Category Archives: sewing

Sewn: Baby Quilt

pile of nine patch blocks at

A friend of my husband’s is expecting his first child later this year. Normally I knit for the babies, but this time I decided I wanted to sew. In particular, I wanted to sew a quilt. So I ordered a fat quarter bundle and yardage of one of the prints to use as backing and got to work. I posted process shots on Instagram; I guess this took a month or so of intermittent work? The precise work in the beginning was enjoyable in its own way. To start with, I cut 81 squares and turned them into nine nine-patch blocks (above). I made sure each nine patch had the same center and none of them repeated fabrics. Then, I cut each nine patch block into quarters and arranged them into the quilt top. I sewed them all together and added a border of the backing fabric to expand it to roughly 36″ square.

quilt top at

It remained a quilt top for a bit while life got busy with an injured child, but eventually I returned to it and began quilting.

quilting at

I decided on straightforward straight lines, 1/4″ away on either side from the seam lines between the main blocks. Although I’d originally thought I’d use the backing fabric for binding, once I used it as a border, I didn’t want to. So I alternated strips of the same cloud pattern but in the other two colors, orange and green. I machine sewed the binding to the front, but hand sewed it to the back, which is the neatest way to do it. I enjoy hand sewing at times. It has the benefit of being portable, so this even got worked on at my daughter’s soccer practice.

sewing on the binding at

Once it was complete, I threw it in the washer and dryer. I’m not the only one who holds her breath during the first washing, am I? I know I sew well. There’s just something about that first run through that has my heart in my throat a little. I want to be able to confidently tell the new mom and dad that they can use this quilt, and it can get washed warm and dried in the dryer with no problems at all. Which I now know is absolutely true.

Ta-da! The finished quilt.

finished baby quilt at

My boys, ever encouraging of Things I Make, said, “Aw, if I were a baby I’d want to sleep with that,” and, “I like all the overlapping colors.” My husband (who approved the fabric choices, since it’s his friend after all) thinks the clouds are very calm looking. I used a thin (is that the correct term?) batting, so this isn’t a squishy quilt, but I think it’s perfect for laying out on the floor so baby has a clean place to hang out and, later, play. It’s small enough to be portable but big enough to be used as an extra blanket on a big-boy bed. Yay for my first quilt! Now I want to make more.

Towhee Art Quiltlet

towhee art quiltlet at

This is the second little art quilt I made in the past several weeks, although I was working on both at once for a while, going back and forth. Oh, how I miss towhees. They’re not flashy, like warblers, but I love their song so much, a cheerful “drink your tea!!” rolling out from the scrubby. I realized this past winter that they stayed all winter. I don’t know if that was new or if I hadn’t noticed before. I’d usually see them on the ground near the bird feeder, and hear them singing from the trees in the spring and summer. The first day each year that I heard the towhee singing was a celebration, a sign we’d come to the end of another New England winter. That bird’s song always made me stop and smile.

Our new neighborhood is more neighborhood-y. That’s what we were looking for, for many reasons, and the kids are definitely happier, but I miss the birds. We have your typical backyard birds here, and I mainly hear mockingbirds, incessantly repeating their phrases–which, to be fair, is what I get inside the house all day long. I miss the towhees and all the other nature that surrounded us in our woodsy corner of Rhode Island. So I decided to create a towhee out of cloth collage.

fabric applique towhee at

First I sketched the bird until I had a drawing I felt I could work with, and then I isolated different sections by the bird’s coloring. I searched my fabric stash–although I did end up buying new fat quarters for the branch, the letters (just because I really liked that fabric), and the rufous portion of the bird, as I didn’t have the just-right orangey red color. Then I traced the individual sections onto fusible adhesive, positioned them on the fabric pieces, and cut them out. Then I more or less assembled the bird puzzle onto a piece of light blue linen. I did the same for the lettering and sewed it all down.

free motion quilting at

I decided it was time to get comfortable with free motion quilting, so I made some sandwiches and got to it. Again, this is not perfect. You can see some pulling in places. But I DID IT! I used the same fabric for the binding as I used for the letters.

Here’s a picture of the back, because I’m quite proud I got the tension right on both sides for this.

back of quiltlet,

This one is about 13 x 15.5″ and was a blast to put together. I plan to add two hanging loops to the top, thread it over a slim branch, and hang it that way.

