do we need a murphy bed?

looking for a new apartment/house continues to depress me. we’ve looked at a couple of places, but they have only made us appreciate how charming & well-located our current house is. if only there was some way to just add a second bedroom to our house! all of our problems: solved! (though it would also be nice to have a washer & dryer in the house, as opposed to the unfinished, spider-infested basement. still, it beats going to the laundromat with a hamper full of dirty diapers!)

we have a few more showings set up for the next few days, but jared crunched the numbers & determined that for what we’d be spending in extra rent for a two-bedroom, we could buy a custom-made murphy bed & turn our “library” (half the living room, which is outfitted in floor-to-ceiling bookshelves on most of the walls & separated from the “real” living room by french doors–another reason we love this house) into a bedroom. but it could also still be a play area for ramona during the day, when the bed is closed up. we both love murphy features. we bought a murphy table a few years ago (but have never lived in a place that is really suitable for it), & my first solo apartment in portland was a cute studio with a murphy kitchen! really! the entire kitchen, except the fridge, closed into the wall when i didn’t need it! people don’t believe me & this is before the advent of digital camera so i have no photos of it, but i swear it’s true.

we’re lucky that we have a large enough living room to contemplate this possibility. we just love our house so much, our landlady is fabulous, the rent is so cheap, the location couldn’t possibly be improved upon…the only downside to the murphy bed idea is that we wouldn’t really have a bed to escape to during the day when we are sick (though we could just keep the french doors shut & torment ramona with a slightly smaller play area for those periods), & i wouldn’t be able to shut myself in the bedroom when i’m “off-shift” with ramona (which i rarely do anyway–only on days when i am feeling particularly run down). we’re only going to be in lawrence for one more year…this might be the way to go, instead of stressing out looking for a new place, packing, moving, paying more rent, having to get used to driving more if we’re not in such a walkable neighborhood (we currently only have to gas up the car once every month or two because we so rarely use it).

apartment-hunting is such a bummer. the rents people try to charge in lawrence are crazy. like over $1000 for a three-bedroom. this is lawrence, kansas! how do they think that’s going to fly? but i guess it does because of the university & parents that are willing to pay their kids’ rents at college. most of the landlords are slumlords who don’t make any effort to maintain their properties. i’ve seen houses that i was actually scared to enter because the foundations were so wrecked. one house actually had squishy, bouncy floors, like a trampoline. it felt like it was going to collapse any second. not that this is necessarily the landlord’s fault, but another house had a litterbox that had clearly never been cleaned. the cat owner just dumped more litter on top whenever she decided it was necessary. the entire box was full & pouring off the sides…on to the dingy, gray carpet. the entire apartment reeked of cat piss & pot smoke. the person showing us the place was like, “we’ll open some windows & air it out before you move in.” or, try this: we will NEVER live here. it makes me understand why a lot of landlords don’t permit cats. (we’ve had to skip a few decent-looking places because we adopted lula in february.)

we looked at a place the other day with big, airy, spacious bedrooms with clean, new hardwood floors & closets, & a recently remodeled HUGE bathroom with a tub, washer, & dryer. water was included in the very reasonable cost of rent, & it was just a few blocks from our current place! but. there’s always a but. the kitchen & living room were tiny & dark. not that we live so large, but we do need space for our desks, our books, my sewing table, & room for ramona to play.

we’ve decided it’s okay to be really picky, since we don’t have to move. that makes things a little more bearable.

in other news, i am contemplating my next dress project. i think i’m going to make mccall’s 6503, version C. i like the sleeves & i have no need for a bunch of frills across the front of my dress. i just can’t decide on fabric. i’m torn between the anna maria horner “social climber” fabric in the gold colorway (it’s a bright golden yellow with hot pink roses), the pink “mermaid play” from the out to sea collection, or this cool sea urchin print fabric, colorway to be decided (purple is easier to come by, but i’m responding more to the aqua). maybe i’ll get all three, & use the runners-up for other dresses in the future?

when i started getting curious about making dresses, i stumbled across a few blogs written by people who made it a goal to sew one dress a week. one dress a week! that is crazy to me! i was like, “wow, those people do not have kids.” at least not little kids, right? maybe they have school-age kids. the mind boggles at what i could get done in a day with ramona off at school for seven hours. but sewing up a dress isn’t nearly as time-consuming as making a quilt. an experienced seamster really could bang out a dress in a day or two. so maybe it’s not as bonkers as it seems? my goal is simply to make one dress a month. & i’ve already made five, so i’m ahead of the game for 2014.

