March of the Tools, part 2

Thursday, March 31, 2011

As part of Heather Bailey's March of the Tools, I posted about some of my favorite tools a couple of weeks ago.  On this last day of March, I'd like to share a few more tools that make my life more fun.

Panasonic GF1 Camera

I'm still learning to use the baby, but I'm seriously in love with it.  It's a micro four-thirds camera, which is fairly new format that eliminates a bulky mirror inside the camera body, allowing it to be much smaller and lighter, but still have interchangable lenses and fast processor, as any DSLR.  I love the 20mm/f1.7 lens and use it almost all the time.  I'm definitely new at shooting in manual, and I've got lots to learn, but this is definitely one of my favorite tools.

Photoshop Elements 9.0 and Actions

I recently invested in PSE, and I've even taken a couple of online classes from Erin at Texas Chicks, who is extremely helpful.  I'm loving using actions (preprogrammed tasks and commands to achieve a specific look, which can then be tweaked).  It feels like I've let somebody do all the hard work of figuring out PSE, and all I have to do is use their little shortcut and adjust.  It's perfect.  And tremendously fun.  My favorite actions are from Paint the Moon, Florabella, and Peta Mazey.  But there are lots of free ones out there.  I've gotten some great freebie actions from The CoffeeShop Blog.

Velocity V50 Iron

I just got the Velocity V50 for Christmas, so I can't report on long-term use.  But so far it's been great.  Heats up quickly, massive amounts of steam which are ready at the push of a button, no spitting or leaving water spots.  I will warn that although the manufacturer refers to this as a compact iron, it's not compact at all.  In fact, it's larger and heavier than the Rowentas I've had.  But I've adjusted to that easily.  Plus, it's orange!

Mettler Metrosene Thread

There are plenty good threads out there, and I'm sure each sewist and sewing machine has their own favorite.  My Pfaff and I prefer Mettler Metrosene.  It's not convenient for me to buy locally, but I load up when I can.  Sews smoothly, never breaks, very little fuzz.

Snap Source SnapSetter

If you're using snaps occasionally, this is perfect.  Works perfectly, huge selection of snaps (love the pearl snaps), durable, and small and easy to store.  A little loud, but it doesn't take many whacks to set a snap.

Pliers for Plastic Snaps

Sometimes I prefer plastic snaps.  They come in so many colors, and they hold up very well.  I love my snap pliers.  They can be purchased from KamSnaps as well as some other places online.

Ballpoint Pins

Did you know there are pins made just for knits?  I didn't either, until some nice blogger told me.  Now that I know, I use them all the time.

Bobbin Saver

I haven't tried a lot of bobbin storage systems, but the Bobbin Saver works well for me.  Keeps them all in one place, where I can see the thread color and contain dangling threads.

The Ditty Bops

Right now, my preferred sewing music is The Ditty Bops.  It's playful, fun pop-folk.  Just right to keep me going late at night, when coffee isn't an option and the seam ripper is waiting to sabotage every move I make.  The Ditty Bops keep me going and put a smile on my face all at once.  Runners up right now are The Puppini Sisters and The Weepies.

Stem Gem

This has nothing at all to do with sewing, but the Stem Gem is a new gadget I'm enjoying a lot lately.  Nobody needs one of these.  It's a silly luxury.  But it removes strawberry stems so neatly and leaves the perfect little cone-shaped cut, which my kids and I love.

That's all I've got this year.  I'll see you back next March for more.  Maybe by then I'll have found a seam ripper I actually like.  Or maybe not.

How To: Sewing a Lined Ruffle Skirt

Friday, March 25, 2011

Ruffle fabric is so fun.  What girl wouldn't want a ruffly skirt?  Read on to learn how I made Big Sister's lined ruffle skirt.


ruffle fabric
elastic (mine is 1.5 in. wide)
knit fabric for lining  (fairly thin fabric works best)

I purchased my fabric and elastic (which I *love*) from Ruffle Fabric.  I've also seen a pretty good selection of ruffle fabric on Ebay and at Harts Fabric.  I've even heard of people finding some at their local Hancock's Fabric.

There are instructions for dying elastic on the MADE blog, but I have not tried it.


1.  Determine dimensions and cut.  The length of the ruffle fabric should be waist measurement plus about 3 inches.  To determine height of the ruffle fabric, figure out how long you want the skirt to be, waist to hem, and subtract about one inch.  For my 4.5-year old daughter, who wears about a size 6, I cut a ruffle fabric rectangle that was 28 inches long by 13 inches tall.  I cut my lining rectangle an inch shorter in height and half an inch shorter in length, so 27.5 inches by 12 inches tall.  Make sure that the lining fabric stretches in the direction of the rectangle's longer side.

