Friday, September 30, 2011

School Party

We had a school party this year! One week after real school began here in Minnesota.

When Emily told me months ago that she wanted a stationery-and-school birthday party, I was thrilled. I loved it because it didn't involved a licensed-character and it wasn't princess/fairy/rockstar/rainbow/dress-up/pink/girl. I loved that it was about something so completely normal and age-transcendent. Over the next few months, we talked over a multitude of ideas, which included everything from feather-pens and post-its and poetry competitions (Emily's) to electrical circuitry and chemical and solar experiments (er... mine). We both wanted to live out our teacher ambitions - my past ones and her future ones. Oh, how I wanted to have the guests make their own night lights from circuit components! Can you imagine the fun we'd have, and how proud the kids would be to bring home a little gizmo, knowing they'd made something themselves that actually lit up and worked? I came to my senses soon enough though - this wasn't my party, after all. And eventually Emily and I drew up a happy plan that was quite a bit less curriculum and fantasy, and quite a bit more celebration and fun.

For the fourth year in a row, we were blessed with magnificent weather on the birthday weekend. We set up, in our yard, tables of all shapes and sizes, including that lovely table Grandpa and Grandma built for the kids.

We hung our pinatas

and mounted a welcome sign (and agenda) on our easel.

We got out our brown paper grocery bags

and set up cubby holes for the kids. This we learned from past parties - kids need a place to stash the stuff they collect (like prizes and candy) and discard (like the sweaters they wore in) throughout the course of the festivities.

We decorated the driveway with pictures and directions

and then welcomed the guests!

The first thing we did was eat.

We ate pizza, and then had cake.

I am proud to say that our cake was pre-ordered at the supermarket bakery, the pizza was made by the guys in the pizza shop, and we had no fancy decorated cookies, or coordinated decorations. I've learnt that when you throw a party for kids, they are really here for the cake and the presents and the playing and the hanging out with old friends. 

I have also learnt that because the presents are the most important thing to both the birthday girl and her guests, they should be given due attention before any of the other things like crafts and games and whatnot. So we reversed the traditional order of proceedings and opened the gifts first (well, first after eating, anyway).

It felt good to sit and take our time and really enjoy the gifts and their givers.

And then, we smashed the pinatas (we had two shorter lines rather than one long one),

sent the kids out on a treasure hunt,

till the parents arrived to pick their kids up.

And everyone visited and played and colored, 
in the dappled shade of our backyard. 
A very happy day. 

Just a few more behind-the-scenes photos - our parties are always slightly zany because we so enjoy the preparation and excitement in the days leading up to it. I usually have the kids do as much of the work as possible, to channel their enthusiasm and energy towards something useful and less dangerous than getting under my feet. Jenna, bless her heart, painstakingly made a 2D party hat for each guest

but we didn't actually hand them out on the day itself, because she only finished two in time for the party and the rest, only a few days after.

Now that the party is over, there was just one last task for Emily: writing out her thank- you cards. We hand-make a lot of our party paraphernalia simply because we're so used to doing it that way.

Happy birthday, little one!

And here is where we leave you today. Tomorrow we'll be back to take you behind the scenes!

Thursday, September 29, 2011


I've finally got those party photos organized and edited, so I can share all about Emily's birthday party! 

First, I give you behind-the-scenes photos of our pinatas which, now that the party is over, are dead.

Here they were with their final, white-paper layer.

To achieve the shape we wanted, we bashed in both ends.

We also stuck a twisted bit of grocery bag on one end.

And then the girls painted them.

Do you see what they were now?


And now do you know what our party theme was? 

Maybe this post will give you a clue.

See you tomorrow for more photos!

Wednesday, September 28, 2011

Cardboard Love

A bit thrilled. During my narcissistic jaunts through the pages of my pinterest following, I discovered this cardboard post pin:

Do you see it? 

It's been repinned at least 2700 times!!!!!

That blows my mind. It's like you've believed all your life that you had a few screws loose because of your bizarre cardboard fetish, and then finding that, actually, there's a whole tribe of people like you out there and maybe cardboard isn't a disease after all.

Thank you everyone for spreading all that cardboard love! You made my day.

P.S. I'm working on those alterations tuts! But I decided to bite the bullet and do Emily's party photos. So you get to see those first!  