i also learned about something called “me made may”. the goal is simply to spend the month of may striving to incorporate more of your handmade garments into your wardrobe than you might ordinarily. but i already wear my handmade clothes all the time. i guess when it’s cold, i often default to a store-bought thermal, hoodie, & corduroys, but now that the weather is getting nice, i’m constantly wearing the dresses & skirts i’ve made. i mentioned it to jared & he said, “sew yourself a couple pairs of pajama pants & then you’d really be all set.” because the truth is that maybe i wear my dresses & skirts when i’m taking ramona out somewhere…but i usually change back into pajamas as soon as she goes down for her nap. mostly because i don’t want to get my handmade clothes all gross by wearing them to wash dishes or clean the bathroom or whatever. i probably need to work on sewing myself some more casual items, like maybe some tops that i can wear with jeans or shorts. i’d undoubtedly get a lot of use out of them. but shirt/blouse patterns don’t excite me as much as dress patterns.

another piece of the puzzle is that i completely disappear down the rabbit hole when i’m sewing. who are these people who are able to sew up a dress a week? or even more?! maybe they’re just faster & more experienced than i am. but if i get really sucked into a series of sewing projects, everything else falls apart. the dishes don’t get done, library books pile up, unread, the checkbook goes unbalanced…it’s still a struggle for me to pull myself away from a sewing project once i really get into it. i have to take breaks between projects so i can attend to the other parts of my life. i don’t even sleep well when i’m in the midst of a project because i lay awake thinking about construction details & i have weird anxiety dreams about my sewing machine malfunctioning somehow.

i hate house-hunting

jared was offered a summer job teaching at KU, in addition to his teaching job next school year. so i guess it’s official: we will be in lawrence for another year.

& that means that i guess we should start looking for a bigger place. i love our current house. it’s cheap, the location can’t possibly be beat, our landlady is super-responsive & nice, all of our stuff is already here…but it’s a tight squeeze for two adults & a baby. especially a baby that is swiftly becoming a toddler.

i just hate looking for new places to live. especially in lawrence. rentals in lawrence seem strangely over-priced to me, & there’s a lot of the town where i wouldn’t really want to live because i would just feel trapped in the house all day, being so far from anything worth walking to. this is probably the primary way that lawrence is different from boston: almost all of boston is reasonably walkable. even when i lived way the fuck out in east somerville, practically on a highway overpass, it was a pretty nice walk to union square (which is even more enticing/gentrified now than it was when i lived there). i would even walk from my east somerville apartment to harvard square sometimes. i’m not saying it was a short walk. but it was a pleasant enough walk. there were sidewalks. that’s more than i can say for a lot of areas in lawrence.

i spent ramona’s entire nap this afternoon trolling through apartment listings on craig’s list. i wound up with five places that seemed possible. let’s break them down:

one is owned by a management company that we have previously rented from. we had a very bad experience with them & would never rent from them again. so we crossed that one off the list.

i left messages for two others & am still waiting to hear back. one in particular is very enticing. the photos are just darling, the rent is fairly reasonable, & it’s close to a fun park & playground that ramona would love, as well as the jogging/biking trail jared uses a lot!

i’ve set up a showing to see a fourth place tomorrow afternoon. i asked if the house was owned by an individual or a company, as i prefer to rent from individuals. they’re less likely to be slumlords. the owner wrote back, “individual…all applicants are subject to background/credit checks though!” okay, lady. slow your roll. i’m not trying to con you into inadvertently renting to an ex-felon with terrible credit. i replied that i simply prefer renting from individuals, & that our current landlady is our next-door neighbor & it’s been fabulous, but we’re looking for something a bit more spacious now that our baby is older. she replied, “maybe this isn’t tne best place for you, as their are outdoor stairs.” ??? she agreed to set up a showing anyway though.