2.  Serge or zigzag the bottom of the lining piece.  It would be totally fine (and faster) to leave unfinished too, but I'm compulsive about finished edge.

3.  Sew/serge the short edges of the lining piece together, so you now have a tube shape.  I used 1/4 inch seam allowance. 

4.  Place right sides of ruffle fabric together and pin short edges of rectangle together, lining up ruffles.  Sew/serge that seam to create a tube.  I used 1/4 inch seam allowance.  Do your best to keep ruffles lined up.  They'll likely be slightly off here and there (see below), but you can do what I did and put that seam on the side of the skirt so nobody will really notice.  Now your ruffle fabric is a tube shape too.

5.  Place lining tube inside of ruffle tube.  Ruffle fabric will be right side out, and wrong sides of fabric will be together, so that the seams face each other.

6.  Serge or zigzag the top of the tubes together.  That edge will later be sewn to the elastic.

7.  Measure the skirt wearer's waist and subtract an inch.  Cut elastic to that length.  If you like, serge or finish elastic edges.

8.  Put right sides of elastic together and sew along the cut edges of elastic.  I used about a 1/4-inch seam allowance, maybe a little more.  This creates a loop of elastic.

9.   Open up the seam, and sew down each edge of elastic to the wrong side.   This part will be the center back of the skirt. 

10.  Divide the elastic loop into quarters and pin.  So one pin will be opposite the back seam, and the other pins will split the difference between that pin and the back seam.  Do the same with the skirt tube.

11.  Pin the elastic to the skirt, lining up the pins that are already marking quarters.  The right side of the skirt (the ruffles) should be pinned to the wrong side of the elastic.  The elastic will cover the stitches, where you stitched the ruffle fabric to the lining.

12.  If you want to, add more pins between the existing pins.  Although it's tedious, and I generally hate pinning, I found this very helpful.

13.  Stretching the elastic but not the fabric, sew along the bottom of the elastic (on the right side).  I find it helpful to use both hands and stretch both behind and in front of the presser foot.  I also lengthened my stitch a bit.  If you look closely, you can see the stitching here:

It's okay if the inside isn't perfect.  See, I'm not winning any sewing awards here, but nobody will ever notice.

14.  After you've attached the elastic to the skirt, admire your work because you're basically done.  You could stop here, or you could add a couple of finishing touches that I like.

15.  Add a second row of stitching on the elastic that will help reinforce the attachment of elastic to skirt. As you can see in the two photos above, it doesn't have to be perfect, and it's okay if it doesn't catch every bit of the skirt fabric.

16.  Add a label to the back of the skirt.

Ta-da!  You're finished!  You don't have to sew the hem.  Just trim neatly in a spot where the cut edge will be hidden under a ruffle.  

Your skirt should look basically like this on the inside (note that the lining is supposed to be an inch or so shorter than the ruffle fabric).

And it should look totally cute on the outside.

Now give yourself a pat on the back and congratulate yourself on a job well done.

Hey, thief!

Thursday, March 24, 2011

A couple of weeks ago, we had this:

Last week, we had this:

Yesterday, we had this:

And today we have NOTHING.  Our one and only strawberry is GONE.

We didn't pick that beauty yesterday because we wanted Big Sister to have the privilege.  We figured that she would enjoy it more than anyone, and she was very brave yesterday in visiting a school.  So we left it for her.  Unfortunately, the squirrels didn't.

We have some new flowers today.  Let's hope we'll have some red strawberries to pick in a couple of weeks.  Squirrels, stay away!

Happy St. Patrick's Day!

Thursday, March 17, 2011

I'm proud to say that I made both kids something *green* to wear today.  Mr. Great allowed me to "go to a meeting" a couple of nights ago, which meant that I got to sew while he gave the kids baths and put them to bed.  What a treat!  It's nothing elaborate, but I got to try out a few new things, and the kids were excited about their festive clothes.

Big Sister got a skirt made with some really fun fabric and elastic that I got from Ruffle Fabric.  The fabric ended up being pretty thin, so I lined it with some soft bamboo-blend white knit.  Even with the lining, it was a ridiculously fast project.  I'll post instructions separately.

I also added some applique to an Old Navy shirt (on sale for $4!) for Big Sister.  I saw a similar heart-shaped clover design at iCandy Handmade, but I didn't have enough good green scraps to do exactly what she did.  I did have high-quality felt, so I went with that instead.  I'll post my applique instructions too, but most of it will be what not to do.  Even though I ran into a few applique problems, it still turned out really cute.

