Friday, February 11, 2022

Chickens (and a Pattern Revamp)

Here's a funny story.

Last month, I needed to sew a concert gown for Emily. I will tell you more about that in a separate post but I'll say here that it had slightly ambitious sleeves so I took some time to work out how to construct them. 

"Ah," you're saying, "that's a euphemism for 'she procrastinated'."

Hangs head.

In her defence, they were fiddly sleeves.

But yes, procrastinate she did. 

First, she made a chicken

Her small nephew was turning two, and she rationalized that all small children needed a chicken, so she resolved to make him one. Plus chicks, because obviously all stuffed animals have to have offspring to make any sense at all.

Then, because it had been twelve years since she'd last made chickens, she had to print out her Chicken Pattern for the templates and to have her memory aided by the instructions therein.

Then, when the chicken was made, she realized she was now a much better pattern-writer than she was twelve years ago and, having now beheld all the ways in which that 2010 Chicken Pattern could use a tune-up, entertained the idea of revising it.

Then, for the purpose of re-photographing and testing out the construction process for the rewrite, she made two more chickens. And six more chicks (see earlier logic re: adult animals and offspring).

And then wrote the second edition of the Chicken Pattern.

After which she remembered, as if waking from a fevered dream, that she was supposed to be sewing a dress, and hurriedly measured the child in question and drafted a sloper. And went panic-shopping for fabric, returning with (as if to overcompensate) enough fabric for two dresses and several muslins.

Then left her common sense at the door and, in the name of "testing out the sloper" and "getting the old brain warmed up for the Real Thing", proceeded to sew an entire Other Dress (with its associated muslins). That's right - an entire second gown that the child didn't actually need. 

Then, in the strange hollow silence immediately befalling (you know the kind that often greets one in the aftermath of having eaten an entire quart of ice cream all by oneself and in a moment of belated clarity wonders why one thought it seemed like a good idea at the time), she realized she had run out of ways to procrastinate further.

And sewed the dress.

And it didn't take nearly as long as making three chickens, nine chicks, re-photodocumenting and rewriting a sewing pattern, and making another dress.

So. How's your sanity been holding up this winter?

Mooooooooving forward now, I have two bits of news to share.

One is that I have indeed revised my Chicken Pattern. I should probably disclaim that I don't think the original 2010 version was a disaster - I was quite easily able to make a chicken (or three) from those instructions, after all. But it was written 12 years ago and I approach sewing instruction much more methodically now than I did back then. 

I don't know if it's even a thing - pattern designers returning to old patterns to revise and release new editions of them, I mean - but it seemed irresponsible not to incorporate improvements when they were now obvious to me, and pass those on to you guys. The construction sequence and methods are still essentially the same but I reworded some instructions which sounded awkward, added more photos and annotations, and redrew all the templates so they were more effectively spaced out on the page. 

If you bought a Chicken Pattern in the past and would like the new version, send me an email with
  • your name 
  • the email address you used to buy it, if you can remember it, and
  • the year you bought it, if you can remember it,

and I'll send you a link to download the new one for free. I can't promise that I'll respond to your email right away, especially if I receive many requests, but give me a couple weeks or so, and I should be able to have a new link for you.

Second, I now have two sets of chicken-and-chicks to send to new homes! You can find them in my Etsy store here

I don't think I've ever had a chicken in my Etsy store before - my children inherited all the prototypes and samples I'd made when I first wrote the pattern. Snuggling and cuddling aside, I imagine they'll be good fun for classrooms and preschool rooms and anywhere that kids want to set up a pretend farm or co-op, and just in time for spring, too.

Each set comes with a hen 

which lays eggs,

and three chicks.

Each chick fits in one of these plastic eggs (also included).

You might notice that the eggs are a bit festive-looking; my apologies if you were hoping for more realistic or at least solid colors. These are what I was able to obtain at this time of the year, and I thought I'd include them with your purchase so you could start playing with the chicken and chicks right away. I'm pretty sure that in a couple of months, the stores will be full of easter eggs and you can replace these with ones more to your liking.    

Go to my Etsy store here to buy the chicken & chicks,

and go to my pattern shop or pattern page on my blog to buy the revised Chicken Pattern.

Saturday, February 5, 2022


Happy new year, friends!

I hope these early months of 2022 have been good, especially after coming out of the year we did. Did 2021 feel like a rollercoaster to you, too? It certainly started out in the valley for us and many other families with school-age kids who did school online. Later in the year as things got better, the overall sense was that of life being somewhat restored to us. We're thankful for that, and for so many other blessings and gifts, and I know this may not have been the case for everyone. 

