My January Sewing, in a single post

I had a big burst of sewing activity before Christmas and spent my time away for the holiday plotting a huge list of things I wanted to make as soon as I got back. But once I was home, my motivation took a nose dive. All told, I managed to finish a single sewing project in January–another pair of Winter PJs for my godson’s birthday.

Jonas PJs

(Adorable PJ photos courtesy of my friend, Nicole)

J is currently very into what he calls “jungle” print, and I got the idea to make these when I saw a camo “jungle” cotton spandex jersey pop up on Girl Charlee. I cut the cuffs and neckband from some leftover black Kaufman Laguna jersey. I made these in a straight size 6. For reference, my friend says J usually wears a size 5 or boys XS.

The only other significant sewing thing that happened in January was that I finally got myself a serger. I’ve been wanting and then talking myself out of getting a serger since I started sewing. I just didn’t feel like I did enough sewing or had enough room to justify a second machine. But the three pairs of Winter PJs I made for our nephews for Christmas (or, more specifically, the tediousness of finishing every seam in triplicate) finally convinced me it was time.

serger

I went with the ever-popular Brother 1034D. I was a little hesitant to get this machine because I’ve had two lower-end mechanical Brother machines that were pretty crappy and difficult to use. But I’m really happy with this serger so far. It was really easy to get the tension adjusted and I was able to thread it right on the very first go. People have complained that this machine is loud. It’s definitely not quiet, but I don’t think it’s much louder than my regular machine is when I’m using my walking foot (which is most of the time).

I used my new serger to make J’s “jungle” PJs. I didn’t feel confident enough to just serge all of the seams, especially since they were a gift, so I sewed the seams on my regular machine first and then finished them on the serger. I’m feeling confident enough at this point to just use the serger for mostly straight seams but I’m going to need some serious practice before I feel good about serging curved seams. Anyway, I’m excited about my new machine. It’s fun to use.

I’ve got a new project in progress, so the sewing landscape for February is already looking brighter. Maybe I’ll actually finish two whole projects this month!

Handmade Christmas Gifts 2015

So here’s the run-down of everything I made for Christmas this year. I didn’t make much, which was the right choice given that this was The Year of Stress. I managed to finish everything up by mid-December without any rushed, late night speed-crafting sessions so I’m pleased.

Winterlong

img_7082_medium21

Recipient: My dad’s girlfriend, Jess

Pattern: Winterlong by Bristol Ivy

Yarn: Patons Classic Wool in Grey Mix

Notes: I still love this pattern as much as the first time I made it and would make it a third time in a heart beat. I decided to make this for Jess while we sat together in the waiting room during my dad’s bypass surgery in October. She is a wonderful person, and I was very grateful to have her there.

Family Stockings for the Newest Additions

Modern Classics Stockings

Recipients: Our twin nephews, Gus and Oliver

Pattern: Modern Classics Stocking

Yarn: Knit Picks Wool of the Andes in Hollyberry and White

Notes: This is the sixth and seventh time I’ve made this pattern. I made stockings for me and Aidan about six years ago, and then another set for Aidan’s sister, her wife, and their son a couple of years ago. They had twins in August, and so the new boys needed stockings to match the rest of the family. As I’ve done every time before, I mixed the “classic” and “modern” charts from the pattern. It’s a good thing that these are quick to knit (I think I managed the second one in three days?), because I was not feeling this project, which made for rather joyless obligation knitting.

Ninja PJs

Alex and Anna Winter PJs

Recipients: Our trio of nephews–Rowan, Gus, and Oliver

Pattern: Alex and Anna Winter PJsAlex and Anna Winter PJs

Fabric: Blue Riley Blake “Year of the Ninja” cotton-spandex jersey, plus some black cotton-spandex leftovers for the neckbands and cuffs

Notes: This project was driven entirely by the potential cuteness of getting all three boys in some kind of matching clothes. Rowan is almost five, so getting him on board with matching his baby brothers seemed like a window that could slam shut at any moment. I went with the Winter PJs pattern because it has a huge size range (3 months to a size 12), and because they are similar in style to the PJs Rowan usually wears.

