Thursday, November 20, 2014

Introducing SHB

Wow, I took quite a break there, didn't I? I didn't even finish up my Geekiest Baby series, but in my defense A Lot of Things happened right after my previous blog post: we bought and moved into our first house, the school year started, and I birthed a SHB! I do plan on blogging more about that first item (although you can see a sneak peek of my new sewing area on Instagram!), the second item is irrelevant for now since I'm on maternity leave, and here I am to briefly discuss the third!

5 days old, sleeping in the Totoro bouncer.

8 days old, getting eaten by a whale shark.

It seems a little pathetic that it took me almost two months to get around to introducing SHB, but I think you'll all forgive me when I say that it wasn't really high on my priority list. Pretty sure that keeping said SHB alive (and myself, too) is more important, and my goodness gracious, they weren't kidding when they all said how demanding newborns are! I feel like the first month and half was just one incredibly long, sleepless day involving constant feeding/diapering/rocking/attempting to eat one-handed. It wasn't until a couple of weeks ago that SHB started settling into more of a routine and babywearing made it possible to ease back into sewing.

They say (goodness, I'm quoting "them" a lot) that parenthood is all about taking back your pre-parenting "I will nevers," e.g. "I will never cosleep" or "I will never drive around aimlessly just to get my baby to sleep." Well, I've ended up succumbing to the first and will probably do so to the second, too, so I guess I shouldn't be surprised that I've reneged on my promise to never sew baby clothes, previous reasoning being that 1) they're unnecessarily small and fiddly (you can't even fit the armsyce around the free arm of a sewing machine!) and 2) the returns are low (baby will never appreciate or express gratitude for handmade clothes, they'll be outgrown before they even have a chance to get worn twice, everything ends up covered in spit up anyway).'s been getting colder and our house has spotty heating, and SHB has needed more cardigan/sweatshirt/non-hooded outerwear to keep him warm. And it is ridiculously hard to find said items in stores, so the solution is, of course, to *sigh* sew it myself. I quickly drew up a basic pattern based on one of his hoodies, then set about making a cardigan-y thing out of the fuzzy fabric leftover from lining this jacket. Unfortunately, my sewing skills are apparently a little rusty, because I cut two right front pieces. *headdesk*

See how the left side isn't as fuzzy as the rest of the jacket? Also note that I didn't even attempt plaid-matching.

There wasn't enough fabric to cut another piece (stashbusting at its finest!), so I just sighed and told myself that babies thankfully don't care if their clothing is sewn wrong, then went ahead and finished the garment. Since the front was already messed up, I didn't even bother finishing my edges properly and just left the serged edges from the original piece of fabric. Things got super dicey at the neckline, where laziness (and impending baby-waking-up-from-nap) took over and I settled for a quick zigzag to stop fraying. Not the finest return to sewing, but hey, at this point function over form is my modus operandi.

Serged edges at the sleeves.

You can see the questionable neckline finish up top. I did French seam the sides and shoulders, though. 
Rather than dealing with snaps or buttonholes (whose bright idea was it, anyway, to put such fiddly closures on clothing intended for wiggly squirming babies?), I settled for non-aesthetically-pleasing Velcro.

At least SHB seems happy about wearing it!

Testing out the mobility of the sleeve cap with some punches...
This face could persuade me to sew a lot more tiny garments...

I may or may not end up making more of these, depending on how cold it gets/how much spitting up happens/how fast SHB grows, but for now I'm just happy to be back! One of the things I remember from reading some mommy blog years ago was to do something irreversible everyday. That is, being a mom involves so much that seems to get "undone," like I just fed the baby and now I have to feed it again, I just changed that diaper, I just washed those dishes, I just did the laundry, etc., that it's important to do irreversible things just to save your sanity. Even though it took a whole week to sew this simple garment, I can attest to the truth of that statement. I feel more like me and less like a zombie cow when I'm able to sew, even it it's just sewing a stitch here and a stitch there. Of course, one could argue that even sewing isn't quite irreversible since one can always wield a seam ripper...

