achievement unlocked: two Toaster sweaters

I have finished garments to show!

I made two Toaster sweaters. The pattern is by Sew House Seven, & I used the version that was licensed to Simplicity–pattern number 8529. It only cost me a buck in one of the $1 Simplicity sales at JoAnn. For a while, I was like, “Who needs patterns! I’m going to draft everything from scratch!” But in my personal opinion, the Big 4 (which is now the Big 1, as they are all oqwned by the same corporation) have been upping their game lately & turning out a lot of designs I’d like to try. & when the cost is only a dollar or two during a sale, why the hell not?

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I made view B, size XL with both sweaters. The gray one is sewn up in the snuggliest, softest cotton fleece sweatshirt knit. It’s super-cozy. The black one is a slightly more lightweight organic black cotton sweatshirt fleece. I splashed out for organic because it resists pilling better, as I have discovered the hard way with a couple of other sweatshirt projects over the years.

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I embellished the sweaters with squares from the Cotton + Steel panel they released as part of the Beauty Shop collection. I bought it several months ago on a whim, not really having any particular plan for it. That’s unusual for me. I usually don’t buy without a purpose. Then I made a couple of t-shirts for Ramona’s doll, embellished with little designs cut out of quilting fabric, & I liked the combination a lot. I realized I could embellish my own tops the same way!

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I’m pretty into this pattern. I made the cropped version with a funnel collar, & finished with a banded waist. It’s deceptively simple. The funnel is created with a cut-on facing. I don’t love the way an exaggerated drop shoulder looks on me, because I am kind of narrow-shouldered to begin with, but I can’t deny that it is comfortable, & definitely elevates the design beyond a basic boring sweatshirt. & imagine it in stripes, with the body meeting the sleeve with the stripes running at a nice crisp 90-degree angle! I’m unlikely to ever sew anything like that, as Breton stripes are not my style, but I suspect other people would be all over this idea.

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The whole thing came together super-quickly, which is why I made two in less than 24 hours. I feel that I should mention that I sewed the cuffs & waistband using the ham-hot method I learned from Mallory & Zede at sewhere.com. They do the podcast “Sewing Out Loud,” & I’m a member of Mallory’s Facebook community, The Self-Sewn Wardrobe. I think I was one of the first hundred people to join, & now there are over 12,000 members. That is bonkers! I also coined the hashtag #teamcutthatshitout (in reference to cutting directly into patterns, rather than tracing & then cutting) in the group, which has kind of become a thing.

Ham-hot means that you fold your cuffs right side together “hamburger-style” (so the shorter ends meet, & then you fold again “hot dog-style”. Then you stitch the short edge where all the raw edges meet. Flip the cuff (or waistband, neckband, whatever) right side out & boom! It’s all sewn together with only one line of stitching, which reduces bulk. & it has the added bonus of securing the inside & outside cuff seams together, so you have a better chance of getting perfectly aligned seams when you join your cuffs to your sleeve.

For real, people have been going nuts for this technique for months in the Self-Sewn Wardrobe, & I was like, “What’s the big deal? Who cares about having two seams?” Then I tried it for myself & seriously, it’s a gamechanger.

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I sewed these sweaters up right before Jared, Ramona, & I left to spend the holidays in Boston with Jared’s family. I have been wearing them almost non-stop ever since. I have always avoided cropped tops because I thought they didn’t flatter my top-heavy body shape. But the magic of sewing for yourself is that you can make adjustments to make sure a cropped shirt still reaches the waistline, even if you are busty (the main problem I’d always had with cropped RTW tops). You can also make fit adjustments for your pants & skirts to make sure they fit well across the belly, so you can feel confident about that area rather than attempting to obscure it with a longer top (to name another styling issue I have struggled with). Sewing has also just made me more confident about my body overall, because I can sew things that fit, rather than feeling constrained by all the RTW that wasn’t drafted & adjusted perfectly for my specific body. I’ve also accepted that nothing I wear is going to trick anyone into thinking I am thin, so I might as well just wear what I like!

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Another thing I love about these sweaters is that I think they are my first truly perfect sews. There’s usually always something I can quibble about with a sew, even if it’s just an interior seam that got flipped over & stitched down the wrong way at an intersection, or a wobbly bit of topstitching, or a button placket that is just slightly misaligned. But these are both absolutely flawless in their execution. If I had to identify a flaw, I’d say that I probably could have sized down to a size L & done an FBA, & then maybe the sweaters would be a little more fitted & flattering through the shoulders. But since I made these guys to layer them over long-sleeved tops in cold weather, I ain’t mad at the looser fit.

A quick note on my schedule of posts: I am going to aim to post my #365daysofsewing round-ups on Mondays, & completed project posts on Thursdays. I really wanted to get this one up on Thursday, but there was a pretty steep learning curve on figuring out exactly how to use my new camera. I am obviously still fiddling with it. But hopefully I will be able to stick to this schedule!

pattern: Sew House Seven Toast sweater/Simplicity 8529
view: B
size: XL
fabric: gray cotton sweatshirt fleece, black organic cotton sweatshirt fleece, & the Cotton + Steel Hankies panel, pink colorway
likes: They are so comfy & so cozy. The funnel collar & dropped shoulder set them apart from the average sweatshirt. Construction is quick & easy. I love the panel embellishments I added, especially the “measure twice, cut once” one.
dislikes: The gray fabric is already starting to pill a bit. The funnel collar facing is only secured at the shoulder seams, so it is inclined to flip out. I fixed this in the back by adding my label, but it’s still an issue in the front.
quality of sew: 10 & 10
make again?: 100%

reflections & plans for the new year

I suppose it’s the time of year to do a little reflecting on the past year, & share some thoughts about what 2018 may hold.

1. I beat cancer! Not that there was a huge amount of doubt. I knew from the initial diagnosis that my endocervical adenocarcinoma had been caught early & was very treatable. I was fortunate enough to avoid chemo & radiation. I had a hysterectomy on Valentine’s Day & the pathology came back clear. I was released from oncology in April, & now I just have to stay on top of doing annual screenings for the next 25 years. The annual screenings for a person who no longer has a cervix or uterus, & a history of such a particularly pesky & challenging type of cancer, are kind of a big deal & no fun at all, but hey–things could be a lot worse.

I feel like I am still in the process of re-building my physical strength, as the post-surgical recovery was enormously taxing. I’m also still struggling emotionally. After Ramona was born, I had hoped & planned to have another baby at some point. I had a late-ish (ten weeks) miscarriage in the summer of 2015. But being diagnosed with cancer a year later cemented our status as an only-child family, & I am still having a tough time making my peace with that. This was reinforced the other day, when we met up in Boston with some friends we hadn’t seen in a few years. The mom in the family is pregnant with her second child & did not let us know in advance. So, just a PSA on that front: please don’t surprise your friends & loved ones with your pregnancy. Especially if you know they have a situation going on that might make pregnancy/babies a sensitive topic for them. But even if you don’t know that, as so many people experience miscarriage & infertility without sharing it openly. All you have to do is say, “Just so you’re not surprised when you see me–I’m pregnant.” This lets your friend process the information on her own time, privately, so that she can be happy for you when you see each other in person. & then you don’t have a situation where someone is sobbing in the middle of the Predators of North America exhibit.