We were busy, also, in spite of what the long stretches between blog posts might have indicated. Healthwise, we were well, but we were navigating new things. In the fall, the kids started the school year in-person, and that took some adjusting, too, particularly after so much remote learning in the year before. It's funny that even normal isn't quite that, after long enough of abnormal. 

What have I been busy with? Well, for one, over the last four months, I sewed garments. Again, quasi-normal, if you guys remember the mad race when my kids were little, to clothe them in summer wear before they hit each subsequent growth spurt. And there were the tween years when homemade was awkward for them because bodies were changing and no one was really sure what felt or looked good. I sewed just their Halloween costumes then, and tried to stay in the moment for as long as I could, knowing that even that phase had an expiration date not too far down the road. Then came the transition through middle school, and Narnian and Barbie princesses faded in the shadow of pop stars, online communities, wry humor and satire. The kids got together with friends to invent Halloween disguises and quirky book club costumes with a glue gun and a bit of magic known as Improvisation. I poked my nose in to check on them every now and then, but they assured me they'd got things covered. Mostly.

And my sewing machine, that manic workhorse faithfully churning out garment after garment of all shapes and sizes for over a decade, exhaled. I settled into a new creative chillness: stuffed toys, the occasional face mask, maybe mending a rip in someone's leggings.

Then: high school. 

I'll say this before we get to the details: so much of life is a cycle. Apparently, with teenagedom - especially later teenagedom - comes a reinvention of one's fashion sense, and I found myself once again in the fabric stores among the sheers and lace and satins (there's an entire aisle dedicated to cosplay fabrics, I've learned). The children - not quite children anymore - have now got important places to be, places with dress codes, specifically. Cocktail dresses for school dances and all-black floorlengths for fancy concerts, for instance. A decade ago my sewing room floor was a riot of polar fleece (to stave off hypothermia) and upholstery accents (to look medieval) and everything was swirly swishy semi-circular skirts with underlays and overlays; now it's chiffon and bridal satin and bust darts (bust darts! Where have the years gone?) and clean lines and You Can't Let Me Look Hideous, OK, Mom?! It's been a whirlwind, this return to what-once-was-and-yet-is-utterly-new. Normal after a hiatus is usually anything but. A recurring theme, it seems.

Last October, Jenna needed a homecoming dress. As always, my first instinct is to hit the stores. Sewing is a hugely romantic notion, but people often forget the precarious quest for fabric in the particular shade of a particular color, the ten thousand muslins, the last-minute hem-job executed in the wee hours just before sunrise because we'd underestimated (again) how long garment-making actually takes.  I love handmade, but sometimes store-bought can look really good from this side of the throat plate.

Anyway, we trawled the internet, Jenna and I. I didn't even know what a "homecoming dress" should be, having myself never attended a homecoming anything, because we there's no such thing in Singapore. Had to deduce from what we found on 'customwear' sites what the rules were: not as fancy as prom, but nicer than what you'd wear to church on Christmas Day was my eventual interpretation. 

The prices, though! For so little actual fabric! It was unbelievable.  As I scrolled past tinydress after tinydress, in all their 57 color options, all that registered was the non-zero probability that alterations would have to be made even if we'd ordered one in Jenna's exact physical dimensions. After waiting 4-6 weeks for it to arrive, at that.  

I surrendered. Handmade it was, then.

This was our inspiration piece, by the way.

In keeping with her meticulous appreciation of the nuance in color, Jenna expounded at length the exact shade of darkish-reddish-wine-ish-not-purplish-ness she preferred. Naturally, it didn't exist in the fabric types we needed, but we did our best.

The lace overlay made me feel somewhat nostalgic - how many princess costumes had I made which looked like this? 

And yes, there's a mask to match, because it was required. A sign of the times, if ever there was one.

And I loved it. The outcome, the process, and especially reacquainting myself with drafting and turning numbers into three-dimensional drape on an actual person. On homecoming night, I took photos alongside the other parents and drove Jenna and her friends to dinner before the dance - two traditions that were also utterly new to me. What fun to see the smiles and excitement and goofy camaraderie. What a gift that they were able to have this, at the end of a bizarre, uncertain year. How wonderful to see hope and joy and mirth and celebrate precious friendship. 

May you have see the same with the ones you love this new year!