Wednesday, February 22, 2017

A Frock fit for a Frolic

I picked up a sweet little dotted print at JoAnn's a few months ago (an impulse buy -- I know, I know!) with the intention of making a play dress for Rosa. At the time I was thinking it would be long-sleeved, but now that our weather seems to be making consistent strides toward Spring, I opted for short sleeves. A little cardigan can easily warm it up if needed! 

I also opted for a pattern that's been in my stash for at least a decade (never used!), because it's frankly ridiculous to have a pattern and never use it. Even though I've cleaned out my pattern collection extensively, there are a few unused patterns lurking in there.

The pattern is Butterick 4176, marked "Fast & Easy." 

I like fast and easy! The dress came together in less than a day, so I'd so their claim is well-justified. I cut out the size 4 even though the size 5 measurements were more accurate -- I assumed there would be too much ease, and apparently I was correct because it fits Rosa beautifully!

I love the simple, pleated/tucked style! Though, of course, I did change a few things. I lengthened it a few inches (three, perhaps?), gave it a slightly beefier hem, changed the neckline finishing by drafting facings (I loathe the "sew on bias trim and press under" finishes!), and added a button tab to close it in the back (which worked perfectly with my added facing). Oh, and I sewed the sleeves in before sewing up the side seams because children's armholes are so small and fidgety. Then again, I didn't really consult the instructions after I read how to sew in the tucks! I haven't made a commercial pattern in some time, so it was a bit odd using 5/8" seam allowances. 

When it came to choosing buttons, I pulled out my vintage collection. Two green buttons immediately caught my eye! Not what I was thinking of at all, but I love them. One for the back, and one for the front, flanked by two vintage mother-of-pearl beauties (sewn on with green thread, and arranged perpendicularly to the green button -- I was in a quirky mood!)

 Rosa seems to love whatever I make her -- an attitude that I am not taking for granted, since it may not last forever! She wore this the very next day to the local gardens, and it was such a joy to see her frolicking about (she was frolicking, truly!) in her new frock. I think there may be more "fast and easy" in my future...

Monday, February 20, 2017

Handmade Holiday: Knights in Miniature

I can't take much credit for this part of our "Handmade Holiday," because my husband put in most of the work here! Our boys have been needing an upgrade from foam/plastic swords for quite some time, and Christmas seemed like a good opportunity to make that upgrade.

Each boy received a simple oak sword finished with wax, a plywood shield, and a cape (my contribution!) -- the cape fabric is the same as the crosses on their Christmas stockings, and the shields received a matching stripe.

I'm still not sure about the prudence of giving a not-yet-2-year-old a solid oak sword (petite though it may be!), but it's certainly adorable to watch Laddie sparring in the back yard with his older brother! 

These pictures were taken over a month after Christmas, and I'm pleased to see that both swords and shields are still holding up well! They've been well-loved already, and while (true to form) we barely finished them in time, they were well worth the time and effort. I'm not nearly as comfortable in the wood shop as I am at the sewing machine, so I'm glad my husband has skills in that department.

Not long now before we find out if we're adding another knight or princess to our growing clan!

Thursday, February 16, 2017

Time to Knock it Off

I recently found a black thrifted top made by Old Navy, which has quickly become my favorite maternity top! Not only was it perfect as I was transitioning into maternity clothes (that lovely "normal clothes don't quite fit, but neither do maternity clothes" stage), but it's just an all-around lovely top. I love, love, LOVE the ruching/gathering in the front, and find the overall shape to be quite flattering -- flowy, drapey, and probably perfect for post-partum because it hides a bit of bump and will work well for nursing. Plus, it doesn't require a modesty panel (though I did have to stitch up the neckline just a bit). 

The only problem? Just one. This is a top I'd love to have in multiple colors! I even searched my favorite second-hand clothes sites for more of the same style in any color, because I'd have gladly bought another one (or two!) in black. I know I will be wearing this top out in short order (based on how frequently I've worn it already, and I'm not even half-way through).

The only solution? Knock it off. But this top was no picnic to figure out! The front alone seemed to be constructed of three separate pieces, of undefinable shape. 

But in the end, I was determined enough to find a solution -- and here it is!

See that little "bar" across the center ruching? It feeds through to the wrong side of the bodice front (it's a circle/ring), so by carefully cutting the stitches from that bar on my original top, I was able to remove it and make sense of the construction. Turns out, the bodice is only made from two pieces: 

Looks bizarre, doesn't it! It was still a bit of a pickle to work out the pattern, and it's just as crazy to put together (though not actually difficult). I would never, ever, have guessed just from looking at this top or trying to figure it out without removing the fabric tab. It's so very clever -- I like this top even more now that I know the "engineering" behind it! 