2. Ramona starts school this fall! & this is big because it means that we need to finally decide where we want to live. We talked about moving back to Massachusetts a year ago. (If you don’t know, Jared was born & raised in Massachusetts, in the Boston area, & I moved there in 2001. That’s where we met & started dating. We moved to Kansas in 2009 so he could get his PhD at KU.) But we decided to postpone it so Ramona could finish her last year of preschool with her friends. Well, that didn’t work out, to say the least.

We’re feeling a lot more serious about making the move this year. Jared is getting licensed to teach secondary school in Massachusetts & we’re exploring western Mass to try to find the right balance of affordable housing & decent public schools. We’re hoping to make a commitment to either Kansas or Massachusetts in time for Ramona to start kindergarten.

3. #365DaysofSewing starts tomorrow! This is my own personal sewing challenge. I didn’t get to sew as much as I would have liked in 2017 due to my health challenges. (Aside from the cancer, I also broke my foot in October & am still recovering from that!) I did develop some new skills that I could do from bed or the couch, like cross stitching. But it was still a bit of a slow year for me.

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Starting tomorrow, I am challenging myself to engage in some type of sewing thing everyday in 2018. In order to build in a little wiggle room, I’m going to count things like researching techniques, sourcing supplies, mending, etc. Especially if there’s a cross-country move happening sometime in 2018, I can’t limit myself to just work I do with the sewing machine. Tomorrow will be the first big test because we are flying home from Boston. It will be interesting to see what kind of sewing work I can fit into a full travel day with a five-year-old. (I did bring a cross stitch project with me, so I might be able to do that on the plane if my embroidery snips get past security.)

4. Shoemaking! This is the 2018 goal I am most excited about right now! I’ve done a ton of research while we’ve been in Boston for the holidays, & it’s amazing how many resources there are around here for people who want to learn shoemaking. I talked with a woman yesterday who does workshops teaching people how to make entirely hand-sewn leather shoes. She offered to let me be her guinea pig to see if I could figure out how to use her methods to make shoes at home via a kit, rather than in her workshop. Obviously, I don’t think I am ready to dive in at that level! But I’ve been accumulating some basic supplies, including a pair of wooden lasts I am really stoked about. I have wide feet & I’m especially particular about the shape of the toebox on my shoes. I hate tapered or pointed toeboxes with the fire of a thousand suns. I found a vintage set of extra-wide lasts with the nice round toebox I like best. I think I’m going to start small–I’m thinking lasted flats with a rubber sole. But ultimately, I’d love to get to the point where all of my shoes are handmade by me.

5. Reviving this blog! I was looking at my archives the other day & it really struck me how infrequently I wrote here in 2017. That was mainly due to my many health issues. I wasn’t sewing as much, so I didn’t have as much to share, & even when I did finish a project, I didn’t always have the energy to do photos & posts. (I have quite a few yet-to-be-blogged garments waiting in the wings…Like these mermaid sequin leggings!)

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I’m hoping to stick to a posting schedule in 2018. I want to post at least twice: a weekly wrap-up on my #365DaysofSewing project (which I will also document on Instagram using that hashtag), & a completed project post once a week. Jared surprised me with a brand-new camera for Christmas, which is compatible with a remote. I’m really hoping this ups my photo game! Ramona does a surprisingly decent job of taking photos, considering that she’s only five years old, but her patience for the endeavor is limited, & for every usuable garment photo she gives me, I get like three photos of her thumb or a rock.

365 Days of Sewing

I’m alive! & out of the cast! In case you missed it, I broke my foot at the end of October. I was walking down the street with Jared when I tripped over a loose sidewalk brick hidden beneath some fallen leaves. I fractured my second metatarsal in a weird vertical break. Thankfully, there was no ligament damage, so I didn’t need surgery. But I was in a cast for five weeks.

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I had hoped that I would still be able to sew with the cast on, but I just couldn’t manage it. Our house is two stories. The main floor is where we live: kitchen, bedrooms, living room, bathroom, etc. The second floor is a big open space, which Ramona & I share. It’s my sewing room & her playroom. Jared is thinking of moving a desk up there after the new year so it can be an all-family workspace, which would be nice.

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Getting around with a cast on was just way harder than I expected. I got a wheelchair for moving around the house, but stairs were really tough. I wasn’t supposed to put any weight on the broken foot at all, which meant scooting up & down stairs on my butt. I did go up to my sewing room a few times, but usually by the time I got up the stairs, I was too exhausted to do anything else. Going down the stairs was even more treacherous, & the last thing I wanted to do was fall AGAIN & get hurt in some new way. So I just sucked it up & accepted that I wasn’t going to be doing anything except hand-sewing while my foot healed.

I cross stitched a lot. This is where I was with my most recent Ramona portrait when I broke my foot:

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This is how far I got by the time the cast came off:

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I got the cast off a week & a half ago, & after a few days of resting & stretching the muscles that had been going unused for so many weeks, I finally managed to get upstairs & back to work. (Full disclosure: I am still in a medical boot, but it’s a lot easier to get around in it compared to the cast. I should be out of the boot in a few days, & I’m scheduled to start six weeks of physical therapy after the new year.)

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In the last week, I have sewn three tea towel calendars, a pair of True Bias Lander pants, two Sew House Seven toaster sweaters, a new set of pajamas for Ramona, & a full-on pajama onesie for myself. I also drafted & cut a pair of sequin leggings, but I have to cut all the sequins out of the seam allowances before I sew them, & that is a more tedious & time-consuming task than I anticipated. I’ve also cut & prepped the patterns for another set of flannel pajamas for myself, & a winter-weight shirtdress. I have extra flannel standing by to line our black-out curtains so we can hang them up in Ramona’s room whenever Jared remembers where he stashed them, & I have plans for a hand-cut pocket wristband. I had wanted to finish all these projects before we leave for Christmas in Boston on Wednesday, but that’s just not practical. Hopefully I’ll knock out a couple of them & the rest will be waiting for me when we get home on January 1.

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Which brings me to my big 2018 sewing resolution! A sewing group I follow on Facebook (it’s called The Self-Sewn Wardrobe, but sometimes people post non-clothing items & I quietly seethe & fantasize about starting my own Facebook group that is all adult garment sewing all the time, no exceptions whatsoever, even though obviously I sew my fair share of non-adult garments) did a challenge in November they called the sewing binge, or the #sewlongsewhappychallenge. It was 21 days of sewing. I had really been looking forward to it, but then couldn’t join in due to breaking my foot. I cross stitched everyday as a compromise, but that just gave me time to mull.

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I’m going to try to sew EVERY DAY in 2018. I’m calling it 365 Days of Sewing. My definition of “sewing” is going to be somewhat expansive. Prepping patterns or fabric counts. Teaching Ramona how to use her sewing machine counts. Hand-sewing (including cross stitching) counts. I’m even going to include research & planning, because that stuff takes up a lot of time, but pays big dividends to both process & product in the end. But I don’t want to fudge it & say, “Oh, I wasted an hour looking at the Mood website today, so I ‘sewed’.” I want to really get in there & use my machines.