Saturday, September 24, 2011

Alterations - Tucks and Folds

Many of the simpler kinds of alterations involve the reducing of fullness. Simply, it means the taking in of unwanted ease or extra bagginess/looseness in a garment. This roominess occurs in any part of a garment, except its length (we'll deal with that in a later post). Here are some of its common manifestations:
  • a waistband that is too big
  • bust darts that were meant for a bigger cup size
  • a skirt with balloony hips
  • a sagging crotch seam
  • gaping or oversize armscyes
  • pointy sleeve caps that look like someone stole your shoulder pads
  • a sheath dress that looks more like a banana suit
  • camisole straps that hang the garment soooooooooo low that it defeats the purpose of wearing it in the first place.

If you've sewn garments, you might easily recognize what's wrong with the fit in each of these cases and instinctively know what to do to correct them. These are straightforward alterations in concept because, for instance, if the waistband is 32" wide when your waist is 28", you'll know that you need to take it in by 4". Even without a measuring tape, a simple pinch of the waistband will show you how much needs to disappear.

Now let's look at that very important word in the last sentence: "pinch". It's very revealing, because it's exactly what we will do to make the alteration - turn the excess ease into a fold or tuck. Think of them as permanent pinches, if you will.

We'll start with the simplest of all examples: a tank top whose armscyes are far too big and low.

To correct this, we shorten the shoulder straps.

Because there are no sleeves, all we need to do is turn the garment inside out (as I've done), pinch the shoulder straps at the shoulder, and sew them in by the appropriate amount. This is a tuck. We can make this happen at any point along the shoulder strap, but we usually do it at the natural shoulder seam, because that's where there is already a stitching line. 

Leaving that tuck sticking out would be uncomfortable on your shoulder, not to mention untidy, so we fold it to one side and stitch it down with a zig-zag stitch along its folded edge.

I did my stitches in coordinating thread, of course, but I went over that with a coarse zigzag in white thread just for visibility in the photos. It looks a lot better in real life! See how the tuck lies flat now:

It's still bulky, but it's the simplest way to take in a strap that's already bound on both edges, which is typical of casual knit tanks like this one and you don't want to unpick the binding and do hidden tucks in that as well. Obviously you would use this quick-fix method for only the most informal of garments. Were this a faced or lined strap (like in a tailored tank dress), I'd unpick the facing/lining, make a tuck in the outer fabric layer and a corresponding tuck in the facing layer, trim off the excess seam allowance, press, and re-sew the facing to the outer layer, probably with a ladder-stitch by hand. It would look as good as new, but it would have been a lot of work. If I were doing this commercially, I'd charge $6 for the unfaced job and $25 for the faced one; more if there were also top-stitching to unpick and re-sew.

At the risk of stating the obvious, tucks cannot be used to lengthen straps because by definition, they tuck away excess ease. If, however, the seam allowance at the shoulder were very wide, one could possibly change the seam position to make a bigger armscye and lengthen the strap, provided there was no continuous binding along its edges. But that is a different technique which appears in a later post. 

Other applications of this strap tuck: shortening bra straps, swimsuit straps, camisole straps..... you get the idea. The nice thing about this method is that it's easily reversed. For instance, I shortened the straps of Kate's 3T swimsuit this way when she was 2 years old so they would stay on her shoulders, and returned them to their full length the next year.

Before we go, let's return to the alteration itself - please notice two things:
  1. A side effect of this tuck is that the neckline is also raised slightly. This might be a good thing if the neckline was also too low initially, in which case it'd be a kill-two-birds-with-one-stone situation. It may not always be that happy a solution. However, the point is that sometimes, an alteration in one part of a garment affects the fit in another part. 
  2. By simply making a tuck, we took in the front and back of the garment by the same amount, because of the symmetry of the tuck. Let's introduce some actual numbers to illustrate. Suppose the tuck we made in the tank top in the photos were 1/2" deep, the front neckline AND the back neckline were then both raised by 1/2" each, in addition to the armscye circumference shrinking by 1". This equal-front-and-back reduction is an important thing to consider as we discuss more types of alterations in later posts. Because it is the easiest and fastest way to reduce fullness, many people do it. In some cases, however, the back and front of a garment need to be altered by different amounts, to fit bodies whose backs and fronts are quite different in contours and dimensions.