Again, books I used for techniques and inspiration:

Reverse Appliqué With No Brakez by Jan Mullen
Art Quilts at Play by Jane Davilá and Elin Waterston
Fresh Quilting by Malka Dubrawsky
Stitch Draw by Rosie James

And now I just need to decide–what’s next?

Sand and Sea Art Quiltlet

For the past several weeks, I’ve been working on two little sewn things. I think you could call them art quilts. They are quilted, and not from a pattern, and use various techniques. I shared in-progress photos on Instagram and kept thinking I’d do that here, too, but instead here I am with a couple of finished things–the first in this post, and the second in an upcoming post of its own. Before I made these I’d never made a quilt, even a tiny coaster-sized one, so I tackled many New Things while making these. I can’t wait to make more.

sand and sea art quiltlet at

I began making this sand- and sea-inspired image because I miss the ocean like it’s oxygen. There is nothing near here, absolutely nothing, that can compare to the Atlantic coast beaches of the town I left behind. I miss our local salt pond, chock full of critters we loved to respectfully observe. More than once, we have followed behind a horseshoe crab until it buried itself in the sand. I set out to sew an ocean.

sand detail (fabric) at

This portion of “sand” was created using Jan Mullen’s “stack, slice, switch” method (my inspiration books are listed at the end of this post). I gathered fabric scraps in sand colors–and remember, sand is a combination of so many components–and mixed and matched until I had a cobble that abstractedly reminded me of sand.

horseshoe crab detail at

This segment of “sand” is one block of linen printed in the center with my horseshoe crab linocut. Top and bottom is a bubble wrap print. For the bottom half of the quiltlet, I joined pieces of blue scraps cut on a slant. For this first attempt, I quilted more or less using straight lines and gentle curves, with the feed dogs up. Here’s a view of the back.

back view of small art quilt at

It’s not perfect! And I added the embroidery around the horseshoe crab after quilting, as you can see. This was my first time binding a quiltish thing, too, and check out these mitered corners!

mitered binding corners at

The finished piece is about 13.5 by 19 inches, and I need to decide how to hang it, and where. The second quiltlet is also of something I miss from Rhode Island, and you’ll see in the next post that I tried new things with that one, too.

Books I used for technique and/or inspiration for both quiltlets:

Reverse Appliqué With No Brakez by Jan Mullen
Art Quilts at Play by Jane Davilá and Elin Waterston
Fresh Quilting by Malka Dubrawsky
Stitch Draw by Rosie James

Sewing, Mostly

March has been much like February, but with family-wide sickness along with cold and snow. My main symptoms were cough and narcolepsy, so I’m glad I had the worst of it last week, because my husband left this past Tuesday and won’t be back until next Friday. When I haven’t been sick or taking care of sick people or all my other humdrum responsibilities, I’ve been sewing, mostly.

Remember my machine was in for routine service. When I got it back, I began with this custom order, then moved onto a bag for myself using Charley Harper canvas.

giraffe bag at

Looking at it, I can’t remember why I decided to put the giraffes going from side to side rather than up and down. Maybe the dimensions fit my piece of fabric better than way? They’re up and down on the side pockets. Anyway, it’s hard to photograph an empty bag, but I don’t have anything in it, because I didn’t really need a new bag, I just needed to sew one. If you follow. The canvas was lighter weight than I thought it would be, too. I had enough brown linen left over from my pants to use as lining, too.

giraffe bag at

They go together nicely, don’t they? When the bag was done, I was back to knits, making myself a tee shirt out of Charley Harper elephants.

elephant tee at

It didn’t take much sewing with knits until I got good at it. This is a tee to be proud of, and it will look nice with those brown linen pants, too. (If it ever stops snowing!)

Then it was on to three spring dresses for my daughter. I tackled them assembly-line style, which I’m sure is faster in the long run, but it does seem a tiny bit tedious when you’ve been doing pockets for an entire sewing session.

knit dresses at

These dresses are sewn so much better than the first two I made her, and those were pretty darn good, actually. They are basically this dress from Lands End, but for less money and in the exact fabrics my daughter chose. They’re comfy, she can easily move around and play in them, and they’re adorable. Oh and speaking of pockets, I’ve got those down now.

pocket! at

That is a very neat pocket indeed. When the dresses were done, I sewed her two more pairs of leggings. Here she is, on the first day of Spring (on which it snowed!), in the dim morning light before school (thanks, DST), wearing an entirely made-by-mama outfit.

mama-made outfit at

It’s the rare day when she goes to school without wearing at least one thing I made her. She also picked out fabric for two skirts. They’re woven cotton, straight line stitching, so she and I will be making them together. She’s got quite the spring wardrobe; now we just need spring.

