Monday, January 24, 2011

The Journey Back

Let me begin by saying, for the record, that migraines suck.  Especially when they last for two or three days (or in my son's case, often for weeks on end).  Mine are often accompanied by ridiculous little sound tracks that loop through my head with abandon, at approximately the decibel level of a jumbo jet.  This weekend, though, the pickaxe through my skull was brought to me by this sponsor: The Ugly Little Voice That Raises Ugly Little Doubts.  We all have them - the nagging voices saying that we aren't good enough, aren't prepared enough, aren't who we really put ourselves out into public as being (you Poser, you!).  Normally, I know better and ignore that voice (for the most part).  When the point is being repeatedly driven home by, well, what feels like a REAL point, it's a little harder to shake.  So while I continue my bobble-headed recovery (physical and psychological) from this weekend's double-edged torment, let me offer an apology for not updating with more crafty goodness.  I meant for this blog to keep me on a daily creative track, to monitor my progress, and to make me somewhat accountable since other members of the world would be paying attention.  That doesn't always happen, even with the best of intentions - when the migraines hit either one of us, all we can do is batten down the hatches and ride them out.  I did manage to get some hand-sewing done, but since it was just putting patches on a jacket, I figured that wasn't really fitting the Creative Aspect I was striving for with this blog.

So here are some photos of some creative goodness I was able to muster right before Christmas, when the Migraine Fairy was apparently called elsewhere.  These are jackets that I purchased from my local Assistance League, a delightful thrift shop that the volunteers call The Bargain Box.  And bargains, indeed - I can get jeans there for about $4.00, t-shirts from $2.50 up, dresses for $3.00 to $4.00, and on.  I have also bought sweaters, wool jackets, purses and other items with the intention of remaking them into something unique, a la Stampington's Altered Couture (  I had seen these little unfinished jean jackets there, prominently displayed up front, for the ridiculous price of $1.00 each.  And they weren't selling.  Imagine that!

So one day, while perusing the newest donation glut in the store, I took a look at the rack and just about fell over.  Sad to say, even though some of the volunteers had tried to spruce up a few of the jackets & sell them at a reasonable price, no one was interested.  So the volunteers decided to let them all go - at 50 cents a pop.  That, my friends, was an altered clothing explosion waiting to happen at my house!  Without further ado, I asked one of the volunteers to help me gather up ALL of the jean jackets.  They made me a very generous offer (threw in quite a few for free), but wondered what on earth I was going to do with all those jackets ranging from a 2T to about a size 10.  I still need to take some photos into the store to share with these lovely people, but here are the three that I got finished so far (there are about 25 others waiting in the wings):

The first one off the assembly line.  The lavender velvet parts were from a recycled t-shirt bought at the Salvation Army.

Sometimes I amaze myself.  After putting the collar on, I needed a way to fasten the jacket front.  The elastic loop here was made from what was left of the hem of the original t-shirt.  The button was fastened to the other side of the collar, and  Wham! Instant flower!

After the nifty button flower assembly at the collar, I knew I needed to balance it out; so I added matching flowers at the sleeves.  These don't have elastic, but it did balance the design nicely.  The embroidery you see here was originally on the t-shirt. 

Jacket number 2.  

Used parts of another velvet t-shirt I found at the Assistance League, as well as some satin I had purchased for another client (who decided against the prom purse - lucky me), and some of the most awesome buttons ever - I swear, they were made just to go with this jacket.  

Third jacket, made with a skirt I bought at the Assistance League for about a buck.   

A closeup of the neckline treatment - I wanted it to look sort of fairy princess-ish, so I serged these two leaf shapes for the asymmetrical neckline, then added pearl ribbon trim and a rosebud.  I liked it, but it needed something to balance out the shapes.  

That's when I hit on the solution - I used part of the existing embroidery from the overskirt to add to the other side of the neckline.  Voila, balanced, yet still asymmetrical & whimsical.  

