid of Gertie's Bombshell Dress class at Though Amy lives in London for now, we managed to do fittings via snail mail and Skype. Somehow it worked out. Look how amazing she and her cute new husband Lewis look!

Congratulations Amy and Lewis! 

(All wedding ohotos by Flash Munki)

Nov 14, 2012

Sneak Peeks Aplenty

Sometimes it's the little things. (Actually, for me I find it's ALWAYS the littles things). Little things like beautiful vintage buttons (bought from Button Odyssey's Etsy store for just $3.99):

My four-year-old had serious button-envy after the package arrived yesterday. There were seven in the set and I only needed three for this Lauren Moffat knockoff I'm making, so I generously gave her one. She's been carrying it around ever since. She even asked me if I could make her wedding ring with it, so she also obviously appreciates the little things in life. (Also: I think a ring made from one of these buttons WOULD be awesome. My kid clearly inherited the re-make, re-use, re-do gene).

I'm also working on a cool Christmas project that has kindled my love of tiny things. Especially tiny things with unexpected details.

And below you'll see a sneak peek at another BIG project I am SO excited about. Yes, that's my embroidery. I don't have a hoop and next-to-no skills, so it's pretty shoddy. But as my husband always says, don't let the perfect be the enemy of the good. (OK, I think Voltaire said that first, but Ryan repeats it often enough, I'm giving him credit for reminding me not to fixate on mistakes to the point that I cannot accomplish a goal.) And anyway, this is just a minor part in the larger whole — which will be revealed eventually.

Other little things that have me happy today:

• The perfect cup of coffee
• Two hours of silence while my kid is at preschool
• Sunshine (oh wait, that's a big thing?)

What little thing is bringing you joy today?

Nov 7, 2012

Best Thing/Worst Thing — One More Thing!

I love you all so much. Thanks for sharing anecdotes about your own challenges, and how you deal. The best way to gain perspective is definitely to shift gears from wallowing in your own misery to feeling empathy for another.

Immediately after posting yesterday I regretted not linking to or mentioning this amazing column in the Atlantic, which ruminates much more eloquently on the subject of trying to be happy with what you've got. The writer has a disabled son, and beautifully reframes the question constantly posed to women today: "Can we have it all?" For those who haven't the time to read it all, here's an excerpt:

When I look at friends and acquaintances, many with perfectly beautiful children and wonderful lives, and see how desperately unhappy or stressed they are about balancing work and family, I think to myself that the solution to many problems is deceptively obvious. We are chasing the wrong things, asking ourselves the wrong questions. It is not, "Can we have it all?" -- with "all" being some kind of undefined marker that shall forever be moved upwards out of reach just a little bit with each new blessing. We should ask instead, "Do we have enough?"

I highly recommend reading it. I have it bookmarked and go back to it when I need a reminder that my life is not too terrible (and in fact is often pretty great). Maybe we can have it all — just maybe not all at once. So the regularly scheduled date nights and Pinterest-perfect decor will just have to wait a while. (Of course, the question still remains: Whither the articles on whether men can have it all? But that's a question for another day.)

I also need to thank Rachel of My Messings for nominating me for the One Lovely Blog Award! I've never been nominated for one of these inter-blogger pat-on-the-back awards, so I really appreciate the shout-out. The idea is to pass it on, showing your appreciation for others. Hopefully my picks haven't already participated in this particular award...if they have, I won't be offended if they neglect to pass it on. We can't do it all, after all!

The rules for the One Lovely Blog Award are as follows:

  • Thank the person who nominated you and link back to him/her in your post. 
  • Share 7 things about yourself.
  • Nominate 15 bloggers you admire. (That's a lot, isn't it?!)
  • Leave a comment on each of these blogs letting them know they’ve been nominated.

