Friday, August 28, 2015

Sewing To Empower

Hello friends!

Today I want to reintroduce you to Jen, a.k.a. Daljeet, my lovely childhood friend who co-wrote that long-ago drafting series for children with me

Drafting Better

and whose own drafting and garment-making skill I cannot say enough of. 

This is the Jen who got me started in drafting and garment sewing at the tender age of 13 (as well as shoes, but that is another story for another day). This is also the same Jen with whom I go fabric and notion shopping in Singapore whenever we make a trip back to visit Mum and Dad, and whose impeccable Mandarin Dress was featured in the 2011 Fabric-by-Fabric One Yard Wonders book. 

And this is the Jen who lives in Kuala Lumpur, the capital city of Malaysia, where she runs a custom-tailoring business, produces small-batch samples for designers and has a fashion line to her name.

This is also the Jen with whom, were we living in the same country, I'd co-author a drafting book someday. We'd talked about it, yes - a long time ago. But, you know, life and small children and education and business and sewing don't leave much time for writing, especially something as technical as drafting. Our minds dream things. . . but our hands change diapers. Motherhood is possessive that way.

But let me tell you briefly about Jen's latest labor of love - to set up a training and sewing workshop to teach foundational drafting and sewing. Her vision and goal: to equip and apprentice women in her community to sew for themselves and make a living with those skills. Upon completion of the relevant courses in her workshop, these students can do either of two things. One is to continue under her tutelage to learn intermediate skills. The other is to become a paid apprentice within her own company, or be referred for employment in other socially-conscious designing businesses in need of trained employees.

While this training "school" is open to all, some of the training spots are reserved as free opportunities to empower women-without-means to learn a skill that will potentially give them more options for employment and self-sustenance. Jen plans to work with orphanages, foster homes and other community institutions to nominate interested and suitable candidates for these opportunities.

She's started an Indiegogo (like Kickstarter) crowdsourcing campaign to fund this vision - you can read about it here. There you will find more info on this program, donation how-tos and other practical ways you can support her - donating drafting software or sewing machines, for instance. Please spread the the word for us!

Here is a link to her Facebook page, where she posts updates on her business and this newest venture. Thank you, all!

Friday, August 21, 2015

Coupla Bags

It's so hard to be productive in the summer, isn't it?

It's a trade-off: wonderful outdoor lighting but no time to make anything to take photos of.

Just last week, I was thinking back over what we'd actually done this summer and I realized how different the last couple of years have been than the ones before. In the old days, when my kids were babies and toddlers and preschoolers, our summers were one big parent-centered entertainment fiesta. Or, for that matter, the other months were, too: every day is a No School Day for babies and toddlers, right? We'd wake up early (because the kids did) and fix everyone breakfast, and spoonfeed it to them. We'd pack everyone in strollers or wagons, along with all the sippy cups in the house and enough finger food to feed a small country, to take a short walk around the block, pausing to watch caterpillars crawl across the road or a dog sniff a bush. We'd strap everyone into backward-facing car seats and make mini-trips to mom haunts: the soft foam playground, the Open Gym For Small Feet, the Monday Mom Meetings at the park. We'd research all the free admission attractions and religiously memorize the schedule, and doggedly get in line because there was no way we were paying full price when our kids would need naps the minute we got in the door. 

And then there were the Organized Crafts - buckets of markers and crayons and foam stickers and construction paper and glue sticks and pipe cleaners and tempera paint and macaroni and googly eyes. Our kitchen table was buried under them. Our floor was littered with them. And our sofa still vomits them out, indigestible mementos from a bygone era, when we turn out the cushions for vacuuming even now. 

How I don't miss those days. 

