Category Archives: arts and crafts

Sewing projects: curtain, jean skirt, and…curtains

Twinkle swaddle curtain

Curtain from repurposed “twinkle” swaddle

Having the sewing machine in the basement has made it so much easier to do little projects on a whim, and bit by bit. Early last week I whipped up a curtain to cover some shelves in L’s room – I used an old swaddle blanket, so I only needed to sew one side.

After patching my two pairs of maternity jeans repeatedly, I came to the sad conclusion that they could be jeans no more…but they could be jean skirts! I found decent step-by-step instructions from WikiHow, and an even better set (with pictures) from Creative Green Living. I was almost done, and very pleased, when my machine ceased to work. I’ve been able to troubleshoot everything so far, but this time the machine (an approximately 60-year-old Singer) was out of alignment – not something I could fix. Now I’m deciding whether to have it repaired, or trade it in for a newer one that will be able to handle knit fabrics. With some regret, I’m leaning toward the latter.

All that’s left to do for the jean skirt is the hem, and then it’ll be good enough for weekend wear. Pictures when it’s finished!


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Sewing project: Flamingo dress

Flamingo print dress on hangerWhat came first, the dress or the fabric?

I had thought about making a little toddler pinafore dress and even found a guide and got fabric, but then things happened and – as the great S. Morgenstern says – what with one thing and another, three years passed (okay, one and a half years). Then, when I was at Fabric Corner looking for some simple navy jersey fabric for the back of a shirt (another project conceived long ago and only carried out recently), I found this irresistible flamingo print on a pale blue background, and decided to make a simple toddler dress, using more or less the same style as the shirt I was making for myself.

Like the shirt, I used a dress that she already had to get an approximate idea of the cut and the size. Then I cut out the back and sewed a seam all the way around; cut out the front and sewed a seam all the way around; and then sewed the two pieces (right side to right side) together at the shoulders and sides (remembering to leave arm holes this time, unlike with the shirt I’d just made. Sigh). Turned it right side out and voila! It hung on a hanger for two days until I could get her to try it on. At which point she spun around till she was dizzy, and I realized I needed to make the arm holes much smaller. But it should be good for this summer!

Takeaways for next time: Use a pattern! Even a homemade, paper pattern, so the front and back pieces are symmetrical and match up. I skipped this step because it’s a kid dress that she’s going to grow out of in one year – two at most – and it was kind of a practice thing (I am getting better at sewing with stretchy jersey – it’s much harder than plain cotton/cotton linen). But, it’s still worth it to do it properly.

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Sewing project: Put A Bird On It Apron

I was the fortunate recipient of my old co-worker’s decluttering spree a while back, during which she got rid of her sewing table and a bunch of fabric. When the little apron my two-year-old had been wearing to help with baking projects tore, I decided to make her one, and everything I needed was on hand!


Put. A. Bird. On. It.

This project took about two hours start to finish, and I did it properly, pinning and ironing and changing out the thread in the machine from navy to yellow. My machine is my grandmother’s old Singer, and it still has most of its parts and pieces and – crucially – the instruction manual, which is in actual English, complete with a table of contents, step-by-step instructions, and useful diagrams. I was inordinately proud of myself for being able to change out the bobbin.

A digression: what with all the gardening, composting, bread-baking, knitting, and sewing, I feel that I’m building up some slightly more useful life skills, by which I mean skills that don’t involve Master’s degrees or the Internet. There is a conversation I’ve had with a lot of people recently, which I’ll call When It All Goes to Shit (or, as Cory Doctorow more poetically puts it, When The Lights Go Out). It’s the somewhat more grown-up version of the train of thought I used to board as a kid when I couldn’t fall asleep: What Would You Save First in a Fire? (after people and pets, of course).

But back in November, as I was putting up a display at the library about emergency preparedness, I started asking friends and family if they were prepared in any way for any of the disasters that might occur. Did they have a first aid kit, for example? Did they have all their important documents in one place? Did they have a supply of nonperishable food and bottled water? Did they have a plan for meeting up with family members if they were split up at the time of the disaster? “No,” said one friend right away. “We’re doing to die in our house.” At least she knew her plan.

