Wednesday, November 30, 2011

Wednesday Inspiration

My queue has started rejecting new projects, and so, for the holiday season, I'm going to use Wednesday posts to show you pictures of gorgeous fashions that inspire me. Enjoy! :)

An evening dress by Sarmi, from 1970.
I think part of the appeal of this image to me is the dress form...

Tuesday, November 29, 2011

Tuesday's Torch Story

If you talk to a man in a language he understands, that goes to his head.
If you talk to a man in his language, that goes to his heart.
~ Nelson Mandela

We're wrapping up our semester - we'll have an end-of-the-semester party on our last week. I had our class photo made into Christmas tree ornaments ( and will give them out as small gifts to everyone...

It's kind of going to be a joint celebration - my class aide, Emilia, is turning 90! Can you believe it?!?! And it gets better - when she was younger, she spent years working in a real-honest-to-god circus! (Her favorite animal is the elephant.) So, we're combining our holiday party with a birthday party for Emilia. And we're going to have a circus theme - right down to the food (popcorn & peanuts) and the games (ring toss & pop the balloons with a dart). I'll have pictures for you next week! :)

Friday, November 25, 2011

Black Friday Greetings!

I hope everyone (well, all my US readers) had a wonderful Thanksgiving yesterday! And I hope that all who brave the Black Friday mobs return home triumphant (and in one piece!).

I'll resume my regularly scheduled posts next week.

For now, I did want to point you towards another give-away of The Original "How Much Fabric?" Reference Cards going on at Frabjous Couture (here).

The give-away is open to both US and international entrants and we will ship anywhere in the world. :)

Good luck to everyone!

Wednesday, November 23, 2011

In the Queue Wednesday

I imagine that many of us have similar short-term queues right now! ;)

We're far from family, but having a handful of friends over for a traditional meal. This year Ana is helping me prepare the food. It will be the first time she's helped me cook, the fourth time she's spent the holiday with us and our last Thanksgiving together. Next spring she'll finish school and return home to Mexico, most likely for good. We're really going to miss her...

What are you doing for Thanksgiving this year?

I hope everyone has a wonderful holiday! :)

PS - Christie has a review up on her blog, fabricshopperonline, of The Original "How Much Fabric?" Reference Cards - plus, a set will be included in her charity raffle on Black Friday. Stop by and check it out! :)

Tuesday, November 22, 2011

Tuesday's Torch Story

We should not look back unless it is to derive useful lessons from past errors,
and for the purpose of profiting by dearly bought experience.
~ George Washington

I tried to preserve the good from last week's activity and discard the bad - and I think this week's activity was a success!

The good (the goal) was to design an activity that small groups could do independently, with a way to check their answers.

The bad was the overly complicated method of revealing the answers (here).

This week, the topic was forming questions and negatives, in present and past tenses. I selected some of the verbs we had already seen (both regular and irregular) and created tables that detailed the positive statement, negative statement and question associated with each pronoun.

Then I cut up post-it notes so that each one covered one square in my table. I numbered those post-it notes and made little slips of paper with those numbers on them. I put all those little slips of paper in a ziploc bag and mixed them up.

The idea was that students would take turns drawing a number. The number would tell them a verb, in a tense, conjugated to a pronoun - and they would have to generate the 3 phrases. Then they could remove the post-it note and check their work!

It worked! I am at least partially redeemed after the previous failed activity... ;)

Sunday, November 20, 2011

Weekend Project: A Little Bit of Progress

He who moves not forward, goes backward.
~ Johann Wolfgang von Goethe

By this standard, I may have just managed to stand still... ;)

But I did get a little bit of work done on the insulated wine totes this weekend. More specifically, I finished all of the linings:

And made a small start on the insulated outer layers:

I think I need a sturdier needle to deal with the insul-brite and all these layers...

Meanwhile, my kitties continue to lead by example, regarding how weekends should be spent...

I hope everyone had a wonderful sewing weekend and feels ready for the start of a new week!

Saturday, November 19, 2011

Holiday Give-Away Alert

In celebration of (a) this holiday season and (b) the fact that we have (finally!) finished ALL FIVE sets of The Original "How Much Fabric?" Reference Cards (Children's clothes, sizes 7-16, will start shipping on 12 December), I'm going to be supporting a number of give-aways around the internet.