Wednesday, August 6, 2014

The Geekiest Baby: Underwater Themed Quilts

Each year that I've blogged, I've sewn a giant sea animal. No such adventures this year, but I have sewn a couple of nautical/sea animal quilts for SHB. It's my first foray into quilting, and I've gotta say, it's pretty addicting. I used to look at quilters' blogs and quilt shops and wonder why on earth anyone would be into cutting up perfectly cute fabric into lots of tiny pieces that had to be measured and sewn exactly right, and then deal with all the hassle of trying to shove yards of fabric under and around on a sewing machine...and now I can say I (kind of) get the appeal. It's kind of fun to be able to get so many different prints into one object, and you really can't argue with the functionality (and cuddliness) of a finished quilt. I'm still not convinced about the fun of the actual quilting process (my walking foot has been acting up, and I can't adjust the pressure of my presser foot on my cheap sewing machine), and I'm purposely choosing quilt designs that don't require a lot of meticulous attention to detail, but generally I like it! First up, a not-overtly-babyish nautical quilt:

Included in this quilt are fabrics from several of the garments I've made in the past few years (Victorian bathing dress, Alice in Wonderland, pencil skirt, Father's Day shirtdress, nautical shorts, lobster dress, Belle cosplay)  plus a couple of fabrics from the stash of a friend's late MIL, who was a seamstress. I really love all the history and meaning carried in this quilt. 
Since this was my first foray into quilting, I opted to omit the batting and go for a fleece backing. This gray and navy chevron from Joann's was perfect for the nautical theme. 
Of course, since this was my first quilt, my stitch lines pretty wavy and my squares don't match perfectly at the corners...

I actually made this first quilt for SHB with very little planning -- it was just a spur of the moment project because I was sorting my remnant stash, and I noticed how much blue fabric I had that would all coordinate nicely -- just some quick sketches on post-it notes, and I suddenly found myself cutting out several squares. That first quilt was so gratifying, I immediately went out and OD-ed on cute sea animal prints at the closest indie fabric store (absolutely amazing store, BTW...excellent curation of quilting cottons, Japanese fabrics, and apparel fabrics!).

There's so much cute in this, I might die. If I weren't so pregnant mature, I would make (and wear) dresses from all of these fabrics.
The whale fabric wasn't quite wide enough to span the whole quilt, but I think I did a pretty good job of piecing it semi-unobtrusively!
These sharks were my favorite. 
For this quilt, I used real batting in between two layers of quilting cotton, which was much harder to work with than the fleece backing/no batting option. I quilted this one with wavy lines because of the ocean. Actually, it's because I didn't trust myself to sew straight lines. 
Unfortunately, the wavy quilting lines accidentally made the backing (also from Joann's) pretty wavy too. But that's just part of the character of home-made quilts, right? Right? And in the spirit of honesty, that teal strip is there only because the polka dot fabric wasn't quite wide enough on its own. 

And then just as a bonus, because sports team fabrics were on sale at Joann's, I made a concession to Mr. Cation's love of a certain baseball team:

Wanna take a wild guess as to why there's a strip of orange fabric in the middle? If you said it's because I was stingy and didn't want to pay for more than a third of a yard of licensed fabric, you would be correct! Thankfully, I had a perfectly coordinating orange fleece remnant at home. 
Since the top was fleece, I left out the batting again and just used part of a thrifted sheet (from the same sheet as the Totoro bouncer cover!) for the backing. I went for a more abstract straight line design this time. 
I got really good at mitered corners by the third quilt. My favorite detail? The fact that I was able to use the same gray and white striped sheet to make the binding for all the quilts! It coordinated so well with each, and it's a nice detail that ties the three of them together. 

Just to prove how into quilting I got, these three quilts were all made in the span of oh, 2.5 weeks? I had to take a break after that quilting frenzy, though, and make some other stuff. I still am slowly collecting fabric for a geeky science quilt though, so that's coming up eventually...