In the past two years, however, our summers have changed. We sleep in and let the kids make their own breakfast (and clear the table). We don't have bags of frozen chicken nuggets in our freezer for a never-changing lunch. The kids ride themselves around the block on their bikes, and visit the neighbors to invite them to ride themselves around the block with them. They plan their own playdates. They make their own schedules. They call and Facetime their friends to keep in touch. They plan their own birthday parties. They have extra-curricular activities that don't involve me as their instructor. We swim when we want, eat when we're hungry, read when we're bored, and entertain ourselves. We have conversations in sentences and paragraphs, literal and figurative, concrete and abstract. 

And we pay the admission for museums and zoos and other attractions - because we actually spend enough time there to make it worth it. 

Even their meltdowns and bickering - yes, those still happen - are different. They're eloquent and logical, more about my space vs. your space and my rights vs. your rights than I'm So Freaking Tired And Overstimulated That I Can't Stop Screaming.

Somehow, behind my back, the children have grown up. 

When I was in my Weird Clothes years - you know, when you seem to be perpetually pregnant and/or nursing and for modesty's sake you just throw on whatever sack isn't in the dirty laundry hamper at the time - I was secretly afraid my babies would morph overnight into Children (uncute) and Tweens (uncouth). So I tried to savor their fuzzy peach heads and chubby wrists and grape toes and jellybean bodies and willed time to slow down, slow down, slow down. I will never get them back, I moaned. I will lose these years forever. I will forget what a baby smells like. 

And I did. 

But so what?

I'd never have believed it, back when I was tethered by strands of sentiment to my sweetly napping infants, but these Older Years are just as wonderful. And they take away some of the fear that the teenage years and the college years and the adult years will be weird and awful and somehow deficient. How can they be, I reason with myself, if they belong to these same children who are blossoming into fuller, richer human beings?

So we're coasting along now, enjoying these golden days of sunshine, choosing as-and-whens over must-dos. At some point, I will need to start planning Halloween costumes -at least one child already has an opinion of what she wants to be. And I am happy to say that at least one child has also decided not to have a birthday party, opting instead to spend a day out with a few close friends. And everyone has started ice-skating lessons because living in Minnesota and not knowing how to ice-skate is like living in Singapore and not knowing how to swim. But that's about as structured as our time out of school has been. I'll be honest and say that I do feel frustrated some days when it's suddenly midnight and the dishes are still in the sink and I haven't sewn anything for days or responded to the business emails in my inbox and I can't remember where the hours went. It's just that overly-focused part of me reacting to being carried away by the easy flow of summer. 

I tell it to Chill, Already.

But sometimes, when the flow pauses long enough to sneak down into the sewing room, I make a bag.

This one was designed entirely to demonstrate the famed Recessed Zipper technique. No other reason.

And this is the penultimate Time Warp Bag.

If it were solids, I'd turn out a bag like this in a couple of days, max. 

But when I work with print, it takes five times as long. It's scary how quickly your eye is drawn to misalignment; when everything lines up, your mind sweeps over it without noticing because that's the way it should be, but when it's off, you can't stop looking because somewhere in your brain, it's a disconnect, an anomaly in the natural order.

This bag was designed entirely to demonstrate the Zippered Expanding-Compartment technique.

But with all those different straps, it's also a bag that can be used in lots of fun ways.

I have one more to go, which is thankfully less fiddly than either of these two. And I can wrap up the sewing and begin the photo formatting. And then we shall have tutorials! 

Sunday, August 9, 2015

If You Procrastinate Long Enough

the dress you cut out 5 years ago for your eldest daughter 

will now fit your youngest.

Not custom perfectly, since their shoulder shapes are different,  

not to mention their heights - Emily would've been a year younger than Kate is now -

but good enough.

It passed the twirl test, as all dresses and skirts must, in our house.

I am not going to deconstruct this here - you can see the original version in this old post. All I will say is that the skirt is a light stretch twill with pleats tucked into a single-layer waistband, and the bodice is interlock knit, and they are joined at the drop-waist seam.

I actually cut out two dresses, both of which lived under my sewing table in a WIP box for 5 years. 

The only reason I sewed them up today (took just a couple of hours) is so I could have the box back. 