Alex and Anna Winter PJs

Figuring out sizing was a bit tricky. Rowan is such a skinny thing that his waist measurement puts him in the 6 months size. I ended up following the 3T for width (but cutting the elastic shorter than recommended for the 3T) and extending to the 4T for length. The twins’ measurements put them squarely in the 3 months size at Thanksgiving. They are growing fast (as babies do) so I was worried that the 6 mos size would fit them for about a minute, but the next size up was the 12 mos. I improvised a sort of 6-9 months size by using the 6 mos size as a base, adding a little bit of extra length, and then sewing them with a slightly smaller seam allowance.

Alex and Anna Winter PJs

When I was looking for reviews of this pattern, it was hard to find much discussion of the sizing, beyond that they are meant to be close fitting. I haven’t seen the babies in their PJs, but I was surprised at just how close-fitting Rowan’s were, especially since his width-wise measurements put him in the 6 mos size and I made him a 3T in width. It might have just been shocking since he is so skinny that all his clothes are baggy–my father-in-law even asked, “How did you get them to fit so close?”

Alex and Anna Winter PJs

Rowan’s PJs fit him really well right now, but it makes me nervous about the fit on the baby PJs and makes me wish I had washed and dried the fabric twice before cutting. I would also say that the length on Rowan’s pair seems just right for his size. So, to sum it up, these are really cute but you definitely need a jersey with at least 50% stretch and you should just automatically cut one size up–it won’t give you baggy PJs; it will just give you some wiggle room.

So that was the gift scene this year. I don’t think I disappointed anyone terribly by giving them something handmade rather than, say, a Target gift card. The real risk was giving the 4-year-old clothes. But we also gave him a truck that shoots out Hot Wheels, so I think we managed to balance the scales.

Baby Gift x3: Snugglers and Maddie Hoodies

I was already in the process of planning a baby gift for a friend when we found out that we’re going to have twin nieces or nephews (or some combination of the two—why is there not a gender-neutral word to express that relationship in English?) coming into our family at the end of the summer. For some reason, the idea of picking a couple of patterns and making them in triplicate seemed like great fun to me. And, indeed, it was a lot of fun to see all three items lined up at the end and feel like I was the master of the pattern, which I think is mostly a reflection of the way the meaning of “fun” shifts when it’s deep winter in central New York and you’re at the height of a job search. Anyway…

Lotta Jansdotter Snuggler

First up, I made some baby swaddlers. The pattern I used is originally from Lotta Jansdotter’s book Simple Sewing for Baby, but it’s also available for free on MAKE. I used quilting cotton for the outside layer and flannel for the lining. These are generally pretty easy to make, except for two little hiccups. First, if you use the free pdf version of the pattern, there aren’t any reference points for assembling the pages and there is a substantial amount of (unmarked) overlap between the pages, making this the least intuitive/most unnecessarily frustrating pdf pattern I’ve encountered. I didn’t come across it until after I had managed to put the pattern together, but there is a picture of the assembled pattern on Zaaberry, which would definitely would have been helpful.

Lotta Jansdotter Snuggler

The other tricky bit is the step where you have to sew the lining to the outer shell. At that point, you have to find a way to sew around both the inner part of the pouch and the swaddle flaps (for lack of a better term), and if you’re not careful as you pivot around that corner, the fabric can easily get twisted up at the seam where the two connect. Rather than trying to sew the seam in one pass, I started at the top of the inner part of the pouch and sewed to the side seam, repeated for the other side, and then sewed from side seam to side seam (leaving an opening to turn the swaddler inside out) around the swaddler flaps. Does that make any sense?

Blood Orange Maddie Hoodie

The hooded cardigans are Carrie Bostick Hodge’s Maddie Hoodie pattern. I knit up the 12 mos size and followed the pattern almost to the letter, except that my row gauge was off just enough to require some minor adjustments to the sleeve increases and to the row counts for the hood. I used Berroco Weekend DK in Blood Orange, Seedling, and Swimming Hole for the main colors and Daisy for the stripes. I really liked this yarn and would definitely use it again for kid stuff.

Maddie Hoodie pocket

This pattern is very easy to follow, but there is a fair bit of finishing work for such a small cardigan—seaming the pockets, seaming the sleeves, extra ends to weave in from the stripes, and a bunch of buttons to sew on. If you aren’t knitting three of these cardigans in a row, I suspect the finishing is less of an ordeal. The little green sweater sat around for two months before I could stomach another round of buttons. Anyway, I like that it’s a basic style with some more distinct details. Like those little pockets! So useless, but so cute. They will be great for storing things like runaway Cheerios and partially smashed blueberries.

