Wednesday, March 31, 2010

Sewing for the frugal, via Indietutes

It has come to my attention lately that, as much as I like to pretend that sewing Ruby's clothes myself is a good way to save money, there are certain pitfalls that can make it seriously costly. You find yourself a sewing machine in the street and you think "Ooh, marvelous. Now it won't cost me a thing to make the small one's clothes. Just think of all the money I'll save!" But the fact is that it can be a bloody expensive 'hobby'.

Of course, there are many, many other reasons why I make clothes for Ruby. I think it helps to discourage the disposable attitude that is so easy to develop when you can buy ready-made clothes for a handful of pennies, that can (and has, to my shame) lead to just throwing away things that have developed a little hole or acquired an unshiftable stain. There are the obvious ethical issues involved in buying clothes with a price tag that implies seriously unfair trade in their affordable little pasts. There is doing it for the love of it, because I get to see my baby wearing something that has been made with thought and time and love. I have lots of reasons for making Ruby's clothes, which you can read about here, but that doesn't change the fact that unless you are very careful, you can end up costing yourself a lot of money, whilst at the same time sort of losing sight of why you are doing it in the first place.

And then I found this nugget of wondrousness, the most inspirational and motivational list of ways to keep sewing frugal and stick to the mission plan, and Vegbee over at Indietutes has very kindly allowed me to reproduce some of my favourite suggestions here. So these are my top ten picks from a very long list of truly great ideas, and once you are done reading these, I suggest you go over there and peruse the whole lot.

1. Organise your stash. Until you know exactly what you have, you will find that you keep repeating yourself. You can tell yourself otherwise as many times as you like, but there is such a thing as too many Liberty florals.

2. Keep track of discount days at local fabric stores and shop with a list (or, in Vegbee's wise words, a small child, because nothing will convince you to get what you need and get out like trying to control a 3-year-old in a fabric store).

3. When buying new, cheap fabric doesn't always mean a deal. Some cotton prints and flannels are always priced cheap because their quality is poor. You do not save money (or feel good) if your hand-made garments look faded and tear after just a few washes. If you are spending good money, make sure it is on quality material.

4. Search your local freecycle network and put the word out amongst your neighbours that you will take away the extras from other sewers' stashes. If you have just done #1 and you have some things going begging, you might be able to negotiate a trade-off. Most people looking to downsize their stash will be happy to give it to someone who will appreciate the fabric and use it well.

5. Thrift stores and yard sales are great resources, not only for fabrics. You can often pick up large grab bags of notions for a dollar or two, but steer clear of vintage thread – it dries out and snaps. If buying buttons make sure there are enough matching buttons to finish a garment.

6. Reconstructed garments are the ultimate in thrift and creativity, especially if you revamp your own wardrobe using what you've already got. I try to do as much of this as I can, and it's one great way that I can make things for myself as I am not quite brave enough yet to make adult clothes from scratch, but I can sure as hell restyle a badly fitting dress, or turn an old sweater into a skirt.

7. Check out sewing books at your local library. Most libraries will stock several older books full of general knowledge (which will cost a mint to buy new) as well as some of the new hip books on reconning that sell for 20 smackers or more in the bookstore. Also, and this is too obvious, the internet is an amazing source for free tutes and patterns. But you know this. As an aside, I have a set of books in the UK given to me by my best friend's mum, from which she learn everything she needed to know to make all my friend's clothes when she was little. They were a bit over my head when she first gave them to me, but now I cannot wait to get home and get stuck into them.

8. Keep your machine in good shape by cleaning and oiling frequently. Don't bother to use canned air to blow out the lint from your machine – a set of inexpensive make up brushes work just as well, can be used for years and are a fraction of the cost. Better maintenance means fewer service bills.

9. Don't get sucked in by all the 'essential' products sold as sewers' aids. Buy what is helpful and then make use of what you already have at home. For example, used dryer sheets are a great stabilizer for embellishments, appliqués can mostly be held in place with pins to avoid the need for bonding papers. Old sewing books (see #7) are full of great inexpensive techniques from an era that had never hear of liquid anti-fray agents.

