Archives for category: sewing

Most of our house is furnished with junk we found on the street or in thrift stores for dirt cheap, and typically not in a chic mid-century vintage way, but a utilitarian/hoarder/dumpsters-behind-the-dorms way. If I ever manage to become an aspirational lifestyle blogger for home dec craft stuff, it will only be via generous application of bokeh-laden closeups and aggressive spot cleaning.

One of our prize finds became a victim of another prize find this weekend. Temperatures in Madison are climbing, so we decided it was time to drag the window AC units up from the basement and install them in our windows. We live in a decrepit house that’s about 100 years old, so it has poor insulation and no central air conditioning, although there are at least central ceiling fans and a garbage disposal–both godsends.

One of the monstrously heavy window AC units ($5 at St. Vincent de Paul) had a few sharp screws protruding from the bottom, which we didn’t notice until we had heaved it up on top of the super-comfy overstuffed chambray armchair by the window (free, found on the sidewalk) and torn multiple holes into the upholstery while wedging the air conditioner into the window. Funny, I always thought the chair would fall victim to the cat, not the air conditioner.

After an unsightly attempt to darn the holes closed with a needle and thread, I went stash diving to see if I had anything suitable to cover the chair up instead. This was the result:

This is Tula Pink Full Moon Forest damask quilting cotton, a fabric collection I adored that featured cleverly hidden animals in larger decorative patterns–squirrels, fish, rabbits, owls. Here’s a strangely washed-out detail shot where you can see the bunnies in the damask pattern:

I didn’t have enough fabric or time to cover the entire chair, and this is actually a no-sew job. I just draped the fabric over the back, pinned it into place with straight pins since the chair lives against the wall and the back isn’t visible, tucked the fabric into the spot between back and cushion, then pulled it tight around the cushion and pinned it underneath the cushion as well. While it’s not really what I would call “attractive,” it looks better than I expected (certainly better than the patched-up holes), and I’m happy the fabric is seeing the light of day for the first time in years, and actual use for the first time ever. (Love the pattern, but not so much the color for clothing.)

I’m sort of considering getting enough fabric (home dec stuff, not quilting cotton) to try and to reupholster the whole thing the right way.

The color and shape now put me in mind of Chairy, from Pee-Wee’s Playhouse.

On the subject of shortcuts and tricks, here are a couple of clever sewing tricks I came across in the last week or so that I thought were worth sharing:

Ugh, I can’t believe I didn’t even manage one post per month in the last couple of months. This has been a dry, dry crafting spell (how can a baby sweater take so long?! I’ve been knitting the same gift for months now) but I finally have something to show off here!

You may recall that I’ve been pining after the patterns in the Colette Sewing Handbook since January, and I finally got around to making one of them. Check it out.

Back view:


Pattern: Meringue Skirt from the Colette Sewing Handbook
Fabric: Kokka Ladybug Mushrooms 100% cotton (43 inches wide), 1 yard (!) snagged on a 40% off sale from Purl Soho–cost: $11.40; plus some leftover scraps of quilting cotton from Jo-Ann for the facings.
Date started: April 29, 2012
Date completed: May 2, 2012
Size: 6
Last fall, as a result of me speculating on Twitter about a Woot! deal on a serger, chemgrrl’s awesome mom sent me her old serger in an amazing random act of kindness, a Bernette 43! I just had to take it in to get it tuned up. I then kept putting off using it because I was intimidated by it, wanted to take a serger class, and never seemed to time it right with the schedules for the sewing stores in the area. Eventually, though, I decided I’d just give it a shot by following along with the book and manual and Googling for the rest–this is what I did with knitting and it worked out fine–and lo, all was well!

(I still haven’t had to rethread it from scratch, and I still haven’t washed anything I’ve serged with it to see if it disintegrates, so this may yet prove to be a statement of Extreme Hubris, but it worked like a dream and was much less scary than I had anticipated.) Thank you again, Joyce! Anyway, long story short, I put together a lot of this skirt with the serger. This is not the first garment I sewed with the serger–I have another post planned for that–but I used it to do a good part of the seaming and to finish all the edges.

Verdict: I LOVE this skirt and want to make about 10 more of them in all different colors!

The entire time I was working on this, I was concerned about the sizing, because it seemed terribly small as I was putting it together and holding it up against myself, but as it turns out, it fits perfectly! I’ve had a lot of heartbreaks involving making pieces of sewn clothing that turn out to be an inch or two too small, but this was great. I went as far as just basting the darts at first instead of sewing them the proper way because I was so sure I’d have to rip them out to give myself more room in the hips and waist, but the skirt is perfectly comfortable as is.

The skirt pattern calls for something like 2 1/2 yards of fabric. I’ve made one-yard skirts before, but they were shorter and narrower, and I just couldn’t make the Meringue pattern pieces fit. I spent about half an hour turning the pattern pieces and refolding the fabric every which way, with no luck. Finally, in order to eke it out of just one yard, I ended up folding the pattern pieces down at the top, cutting the lower parts of the skirt on the grain, and cutting the upper parts of the grain crosswise for a sort of improvised yoke. I serged the top and bottom pieces together and followed the remainder of the pattern using the construction instructions from the book. (I wouldn’t recommend this approach if you can help it–I think it would have looked better with the pieces cut from a single piece, and I’m sure there’s going to be some kind of consequence down the line as far as shrinkage and fabric distortion–but the fabric was busy enough that I didn’t think it looked bad, and I managed to make the skirt I wanted out of the fabric I had!)

I cut the facings out of scraps of yellow quilting cotton (no idea how much–a quarter yard, maybe?) I also cut out pocket pieces, intending to put them in at the side seams, and then completely forgot to do it and serged together the side seam on the side that would have had a pocket in it, and put a zipper in the other side following the pattern construction, so I’ve set aside those pocket pieces for some future project.