Maddie Hoodie in Berroco Weekend DK

My own style tends enough toward “somber” and “boring” that the best part of making things for small people is using color and bright prints. Now that we’re moving closer to our families, I’m going to make a habit of regularly measuring our smaller family members so I can make fun, bright things when the mood strikes. I’m sure it won’t be weird at all when I try to wrangle them with a measuring tape.

Lotta Snugglers and Maddie Hoodies

Basic Socks and a Wee Liesl

After I finished my Grandpa cardigan (which I still haven’t photographed yet, but which has been blocked and now has buttons and has been on my back every couple of days since then), I was feeling the need for some quick and mindless knitting. I started by finishing up two small projects that I’d had laying around for awhile. The first finished project was another pair of socks for Aidan. There isn’t much to say about these since they are pretty much the same as every other pair of socks I make for him—top down in 2×2 rib worked over 72 sts on US size 1 needles. This yarn is Regia 4 Ply Terra in the Anthracite colorway. I think this is something like the 12th or 13th pair of socks I’ve made for Aidan over the last seven years, and only one pair has bit the dust so far.

Anthracite Socks

The second finished project was a little cardigan that I started making at some point last spring when I was in the middle of a knitting funk. I had just finished up my Blank Canvas sweater, and I didn’t have a project that I felt inspired to work on but my hands felt restless. When I saw the pattern pop up on Ravelry, I thought: that purple yarn that I never know what to do with would be perfect for this. And so , even though I didn’t have a recipient in mind and didn’t even know anyone with an infant- to toddler-sized girl, I cast on. I managed to get about 3/4 of the way through the body of the sweater before I finally thought, “What the hell am I going to do with this sweater?”, shoved it in the back of my knitting bin, forgot about it, and settled back into my knitting funk.

Wee Liesl Cardigan

The pattern is Ysolda Teague’s Wee Liesl and the yarn is Serenity Sock in violet. The pink buttons were the only appropriate button choice I had on hand, so I decided to just embrace the super-princess look. I knit the 18-24 months size to use up the maximum amount of yarn. This was a fun and frivolous knitting project and the result is pretty cute. If I were a toddler, I would probably style this cardigan with rainbow striped leggings and heart-shaped sunglasses. In the time between me setting this cardigan aside and then finally finishing it, a friend actually had a little girl, and so this cardigan will now be going to my new little friend Yusra (who was also the recipient of the Pomander cardigan). She probably won’t fit into it for another year, but I’m sure she will look very cute in it when she does.

After finishing up the socks and cardigan, I was on a roll and managed to knit up a cowl and two hats in the span of a week. Now I’m in the middle of a fingering-weight pullover that I’m knitting. For a mostly sweater knit almost entirely in stockinette at about 8 stitches per inch, it’s going surprisingly fast. I’m still trying to plug along with sewing, but honestly, I have a lot on my plate right now and knitting is my comfort craft. So if I post a lot more about knitting than I do about sewing, it’s just because my hands and my brain are going with what they know best!

Catching Up

I went on vacation, had a great time, and came back with absolutely no desire to blog. So now I’ve got a lot of projects, both finished and in progress, to catch you all up on.

Things Recently Finished:

Before we left for our vacation, I made up two more Birgitte tees, including this black and white striped one. I used rayon blend jerseys for both, and while the fabric is stretchy enough for the pattern, it’s less stretchy than the spandex-rayon blend I used for my long-sleeved gray tee. The less stretchy fabric has revealed some fit issues at the shoulder and armscye. I think I’ve figured out how to fix the problem, and I’m planning to post about it more detail once I’ve made up a modified version.

As part of our vacation preparations, I also stopped at JoAnn’s and picked up some sock yarn for some basically brainless leisure knitting. I haven’t really felt like knitting, but once I got going on these, the urge to knit came rushing back—and just in time for the summer humidity. The yarn is Patons Kroy FX in the Celestial colorway. I didn’t use a pattern. These days, 95% of the socks I make are improvised based on lots of sock-knitting experience and what I can remember from the basic top-down sock recipe in Stephanie Pearl-McPhee’s book Knitting Rules.