2017 wasn’t a great year for my sewing. I was dealing with the whole cancer situation at the beginning of the year, & I broke my foot in October. There were months at a stretch when I physically could not use my sewing machines! So, you know, shit happens. I’m really hoping that 2018 will be free of medical emergencies & that the only barrier to my 365 Days of Sewing will be my own laziness & inertia, but I don’t doubt there will be some challenges. We are talking about moving back to Massachusetts this summer, which means there may be a period of time when my sewing stuff is packed/in storage. I’m hoping to set myself up with some handwork to do then to stick to my goal.

So, accountability: I’m hoping to post here once a week with a round-up of my progress, & I will also be posting on Instagram using the hashtag #365daysofsewing. I hope this will be an interesting challenge for people to follow…or even join?

I’m also hoping to post here once a week with a new finished project. As little as I have been able to sew this year, I have shared on this blog even less. I have quite a few projects that I wear all the time & haven’t blogged about. I’ve also managed to whiff it a couple of times, & I want to share those fails too. (Sewing fail posts are some of my faves!) The Cloth Habit Harriet bra? Sewn it a few times now & LOVE it! Heart eyes for life! The Pin-Up Girls Sweet 16 bralette? Oh my God, burn it with fire. Possibly the biggest mess I’ve ever sewn. I’ve fallen for cropped sweaters (the waist-length Jenna cardigan from Muse Patterns! The afore-mentioned toaster sweaters!) & I really want to share the Lander pants I made, which would have been a disaster without a few little alterations I had the foresight to add.

behold my sewing planning spreadsheet!

I haven’t posted recently because, you know, my foot is still broken. It actually had to be casted. I chose pink, of course. I’ve never broken a significant bone before (maybe a few odd fingers & toes over the years, but nothing I ever saw a doctor about), so this is a whole new experience for me. The cast is really heavy. It’s hard to keep my foot held up when I’m making my way around on crutches, & I’m definitely not supposed to be bearing any weight on the broken foot. I cheat & walk on it sometimes anyway (well, limp & shuffle). Yes, it hurts. A lot. But I can’t just hop around on one foot for two months straight. Thankfully, I had the foresight to buy a cheapie wheelchair off Amazon, which enables me to get around most of the house, retrieve my own snacks from the kitchen, & even do some light tidying…on any surfaces that are about coffee table level. I tipped the chair over trying to pick some laundry up off the floor & landed with all my weight on the broken foot. Cue the tears & hydrocodone. It REALLY hurt.

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If I really put my mind to it & cheat on the weight-bearing restriction, I can make it upstairs to my sewing room. (Thankfully, the entire living space in this house is on one level. The upstairs is just my sewing room & Ramona’s playroom.) Getting anything done once I’m up there is its own challenge, however. Anyone who sews knows that time spent actually sitting at the machine is only a fraction of the job. You spend a lot more time doing pattern alterations, cutting out fabrics, pressing, wandering around the room looking for that zipper you just had a second ago, rummaging through all your bins wondering where the hell your screwdriver went because you need to change your needle, etc. It’s hard to do all that stuff when hobbling around on one foot.

But I miss sewing so much! So I am trying to do at least a little everyday. I can’t be nearly as productive as I want to be, but every little bit counts, right?

Mostly I am stuck on the couch. I’ve created a little nest, with wheelchair parking & a three-tired cart from Ikea containing all of my medications, cross stitching supplies, magazines, bullet journal stuff, chargers, headphones, etc. I can elevate my foot on the coffee table & keep an eye on Ramona whever she is, as long as she stays downstairs. (Though she’s old enough now that we let her go up to her playroom by herself. It’s REALLY nice to have a child approaching the age of reason.)

All this time on the couch has given me a lot of time to PLAN all of my sewing! Planning posts are always my faves on sewing blogs, so let’s get into it!

First of all, I had the brainstorm a few months ago to keep a spreadsheet tracking my sewing projects. I’ve gone through a few different iterations, adding & taking away various elements, but this is what I’m using right now. It might go through some edits in the future, if I find that I require more or less detail.

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My (incredibly ambitious) goal is to complete the first fifteen projects on the list by the end of 2017. It’ll be tricky, but I tried to make sure that I had a good mix of really complex, time-consuming projects (the cross stitch project, the felt wall calendar for Ramona) & pretty straightforward projects that won’t take more than an hour or two (undies, the sweater). I’m also trying to focus on projects that will get used/worn right away. The calendar will be Ramona’s Christmas gift from me, as will the long underwear for Jared. (Too much information?) I am in desperate need of new flannel pajamas because I am low on warm pants I can wear over my cast (& later, my walking boot). The Lander pants have rocketed to the top of the list for the same reason.

With every task I complete, I color in the relevant box. Not all tasks apply to all projects, but here are my categories:
* pattern procured/drafted. Meaning, I have the pattern in hand, even if it’s still just a PDF on my computer.
* pattern printed & cut. I’ve started sending PDF patterns with copy shop options off to pdfplotting.com for printing. Prices are quite reasonable, shipping is super-fast, & it means I’m not spending days on end assembling PDFs, which is especially nice for bigger projects like pants or coats. I’m not getting any kind kickback for saying that, by the way. I’m just a satisfied customer.
* flat pattern alterations. I like to do flat pattern measurements & make relevant adjustments before I do anything else. I’ll do a muslin on occasion, like if I have reason to believe that the fit is going to be a hot fucking mess. (Looking at you, Rue dress.) Or if I’m planning to use especially special/expensive fabric for my final garment. But nine times out of ten, I just use my accumulated drafting/fitting knowledge to make adjustments to the pattern before it gets anywhere near fabric.
* fabric procured. Meaning, ALL fabric, including little bits like pocket linings or whatever.
* fabric pre-washed. I just cannot with garments that need special handling, so everything gets pre-washed save for things that are probably never going to see the inside of a washing machine, like a winter coat or something.
* notions procured. Zips, buttons, special interfacing, coordinating thread, specialty hardware, embellishment tools, elastics, etc etc.
* fabric/other stuff cut. Everything cut & ready to roll, including interfacing, appliques, bindings, whatever.
* interfacing applied. Speaks for itself. Obviously not relevant to every project, but worth including because it ALWAYS takes longer than I think it will. & I’ve made structured bags where just applying the interfacing took hours.
* pre-sewing embellishments completed. Again, not relevant to every project, but I do like to embellish my makes. This includes stuff like embroidered collars or pockets, appliques, ribbons, pintucks, piping, etc.
* primary sewing. Whatever needs to be done to get the project to a state of completion, save for hems, cuffs, etc.
* finishing embellishments. Meaning, embellishments that can’t be applied until after the garment is completed, like beading, or the bows on lingerie, etc.
* closures. Buttons, zippers, hook & eye tape, snaps, etc.
* hems/cuffs/elastics. You know what this stuff is!
* final touches. Seam finishes, construction-relevant topstitching, making sure all the threads are trimmed, & most importantly: the final press!
& that last box is my shopping list of patterns/fabric/notions I still need to buy for each project.