And the first one is up: Check out see kate sew's group give-away for a chance to win a package that includes your choice of 3 yards of Amy Butler fabric from Modern Fabric Studio, an e-reader case of your choice from Liz Ann Necessities AND a card set of your choice from me! :)

I'll let you know as other give-aways are posted. Oh, and if you are planning a holiday give-away and would be interested in including a set of the cards, shoot me an email:

Good luck! :)

Friday, November 18, 2011

Friday Confession

Everyone's joking that there's something in the air at work. Eighteen months ago, between the 9 full time people on our team, we had NO children. Six months from now, this same group of people will have 5 children, all under the age of 2.

And what does that mean for me? LOTS of sewing for babies! Which is generally a good thing - with one exception. Snap tape. I admit it - I hate it. I can't get a nice straight row of stitches along the side. The stupid snaps get in the way. :(

It's not the end of the world - I usually substitute Velcro and the Moms don't seem to mind too much.

But, how about you? Do you sew with snap tape? Do you have any tips for me? Or, like me, do you substitute something else when the pattern calls for snap tape?

Thursday, November 17, 2011

Talk Back Thursday

Thank you so much to Sarah, Becky, Carla, Mary, Mamafitz, Katherine, Gwen and Linda for talking back to my confession last week! I admitted that I don’t consciously shop the independents for my sewing supplies (patterns, fabric, notions, etc.) and asked about other people’s shopping habits.

I got some really thoughtful replies, but before I delve into the philosophies, let me summarize the more factual bits of the comments.

On the main question, we got a pretty big spread, with a definite skew towards the positive.

Well, we didn’t get the FULL range of possible answers… No one is actually opposed to shopping at small businesses. ;)

But we did have everything from one person who hasn’t been consciously trying to support small businesses to one person who will go so far as to buy things she doesn’t need, just to support her local independent shops. Most people fell in between, with an estimate of 50-50 (big chain purchases versus small indy purchases) from one commenter, an “I’ve been trying more lately” vote, a “whenever I can” vote and 2 solid “yes” votes.

The main “why not more often?” reason given was, not surprisingly, lack of accessibility (called out by 3 people).

On the other hand, I hadn’t anticipated the “why should you?” reason given by Katherine. I was thinking that supporting individuals is just a good thing to do. But she pointed out that it also benefits all of us in the long run, because it is the only way we ensure that we will have choices in the future! If we all shop 100% of the time at one or two big chains, before you know it, those will be the only stores in business… Wow, that’s a good point!

One last listy-bit – here are the indy companies and indy stores that were specifically called out:

Sewaholic patterns

A Fashionable Stitch


Colette book & patterns

Whip Stitch

Needle Nook

Gorgeous Fabrics

Hot Patterns

Sew Thankful


Now, on to the philosophy…

Sarah pointed out that sewing in-and-of-itself is already moving away from the buy-cheap-mass-produced-goods-at-a-big-box-store mentality. Even if we buy our fabric at Joann’s, we are still supporting the notions of individual expression, creativity, and skill.

And three people advocated buying less altogether, and focusing on “shopping” from your own stash of fabrics and patterns. I think it’s worth reading the original comments on these points – you can find them here. :)

Thank you again, to everyone who took the time to write such thoughtful replies! You’ve given me a lot to think about… :)

Wednesday, November 16, 2011

In the Queue Wednesday

Okay, so I've been revealing the fabric pairs picked by my friends and co-workers for their Christmas presents (insulated wine totes and casserole totes) in batches of 3 per week - but I recently found out that I made a mistake and mis-paired fabrics from 2 different people last week! Yikes! Good thing I found that out BEFORE actually sewing anything!

Anyways, I decided to just show all 9 pairs in this one post. Here they are:

(See if you can figure out which pairs were selected by women [6] and which pairs were selected by men [3]. Bonus points if you can guess which man is going to get in trouble with his wife when he brings home his kitchen-related Christmas gifts!)



Ready for the answers?
Women: A-F
Men: G-I

Bonus question - I think you can figure that out for yourself! ;)

So, I had hoped to finish the wine totes last weekend, but an unexpected turn of events changed my plans...