Now if I could just have figured out how to keep those darn pearls from shifting while sewing the ribbon....

I will be periodically posting more jacket "do-overs" as I get them done.  These were a joy to make, even with the challenges they presented.  The best part?  Hearing about the little recipients strutting and dancing around the room after opening them on Christmas.  How could that get any better?

Wednesday, January 19, 2011

Getting Started: What I Need to Do vs. What I Want to Do

Bleah.  After a week or so of lovely spring/summer-ish weather, the marine layer came in with a vengance.  I have a lot of trouble moving during cold weather, in addition to being in quite a bit of pain most of the time.  I suffer from fibromyalgia and other overlapping issues, and getting to things that demand my attention doesn't always happen.  It's often a pushme-pullyu situation:  I know there's a lot that needs doing, so I have a choice to make - do I push through the pain to get it all done and then not be able to move for three days afterwards, or do I choose ONE thing (or two, if I'm lucky) to get done & cross off my ever-growing list?  Why is it that when I know there are projects that NEED to get done (especially for friends & clients), I almost always drift off into mental design mode?

I think I will rethread the serger tonight and whip out those pajama pants for the boys, since they are UFO's that were supposed to be under the tree for Christmas.  I can just about do that in my sleep (LOL - no pun intended!), and since the two of them are the same size now (and when exactly did that happen?), I can do them assembly-style.  While I'm doing that, I am daydreaming about putting together some knit fabric and thrift shop sweaters I've been stashing away bit by bit to conjure up something along these lines:

Only problem is, I tend to want to be this creative (and looking at these cardigans & tops, I'm so positive that I CAN be this creative) but end up frozen in fear of failure when I sit down to design something.  I wonder what makes us play mental games with ourselves like this?  

So, I'm thinking that perhaps I might readjust my frame of mind and allow for some play, whether it works out or not.  I've collected a number of pieces of material (a lot of it from the dollar bin at Jenny's Fabrics) as well as jackets & sweaters that I have been intending to refashion into purses & "new" garments.  Maybe I can get into more of a work mode if I alternate a client project with a refashion project, and then maybe a garment from scratch.  I wonder if that will help me to stay on track.  My primary goal this year is to get stuff into my idle Etsy shop...and then see what happens.  Now I'm off to serge some pajamas before I can't move any more tonight....

Tuesday, January 18, 2011

While I'm cutting...

This is today's pile for cutting.  Nothing fancy, just cotton flannel to make pajama pants for the boys.
Mmmm.....soft, cushy, warm....just in time for 80 degree weather.

Of course, my intrepid sewing assistant, Neko, insisted that this was NOT material for the boys.  Oh, no.  I have NO idea where I got that notion.  

We interrupt this afternoon's cutting session to bring you a regularly scheduled nap. 

Neko has a tendency to "help" me with all of my sewing, everything from pattern inspection to supervising the stitching.  

Which pattern piece should I shred next?  Choices, choices....

Mom, this seam could use a little work.  Here, let me help you pick out the stitches.  

Are you SURE that's on the right setting?  

Sigh.  So, while I'm waiting to get to the rest of the fabric.....

Came across a post on one of my favorite blogs today:
Of course, I needed to take a look for myself to see what the uproar was about.

Must.  Find.  This.  Pattern.

Friday, January 14, 2011

You Learn Something New Every Day

Well, How-Do-You-Do!  (Or, How on earth did you do THAT?)

Downloaded Picasa 3 from Google today and decided to play around with it to make a new banner for the blog.  I found a tutorial here:  It was a little confusing at first, but the more you play, the more you learn.  And it was a whole lot easier than trying to learn Photoshop.  That is still in my list of to-dos, just don't have it on my laptop yet.  I thought the final outcome was pretty nice.

Everything in the banner is something I've crafted.  Hoping that as time goes on, I can switch out new banners every month or so - don't want the blog to get boring!

