Friday, March 4, 2016

Travel Sewing

So, we're traveling soon.

And, as is to be expected, there are things to be made for the trip. Every year, it's something different. For instance, back when the girls were little, travel sewing involved garment-making. Such a pain.

Now, here I must pause and explain myself. I am, after all, an author of a sort-of sewing blog that advocates hand-made - and custom-drafted, properly-tailored hand-made garments, at that.

If you've begun your sewing journey later in life, and the beneficiaries of your effort and skill happen to be humans who are older than, say, 8, you may not understand this next bit. This is because the lucky bodies who will wear the clothes you make aren't constantly changing size and shape, nor are the minds they host fickle as a fall day in Minnesota. The chances are that your models know what they want, can stand still for measuring, and give you lots of mileage of wear per unit time spent making those garments.

It would be like when I first started to sew at the age of 13, and knew what I wanted, drafted what I needed, and wore that miniskirt, that peasant blouse, or that lace gown forever and ever, amen.

If, however, you are a mom like me, whose three children seemed to, in those years, be in perpetual growth spurts, and who, in spite of all being all of the same sex, had such varying fashion tastes that we could hardly expect the hand-me-down system to work once they started to speak and loudly voice their opinions, sewing is a different story altogether.

I still sewed, of course, because it was in my blood, and because I needed the practice, having not done any decent tailoring in the past almost-two-decades before said children arrived. And also because constructing special-occasion outfits like costumes for Halloween, or special-birthday dresses, or a custom-fit swimsuit or yoga pants, was still totally cool. But it soon became clear that handmaking the basics - shorts, skorts, Tshirts, sweatshirts, skirts - at least the way I did it, was completely inefficient. Instead, I learned that as long as my kids were tiny-but-rapidly-growing, it was far, far, far wiser use of my time to just buy the darned things from Target and pray they didn't get holey before the kids outgrew them. Which was usually within weeks (the outgrowing, I mean - be careful what you pray for!).

Did they add up, all that purchasing? Of course. Even at $3-$5 apiece, and especially when you have three kids. 

But - oh - the time I didn't spend sewing them! And the heartache I didn't experience when it came time to toss them into the donation/throwaway pile when even the smallest in our house could no longer squeeze into them. Because these were merely the RTW stuff I picked up en route to the produce aisles to keep my kids modest; they had no sentimental value, weren't heirloom pieces, and I didn't feel like I was discarding a memento of my sewing career by disposing of them ultimately.

When you are a mother, I believe you operate your day on a different currency than a non-mother. It doesn't matter if you work outside the home or not - your new currency is Time, and we barely have enough to make ends meet, as the saying goes. I can learn to thrift clothes and swop hand-me-downs and find other ways to make a physical buck go a longer way, but I can never do that with my time.

Also - since we're speaking of bucks - if I were honest, fabric costs a lot more than RTW. It is a fact. Unless you only buy thrifted vintage fabric, or cut up old clothes, good apparel fabric (the kind children truly like to wear, not the kind we like to sew because it's "easier to work with") costs a lot. I can never, ever justify my sewing hobby as a way to save money on clothes I'd otherwise buy. Maybe if the shopping alternative were Burberry, yeah . . .  I might say sewing, even with designer fabric, would be more economical. But only if. 

Which brings us back to traveling.

Each year, we plan for a winter trip to sunny Singapore. Obvious reasons: one, to see family and friends. And two, to escape the freaky drudgery of brown slush and black ice, and the feeling that icicles permanently live in one's nostrils. The trip itself is wonderful; of course it is. The packing, however, is a nightmare, especially when we used to go in January. Coldest part of winter, we said. Best time to flee like cowards, we said.

Also worst time to buy RTW summer outfits in the stores, we discovered.

Because, you see, in the meager few weeks since the temperatures dipped below Certain Hypothermia, the aforementioned children had mysteriously grown in directions I fathomed not. Consequently, their summer clothes from just half a year ago, were inexplicably no longer viable.

It was, therefore, either Sew or Run Starkers On The Balmy Beaches of Singapore.

So I sewed. 

ENTIRE SUMMER WARDROBES for three children, none of whose bodies matched the other in convenient enough ways so as to allow me to "grade" their patterns up or down.

Not. Efficient.

Also. Not. Relaxing.

But that was the past.

I am happy to say that those bleak years are behind me.

For one, my children have stopped being exponentially elastic. Their growth is linear, predictable, manageable. They actually wear their clothes for more than a year. Sometimes, they even wear them long enough to be ragged before they get short. I found myself cheering the other day when I discovered one child's capris whose waistband had ripped from wear. From wear! Because she wore them that much. And she could still fit into them.

Was my response pathetic? Of course it was. But that's motherhood, isn't it? Finally - a moment in time when you feel you have a little bit of control over all the myriad ways in which your children are changing and leaving you blinking in the dust of their becoming. Let us laugh at the years to come, friends - if the present is any indication, the stupidest things will seem downright hilarious in the future. All hail Perspective.

And here, just before we wrap up my whining and return to the topic at hand, let me say that this is me. It is not you. You might be the person who LOVES sewing handmade garments and has secret ambitions to hand-make an entire wardrobe for your 5-year-old, down to his briefs and sneakers. Good for you. Handmade is wonderful, period. Especially if you enjoy it, and have the time to enjoy it. Do your thing, and be proud. If we meet in a coffee shop somewhere, we will not need to glare daggers at each other and spit into each other's lattes. We can be friends. 