& we’re going to see the fifth contender this evening. it’s in an intentional co-housing community. i feel kind of hopeful about it. it’s a really nice location, & it could be a great place for ramona to live. there are a lot of other kids in the community, & they even have a co-operative kids’ room, a playground, & a treehouse! they’re having a potluck tonight so we’re going to swing by to meet people & make sure we’re down with the whole “co-housing” scene. it could be pretty cool!

but we can also afford to be picky because we don’t really NEED to move. it would just be nice to have a little more space. like, say, a separate bedroom for ramona.

i wish looking for houses/apartments didn’t make me feel so weird. i look at the photos online & have this whole weird emotional journey, wondering what our lives would be like that in that space. if i like what i see, i find myself thinking, “this will be the place where it’s a joy to stand at the sink & wash dishes, & every year i will make ramona a birthday cake with buttercream frosting, & i will never find myself sitting around at 2pm, still unshowered & wearing pajamas. in short, this will be the house where i finally get my shit together.” & other houses make me despair (usually if they have electric stoves or baseboards for electric heat; i don’t know why i find those two things so depressing, but i do). even though i know, i KNOW, that a person’s physical environment or surroundings don’t determine a person’s personality. i found a great listing for a gorgeous house recently (sadly somewhat out of our price range) & was like, “look at the built-ins! imagine what we could do with that cunning little cupboard!” but i started to get really overwhelmed by the yard it had. i was like, “if i lived here, i’d have to maybe be into hanging around outside.” i’m not wild about going outside. i really don’t like bugs, & i hate wearing sunscreen. i don’t even like birds, that’s what a monster i am. even squirrels are kind of overwhelming sometimes.

& of course, it always falls to me to look for new places to live. oh well.

now that we know we’re staying put for a year, maybe i should think about renewing my pool pass. it expired in february & i didn’t renew it because i was like, “i don’t want to shell out if we’re just leaving town in may.” i am mainly writing this with the hope that speaking the intention out loud (or writing it on my blog) will make it so. alternatively, if we end up in this co-housing place, i could start doing yoga in the mornings. (which is something i did right before i got pregnant with ramona.) because they have on-site morning yoga.

achievement unlocked: bacon dress

okay, i said i was going to take a little breather after i finished making the unicorn dress, but i had everything i needed to make this bacon dress, & i just couldn’t stay away from the sewing table.


i started cutting fabric yesterday during ramona’s nap, & i hemmed it this morning while i drank my morning coffee. it was a pretty fast sew, & would have been even faster for a more experienced seamster.

the pattern is the miz mozelle by jaime christina, which i stumbled across while perusing the hart’s fabric website while i was trolling for pink unicorn & rainbows fabric. apparently hart’s did a sewalong a while back & one of their staff decided to sew herself another miz mozelle recently & blogged about it. it’s specifically a knit pattern. the only shape comes from the elasticized waist & very gently gathered skirt–there are no darts or anything. but i used quilting cotton (the bacon print from the new “farm to fork” collection) & it turned out fine. the instructions said to cut a size up if using a woven, since obviously cotton doesn’t have the kind of stretch a knit would have. but my measurements were already the biggest pattern size. there was no size to cut up to unless i wanted to try grading up the pattern myself.

a quick word about that? i am a pretty average-sized person, i think! my measurements are something like 43-35-42. i can buy clothes in “straight” stores. the big 4 pattern companies usually produce patterns that fit me right out of the envelope, but independent companies have their own unique sizing & it does kind of irritate me to shell out the big bucks for an indie pattern (the big 4 are pretty much constantly on sale, sometimes for as low as 99 cents, while indie patterns are rarely on sale & generally retail for at least $12, plus shipping) & then have to grade them up to fit me. ANYWAY.

the good news is that even though the largest size for this pattern was supposedly smaller than my measurements, i cut it straight out of the envelope & it fits perfectly. even the sleeves! it’s a pattern that has a lot of ease built into it, & is not meant to be fitted, which helps. i did make the keyhole a bit smaller. it’s kind of giant.

for the most part, sewing this up was pretty easy. i didn’t do it exactly the way the direction instructed. i sewed the sleeve seam & the bodice seam & set the sleeve in instead of sewing the sleeve & side seam as one. i hemmed it shorter. (why do i always have to do that? i used to think i had pretty long legs, before i started sewing for myself. but i think i’m just so insanely short-waisted that it has created an optical illusion. i did wonder why i never had to buy extra-long pants.) there’s pretty much no possibility that i constructed the collar properly. i could not make hide nor hair of the instructions for that. well, i constructed the collar just fine. it was the sewing-the-collar-to-the-dress part that i didn’t get. there was all this stuff about single fold bias tape that didn’t make any sense to me, & “matching the center back,” which would have been a lot easier to do if i’d been instructed to mark the center back somehow during the cutting process–maybe a nice notch or something? i wound up just sewing the collar to the front of the dress & covering the raw edge in quarter-inch bias tape. GOOD ENOUGH. i’m pretty sure the collar is supposed to meet in the front at a point, but it does not because i somehow didn’t have enough dress neckline for that. i don’t know! it was baffling! this was my first collar ever. i kept saying, “i don’t know what i’m doing. there has got to be an easier way to do this. i really don’t think i’m doing this right. i guess it looks kind of okay?” WHATEVER.