I serged all the edges that would be left raw (facing edges, fabric edges) and serged the seams on the left-hand and for the facing construction. The darts, right-hand side seam (where the invisible zipper is), and hem were constructed using the standard sewing machine.

I drew a stitching line to follow on the facing with disappearing ink, and stitched slowly and carefully, then (following the advice on this page) trimmed the seam allowances on the rounded parts of the scallops to about 1/4 inch width, and notched almost to the seamline at the pivot points of each scallop. In addition to understitching the top facing, I hand-stitched the facings to the shell fabric afterwards to keep them in place.

The pattern was well drafted (for me, anyway) and easy to follow–no complaints! Plus it’s versatile–the scalloped hem could easily be replaced with a straight one for a nice basic A-line skirt pattern. I liked the treatment of the facing around the zipper area–you stitch it down vertically along the zipper as well as around the top, and it makes for a very nice finish.

Something I found freeing with this project was giving myself permission to cut the pattern directly out of the tissue paper it was printed on. I usually try to avoid doing this, and prefer tracing off expensive patterns like Colette patterns onto a separate piece of paper to leave the originals intact in case I ever need to use them again in a larger size (e.g. if I do my initial fitting wrong), but I got out my tracing paper this time and asked myself why I was going to bother with the extra hassle and expense of tracing and cutting from a separate piece of paper. If I needed a larger size, I decided I would just use the tracing paper to modify the pattern I had already cut out. So I cut it out, threw out all the scrap tissue paper, and felt suddenly liberated. So much time saved! And, as it turned out, it worked out just fine.

Next time I make this, I might cut the back in two pieces (with extra seam allowance added to each) in order to put in a zipper at center back, and hence side seam pockets on either side. And I would definitely try to get enough fabric that I could cut the pieces with the intended cutting layout instead of my kluged-together crosswise yokes. Oh–and I didn’t interface the facings as the pattern asks you to do. That would probably be a good thing to do next time as well.

Next up, though, I think I’m going to try a Truffle dress with some of the other Japanese fabric I got from Purl. (A birthday gift, courtesy of my dad and stepmom–thanks, guys!) I intend to sew the bodice lining first as a kind of muslin, make any tweaks and re-sew the lining if necessary, then use it as a template to cut the fashion fabric.

As an aside: Rahul is really into mushrooms and I knew he would love the Amanita muscaria mushrooms featured on this print. After taking these photos of the skirt on Friday, we went out hunting mushrooms on Saturday and found the biggest morel I’ve ever seen in my life in the woods! I was so excited until our friend told us that EVERY stall at the farmer’s market this weekend (which we missed) had enormous morels for sale and we could have gotten a huge pile of them there. Oh well–at least ours was free, and wild-foraged! We sauteed the morels in garlic butter, and they were delicious.


–Colette, in one of her apparently few quotable quotes not involving cats

I got my copy of The Colette Sewing Handbook the other day and it’s LOOOOOOVE. What a gorgeous book. One of my first sewing books was Built By Wendy’s Sew U, and I learned a lot from it, but this book, while somewhat similar in general contents and approach, is about a thousand times better suited to me in both the aesthetic and the sloper measurements. (I haven’t made a garment from either book yet, so I can’t speak to actual fit!)

I’ve been idly checking in on the posts on Colette Patterns’ blog every so often, and decided at some point that I’d add this book to my next Amazon order, but I hadn’t looked through it all until the book actually arrived in the mail. It includes five patterns, all very pretty and very, very girly.

I found the Pastille Dress on the cover somewhat uninspiring–the cover photo is possibly the worst one in the book. The dress is fitted very closely, but somehow between the cut and the color, the model just looks like she’s wearing a fleshy Spanx tube rather than a dress. This version is way cuter–check out the belted, cardi’d picture down at the bottom of the post. I like the knife pleats across the hem of the skirt, but I’m wary of the cut-on sleeves–seems like it could be very difficult to get the fit right.

This blog post covers the Taffy blouse and Meringue skirt. I’d totally make and wear the scallop-hemmed Meringue skirt. The Taffy blouse, on the other hand, is probably the pattern in here I’d be least likely to make–it’s lovely on the model, but those sleeves are really pretty enormous if you look at them, so it would probably be better in theory than practice, unless you have a very narrow torso or are really proud of your shoulders and just want to show them off to everyone.

This post has pictures of the Truffle and Licorice dresses. TO DIE FOR. Truffle is a simple sleeveless A-line with a gorgeous front drape across the skirt, and Licorice has a big draped collar and big, poofy elbow-length sleeves. (Eat your heart out, Anne Shirley!)

I have been surfing around to find finished versions of these, and unfortunately haven’t found a ton, but here are a couple of cute versions:

Truffle in black brocade
Licorice with sassy belt
Licorice, described as “the dress that almost broke me”

The measurements for these patterns are interesting. To compare with some other pattern companies and ready-to-wear: I normally wear a size 6 or 8 in RTW. Going just by bust-waist-hip, I’m close to a Burda size 40 across the board,  just a little smaller in the bust depending on whether I’m inhaling or not. Looking at the measurements for Vogue patterns, my waist is a little bigger and my bust a little smaller than the size 14, but again, pretty close measurements across the board. According to the Colette measurement chart, though, I’m probably a size 4 by bust, size 6 by waist, and size… uh… smaller than a size ZERO by hip measurement. Since none of these patterns are very fitted in the hips, I won’t worry about it too much, but it’s interesting to see such a huge variation from the Burda and the Big Three slopers. I’ve read that Colette patterns are drafted for a C-cup bust, so I’m guessing the size 6 is going to be closer to the right size for my frame–I’ll probably start from there and see if it works out.

