Friday, July 14, 2023

The Green Prom Dress

It's been a long time, I know. I've missed you guys! 

Thank you to everyone who left comments and wrote emails to check in with me. It felt good to be in your thoughts. I've been doing okay, just really BUSY - we had a senior graduate from high school this spring! Those of you who've celebrated your own HS seniors will probably get it; I certainly had no idea how much there was to take in and do in the weeks even before graduation.

I'd say it started as far back as January with the last jazz concert of the year. You know how that is - even though the snow was still on the ground and we were nowhere even near the end of the semester, it suddenly hits you that this was the first of the "lasts". And in spite of swearing not to be That Mom, you subconsciously start the countdown anyway, and slap titles on each subsequent deeply poignant experience: The Last Wind Ensemble Concert With This Sister, The Last Time She'll Play In This Orchestra, The Last Time We'll Hear Her Horn In The Pit, The Last Fight Song For Which She'll Conduct The Marching Band, The Last Solo, The Last Note, The Last Whatever and Whoosit and Thingamajig. It was ridiculous - and exhausting.

I know now, of course, that I was trying to comprehend that something massively wonderful was happening. And parsing each of those lasts was how my brain made sense of the emotional weight of the sum of them. Yes, you read that right: my brain did the emotional math. Because my heart couldn't quite handle it, and was instead just a big soft marshmallow cloud of bewilderment. I mean, what a trip, from the thrilling highs of pride and wonder to the simmering lows of relief and gratitude, as if all four years of high school - if not all thirteen since kindergarten - were distilled into the closing months of senior year and shot into one's metaphorical veins. It was hard to catch my breath; it was harder even to stay present and not let my mind race to the future when it would "all be over" and college would be the new normal, whatever that looked like. I tried, though. Remain NOW, I constantly reminded myself. Feel everything. Listen to every note. Go on that car ride. Say yes when the friends want to stay till midnight to chat, and order pizza, even. Buy the tickets to watch the performance for the fourth, fifth, sixth time.  Bring the giant camera to take the good pictures even though the children roll their eyes. Was it all good? Absolutely. Did I believe I was bonkers? Heck, yeah. Did I cry? For months prior, in the shower and car and my therapist's office and at inconveniently random and unrelated moments everywhere else. And yet on graduation day, as I glanced around me at the sea of parents, I saw that same look on so many other faces: the soaring delight, yes, but also the disorientation of inexplicably having arrived at this moment, mixed with the misguided determination to somehow hold it all together. Apparently, I wasn't the only one. Huh.

That is all I will say about my experience of the weeks leading up to graduation. A part of me is still recovering, but in a good way. I'm excited about Uni and independence and all the good things that follow graduation, because my oldest child is ready. Her sisters still have some years left at the high school, so there will be their concerts and football games and swim and dive meets to attend. There is comfort in that continuity as well.

And in the ebb of that emotional wave, I feel able to document and process my favorite moments of the past couple of months. Here, for instance, is Emily's prom dress. Now, because we were also in the throes of planning her grad party, the original plan was to purchase something online and simply have me make any necessary alterations to it. So we bought one . . . and it didn't work. Not a terrible dress per se, just not something one would wear to a formal. We returned it, and found ourselves back at square one, except a couple weeks closer to the deadline than before. 

Handmade, then. This is usually what happens anyway, right? You'd think I'd have learned that by now.

So we went fabric shopping - first online (faster, we thought, but everything would arrive too late), then in-person, but that failed abysmally, too. Because there we were, standing dismayed in the aisles of SR Harris - that ostensibly uber-reliable dressmaking fabric mecca - a week before prom, and with nothing but a fantasy shade of green that didn't seem to exist anywhere in the cosmos.

You know how some people give you a home-made loaf of bread and you're like, "Oh, this is so cool - did you use a bread machine or a brotform in your oven?" And they tell you they baked it on a hot stone out back using the wheat, barley and rye which they'd been growing on their acres of farmland and hand-ground into flour just minutes before adding it to their great-grandmother's ever-effervescent sourdough starter.

You see where this is going, right? See, there was nowhere left but that level of DIY. And isn't it funny how, once you've resolved to do something, no matter how impractical, even the insane begins to look viable?

We bought a yard of the only green-ish lace we could find - it looked like a patch of weed - and randomly dyed it. I say "randomly" because the bottle said "dark green" but there was no way to tell what we'd actually get when we were starting out with the shade we had (and how long do you let the thing sit in the dye anyway?). We gave it our best guess and rationalized it thus: anything would be prettier than wearing a dress of marijuana.    