10. Keep the original motivation and intention in mind. Remember that sewing skills were, once upon a time, used to save money and reduce waste. The darning of socks, patching of holes, mending of rips, and clever placing of appliqués can all save stained or worn clothes from the bin – and if you can't save them in their original incarnation, then try to work out how you else you can use them.

There are loads more ideas and suggestions over at Indietutes, so make sure you take yourself over there and have a look. I'd love to hear any other tips and tricks too, so leave a comment and share your wisdom. Thanks to Vegbee for such an inspiring post!

Monday, March 29, 2010

Fairy Godmother Rice

I got an email the other day, in response to my 10 things post, or, more specifically, to my admission that I cannot cook rice properly. It was from my godmother, Bad Betty Bell, who I am hoping has solved my rice issues, and I thought I would share it with you, in case there were any other rice-ophobics out there.

Now, there are clearly a lot of things that you can do that I can't. But one thing I can do is cook rice! And here's how.....................

Follow this to the letter and you will not go wrong - I promise!

I usually use white basmati rice if cooking white and short grain brown rice if cooking brown. However seems to work for all types, the only thing is that brown needs cooking longer.

One average size mug of rice will be generous amount for two people.
Measure the rice precisely (in a cup, glass, mug, whatever), put it in a sieve and rinse at length under a running tap until the water is running practically clear. (Takes much longer to rinse the starch off white rice than brown). Drain well.

Measure exactly the same amount of cold water and put it with the rice in a pan which is the right size ie. one that when the rice is cooked it pretty much fills it.

Put in a good pinch of sea salt, bring it to the boil, stir it once with a fork and then either cover with a tight fitting lid (or tin foil and then lid as well for a good seal).

Turn the heat down to absolute minimum, - one of those heat diffuser things is ideal - and DO NOT TOUCH IT until it is ready precisely 12 minutes later.

Turn off the heat, fluff it with a fork - et voila.

Brown rice need cooking for about 30 - 35 mins.

The great thing is that when it is ready you can leave it sitting there for up to an hour or so before you are ready to use it. Just DON'T TOUCH IT!
So there you are - let me know how you get on.

I am optimistically hoping that this is the key to my domestic success. Thank you BBB! x

And the winner is....

Put the names in a pot.

Have small girl shake the pot....

... and pick a name.

Congratulations Svea! I think you're UK-based, so let me know your address and I'll get it in the post to you when I'm back in the UK next week.

Thursday, March 25, 2010

General Knowledge, á la Skip.

Inspired by my friend's post over at Skippedydoodah, here is my list of Ten Things You May Or May Not Know About Me:
  1. I am afraid of dolls. Absolutely, completely, thoroughly, embarrassingly afraid of them. I tried to get over it in order to buy Ruby a doll for Christmas last year, decided I really couldn't go through with it, and had to lock it in the boot of the car overnight until I could take it back the next day, because there was no way in hell I was going to sleep with that thing in my house.
  2. Chocolate covered pretzels are my weakness, and the single best thing about America. Don't get me wrong, there are loads of other great things too, but chocolate pretzels win, hands down. They almost make up for the healthcare system.
  3. I am in possession of a small girl who starts talking each morning practically before her eyes are open, and then doesn't stop. I adore her, obviously, but I often wish to throw her out of a window, particularly during that first ten minutes before the kettle has boiled and I have had my tea.
  4. I failed my cycling proficiency. You can point and laugh now. It's okay, I'm used to it.
  5. I can't cook rice. I just can't. I've tried everything, honestly.
  6. I haven't read a new book in about a year. I have fallbacks: Ian McEwan, Evelyn Waugh, Iain Banks, and J.K. Rowling (yeah, I know, I'm a kid at heart) are all 'safe', but outside of that I just don't seem to have the mental energy to embark upon things I haven't read before. I'm hoping it'll come back one day. Which leads us to...
  7. I rarely, oh so rarely, finish books. Short attention span + limited reading time = no qualms whatsoever when it comes to abandoning books halfway through. Cutthroat. Rah.
  8. My cat, Andy, had to be put to sleep last month, while I was over here in the States. I've had him since I was 4 years old, and I feel really, really guilty that I wasn't there.
  9. I take a binge and purge approach to housework. I let things pile up until I can't stand it any more, then I become a 1950s housewife, blitz the place, and live in domestic bliss for a week or two until things start to accumulate again.
  10. I want to be a writer when I grow up. And open a bar/restaurant. And start a children's clothing line. And open a flower shop. And maybe a cake shop. Baby steps, right?
So, those are my Ten Things. Now it's your turn. Go on, you know you want to.