Ana has been wanting to go horseback riding forever and I finally got around to scheduling a trail ride for us on Saturday. I was surprised when Ana seemed more nervous around the horses than I was - it had only been 5 years for her, vice 35 years for me, since either of us had been riding.

(On a side note - I often help Ana study her English by writing sentences that use the phrases she is trying to learn, but leave blanks in those sentence and she has to figure out which phrase fits. In honor of our upcoming ride, I wrote the following sentence, designed to use the phrase "chances are":

This weekend I'm going horseback riding for the first time in 35 years - _______, I'm going to be sore afterwards."

She filled in "I'm sure" - which was NOT one of her phrases. When I said that the answer was supposed to be "chances are," she replied that she had considered that, but rejected it because after 35 years, soreness was a sure thing, not a good chance. Thanks, Ana!)

Anyways, the weather was beautiful and it was a perfect day for a ride!

She calmed down quickly and really enjoyed herself!

I, on the other hand, would have perhaps benefited by being a bit MORE nervous and cautious... My horse threw me! (And, in later versions of this story, proceeded to try to trample me to death underneath its razor sharp hooves of steel!)

I was extremely lucky and not seriously injured...but man, was I one incapacitated, massive, aching bruise for the next few days! :(

Tuesday, November 15, 2011

Tuesday's Torch Story

Failure is the tuition you pay for success.
~ Walter Brunell

Remember my super cool idea for an activity with my class?

How did it go?

Oh, let's just say:

Gwen: 0
K.I.S.S.: 1

There was one funny-in-a-hopeless-kind-of-way moment, when I looked out over my class and all of my students were squinting and holding the red filters and answer cards up in front of their faces and moving them closer and further away, and turning them backwards and forwards and upside-down, trying to make out the words...

In the end, maybe one quarter of the students were able to read the words through the filter and complete the activity on their own. I was really scrambling to keep the rest of them on track and doing something productive.

In an attempt to salvage something, I taught them about the K.I.S.S. principle. ;)

Now, if I can just learn to follow it!

Sunday, November 13, 2011

Weekend Project: Sometimes You Have to Trust Yourself

Trust yourself. You know more than you think you do.
~ Benjamin Spock

Well, my first Christmas present project (the wine totes) got off to a rocky start... I skimmed the instructions from front to back before doing anything, and was intrigued by the instructions for squaring off the bottom of the tote. I've made a handful of bags and learned various methods for forming bottoms - but these looked different. It appeared that there was only ONE step, and I was accustomed to doing each of the 2 corners separately.

Here is EVERYTHING in the instructions referring to making the bottom:

I didn't quite understand the instructions, but assumed that it would make sense when I actually followed them, and was happily anticipating learning a new, easier and possibly ingenious method. :)

Alas, it was not to be...

The first step was to fold the square piece of fabric in half and stitch along the side and the bottom, leaving only the top open. Next was to turn the fabric 90 degrees and open it up, forming a triangle at the bottom.

My first interpretation problem came when I was trying to decide where to measure the 3.5 inches. The picture seemed to indicate that it was from side to side on the tote. But the instructions said "...from the corner" I decided to follow the words and use what I thought was "the corner":

It turned out that my stitching line fell just before the start of all the folded over fabric, so that made me think that maybe this was right. I stitched the line and cut off the excess and couldn't wait to see the miraculous squared off bottom! Ta Da!

Ooops - that is not a squared off bottom.

Okay, back to the drawing board - apparently they DID mean from side-to-side, as illustrated in the drawing. I could do that:

I still didn't see how it was going to produce a cool, squared off bottom, and I was still excited to see. I stitched and cut and...


What the heck?

Realization dawned. The instructions were fundamentally flawed and this was one case where I should trust my knowledge of how to make squared off bottoms. EACH corner had to be made separately:

I stitched the lines (3.5 inches from side-to-side) on EACH corner and trimmed the excess fabric:

Now, turn it right-side out and... voila!

Finally! :)

Other than that, the rest of the first wine tote came together pretty smoothly. My only other minor quibble was the length of the strap (10 inches). It might be a good length for the finished tote, but it was just a tiny bit too short to fit comfortably in place during construction. If I were to do this again, I'd probably go with 11 or 12 inches...