Erm. Have I ever told you guys how I organize my WIPs? 

Ah. Let me share, then.

See, I have a finite number (8? 10? I forget) of small shoe-box sized plastic boxes designated for WIPs. Each time I cut out a project, it goes in one of those boxes. I am not allowed to buy more boxes; if they fill up and I need one, I have to empty one out, either by finishing the project, or throwing out the fabric pieces as "Lost Causes" or returning the components to the supply tubs for re-using.

Today, I needed a box. So I dumped out this one and decided that since Emily had clearly outgrown them, these dresses were going the Re-using Route. Then I thought that since they were already cut out, maybe I should sew them up and gift them to an unsuspecting neighbor or whoever had a 6-year-old daughter and wouldn't be freaked out by me foisting free hand-made clothes upon them that might or might not fit correctly. 

But when I'd finished the first dress, it looked bigger than I'd imagined, and I had Kate try it on. 


So Kate now gets two new fall dresses for school to wear with leggings, I don't have to find some random stranger to adopt them and I get my WIP box back, so I can cut out a new Time Warp zippered bag.

Now if only I can convince myself to empty out the box containing that hideously-unfitting smoke-and-rose chiffon tea dress - and maybe even finish it!

Hahahahahahaha! As if.

Friday, August 7, 2015

Owie Doll Kit Colors

Hello, friends! I have another quick market poll for you guys today.

First, the update: the samples for the Owie Doll skin and hair are in, and I am choosing colors and playing with combinations to turn into the next round of kits. We haven't decided how many kits to produce in this second round but given that the first round sold out so fast that we didn't even get around to launching the promotional material (usually happens the week after a kit goes live),  we're planning for round 2 to be a bigger batch. Also so that we can include a variety of skin and hair colors that reflect the multicultural real world we live in. I'd like for this round to be out well in time for the holidays, so that you in turn will have enough time to make dolls for gifts or to consider adding the kits themselves to your gift list for your sewing friends. So that's the plan.

Now, because you guys are going to be the ones buying the final kits, I'd really appreciate your input on the colors you'd be interested in. The first poll earlier this summer gave us the big picture and now we're narrowing down actual combinations based on the fabrics and colors in stock.

Here are the six possible combinations - you can pick more than one. No promises on which will make it to the final selection, but your feedback will help us choose!
Skin: Fair
Hair: Gold & Light Brown

Skin: Fair
Hair: Light Brown & Brown

Skin: Medium (honey/tanned)
Hair: Brown & Dark Brown

Skin: Medium-Brown
Hair: Dark Brown & Black

Skin: Dark
Hair: Dark Brown & Black

Skin: Dark
Hair: Black & Brass

Note: Based on the results of the earlier survey, we're thinking the brick/red hair might work better as a swop-in option. This means it will not be one of the six (or however many) main kits, but we're working out a way for you to request to swop in that brick/red color for one of the other hair colors in an existing kit.
Skin: Fair
Hair: Red/Brick (the real color is less paprika and more brick)

So please vote for your favorite colors in the widget below, if you're considering buying a kit. It's just that one question, so it should only take you a few seconds. The number of responses will also help us decide how many kits to produce, so if you're not planning to buy one, but would still like to weigh in on color choices, please do so in the comments instead. 

Thanks so much!


Tuesday, August 4, 2015


Most recent Time Warp bag in progress.

Trivia: my Pfaff is due a trip to the dealer for some Sewing Machine Spa Time. It is in dire need of some tuning-up, I tell you. The last time I brought it in was just before Jenna was born almost 9 years ago and it was wonderful up till earlier this year.  I've done something to the bobbin mechanism under the throat plate - I suspect I may have sewn through (yes, through) a bit of the plastic housing the bobbin case and now it catches whenever I do a wide zig-zag, and makes the stitches skip. I filed it down myself which improved things greatly but its performance is still not quite straight-from-the- factory standard. And the top-stitching tension is a bit off, especially for thicker layers and materials like this vinyl. Or it could be the new bobbin case I bought that's funny- I haven't taken the time to experiment and narrow down the variables.