 

broken foot blues

So, you know how at the end of the super-long post I wrote yesterday, I was all, “I’m totally going to be sewing more & blogging more, so watch this space!”

Well, this afternoon, I was walking home from dropping Ramona off for her last day of preschool. I was thinking about the hilarious adult onesie I was planning to make for my Halloween costume (I was going to be a mimic octopus pretending to be three poisonous sea snakes–it’s from an episode of “The Octonauts”) & how excited I was about the ten-yard roll of indigo stretch Cone Mills denim I just brought up to my sewing room. Time to sew ALL the jeans!

Leaves have been falling & there were big drifts of them all over the sidewalk. They were obscuring a loose brick in the sidewalk just twenty feet from my house. I tripped on it, fell down, & broke my foot. It’s my right foot: my sewing foot. Specifically, I broke the second metatarsal, right across the top of my foot. Right now it’s splinted, & I’m seeing the orthopedist next week. He’ll decide if I need a cast or if I can get away with just a boot. I’ll be on crutches for the next six weeks.

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So this really throws a hitch into my sewing plans. We’ll see if I am able to sew with my left foot instead, but obviously it’s going to be a challenge to hobble around my sewing room, cutting things out & pressing & all that good stuff, with a broken foot. My sewing room is also upstairs, & right now, my approach to stairs is to sit down & scoot up & down them on my butt, & then crawl to the closest piece of furniture & use it to help haul myself to my feet. I hurt my hand & my shoulder when I fell, so that’s kind of holding me back a little bit as well. I’ll probably have an easier time getting around once those heal up.

I also learned a few more interesting things about the preschool board, per the main topic of yesterday’s post:

1) One family on the board was so bound & determined to force our family out of the school, they threw down an ultimatum: “It’s them or us.”

2) The mother in this family also asked, “Why does Ciara even care so much about the tipi thing? She’s white.” Because, as we all know, calling out racism is the sole responsibility of people of color. White people should just kick back & bask in the comfort of their race privilege until some person of color comes along & makes things all uncomfy. </sarcasm>

3) Another board family trash-picked the tipi after the director threw it away, & their children have been playing with it at home for the last two months. Interestingly, this is a family that has told me that they agree with me about the tipi being an inappropriate toy.

So. Liars, racists, & hypocrites. Just in case there was ever any doubt.

 

What happened with LCNS?

Hey folks. I know, it’s kind of ridiculous. I splashed out on a real website with a personalized URL & I put the effort into re-designing the site, & then I disappeared.

This blog is now primarily a sewing blog–specifically, about women’s garment-sewing. But if you look through the archives, you will see that it’s gone through several iterations over the years. I didn’t learn how to sew until 2012/2013, but I started the blog way back in 2009. I used to write a lot more about politics, feminism, & zines. When Jared & I decided to have a child, it morphed for a while into an infertility/pregnancy/parenting blog. When I was going through my cancer treatments last year, I wrote about it.

I’ve been quiet here for the last month or so because we have been going through a very upsetting experience as a family. As most of you know, Jared & I have a daughter. Her name is Ramona & she will be five years old next month. We enrolled her in a local co-operative preschool last year, when she was 3. We were really happy at the school for an entire year. Ramona thrived, she made friends. But tomorrow will be her last day at the school.

At the beginning of September, I noticed a play tipi on the school playground. My personal feeling, as a person who cares deeply about anti-racism & social justice, is that play tipis are a classic example of cultural appropriation. I feel that they teach children to view marginalized cultures as playthings, or relics of an apolitical history. I had never seen the tipi on school grounds before (I wouldn’t have enrolled my child at that particular school if I’d known that a play tipi was among their toy stash), so I asked where it had come from. A teacher explained that it had been a gift to the school from an alum family, & it didn’t come out of the shed very often. When the teachers did pull it out, they referred to it as an adventure tent.

I shared my view that the tipi was not an appropriate toy for the children, & that the teachers had to know that on some level if they were not comfortable referring to it as a tipi. (It was a classical conical structure, with sticks coming out of the top. It was definitely designed to look like a tipi rather than an all-purpose “tent”.) The director agreed with me & got rid of the tipi.

& that is where everything could have, & should have, ended.

Instead, the school’s board launched a seven-week campaign of harassment against me. Although they claimed to agree with me about the tipi, they insisted that I had not used the correct venue to ask about it. (I had raised the question on the school’s private Facebook page for parent discussion, rather than saving the question for an upcoming board meeting or one-on-one chat with a teacher.) They said that because my question had “made teachers feel bad,” it was considered a “personal attack”. I was accused of being hostile & disruptive for asking this question. I was received numerous emails & text messages from board members, reprimading me & berating me for raising the issue.

Eventually the board developed a policy for the parent Facebook page, drafted in response to my inquiries about the tipi. Parents were told to raise issues & concerns about things like playground toys & school curriculum in private conversations with teachers, or via a form that would be considered at the monthly board meetings. We were not to discuss such issues amongst ourselves on the Facebook page, & violators would be subject to vague consequences, including removal from membership in the Facebook group.

The next day, the husband of one of the board members approached Jared on the playground & told him that we were not welcome at the school & should withdraw. It was a pretty clear-cut example of harassment & intimidation. We documented the incident in writing & sent it to the school director, just to have it on file in case things escalated with that family.

Shortly thereafter, Jared & I were summoned to the school for a private meeting with the director, board president, & one of the board VPs. (The board, incidentally, is comprised of school parents, appointed to their positions via a cursory nomination-&-election process at one of the two mandatory all-family meetings that happen each year. Most board members run unopposed, & generally, mere minutes elapse between nomination & election. There’s definitely no getting to know the candidates, contrasting & comparing their views on various school issues, or anything like that. Basically, someone volunteers to be president or secretary or whatever, & the general membership is like, “Uh, okay,” & “votes” them in for a term of one year.)

Apparently, the impetus for the meeting was a screen shot the board received regarding my writing about the person who confronted Jared on the playground. I had posted a friends-locked Facebook account of the issues we were having. One of my FB apparently/supposedly took a screen shot of my post & sent it to the board. Despite the fact that the post was private & did not identify anyone by name, the board considered this a violation of their vaguely-worded “problem-solving policy” & demanded that Jared & I both sign a document attesting to the fact that we “understand the problem-solving policy” as a pre-condition for Ramona’s continued enrollment in the school.

As far as we know, the individual who initiated the confrontation with Jared on the playground was not reprimanded or forced to review the problem-solving policy. Note again: his wife is on the board.

We taped that meeting, & we have the president of the board on tape agreeing that our signing the document means that we are all going to move forward in Ramona’s best interest. Our requests were simple: stop twisting our words & accusing us of doing & saying things we never did or said. (This was related to their written charge that I had called a teacher “disgusting,” when in fact I was clearly referring to the play tipi as a “disgusting” example of racist iconography–guys, it was decorated with jungle-themed fabric. I mean.) If someone comes to them with rumors or gossip about us, or screen shots that violate our rights & privacy, refuse to listen or look at them. In sum, stop harassing us.

Again, all of this is on tape.