The seven things appear to be wide open, so here goes:

• I always check out people's butts‚ but not because I'm into asses. I'm obsessed with pocket placement and fit, and am always evaluating what is the best cut/design to trick the eye into believing you have the perfect posterior. 
• I swallow very loudly (according to my husband). Especially when I gulp water in the middle of the night. 
• I was a deckhand one summer during university.
• I've lived in the U.S. for 5 1/2 years, but stubbornly still spell it cheque and pronounce niche so it rhymes with quiche.
•  I yell at cars that cut me off when I'm crossing the street with my kid, so now at age 4 she acts like Dustin Hoffman in Midnight Cowboy. I feel a little bad about that. But people need to know how unsafely they're driving! (OK, I am unrepentant, clearly).
• I'm a savant when it comes to Where's Waldo. Also, spelling and grammar errors just jump off the page at me. These two things must be related somehow.
•  I regret never learning an instrument, and hope one day I can take up drums or piano or something else totally impractical for a New Yorker.

So here are my 15 (again, that seems like a lot, right? The chance of these 15 already receiving this award are pretty high, probably). Is it against the spirit of this award to feel bad about asking them to take on the task of posting seven things and collating a list of their 15 faves? I'm a little sensitive to tasking others with one more thing because I often feel like if someone asks one more thing of me, I may just lose it. So my apologies to Rachel, but I'm going to give these ladies and gents the chance to bask in my praise without having to do anything in return:  

I love them all. If you haven't checked them out yet and have the time, please do.

P.S. Best thing about yesterday: Barack Obama was re-elected! The election is over and we can go back to worrying about other things. Worst thing: I fell asleep before the acceptance speech, and missed seeing Michelle Obama in what I'm sure was a very lovely dress.

Nov 6, 2012

Best Thing/Worst Thing

This year has been a challenging one for our family. While not awful/horrible/no good/very bad like 2011 was, 2012 has forced us to dig ever deeper, drawing on reserves of endurance, patience, thrift and faith (not in a God, but each other).

My husband went back to school, and has been gone all day and night throughout most of the last 10 months. The burden of child care falls on me, and I also work from home. That we don't have family nearby who can help out (or the money to spend on a babysitter) is exhausting. I never, ever get a break. And even when I sleep, I am worrying. After all, we've spent thousands we don't even have on the hope that his talent will lead us to a more prosperous place. 

But the proverbial light at the end of the tunnel is within view. He's now interning, which is wonderful because he loves the work and is hopeful it will lead to an actual job one day soon. But for right now, life can feel grueling. I cry every other day just worrying about Christmas. The election keeps my husband up at night.

Also, four-year-olds are not the most understanding individuals; just when you are bearing the biggest load you've had to shoulder in your lifetime, they will hand you one more thing to carry — literally and metaphorically. Like, you're carrying five bags of groceries, a backpack and her scooter, and then she'll try to hand you a booger. This has actually happened. (Also, just when you're feeling terrible about yourself, that your hair needs a new cut because it's starting to look like a sheitel, that's when your kid will decide to start calling your upper arms your "chubbies." This has also happened.) 

Aside from all the work, no play and ceaseless whining, the challenge for me is being happy with what we've got for just a little bit longer. It's a difficult thing to do, though I sometimes feel like I've mastered getting by with nothing new. But then I look at Pinterest, or the well-lit blogs of those more affluent than I, and I'm down in the dumps that I have big ideas that must all wait until another day. I struggle all the time with wanting to do more, write more, sew more, create more. But all that demands resources we just don't have. 

So I'm trying to focus this week on being grateful for what I've got — and learning to enjoy the things I can do now, rather than lamenting all the stuff I want to do but can't. 

When we're feeling stressed about paying the rent or job prospects or our future in the uncertain run-up to the U.S. election, we try to calm ourselves by taking stock daily of the good things we've got going for us. It's now a nightly game to play "best thing/worst thing." We ask each other over dinner what was the best thing that happened that day (often it's just Lucy and I because Ryan works so late on weekdays), and the worst thing too. It forces us to acknowledge that even if we're feeling shitty and stressed (or are just coming down from a tantrum, as the case may be), there was something good that happened in the day, even if small. And acknowledging the worst thing of the day gives us a chance to talk it over, enjoy a little empathy, maybe find a solution, and not feel so alone in our worry over it. 