The real draw for me was the patterns, but the book has a lot of other good info, including making a personalized croquis, assessing fit (how to read all the random wrinkles your muslin makes across your body when it doesn’t fit!), making bias tape, and how to do a number of standard adjustments like full or small bust adjustments, sway back, or adjusting for small or large waists. It also covers a lot of the basic information about sewing, like grain lines, pattern layouts, fabric types, and finishing seams–I have a lot of other books with this info, so I skimmed over it, but it looks like a solid summary. Since a single Colette dress pattern goes for $18 by itself, this book is a bargain at $18.99 on Amazon even if you only like one of the patterns, and a positive steal if you like more than one pattern or would find the sewing information useful.

Next step: stop talking about/accumulating Colette patterns, start making more of them. I think I’ll start with either the Meringue skirt or the Truffle dress.

Yo! I can’t believe it’s been more than 2 months since I posted anything here. But I’m alive and well. I’ve just been traveling a lot (was gone two weeks in May, and pretty much the entire month of June… will hopefully find some time to blog about that later).

I tried to get back into the crafting groove this weekend by sewing myself a new dress, one I’ve had in the queue for a long time. I always totally covet Wikstenmade’s clothes (though probably more because of the ethereally beautiful photography than any particularly strong fit with my own personal style) and she posted this cutout sleeve ikat top a while ago that set me foolishly yearning for a “cold shoulder” garment. (Side note: I found this other cutout sleeve dress just now… does it not totally scream “My biological clock is ticking!” in the voice of Marisa Tomei?)

Here it is: I’m calling it That 70’s Dress mainly for the shag-carpet-tastic orange hue, but these belted sack dresses were big in the days of disco too, weren’t they? Please excuse the wrinkled fabric across the skirt in all these photos–I had sat in chairs in this dress all day and didn’t feel like taking it off to iron it.


Pattern: Simplicity 2406, a Cynthia Rowley pattern (see here for original), view B (knee-length, cutout shoulders, open back)

Size: a straight 12, although I probably should have tapered it out to 14 for the hips–it’s more snug in the hips than I would like when I sit down. I have to hike it up pretty high to get on my bike, there’s not a lot of ease.

Fabric used: Orange cotton/poly shirting blend–very thin fabric. I would recommend using a very fine, drapey fabric; even though this one was pretty lightweight, the sleeves still wound up very stiff because of all the facing seams.

I had a few close calls while sewing because I only barely had enough yardage. I thought I had more than enough, but forgot I would have to cut out not 2 but 4 copies of the sleeves, one pair for the sleeve and also one pair for the facings; also, I accidentally set my iron too hot at first, so I melted the interfacing and a few corners of the sleeve facings. I can’t remember how much of this fabric I had to start with, unfortunately, so I can’t tell you how accurate the pattern’s yardage requirements are.

Pattern notes/mods:

I sewed this without any closures and omitted the back slit so I could wear a bra (and sew fewer seams)–I didn’t alter the back at all, just cut it on the fold and did not cut out the back slit facing piece. I can slip it on over my head. I forgot to cut the back neck facing on the fold, so I just finished the vertical edges with a zigzag and tacked it down in two pieces. This would have definitely wound up too tight for comfort in the hips if I had added the back seam or slit as instructed, since I essentially added 1 1/4″ additional ease by cutting the back on the fold without modifying the pattern.

I think I also hemmed it a little less than the pattern calls for, but I didn’t measure exactly, just did it by eye.
The instructions were a little puzzling. I didn’t understand the directions for the pockets, and didn’t have the patience to figure them out, so I just ignored them and put in in-seam pockets the normal way (sew them to the dress front and back, side seam goes around the pocket edges). I also thought at first that I was following the confusing sleeve directions pretty well, but once I set in the sleeves, I realized that I had wound up with sleeves with a neatly finished slit-like opening at the bottom instead of the normal tube-shaped sleeves.

If you sew this, note that you’ll probably need a loop turner to turn the sleeves inside out after the first set of facing seams; you have to get a lot of fabric through a very, very tight space.

Also, note that the front gathers are between the dots, in the middle of the dress, while the back gathers are OUTSIDE the dots, in the shoulder area. I accidentally sewed the gathering stitches in the middle of the back at first and couldn’t figure out how my pieces were supposed to fit together.

The sleeve sizing seems pretty generous; they’re loose on me, and I have pretty meaty shoulders and biceps. I think women with thin arms would probably want to take the sleeves in a bit. Also, the sleeves are quite stiff because there are a lot of seams in not a lot of space–the pattern photo shows this but I was still a little surprised at how much the sleeves stuck out from the body of the dress.

The sash is a little short for my taste. It’s long enough to wrap around once and tie in a short bow, or to wrap in a double loop and tie in a double knot, as shown in my photos. If I were making this again, I might want a longer sash so I could tie a more lavish bow.

Verdict: I like it! Cool. Comfy. Orange. I might consider sewing this again in a different fabric, maybe a different view, like View C with the 3/4 length balloon sleeves.

P.S. I know you can’t really see it in the photos, but I love all the jewelry I’m wearing. Gold necklace made from a real oak leaf, a hand-me-down from my mom; gold ring set with a teardrop-shaped, cloudy chartreuse prehnite; Monarch butterfly wing earrings. I got the ring cheap with a Heartsy voucher–do you know about Heartsy? It’s like Groupon but for handmade items from stores like Etsy and Artfire.

My friends Kelly and Josh are having a baby soon and I made them a couple of tiny kimonos as a present!

Kimono #1:

Kimono #2 (please excuse the awful photography):

Pattern: Lucy’s Kimono, from Heather Ross‘s Weekend Sewing

Fabric used: Kimono #1: anonymous pale blue quilting cotton with black swallows; black store-bought bias binding. Kimono #2: all Amy Butler, all the time–the main fabric is Full Moon Polka Dot in yellow, and the bias binding is homemade, from a fat quarter of Acanthus purchased at Purl Soho, so between the designer quilting fabric and the crazy markup at Purl, this basically means it is the most expensive cotton bias binding ever. (By the way, I love Amy Butler but what on earth is this Photoshop disaster going on on the splash page? And why does it take 5 minutes to load the fabrics list for each collection?)