if you look closely, you can kind of see the basting stitches along the back of the collar. i’d clip them, but i’m seriously afraid that they are all that is holding the collar to the dress.

i was beyond stoked when i found PIG BUTTONS to go with my bacon fabric! & they’re even red! apparently they’re vintage, i got them off etsy, so really just a lucky break. here’s a close-up:


on my first try, i cut the cord for the button way too tiny, so i had to pick it out & cut a bigger cord. my second try was way too big, so you can kind of see here how i folded it over on itself a few times & stitched it down under the keyhole. whatever. it’s fine. look at the pig. that’s the part that matters.

the pattern called for but one button, but i had four so i sewed one to each sleeve. it looks cute, but it may have been a tactical error when i have a baby. of course she just wants to grab at all the buttons & make me anxious that she’s going to tear my dress somehow.

one other weird construction note: the bodice gets sewn to the skirt & then the seam allowance is pressed to the bodice & stitched really close to the edge to create a casing for the elastic. & this whole dress is sewn with a half-inch seam allowance. honestly, this dide not leave a lot of room for the elastic. i actually sewed the waist seam with the more traditional 5/8″ seam allowance & it was still tricky to sew down the seam allowance to make a wide enough casing. i managed, but…huh. a weird construction choice, for sure.

oh, & this dress did not originally include pockets. but i did. seriously, what is the use of a cute summer dress with no pockets!

stuff i learned:
* supposedly, how to make a collar. save for the part about how i didn’t do it right.
* that it might be worth using a slightly bigger seam allowance if you’re going to use said seam allowance as an elastic casing for a feature that is crucial to the fit & silhouette of the dress.
* bias tape on the keyhole & sleeve hem. i’ve done this before on sleeves but this time i really nailed it!
* i’m very fast at hemming now.
* apparently having a 35-inch waist means that you are gargantuan. & 42-inch boobs? forget it. get ready to live your life swaddled in a tarp because that is all that will fit you.

stuff i’d do differently:
* make the keyhole even smaller. it’s still kind of huge.
* maybe bind the keyhole in skinnier bias tape.
* really double-down on figuring out how the hell this collar is supposed to attach.
* add some extra seam allowance to the bodice/waist so i have a little extra wiggle room with my elastic casing.
* if i cut some length off the skirt, this would actually make a really cute blouse. i would definitely make this pattern again as a blouse! apart from the stuff i didn’t understand, this thing came together really fast.


bacon power! okay, now i really am going to take a breather before i make another dress. (because i have yet to choose my next pattern or fabric.) whew! five dresses in the last month!

achievement unlocked: unicorn dress

when i was first thinking about trying to sew my own dresses (three months ago), the cambie dress by sewaholic was one of the first designs that caught my eye. but it was listed as an “intermediate” pattern, & i thought i was an adventurous beginner at best. so i started with some other designs first. then i saw this new unicorns & rainbows print by doohikey designs & i knew it was destined to be a cambie. the cambie has a sweetheart neckline, little gathered cap sleeves, & either an A-line or a gathered skirt (both with pockets). it’s a pretty frilly, feminine pattern, especially with the gathered skirt (which i knew would be my first choice for silhouette), & while a lot of other seamsters on the internet have tried to contrast the sweetness with contrasting fabric choices, i decided to go ALL IN with pink unicorns & rainbows!


also of note: see my purple shoes? those are the new fluevog amies i picked up on sale. very cute & surprisingly comfortable!


gazing westward…at ramona trying to crawl into the street. (we stopped her.)

i ordered the unicorn fabric from, & they always seem to take like a week to ship my stuff, which kind of sucks for me because, once i commit to a fabric, i want it immediately! alas, i had to wait. but i already had the pattern, so spent my wait time making muslins to try to get the bodice fit as close to just right as possible, given my still-limited sewing skills. (this is only the fourth dress i’ve ever made. i forgot until after it was finished that it was graded “intermediate,” i guess because of the lining? which was a pain in the ass, but we’ll get to that.)