Thursday, January 13, 2011


One very happy client came in today to pick up the coat, and she loved how it turned out.  Even though it was warmer today, she went out the door wearing it so everyone she worked with could see it!  I like happy endings, don't you?

Today was spent doing mostly small-ish jobs:  prepping & hand-hemming some pants for another client.  I have another list of jobs that need to get started/worked on/finished, but that darn disc of mine is doing the watusi again so I've needed to lay low a bit.  I did manage to get up to the high school to do fittings for about 34 percussion ensemble kids - by myself.  Meaning I was bending, leaning, stretching, and getting down to the floor to take measurements.  Come to think of it, that's probably why my back is screaming right now.

Just for your amusement (and because photos of hemming & taking measurements are really boring), here are some pics of one of my previous year's goals: hand-knit socks.  I was always afraid to knit anything more difficult than a plain scarf (or when I felt daring, one that had a cable in it).  But about five years ago or so I decided that every New Year's I would choose a couple of goals for the year and then spend all year learning how to accomplish them.  My goal one year was to learn to knit socks (and break out of my knitting rut), using double pointed needles.  I had bought a book by Stephanie Pearl-MacPhee titled Knitting Rules which keeps me in stitches - literally and figuratively.  She has an amazing sense of humor, and also possesses a manner of writing that makes you feel like you can knit just about anything.  Armed with her book and some self-patterning yarn, I proceeded to follow her instructions.  Finishing up that first pair of socks made me feel absolutely incredible - I honestly wouldn't have even attempted this without having her clear directions & encouragement.  Goal accomplished!

Here's the first pair:
Exciting self-patterning yarn - you want to keep knitting just to see what it does next!

My son liked them so much he asked for a pair, so I knit a very similar set for him in browns/tans.  He wore them so much that, alas, they exist no more.  

I did knit a few more pair for myself, using variations in yarn.  This pair came out well, are super soft and were done in a microfiber yarn - I think Michael's sells it as Microspun - but they are just too thick to wear in regular shoes.  You can see a really cool pattern in the heel area called Eye of Partridge - done with alternating slipped stitches.  

Thick - but soft, soft, soft!

I thought it was high time to get some "real" sock yarn, so I went to a local yarn shop & bought some cotton/lycra stretch sock yarn (on sale) in several different colors and one multi-color.  I knit this pair first, because I wanted something colorful.  I wore them once.  I hated them - they are really stiff and uncomfortable.  I am donating them in case there is someone out there who can't feel the bottoms of their feet that much.  I'm going to have to donate the rest of that kind of yarn, too, as I can't see matters improving much in a different color.  

Cute.  But uncomfortable. 

In between all of these pairs of socks, I decided to give my son & my husband some better socks - so I went back to the yarn store & bought good, washable WOOL sock yarn.  My husband got a pair to wear in his hiking boots.  Only he didn't like them, he thought they were too thin.  So they sit in his drawer.  For my son, though, I bought a striped superwash wool, and I can't get those off him - he literally wears them all the time when he is home.  Couldn't take a picture, either - they are blue and stripe in red, green and turquoise.  I am working on another superwash wool pair for him (with another pair coming shortly thereafter) so he can alternate them and not go through the heels & toes so quickly!  Here is the one finished sock:

Back to the self-patterning stuff - it's still just as much fun!

The next pair for him will be self-patterning with shades of blue in it - the yarn is beautiful and the socks should turn out very nicely. (I bought two more skeins for myself, same type of self-pattern. I couldn't help it.)

My older son wouldn't be caught dead in a pair of hand-knit socks from his mother.  Oh, no.  So to change things up a bit, he asked me if I could design & knit a pair of fingerless gloves for Wednesday night practices in marching band (he played the flute and his hands were always cold out there).  Took me several months to plan, design, and graph the pattern for them, but I did finally get them done in time for his senior year in the band.  I knit these, intarsia style, in a bamboo yarn that feels like silk and was a joy to knit.  The washing, not so much.  You have to hand-wash these, and lay them flat to dry.  Even so, they were a hit.