Pattern notes: Heather Ross suggests in the pattern intro that this is one of the easiest patterns in the book, which I think is not really true. It’s small, which is nice, but that doesn’t necessarily mean a lot; the pajama pants from this book were much larger but also much easier to sew.

I found it pretty difficult to sew the bias tape around the curve of the neck because the front meets the back at a very acute angle that the bias tape has to be eased around. I couldn’t catch the second side of the bias tape consistently on kimono #1 when I was machine-sewing, so I ended up hand-sewing the bias tape in place to finish it.

I didn’t think the pattern pieces were clearly marked (I may have traced them off wrong, admittedly, but I don’t think there were any notches and the pieces are big blocky shapes, so you could conceivably sew them wrong by 90 degrees). The back and sleeves seem to be gentle trapezoids; I assume the wide end of the back-trapezoid goes towards the bottom end of the baby, and the wide ends of the sleeve-trapezoids get attached to the body of the kimono.

I didn’t use the super-narrow bias tape called for in the pattern; I think mine was 1/2 inch. It seems incredibly fiddly to work with the suggested 1/4″ bias binding for this pattern, and my version doesn’t look terribly different from the one in the book, so I’m not totally sure she used 1/4″ bias tape in the sample, either.

There are errors in the pattern–for instance, it calls for 1/2 yard of bias tape, but I think you actually need 1 1/2 yards; it says to sew the shoulder seams with wrong sides together, which is wrong, of course–they should be sewn right side together, unless you’re going for an edgy deconstructed look for your baby garment.

The book is pretty unclear about how the ties should be handled. As any woman who has worn a wrap dress knows, both sides of the wrap cannot be treated identically, because one side ends up on the inside of the dress and one side ends up on the outside. You are instructed here to “make sure the ties themselves… extend on the right side of the Kimono Front and Back in your sewing set-up” but I don’t know what that means for the side inside the wrap. I figured that there were basically three alternatives here:

  1. Don’t do anything with the inside part of the wrap (I didn’t think this was right because the book instructs you to make two ties.)
  2. Sew the 2nd tie to the inside of the wrap and tie one bow inside the kimono and one bow outside the kimono. This might be what was intended, since the photo in the book doesn’t show two sets of ties visible on the outside of the kimono. However, this seemed both annoying for the parent dressing the baby to fasten and annoying for the baby to wear–how would you like to have a bow tied on the inside of your shirt? Probably not a whole lot.
  3. Leave a hole for the second tie to go through so both ends can be tied on the outside. This is what I ended up doing, taking a cue from every wrap dress I’ve ever owned.

I did this by basically just leaving about an inch and a half of the side seam unsewn and stitching the tie onto the seam allowance on one side rather than catching it inside the seam like on the other side. Here’s a view of the inside of the kimono: you can see the hole with one tie passing through it, and the second tie sewn to the seam allowance: these two ties are tied in a bow on the outside of the kimono.

Here’s a view of the outside of the kimono, with the one tie extending through the hole:

As you can see, the seams inside the kimono are pinked. I think it should be pretty easy to do French seams instead, since most of the seams are straight and very short, but the fabric I picked was sturdy enough that I figured pinking would hold up fine.

Lots of corners on the inside of this sucker. I accidentally pressed and sewed down the seams down kind of randomly because I wasn’t always keeping future seam dependencies in mind. Some are pressed open, some are pressed to one side. The book probably instructs you on what to do, but at a certain point I gave up on following the instructions in any kind of detail.

If you decide to make this kimono and make your own bias tape, I strongly recommend a Clover bias tape maker. You will be one cranky cowboy if you try to make bias tape with one of the crappy metal ones instead. Also, Yahaira has posted an excellent tutorial for making continuous bias tape–including a link to the conversions for how much fabric turns into how much finished bias tape.

A mother at the baby shower said “I like the kimono style because if ‘things happen,’ this can be taken off without having to pull it over the baby’s head”–a practicality that hadn’t even occurred to me, naive as I am in the ways of baby-vom, but seems very sensible.

Oh, and I got them this, too:

Why, yes! That is a Captain Kirk onesie from A necessity for any well-dressed baby. (By the way, Josh and Kelly, if you’re still working on narrowing down names, check out this book. I think Cthulhu is a beautiful name for a little girl. Or Zaius, if it’s a boy.)

Back in January, there was a guest post on Flintknits about fabric designer Heather Ross and race and ethnicity in her fabric designs. I’ve been following the discussion with some interest, but was too busy during January to write anything about it, and by the time my schedule freed up a bit, I felt like I had kind of missed the boat on a timely response.

Pamela Wynne just posted a followup to that earlier post and I figured I would take the opportunity to bring these posts to your attention, because I find them really interesting. Even more than the posts, the comments! Go check them out. We’ve got the crazy racists, the indignant Heather, the “me toos” and oh, also the engaged and insightful dialogue about the issue.

You know, I feel kind of bad about posting this, for a couple of reasons: first of all, I respect Pam and enjoy reading her blog, and used to enjoy reading Ashley’s blog when it was still around, and I feel like this was all done with the best of intentions but that I’m about to say some bad stuff about their actions; and secondly, as a good Berkeley-raised-and-educated liberal person of color (and, incidentally, daughter of an ethnic studies professor), it’s clear to me how I think I’m supposed to feel about the issue. But I really don’t feel that way. At the risk of being the next hapless victim of the PC crafting police, here’s my take on it.

I frankly think the first post was a shameful and shallow dogpile. Heather Ross was arbitrarily picked out as a figure to crucify in the name of racial inclusiveness. Her designs clearly weren’t created with the intention of being hateful or exclusive, and come on, it’s not like she was drawing kids doing Confederate Civil War reenactments or something, they’re just some little girls playing with horses, and they just happen to all be white and blonde. Someone essentially swooped in out of nowhere, told her she should put more non-white kids in her designs, and then, when she declined, because she doesn’t need to do every single thing that consumers ask her to do, declared her to have “fucked up, in kind of epic ways,” posted her response, and tore her a new one.