Then I made the underlayer. This we didn't have to dye, thankfully - it was the only green satin thing any of the stores stocked, so we decided it would have to do. The design was pretty straightforward: a spaghetti-strap bodice connected to a semi-circular skirt with pockets, and a thigh slit. Here is a sad photo of it on Fleur so I could place and pin the lace overlay. I'd forgotten till I was doing this how much lace shifts as you drape it - gravity and the contours of the garment itself made it sag and pull in different ways than if it were lying flat on a work surface. Incidentally and totally unrelated, you might notice my Menagerie animals in the background.  Initially, I'd set them up in my sewing room for inspiration, like a cheering squad for all my unfinished WIPs. This time, though, as they watched me drop pins and curse as I stepped on them, their unblinking gaze seemed judgy instead - all except for maybe that purple dragon, and only because he still doesn't have eyes (they live in the vase in the living room where I'd set them 8 years ago).

Moving on now. More of the layout process next. A multitude of pins. All that lace hand to be stitched on by hand. I listened to a LOT of podcasts that week!

Because we wanted clean lines, the poky ends of the lace were folded over the edge of the main dress and stitched to the backside. And then all the stray cutwork bits had to be trimmed away.

Here is the finished dress on Emily.

Here's the back, her favorite part of the dress. Designing a dress entirely from scratch sometimes means trying to figure out how to best secure it on the body in ways that don't tug or squeeze or otherwise hurt. We brainstormed the usual suspects: halter-style ties at the nape, straps around the back of the shoulders, corset-style lacing all across the back . . . and decided that this bow was probably a whole lot more fun. 

If I remember right, the main dress (plus its accompanying muslin) was finished in a couple of days, although the lacework took the rest of the week. So worth it, though. I so, so love the texture of this dress,

to say nothing of the zany personality of the beautiful girl wearing it (or the fact that I still get to sew her clothes)!!

Thursday, April 13, 2023

My Patterns in Print and other updates

Happy spring, friends!

Although it feels decidedly summerish here in Minnesota this week at a sweltering 86 degrees. Temporarily sweltering, that is, as we expect to plummet back into the 40s this weekend. Typically neurotic spring in the upper Midwest, in other words. 

Speaking of sweltering, we were in Singapore a fortnight ago. This was the first time we'd been there as a family since the start of the pandemic. The girls had grown a lot in those 3+ years, so much so that my family could barely recognize them at the airport when we set eyes on each other after all those years apart. It was a sweet reunion. Mum is doing well. Being with my family again is like being filled with all good things. 

Back here in the US, we're prepping for a graduation party. I tell myself it will be like any of those insane birthday parties we used to throw when the kids were little, just bigger, although perhaps even less stressful, because there would be none of the manic role-playing-game-type activities - complete with ambitiously-sewn props - that we had to invent to entertain the guests.  I'm trying to be present in it all, and not let my mind sneak back to the past too much. Yes, I know this is all bittersweet, and that the kids were babies not that long ago and somehow I blinked, and here we are, 18 years later as if time ungracefully short-circuited us to this moment. I choose not to linger there. I've learned enough about grief to recognize this for what it is, and to anticipate that the emotions will come when they come. Even relentlessly so, there is a place for them, and the present isn't it. 