Coping By Sewing

I’m not doing well with this winter, with all the snow and the bitter cold and the limbo-ness of life right now. It has always been cold and snowy, it always will be, and we will never sell this house. That’s how it feels. I am cranky and resentful. Every forecast causes husband and I to swear at the TV. Are things blooming where you live? I really don’t want to see pictures. Is it above freezing? Please don’t complain. Freezing is warm to us. See? I am cranky. And to make things even better, our (now former) Realtor spends a couple-three months in Florida every winter. No, we didn’t know this before we hired her, nor did we know some other things that, sigh, don’t matter anymore because I’m sure she’s an excellent Realtor (she told me so constantly), but not for us.

And so, I sew. Last week I made myself a skirt out of thermal knit fabric.

layered thermal skirt at

When I ordered the fabric to make the thermal knit shirt in this post, I also ordered black. Although both colors had the same description and were the same price, the black was thinner; too thin, I thought, for a shirt. But I thought I could double it over and maybe add in some of the olive grey…. and it sat as an idea for a month or three until last week.

I am still (always) learning. I continue to make skirts too big for my waist. I’m not sure if I don’t trust my measurements or I’m taking them wrong (some of both, probably). I knew enough not to follow the directions for drafting an A-line skirt in Sew What! Skirts, because that book only deals with woven fabrics. I used the measurement guidelines in this maxi-skirt tutorial instead. The errors are mine; I should have made the fold-over waistband smaller around. The skirt still works, though, because I intended to wear it over jeans. I’ve found that wearing a skirt over my jeans keeps me warmer. This black thermal knit fabric, by the way, was by far the fuzziest thing I’ve sewn with. Lint was fairly jumping out at me as I sewed.

Sunday morning I sewed my daughter the most cheerful pair of leggings ever, using this Oliver + S pattern.

cheerful leggings at

These are for no particular reason than that I liked the fabric and recognized it needed to be turned into leggings for my color-loving girl. She wore them to school Monday with her ladybug dress. Her wardrobe palette has never been sedate.

Sunday afternoon and Monday, I sewed a pair of linen pants for myself, for when it’s linen-wearing season again.

linen pants at

The pattern is from Simple Modern Sewing, and the fabric was a pre-Christmas on-sale purchase. It’s a nice, opaque linen, although I’m hoping a few more washings will soften it up a little more. The pattern sheets that come with the book are printed with multiple, overlapping pieces on each sheet, so it took me a while (and another cup of coffee) before I could untangle the pattern lines I was trying to trace. (Did M. C. Escher draw these pattern sheets? It seemed so.) Then I thought I’d done it wrong after all because the back pieces are wider than the fronts. This fabric, too, created much fuzz in the machine, and for the first time, I broke a needle while sewing, trying to sew a tri-fold belt loop onto a seam line of the waistband. But lo, the pants are complete, well before I’ll have any chance of wearing them.

Tuesday I dropped my machine off for a cleaning. It’s been almost three years, and I can see cushions of fuzz in places I can’t reach with my little brush. Best to get it cleaned before it’s a problem, is my thought. However, my coping method is now out of my hands for the next week. I plan to cut out lots of pattern pieces so I’m ready to start sewing again once I get it back. I shall sew spring dresses for the girl, as an offering of faith that someday–someday–the snow will melt.

A Couple of Sewn Things

I have lots of fabric waiting to be turned into sewn things, but most of them are spring sewn things and I just can’t yet. The snow, it is piled up, and it’s so cold with wind chill that I can’t in good conscience send my stir-crazy energy-filled kids outside. We all hate snow by now, even the kids.

Anyway. I sewed some things.

kindle cover at

I finally got a Kindle, so of course I needed to make it a cover. I used this tutorial and canvas upholstery fabric from stash. I consider this my starter cover, something to keep it safe and protected until I make one with a bit more personality.

It slides into a pocket for protection in a bag:

kindle case at

And it slips into these nifty corner tabs when I’m reading it.

kindle cover at

Cute, huh? My husband said, “Most people buy a Kindle and then just buy a case, you know.” I said, No, most people who sew make their own. Slightly different worlds! I like my sewn Kindle case.