We walked out of that meeting feeling that things were resolved. Not perfectly, but well enough that we were able to move forward & live our lives.

Two days later, they rescinded my position as assistant treasurer. Several explanations were offered. We were told that the board had decided it wasn’t a good idea for “someone who is so upset with the school” to handle the school’s money. (My job was to collect & deposit school tuition.) We were told that “several families” had contacted the board to say they were “uncomfortable” with me handling their money. We were then told that it was actually just one family that was uncomfortable, but because money was involved, the board “had to take it seriously”. & then we were told that it was really for our own protection, so we wouldn’t be the victims of “false allegations” of financial malfeasance.

Of course my immediate thought was that this was another attempt to sideline us & strip us of meaningful responsibility within the school so that it would be easier for them to force us out on some trumped up justification. But what could I do? Refuse to turn over the deposit slips? Stage a sit-in at the bank & demand the right to deposit tuition? So I acquiesced, even though I really enjoyed that job. I told them to keep me updated on the timeline for transitioning a new person into the job, & to let me know who the new person was so I could arrange to train them.

They replied that the treasurers would handle the training. This was confusing to me because the entire reason the assistant treasurer job exists is so the people who have the power to spend the school’s money (the treasurer, president, director, etc) aren’t also the people who deposit the money. This separation of powers is clearly spelled out in the school bylaws. The treasurer had never even been trained on how the deposit system works (not that it’s rocket science).

I want to make clear: I’m not accusing anyone of financial mismanagement by bringing this up. I use it simply as a illustration of the fact that the board would rather violate its own bylaws & separation of executive duties than allow me to retain any position of responsibility. They made clear that there was absolutely no problem with the way I had been doing the job for the previous six months. They just…didn’t want me doing it anymore.

They told me I could wrap up October’s tuition, but less than a week later, with no forewarning whatsoever, they removed my access to the tuition & operating spreadsheets I required to finish my job. They told me to turn over any checks I hadn’t yet had a chance to process to the director.

Again, what could I do? Refuse? Insist that I be allowed to go to the bank & make sure the school’s money was deposited so the teachers could be paid? So, I went to the school & gave everything to the director. I wrote an email to the director, president, & board detailing the various issues that the incoming assistant treasurer should be aware (families on payment plans, the color coding system I used in the files to track late fees, that sort of thing).

& the day after that, we got another email from the board president, summoning us in for yet another private meeting. We asked for an agenda, or at least a rough idea of the topic, several times, & several times, we were refused. I was convinced that they were going to tell us that we were being kicked out, & that it was all cloak & dagger because they had our security deposit refund written & ready to go & just wanted to do it quick & face to face instead of drawing things out over email. Jared was convinced that it was pretty much anything but that, since we hadn’t done anything to justify removal from the school. We were all paid up on tuition, we’d been showing up for every participation day, we’d done our weekend cleaning, we’d even done the alternative cleaning job they assigned us so we wouldn’t be present at the mandatory fall work day (the dad that confronted Jared on the playground was in charge of work day & didn’t want us there). We had signed their problem-solving policy form. We had even acceded to their problematic “no discussion of social justice issues on the FB group” policy, even though it flew in the face of our moral & political principles & we were sick about kowtowing to a rule that was specifically developed to protect white privilege & white fragility. It was only our own white privilege that allowed us to do that, & that’s on us. That was very, very wrong of us, & I regret it with all my heart. They manipulated us by using our love for our child against us. We could suck up the racism, toe the party line, & keep our kid in a school she loves, with friends & teachers she loves. Or we could do the morally correct thing, refuse, & break our child’s heart.

Anyway. They said that they didn’t want Ramona at this meeting, so Jared stayed home with her & I went alone. & I was right. They were kicking us out. They returned our security deposit & October tuition in full (which was financially more than they were obligated to do, & was clearly designed to be a “hush money” type of situation) & gave me a letter outlining their argument. They said that I was in violation of the problem-solving policy by continuing to post about my issues with the board in private, friends-locked FB posts. When I asked how they knew what I had posted, considering that I have fewer than 200 FB friends, which includes only two other parents from the school, neither of whom is on the board, they just said, “We have screen shots. & we looked into it. It’s legal for us to have screen shots.”

Legal? Perhaps. Morally wrong? Definitely.

The post they took issue with was about being removed as assistant treasurer & how sad I was about it. & how confused I was that they wouldn’t let me train the new person. (That was before I knew they were going to fold the job into the treasurer position, at least temporarily, in violation of the school bylaws.) I wrote, “I’d like to believe that they are not intentionally being shady, but it feels shady to me, which is very confusing!” In the context of the post, it’s clear that I was referring to their behavior toward me as shady, but in their letter, they said that I was accusing them of being “shady” with regards to the management of the school’s money, which constituted “impugning the school’s character on social media,” which was a violation of the vaguely-phrased problem-solving policy, which states that behavior that “interferes with the board’s ability to do its job” will have consequences.

Of course they wouldn’t tell me where the screen shots they allegedly had came from. I learned the next day that unnamed board members had been approaching my FB friends & actually asking them to provide screen shots of anything I was privately writing about the school. As far as I know, everyone they asked refused, but at least one person provided a recollection of the “shady” post, which, in the absence of the actual text of the post, was easily twisted into an accusation of malfeasance & thus, grounds for forcing our family out. The person who offered the account to the board member has apologized to us & seems to feel terrible about how the board twisted her words.

People keep saying, “This sounds illegal! You should sue them!” But it’s a private, non-profit school. They don’t have an obligation to accept every family that wants to attend. They are licensed as a day care facility, so it’s not an “access to education” issue. & at the end of the day, our problem is not with the school. We don’t want to destroy the school. It was the board that engaged in this campaign of harassment, & it was the board that eventually decided to force our family out. As I explained, being on the board is essentially a volunteer position with a certain degree of codified authority. I have no doubt that different board members would have resulted in a different outcome. It was just our bad luck to run up against a group that is especially petty, vindictive, & authoritarian. The next logical step from where I sit would be for the families who are still involved with the school to demand an emergency meeting & perhaps a vote on a new board. That’s what I would do if I was still at the school & all of this had happened to someone else. But since we are no longer a school family, we have no power to make anything like that happen. It’s entirely possible that the board won’t face any consequences for this situation, & that they will live the rest of their lives telling themselves that they did the right thing by essentially destroying a child’s life because they were upset that someone made them feel uncomfortable about overlooking the cultural insensitivity of a toy. That’s their prerogative, I suppose.

Ramona is, of course, devastated. She doesn’t understand any of this. All she wants to do is play with her friends. She wakes up everyday asking us if it’s a school day & planning what games she is going to play with her friends. We’ve told her what happened & that there won’t be any more school after Friday, but–she’s 4. She doesn’t understand. It makes no sense to her that she isn’t going to be able to go to school (which, mind you, is three blocks from our house) & play Octonauts with her friends. She keeps talking about what she wants to wear to the school Halloween party (at which we are no longer welcome) & what kind of cookies she wants to bring in for her birthday. She keeps asking us when her next show & tell day is. I actually slept in her tiny little toddler bed with her the other night, even though it’s too small for me to be able to stretch out my legs, just because I had this overwhelming compulsion to be with her, to hold her, to somehow try to protect her from everything hard & sad in the world. I know this isn’t the worst thing that has ever happened to anyone, but it’s legitimately traumatic for her, & in no way necessary. Even if a person disagrees with me about the fundamental tipi issue, even if someone wants to be that person that’s all, “What the big deal, it’s just a tent,” (if that’s you, by the way, feel free to take me off your reader), I think we can all agree that kicking a child out of school is not the appropriate resolution.