Anyways, without further ado, here are a couple of pictures of my first, completed wine tote:

Only 8 more to go! ;)

I hope you had a wonderful sewing weekend and are ready for a new week... :)

Friday, November 11, 2011

Friday Confession

I made a joke last weekend about "Sewing Pattern Company Transfer Day", but it got me thinking - I spend money on my sewing, and, to be honest, the majority of that money goes to big companies - Joann Fabrics, the big 4 pattern companies, etc...

I have my own small, sewing-related business, so you would think that I would work harder at supporting other small, independent sewing-related businesses. But I haven't. In part, I suppose, because of the convenience of the big companies and in part because of inertia - I just keep doing what I'm used to doing.

But maybe I should make a conscious effort to change this.

How about you? Do you make an effort to support small, independent sewing-related businesses? If so, what types - fabric stores? pattern makers? others? And, why do you do it? If not, why not? What do you think about all this "Occupy" stuff? Should it extend to our hobby?

Thursday, November 10, 2011

Talk Back Thursday

Thank you so much to Marie, Gwen, Linda, Anonymous and Christine for talking back to my confession a couple of weeks ago! I mentioned an "aha!" moment when I realized how much my sewing skills have improved over the last few years, and asked if others had similar revelation stories to share...

The stories were wonderful, and I recommend that you read them for yourself (here) to get the full impact. But I'll do my best to summarize... ;)

I think every possible aspect associated with sewing was covered by someone in her "aha!" moment:

Before even entering the sewing room: Gwen recognized how far her skills had developed when she realized that she could look at a garment and figure out how it was constructed and how the design of that garment would be represented in pattern pieces.

In the sewing room - normal processes: For Linda and Marie, it was realizing that they no longer had to painstakingly read each step of the instructions before completing it. Linda reported that a year ago she couldn't have imagined herself at this point, but now, few things scare her and she only uses instructions for periodic reference material.

Similarly, Marie finds it easy to remember all the steps and techniques associated with each garment that she makes. As she said, "Things fall into place when I am sewing," and she knows how to adapt techniques to new situations.

In the sewing room - dealing with mistakes: For an anonymous commenter, it was recognizing that she could deal with mistakes. Instead of letting a project stall when she messes up, now she just rips things out (even tiny black stitches on black fabric!), and re-does them!

Okay, maybe she doesn't LOVE ripping things out, but it's no longer a show-stopper. ;)

The Finished Garment: For Christine, it was actually a comment made by someone else on one of her creations. She made Halloween costumes for her nieces (see picture above) and her brother-in-law commented that "he was so impressed by the detail that he checked them a couple of times for [RTW] tags." :)

She didn't mention this in her comment, but I happen to know that, when the girls found out that the costumes shouldn't be washed, one of them refused to wear her costume to all the pre-Halloween festivities, because she loved it so much that she wanted to make sure it was perfect and clean for the big night!

Those are some pretty powerful compliments!

I think I know how good she must feel - for years, my nephews always made sure to wear the shirts that I made for them on School Picture Day. That was their own idea - not mine or their mother's. It made me feel pretty happy. :)

So, there are lots of different and wonderful ways to realize that your sewing skills are growing and you are learning! Gwen summed it up best: "One thing about sewing - you never, ever quit learning."

Thanks again to everyone for your wonderful stories! I loved reading about your "Aha!" moments! :)

Wednesday, November 9, 2011

In the Queue Wednesday

Here are 3 more fabric pairs (out of 9) selected by friends / co-workers for their Christmas presents:

Remember that I'm making each person an insulated wine tote and an insulated casserole carrier.

Don't these choices highlight the unique personalities of each person? I love that!

Oh, thanks for the suggestions regarding which fabric to put on the outside and which fabric to put on the inside!

I was hoping to have one general rule to follow, but I think I'm going to have to decide on a case by case basis...

I reviewed the wine tote instructions and it looks pretty quick and easy. I'm hoping to get started this weekend - it's a long one thanks to Veteran's Day. :)

Don't worry - I'll get to these soon! They're in my queue...