I also finally sewed the DNA apron I had in mind when I saw this DNA fabric, which I just had to buy, because DNA is so beautiful–not just its structure but the elegance of its construction as a solution to the problem of how to replicate itself.  Nature is a superb designer.

DNA apron at

Kind of a fuzzy picture, taken by my 6yo, but you get the drift. I intend this for an art-work apron, especially while teaching, as I’m constantly needing more hands than I have. Pockets! Hopefully I will someday teach again. If we lose another Monday to snow I’m afraid we’ll never be able to make them all up.

My favorite part is the bias trim, I think.

DNA apron bias trim at

I have some of each fabric left over, too, so I’m sure it’ll show up as a pouch lining or something sooner or later.

I’ll be sewing more soon. Sewing therapy!

Teaching the Girl to Sew

Her first machine sewing project at

Earlier this month, my 6yo daughter told me one of her goals for this year was to learn how to sew using the sewing machine. No problem! I told her when I taught myself how to sew I started with projects that involved straight lines, and we talked about some options. She, a girl after her mother’s heart, decided she wanted to start with a tote bag. We do love our things-to-put-other-things-in here. I showed her some options in Sew What! Bags, and she chose the Reversible Tote.

Now, I’d had some ideas of what to do with Saturday afternoon, involving baking banana bread and making some art with all the kids, but G was excited and raring to go, so I shifted gears so I could meet her enthusiasm with a great big YES. First thing we did was investigate mama’s fabric stash which, sadly, is stored in bins instead of on color-organized shelving, but we did the best we could. She selected several then decided which two to use. Her bag is as colorful as her typical outfits. (She used the same fabric for outer and lining, and the same heart fabric for both pockets because yep, she has an inside pocket too.)

Once she’d picked the fabrics, I pulled her Learning Tower over to the ironing board and I showed her how to iron. (Not too long after that, I knocked our iron off the board and it broke, but husband saved the day with his travel iron, which is JUST the right size for 6yo hands, too.) Then I cut out the pieces–I did that part, because it was all rectangles and I used the rotary cutter and plastic ruler and, well, that’s going to take some growing on her part, I think, before she can safely use it.

“NOW can we sew, Mama?” Not quite yet. Reading the directions, we saw it was time to iron some more to prepare the pockets. I held the fold, she pressed (and learned what it means to “press” rather than “iron”). Then I showed her the sewing machine and what the various dials mean and do. She sat on my lap and I operated the foot pedal while we practiced together. Then it was time to assemble the bag. (The rest of these pics were taken by my husband.)

sewing on the pocket at

She raised and lowered the presser foot, kept the fabric aligned (with some guidance by me, less and less of it as we went on), raised and lowered the needle, rotated the fabric around corners, operated the reverse stitch switch for backstitching, removed pins, cut threads. She trimmed seam allowances and clipped corners. She pressed seams.

learning to machine sew at

I included this photo because I love the look on her face! I think she’s concentrating there.

sewing with mama at

When her bag was done she said, “I can’t believe I made this all by myself!” And I grinned because it wasn’t quite all by herself but it was, too–she didn’t just sit on my lap and have her hands there and sort of sew it. She was learning the steps of sewing, how the machine works, what needed to be done, what it means to clip corners and press seams and on and on. She rightly feels ownership of that bag, and what a good use of an afternoon, to begin to teach my girl how to sew. How wonderful to share something I like with someone who wants to learn.

What I Did On My Christmas Vacation

* I cooked a lot of food. Really, a lot. We joked my Italian was showing. We had my husband’s family here for Christmas Eve dinner and it was really, really nice. I’d hoped we could make that happen, since we won’t all be living in the same state by next Christmas. Then I cooked more just for us five on Christmas Day–my first roast beef! It was fabulous, just like I remembered from childhood. For some reason, even though I rarely eat red meat, I was craving roast beef with gravy, so I checked the Internet and talked to my butcher and made one. Yum.

* I read and read and read. I can’t even tell you much of what, because I don’t keep track of titles. I thought it might be nice to keep a list this year, but it’s January 2nd as I type this and I’ve already finished two books and begun a third this year and I suspect I will get tired of writing down titles by the end of the month, if not sooner.