Zebra knit!

Wouldn't even have DREAMED of trying to design & graph my own glove pattern if I hadn't been so successful with the socks!  If you knit and haven't seen her book, you should check it out - she will make you laugh out loud!

More crafting to come!

Wednesday, January 12, 2011

New and Improved Coat

Whew!  Well, as most things do, that took a little longer than I had planned.  Thankfully, I saw the client and had a chance to show her the work in progress & get a go-ahead on machine stitching the hem of the coat, which saved some time anyway.  She was pleased and I can't wait for her to see the final product!

To continue where I left off:
The next stage of the process was adding new button holes & sewing the buttons back on in a place that made much more sense!

Marking positions for the new buttonhole

I decided to use the automatic buttonholer that came with my machine.  It's a Viking Husqvarna Designer SE, which I dearly love but the guys at the store keep trying to convince me to trade up to the Husqvarna Diamond, which would give me more room to work and a much larger embroidery area.  Since it's about the same as buying another small car, I've been putting it off!  Part of the reason for starting this blog is so I can work through just about everything this baby can do - as well as meeting self-imposed "deadlines" - I tend to procrastinate but if you're reading, it'll keep me accountable!

The electronic auto-button hole foot - an awesome innovation, if you ask me!
It came with a bit of a learning curve.  (Note to self:  pay more attention to the onboard Sewing Advisor.  It really is smarter than you.  For instance, when sewing a buttonhole in the wrong size, it would have been easier to pick the stitches out if you hadn't left the machine set up to sew extremely lightweight material!  Too many stitches packed into an itty-bitty living space!)

After about an hour of picking out stitches (ugh!), I set the machine up for the proper weight of material, the right size buttonhole (which for some reason were about 1.5cm longer than the cut hole on the original buttonholes), and tried it again.  Success!  Now to cut the actual hole:  if you don't have one of these cutting notions & you sew, you need to get one.  Mine is an old one my mother gave me as a gift years ago and came with a wooden block to cut against.  The newer ones have a miniature cutting mat and are widely available at fabric stores.  It will give you a really accurate cut - no danger of accidentally snipping side stitches or ending up with a ragged hole!  People wonder sometimes what you do if the buttonhole is smaller than the blade.  I was taught to put the end of the buttonhole to be cut on the edge of the block, letting the rest of the buttonhole hang over the edge.  Using just the corner of the blade, cut up to (but not including!) the tack stitches.  Flip the garment or the block so the cut end of the buttonhole is now hanging off the edge of the block, and cut the other side of the hole using the corner of the blade.

That wood you see is my desk, not the block! It's so small the coat hides it - but I don't recommend cutting without it - this blade is pretty sharp!

Next it was time to add the two buttons back to the top of the coat.

Looks like I'm sewing my fingers into the project, LOL!
After approval by the client, I machine hemmed the coat instead of hand hemming it like it originally was.  If you attempt a project like this, make sure that when you sew, you keep the lining out of the way while  stitching - you don't want it to be attached at the bottom of the coat or it will hang strangely while wearing it.  The bottom of the lining needs to swing freely, tacked in just a couple of strategic places.  When I cut the excess fabric off the bottom of the coat & lining, I had opened up the seam between the lining & the coat about 5 to 6 inches higher than the new hem, to give me enough room to sew.

Forgot to move the Ott Light out of the way of the camera - whoops!
After that, I stitched the lining in the same fashion, being careful to keep the outer coat out of the way of the stitching.  

The hem on the lining is double-folded, to give it some weight.  

Giving the hem of the lining a press - I should have done this before sewing it to keep it even.  Be aware of your fabric content - you don't want to set your iron too high and melt it by accident!
Afterwards, all that was left was hand-stitching the lining to the coat along the edges, hand-stitching the shoulder areas closed again, and neatening up whatever straggling threads there may be.  And there it is - a "new" coat!