My original mock-up was a slightly heavier striped jersey (I had yards and yards of it, so thought it would be good for experimenting). As I suspected, the construction method for this top makes black-and-white stripes just a bit overwhelming! However, it helped me work out a few kinks and decide upon the best construction process, and the striped version is now a favorite pajama top. 

This second top went together in no-time-flat, and construction was even easier. I used a pink jersey I picked up for just over $2 a yard when the local Hancock's went out of business. It's the perfect weight for this top -- and I have more in a minty green! 

The original top had gathering along the front and back shoulder seams, but I opted to just gather the front -- it simplifies construction! You might be able to see that the back neckline is bound, but the front neckline doesn't have any kind of hem -- it's an ingenious folded-under detail that gives a lovely, "stitch-less" finish to the front neckline.

And here's a view of the side. I have one more final edit for my pattern (I'd like to adjust the angle of one seam for what will hopefully be a slightly better fit), and then I hope to eventually transfer it to a printable format and put it up on the blog -- for free of course, because I like you and because this is a knock-off instead of an original pattern! *wink*

It's lovely to have another staple in my maternity wardrobe -- to pair with cardigans now, and to wear by itself as the weather warms up! Speaking of which, I'm going to have to do something about my skirts soon, because Spring is almost here...

Saturday, February 04, 2017

Out of the Works -- Or, Chambray Tova Love

What was once In the Works is now out of the works (and in my closet)!

It's been over two years since I made my first "Tova" (by Wiksten patterns), and while I made an un-blogged Tova in grey linen over a year ago, it was high time for another. I so, so love this pattern! I think it's one of the most flattering tunic patterns I've come across, and the details are just right. I made my grey linen Tova sleeveless (it's so simple to draft armhole facings!), because while I love the 3/4 length sleeves, I realized that it would be more versatile if I could layer it. Sleeveless in the summer, a light cardigan in the spring and fall, and a heavier cardigan in winter. This one is sleeveless, too, and I'll probably continue that in the future.

I'm loving my new Aise ballet flats in dark tan by Bali ELF! Spendy, but so far they
are super comfy and just right for my minimalist footwear requirements.

"But wait!" you say. "That's not a Tova!" 

You're right -- I did make some pretty significant modifications to the pattern. I wanted this pattern to be nursing friendly, because I'll be needing that in the summer, Lord willing. I didn't want to wear this tunic until-my-bump-is-too-big, only to put it away for over a year until I was done carrying and nursing this baby! 

In order to be nursing friendly, the Tova requires a longer, opening/closing placket in the center front. Not a modification I felt particularly comfortable with! I used the placket from Hey June's Cheyenne pattern, and lengthened it a bit. I did a lot of calculating as I redrew the bodice inset pieces, first removing seam allowances and finding center fronts, etc. The Cheyenne placket also has an angle toward the top, so I had to transfer that to my re-drafted Tova bodice. I also added just a tinch to the front gathering, and a little pleat in the back -- I'd really like to wear this for a while longer, so I wanted some extra bump accommodation. Fingers crossed that I won't regret that post-pregnancy!

And then, with much hesitation, I cut into my beautiful chambray. Which is, by the way, one of the most amazing and luscious fabrics I've ever worked with. Who knew that chambray could be luscious, am I right? Also note, I made no mention of a mock-up. Practice runs are for safe people, people. When you're a stay-at-home mom, sometimes cutting right into your fashion fabric is the only way to get your thrills! *wink*

"But wait!" you say. "There is no angle in that placket! And where did that collar come from?"

Well, I was handed a few lemons along the way. But I think I managed to make a tasty lemonade. First off, I somehow miscalculated and made the bodice insets too wide. It was nerve-wracking to cut them down, but all was well. The placket turned out beautifully (I made a tiny calculation error, but it was easily remedied!). I am thrilled with the way it turned out, especially the top stitching and the little "V" at the bottom. I really tried to be precise.

But then, the collar... I tried using the Wiksten Tova collar, knowing that it was probably not quite right. It wasn't. So I removed it, and tried a self-drafted collar. But being all "clever," I tried sewing it on in a non-typical way, and it backfired big time. I tried removing it and putting it on in a more traditional manner, but I'd clipped too much of the seam allowance away for that to work. By this time, I've had to clip away my neckline bit by bit, and I realized that I needed to do something more drastic. But I've already put the buttonholes in my placket! I took a huge gulp, cut a newer/deeper neckline, and then drafted a new lay-flat collar. And... it worked! I was as careful as I could be, and I think it came out quite nicely. 