Summary (boring stats, just for my own record-keeping)

Quilt #1:
Fabric: 100% cotton scraps, cut into squares, all prewashed, and a yard of 100% polyester anti-pill fleece for backing
Pattern: None
Hours: Twelve or so...I spent a lot of time playing around with square placement.
Total cost: $5 for the fleece, everything else was stash

Quilt #2:
Fabric: 1/4 yard each of the prints, 1.5 yards of the polka dot, and 2/3 yard of the teal, all un-pre-washed...we'll see how it looks after washing! I used a 50/50 bamboo rayon/cotton batting, too.
Pattern: Loosely based off of this easy baby quilt
Hours: Twenty? It was much larger and harder to manipulate, plus more print placement and trying to deal with grainlines on the teal borders
Total cost: About $45, all bought new specifically for this quilt (except for the border)

Quilt #3:
Fabric: 1/3 yard of SF Giants' fleece, a scrap of anti-pill orange fleece, 100% cotton sheet, thrifted, for backing
Pattern: None
Hours: Five
Total cost: $5, again, only the Giants' fleece was bought new, everything else was stash

Final thoughts on all three: Quilts are so satisfying to look at when they're done, and it's refreshing to make something that doesn't really require fitting. Even if I make a mistake in measuring or cutting, it doesn't really affect the final product other than to give it more um, quirky individuality. I don't think I'll ever get more complicated than these simple tops and straightforward quilting "designs" (if you can even call them designs!), but it's nice to make something cozy for SHB that has my love sewn into every stitch, or some such nonsense...

Thursday, July 31, 2014

The Geekiest Baby: A Brain-Stimulating Mobile

Earlier this week, I shared my frustration with gender-ified, bland baby things and did my best to rectify the situation. Well, another pet peeve I have is how baby things tend to be so pastel. It's like somebody took a normal room or item and then turned the color saturation dial waaaay down. This strikes me as silly for a couple of reasons:

1) Babies are dirty (so I hear). If they're going to be spitting up and pooping on things, shouldn't we be going for darker colors and busier patterns to camouflage those suspicious stains? This is exactly why I got a dark gray car: so that it's less obvious that I haven't washed it in over half a year. (Unfortunately, this doesn't work as well for dark clothing, since it just serves to better show off all the cat hair I've got on me.)

2) Babies don't register all those washed-out colors very well. Child development research shows that a baby's visual development is best stimulated by high contrast patterns, specifically with the colors black, white, and red. Of course, by that token, the ideal nursery theme would be Tim Burton's Sweeney Todd or Alice in Wonderland costume wardrobe. Unfortunately, I don't think a murdering barber who promotes cannibalism is the most appropriate role model for a Small Human Being...

Anyway, as I said, SHB's nursery theme is "Enchantment Under the Sea," so rather than spend money on a pastel mobile that couldn't even be bothered to include more than one type of sea animal (although the coordinating bedding *is* awfully cute, I must admit), I figured I could just make my own. There are lots of tutorials out there showing how to make a mobile with varying levels of complexity, and there are templates out there with high-contrast black and white patterns, so with the help of this tutorial, I came up with my own low-budget, under the sea themed mobile. 

Featuring waves, a starfish, a sailboat, bubbles, coral, a generic fish, and a crab with the wrong number of legs...

All dangling from an embroidery hoop!

The shapes were free-handed onto some stash felt and fleece scraps, then I sewed some twill tape to the backs for hanging. I thought about painting the hoop and getting black and white ribbon, but decided that I didn't care enough, so I left the hoop alone and just used leftover wedding ribbon for hanging everything.

It's not as clean and pretty as some of the tutorials, but it's functional (as long as you're not expecting it to play music and twirl around).

The patterned squares can theoretically be switched out for other ones. I don't think I'll be making more, though...

Now that I look at it some more, I find the crab's smile really creepy. 


Next up: under the sea themed art!

Sunday, July 27, 2014

The Geekiest Baby: Totoro-Themed Bouncer

As Mr. Cation and I have been preparing for SHB's arrival, we've noticed a couple of things:

1) Cat-themed baby things are inevitably pink. It's like baby item designers/manufacturers all think cats = girls and dogs = boys. Even if SHB were a girl, I don't like pink that much, nor do I want to financially support the erroneous idea that only females can love cats.* So a cat-themed nursery is out. (While I could make quite a few cat-themed baby things myself, namely the textile-based items, I don't feel like making an entire baby arsenal.)