So that’s what I’ve been dealing with for the last several weeks. This also means a big shake-up to our schedule, which might affect my sewing going forward. We’ll see what happens, but obviously it’s going to take us at least a little while to figure out our new normal. But you know, sewing is my lifesaver when it comes to keeping my sanity, so it will still be a priority, as will this blog.

Incidentally, the name of the school is Lawrence Community Nursery School, in Lawrence, KS. It’s also known as the Little Red Schoolhouse. Again, our time there was wonderful…until it wasn’t. & a different board probably could have come to a different resolution. So I’m not saying, “Boycott this school, they’re all monsters.” I’m just saying, this was our experience. It resulted in a real & profound trauma for our child, & for us. We were victimized by a board that repeatedly lied to us, violating our privacy, misrepresented our words & actions, failed to honor its own agreements, & insisted all the while that everything they were doing was our own fault. I think it would take a remarkable confluence of events for this same situation to befall another family, but hey–it happened once. Buyer beware & all that.

Here’s Ramona hiking at the Field Station north of town.

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achievement unlocked: doll-sized Captain Barnacles costume

Allow me to inject a little terror into your blog reader this morning. It’s almost Halloween, after all!

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I wrote the other day about my blog make-over, & the new blog I’ve started to document my doll clothes-making. I’m keeping the doll stuff separate from this space, mostly, because I know most of my readers come here to read about adult garment-making. I know I’ve unfollowed my fair share of blogs when they changed focus. & it’s not like I have any plans to stop sewing clothes for myself!

(Also, I am lying. Most of my “readers” come here for an old post from 2012 about having a positive home pregnancy test & a negative blood test at the OB’s office. That negative blood test was actually Ramona, so the joke’s on…my blood, I guess? I seriously get dozens of hits a day from women who are desperately hoping they are pregnant even though their doctors say they’re not. I feel kind of bad about it, because my experience was kind of one in a million.)

So, I made this doll for Ramona. & she is into it. She tucks into bed every night. But she wasted no time in saying that she wanted a Captain Barnacles doll. He’s a character from the kids’ book/TV series “The Octonauts”. Maybe this is weird, but I have zero interest in making what is essentially a stuffed animal. Bring on all the dolls that resemble humans, but a bear? Are you kidding me? (Captain Barnacles is a polar bear.) I suggested I make a Captain Barnacles costume that she could put on her doll, & she deemed it a fair compromise.

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So this is what I came up with! There are seven pieces here: a belt, boots, pants, undies, a shirt, a hat, & a mask. That mask is the kind of scary piece (for adults, anyway). Dolls wearing masks are just unnerving. Like, what demonic possession are they trying to hide? But Ramona likes it, & that’s what counts.

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I made the belt & boots from a thrifted handbag. It was basically a clutch, so I didn’t have much material to work with. It was a little scary, because if I fucked up, I was out of luck. I took the bag apart & used a narrow strip that was used as an external pocket closure as the belt. I had to add a little more length to make it fit around the doll’s waist, but it wasn’t too challenging.

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The boots would work a lot better on a doll with more foot-like feet. This doll’s feet are just kind of round stubs. I’m definitely going to tweak the foot on the next doll I make. But in any case, each boot consists of three pieces: a boot shaft that extends to the sole in the back, the instep, & the sole. When I took the purse apart, I discovered it had a layer of fairly stiff untreated leather in the bottom, as a kind of interfacing. I used that for the soles. I took a deep breath & hand-painted the Octonauts logo with the tiniest paintbrush I have.

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The pants were an exercise in wrapping my mind around drafting for a doll. (I’m drafting all my doll clothes myself. There are plenty of doll patterns on the market, but part of why I’m doing the doll clothes project is to work on all of my sewing skills, including drafting.) It’s a doll, so I kept drafting too small. Once you add seam allowances to a pattern piece for a doll, it looks enormous. Finally, I took a deep breath & reminded myself of my sewing mantra: “trust the process”. I trusted the measurements, I trusted the seam allowances, & I came up with a perfectly fitting pair of pants. Seriously, the lion’s share of sewing mistakes I make come from me deviating from the reality of the numbers & processes & thinking, “That can’t be right,” or, “Eh, close enough,” or, “Maybe there’s a shortcut.” Just ask the perfectly sewn pair of undies I made for myself, using a pattern I drafted for 50% stretch fabric, & then sewed in a fabric with 30% stretch. It really does make a big difference between success & unwearability.

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I made undies because undies are easy to make (unless you choose the wrong fabric!) & I needed a breather before I tackled the godforsaken shirt.

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This is a woven shirt with set-in long sleeves, a front faux-placket, an embroidered collar, hemmed with a band, & fastened in the back with Velcro. You can see, it’s quite fitted. Most doll shirts out there are a lot more basic than this: basically a pillowcase raglan with an elasticized neck. So this was ambitious. & I fucked up the draft a lot before I got it right. At one point, I completely forgot what a sleeve pattern is supposed to look like & was like, “So it’s just a cylinder? Man, that’s easy.” Thankfully, I returned to my brain before I cut into any fabric.

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I am not thrilled with the finishing on this shirt. But…it’s a start, right? The biggest, dumbest mistake I made was sewing the collar with a topstitching needle instead of a microtex needle. UGH! I thought I was using a microtex needle & was like, “Ahhh! Why is the needle chewing up my fabric? Why don’t I have more control on these curves? Why is my thread birdnesting?” Well, because I was basically sewing really fine woven fabric with a club.

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I do think the collar looks nice though. It turns under really well.

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The hat is made from five slightly curved triangles sewn together to create the crown, & the brim drafted to be taller in the front than in the back. The stripes are some elderly hem tape from my stash. Narrow ribbon would have been better, but I didn’t have any navy or royal blue in my stash & I didn’t want to go out & buy any. The Octonauts logo is again painted by hand.

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& then the mask. It’s really well-made, from nice heavy felt interfaced with fusible fleece. It gives the mask a fuzzy texture, kind of like very short fur. All the little details are sewn (not glued!) in place. The eyes are buttons, because dolls don’t really need eyeholes. (I can’t decide if eyeholes would have made this mask more or less terrifying.) I threaded 1/8″ elastic through tiny metal eyelets to hold it to the doll’s head. I was so pleased with my craftsmanship that it took me a while to see how scary it was. I posted it on Facebook so people could ooh & ahh over my work. The likes did not come rolling in, & when I saw the photos decontextualized in my newsfeed, I understood why. It really is a little unsettling.

You can follow my dollmaking adventures over at http://snakesandtatters.wordpress.com. Watch this space for upcoming posts on garments, including bras & undies!