Yes, maybe she was being a little stubborn in not wanting to take the various requests for diversity to heart. However, Heather Ross has a perfect right to draw anything she wants to. There’s no rule or law that says she has to be inclusive and racially diverse in her designs. If she had responded to the emails/comments with “oh sure, that’s a great idea, maybe I’ll put some black kids in my next design, it just never occurred to me and I think it would be fun” or something, bully for her. But that’s not what she wanted to do, so if she just stuck some ethnic children in her next fabric design purely to cave in to pressure, we’d just have some whimsical and adorable tokenism going on, some diversity-as-economic-commodity. (Maybe she could use the magic of Photoshop!) That’s not right.

What’s more, I think this is a crazy tempest in a teapot. Her fabric represents just a tiny corner of the fabric world, which represents just a tiny corner of the world of commercially available representational art. I’m sure there are plenty of racially inclusive quilting fabrics out there, if not via your local Jo-Ann fabrics, then through the Magic of teh Internets, and if not, with the rise of Spoonflower and other print-on-demand fabric outfits, it’s easier than ever to make whatever fabrics you want. (No longer am I beholden to the clumsy medium of potato stamps to depict my idyllic Asian-American childhood activities: Kumon math sets, Chinese summer camp, and making won ton! Rejoice, rejoice.) Complainers, you are artsy, crafty people. I know this because you are focused on buying fabric yardage. Go make some fabrics that look like what you want and maybe make a bunch of money doing it.

Plus, there are more important venues where these efforts can be focused. I know crafting is all near and dear to the heart, but these are quilting fabrics probably intended for mentally and emotionally robust grown-ups to purchase and use; perhaps it would be more constructive to focus on the dolls and items intended directly for impressionable children. Or at least to aim all this guilty rage towards a larger corporate target with a more diffuse market rather than one independent fabric designer. This is not to say it’s not an important topic, but I just think this whole Heather Ross-specific anger is kind of misguided and misdirected.

Kristen wrote a poignant response where she discusses her children’s excitement at finding dolls that looked like them. I grew up with these same feelings of underrepresentation (probably this has changed a bit with the rise of anime and manga?) I probably never thought about quilting fabrics or even pajamas or t-shirts or whatever, but one thing I remember always feeling sad about was the Pleasant Company’s American Girl dolls. Oh man, did I ever want one of these. They are such a crazy expensive scam (at the time, back in the late 80s/early 90s, it was, I think, $80 for a vinyl doll plus one outfit?), but they construct such appealing narratives around them, and all the paraphrenalia and stories made me insane with covetousness. But they never had any dolls that looked like me, and I always wished they did. I’ve written them letters over the years asking them to include an Asian doll, always with some polite response about my request being taken into account, but being subject to long market research and development timelines.

When I was a kid, the Pleasant Company’s approach to diversity was “we have a blonde white doll, a brunette white doll, and a brunette white doll with glasses”: they slowly started expanding their repertoire with a redheaded white doll, and then, slowly slowly (and I don’t remember the order in which these came, but I know they were all before the Asian-American doll), a black doll, a Mexican-American doll, a Native American doll, along with various other white dolls. Finally, although she’s just a sidekick, they introduced Ivy (from the 70s? It’s nearly time for my childhood’s decade to become “history”–good God!). Finally. I guess my point is that toys like this might be a better place to focus your requests and petitions. Heather Ross’s products are all essentially based around the brand of her individuality and personal style. Crap like the American Girl dolls is designed by committee and based on market demand, and I think has a greater impact on children’s psyches.

Don’t think I don’t notice all-white media or consumer product representations, I live in Wisconsin, for Christ’s sake, it happens all the time. For instance, check out the selection of neighborhood regulars at the Midtown Pub in nearby Middleton! Yeah, it’s pretty important, and it enters my mind all the time, and it kind of sucks that in those “what celebrity do you look like” games there are really not a whole lot of Asian females to choose from. But it’s just not the be-all and end-all, and I am not a helpless, spineless, media-absorbing jellyfish unable to stop my mind from absorbing all non-inclusive imagery and waving my sad tentacles going “noooo, it huuuuurts.” I looked at the cover of the menu and noticed this and found it a little funny and maybe a little sad, and then I opened the menu and ordered a hamburger and a beer and did not feel bad about myself or my place in the world. I could get upset, but I think the menu probably accurately reflects the reality around them–like Heather Ross’s point that her fabric was autobiographical and an accurate representation of a few faces she saw in her childhood–and I’d rather save the lion’s share of my emotional engagement for overt racism.

And I don’t deny that DIY culture and the online crafting blogosphere slant very heavily white. This commenter does a great job of articulating many of the things I see as problems with the racial issues in this subculture, so I’ll just point you over to him. (“The Feudal White Craftopia” is such a great description.) By being out here and saying my stuff and taking pictures of little yellow old me, I guess I’m probably doing my small part in helping diversify knitting blogs, but only racially: I mean, socioeconomically, I still come from a position of computer-literate, college-educated, middle-class privilege, like, I think, most of the craft bloggers out there. There’s diversity and there’s diversity.

P.S. Fun fact, did you know I started the pinny porn discussion that eventually led to the creation of BID on Ravelry? Ha ha!

P.P.S. Jesus, it’s 3:30 AM? Spring Forward, I hate you.

Edited to add: I did a bit more research and found a couple of other response posts I’d missed earlier:



Hello! So we moved house a few weeks back. It’s been busy. It went a little something like this:

6:30 AM: at Penske, waiting for the doors to open so we can get our moving truck.

7 AM: Truck is back home and we are loading stuff. So far, so good! We’ve been (read: Rahul’s been) packing stuff for weeks in preparation, so we figure it should all go smoothly. The property management guy is supposed to come do a move-out inspection at 12:30.