On the subject of old-ish things, I did something for myself recently that surprised me: I had my digital sewing patterns printed. Well, some of them, anyway. I've been writing sewing patterns for about 14 years, a fact that stunned me when I actually counted backward to determine when this pursuit first began. It has always struck me as ironic - the precision and methodicalness of teaching a person to do something creative and artistic - and as you all know, for a while I rebelled against the idea of sewing patterns altogether. By all means, have manuals for assembling a toilet or filling out an IRS form, I'd argue, but for Pete's sake, let people make a doll or a backpack whichever way they wanted, thank you very much. Eventually, I made peace with this by deciding that pattern-writing was not the same as bossing people around. Rather, it was like a recipe: here is what you need to make This Thing, and here is how I throw it together; follow if you have to, deviate if you want.
Whatever their motivation, these patterns (I think I've written 17, in addition to who knows how many tutorials and deconstructions) have been a fun distraction, and a sneaky but modest, source of passive income - pocket money to buy more fabric, was what I thought of it when they first began to sell. And then it began to look sort of like a small business, and there were taxes to pay, finances to document, customers to interact with. Some days it felt like an actual job and I'd wonder how to categorize myself: freelance designer? monetized hobbyist? Self-employed SBO (small business owner) who pays her sole employee in chocolate? What was most amusing to me, though, was that it was a largely invisible enterprise. These were digital patterns, designed on a computer screen and delivered remotely into someone's inbox following an online transaction. Nothing physical existed, except for the prototype bags or soft toys that were sewn to fine-tune the construction process - even these were ultimately sold off in my Etsy shop (yet another online arm of my unseen business). And if you'd visited me in my home/office and asked me what I did during my spare time, I wouldn't have anything to show you apart from pulling up an image on my phone of a screenshot I'd taken of the cover art.
Then last month, on a lark, I decided to have some of those incorporeal patterns printed for the first time ever, and found a proper printing company which didn't charge an arm and a leg for full-color pages. It felt incredibly self-indulgent, let me tell you. Especially at a time when everyone and their mother is making TikTok tutorials for those of us with the attention span of a flea, which makes a written pattern even more old-fashioned. But I did, and I forgot about it until the box arrived at my door and I opened it with no small amount of fear and trembling: would they be hideous? Would the fonts be blindingly mis-sized? Would the photos look like indistinct blobs? Would the text bleed off the page because I failed to consider print margins? Mind you, I'd stared at these same documents on my computer screen for days on end while I wrote and formatted them, so I knew that the photos were not low-res blobs, and I was well aware of the layout of each page, having printed out each subsequent revision on our economy black-and-white home printer for hardcopy editing.

But when I actually looked at them - the first color prints of my up-till-then-only-digital patterns - it felt unreal. I've had my work included in print magazines and books, and I always got a kick from seeing that, but it was quite different now to hold the tangible form of something that had only ever existed on my computer screen, or as one of those nebulous, ghostly things called pdfs. It was oddly validating. I remember thinking, "Hey! I actually did stuff! It wasn't me just imagining it, because here they are! I can touch the paper and flip the pages and everything!" Then I patted myself on the back and said, "You shoulda done this 14 years ago instead of just concluding you were going nuts for wondering where all those hours went."
So just wanted to share that sometimes when you do invisible work, like writing software, creating digital products, analyzing obscure data, or hey, even cooking meals that mysteriously vanish in 20 minutes so that you have to do it all over again several hours later. . . no, it really wasn't a dream. It actually happened. And it totally counts.

Incidentally, I do plan to get my other patterns printed eventually. And maybe put some copies in my Etsy shop to see if anyone's interested in buying them as print copies instead of the digital versions. The nice thing about bulk(ish) printing is not paying copyshop prices. Menagerie, for instance, would've cost $70 at FedEx just to print each page manually, but print shops could automate spiral bound books for less than half of that. A win-win.

Also, I'm working on Menagerie 2. Yes. Not lying, I promise. But we're talking years, not months, because I sew only during those rare pockets of time between swim meets and jazz concerts and the other wonderful things the kids are involved in. But I'm getting there. Two winters ago, there was an elephant and panda and several aquatic mammals. This winter, giraffes, two versions of unicorn and even an axolotl, all systematically photographed and documented. Menagerie 2 is looking to be bigger than the original, and I might have to do some culling to make the final selection more manageable. Thanks for being patient. I'm not giving up. This is something I need to finish, no matter how long it takes.

But now, the snow is gone and the townsfolk are emerging from hibernation. May you enjoy the beckoning sunshine, may you reconnect with neighbors whose names you struggle to recall, may wretched hay fever stay far, far away, and may the coming days be filled with projects that lift you up and expand your world.

Till next time -

Monday, February 20, 2023

Paw Patrol Vest Pattern

Hello, all!

This is a quick announcement to let you know that you can download the Paw Patrol Vest pattern from that earlier blog post here.

I decided to tag it the original post so that anyone visiting that post in the future can access it immediately without having to jump to a second link. Please also note that it is not a full tutorial - it literally is just the templates and some notes, but it's a straightforward enough garment, so you should be good to go.

Anyway, here's the original PP post again. Happy making!

Wednesday, February 15, 2023

Snowmen and Trees

I am slowly (but surely) playing catch-up with some oldish photos which've been sitting in our camera. I've just started learning about our new photo-editing software so I expect that my photos will look a bit weird as I try different things and figure out how to balance color and brightness and such. 

There are many, many others I took longer ago while my photo-editing system was in limbo which I'm going to let go of because they go too far back to have any relevance now. A few of those projects still made it to the blog because I happened to also take some back-up shots with my cellphone. But some simply didn't, and that's OK. Life is more than just photos and projects we did or didn't document - some are meant to be enjoyed in the moment and not recorded, is how I see it.  