Horse Pajama Shorts

Post-vacation, I went on a little pajama bender, starting with two pairs of PJ shorts made for my youngest sisters, who are 12 and 14. The horse fabric was the inspiration for this project—when I saw it, I immediately thought of my 14 year old sister who is creative, artsy, goofy, and a die-hard horse lover. I knew I had to make her something with this fabric, and I decided that PJ shorts would be easy, economical in terms of fabric yardage, and easy to fit from afar (my sisters live in Wisconsin). The horse fabric is a light-weight cotton jersey I bought from Girl Charlee. This fabric would be fine for a t-shirt, but I thought it was too light for shorts so I sacrificed two of Aidan’s older undershirts to use as an underlining. With the underlining, they are a perfect weight and should be really comfortable.

Lightening Bolt Pajamas

For the 12 year old, I used a medium-weight cotton-lycra blend, also from Girl Charlee, with some hot pink lightening bolts that remind me of the new Ms. Marvel. For both pairs of shorts, I used this free pattern from Liesl Made. The pattern is intended for wovens (and includes a nice tutorial for making them up with french seams if that is of interest to you). But since some have complained that the sizes run a bit small, I figured it would probably work out all right with stretchy fabrics. Based purely on the size sweatpants they were wearing when I called my dad on Easter, I used the size L for the horse pjs and the size M for the lightening bolts. I added a fake drawstring to each, mostly so they can easily differentiate the front from the back.

I also made a pair of pajama shorts for Aidan, but I’ll probably write up a dedicated blog post on those. As a spoiler, I can tell you that they were made with this awesome fabric.

Chambray Izzy Top - Front View

Izzy Top - Back View

After making all those PJs, I was at a bit of a loss as to what to make next. When I saw the free pattern for the Izzy Top pop up on Pinterest, I decided on a complete dissertation-procrastinating whim to make one up in the fabric leftover from my failed chambray shirt project. The gathering is uneven, especially in the back—the pattern uses a 3/8” seam allowance, which wasn’t wide enough to sew two rows of gathering stitches, and it was hard to gather the fabric with a single line of gathering stitches given how light the fabric is. Regardless, it was a quick project that turned out to be really cute. I made up the 18 mos size, which is as small as the pattern goes. The only thing is that I don’t actually know any girl children who would fit into this little shirt. Luckily, kids have a way of continually appearing in the world, so I think it’s safe to that I’ll eventually find someone to gift this to.

Things Currently In Progress:

apres

When I read Amy Herzog’s blog post about the Custom Fit Summer Sweater Knit Along, I got inspired to knit up a lightweight sweater. So I ordered some Valley Yarns Charlemont in Dusk and started making up the Apres Surf Hoodie pattern from the 2008 Summer issue of Interweave Knits. I’m not actually participating in the CustomFit KAL—I thought about giving CustomFit a go, but instead decided to just do my own math. We’ll see how all of my modifications work out. So far I’ve finished the back and about 75% of the front.

McCalls 6035 and Soft White Cotton Couture Broadcloth

On the sewing front, I’m working on fitting McCall’s 6035. It’s going to be a multi-muslin affair, but I’m optimistic, and the time put into fitting makes sense to me given that this is a pattern I could see myself making several times. Once I’ve got the fitting worked out, I’m planning to sew up View C (with the rolled 3/4 sleeves) in some white Michael Miller Cotton Couture Broadcloth. Even though it’s the end of the month, I’m still claiming this as my June Make A Garment A Month project. I can’t imagine I’ll finish it by the end of the month, but I like to interpret the end of the month as more of a soft deadline.

So that’s my big project update. I hope your summer is off to a great start!

Beach Robes

I’ve been sewing for small people! I made up some beach robes for our nephew and our godson–both boys are 3, and I’m sure they’ll both be eager to do a lot of swimming this summer.

Beach Robes via sweetalchemy.wordpress.com

I’m not sure what possessed me to take on this project, other than that these are pretty cute and they seem useful. In my experience, little kids will play in the water until they are shivering and their lips are blue, but that doesn’t mean you can get them to sit still wrapped up in a towel long enough to really warm up. Plus, a lot of parents have made these and like them so that seems like a good sign. After planning out this project and gathering all of my supplies, I actually started to get kind of intimidated by the idea of sewing these robes. I was a little nervous about sewing terrycloth and even more nervous about all of the bias binding these robes require. For whatever reason, I was also imagining that it would take me weeks of work to get these done. But I was pleasantly surprised to find that they were not difficult and that they come together a lot more quickly than I had anticipated.