Tuesday, November 8, 2011

Tuesday's Torch Story

Secrets are made to be found out with time.
~ Charles Sanford

In my continuing quest to go over-the-top when planning our ESL classroom activities, I've come up with a secret message game to practice conjugating verbs. ;)

Does anyone remember that old board game (based on a TV game show) "Password"? There were game cards that you couldn't read, until you slid them into the magic decoder sleeve - with a red filter. Once the information was behind the red filter - voila! - suddenly you could read it!

Well, I thought I'd put my students in pairs and give each one a card and magic decoder sleeve. For each item, one card would have the verb conjugation problem and the other card would have the answer. And the cards would alternate, so that each student was solving half the problems and knowing the right answer to double-check his/her partner on the other half of the problems.

This way, the student pairs can work independently and all I have to do is wander around the classroom, making sure that everything was going smoothly.

So, how do I make these cards and magic decoder sleeves? A little internet research turned up the answer! It's not difficult - although it will be a bit hard on the red ink supply in my printer... :(

I write the messages in a fat, dotted blue font (see first row in figure below) and create a box with a red checked pattern (see second row).

When the overlay is on top of the text (see third row in the figure above), it's difficult (although not completely impossible) to read the text underneath. But when you slide this behind a red filter, it becomes easy (well, easier, at least) to read the text.

I can see what you are thinking... Why not just write the problems and the answers on pieces of paper and pass them out?

Oh, come on - where's the fun in that? ;)

Besides, who needs red ink in their printer anyways? ;)

(I'll probably make back-up pages, just in case anyone has too much trouble reading the words inside the magic decoder sleeve...)

So, that's the craziness I'm up to this week. Stay tuned for my next adventure in flying dangerously in the face of the basic "KISS" principle of life! ;)

Sunday, November 6, 2011

Weekend Project: Sewing Pattern Company Transfer Day

Think globally, act locally.
~ Patrick Geddes

In honor of bank transfer day, I made this pattern from a small, independent sewing pattern publisher.

Okay, it was mostly a coincidence - I made the pattern because I like it and I had this gorgeous pink fabric waiting for me. ;)

It went together very easily. As you can see, there are princess seams - and I was careful to place the longer piece of fabric on the bottom, to let the feed dogs help me ease it in - another thing I learned from you guys! :)

The only odd thing about the pattern was that the instructions didn't call for any type of reinforcing the waistband - no interfacing and no second layer of fabric... I went ahead and interfaced it, because it seems like the majority of the patterns I make call for that. I'm not sure why - maybe this piece receives extra stress?

I did have to take in the hips - but that is most likely a reflection of the disproportions of my body, not any issues with the pattern.

I love the neckline - isn't that a nice detail?

It is super comfortable, suitable for work and a reasonably flattering silhouette. I'm really happy with it! :)

I hope you had a wonderful sewing weekend and are ready to start another week!

Wednesday, November 2, 2011

In the Queue Wednesday

For my friends / co-workers, I'm making insulated wine totes and casserole totes as Christmas gifts. I sent everyone a link to and asked them to pick out 2 cotton quilting fabrics that they liked. My plan is to use both fabrics on both totes - one on the outside and one on the inside - to make a matched set.

One of the things I love most about projects like this is letting people pick their own fabric and then getting to work with all the colors and patterns that they pick.

Fabrics have started coming in - here are pairs picked by 3 of my friends:

One question to decide is which fabric to put on the outside and which fabric to put on the inside on each tote. Of course, I don't have to use the same fabric on the outside of both totes - I could switch it up...

With the casserole tote, both the outside and the inside will show (at one time or another). With the wine tote, really only the outside will show - people will never get more than a peek at the inside.

So, for each pair, I'm trying to figure out how to arrange them. Any suggestions for these 3 pairs?

I'll be starting on these soon. They are in my queue... :)

Tuesday, November 1, 2011

Tuesday's Torch Story

We are in community each time we find a place where we belong.
~ Peter F. Block

This is what I want my class to be for my students - a place where they belong. And beyond that, I hope that by helping them improve their English, they will begin to feel that they belong to the larger community of this town... this state... this county. :)

No story for you today - just a group picture of the students who showed up this week. I'm having it imprinted onto ceramic Christmas tree ornaments and I'll pass them out as Christmas gifts this year. Just one small symbol of our community. :)