2) Since we're not going cat-themed, we decided to go with an "under the sea" theme instead, for no reason other than that it seemed gender-neutral and with geek-potential (I mean, how cool are hagfish, blobfish, and anglerfish!) without buying into lots of licensed merchandise (e.g. Star Wars or superheroes). Also, whale-themed baby bath things are both plentiful and ridiculously cute.

2) But unfortunately, baby things are expensive! If we thought wedding planning was bad, baby planning is even worse. Slap the word "wedding" or "baby" on anything and the price goes up. So buying everything new is out of the question, not to mention very consumeristic and unnecessary. I'm trying to make what I can (but I'm also giving myself permission to not feel like I have to make everything just because I can), but some things we are buying used.

Like this bouncer:

I got a great deal on a used one in good condition, but I was bothered for a really superficial reason: the "Snugabunny" theme. I have no sentimental attachment to bunnies or birds, but even if I could change up the textile portions of the bouncer, there's still that plastic leaf that is decidedly not marine in nature. I know, I know, SHB won't care and it certainly doesn't matter in the long run if all the baby things coordinate...but a tiny part of me still cares! As soon as I brought the bouncer back home, I started wracking my brain trying to think of how I could, if not marine-ify it, at least geek it up some so that it wasn't so...bland. As I thought more about that annoying leaf, though, I was reminded of all the times you see Totoro and his fellow forest spirits holding or wearing leaves.

A quick rummage through the stash, some frenzied measuring and sketching, and a couple of late night sewing sessions later, I had this:

Sometimes I impress even myself. I'm sorry, was that too self-congratulatory? It's the truth, though! I really am quite pleased with myself for figuring out how to make a unique cover that fits with the bouncer's green leaf elements. And the soot sprite dangly things are high-contrast black and white shapes to boot!

It was actually pretty easy to make this Totoro cover, since he's a fairly simple shape oval shape. The trickiest parts were probably trying to decide how I wanted to 1) make the holes for the straps, and 2) how to make the cover fit over the existing cushion.

The main shape is simple enough. I did manage to put the V's on slightly off-center though. Not so consummate after all, I guess. 
I decided on this arrangement on the back so that I could just slip the cover over the existing cushion. I underlined the front piece with some anti-pill fleece so that the lumps from the original cushion would show through the thinner gray fabric, and also to provide some stability for sewing on the facial features.  
Its face from the underside looks a little creepy, doesn't it? Like some weird Sith Lord wearing a hood.

The grosgrain ribbon strap helps it stay on the existing cushion. 
I ended up just making rectangles with a zig-zag stitch and then cutting a slit in the middle (like really huge buttonholes) for the straps to come through. 

The soot sprites seemed like the perfect way to complete the Totoro theme; they were just little circles of black fleece that I cut out with my pinking shears (for the fuzzy sooty outline, you know) and sewed and stuffed.

Ignore the creepy wide-eyed Totoro stare in the background...

I sewed a piece of twill tape to the back so that I could tie the sprites to the plastic arm of the leaf. 

Fabric: Less than a quarter of a gray sheet, yellow fleece for underlining, and scraps of cream-colored rayon jersey knit, white fleece, and black fleece
Notions: Steam-A-Seam to fuse the gray V's to the Totoro's tummy, grosgrain ribbon and velcro for the strap in the back
Hours: About seven? I took my time handstitching the facial features, but everything else was quick to do on the machine.
Will you make it again? Not unless I have a really good reason to.
Total cost: Considering that this was all made with stash fabrics leftover from other projects, I'm going to say that this cost less than $5.
Final thoughts: I'm really pleased with how much more personalized this bouncer is now! Mr. Cation suggested that I make a Totoro outfit for SHB and a hoodie for him, then we can do family pictures with this bouncer and Walnut the Catbus (he certainly has the right coloring!).

What's this? Who are you?

I'm not too sure about this guy and his unblinking stare...

Me and my buddy the soot sprite are just gonna hang out on your face, if that's okay with you, Mr. Totoro. I guess you're alright.

This is just the start of what I hope will be the geekiest set of baby things ever. I've been nesting like crazy, so I've got some other cool crafts to show off (if you follow me on Instagram, you've already seen some previews!) in the coming week(s).