So, this trip to Singapore. After having everyone try on their summer clothes, we found that I only need to make 3 sundresses. 3 sundresses! Do you know what that feels like?

Unimaginably surreal, is what.

So, instead of tailoring garments this year, I dressed our electronic devices and art supplies instead. 

Customs is hard on electronic devices - all that unzipping and X-raying and stuffing back in backpacks and so on, all while trying to empty your water bottle down your throat.

Thought I'd share our cases so you can make your own. They're very easy!

This is our Classic Laptop Sleeve.

It is one layer of upholstery fabric over one layer of black headliner, each darted in the bottom corner, and fitted very snugly around the device so it doesn't slip out unless tugged.

Headliner, incidentally, has a knit-feel fabric on one surface (the other surface is raw foam) so that if you use that fabric side as the "RS-of-the-lining-layer", you don't even need a lining fabric for a sleeve like this. And headliner comes in different (but neutral colors) - I used the black for these cases.

Don't worry - I will revisit headliner, flex-foam and batting as padding alternatives in a later post, and show you pictures. For now, I'm just sharing how they're main players in finished projects.

The two layers are then sewn together at their top opening, which is bound with trim.

See? It's so sturdy it can stand up and gape open on its own.

I sewed a strip of nylon webbing on the back side, to aid with carrying and hefting it out of backpacks and carry-ons.

Here is another kind of case, for a smaller, flatter tablet. 

Again, one layer of upholstery fabric over a lining layer of headliner. However, the two fabrics are sewn as one composite layer, folded in half RS out to make a flat case, then sewn together at their side seams.

These side seams are then bound externally,

pinching the sides to give a tight fit. I've found that this design works especially well for flatter devices.

Finally, here is a pinch-closure case for an iPod:

I've made them before here and here, and they are oddly fiddly for something so simple-looking. It's all to do with the casing for the spring-loaded hardware, coupled with the smallness of the opening that makes it unpleasant to maneuver under the presser foot. I hand-hemmed the casing on the inside of the opening, and it resulted in less stress.

I also made some bags. For fun. 

And also because I found this nice upholstery fabric, a yard of which allowed me to make at least three bags. But I stopped at two.

Random buckles for purely aesthetic purposes - they do not render the strap adjustable.

Two different linings - all quilting cotton - with giant interior pockets.

Here they are, close up:

And, apparently, I couldn't count, because it turned out that I made 5 sundresses, not 3.

Three are for multi-purpose wear (and - erk - their hems may or may not actually lie straight)

and two are fancy. 

These fancy ones required slinky knit lining, and matching every single frill along the side seams of the front piece with every single frill of the back piece. 

A lot of basting, and forethought in where to lay out the necklines and so on. It was somewhat time-consuming, and at some point, I might have taken a break and eaten a rather large number of cookies to cope.


  1. This is beautiful, funny, and insightful! I love your blog.

  2. I am really enjoying your blog, found you not long ago after someone linked to your sleeve post. I thought about sewing for my kids, but the oldest, who just turned 4, is wearing a 6/7 in little kids - this is the first season we have made it through in one size, but good thing summer is coming up, because he is at the end! I just don't understand - thanks for a healthy perspective on this!

  3. Love your sundresses, I used to sew dresses for my daughters when they were small. Your electronic sleeves amaze me, no zippers! I really like the binding tape that you've been using. Is it handmade or purchased?

    1. Patti: The binding tape is a grosgrain trim (thick ribbon, really) that I bought in Singapore. It comes like that - with the white saddle-stitch.

  4. A friend of mine turned me on to your blog a while ago and I have been getting your posts by email. I love, love, love your writing! And, I'm overwhelmed by how much you get done! Another friend who also has kids (I have dogs...) has the mantra, "make every minute count" and she always has a project in hand. You have obviously become very efficient with yours!

    I am also learning a lot from your posts and thank you for being so open and clear with your knowledge. I would love to see a post on your favorite supply sources (zippers and such) or if you already covered that, please point me to it.

    Have a great trip!

  5. Thanks for this post! We have a bunch of travel coming up (including a return to Scotland, a decade after leaving - so exciting!!!) and could use cases like these. I never heard of headliner fabric before.

    I adore that slouch bag of yours and should sew some for my girls. Or maybe have Emma sew them?

    I am very impressed with your lining up of all those ruffles - no small feat!

  6. In addition to the pretty things, thanks also for making me laugh! I loved the bit about Time being the motherhood currency, and everything afterward. Till I reach the part where you sewed bags. For fun. That really made me laugh aloud! Not because it was funny, but because it was just so endearing, so you, who forgets to count sundresses :) Sending you a big warm hug from a stranger you've never met, just because. Hope your trip is wonderful.

  7. Thank you for understanding what it is like. I have three small children, and a full time jobb. I sometimes get comments along the lines of "Oh, you sew? So you sew all you childrens clothes then." I have never managed to make an apropriate response, because the bare thought of it makes my brain go into shut down mode. As most working moms, my free time is usually between 10 pm and 6 am. Of course I'm going to spend that time sewing for my ever growing kids, rather than, say read blogs or sleep.


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