Beach Robe via sweetalchemy.wordpress.com

This is the Beach Robe pattern from MADE, which is a PDF pattern. It comes in three different sizes that seem like they’ll fit most kids in the infant-to-kindergartener crowd and has several different design options: short or long sleeves, lined or unlined hood, and full or partial ties. The robe itself is just a handful of pattern pieces that are very simple to sew together, and then the whole shebang is bound in bias tape for a punchy little contrast finish. The purple robe is the Large (4T+) size and is cut from two 30×54” towels from Kohl’s (they were called BIG towels—I think it’s a store brand?). The red robe is the Medium (18mos-3T) size and is cut from two 30×54” quick dry towels from Target. For each robe, I used 3 packages of pre-made bias tape to bind the edges of both robes and used 1/2 yard of fabric from the nursery print section of JoAnn’s for the hood linings.

Beach Robe Hood Close Up via sweetalchemy.wordpress.com

Like I said–these are pretty simple to sew and the pattern has very clear instructions. But here are a couple of additional tips for tackling this project:

  • If you use two towels lay them both out at once and map out the layout for all your pattern pieces before you start cutting. This will reduce the likelihood that you A) screw up the nap from one towel to the next and B) forget to cut out the hood piece and find yourself having to piece the hood together from scraps. Not that I have firsthand experience, or anything…
  • Use a heavyweight needle. I used a 110/18 needle, which I worried would be overkill, but it made it easy to power through the bulky seams.
  • Also use a longer stitch length. I set my stitch length to 3mm.

Beach Robe via sweetalchemy.wordpress.com

  • Unless you are a Level 4 Bias Binding Wizard, consider attaching the binding in two steps, as outlined in this tutorial. The pattern tells you to just sandwich the fabric edge between the binding folds and sew it on in one pass, but a lot of people who have made this commented on the difficulty of getting the binding evenly attached using this method. Attaching it in two steps requires a second pass through the sewing machine, but it’s a trade off for the various heartaches and anxieties  and messiness that can result from trying to cut a corner. Given that each one of these robes required about 8 yards of binding, I say go with the method that’s more of a sure bet.
  • Accept that the ends of the ties are going to look a little f’d. That’s a tight corner to get your binding around. Remember that it is for a small child to wear to the pool/beach and that no one really cares. (I’m mostly consoling myself with this tip.)

Beach robe hood close up via sweetalchemy.wordpress.com

  • Attach the sleeves flat. Dana included an update about using this method in this blog post. As drafted, the sleeves fit into the armscye nicely if you set them in as described in the pattern. However, they are tiny child’s armholes that can be a bit of a struggle to sew around depending on the size of your sewing machine’s free arm.
  • Consider top-stitching the seam allowances to one side after you finish them. You might not be able to top-stitch the sleeve seams if you do the long-sleeved version, but it’s worth doing where you can. It helps to manage the bulk of the seams. Plus, if you don’t have a serger to finish the seams, it adds another level of anti-fray protection on top of zigzagging the seam allowances and helps give the inside a clean finish.

My finished seams (zigzagged and top-stitched). Looking pretty clean inside!

I had a lot of fun sewing these. My stitching is far from perfect but these turned out so cute, I don’t care. When Aidan asked our godson how he felt about his robe, he shrugged his shoulders and said, “It looks all right.” I’m counting that as a win.

Beach Robes via sweetalchemy.wordpress.com

 

Handmade Christmas Gifts, Part I: Superhero Capes

Aidan and I have a nephew and godson who were born just a few days apart from one another and are now just a few weeks away from their third birthdays. We’ve always had fun coming up with gift ideas for both boys and, I think, have done our fair share of spoiling. On the one hand, it’s really easy to come up with gift ideas for really young kids because everything is new to them and because they tend to like just about anything. On the other hand, it’s hard because a lot of kids have no shortage of toys, and because so many toys (and clothes and baby care items and just about anything that you could purchase for a kid) are aggressively gendered and branded in a way that kind of squicks me out. One of the reasons that I like handmade gifts for kids is because it gives you the chance to subvert some of that gendering and branding business. Plus, I figure I should take advantage of the opportunity to make these little guys gifts because it won’t be too long before they are too cool for my crafty shenanigans.