 Tell me what you think!

Monday, January 10, 2011

An Amazing Coat Transformation

Hey, there! Welcome to the second-ever post on Crafting Chronicles! I've been working on several things at once, which is my usual M.O.  I thought I'd wait until I was finished with certain things before I posted them here, but my son says I'd never post if that were the case.  I usually forget to photograph things until AFTER they've gone out the door with the client!  With that in mind, thought I'd post what I have in progress, then post the final photos tomorrow.  Was planning on having this done by today, but I'm an on-call seamstress for a sign shop about 10 or 15 miles away and got called in today, so there went that plan.
A friend of mine was gifted this lovely off-white coat (some kind of synthetic blend) after working at a church function.  She loved the coat, but kept it in her closet for almost a year because it was beastly long.  Like me, she is vertically challenged.  She brought it over in hopes that I could make it a bit more user-friendly.  Right away, I could see that it would be great as what we used to know as a "car coat" - one that kept you warm but wasn't so long that it would get caught in the car door.
Before the transformation
As you can see, I pinned it to a more appropriate length for her.  Two stupidly placed buttons have been removed - they hit right on the bust points! Off they went, to be used again toward the end of the refashion.

Off with their heads!

Next went the shoulder pads, which could have qualified my friend for the NFL.  I had to cut through the lining to get to them.  That will be handstitched shut.
Good-bye, shoulder pads! Make friends with the other remnants!
Next, I marked the hemline with chalk, then opened out the lining and cut the coat.  (I don't know why, but this part always feels like I'm going to get into trouble for chopping up a perfectly good garment.  Hard to shake that little voice in my head!)
Chop, chop!
Of course, I left enough below the chalked hemline to turn up.  Next came the lining, cut to match the new coat length.
Whacka, whacka, whacka!
The coat's previous hemline, lining hemline, and front facings were all hand-hemmed.  I think to retain that "professional" look, a lot of hand-stitching is coming down the pike.  Here's an example:
Loosened hand-stitching can be seen near the top.

Tomorrow: New buttonholes, new button placement, hand-stitching, and Voila! New coat!  Stay tuned!

Saturday, January 8, 2011

Posting. And hoping my sons, nieces & nephews aren't laughing.

Well, there had to be a start-up post, right?  Welcome to my little blog about things that I do to make a living. And keep my sanity.  I have two teenage sons, and if you ask them, some days it actually makes me insane instead.  But I always learn something, and usually the clients are fairly pleased with the outcome, in spite of my constant second-guessing.
I have a plan for this year.  Since I've had several requests, I needed to get a blog up and running to show what goes on behind the scenes; most of the time, people only see the result.  There might be some who would like to know how you get from Point A to Point B in order to try it out for themselves.  I'm good with that.  Throughout the centuries, up-and-coming artists were usually required to apprentice with an established artist for years before they could go out on their own; I've certainly done my share of learning from workshops, DVDs, and tutorials and blogs posted by other creative types.  As soon as I can learn a bit more about blogging, I will link to some of the sites I like to visit the most for inspiration, as well as post photos of prior work and current work-in-progress.  One thing at a time.
Part of my plan for this year also includes starting up an online shop.  I've set one up on Etsy.  Now I just need to get stuff done to sell there.  Most of what I've done so far have been requests that people have brought to me, so as soon as it's done, it goes out the door.  What I need (desperately) to do is to sort through my roomful of supplies, get cranking, and just make things because I like them.  My Mantra for the year (as ridiculous as it sounds) is, "Lose the Fear, Lose the Pile."  It's an understatement, really, as the "pile" in question could easily be mistaken for Mt. Aetna.
So if you're following along, please be patient with me while I learn a bit about how to go about doing all of this.  If you're really nice, wish me luck.  You never know when that might come in handy.