Little Brother got new shorts, sewn from the MADE flat-front pants tutorial.  I wanted to check out sizing and fit, and I discovered that I had half a yard of green fine-wale cord that would be perfect for a trial run.  These are sized as 2T-3T for a skinny, tall guy who's potty-trained.  They're perfect for my 2T guy in a diaper, but next time I'll probably use 1/4 in. seam allowance instead of 3/8, to give a little extra room.  They're super fast and cute.  I love projects like that.

Happy St. Patrick's Day!

March of the Tools.

Wednesday, March 16, 2011

The fabulous Heather Bailey has begun a fun tradition called March of the Tools, in which crafty bloggers share some of their favorite tools.  I love reading and learning about sewing tools.  In fact, just this morning I ordered some magic fabric pens recommended by Flossie Teacakes in her March of the Tools post here.  I've been thinking about the tools that make my sewing more fun and efficient, and I'd love to recommend a few of my favorites.

Pfaff's IDT System

There are lots of great sewing machines out there, and lots of people sew great things on not-so-great sewing machines.  I sew on a Pfaff (though mine is an older, made-in-Germany model), which I love mostly because of the IDT system, developed by Pfaff decades ago.  IDT is basically a built-in walking foot that feeds fabric evenly from the top and bottom to help prevent slipping and stretching.  I sew a lot on knits, and I can't imagine sewing without IDT.  Although other sewing machines have mechanisms for even feed, most are newer copies of IDT, and few seem to allow the use of all sorts of presser feet with IDT.

Stitch-in-the-Ditch Foot

This is also sometimes called a Narrow Edge Foot.  I use it all the time, though I rarely use it to stitch-in-the-ditch.  It's a wonderful tool for topstitching.  It lines up perfectly with a seam or fabric edge, and by adjusting needle position, I get beautifully even topstitching.  Although mine is made by Pfaff, I think pretty much every sewing machine company offers a foot like this.

Clover Bodkin

Isn't bodkin a fun word to say?  Bodkin, bodkin, bodkin.  I use my bodkin all the time to feed elastic through a casing.  Sure, a safety pin works fine.  But my Clover Bodkin works even better.  It grabs the elastic and doesn't let go until I tell it to.  I love it.

Wiggle Weights

I trace lots of patterns, and I usually cut with a rotary cutter.  I can't stand to have things wiggle around.  Although any pattern weights will work (even canned food, which I've used), these are special because they nicely conform to curves.  When you want precision, these are the best.  I got this photo from The Sewing Place, which sells Wiggle Weights, though I'm sure other vendors probably do too.  I did notice recently a warning on the tags saying that the weights contain lead and should not be handled by children.  Sort of strange, but I wouldn't let my kids play with them anyway.

Swedish Tracing Paper

Swedish Tracing Paper is my favorite for tracing patterns.  It's substantial, almost like interfacing, and it doesn't slip around nearly as much as other papers do.  You can sew on it too, though I rarely do that.

Rotary Cutters

These are great for quick cutting.  Once you get accustomed to using them, I think they're actually more accurate than scissors.  They work especially well for knits because they seem to stretch the fabric less.  I have two sizes, both Olfa, and I use them equally. 


I already told you about this favorite tool.  I can't imagine sewing without clips!

Save Texas Schools!

Tuesday, March 15, 2011

Normally, I would avoid posting anything remotely political or divisive (after all, I'm way too busy scouring Etsy for new patterns and shopping online for fabric).  But Big Sister starts kindergarten in the Fall, and we are in the midst of trying to figure out which school she will attend. So the state of public education feels supremely crucial to me right now.  Our timing for starting school is pretty rotten, as the current state of our local public schools is downright depressing.  Because of a huge budget crisis, our local school district has proposed drastic cost-saving meaures including closing 12 schools (including many exemplary-rated elementaries) and revamping a policy that previously allowed families to transfer children to out-of-neighborhood schools with available space.  The state legislature's proposed budget indicates that the state is likely to cut education funding by about $9 billion.  This has already resulted in countless job cuts and is likely to mean larger classes and less offerings in the arts.  For a state that already ranks embarrassingly low in education, this scares me.  So we joined more than 10,000 other scared parents, teachers, and community members at our state capitol on Saturday in a rally to Save Texas Schools.

Have you ever seen a cuter protester?

In case you can't tell, he's taking a pretend picture of me just as I was taking a picture of him.  The ponytail horns were completely his idea, by the way. 

Unlike his sister, who was intimidate by the crowd and activity, Little Brother enjoyed the busy chaos.

Truth be told, I'm not sure what was a bigger priority for our tiny protester, funding for education or snacks eaten outdoors on a sunny day.