The point of this digression is that, even as I build up some more useful, home-ec-type skills, I’m still pretty dependent on electricity (sewing machine, Kitchen Aid mixer) and my oven. I suppose, theoretically, I could knead bread dough by hand and bake it over a fire, or something, but it’s not like I can grow my own wheat (yet!). In short, I’m reliant on modern conveniences and gadgets and I’m not anywhere near Amish.


Pocket detail with wooden spoon.

End digression, and back to the apron: I didn’t have a pattern, I just used the apron I already had and cut around it, except I made it much longer, planning to sew up the bottom with a basting stitch so I could let it out when the kid gets taller. In addition to the main piece, the front of the apron, I sewed a front pocket, a neck loop, and two side ribbons to tie in back.

I could have made the pocket deeper instead of wider, but I did line it up carefully so the fabric pattern matches. All in all, I’m pretty pleased with this spur-of-the-moment project. Perhaps my T-shirt quilt is next…



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Adventures in sewing, continued

“30 minute skirt” HAHAHAHAHAHA allow me to wipe away tears of laughter. NO. Unless you’re an “amateur” seamstress the way the people on The Great British Baking Show are “amateur” bakers, and then sure, 30 minutes. For me, an actual amateur (as in beginner, not as in “I could be doing this professionally and getting paid for it, I just happen not to be”), it took about three and a half hours in two separate sessions – one in September, and one in March, because in between we moved house and everything unrelated to that was  on hold.

I did take the “30 minute” part of the description with a large grain of salt, because I am so new to sewing, and I’m sure if I made a skirt from this pattern again, it would take a little less time. But between the measuring, cutting, ironing, pinning, and actual sewing (and troubleshooting the sewing machine), I can’t imagine doing one start to finish in less than an hour.

Modeling skirt with black top, leggings, and bootsThe instructions were clear and fairly easy to follow. I used a jersey fabric and a slightly wider elastic than was called for (I had it on hand for another pattern I was planning to make, but made this one instead). The skirt came out well enough – the seams and hem are even, and it more or less fits – but I let the fabric get bunched up in a couple places when I was sewing the elastic into the waistband, creating some unintentional and asymmetrical pleat-like things. However, they don’t affect the fall of the skirt too badly, and whatever top I wear with the skirt is likely to cover it up.

For a first effort, I’m calling it a success. I wore it to work and it’s very comfortable – which is the most important part!


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Written on stone

A small stone sitting on a wall. On the stone is written "Be kind. Everyone matters."

“Be kind. Everyone matters.”

Noticed this little stone resting on top of a wall on my walk back from the playground last week.


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Birthday flannel board

A little over a year ago, I was watching one of my library co-workers lead a storytime for 3- to 5-year-olds, and she used a flannel board for the kids to help illustrate a song; each kid had the chance to add a piece to the board. (“Flannel board” is a misnomer; it is actually felt, not flannel. The felt pieces stick to the felt on the board, no adhesive necessary!)

I remembered her flannel board a few weeks ago when I was thinking of birthday presents for my almost-one-year-old(!). I read a few blog posts (Storytime Katie has a whole collection of flannel boards, and Mel’s Desk had some ideas too). I also remembered an amazing flannel board a former co-worker had made around Emily Gravett’s book Orange Pear Apple Bear, one of my favorite board books.

Making a flannel board seemed doable, and more personal and unique than buying a toy or piece of clothing. I set about collecting supplies: some felt from my local fabric store (Fabric Corner in Arlington), and a bulletin board from the Five and Ten. I cut a piece of gray felt to cover the hard back side of the bulletin board, and stapled the extra to the cork side.

I used construction paper, a pencil, and scissors to make templates for a few simple shapes – ducks, fish, and trains – and got advice from yet another co-worker on how best to make a Very Hungry Caterpillar. (Having children’s librarians as co-workers is the best.) Altogether, minus the time to acquire the materials, it only took about two hours, though I still need to glue the train wheels and windows to the train cars, and glue all the caterpillar segments together.