Wednesday, March 24, 2010

Sweater to skirt in 30 minutes.

I'm going to make a disclaimer of sorts now, and say I have no idea how robust this design is – my sweater says hand wash only so that is what I will do – but if you have a sweater that is on its way to the sweater cemetery then you can't possibly have anything to lose.

I found this particular beauty for $4 in an east village thrift store, so I didn't have an enormous amount at stake. I'm not suggesting they all need to be quite this garish. You need to start with a sweater that fits comfortably around your hips. It also needs to be long enough from underarms to hem for you to be comfortable wearing it as a skirt. You can cut it shorter but not longer. You will also need a length of wide elastic, 1-2" shorter than your waist measurement.

Take the length of elastic you cut and sew a seam with the right sides together, to make what will become your waistband.

Open out the band you just made, and use a zigzag stitch to secure the raw edges. This will avoid any scratchiness on the waistband.

With the sweater the right side out and the waistband the wrong side out (so right sides facing), insert the bulk of the sweater inside the waistband, up under the arms. You will be sewing along the upper edge of the elastic.

Stretch out the elastic and pin in place at intervals around the sweater so that the stretch is even.

Zigzag stitch around the waistband, stretching it out as you go to ensure it is spread evenly around the sweater. If you are very brave and experienced you can cut the skirt first, but do so at you peril. I was such a scaredy puss that I zigzagged twice around the waistband before daring to cut.

When you are feeling secure enough in your stitching, you can cut the top part of the sweater off, following the line of the elastic. Rest assured that in the fullness of time I will think of something worthwhile to do with the upper body of your sweater.

Turn it back on itself and, voila, you have a skirt. Send me pictures of your own sweater-skirts and I'll stick them up here. Enjoy! xx

Tuesday, March 23, 2010

Tuesday Giveaway

Because, um, it's Tuesday and I'm giving something away.

Don't get all excited, it won't be happening every week. You should be so lucky.

So, as you may know, I made this beautiful top (well, I think it's beautiful, anyway, but perhaps I am more attached to it because of the element of thwartedness involved) which is of course of no use to me whatsoever. So I'm going to give it away.

It is too small on Ruby, who is nearly three (she weighs about 30lbs), but only just too small, and only around the chest, so it's close thing. I think it should fit a little one closer to her second birthday just fine, and will be a little longer obviously, maybe long enough to wear as a dress, or with leggings underneath. Anyone with a chest measurement under 20" should be okay.

So leave a comment, I'll give you till Sunday night and then I'll get the small girl to pick a name out of a hat. I want a good home for this thing. I'd be too sad to see it just put away somewhere and never worn, so tell your friends, spread the word, and check back for the results on Monday morning.

Sunday, March 21, 2010

Summer tunic with placket tutorial

So, I was going to do a tutorial for the top with the puff sleeves I made earlier in the week, but I decided to keep things a bit simple for now. This is a tutorial for a simple sleeveless tunic top with a placket, and once you have got the shape down, you can use it for more or less anything, and I will add separate tutes for puff sleeves and bells and whistles later. I based the placket on this tutorial from Made by Rae. I would suggest popping over there and looking through hers as well just to get a really clear idea of what you are doing before you begin.

If there's anything that is confusing please let me know so I can change it. It's long, with several thousand pictures, but surprisingly simple, so bear with it and thou shalt be rewarded.

You will need to pin down your victim and procure the following measurements, in inches:

- Chest, all the way around, as opposed to just across the chest;
- The length you want it to be, from shoulder to hem (mine is 16");
- Measurement around the upper arm;
- Shoulder width.

You will see that the lengths on the diagram below are marked as letters, so you should be able to make this fit your own child easily by doing a few simple sums.

C = your chest measurement divided by 4, plus 1"
L = your desired length (no sums required here!)
A = your full upper arm circumference, divided by 5 and multiplied by 4, to the nearest half inch
S = your shoulder width, minus 1", divided by two
H = C plus 1.5"

It pleases me greatly that these letters spell the word CLASH.