A more pinnable image, in case anyone else needs geeky nursery inspiration!

*Apparently, as early as 2008, it was becoming more okay for men to love cats! I'm so glad that Mr. Cation loves Walnut as much as I do. I think men who love cats really are better, and I certainly hope SHB becomes one!

Friday, July 25, 2014

My Neighbor Totoro: Now in Wearable Form!

The first Hayao Miyazaki film I ever saw was Tonari no Totoro, or My Neighbor Totoro. I think I was already in high school at the time, but I was still utterly enchanted by the adorable little soot sprites and forest spirits, the ridiculous catbus, and of course, the giant Totoro. I loved it enough to get (okay, cajole my my mom into getting for me) a giant plushie from Hong Kong that we had to buy a new piece of luggage for in order to transport home. I've always wanted a wearable something with Totoro on it, but the licensed merchandise has always felt too expensive for my budget...but wait! I sew! I guess it was only a matter of time before I matched up the Totoro tummy to the free By Hand London Polly top pattern.

Is that inset panel perfect or what?

Of course, it doesn't hurt that at two months to go, I feel as huge as a certain big-bellied forest spirit...

I know, I know, it's only going to get bigger. 

I have a hard time wrapping my mind around that thought, though...

I decided I wanted some sleeves on this top, so I slapped on the flutter sleeves from Tanit-Isis' Ariadne tunic. I don't know why I love flutter sleeves so much (they're always impractically bulky when stuffed into a cardigan), but I do. I think these nicely complement the flowiness of the top. Obviously I didn't have to finish the armholes with bias binding anymore, and then the neckline is my standard knit neckline finish, and I didn't bother with hemming. And because I was really that lazy, I didn't even bother to actually set in the inset -- I just laid the whole thing under the outer part and topstitched it, and rather haphazardly, I might add. Probably the most time-consuming part of the whole project was determining the size and placement of the little upside-down V's on the inset. I cut out a bunch of sample V's and experimented with what looked right, and then attached the final shapes to the inset with some fusible web.

Confession: if you follow me on IG you know I actually made this top two months ago, but am only just now getting around to blogging it. 
Consummate V's! I said consummate!

Fabric: 2/3 yard of light gray rayon jersey from the East Bay Depot for Creative Reuse, a small piece of white rayon jersey for the inset
Notions: Lite Steam-A-Seam 2 for the appliques
Hours: Less than three? I love fast and gratifying projects!
Will you make it again? Pretty sure I will, considering that this is the third Polly top I've made!
Total cost: $1...much better than a $20, mass-produced, non-flattering top!*
Final thoughts: I feel like I should make Walnut a Catbus costume to go with my top. Hah! Who am I kidding, he would hate that. Anyway, I love that this loose, swingy top has taken me from second trimester to third trimester, and there's still room for more growth. The thin fabric makes it a perfect top for the 90 degree weather we're having right now. California's drought really makes for a different backdrop for pictures than the lush green Japanese forest where Totoro can be found!

I've got another Totoro project to show off next, but it's for the SHB this time...stay tuned!

*Have you seen this? Considering that this top is unique, suits my changing body, and expresses my fandom love, I had fun making it, and it was made with cheap fabric on a cheap machine with free patterns...I think sewing my own clothes is definitely worth it.

Wednesday, July 23, 2014

Copying RTW Clothing Using Silk Organza

As I mentioned in my last post, I took two classes this summer at Canada College, one of which was Copying RTW with Lynda Maynard. I wasn't really sure what to expect from this class, especially since I've already copied a couple of my favorite RTW items both by taking them apart, and by using the pin-stabbing method (pretty sure that's not the official name, but that's what I call it). But then, I thought I already had a good idea of what I was doing when I went into Lynda's bustier construction class (because you know, I'd already made up that pattern once), and yet I still learned tons. By now I know that Lynda is full of useful tips and of course she has years of experience, so I went ahead and signed up for the class anyway.