How shall I survive without my Pfaff, though? I can use the spare IKEA machine for emergencies, I suppose, which is perfectly durable, but I can't do serious sewing on that after being spoilt by my Pfaff. Maybe it's finally time to buy that industrial machine I've been coveting since I was a teenager. 

Anyway, machine talk is boring. Who cares about machines, right? Let's talk about bags instead!

I love coming to the end of a project.
Specifically, this zippered bag tutorial series. 
Look at all those check-marks that scream "Done!"

There are (at last count) 24 different bags and pouches guest starring, and I am down to the last 4. 

Only FOUR! True, the last four are the most fiddly, but still! TWENTY done!

Here's a late-night sketch for one of those four - I'm still not sure about the straps. I've done split straps already, and I want this not to be more of the same. And the style of this is more symmetrical backpack than cross-body. I'll have to sleep on it some more.

And here are some proper sketches of some of those 24 bags-and-pouches -

So we're getting close, friends!

Unrelated: quick update on the sold-out Owie Doll kits - we are waiting for the samples of the new skin and hair fabrics to come in from the suppliers, so we can finalize the colors and start putting them into kits for you. It took a while, because some of the places which had the colors we wanted were sold out by the time we were ready to order them, so we had to start the sourcing process (researching, contacting, negotiating bulk purchases, requesting samples for QC, etc.) all over again. I'll keep you updated on when we can expect the new kits to be in stock, and of the new colors in them.  Thank you all for your patience!

Saturday, July 18, 2015

The Sewing Decision I Should've Made Years Ago

I finally bought myself a second bobbin case.
Unbelievable, I know.
That this is my very first Second Bobbin Case, I mean. 
Which I've desperately needed for YEARS.

It's not that I was stingy and didn't want to buy one, but Pfaff bobbin cases aren't the same shape as the generic Singer styles that you can easily find on the notions wall at JoAnn, or on typical online sewing resource sites. And I didn't want to drive all the way to the nearest Pfaff dealer (where "nearest" is used in the very loosest sense of the word) to buy one. 

And then I found one on amazon. That didn't cost an arm, a leg and a vital internal organ.

Why have I needed an official Second Bobbin Case?
Answer: tension.
Specifically, when I am on a project that requires two very different bobbin tensions, which are particularly fiddly to get absolutely perfect, it is heartbreaking to have to switch back and forth between the two states, un-setting the one to get the other, and then doing that in reverse, repeatedly.
Example 1: sewing velcro and regular fabric in the same project
Example 2: topstitching vinyl and seam-sewing regular fabric in the same project

I cannot count the number of times I've sat with my tiny screwdriver (or fingernail) poised over the tension screw of my Single Lone Bobbin Case, peering at my pathetic sketches of the Screw Position For Topstitching and scribbled upper tension numbers in order to undo my painstakingly-perfected tension setting and thinking, "if only I had a second bobbin case, I could designate this one The Regular Cotton Bobbin Case and the other one The Topstitching Through Vinyl and Leather Bobbin Case and I'd never have to touch these stupid screws."

And now, I don't have to do it (so often, anyway).
I should throw a party, I'm so happy. 

That said, I should confess that I also need several sewing machines set up in my sewing room, in the following configuration:
  1. Industrial lock-stitch machine threaded for bottomweights
  2. Regular sewing machine 1 threaded with white, set to regular tension
  3. Regular sewing machine 2 with topstitching thread, set to topstitching-vinyl/canvas tension
  4. Regular sewing machine 3 with lousy needle for sewing through plastic, paper, velcro and heavy interfacing
  5. Regular sewing machine 4 threaded with whatever color thread for current WIP
  6. Serger 1 set to 4-thread overlocking
  7. Serger 2 set to 3-thread rolled hem
  8. Serger 3 set to coverlocking