 

some light housekeeping

After almost twenty years of blogging (seriously, I started a Diaryland page back in 1999), I finally took the plunge & paid for a domain. I think it will re-direct automatically from the old blog, but if you want to update your links, feeds, etc, everything is now at ciaraxyerra.wordpress.com. In case you never paid much attention to my name, yes, Ciara Xyerra is my real legal name. It’s pronounced like Sierra Zee-air-uh. It’s a long story.

I also gave the blog a little makeover. Nothing too fancy, because I don’t really know how to do fancy. I was an early adopter as far as blogs go, but a corresponding literacy in coding & web languages did not follow. Back when I used to organize the Boston Skillshare, we had a guy sign up to do a Python programming workshop. All of us organizers were much more familiar with more hands-on skills, like silkscreening, or making zines, or d.i.y. abortions. So we were like, “Python programming? Like…snake charming?” Somehow that seemed more logical to us than a bunch of people getting together to learn a coding language. But the workshop was quite popular, & I know Jared recently used some Python when he built his own website.

I’ve also started a new separate blog to post about my dollmaking adventures. I’ve challenged myself to sew one article of doll clothing per day, & each piece is blogged over there. I’ve only been doing it for like a week. & I don’t know how sustainable it is, big picture. I’m drafting all of my clothing patterns from scratch, which takes time & obviously cuts into other sewing I want to tackle. For instance, I really don’t think I am going to finish my garment for the Monthly Stitch challenge this month, even though I have a BRILLIANT idea for it. Maybe I’ll surprise myself, but considering that I haven’t even printed the pattern yet…

The awesome thing about the dollmaking is that I am learning so much! Maybe I am just drafting for a doll, but I am still learning so much about drafting, & it does motivate me to just cut to the chase & draft for myself, which is something I’ve been wanting to do more often. Sewing doll clothes also requires a certain degree of precision-sewing, with tiny hems, tiny embellishments, etc, which can only improve my sewing skills overall. & it’s a reason to get up into my sewing room everyday, even if I feel unmotivated to tackle a big project for myself on a given day. So go check that out, if you like.

& with that, I will leave you with a sneak peek at the regular grown-up garment sewing that is currently on my sewing table. It looks pretty nice on the outside right now, but it’s a hot fucking mess on the inside. & it’s a new-to-me pattern (the Sweet 16 bralette from Pin-Up Girls), so who the hell knows how or if it will fit. I’m anticipating a look not dissimilar to a pair of guinea pigs stuffed in a tube sock, so if it’s better than that, I’ll call it a win.

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achievement unlocked: asymmetrical Mrs. Stylebook skirt

I am finally blogging this skirt that I made a month ago!

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This is a skirt from the Japanese sewing magazine “Mrs. Stylebook”–specifically the high summer 2017 issue, which I bought on Etsy from a seller in Japan. I like the idea of sewing magazines because it’s potentially a lot of bang for your buck. I think this magazine cost $25, including shipping, & I don’t know how many patterns it contains–close to one hundred, for sure. Obviously I don’t plan to make every single pattern, but even if I only make two, that would bring the cost down to the level of your average indie pattern company. & what really appealed to me (& may repel others) is that most of the designs are draft-it-yourself. I know some people are really put off by the idea of dropping a bunch of money just to have to get out their rulers & tracing paper & create their own patterns, but as someone who fits into exactly zero standard size charts, I love it! I enjoy the process of drafting in general, all the measuring & drawing, & the fact that I get a 100% custom-fit garment out of the process is just gravy! That’s actually why I picked “Mrs. Stylebook” over some of the other pattern magazines out there that include pre-drafted patterns.

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Of course, my skirt didn’t quite turn out like the skirt in the magazine. Probably because I know zero Japanese & had no idea what I was doing. All I had to go on is a couple of sample photos & a page of diagrams. Everything was in centimeters too, of course, so I was constantly having to look up the conversions. I also managed to choose the one skirt in the entire magazine (probably) that wasn’t based off a sloper. I mean, at the end of the day, it’s not really a complicated design. It’s basically an asymmetrical circle skirt with some pleats. I probably just should have drafted an asymmetrical circle skirt with the pleats. But I was trying to “trust the process” of following the magazine diagrams, which was maybe not the greatest idea when I really had no clue what the diagrams said!

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My biggest conundrum was figuring out the closure. The sample skirt clearly has a separate waistband, but I didn’t see any obvious signs of a closure–no zippers, buttons, or hooks. The waistband measurement in the diagram was also confusing. It seems to say that the waistband should be the waistband measurement divided in half, plus 2cm. Maybe I was supposed to take that measurement & cut the waistband on the fold? That seems like the obvious conclusion, but that literally just occurred to me right this second. & it still doesn’t answer the closure question. Other diagrams for self-drafted garments included illustrations of buttons, zippers, etc. It occurred to me that maybe this design was for a knit fabric, & so no closure is necessary. Unfortunately, I couldn’t decipher the recommended textiles, despite hours spent poring over multiple English-Japanese dictionaries. & I had already committed to this yellow & white striped woven from Ikea.

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In the end, I cut the waistband my waist measurement plus 1″ for wearing ease & 1″ for a skirt hook overlap. I installed an invisible zipper along the pocket side of the skirt & fastened the waistband with two hidden skirt hooks. That worked fine for me. Also, I am kind of becoming an invisible zipper whisperer. I am thrilled with how that zipper came out!

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I must have pleated & re-pleated the skirt at least ten times, but I just couldn’t achieve the effect in the photo, with the pleats being longer than the center panel & falling just so. That was probably user error, mostly, because I don’t sew a lot of pleated garments. I really don’t like the way pleats look on me. (So why did I pick this pattern? I don’t know. I liked the asymmetry & the fullness.) Eventually I moved the pleats to the side, & I liked that a lot more.

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The overlap in the back is awfully short on me. Maybe the given measurements just weren’t meant for a lady with a little more junk in the trunk? Or maybe I fucked up somewhere along the way. In any case, it was an easy enough fix. I had two yards of really silky-feeling white cotton lawn in my stash that I had purchased with the express purpose of making an underskirt/half-slip. I had just never gotten around to it. I went to Joann & bought some white ruffled cotton trim designed to enclose a raw hem & sewed a 1/8″ yellow ribbon to it. I sewed up one seam, added elastic to gather in the skirt, & done. Now I have a really cute coordinating underskirt to wear with my striped skirt, & with all of my other dresses & skirts. & I was able to make another by cutting the yardage in half length-wise. I trimmed the second skirt in a wider pink ribbon, because pink is one of my neutrals & goes with literally everything in my wardrobe. I especially like how it looks under my pink gingham shirtdress, & under my Lady Skater dresses.

So that’s that! Even though this pattern is literally four pieces (if you don’t count the pocket bag), it took me weeks to make it because I spent so long trying to decipher the Japanese. Why I never reached out to the larger sewing community to see if there was a Japanese speaker that could help translate, I have no clue. It didn’t even occur to me until Zoe offered, by which point, the project was finished. Next time!