Double Wave mitts at

* I knit a pair of mitts from my own design, sewed my daughter a pair of leggings (successfully–and I have fabric to make more), and sewed myself a jersey knit thermal shirt. I took this picture and then noticed the streaky bathroom mirror. It’s clean now.

sewn jersey shirt at

* I moved all my Art Together zines from e-junkie to Payhip, which is taking care of VAT. I also decided upon a topic for the next issue. I hadn’t started working on a winter issue yet, not knowing whether it would even be possible to sell it. So it will probably be a late winter or even spring issue, but I have an idea I’m excited about, and that’s the first, most important step. Anyway, I’m really glad an option materialized that would work for me to continue selling it without having to deal with other countries’ confusing tax laws. (My own country’s confusing tax laws are bad enough.)

* I chose ADVENTURE as my word for 2015. I want to view this move to a new state as an adventure for all of us!

* I began Lisa Sonora’s 30-Day Journal Project. Mmmm, we’ll see. I’ve found I’m not so good at doing one thing daily for any amount of time. I like to do rather a lot of creative-type things (plus all that reading), and I typically do at least something creative every day but not the same thing. So we’ll see.

* We spent a lot of time at home, happily. Reading, making things, watching movies, playing games–the boys are both very into Magic and Minecraft.

I hope you’re having a gentle entry into 2015. I’m not looking forward to returning to the regular schedule on Monday. I’ve so enjoyed our slow and easy mornings!

A Second Dress (Better Than the First?)

Ladybug dress at

The second dress is complete, y’all. And it’s better than the first, because it has inside, hidden pockets.

pockets! at

G likes it better because she likes short sleeves–while I’m wearing a thermal shirt, sweater, and wool socks, she’s running around in short sleeves and no socks at all. I’m happy about the pockets but already know I can do better on the next dress, whenever that happens. (I’m out of jersey knit fabric at the moment.) I keep admiring these dresses, the way the sleeves are sewn into the opening so well, the pleating, the way I did much better hemming the sleeves on the ladybug dress and they don’t flare at all. Another headband was requested, so I whipped that up after these pictures were taken.

twirling at

New play dresses need twirling pictures. Of course!

Leveling Up: Sewn Knit Dress

At the end of the summer, my daughter picked out some Charley Harper knit fabric so I could make her some dresses. I’d seen the Anna Maria Horner Lemon Drop pattern and for some reason, that was the pattern that made me decide to figure out sewing with knits. I ordered it and made the top for myself first (I’d rather mess up learn on my own clothes than my daughter’s) and the shoulders were huge. I mean, just, humongous. I looked at the pictures on the pattern again and Googled for some finished examples and compared the girls’ pattern pieces to some of my daughter’s clothing and realized that using the Charley Harper fabric to make this pattern for her would be throwing good money after bad.

I discussed with the Twitter brain trust and ended up ordering the Oliver + S family pack of t-shirt patterns, with the idea of adjusting it to make a dress. (The shoulders on this are actually designed to fit regular people, even!) I shortened the t-shirt and added a skirt, which is just two rectangles, each the width of the full circumference of the shirt. And we have a dress, just perfect for a six-year-old.

Charley Harper dress at

The full skirt twirls nicely, too.

I made her a matching headband from scraps because why not? I added patch pockets to this one, using the pattern pieces from the AMH pattern, I think just to make myself feel better for having spent the money on a pattern that I can’t use. I’m not happy with the patch pockets; they’re going to droop. So on her next dress–ladybugs, short sleeves, but otherwise the same concept–I decided to try interior pockets. I consulted my sewing reference book and one of her Lands’ End knit dresses and got to work.

interior pockets in progress at

I’m not done with that dress just yet–I want to reinforce the pocket openings (I already know how I’d do it a little different next time) and then I just need to sew the skirt to the tee and I’m done. I’m particularly happy with how the skirt is sewn in on the first one. I pleated all that extra fabric in. Careful pleating, pinning, and sewing. Here’s how it looks from the inside…

pleating from inside the dress at

and a close-up of the outside.

pleating on sewn knit dress at

It turns out sewing with knits was the least of the difficulties here–the pattern I originally chose was unworkable. I’m pretty chuffed that I put this together and I love the Oliver + S t-shirt pattern. I think I’ll get lots of use out of that. The second time, the shirt whipped up quickly. The only place I had difficulty with the knit fabric itself was hemming the sleeves. They ended up with a slight flare, which I decided to call a design element. And you know what? My daughter told me (without knowing I’d struggled with the sleeve hems) that her favorite part was the way the cuffs ruffled a bit. There you go. Best dress ever (until the ladybug dress is finished!).