So the angle in the placket is gone -- I'd really placed it too high, anyway, so I think it's better this way. Another minor change I made was to line the bodice inset pieces. I decided to do that because my fabric is a bit light and I thought it might need more body. As it turns out, it's also a really good way to enclose all of the raw edges in the bodice (if you've made a Tova, you know what I'm talking about!)

I'm also totally in love with the bronze-y metal buttons I used (stash!), and I think this will be relatively easy to nurse in. Button-up styles have never been my favorite for nursing, but when it's a choice between wearing a Tova and not wearing a Tova, I'll deal with it! Though perhaps it's a bit ironic that I've never yet made a Tova exactly according to the pattern...

This is already my favorite piece in my closet. I find myself planning when I can wear it again! I can style it with different cardigans to change it up a bit, too. Not all of my sewing projects turn out this well, or are worn this frequently (especially at first! Sometimes it takes a while for me to wear garments I've sewn), so I am chuffed about this success. I think it's a combination of right fabric, right design. Maybe I'm starting to learn what really works for me? Next time, I'd like to try that angled placket again.

I still have a scrap of my dotted chambray left, so perhaps I can sew something tiny out of it once we find out this baby's gender!

Thursday, February 02, 2017

One Month In

I thought I'd post a little update on the cleaning schedule -- an idea which has prompted me to be a little extra diligent! *wink* Quite honestly, a month is probably the longest I've ever stuck to any kind of cleaning plan or schedule, so I'm excited that I'm already in good shape moving into February.

Here's my progress from January:

Musings on the Month:

  • My home is cleaner than it has been since... well, a very long time! Best of all, it is not a fleeting (and rare) "just cleaned everything" feel, it is more of a "the house is always relatively clean" feel. I'm also cleaning things that I haven't cleaned in recent (or distant!) memory. I'm looking at you, freshly vacuumed couch!
  • This schedule is just right for me -- I can "do" three things per day (and usually only 1 or 2 of those are even remotely difficult/taxing). Some days are crazy and I miss something. I can either catch up the next day, or decide that it's not important that week. Those three days that are X'ed out? Stomach virus trumps cleaning! No big deal, because those tasks were done recently and one week isn't going to make a huge difference. Also, five days a week is just right. If I want to do a little catch-up on the weekend, I can, but otherwise I get a few days off. Plus, planning for the entire month allows me to include tasks that only need to be done every few weeks and would otherwise be at the mercy of my less-than-perfect memory.
  • It's not too specific. I needed some guidelines to make sure tasks were getting done (because they weren't before!), but in the past my systems have always been too rigid and "perfect." This plan is flexible! Yes, I like to tick every box and I make an effort to do so, but the one-month structure helps me evaluate whether a missed task is really that important. Sometimes I may need to do an extra vacuuming, sometimes I may miss cleaning the doorknobs, and chances are my kitchen floor will need more than one mopping per week -- there's just the right give-and-take so that I can use common sense but still have a sense of order.
  • I'm noticing more. Part of the reason house cleaning is difficult for me is that I'm a big-picture person. Little details like dusty shelves or spattered cabinets don't usually grab my attention. So while my Thursday "Kitchen" cleaning is vague, it's a time set aside to notice my kitchen. Some weeks that's just shining the stainless steel appliances! But I've also found myself cleaning and detailing things that would normally escape my attention (or just be ignored because there were bigger/more essential tasks at hand, such as floors that haven't been vacuumed in several weeks...). For instance, cleaning doorknobs leads me to notice the dirty kid fingerprints on many of our doors and door frames. Or the remnant of sticker that's been on our back door since we moved in, which I finally noticed (because I was cleaning the glass in our storm, sliding, and entry doors) and scraped off with a razor in about 10 seconds. So easy, but something that would have probably gone unnoticed for another year... or more... if I hadn't been cleaning that window.
  • I know my house better. Even though we've lived here for over a year, I feel like I'm just getting to know my house! For instance, I clean bathrooms weekly, but at this point in our lives our walk-in master shower and the kids' bathtub don't get that dirty. So I'm alternating weeks to clean them! That may change as our children get bigger and (presumably) dirtier, but for now I'm not going to clean something that isn't dirty. Toilets, sinks, mirrors, and floors, on the other hand, do require weekly maintenance around here. 
  • I'm not rushed when guests come over. We had dinner guests recently, and instead of the usual fluster of "Must clean all the things!", the prep was quite calm and collected. A quick wipe in the guest bath (I keep baby wipes on hand there for touch-ups), and the usual day's tasks, and all that was left was kids' toys -- which they cleaned up. *wink* This alone is a huge motivator for me! I'm hoping that this will improve even more as we implement some systems to help control clutter around our home.

