Saturday, August 30, 2008

Two quick projects

Mum and Dad are here visiting so I've been busy hanging out 
with them. In the course of all our happy wanderings about town, 
the inconsistency of the kids' naps has left my sewing table slightly 
dusty from disuse. Still, kids must sleep at some point, so during 
those spare moments, I've been working on several unrelated small 
projects. Here's another batch of baby gifts for a friend-of-a-friend 
in Illinois, sent out just today. These were not made recently- I just 
picked them out them from my stash of stuff:

A fall linen dress for Emily's birthday. 
This was adapted from that peasant dress pattern in an earlier 
post in preparation for the cooler fall days ahead. 

More projects, pictures and tutorials coming soon 
- check back again soon.

Saturday, August 23, 2008

How To Sew Shorts

One of the nicest things about summer is being able to sew dresses, shorts and other light, breezy and happy kids' clothes. I did some calculations and decided that the cost of sewing shorts isn't substantially less than buying similar ones from stores like Target. So rather than the savings, it ended up being more about the time of year we needed them. We make a yearly trip to tropical Singapore in the middle of winter here where we live and I always find that last summer's shorts are already too small to pack for this year's vacation. And since it is near impossible to find shorts in the stores in February, the alternative to wearing climate-inappropriate clothing is to sew shorts for the kids for their trip.

These shorts have elasticized waists which are extremely useful for potty-training, and can be cut and sewn in half an hour, provided there are no small children needing a snack, Band-aid or to be read a storybook nearby.

For one pair of shorts you will need:
  • Half a yard of fabric
  • 18" - 22" of 1" elastic (wrap the length of elastic around your child's waist to desired snugness and cut, giving an additional 1.5" for overlapping at the ends)
  • A large safety pin (like a diaper pin)
in addition to a sewing machine and matching thread.

You can make your own pattern from a pair of shorts that fit well, or you can use mine below. Sorry they aren't pdf files - I haven't got a clue how to upload those. If you can print them out so they fill a US letter size paper, they'll be the right size. This pattern is for a 3-year old, so size it up or down for children of different ages.

The numbers in the pictures below indicate the sewing sequence so if you are already used to cutting and sewing fabric, you can ignore all the texty instructions and just follow the numbers as a guide to assembling the pieces.

How To Sew Shorts
  • Fold fabric lengthwise (selvedge to selvedge) and cut out two front pieces and two back pieces. The length of the pattern should be parallel to the selvedges. So in the picture below, the selvedges were vertical.
  • Place a front piece and a back piece together with right sides of the fabric facing in. Do the same for the other pair of front and back pieces.

Sewing Step 1
Sew the short inseam of each pair as shown.
Serge or zig-zag stitch the edges to prevent fraying.

Sewing Step 2
Line up the long sides of each pair and sew together.
Serge or zig-zag stitch the edges.
You have just made two "tubes" - one for each of the wearer's legs.

  • Turn one tube right-side out

  • Flip that tube over and insert it in between the layers of the other tube.

  • Line up the edges of the U-shaped center seam

Sewing Step 3
Sew the edges of these two tubes together all along the U.
The aim of this step is to connect the two separate tubes
in the earlier picture to each other.
Serge or zig-zag stitch the seam edges.

  • Turn the shorts right side out - looks almost finished!

Sewing Step 4
Fold in the bottom edge of each leg 1/4" (1st fold) and then
fold over again 3/8" (2nd fold) to make a hem about 3/8" wide.
Top stitch all around the hem.

  • A close-up of the leg hem showing the top stitching.

  • The waistband is essentially a casing for the 1" elastic. So fold down about 1 1/4" of fabric as shown, and tuck in 1/4" of the edge

  • to make a hem that's a little wider than 1".
  • Here is a close-up of the 1"-wide folded hem with the elastic for reference.

Sewing Step 5
Top stitch close to the edge of the hem, so that the finished width
of the hem is adequate for the elastic to fit inside it.

  • Leave an opening of about 2" so the elastic can be threaded through the hem.

  • Using the safety pin, thread the elastic through the hem, leaving both ends sticking out of the opening.

  • Overlap 3/4" of both ends (i.e. total of 1.5") of the elastic, ensuring that it isn't twisted, and sew to join the ends.
  • Top stitch the opening closed.

The finished shorts

worn by Emily who refused to let me pre-shrink
them in the wash first (see note below).

Some miscellaneous notes:
  1. My favorite types of fabric for these shorts are knits - specifically, cotton-lycra blends with four-way-stretch. They sew easily, are not too flimsy and allow a lot of freedom of movement. I don't pre-wash the knit fabrics before cutting and sewing because they are easier to handle without all the curling edges. So the pattern I use makes allowances for shrinkage after washing. If you are using non-knit fabric, you will need to cut the pieces about 1/4" - 3/8" smaller all round the pattern.
  2. The finished, unwashed shorts might fit loosely and hang rather low in the crotch at first. I usually fold the waistband over itself the first one or two times the kids wear them. After two or three washes, the shorts fit just right. It's odd but true.
  3. Different elastic has different stretch, and some are "tighter" than others, and most shrink a bit in the wash. So give some allowance (1/2 to 3/4" should be sufficient) when measuring your child's waist for snugness. I like the no-roll elastic because it doesn't twist the waist hem around after a wash.
  4. I use regular thread but I do use a needle for knits because regular needles pull on the fibers of knits.
  5. These shorts work for little boys, too, especially if they are really little (like younger than 4), if you pick appropriate fabric prints (i.e. probably not floral!)
  6. Although the back and front pieces are cut from two distinct patterns, the finished shorts are completely reversible - a feature of the knit material, I think. If you think your kids might be confused, you can always sew a tag under the waist hem at the back of the shorts. My kids don't particularly care.

Sunday, August 17, 2008

Cardboard Car

Sorry everyone, for the long absence. 
We've been busy the past two weeks - first, we all had colds, 
and then my parents came, all the way from Singapore! 
They'll be here five weeks, which is absolutely lovely. 
So in recent days we were occupied with recovering and 
getting the house ready (i.e. repeatedly cleaning the same rooms 
of the same toys which seemed to magically reappear 
at the same places five minutes after putting them away).  
I've been making stuff - sewing mostly, but haven't had the time 
to put them in pictures. I even have a couple of tutorials ready to go, 
except I haven't gotten round to learning how to scan patterns 
into the new computer with the relatively new scanner 
(new to me, anyway). So once I've figured all that out,
 I'll post the tutorials. 

In the meantime, here's what we made today - 
a cardboard car for the kids. Usually when I make something, 
the ideas and plans churn in my head for a few days before 
I am ready to execute them. But yesterday, Emily decided 
she needed a cardboard car. And fast. Now, in fact. 
Managed to hold her off with the (true) excuse that we didn't 
have any boxes. But she wouldn't be put off, and the longer she waited, 
the more complicated and fancy her "car" idea became - first it was 
a car for her dolls, then it was a car for her and Jenna, then a car 
for her and Jenna and their dolls with seat belts. Then it was 
a carriage with a roof. Then a sort of utility vehicle. 
Finally it was bedtime (phew).

And this morning she asked for the car again. And I thought 
we'd better make it before she got enough ideas to ask for an 
amphibious-bus-cum-sedan-chair-cum-flying-saucer. So we set about 
making it, with no plans in my head except that it needed to have 
some nice wheels. Somehow found two diaper boxes (visible 
in the photo) and used them inside-out. Gives the kids a surface 
to decorate and avoids telling the whole world which stores 
we shop at for necessities. 

It essentially has two small boxes for bench seats, a smaller box 
for the engine/dashboard, two paper plates glued together 
for a steering wheel, a wooden disposable chopstick for the 
steering column, another box in back for a trunk/boot, and paper 
shapes for the headlamps, taillights and wheels/hubcaps. 
Grandma and I put it together (hooray for help!)
Emily drew in windows on the sides and decorated the trunk.

I realize it is about the boxiest car I've ever seen, but at least 
it's generic in shape. This way, with some imagination, it can 
be a fire truck, bobsled, canoe, race car, convertible, non-waterproof 
submarine, amphibious boat and bus! Perhaps even a princess 
carriage, if we decided it came from a zucchini rather than a pumpkin.

Wednesday, August 6, 2008

Baby Gifts and New Insanity

Lots of people having babies over the next few months 
so am sending out these baby gifts in the mail. Come this weekend, 
these little balls, bibs and fleece blankets will go to new homes. 
Am always excited when I hear of another happy event, 
not only because I think babies are great and smell nice, 
but also because it means my bib stash gets to shrink a little.

Since we are on the subject of baby stuff, I thought I'd share 
another obsession: these soft balls with a bell in the center 
and ribbon tags all over. I began making them almost three 
years ago when my eldest was teething. I'd noticed that many 
of her softies were unusually pristine save for their laundry tags, 
which were frayed, faded and perpetually damp. I decided then 
that the ideal teething toy was featureless (why waste time 
including ears, nose, hair etc?) but covered with these little tags. 
So set about sewing my favorite shape with folded ribbons and 
ric-rac trims sticking out- the more, the merrier. Then discovered that 
these already existed, and with sincere imitations all around, besides. 
And as blankets! Was gratified to know that there were other odd 
children out there with a tag fetish. So I kept sewing - and giving 
them away. Plus it was such a good way to use up bib remnants. 
The balls in the photos are just some of what I have left after giving 
many away. I finally stopped when I ran out of room to store them. 
Sadly, there is no similarly convenient limitation for bibs, which are 
flat, so that particular addiction has continued unchecked.

I have many happy memories of sewing these while Emily 
(my eldest) was napping. I had just moved into our new home 
and left all my childhood /teenhood sewing machines behind in 
mom's house. My mother-in-law, understanding only slightly 
my almost rabid need for a sewing machine in those early days even 
before we had furniture to speak of, loaned me her old Singer. 
I didn't feel quite ready to jump back in to sewing clothes, having taken 
too long a break from it while in paid employment, 
so baby stuff was the prefect re-entry project. 

When I grew a little bored of the balls, I tried some blocks

and blankets

Along with the balls, I've since given quite a few cubes and blankets 
away and these are what are left. Wish I'd taken pictures of those
 that have left for better homes but that was in the pre-blog days 
and it never crossed my mind that there'd be a reason to.

And here is evidence of further insanity: new fabric I've been 
buying over the past few weeks. Not exactly impulse buying, 
considering how long I stood in the store rationalizing buying 
them. I am pleased to say I know exactly what each piece will 
become. The challenge now is to find the time to make them 
before the weather changes and renders the particular garment useless.

These cotton-lycra knits will become shorts for little girls 
(or maybe pants if I don't get to them by the fall)

These are for secret projects for birthdays, 
so sadly I will have to reveal their outcome only later.

And these (shameful glee) will become more bibs!