Cut out two pieces as below, rounding off the bottom edge as shown so that it is an inch or so higher at outside edge. Use a top you like as a guide for the neckline. You can either cut both the same, or choose to cut it higher on the back piece. Note that this pattern does not include seam allowances. For this particular project you will need to allow for seams at the shoulders, the sides, and the hem at the bottom, but the neckline and armholes will be finished with bias binding so there is no need for extra allowance here.

Using a contrasting fabric, cut two pieces for the band at the bottom of the tunic, indicated by the dashed line in the diagram. Mine was about 4" wide.

Using the same contrast fabric, you also need to cut a rectangle, 5.5" by 8", for your placket, and you will need to make enough double folded bias binding to finish your armholes and neckline (I needed about 40"). Make yourself a long piece of bias tape using these instructions, and follow the instructions for the straps on my summer dress for the folding.

Now you've got all your pieces you're ready to roll, so here goes.....

1) With the wrong side of your rectangle facing you, fold in and press 1/4" around the sides and bottom, and press in four creases, giving you five 1.5" sections.

2) Line up the centre of the rectangle with the centre of your front piece, and pin it in place, right sides together.

3) Following the creases you made, stitch around three sides of the middle section of the placket, leaving the top open.

4) Cut down the centre of the middle section, through both layers of fabric (terrifying, I know) and into the bottom left corner, as close as you can get to the seam without snipping through your stitches. Clip the bottom edge at the corners of the section you just stitched.

5) Fold and press the left flap across the centre to the right...

...and all the way round on itself so that it encases the raw edge where you just cut.

6) Pin and topstitch the edges.

7) Repeat stages 5 and 6 for the other side, only this time the bottom of the centre section needs to be stitched inside as well. You will end up with two placket pieces, one of which is attached at the bottom and side, and one which is sort of flapping about.

8) Pin one placket piece on top of the other (pick whichever one looks best) and stitch in place. Then give yourself a clap - you just made a placket! Isn't it pretty?

9) Join your front and back pieces at the shoulders and the sides, finishing the seams however you prefer. Stitch the ends of the two contrast strips together to make wide band, but do not finish the seams. Press them open instead to reduce bulk. They won't be visible when you're done.

10) With both pieces inside out, insert the main piece inside the contrast band, so the right side of the band is facing the wrong side of the main piece. Pin in place, and stitch all the way round the bottom edge.

11) Turn the top the right side out, and turn the contrast band back on itself so it's on the outside. Press and topstitch in place.

12) Turn the top edge of the contrast piece under. Press, pin and topstitch in place.

13) Sew the bias binding in place around the armholes and the neck.

14) Sew yourself a buttonhole on the top piece of your placket and stitch your button onto the underneath piece (noting how frickin' cool my cheshire cat button is as you do so)....

... and you're done!
Well done you.

Saturday, March 20, 2010

Don't fear the placket.

I have been mooning over Anna Maria Horner's beautiful children's prints for a while now, and when I found this very well-priced bundle of half-yards of her stunning flannels on Etsy I couldn't quite believe my luck.

This little top is the first thing I have made for the small girl from my little stash of gorgeousness, and I am feeling really quite pleased with myself

It's got a freakin' placket! And, you know what? Plackets: not as scary as you might think. I used this tutorial, and I'm really really glad to have conquered one more of those great big scary sewing hurdles. It opens up a whole world of possibilities....

There's only one minor glitch. Hardly worth mentioning, really. It's just that, well, I'm not actually sure it's going to fit its intended. I think it might be too tight across the chest. I'll have to wait and see in the morning, but if it doesn't fit her then I think it would make a sweet little dress for a smaller girl, so I'm sure it'll find a home one way or another. But, god, I'll be pissed off if I end up having to give away my first placket (which seems incidentally to be one of those words that loses all meaning once you've repeated it a few times).

Update: It fits! Just barely. If only I weren't such a complete numpty. But still, plackets are conquered and that's not a thing to sniff at...

Children's Museum of the Arts NYC

The CMA is one of our absolute favourite places in the city.

It's a non-profit organisation whose mission is "to extend the benefits of the arts to all children and their communities and to secure the future of the arts by inspiring and championing the next generation of artists and art lovers."