Trains, fish, and ducks

Felt version of Very Hungry Caterpillar

The Very Hungry Caterpillar (from the Eric Carle book)

I’m planning to make a Very Full Caterpillar as well, and a turtle, and some strawberries; I may use puff paint to do faces on the animals (googly eyes are a choking hazard for the little one, who still likes to put things in her mouth). The neat thing about a flannel board is that I can continue to add to it throughout the year and beyond, so (hopefully!) it will remain interesting. Have ideas for flannel board pieces? Send ’em my way! One week to go till the big day…

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Adventures in sewing

Learning to sew has been on my bucket list for years, but it never made its way to the top of the list. Reading Overdressed is what finally prompted me to launch in (or at least dip a toe in the water, depending on how bold I’m feeling that day). What with all the free time I have, between working and taking care of a 10.5-month-old, now seems like the perfect time to start!

0308161442My hand-sewing skills are hazily remembered from third grade (thanks, Montessori school!) and are appropriate for dog toy repair and uneven baby toys (like this thing). However, my mom now lives nearby, and she is in possession of her mother’s sewing machine, complete with instruction manual. (The last thing I made on a machine: an attempt to turn a hoodie into a zip-up sweatshirt in college. The thing before that: my fifth-grade Halloween costume, a green M&M. That was the sum total of my sewing machine experience until a few weeks ago.)

My first project was the simplest possible: I sewed a rectangle. I had gotten a cotton print in the same pattern as the endpapers of The Very Hungry Caterpillar and wanted to hang it in front of our kitchen cart, to keep dust and dog hair off our larger pots and kitchen equipment (and also to make that area look less cluttered). I measured the space, added a little extra (a “seam allowance”? Is that what that is?), cut, pinned, ironed, and sewed. The first side is not at all straight, but I did not stray off the fabric entirely, and the subsequent sides are better, so I counted it a success.

Next, I made the dog a new winter collar; it’s reversible, brown on one side and gray on the other. For this, I measured, cut, then laid the two pieces of fabric right side to right side and sewed up one long side, across one short side, and up the other long side; then I flipped it inside out and sewed the final short side. I hand-sewed the short ends together to make a circle because I thought four layers of fleece might be too thick for the machine.

At the library, I found a book called Sewing in a Straight Line, which has a great section in the front about sewing basics, and has lots of simple projects; the first one I’m going to try is the “One-Hour Skirt” (yeah right. Maybe the sewing itself can be done in an hour, but there’s also the measuring, cutting, pinning, ironing…). The fabric the author uses for this skirt is a cotton/linen blend, but I chose a knit because I like knit skirts. (Yes, I know they’re harder to work with because of the stretch, but this pattern seems pretty forgiving. I hope. And the knit I chose isn’t super-stretchy.)

Indigo alert tag on indigo fabricI’m also hoping to duplicate a shirt I already own and have nearly worn to pieces over the past few summers; it’s so airy in fabric and cut that I wear it on the hottest days. It was secondhand to begin with, though, so I’m afraid it won’t last another summer. Fortunately, it looks easy enough to make (famous last words, right?), just one piece in front and two in back. I got an indigo cotton print to make that.

Curtains are also on deck, thanks to some fabric from a co-worker; there’s enough of a blue-ish upholstery-type fabric to make a pair of curtains for our dining room, which will give me more practice and confidence sewing in a straight line, and will also look nicer than the plain shades on the windows now.

And of course, baby clothes! On one hand, she’ll grow out of them and I’ll probably be too attached to them to pass them on; on the other hand, she won’t notice or care if the seams are a little crooked, so it’s good practice. The same co-worker who was getting rid of the upholstery/curtain fabric gave me a whole pile of fabric odds and ends, including an adorable blue and white check with cherries that is just begging to be a smock or apron; and I found a yellow and white pin dot cotton and a bright orange with white moons and stars that would go together perfectly to make this crossover pinafore.

Do you sew? If so*, what’s your advice for beginners? Do you have any favorite sources for patterns – blogs, magazines, books? Let me know!

*See what I didn’t do there? It would have been so easy to say “if sew…” So I hope you’re happy, CAITLIN.



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