9 AM: Some ratty-looking guys in a ratty-looking pickup truck come by and ask if we need any help. I feel a little creeped out and say “no.”

11 AM: “the last few things” we left unpacked (cleaning supplies, toilet paper, two cups/plates/forks) seem to have bred while we weren’t looking, and now seem to occupy a space equal to about twice the remaining space in the van. We realize there’s no way we will get the van entirely packed by 12:30, and instead focus on trying to get everything out of our house. I am kicking myself for having said no to the creepy pickup truck mover guys.

11:45 AM: house now looks like that coffee table book where people are photographed with all their possessions on the front lawn to show off the gross excesses of decadent first world living. Moving day in Madison is also called “hippie Christmas” since so many people put out freebies for the taking. Hence we also have to fend off a lot of people wandering by and asking us if they can have our stuff.

11:50 AM: OK, house is empty–time for the final vacuuming! I have almost 45 minutes, plenty of time to get the place spic and span so we can get our whole deposit back. I start in the back room and vacuum happily for about 2 minutes before the vacuum makes a roaring noise, coughs, and then just makes a sad, quiet little “vweee!” noise. When I turn the carpet brush off, it makes no noise at all, suggesting that the suction is completely broken and the “vwee!” is the sound of the carpet brush merrily pushing dust around the floor.

11:55 AM: As I hunt for the broom and dustpan, I see the property management rep coming up the front walk, weaving his way between our pillars of first world debris. “Are you ready for your moveout inspection?” I try to explain the vacuum situation while trying my best to sweep up the huge dust bunnies in the corners.

12:30 PM: Although I have taken the day off work,  I get an urgent work-related phone call while I am trying to cram a potted plant into an empty space in the car. Little do I know how many things are blowing up at work while I am absent.

12:45 PM: Everything is finally in the car and van now. We are both drenched in sweat and exhausted. We look at each other and Rahul says, “OK! Now we just have to go to the new house and reverse that entire process.”

The thought of this is absolutely soul-crushing.

1 PM: We show up at the new place. Our landlord is not here–he has asked the previous tenants to just hand us the keys. So no move-out inspection, no move-in inspection. The house reeks hugely of pot, every cabinet is still full of junk–e.g. old toothbrushes, a half tube of “Beard Lube,” an electric popcorn popper, Nilla Wafers, an embroidered bag from Guatemala–and the kitchen sink turns out to be full of bilgey gray water. When I run the garbage disposal, the water goes glooping down one side of the sink and bubbling up out of the other side like a filthy geyser, then restores 6″ of bilge water equilibrium in both sides after a few seconds.

I manage to catch up to one of the previous tenants and when I ask what’s going on with the sink, he kind of shrugs and says “I don’t know, that happened a few days ago. No, we haven’t told the landlord yet. We figured since we’re moving there was no point. Oh yeah, and there’s some trouble getting the shower to drain, too.”

I go to check out the shower. When I turn the cold water tap, it comes off in my hand.

3 PM: We are tired and moving very slowly, so the van is still pretty much full and it seems impossible that we will ever manage to get everything unloaded and the van returned in time. We decide to go on Craigslist and hire a mover.

3:30 PM: the mover shows up. A stroke of sheer luck, the first guy I called was available right away, and he charges only $15 per hour (4 hour minimum) and has worked as a professional mover for 12 years–just got laid off from his job doing corporate cross-country moves, so he’s a total pro. I will never regret spending that $60; I only regret not hiring someone to help us all day. He gets everything else moved into the house in about 2 1/2 hrs.

6 PM: All done! Now we just have a household to unpack, furniture to assemble, a bilgey sink to unclog, no cold water tap in the shower, years of accumulated garbage in the house from the previous tenants, and various other wonderful issues to deal with that we have not yet discovered. But we have moved. Victory.

The place is actually really spacious and nice aside from the maintenance issues, and we finally have an off-street parking space, so we’re pretty happy with the house so far.

So… anyway, we’ve been trying to get everything in order, and we’ve finally settled in somewhat. (We are still turning the cold water on and off with a small wrench we keep in the shower for this purpose.) But I haven’t had much time for any crafty stuff.

Knitting-wise: I am still diligently knitting away on my Tangled Yoke cardigan–the one I cast on over my July 4 vacation. I just finished the yoke and neckband and now have to pick up and knit the sleeves from the provisional cast-ons I left in place (I was impatient to get to the yoke) and do the button bands. It takes a long time to knit on size 3 needles (couldn’t get gauge on larger ones). Fortunately, I like the feel of the Felted Tweed enough that it doesn’t seem like too much of a chore, even though it’s been dragging on forever.

Next up, assuming I ever finish this cardigan, I want to make a pair of these awesome Totoro mittens. Look at the way the umbrella forms the pointy part of the fingertips! Aren’t they adorable?

Also, my knitting buddies and I have a field trip planned (tentatively, anyway) to Wisconsin Sheep and Wool this weekend. Everything seems to happen at once: in addition to WI Sheep and Wool, Stitches Midwest is this weekend, and Cat Bordhi is coming to town next week. I probably won’t have the time/energy to make it to the latter two events, sadly.

And last but not least, sewing-wise: aside from sewing up some simple bird curtains for our kitchen window, I sewed up the Sabrina Tunic, a dress pattern from indie Serendipity Studios, and reviewed the pattern for Sew, Mama, Sew! (Hello SMS readers!) You can click through for all the fun details. I have been wearing this dress a ton and the only thing I want to add is that with the extra ease I added in the back, the zipper is actually unnecessary, so I might just sew the next version up the back instead of going to the trouble of putting in the zipper.

Anyway… here’s to moving being over and done with! One last thing: I did end up kind of scoring something from Hippie Christmas. I regretfully passed up the Sex and the City book, roll of barbed wire, and box of syringes (!) our downstairs neighbors found in the basement, but in one of the cabinets full of junk, I found, and am wildly happy with, a genuine Le Creuset saucepan in a pretty shade of blue. And they all lived happily ever after, the end.