Ruby simply knows it as "The Art Place."

She begs to go there nearly every day, which pretty much sums up how brilliant it is.

Check out the website, and if you ever get the chance, don't pass up the opportunity to visit.

Happy little Wild Thing.

Sunday, March 14, 2010

Happy Mother's Day

It's funny being abroad for Mother's Day. I spoke to my mum on skype last night, and she emailed this morning to say that the present I sent her had arrived. I got flowers from Ruby via my parents in the UK and the marvels of the internet, which is pretty cool. On the whole though, it has to be said that without a father around to implement it (and with the rest of your family in different time zones), Mother's Day may as well be any other Sunday until your offspring are at least approaching double figures.

Between the rain and the stinking cold that we are both incubating (I smugly thought I had escaped the evils of this particular one that Ruby has been carrying snottily around all week, but, alas, how the mighty have fallen) we never even made it outdoors. There were tears and tantrums, not just hers. We did get our acts together in the end though, and did some rainy day crafty things, turning a cereal box into a television with the aid of sugar paper, sequins, feathers and lolly sticks. So that's something.

Oh, and the $5 flowers I got from Trader Joe's last week have rather surpassed themselves. Not just the hyacinth-and-narcissus combo I had initially suspected. Between those and the lovely pink roses from my parents, I'm not doing too badly for flora.

Wednesday, March 10, 2010

Summer dress tutorial

I got a whole bunch of lovely vintage fabric from Etsy for pennies so I have been pootling about making things all week and this is one of those things. This the first proper tutorial with pictures that I have done, so any input from you would be marvelous, as would any pictures you might like to send me of the fruits of your labour. This design is best suited to fabrics that don't unravel too easily. Also, be aware that it is unlined, so don't go for something too transparent.

So you need to start of with a trapezium of sorts. The straight vertical edge which you will place along the fold is 18". The top edge is 6" and the bottom edge is 9", and you join the ends of these two lines to get your diagonal. Round off the lower edge as shown in the very complex and state-of-the-art diagram below. For the front piece, you then measure 2" along each side from the top corner, and cut a curve (represented by the dotted line) to make your armholes. NOTE: I have improved upon the original ever so slightly and decided that, for best results, rather than cutting two pieces identically as shown below, the back piece needs a slightly narrower back, so for one of your pieces you should measure 3" along the top and 2" down the side to make a slightly wider curve.

This particular dress is designed for my nearly 3-year-old, but for moderation purposes, I would suggest increasing the length by 2" and the overall width by 1" for each size increase, so for a four year old your trapezium would be 20" high, 6.5" wide at the top, and 9.5"wide at the bottom. I haven't road-tested this theory though, so you may have to play around. Try measuring some existing clothes and decide what you think will work.

You need to cut two of these pieces, as well as one rectangle measuring 7" x 4", and two long strips measuring 24" x 1.5".

I like to get the fiddly bits out of the way first, so I started by pressing the long strips, which will form the straps of the dress. Fold in half lengthways, and press....

... then fold the two raw edges under to the centre and press again. Repeat with the other strap, and that's the really irritating fiddly done with.

Fold the 7" x 4" oblong in half and press, then tuck the raw edges under and press those too.

Using a long stitch and a low tension, sew across the top of your front piece, from the top of one armhole to the other and pull the bottom threads to gather it in until it is the same width as the rectangle you just pressed, securing the ends when you have it right.

Pin the gathered edge between the two folded edges of the rectangular piece, and sew in place. (don't forget to readjust your stitch length and tension. I always forget.)

Hem the top of your back piece, then join the sides of the dress, finishing the seams however you prefer, and hem the bottom. No pictures for that bit, but I'm assuming you know what it should look like.

Find the middle of one of your straps, and align it with the side seam at one of your armholes. Sandwiching the raw edge of your armhole between the two layers of the strap, pin carefully all the way around the armhole.

Starting at one end of the strap, sew along it entire length....

... around the armhole and all the way to the other end of the strap.

Finish the ends of the straps, tie them up on your model's shoulders (you can put in a few hand stitches to secure them in place if you prefer, or just leave them loose so that they can be adjusted as you like) and you're done.