I know people whose fantasy sewing room has color-coded fabric and a huge spool rack and pretty walls adorned with embroidery hoops featuring their grandmother's handiwork, and baskets and fabric bins containing their WIPs and charming stuffed animals and yarn. My dream studio, on the other hand, just has natural light and a veritable arsenal of sewing machines, all set to specialized functions simply because I'm too lazy to repeatedly toggle tensions and needles and feet and thread. I don't care if the walls are painted, and I'm quite happy to have all my WIPs strewn over the floor like shrapnel under which I have to exhume my pedal each time I need it. 

Tomorrow I shall repent of my covetousness.
But today, buoyed with hopeless optimism from my Second Bobbin Case acquisition, I shall fantasize without limitations.

Also, just so this post isn't only about MeMeMeMe and what I want, here are two photos of the most recently finished Time Warp Zippered Bag -

technically, the most challenging bag I've made in this series so far, because of that offset in-seam faux welt front zipper. Had to stop multiple times to rethink and even unpick. But then, bags are only fun to sew if there's thinking involved, right? Otherwise, we might doze off from boredom and stitch through our fingers or something. Which I've done. 

So yes, the zippered bag tutorial series is still happening! I want to finish all the bags first, so I can have all the material to organize into something methodical and that will make sense to you guys. 

P.S. Thank you to everyone who weighed in on my Owie Doll Kit survey in the last post. I appreciate all the feedback, and I'm in the process of negotiating the next round of kits with Take&Make. If you've been wanting a kit and didn't get one in the first round before they all sold, keep checking back because we have more coming!

Wednesday, July 15, 2015

Need Feedback!

I hope your summer is going well!

Mine is, except I seem to have zero time for sewing. Or swimming. All I seem to do is feed children. Maybe it's because they're home with me at every single meal (unlike during the school term), and they're constantly hungry. Even just an hour after their last meal. It's like their stomachs are either minuscule and can only hold molecules of food at a time, or their bodies are converting it at breakneck speed, or else they're asking for food simply to keep my attention on them. Are your children the same way, or is it just mine?

But busy or not, these are happy days, as they always are when the sun is shining.
Never mind the muggy humidity that gives me headaches and limits my outdoor running to the half-hour window just before darkness falls like a blessed cloak upon the sweltering world. Come January, I will be craving this pounding heat. I know it. And I don't look forward to it.

However, this post is not just phatic communion about the weather (I just needed to vent)!

It is about market research.

First, thank you all for the overwhelmingly gorgeous response to my Owie Doll kits! They have completely flown off the shelves and Take&Make and I are thrilled to see them go to new homes so quickly. 

As promised, in the wake of the good response, we are ready to talk about new skin and hair tones, so you can make dolls to reflect the different ethnicities of the little ones you love. I am so excited!

Before we make a new batch of kits, I need to find out two things:
  1. How many kits you guys might want
  2. What kinds of colors you'd like.

Here are the available skin tones:

A is the skin tone of the dolls in the first round of kits. It has a pink undertone and I'd say it's the closest to fair Caucasian skin. 

B is a little more tan. I'd say it's closer to skin that has some yellow in its undertone.

C is a rich darkish brown - like the color of cocoa - and the closest to darker skin tones. 

Sadly, these do not reflect all the wonderful shades that exist in the people of the world, and we will have to make approximations at best. My own skin color, for instance, is neither of those three. 

For the hair tones, though - being wool felt - we can be a little more varied. We don't know yet what skin/hair combinations will make it to the final kits, or whether we can do custom requests for special combinations, but this is what the market research is for, right? 

I like polling my readers to get a feel of the real interest out there, so would you be sweet enough to take a 3-question survey for me at the end of this post? I still get a warm fuzzy feeling whenever I think that it was because of your suggestions to an earlier poll that this Owie Doll kit came to be at all. 

Click on the giant button below to start the survey.
Thank you for your time and feedback!