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Bonus creepy kitten pocket bag.

pattern: skirt from the high summer 2017 issue of “Mrs. Stylebook”
size: custom
fabric: 3 yards of yellow & white striped cotton from Ikea
notions: universal needle, white thread, white invisible zipper, two skirt hooks, lightweight interfacing for the waistband, invisible zipper foot
total cost of all supplies: around $50
alterations: none, really, because I drafted it myself
next time: try a lighter, more drape-y fabric; maybe try it in a knit
remarks from the public: “It’s okay, Mama. I don’t think you look like a bumblebee. They have black stripes.” — Ramona
photos: Ramona took the photos of me, I took the rest, as always

achievement unlocked: Little Ramona doll

If you visit this blog strictly for adult garment-sewing, turn back now! Because this particular post is about dollmaking, a new sewing rabbit hole I have fallen down.

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Meet Little Ramona! (Ramona named her.) When I was brainstorming my fall/winter sewing plans, I decided I wanted to do more sewing for Ramona. She’s still growing like a weed, but I think it’s slowed down enough that I can no longer use the excuse of an exponential baby growth explosion to justify not sewing clothes for her. She also loves it when I make other things for her–quilts, pillows, etc. She even goes crazy when I mend things for her, like slapping a patch on a hole in a pair of jeans from Goodwill.

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Ramona does have a few dolls, but she is more of a stuffie fan. (& let the record show, I never thought I would be the kind of person who used the term “stuffie”. I was gung ho on “stuffed animal” all the way. But one of Ramona’s favorite stuffies is actually a stuffed vampire, which is technically not an “animal”. & she calls them stuffies, even though I have no idea where she picked up that word. So…I’ve given in. But with God as my witness, I will never refer to her as my “little”. That is simply a bridge too far.) Personally, I like dolls, & I have fond memories of various dolls my mom made for me when I was a kid. So I decided I’d make Ramona doll for her upcoming fifth birthday.

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As with every new sewing endeavor I undertake, I did a mountain of research before I took a single stitch. I thought I’d just do your classic sock doll with a painted face, stuffed with polyfill. That’s what I remember having as a kid. But somehow I stumbled upon Waldorf dolls/natural fiber dolls & I went that route instead. Ramona does go to a play-based preschool, but it’s not a Waldorf school, & I actually don’t have a ton of patience for all the faeries & magic involved in the traditional Waldorf world. I’m all for imagination & play, staying away from the commercialization of childhood, not filling my house with noisy plastic toys, etc etc. But I do let Ramona watch TV (on the computer), to the point that one of her teachers gave me a drawing Ramona made at school & said, “She drew glasses on this person! I think she was drawing you!” & I instantly knew, no, it was Arthur, from the “Arthur” TV series.

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But, hey, no one ever said you have to ban all sugar & technology from your home before you can make a Waldorf-inspired doll. I got a bunch of dollmaking books from the library, queued up a bunch of YouTube tutorials, & ordered supplies from Weir Crafts. I got an early start (Ramona’s birthday is still ten weeks away) because everyone online was like, “Budget several months for your first doll. These dolls take forever!” etc etc.

I started stuffing the doll’s head on Wednesday & Little Ramona went to school for show & tell yesterday, less than a week later. I mean, I’m not claiming that this is a one-hour project, by any means. Stranding the hair alone took hours. But I think the fact that I already have so much sewing experience, both on machine & by hand, really helped speed up the process. The most time-consuming parts were mostly just a product of me over-complicating things. Like, when I made the head, I spent a bunch of time hand-tacking the neckline to cover the craft string, which was totally not necessary, because that whole area is covered anyway when the head is attached to the body. I also fussed with the face embroidery forever before deciding less is more. I probably spent a solid eight hours embroidering the face, only to rip it all back out to do just really simple satin-stitched eyes & a single strand of floss for the mouth. (& yes, ripping back the work I did means the doll skin on the face is less than perfect, but I was looking at the entire project as more of a learning experience than an exercise in creating museum-quality handwork, so whatever. Now I know for next time.)

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A traditional Waldorf doll is very minimalist. The facial features are more suggestions than anything else, with the idea that a child will use their imagination to project stories & emotions on to the doll during play. But you know me. I like to be fussy. So I did add some unnecessary detail, like ears, & eyelashes, & a dimple. Anyone who has ever met Ramona will know that her giant blue eyes & long eyelashes, big ears, & dimple are her stand-out features (eyes & dimple courtesy of me, ears & lashes come from Jared), so I wanted to incorporate them into the doll. I also added a belly button, the suggestion of bends in the elbows & knees, & I articulated the fingers & thumbs with chenille stems, so the hands are bendable, rather than just being mitts. (Though I did not make the fingers separate, because that look on a doll really creeps me out.)

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I also cut out a felt heart in Ramona’s current favorite color, blue, stuffed it with rice, & blanket stitched around the edges. I stuffed it into the torso to create a little extra weight. It gives the body a little extra heft for hugging & cuddling.

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& of course, she needed clothes before she could go to show & tell. Ramona requested “pink & green undies, a black t-shirt with a shark on it, & blue overalls.” I drafted everything from scratch & couldn’t quite accommodate all of Ramona’s requests, but I did my best.

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The undies are pink cotton jersey trimmed with teal 1/8″ elastic (the closest color I had to green). The t-shirt is a pretty simple dolman sleeve, also in cotton jersey. Somehow, I don’t have any fabric with sharks on it, so I subbed in a picture of a cat instead. I just zigzagged it for a more casual effect, & didn’t bother hemming anything because jersey doesn’t ravel.

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I fully intended to make overalls, but the legs I drafted were too tight, so I turned them into skinny jeans. They were kind of a rush job–I finished them literally ten minutes before we had to leave for school, & I still had to grab some lunch, get dressed, wash my face, etc etc, in that ten minutes. But they definitely fit Ramona’s aesthetic, the pockets are all 100% functional.

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Making the clothes was so much fun! I often make little paper or cloth mock-ups of garments I am making for myself, just to get a sense of how certain treatments work, to solve order of construction conundrums, etc. So this was totally in my wheelhouse. & as much as I love frills & bows & lace & ruffles, Ramona DOES NOT, & it was actually really satisfying to make doll clothes that are more contemporary & modern-looking than a lot of what you see out there. I’m also wondering if knitting doll clothes might be the solution to my knitting woes. I have yet to finish a project because I am slow, & the bigger my project gets, the more tension issues I have. I have a tendency toward overly tight stitches, so maybe a smaller project will enable me to work out those kinks. I know, I know, I should just make a scarf or pot holders or something, but ugh. I like to make real things! Not just squares & rectangles! Doll clothes might be the way to go!

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I’m not sure if dollmaking will become a “thing” for me, because the materials are not exactly inexpensive, & the process is definitely time-consuming. In a perfect world, people would commission them from me, so I can afford the materials & make more dolls without being a weirdo whose house is filled with dolls, you know? I mean, I only have one kid. But who knows, we’ll see.

PS–I finished stranding her hair while Ramona was at school today. Now she has pigtails! I used cotton yarn & two different kinds of mohair, individually stranded on to a braided wig cap made from boucle & mohair. Honestly, this volume is not all that dissimilar to how my hair looks if I wear it down.

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