Anyway, here are some wooden things I painted over this past holiday season. The first is more of these familiar Christmas trees, which have become a sort of Advent tradition in recent years (see here) and here ). I love how it's meditative and forces me to slow down in the midst of the busyness and focus on the smallness of the details, the symmetry and to wait for the different layers of paint and varnish to dry before I can add the next one.

Last fall, I facilitated a grief support group which was a lovely healing experience for me (and for the participants also, I hope). As we headed toward Thanksgiving and Christmas, some of us expressed apprehension about the coming holidays and the uncertainties therein. Like not knowing if we we would even put up a Christmas tree, for instance - grief is fraught with tension: while we have the desire (or the desire for the desire) for it, we often don't have the wherewithal to do something that's previously brought us joy or comfort. 

So I thought I'd paint these little Christmas trees for the participants so they might have a symbolic tree of sorts to observe the season, if celebrating wasn't quite accessible that year.

I took photos because with each year's batch, new designs emerge among which I discover new favorites even as I'm giving them away.

With the photos, I'll have records I can return to in subsequent years to recreate them if I want.

Here's another wooden project: snowmen. 

I must've had these blanks forever, and although I began painting them a couple of Christmasses ago, I finished them only this January. Initially, I intended them to be just regular snowmen, with generic scarves and hats and lump-of-coal buttons but they eventually became my family, and I've tried to capture the activities and hobbies with which each member identifies at this moment in time.

Like a snapshot, but 3D, you know? I did a similar thing with Kate over a decade ago, when she was in her princess phase and I'd wanted to remember all her  dress-up personas.

This is Emily with her lavender sprigs and Goldfish crackers.

her trusty trombone,

her books and paint brushes.

This is Jenna who plays the piano, 


and bakes up a storm. Anyone want to guess what the TS is on her red scarf?

This is Kate (and Bunny), 

her goggles and Shrek-ear crocs, buttons-of-cheese,

and her alto sax. 

This is my husband who loves photography, baseball, growing his native plants


and our cat Milo who loves being outside as much as he does.

Finally, this is me, with pineapple tart buttons, saddle-stitched hat and my two defining crocheted projects - the scarf I miraculously finished 

and the infernal millstone stitch afghan that I fear I never will. 

Here it is, incidentally - it hasn't grown much since I took that photo a year ago.

And here's our other cat Maisy, who follows me around constantly.

It feels strange posting about Christmas trees and snowmen this late into the new year . . .  then again, maybe not snowmen, since this is Minnesota after all and the snow is ours for keeps till who knows when. Hope you're getting some good sunshine where you are, and seeing the occasional bird or two. Be well, friends!

Thursday, February 9, 2023

Paw Patrol Vest, or the one in which LiEr uses a commercial pattern for the first time

Happy new year! 

Bit of a slow start to the year. How was everyone's holidays? How is everyone managing this winter madness? Here in Minnesota, we had a lot of snow and a lot of ice. Some days were sunnier than others, and some days were downright trying. And we put on our snow boots and got in our cars and went to the supermarket and the gym and church and school and walks and kept our chins up and fixed our thoughts  on warmer days ahead. Spring will surely come, as it does every year. Winter can only hold us captive for so long before it, too, must yield.

On the blog front, some housekeeping has been happening. Photo-editing has been come-and-go for a couple of years (which partly explains why I haven't been posting a whole lot) but this winter I think I've finally found a system that will work henceforth. With that new stability, I'm anticipating more regular posts (hurrah!) and sharing of projects. 

Also, I've been migrating email subscribers and feeds from the now-dead Feedburner to so some of you may have gotten emails from them to let you know about the move. It's not spam, and if you've followed the instructions to verify your email address, you should be receiving my posts again. If not, you can re-subscribe by entering your email address in the widget in my sidebar. 

Moving forward - I have a fun project to share!

As the title suggests, I used a sewing pattern for the first time. Whoo!

If you're new to the blog, here's some background: I learned to sew in Singapore where I grew up. People there - and other Asian countries, I've since learned - tend to draft directly from measurements rather than use commercial sewing patterns. It could be that back in the day, sewing patterns weren't as easily available as they are in the US or UK. Or it could be that it was how it was always done then, and enough people did it that it was an accessible skill to learn from a grandmother or mother, or even Homec class (all of which were sources of my own learning). Anyway, I learned to draft and sew without commercial patterns. I would say it's a very liberating thing but having never learned the alternative (i.e. commercial patterns), I have nothing with which to compare - it's just all I've ever known.