I've got my February schedule ready to go, and it already has a few check marks! I have always felt defeated in this area, so this progress is quite encouraging. I'm realizing that finding a system that works for me is important for long-term success. If it's too hard, too rigid, too flexible, too whatever, it's going to be hard to sustain. And "hard to sustain" for me equates to "NOT sustained." I am hoping that I can continue to grow in this area (there were a few things overlooked in January that I'd like to do better on in February).

I'm getting the littles involved, too! They've been responsible for dusting chair rails, baseboard radiators, and window sills for a while, but now they do it every Monday (dusting day!). Soon they'll be helping with other tasks, too. I'd like to help them form good habits now. I'm hoping the schedule will help after this baby comes, too -- not only should the house be relatively clean beforehand, but it will also be a way for my husband to know what needs to be done. I'm sure we'll be checking fewer boxes for a few weeks, but we'll be able to see at a glance which tasks are most important to keep the household in good order.

Of course, every person is unique and this system may only work for some (or maybe just me?!), but if you'd like your own cleaning schedule, you can find the printable here (including a blank copy, if you'd like to personalize your tasks!).  

Monday, January 23, 2017

Handmade Holiday: Strolling Along

Rosa had a little doll stroller -- a pink, mostly-plastic affair that she got for her second birthday. It's served her well, but it was showing signs of wear and was really too small for her now. I loved this Nova Natural stroller, but $69 was a bit too spendy for us! 

We picked up some oak 1x2's (pine would be cheaper, but we decided the oak was much prettier and would be more durable). Of course, by the time we bought the oak, oak dowels, and four scooter wheels, we probably spent about $40! Honestly, I had no idea it would be so hard to source appropriate wheels. The fabric was from my stash, so that was "free." I suppose we still saved a good bit -- also, ours is taller than the Nova stroller by almost three inches, so perhaps it will fit her longer, too.

Rosa should be able to use this for years, too! I customized the seat to add a few pockets (Laddie loves to stuff them full). The seat is lined with batting to give it a bit more "oomph."

And the wheels -- which are adorable, even if they were hard to select! They also have bearings, so the stroller rolls quite smoothly. We finished the wood with a natural wax; it has a lovely, smooth feel, and brought out all the natural beauty of the wood.

Rosa was delighted with her new stroller (which, of course, made the effort worth it!), and Madeline seems quite pleased, too. At least, I'm guessing that by the smiles on both of their faces...

Saturday, January 21, 2017

Winter White

We were snowed in for a few days after a storm blew through -- more "iced" in, actually. Snow doesn't bother me much, but ice is a different animal.

The perfect time for cozy breakfasts of homemade muffins with fresh sliced strawberries. 

And a determined snowman, despite the powdery, un-snowman-able snow (it was more of a "mound and carve" operation). His name is Nigel.

The littles have been waiting and waiting for the snow! Rosa and I found patches of clean snow to eat (one of my favorite childhood pastimes), but Little Man didn't care for the taste. He was more interested in launching chunks of snow at Daddy. Laddie tromped around happily, lasting far longer than I'd anticipated. His cheeks were quite rosy by the time went in!

The only ones who were not thrilled about the snow were the chickens, who stayed in their coop most of the time (what a mess!). I was relieved when the thaw finally came, for their sake.

But we did forget to make snow angels, so I'm hoping we get at least one more snowfall this winter! And I'm still holding out for some good, sticky snow so we can build a better snowman...

Thursday, January 19, 2017


I'll admit it -- I am not a patient, diligent "read-aloud" parent. Yes, I've read countless books to my littles over the years. But those parents you hear about who read to their two-month-olds for an hour every day... let's just say I'm not one of those parents. And yet, I've always said that I want my children to love reading as much as I do. I've selected books carefully, I've tried to build a "culture" of reading; but I've often felt guilt that I could be doing more.

So to see this on our couch virtually every day...

Well, it's bliss. 

The older two are out there right now, because we just brought home a new "haul" from the library. Little Man wants to read everything, and Rosa thinks she can read everything (she's getting there!). And let's be honest, Laddie's just in it for the pictures and the fact that everything his big siblings do is Cool with a capital "C."

So, mamas who are as human as I am -- take heart!