Lynda's method is very different from the more slapdash pin-stabbing method, and just as precise as the deconstructing-a-garment method, except that it doesn't require taking the garment apart! I'll do my best to give a brief overview of the process. She recommended that we start with a striped or plaid woven garment, just to make the process more straightforward. To be honest, there aren't that many RTW woven garments I wear anymore aside from jeans (partly because my shape is constantly changing, and stretchy garments are so much more comfortable, and partly because most of my woven garments even from pre-pregnancy are me-made!), so I decided to try rubbing off one of Mr. Cation's casual button-down shirts. It's originally from G by Guess, and was quite pricey, but it's got some interesting style lines. Most importantly, though, it's plaid, so the grain lines are very easy to follow!

Here's what the original shirt looks like on Mr. Cation. 

Least favorite part: the huge honking piece of embroidery on the back. 

It's important to be able to see the grain lines because the first thing we did was use brightly colored thread to trace the grain lines (and seam lines, if they are hard to see) on each individual piece of the garment. Lynda recommended that for large pattern pieces, (e.g. the center back piece), we put in multiple grain lines for reference points.

I almost didn't need to put in my thread tracing because the plaid makes it so easy to see!
Here's the interesting little front piece that makes this shirt so unique, all thread traced.

After the grain lines are all marked, we measured the distances between them and penciled in the same lines on silk organza pieces that were cut to be about the same size (but slightly bigger) than the individual pattern pieces. It's important to use silk organza because 1) it's see-through, 2) it's flexible but still fairly stable. (One could technically use poly or nylon organza, but those tend to be shiny and harder to work with.) We then pinned the marked-up pieces of silk organza to the garment by matching the grainline thread-markings to the pencil markings. From there, it's just a matter of smoothing the organza over the rest of the pattern piece and pinning the heck out of it.

I'm pinning the silk organza to the bias-cut outer yoke piece here.

In this way, you are mirroring the pattern piece shape with the flexible organza (this is why it's better than trying to spread out the garment on paper and pin it), which theoretically makes it easier to rub off complex garments with weird, curved pieces. Once the organza is pinned to the pattern piece, you use pencil to mark the seam lines and any other places of note, e.g. where pattern pieces join or pleats and darts. When you unpin the organza, the shape of the pattern piece should be all sketched out!

Here's how the front piece and collar pieces turned out when traced onto the silk organza. The solid lines are my grain lines to match the thread tracing, and the dashed lines are my rub off of the seam lines. 

The sleeve, with markings showing where the button tab, sleeve placket, and pleat went. After unpinning the silk organza, we had to go back and measure all the seam line lengths to make sure that we rubbed it off correctly. Then we had to measure all the seams that went together to make sure that they matched. All this work paid off, though, since by the time it came to actually sewing, we were assured of an accurate pattern where all the pieces fit together perfectly!

Mr. Cation's shirt was pretty straightforward to rub off; some people in our class had bias-cut cowl necks, crazy gathered sleeves, lace insertion, and other design elements on their garments. It'll be interesting to apply this method to a more "difficult" piece to see how it works! In the meantime, I transferred the markings on my silk organza pieces to paper, then sewed up a muslin.

And here's what it looks like all laid out. Look at those nice sleeve plackets! It's the first time I've ever done a real tower placket, thanks to the helpful Threads tutorial and pattern. I did manage to sew my first one on inside out, though...

According the Mr. Cation, the fit feels the same (as it should!), although there was a moment of alarm when I presented the muslin to him and he was like, "This isn't going to be the real shirt material, right?!"

And back.

The whole process was definitely more time-consuming than a pin-stabbing rub off, but the results are incredibly accurate. Lynda's only caveat was that if one is doing a rub-off with stretchy fabric, one has to be very careful not to distort the fabric in any way, and then of course there's the challenge of finding a fashion fabric with the same amount of stretch and drape. Generally, though, I'm pretty excited about this method. There are a lot more details that she went over in class, like how to transfer the darts and such, but apparently you can find all of the same information in Kenneth King's CD book (I'm not being paid to link to him, just passing on the information in case anyone is interested!).  

I'm not sure when I'll get around to actually making this shirt in real fabric, what with school starting in a month and SHB coming the month after that...also, Mr. Cation is incredibly picky about what he wears, so finding an appropriate plaid will be a challenge! Where do all of you ladies who sew for your significant others find good shirting material?