(Will report back later on Sheep and Wool and the cardigan, once it’s done.)

I got a 1949 edition of The Singer Sewing Book at a library book sale (a treasure trove! I also got several Little House books, back issues of Cook’s Illustrated, FiberArts, and Interweave Knits, Alton Brown’s I’m Just Here for the Food, and How to Cook Everything).

The first chapter in the book is “To Sew Successfully,” which seems like a useful thing to know.

OK. So how do I sew successfully? The book advises:

“When you sew, make yourself as attractive as possible. Go through a beauty ritual of orderliness. Have on a clean dress… Have your hair in order, powder and lipstick put on with care. Looking attractive is a very important part of sewing…”

Maybe this is the real secret in producing professional-looking garments. More mascara, less ratty pajamas.

The book does have a lot of good information:

  • a burn chart for identifying fibers (though plenty of other new synthetics and weird cellulose fibers have come on the scene since it was published),
  • basic patterns for things like potholders, a tailor’s ham, baby bibs, book covers, seat covers for the car, ruffled aprons, kitten-shaped bean bags (how long have I been looking for a pattern for those!)
  • information on how to estimate required fabric yardage for various types of garments: “two lengths of 40″ fabric, shoulder to floor, will cut a straight sleeveless or short-sleeved dress. Allow 3/4 yard more for long sleeves, three lengths if skirt is full…”
  • information on basting, pinning, marking with chalked thread, tailor’s tacks, notching,
  • A proto-Color Me Beautiful insert about appropriate clothing colors for different varieties of white person (Light and True Blonde Types, Medium Blondes or Hazel Types, Gray-Haired Types, Red or Auburn, Medium Brunettes, and Dark Brunettes)
  • various stitches for hand sewing and embroidery,
  • a TON of different seam finishes, darts, tucks, gathers, ruffles, pleats, godets, hems, facings, etc., how to make them, and appropriate uses for each; also pockets, fastenings, neck openings, sleeve finishes, plackets, belts…
  • information on fitting and adjusting patterns for different body types,
  • and the following advice about “The Rule of Three”: “Remember this when you start to make anything: One third of the value of a garment lies in the cost of the fabric, one-third in the fashion-rightness of the style and its becomingness to you, and one-third in the workmanship you put into it–the cutting, fitting, stitching, finishing. For example, if your fabric costs $10, then you must add $10 worth of right style, and, through your best efforts in making, produce a dress worth $30.”

This seems like good advice for knitters as well, although I think the rule should also point out that your labor is very valuable, so your materials  must be of a certain quality in order to be worth as much as your labor in the equation. (And “Fashion-rightness” and “becomingness” frequently get left out of this equation altogether when it comes to knitting, in favor of how easy or interesting a garment is to make.)

Some actual knitting makes an appearance on the blog, for the first time in ages!

Pattern: Herringbone Mittens with Poms from

Size made: Women’s Small

Yarn used: Patons Classic Wool in 00231 Chestnut Brown and 166488 Dark Natural Mix; less than 1 skein of each (weighing my leftovers, it looks like it took 30 grams of the brown and 25 grams of the tan, or about 67 yards and 56 yards, respectively, if I’m doing my math right–seems like an unreasonably tiny amount of yarn, doesn’t it?)

Needles used: US 4/3.5 mm, US 2½/3.0 mm, US 6/4.0 mm. I started the ribbing on size 4 needles, realized the wrists were coming out too big, and switched to the size 2.5 needles for the remainder of the ribbing. I used the size 6 needles for all the colorwork. I knit these two at a time, Magic Loop.

Date started: March 25, 2009

Date completed: April 26, 2009

Mods: Elli, I’m so sorry, but I did not Respect The Pom. I meant to, but I accidentally left out the eyelet row and by the time I realized, there was no going back. I also accidentally left off the cute CC starting row.

Notes: These mittens are gorgeous, but they have been the bane of my existence for the past month, because I felt like when I picked them up, I entered some kind of weird time warp in which all my knitting proceeded at a quarter of its normal speed, and my pattern recognition skills devolved to the level of a chimpanzee’s. It seems entirely unreasonable to me that I should knit monogamously on a tiny project like mittens and take more than a month to complete it.

Things started off swimmingly. I used a tubular cast-on for the ribbing, divided the stitches and got going with the magic loop, got pretty much all the ribbing done in one knitting night plus another evening, and then everything went to hell when I got to the colorwork. It was a two-row repeat and every other row was easy to remember–just K2 MC, K2 CC, the entire way around. For some reason, I just could not get the rhythm of the second row until I was more than halfway done with the mittens (3 weeks after starting them).

The second row goes a little something like this: K2 MC, K1 CC, K1 MC, K2 CC, K1 MC, K1 CC. Not that hard, right? But for some reason I couldn’t memorize it and kept screwing it up, losing my place when trying to follow the chart cell by cell, and frogging every other row as I realized I had messed up the pattern. When the pattern finally stuck in my head, I felt so dumb, as though I had been staring at this logic problem and gotten it wrong every day for the previous 3 weeks:
Q: 1, 2, 3, 4…: what is next in this series?
a) 5
b) 2
c) K1 MC, K2 CC, K2 MC, and… oh, crap.

Anyway, I finally finished them up. Finally. And they look gorgeous! And fit beautifully! I’d been admiring them since Elli brought the prototypes to our knitting group in Bloomington to show off ages and ages ago.

The sad part about this all is that I’m not even going to keep them. I knit them for a swap for the Madison Knitters’ Guild–“Cold hands, warm feet”: we traced our hands and feet on a piece of paper and brought this and some yarn in a brown paper bag, swapped it for another bag, and knit some kind of hand or foot covering to fit the recipient. At next month’s meeting, we’ll bring the bags with FOs back to their rightful owners and swap back. My contribution was Lorna’s Laces Shepherd Sport in Jeans, from the same enticing giant basket ‘o’ blue Lorna’s Laces at Yarns Unlimited that drew in chemgrrl. I am hoping to get a pair of nice blue socks back.