(It's also funny as hell to hear what our four-year-old will say. She's so much like me, often her "worst thing" is something that she didn't get to do — as in, "I didn't get to watch three episodes of My Little Pony. I didn't get to play with my best friend. I didn't get to eat a whole bag of Halloween candy.") 

One longer-term project I have planned for my family is a jar like this one I saw pinned on Pinterest (the source seems to have disappeared, but you can get the idea from the description below):

But instead of waiting until New Year's Eve to take stock of all the good things that have happened to us, we'll allow ourselves to read a few whenever we need to come down from an anxiety high. It will take some follow-through to remember to add items to our "good things" jar, but the benefit of perspective will hopefully be enough encouragement for me to stick with it. It's a little Oprah-iffic, I know. But it turns out I'm not all that positive a person at times. I need to work on it. 

Likewise, instead of rueing all the projects on the backburner right now because fabric is not in our budget, I've decided to take on a few meditative projects — stuff that's satisfying, but doesn't endanger my ego if it doesn't pan out. Like knitting, which I used to do (I must have; I have a large plastic container full of yarn!).

Check out this cool cuff I saw on Pinterest (which is not all "thinspiration" and hair tutorials, after all!): 

How cute is that? I used this tutorial on tying a Turkish knot (though I did two fewer twists than the tutorial suggest because I wanted it to look like the one in the above photo). It took about an hour and a half of knitting I Cord to make this. I think it could make a decent Christmas gift for friends and sisters-in-law. 

 It's warm and cozy, and chunky too — just like my chubbies (damn kids).

So how do you maintain perspective when hard times have you down?

Nov 4, 2012

DIY Knockoffs: Cool to Copy?

According to a friend who works in the fashion industry, nobody designs anymore. Nearly everything out there is a knock-off. Or a knock-off of a knock-off. Just ask Forever 21, which is forever in litigation with the designers whose work the company copies and then sells en masse for a million times cheaper. From the New York Times online:

It's not illegal, and some argue it's even good for the industry (listen to Kal Raustiala, co-author of The Knockoff Economy: How Imitation Sparks Innovation on NPR). Pattern companies are likewise on the copycat bandwagon.

For example, remember this dress?

Pippa Middleton

Butterick 5710

 So should I feel bad for ripping off a design and drafting a pattern for my personal use? I don't. But I would if I were to sell it. Call me old-fashioned.

The garment in question is a black silk tunic by Lauren Moffat. I love this detail on the back:

The front view is pretty simple:

So I drafted a flat pattern, using the original as my guide:

Unintentional photobomb by Ryan
It's looking a little tortured here, which is both the result of inadequate ironing and probably not quite the right fabric (this is the silk crepe de chine I had leftover from sewing Simplicity 1872, which I recently gave away):

I carefully ripped out all the top stitching. I decided it just didn't work. Or maybe I am just terrible at it. Either way. It had to go. The back looks even more tortured in this photo, but mostly because the sleeves were still pinned at that point. The fit on me is actually really good, though it looks like it's pulling in numerous places here:

For a simple looking top, it was hard to figure out how to construct this thing. It's like facings upon facings...and then sleeves? It turns out ripping something off can be extremely difficult. Figuring out what to sew first was like a puzzle. 

It's nearly done, after a week of sewing in short fits and starts (My time to sew over the past 7 days was minimal  thanks to Hurricane Sandy, which knocked out power to both my kid's preschool and my husband's office for five days  — and shut down the subway system and just about everything else. So that meant we three were all home for days upon days. Even the playgrounds and parks were all closed due to danger of falling branches. You might think that would mean lots of sewing time. You might, if you've never spent any time around a stir-crazy four-year-old.)

It's just waiting now for the buttons, which I bought on Etsy:

Have you ever knocked something off? Did you feel guilty? Are you knocking off my knock-off at this very moment? If so, how did you set in the sleeve?


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