Until this past Christmas, when I wanted to sew a Paw Patrol vest for my small nephew who lived out of state and who's a huge PP fan. Typically, when I sew for a person, I'd grab that person, measure their dimensions and draft a specific garment pattern for them. It's always worked for me because I've only ever sewn for people who either lived in the same house, or whom I could access physically by visiting them. My little nephew, however, was hundreds of miles away. I only knew his age (almost 3), which in a drafting capacity, meant absolutely nothing. With a commercial pattern, however, that number might translate to a particular size, which then could be useful.

So I called a friend whom I knew had once upon a time sewn a vest for her young son who, if I were lucky enough, might have been 3 years old. Did she still have that pattern? Yes, she did.  

Full disclosure: if you're not new to this blog, you may have remembered that this isn't my first first brush with a commercial sewing pattern. In this ancient post, I participated in an uproarious blog party in which various sewing people were given an ugly vintage sewing pattern and asked to un-uglify it. It was eye-opening, let me tell you. I learned things about sewing patterns that haunt me to this day. So traumatized was I by the ridiculousness of that particular pattern that I ultimately failed to actually utilize it, and had to draft something entirely from scratch. And so I was back to square one - the score was still Commercial Sewing Pattern: 1; LiEr: 0.

Unlike that ugly sewing pattern from days of yore, however, this one from my friend looked quite sane. It was true that there were men featured on the cover along with the boys, all proudly modeling vests, suggesting that with the contents of the package, one could, if one were undiscerning, mistakenly sew a vest in a catastrophically inappropriate size. This was frightening, but I persevered.

My friend, bless her heart, averted this disaster by culling the piles of crinkly tissue and extracting the set of tracings which looked the most like something a boy of 3 would wear. I also had my sister-in-law take two simple measurements (shoulder width and shoulder-to-hip length) so I could have a starting point to draft the eventual vest. Here are some photos of my draft beside the original pattern.

I always forget that commercial patterns come with seam allowances added, which I then had to remove. My drafts never have SA - I was taught to draft this way and I find that it allows me to easily mark sewing lines and points directly on the fabric, and make adjustments.

This is the finished vest. Paw Patrol was new to me and I had to do research to understand what it was, who the characters were and what they did. Apparently, there are dogs - a large number of them - all of whom wear special badges, and there is one boy who rules them all. Or something to that effect. I had no idea of which of the dogs my nephew adored most, or if he might like all the badges so he could take turns at pretending to be one dog each day of the week, or even if he secretly hated some of the dogs. So to be fair to all the dogs, I picked none of them and instead chose the Boy King, whose name was Ryder and who had a fancy vest with all these fun colors.

Obviously, the sewing pattern had none of these details - the sleeve bindings, the stand collar, etc. I used it simply to draft the approximate vest shape and size for a boy whose detailed body dimensions I didn't have, and then modified the seams and amount of ease as necessary. There's quite a bit of piecing, which translates to scratchy seams on the WS, so I lined the vest with some jersey fabric. 

I don't have any photos of my nephew wearing the vest, but I've heard it fits him and he likes it, so that's all good. I've returned the commercial vest pattern to my friend but I think I might still have the PP vest drafts lying around in my sewing room somewhere, so if anyone has a PP-loving kid you'd like to sew this for, let me know and I can try to trace it out and post it here for you to download. 

Hope your year is off to a good start! 

Edited Feb 20 2023: 

I've had some requests for the pattern for this vest, so am including it here at the end of the post as a download. Some things to note:

1 Please see the sketch for the dimensions of the child this pattern was drafted for. It only comes in one size (for this child).

2 This pattern does NOT include seam allowances (SA) i.e. the solid outlines are the stitching lines themselves. Please add your own SA when laying out and cutting out.

3 I did not include a template for the sleeve, which was cut as a very narrow cap sleeve. It was cut on the fold (to make it double-layered), widest at the section at the shoulder and tapered to be narrowest at the side seam. Then it was sewn into a loop, and attached to the armhole with RS together, the same way you would attach a knit waistband (see this post).

4  Regretfully, I am also not including instructions for piecing, laying out, fabric yardage etc. I am hopeful that by looking at the photos in this post, you might be able to connect the dots on your own. Thank you for understanding.

Click HERE to download the Ryder Vest.