Anyway. Sadly, this neverending, stupid-making, beautiful pair of mittens will find a new home soon. But like Rahul said when I lost my Bird in Hand mittens, “luckily, you can always make another pair.”

I love the bias knit striped thumbs–I’ve never knit a pair of mittens with a thumb designed like these before.

Wool mittens: the fashionable accessory for spring!

“But what,” you might ask, “is that fabulous blouse the mittens are accessorizing?”

Pattern: Simplicity 4077, View D
Size made: 12, blended to a 14 at the waist and hips
Fabric used: Amy Butler Daisy Chain Clematis in Gray, 2 yards, from As an aside, they were really fabulous to deal with–I had bought some other fabric from them, and my order arrived n disappointing condition–stained and with multiple yard orders in multiple pieces–so I wrote to complain. They immediately offered to send me a replacement. Unfortunately, they were out of the original fabric I’d wanted. I asked if I could sub this one, which was slightly more expensive, so I said they could just send me 1 3/4 yards or whatever the equivalent amount was, but instead they sent me the full 2 yards in this fabric. Anyway. I think it’s a lovely fabric, the quilting cotton works well in this blouse, and am pondering the idea of an entire wardrobe made of Amy Butler fabrics.

Date started: Tuesday, April 28
Date completed: Thursday, April 30 (I cut out the pieces Tuesday night and sewed it together Wednesday night, and spent about 5 minutes today hammering in the remaining snaps. Rahul came home around 10:45 and found me sitting on the floor, hammering snaps, and said even if our downstairs neighbors are undergrads and probably stay up until 3 AM, it would still be polite not to hammer things on the floor at 11 PM, and I grudgingly admitted he had a point.)

Mods: I made a slapdash muslin of this shirt and felt like the waist was too tight, so decided to cut a larger size around the bottom of the bodice. When I put the pieces together for this shirt, though, I felt like the darts were completely wrong. I’m sure this was partly my fault–I accidentally marked the front darts incorrectly–but I had to sew them another inch or so longer and I think the placement is still a little bit too far out from center. I am also wondering if I could actually have gotten away with a smaller size on the bottom–it’s comfy but maybe a little loose compared to my favorite RTW shirts.

I didn’t cut out the front darts as the pattern calls for, just pressed them to the side. Why bother creating all those extra raw edges by cutting the dart? The fabric isn’t very sheer or thick, so I don’t feel like it’s significantly more visible to have the full dart thickness there instead of trimming it.

I used hammer-on pearl snaps rather than buttons. Easy, pretty, and avoids the issue of the janky buttonhole feature on my sewing machine. “Oh, buttonhole? Sorry, I thought you said you wanted a giant, snarled mat of thread.”

I left the interfacing out of the sleeve cuffs to give them a softer look (although I left it on the facings and collar).

Notes: Sewing is slowly getting easier! I remember when I bought this pattern a couple of years ago, it seemed incredibly complicated and difficult; but when I finally sat down to put it all together, expecting it to take at least a couple of evenings, it went together in just a few hours and with very little fuss. I guess I’m starting to get the hang of how sewn clothing is constructed.

Further notes from my review on (my first one!):
The style is cute overall.

The sleeve cuff and pleats are really cute and easy to sew. Other people commented that they were too tight, but I found them very comfortable. I left the interfacing out of the cuffs so they would be sort of soft and floppy, not stiff. One thing I’ve noticed is that when you put your arms into the sleeves, it’s easy to push the seam allowances for the cuffs downwards so they’re visible from the outside. I might stitch them into place inside the sleeve–I think the pattern just calls for pressing them in place.

I don’t quite like how puffy the sleeve caps came out–my shoulders are already sort of broad, and I feel like they have an embiggening effect, and I also think they look puffier than the picture on the envelope. I am a little confused about the sizing, too. I made a size 12 muslin first and it felt a bit too tight in the waist, so I sized it up… now it seems like it may be too loose. However, I’m a beginning sewer, so I’m not sure whether this is just typical for Simplicity patterns.

I like the style of the collar, but it seemed fiddly to put together neatly, and lumpy even after trimming the seams. I couldn’t get the ends sewn on neatly and ended up hand-sewing the ends down with a slip stitch. (This could all be just user error.)

Close up view of embiggening sleeve caps and lumpy collar:

It seems like a great pattern for using pretty quilting cotton prints. I think I’ll make it again, with one of the shorter sleeve views and maybe a front ruffle, and try to adjust the pattern a little further. One of my favorite store-bought tops is very similar in style to the cap sleeve/front ruffle view, in an embroidered olive green eyelet fabric.

Next time I might try cutting the front facings as a single piece with the shirt fronts, like in the shirt dress from Heather Ross’s Weekend Sewing. I don’t see a reason they need to be cut separately and sewn to the shirt fronts as opposed to cut as one piece and then sewn and turned. Maybe it’s necessary for the views with the front ruffles.

I was surprised at how quickly this went together, and loved the cuff detail. It’s a simple, stylish, and comfortable casual blouse pattern, and I’m sure I’ll be making it again. (I first saw it on Flintknits’ blog and have been desperately coveting that Nani Iro double gauze blouse and the Amy Butler yellow polka dot blouse since they were first posted.)

Anyway, in closing, I will say that it’s kind of funny that I’m posting these two things together, since the Herringbone Mittens were designed by Elli of Elliphantom, and just as I finished the mittens, I was actually prompted to sew the blouse by Elli’s sister Rae. I noticed the Spring Top Week Sewalong she’s hosting on her blog, Made by Rae, and decided to bite the bullet and sew a spring top. She wrote a tutorial for a really cute little ruffle sleeved top on Sew, Mama, Sew! and I’d like to try that sometime soon, too.