It turned out to be a fun outing.  We enjoyed the sunshine and being together, and I think we showed our children in some small way that action is important.

Nature Walk shorts.

Monday, March 14, 2011

I finally managed to put together something for my boy.  I've been wanting to use this fabric for a while (stretch French terry that I got from The Fabric Fairy ages ago, apparently no longer available).  I had pants in mind (especially for these great fall colors), but it took me too long to finally start this project and now the weather is warming up, so I went for long shorts instead.  This is the Oliver + S Nature Walk Knit Pants pattern, shortened.

As with all Oliver + S patterns I've used, the instructions are great and easy to follow.  These shorts went together very quickly and easily.  The yoke design is a nice touch.  

I made these in 2T for my two-year-old little guy, who still wears some 18-24 but seems solidly in 2T now.  Sadly, these are too snug for his cute little bubble butt.  I'm glad I didn't take time to match the plaid.  But I'm bummed that I used up this fabric that I really like.  

I was going to make a Longhorn tee to go with the shorts, since Fall isn't far off and the Longhorns can't possibly do much worse than this year.  Since the shorts don't fit, I'm putting that project off.  If I had done it, it would have looked something like this, except better:

Edited to Add:  One of the reasons I was so excited to make Little Brother pants out of this fabric is that I swore up and down Mr. Great had similar pants when he was a toddler.  I remember a photo of him in pants just like these.  Turns out that my memory isn't so good.  The pants aren't plaid at all.  I found the photo, and although there's a plaid stroller on a very busy linoleum floor, the pants are definitely not plaid.  Huh.  It's a cute picture anyway, and I can't help but share.  Must have been a tough day for their mama!

Somerset Hoodie -- Instructions for Lining Hood

Sunday, March 13, 2011

It occurred to me that I might be able to help someone by sharing my instructions for lining the hood of the Somerset Hoodie.  I didn't photograph as I went, so I don't have a photo tutorial.  But this method worked well for me:

1.  Cut two hoods, one exterior fabric and one lining fabric.  So you should have four hood pieces, plus the long hood trim piece.

2.  Sew/serge together the center seam of each hood, one in exterior fabric and one in lining fabric.

3.  Serge/finish the bottom edge of the hood in lining fabric.  Set that hood aside for now.

4.  Sew the shoulders (front and back shirt pieces), as in Mama Stellato's instructions.

5.  Sew the hood in exterior fabric only to the shirt, as in Mama Stellato's instructions.

6.  Press the long hood trim piece, wrong sides together, as in Mama Stellato's instructions.

7.  Sandwich the hood trim piece between the exterior fabric hood and the lining fabric hood.  The right sides of each hood should be together, with the hood trim in between.  The edge of the hood, where you will sew, has four pieces of fabric.  It works best to start in the center of the hood, with the center of the trim piece, and then work your way down to the bottom of the front pieces.  Pin, then sew.  Finish edges, since they'll show on the shirt pieces below the hood.

8.  Turn hoods so that exterior hood is on outside, lining on inside, and trim where it belongs.  Press carefully.  Below hood, press finished edges to inside of shirt.

9.  Topstitch.  Make sure topstitching extends down below hood, stitching finished edges of front pieces to inside of shirt.

10.  Topstitch at base of exterior hood, catching lining hood.

Presto, a nicely lined hood.

How are bunnies like calculators?

Wednesday, March 9, 2011

They multiply! 

First there was one Fluffy Stuffy Bunny, free pattern courtesy of the fabulous Allsorts:

And now there are two:

They even have the same little crooked noses (turns out it had nothing to do with the microsuede-backed fabric at all and everything to do with me).  This one was sewn for Big Sister, out of the same Minky Cuddle Super Plush fabric as her special silky blanket.  I did not love sewing with this fabric -- it's slippery, it falls apart when cut, and lots of tiny fibers of fluff went up my nose.  But it's very soft and makes quite a nice lovey.  I'm not sure Big Sister is happy with this bunny though -- she wishes for googly eyes and a bigger smile.  We're still negotiating.

Gnomeo and Gnomeo.

Friday, March 4, 2011

The weather is warming up.  The garden is growing beautifully.  Why not strip off your clothes and paint a garden gnome?  That's just what we did last weekend.

Mr. Great picked up these paint-a-gnome kits (age 8 and up, but who's counting?) at Target for about $3 each.  Each kit contains a small ceramic gnome, a paintbrush, and a set of paints (acrylic?).  The kids loved them.  They concentrated:

They mixed colors:

They worked hard on their great creations:

They even painted leaves (and their own tummies):

And now we have two cute little friends to look over our garden: