Thursday, July 30, 2009

The Craft Bag

Rather odd idea in my brain this past month -
a round bag that also looks like a lampshade:

A very squat, stand-up-all-by-itself sort of bag

with an equally stand-up-on-its-own strap

(so it can be toted all over town

or detached so it can sit on the floor and moonlight
as a lampshade regular old fabric bucket)

and a look-what-else-I-can-do personality.

I have no clue why I made it. See, it appeared it my
mind, filled with balls of yarn and knitting needles.


When I don't knit!

Still, I obeyed my brain and made it. And for want of a
better name, I called it The Craft Bag because
I think that's the job it wants. I love the colors -
makes it look quite at home on the deck of a boat.
And I love its roundness (of course).

But when it was all finished, I looked at it and it
puzzled me. So I let it sit around the house for a few
days and I still don't know what to do with it.

It's one of the rare things I've made that I feel no urge
to mass-produce. Odd. I think I made it just to stop
being haunted by the idea. And now, what to do with it?

What Made Me Smile Really Wide

Some time ago I posted about this foam garden I made for the girls - the one with the pickable strawberries and whatnot. It was an insane project. Loved every minute of it but just thinking of it now makes me feel very tired. The girls still play with it and Kate has stopped chewing the strawberries but truth be told, the felt cake gets a lot more playtime than the garden does. Maybe because it's summer and we are out watering our real tomato plants (I'd thought of doing a tomato plant but tomatoes are so... bunchy and viney and then there are the tomato horn worms!!!!! Ick. Ick. Ick. Ick.) Perhaps in the winter when we're missing all things living outdoors, it might become Toy of the Week.

Anyway, in recent weeks, I've been thrilled to receive some emails and comments from readers who've actually made the foam-and-felt dirt and gardens! Yes! I was so excited to see the fabulous variations they made to the original design, most notable being some very cool containers for the dirt. Mine, you remember, was just bare brown stuff that looked like a furrowed cushion. But theirs- oh, here, here, I'll stop gabbing and tell you where to go see for yourself.

Chris the Gardener finished this wonderful box of dirt. and is now working on the flowers. Go see what she's planted in the dirt meanwhile! She finished it! Just today! So I updated this link - go see it here! Her flowers are astounding.

The Masked Mommy made hers out of pool noodles and teaches you how here.
Cupkateer added these incredible corn stalks with pickable ears of corn here.


Wednesday, July 29, 2009

In the Works

Entire clan still sick today but I want
to pretend I've been productive.

Some behind-the-scenes snapshots of what's been
keeping me a bit busier than is good for me (and
possibly the reason for all that nutella imbibing recently):

Never mind that these photos are 2 months old.
It's all an illusion! Efficiency is, I mean.

Speaking of fake efficiency, I've also finally semi-
organized my ribbons. And by "organized", I mean "took
out of the box and stacked them where I can see them".

I'm excited about this very colorful Thing that's
in progress and I can't wait to share it.
Also a bit nervous - I hope you will like it.
More soon.

Sunday, July 26, 2009

Humpty Dumpty

sat on a wall.

Humpty Dumpty had a great fall.


Couldn't put Humpty together again.

We can, though.

Good thing, too

since it seems to be a habit (clumsy bloke).

Early in the Spring, my cousin sent me a pattern from an
out of print local (i.e. Singapore) women's magazine that
was more than 20 years old (thank you, Merle!). The minute
I saw it I knew I had to make it - fat, round, flat eggish
softie with poor coordination and an indomitable spirit:
how could I not? The original pattern was too big and I
wanted his face to be more...... foolishly optimistic, so I
made my own (as my cousin knew I would). I love the
possibilities for black humor (all lost on my kids) with
this fellow. And I love that he reminds me of my own
Humpty Dumpty (he's about the same size) softie
I'd had as a child.

Kate pointed to his bandaid/elastoplast and said,
her eyes huge with concern, "owie!"

I considered using velcro for attaching his limbs, because
it might allow the two younger girls to independently er...
dismember him. But where is the charm in velcro? So
buttons it was. And Jenna (middle) didn't care. She ran
around hugging his eggy torso all afternoon while I was
finishing up the limbs, and tonight, she's got him (restored
to wholeness) on her pillow, smiling in the darkness
beside her own little head.

Updated Jun 15 2013: 
Pattern back again.

Too tired tonight (have wretched cold and haven't had nutella
for three days, gah) to write out instructions, so you'll have to
figure it out on your own, sorry. Just make the egg torso
separately from the four limbs and then do buttonholes on the
ends of the limbs that attach to the torso. Cut two pieces of the
head but only sew the face on the front, obviously. Please don't
traumatize your kids. And no, Voldemort Dumpty is NOT cool.
Oh, and when you cut out the shirt and pants (sorry, UK friends,
I mean trousers), don't forget the seam allowance (which is not
in the pattern). Stuff with polyfill at some point, of course. Wooo,
fat lot of good I am at this now- those are horrible instructions.

I'd better head off (ha, ha, Humpty!) to bed
before I do more harm. G'nite, all.

P.S. Still here. Just wanted to add, if anyone was wondering:
the little book is one of a series of 7 shaped nursery rhyme
books by Tracey Moroney that our kids love. They were
printed in 1996 and I don't know if they're still in print now.
All our kids started to "read" by memorizing these books.

P.P.S. I haven't forgotten I have one more summer dress to
share. The paper pattern is still at large.

P.P.P.S. I'm really going now. Really.

Edited in 2011 to add: Readers, please note that the egg-yolk details are made of PAPER. That is a PROP for the photoshoot. Humpty Dumpty does not crack open to reveal an egg of any kind. It's just a regular stuffed doll. Thought I'd add this in because of multiple cases of misunderstandings on sewing forums and email queries.

Friday, July 24, 2009

Where I Buy My Knits

Some readers have asked me where I buy my printed knit
fabrics because it appears that they are much scarcer in
stores than solid knits. I buy them from three main stores -
JoAnn, Mill End Textiles and SR Harris.

JoAnn is a national chain store, so it is probably the most
accessible of the three. However, good printed knits aren't
always available, and I've only found about 5 or 6 at a time.

Mill End Textiles is a local regional chain with a store
close to my house (to my detriment). Among other fabrics,
they stock a wide selection of solid, striped and printed
knits, some of which are surplus from popular clothing
companies like Oshkosh. Sadly, they don't do online sales
so unless you live in the upper midwest, many of you
probably will not patronize their stores.

SR Harris is a fabulous fabric warehouse where you
measure and cut your own fabric from bolts and (my
children love this part) stick stickers with yardage and
price before heading to the checkout. The layout of the
store reminds me of the fabric stores you see on
Project Runway - horizontal bolts and rolls that require
superhuman strength to tug off the shelves. They hand
out fat quarters at the checkout to "well-behaved" children
but I doubt they are very discerning based on our most
recent visit when my children were definitely not well-
behaved. Fortunately (for them and me) this is quite a
distance from where I live so I only go there when I feel
I need a special treat. They do online sales, so try your
luck there - their fabric is always 50% off
and there are coupons!

Summer Dresses 2 - Adding an Armhole to a Shirred Dress

Welcome back to our short series on Summer Dresses!

In the light of all the shirring-from-scratch in the last post,
I thought we'd begin today's with a public confession (ulp!):

I buy pre-shirred fabric.

Anyone click "unsubscribe" on their aggregators yet?
No? OK, I'll push my luck a bit.
Here comes public confession #2:

From Walmart.

.........crickets chirping..........

Oh well. Truth is out.
Sometimes when they are on off-season clearance, I tell
myself, "It's only a yard. Costs less than a box of cheerios.
Which is in the same shopping cart, bizarrely enough.
Which isn't really a sin. The print isn't blindingly hideous.
And the elastic stitching is all chain-stitched, unlike my
sewing-machine's straight shirring stitch at home.
So it must be stronger, eh?"

So, multiple rationalizations and a single straight seam
later, my child has a new tube dress.

This is not a recent one-off momentary lapse in reason,
incidentally. Look here and here - it's a chronic bad habit!

Jesting aside, I will say this in defence of other fellow
underground pre-shirred-fabric fans: if you can get this
on sale, it's not a bad place to start for a first dress. Some
helpful tips when buying and using this pre-shirred stuff:

  1. Buy a yard, not three-quarters, even though you know you're going to have leftovers.
  2. This will shrink in the wash. So go home, serge the edges immediately (to secure the cut elastic strands) or fold over and zig-zag stitch the side edges. Then run it in the wash.
  3. Then measure and cut to fit your wearer.
  4. Use the leftovers to make a matching dress for a doll.

And now, finally, on with the tutorial!

This is what we will be making today - armholes!

This is pre-shirred fabric, but you can shir your own.

What you need:
  • A shirred tube dress. Or about a yard of fabric to shir. See the first Summer Dress post for the prep.
  • About a yard of bias tape - the 3/8" or 1/2" kind is a good width for straps.
  • Scissors, sewing machine etc.

Step 1
  • Sew the side seams of the dress and serge/finish the seam edges and bottom hem.
  • Lay the dress flat, with the side seam either in the middle of the back, or down one of the sides.
  • Cut out the armholes. Important note: pre-shirred fabric, as earlier mentioned, has an elastic chain-stitch, so when cut, does not unravel in the crazy-instant way that home-shirred straight stitches do. If you are using a dress you shirred at home, you should draw the armhole line, sew the bias tape on as in Step 4, and then cut the armhole out before moving on to Step 5.

The armhole should be rounded at the bottom, not pointed.

The width of this rounded bowl shape was 2.5" and
the height 2-2.5" (when the shirring was not stretched)
for Emily's dress. Adjust these measurements for a
smaller or larger child, or for whether you prefer a halter-
neck look (like this dress) or the regular small-armhole-
just-for-comfort stlye.

Step 2
  • Measure the length of bias tape needed for the armhole and shoulder strap. I actually put the dress on Emily (almost 5 years old) and Jenna (almost 3 years old) and measured around their armholes to get accurate measurements. Emily's was 14" and Jenna's was 13".
  • Cut two lengths of bias tape 1/2" longer than this measurement. So here are two pieces of single-fold bias tape 14.5" long for Emily's dress.

Step 3
  • Using a 1/4" seam allowance, sew the ends of one piece of tape together, right sides facing (left piece of tape in the picture).
  • Repeat for the other piece of tape. You will then have two loops.
  • Press open the seam (right piece of tape in the picture).

Step 4
  • Place the wrong side of the bias tape on the wrong side of the armhole and
  • align the edge of the bias tape with the edge of the armhole that you cut in step 1.
  • position the seam you sewed in step 3 along the side seam of the dress that you sewed in step 1.
  • Pin (I prefer basting) if necessary.

  • Beginning just below the edge of the dress, sew along the fold of the bias tape around the armhole. Stop sewing just before you reach the other edge of the dress. This means you are only sewing the portion of the bias tape that will be attached to the dress fabric. Don't forget to backstitch at both ends of the stitching.

When completed, you will have a loop of bias tape, of which
  • the lower half is connected to the dress and
  • the upper half is completely unsewn.

Step 5
  • Fold the unsewn edge of the bias tape over to the right side of the fabric, and topstitch all around the loop to finish the strap.

Here you can see how the seam of the bias tape is
lined up with the side seam of the dress.

Step 6
Repeat for the other armhole.


Next: The raglan sleeve nightdress, once I get my
act together and trace out the pattern.

Thursday, July 23, 2009

Summer Dresses 1 - The Shirred Spaghetti Strap Dress

Yikes, I'd actually forgotten I promised to post about the
Summer Dresses. Been enjoying this sudden return of sunshine
the past few days and clean forgot I was supposed to unearth
these saved posts and click the "publish" button. These were
actually made before the skirts, and I decided, on a crazy
whim, do some skirts first. Thought maybe skirts might be
easier starting-projects for people wanting to make some
summer clothes for girls . So down to the bottom of the list
went the dresses while I was maniacally making the skirts.
Honestly, I initially thought I'd do just two skirts. Ended up
with six. Made myself stop there or it would have gone on
and the dresses would never have seen the light of day.
Till maybe winter when they'd have been defunct.

New word my brother coined years ago that
I use on myself for situations like this:

daftist [noun]:
def: a person who is skilled at being daft.

But enough of me. On to the summer dresses.

These are very basic dress styles. So basic that you don't
really even need a commercial pattern for them. Forgive
me if you were expecting coordinating designer fabrics,
snazzy trims and applique. Here we will be making three
basic dresses and if nothing else, perhaps you will take
away with you the techniques of making these, and then
go make your own and personalize them with said funky
fabrics and other lovely embellishments. I chose these
three styles for their simplicity, yes, but mostly because
my girls could put them on and take them off all by
themselves. Any garment that does not elicit a "mommy
can you zip this up?" or "Mommy, there's a button! I can't
get the button off! I'm stuck!" is a godsend when a person
already has 459 other tasks to do.

First up is the basic spaghetti-strap shirred-bodice sundress.

You can buy ready-shirred fabric by the (very expensive) inch
at fabric stores and just sew up the side seam but here's how
to do it from scratch. So you use up actual stash fabric!

What you need:
  • Generally, 3/4 - 1 yard of typical 44-45" width fabric is sufficient for a dress like this.
  • Also elastic thread and regular sewing thread.
  • Measuring tape.

Step 1
  • Measure around the chest of your child. Multiply this by two and add 3-4 inches for good measure. Call this measurement X.
  • Measure also the length of the dress you want, from the armpit to where you want the bottom hem to be. Call this Y.
  • Cut out a piece of fabric of length X and width Y. Y should be parallel to the selvedge, especially if it is a knit or some other stretchy fabric. This is so the fabric stretches sideways when worn (i.e. along X) and not vertically. Vertical stretching makes for an uneven hemline over time.

Here is a piece of fabric before shirring, and another piece
(just very slightly smaller, because it was for a smaller child)
below that, after shirring. It "shrinks" a lot, doesn't it?

Step 2
For the actual shirring process (like how to get the elastic thread all stretchy), see my friend Jen's tutorial on her blog, for nice instructions and a pattern for making an adult shirred tube top.
For this dress, I
  • first finished the top edge with the serger on a rolled-hem setting. You can fold it over and top-stitch with a regular sewing machine instead.
  • then sewed 6 rows of shirring 1/2" apart, beginning the first row 1/2" from the finished top edge. The rows of stitches were parallel to the finished top edge i.e. X. The entire shirred portion was about 3" wide, because I wanted this to be baby-doll-ish. You can add more rows of stitches if you want a longer shirred bodice. Remember to backstitch at the start and end of each row of shirring.

This is what the front and back look like.

Step 3
  • Grab your child, wrap the dress around her to desired snugness and to determine the final width. Do NOT cut away the excess fabric yet! I beg you - for the love of all things sacred!
  • Sew the side seam with a regular sewing machine, with right sides of the fabric facing each other.
  • Reinforce the seam with the shirred portion with more stitches, preferably of different stitch length to be sure to catch all the elastic thread.
  • Then serge or cut-and-zig-zag the seam allowance. Doing this before sewing the seam with a regular sewing machine is disastrous (guess what I did) and will unshir all your shirring and leave you devastated and dangerous around sharp objects. Sniff.
But anyway, anyone notice that the dress looks like a dress already?

Step 4
  • Finish the bottom hem.

Step 5
  • Make straps - either with ribbon, bias tape (sewn shut) or make your own with the same fabric as the dress. The spiral in the picture is the strap(s) before I cut it into half for each shoulder. This strap was sewn like double-fold bias tape, except it was not cut on the bias because the knit fabric already had some stretch. If you have a serger, you could cut a long strip of 1" wide knit fabric and do a stretch rolled-hem (so it ruffles) on both edges. This makes pretty wavy-edged shoulder straps.

Step 6
  • Fold in about 1/4" of the the raw end of the strap and sew the end of the strap to the wrong side of the fabric, just above the first line of shirring. Again, I had the wearer model the dress and marked out where I wanted the straps to be, and how long to cut them. Shirring (like other ways to elasticize something) is very inexact - and different outcomes will happen for different fabrics, types of elastic thread, bobbin tension, width of original unshirred piece of fabric etc. So the most accurate way to ensure the bodice fits right, and the straps are positioned correctly, is to try them on the wearer and measure as you go.


This is 15-month-old Kate wearing her dress. This dress
will last her at least one more summer because I used a
knit fabric, and knit fabric+shirring = superstretchy.
So it is also superlong to take into account how
much taller she will be next summer.

Time it took to make: 45 minutes - 1 hour.
More time was spent running after the wearer
for her dress fittings than actually sewing.

Next: Armhole variation on shirred dress.

Saturday, July 18, 2009


This is me some days.

Thursday, July 16, 2009

Skorts - Summer Skirts Epilogue

By popular demand (thank you all for popularly demanding,
by the way), here is the tutorial for skorts, aka scooters
aka skirt-with-shorts-underneath, brought to you from
the sewing laboratory of ikatbag, where
We Make Mistakes So You Don't Have To!

First, I'd better clarify that these are not the same as culottes,
which I wore a lot of as a young person. Culottes are sort of
flowy divided skirt. I made a pair or two years ago and
I think you could make them easily if you
  • got a pattern for a pair of knee-length shorts
  • made the bottom hem of each leg very wide
  • made the crotch lower
  • used a soft fabric.

Some of the earlier shorts I sewed for the girls ended
up culotte-esque by virtue of the soft knit I used,
and the gross mismeasurement of their dimensions.
So you see - not very difficult to make, eh?
You can literally make them by accident.

But moving along now.
Today we are making skorts, which are essentially
a skirt with shorts sewn on underneath. And the
following tutorial is simply how to attach the shorts
to the skirt. Which means you'll need to
already have a pair of shorts and a skirt.

Right-o, here's how I began - first, I got out my old shorts
pattern and made a pair of white knit shorts. Except I used
only a 1/4" seam allowance at the top instead of 1 1/4".
This is because we are not going to fold down the top to
make an elastic casing for this pair of shorts.
I finished the leg hems but not the waist hem.

Then I cut out knit fabric for a gathered skirt. Now the
classic gathered skirt is made from a single rectangle.
That would have been too wide at the waist to line up with
the waist of the shorts. So I cut out two trapeziums for
the skirt instead, so that
  • the waist matched the waist of the shorts
  • the bottom hem was roughly twice the waist measurement of the wearer

I finished the bottom hem but not the waist hem.

Here is a picture of the shorts and the skirt lined up so
you can see their waists are almost the same size. It is OK
if the skirt is a little bigger than the shorts because it's all
going to be gathered in the end anyway. And if you are
using knit for the shorts (which I recommend because it
is stretchy-comfortable, you can stretch its
waist to match the skirt's waist.

Let's get started, finally, shall we?

Step 1
  • Turn the skirt inside out.
  • Turn the shorts inside out - this is important! Even if it is counter-intuitive. This is what cost me an hour of seam ripping yesterday.
  • Insert the shorts into the skirt.

Step 2
  • Line up their waists and pin the two layers together at the side seams and the center front and back.

Step 3
  • Using a 3/8" or 1/4' seam allowance, sew all around the waist to join the skirt to the shorts. Stretch the waist of the shorts to fit the skirt as you sew, if necessary.

Step 4
  • Turn the entire garment right side out (so the shorts are inside).
  • Top-stitch close to the top of the seam.
  • Measure 1 1/8" from the line of top-stitching and sew another row of stitches all around waist, leaving a 2" opening for inserting the elastic. In the picture, you can see the top-stitching and the elastic for width-reference.

Step 5
  • Insert elastic (measure around wearer's waist for desired snugness) with safety pin.
  • Sew ends of elastic together.
  • Sew up the 2" opening.

Voila! Skorts - the miraculous 2-in-1 modesty garment.

I've also seen (and worn) fitted skorts, which are wrap skirts
with zippered shorts underneath. So really, they come in all
mutant varieties. But for my kids anyway, I'll stick to the
elasticized version. A big consideration when sewing their
clothes is how they can independently dress themselves and
elastic is wonderful for that. You'll see this concept again
in the Summer Dresses coming up next!