Superhero Cape via sweetalchemy.wordpress.com

I came up with the idea for superhero capes while I was searching for ideas for what became the Monster Love baby gift. Amidst all the free tutorials for things like bibs and baby hats and whatnot, I came across this free tutorial for superhero capes from Thread Riding Hood. I thought about making superhero masks to match the capes, but eventually thought better of it. I figure that little kids have enough of a time staying upright and avoiding scrapes and bruises that they don’t need to deal with the added complication of potentially obscured vision.

The tutorial has a pattern for two different sized capes—one size for 18m-3T and one for 4T and up. While my nephew and godson are basically the same age, they’ve occupied opposite ends of the growth chart since they were born. So I used the smaller size for my nephew, who is more slight, and the larger size my godson, who is both tall and broad. The difference in sizes is a matter of about 2” of length and a bit of additional width with the larger size.

Superhero Cape via sweetalchemy.wordpress.com

All the fabric I used was quilting cotton from Jo-Ann Fabrics. The comic book words novelty print I used to line the back of the capes (which is the same print I used for the coffee cup sleeve I showed in an earlier post) looks like it’s still available on Jo-Ann’s website. I got a yard each of the red and purple and 2 yds of the comic book print and had plenty of fabric left over (all of the fabrics were ~44” wide). I was able to cut the blue backing for the logo out of 1/4 of a yard of fabric.

Superhero Capes via sweetalchemy.wordpress.com

While I’m sure the wildly independent toddlers that received these capes would object to the comparison, these capes are not much different than the monster baby bibs I made awhile ago—the capes are larger, but the process of making them is essentially the same. Following the advice in the tutorial, I searched for something like “superman alphabet” and used one of the fonts that came up to trace the letters that I appliqued to the back of the capes. It wasn’t a terribly scientific process—I basically zoomed in on the letter I wanted until it was about 5” tall and then traced it by holding a piece of paper up to my computer screen. When you trace the logo design onto the fusible web, you just have to remember to trace the design backwards so that it will be right-side up on your fabric. I just traced the right side of the logo with a black Sharpie and it bled through the paper enough that I was able to flip the paper over, lay a piece of fusible web over the top, and trace the design backward without any struggle.

Superhero Logo via sweetalchemy.wordpress.com

My crowning achievement with these capes is that, unlike the monster bibs, I managed to not totally muck up the edge stitching around the applique. In fact, I think I did a pretty bang-up job managing all the angles and curves and shape changes of the logo. There was that thing where I accidentally sewed part of the cape to itself while edge-stitching, unpicked the stitches, and then made the same mistake except worse. But aside from that episode, I think I showed real sewing growth.

Superhero Logo via sweetalchemy.wordpress.com

We gave both boys a copy of Bob McLeod’s Superhero ABC with their capes. As you can imagine, it was hard to find good books about superheroes that weren’t just franchise fodder. McLeod’s book is really colorful and has great illustrations that show a different superhero for each letter of the alphabet. The book features a good number of female superheroes and a more racially diverse cast of characters than you’d see in a lot of books. Plus, the descriptions of their superpowers are silly and fun. It might be a bit before the boys really appreciate the book since they are still pretty young, but I think it stands a good chance of becoming a favorite.

Superhero ABC by Bob McLeod

Around the time that I finished making these, I dreamt that I had a huge Superman logo tattooed on my throat—so huge that it stretched almost from my chin to my sternum. The dream wasn’t about actually getting the tattoo or having other people react to the tattoo—the dream was just me thinking about the tattoo. And in the dream I was genuinely trying to figure out if the tattoo was a bad life choice. I was rationalizing that my tattoo was somehow different than other neck tattoos, because in my dream state, it seemed to me that my giant logo throat tattoo wasn’t really that noticeable. And finally, I was trying to remember everything I’ve heard over the years about the relative pain and success of tattoo removal procedures. They say that dreams are your brain’s way of working out problems while you’re sleeping, and if this is the case, I’m not sure what my tattoo dream says about my problems. Perhaps just that making gifts for people is always more stressful than we anticipate? Regardless, I’m happy with how these capes turned out and even happier that I don’t have a gigantic Superman logo neck tattoo.