sewaholic designs for “pear shapes,” which is not my fit issue. as such, the largest bust/waist measurements were just a little small for me, & the hip size was much too large. i would up adding a total of two inches to the side seams, doing a 3/4″ swayback adjustment, & expanding the dart legs on the front bodice a quarter-inch on either side. i also shortened the shoulders half an inch. i probably could have lost a full inch there, but i was worried it was pulling the bodice up & making it too short in front. i left the skirt as is, since it’s gathered & didn’t really have to be a precise fit. i was worried that a gathered skirt would be way too much fabric draping over my stomach, so i chose to eliminate the skirt lining to cut down on fabric in that area. the unicorn print is a bit on the heavy side for the average quilting cotton, so i think it will be fine. & i am still planning to make a slip one of these days soon.

i also added the piping to the waistband & neckline. & i made the piping! it’s not pre-bought! i had 1/16″ cording & i wrapped it in red fabric & sewed it on. it was my first time making piping & it went pretty well. it took a few tries to figure out how to pipe a sweetheart neckline (tip: you have to cut all the way up to your stitch line to get it to curve properly at the middle on the neckline), but it turned out pretty well. i also used red for the pockets, which you can’t see here because my hands are in them. i lowered the pockets a bit because i’m ridiculously short-waisted. leaving them where they were would have created abdomen pockets.

since i only lined the bodice, i just kind of had to wing it on some of the dress construction. i used white bemberg rayon for lining & that stuff is so fiddly to cut. it doesn’t matter THAT much because it’s just a lining. it’s not meant to be seen. but it’s very slippery & kind of hard to sew & i was really anxious when it was time to line the sleeves because the lining was so much smaller than the fabric i’d cut for the sleeve. & i didn’t really understand how i was supposed to stitch from the inside when it was already lined. i wound up just tucking the sleeves into the pockets between the dress & the lining & stitching across the front, just under the piping. i think it looks fine. i used pink thread that matches the fabric exactly, so i doubt anyone will really notice.

two things i’m really proud of: i experimented with print-matching for the first time, trying to match up the print across the zipper in the back:



it’s not perfect, but it’s not bad at all for a first attempt! i also tried to center a row of unicorns in the waistband.


so, new things i learned:
* how to make a pattern (slightly) bigger.
* how to make piping for both straight & curved seams.
* print-matching.
*how to gather a waist (it’s pretty much exactly like making ruffles by hand, which i’ve done several times before).
* that invisible zipper can be sewn with a special invisible zipper foot. not that i did a spectacular job with it. but the zipper is slightly more invisible than it would be had i used a regular zipper foot.
* using stay tape at the neckline, shoulder seams, & zipper (for added stability).

things i’d do differently:
* maybe only one layer of interfacing on the waistband. it’s two pieces of interfacing, two layers of fabric, plus the piping. it’s A LOT. that means it’s really sturdy & doesn’t collapse as soon as i put the dress on, but two layers of interfacing & piping as probably overkill.
* i think the stay tape does help the neckline curve toward my body, but it’s possibly just a hair too big. i should have experimented with only adding an inch to the bodice (a quarter-inch on each side seam) & added more at the waist as needed. oh well.

other than that, i’m really happy with it! i’m also getting better at sewing in hooks & eyes, & this was my first project since i had my pinking shears professionally sharpened. i finished all the seams by pinking them & they cut like a dream now.

& yes, i did sew a bit while ramona was awake. here’s what i busted her doing at one point while she was being suspiciously quiet:


STANDING on the dining room table! what a beast. & here’s a photo of her, just for cuteness.


getting ready to throw a rock into the pond in the backyard.

ps–i think i am going to enter this dress in the sew dolly clackett challenge. not because i expect to win anything. i mean, this is only the fourth dress i’ve ever made. but i like how it came out & i honestly have learned a lot of what i know about sewing from blogs. gertie’s new blog for better sewing was the first blog i found when i went looking for blogs on sewing, & i learned a million useful things from it. (i used her tips on stay tape in this very dress.) but her blog also intimidated me a little because there’s a lot of talk about expensive garment fabrics & i gravitate toward quilting cotton in wacky prints, as i’ve written about before. roisin’s blog was one of the first i found when i was looking for examples of how other people have sewn the cambie, & i loved that she also tends to use fun prints & quilting cottons. it helped motivate me to just go ahead & try dressmaking with the to which i am attracted. so.

a little love letter to sewing

i’m still working hard at getting the fit right on the cambie dress. i have a couple of days until my unicorn fabric arrives, so i’ve been using the wait time to make some muslins. my first muslin just straight from the pattern. it was a hair too small. so i added half an inch to each side seam (two inches total) & shortened the shoulders an inch. i sewed that muslin up yesterday & it’s better, but there’s some excess fabric billowing under the bust & i’m on the fence about how the back looks. i may need to do a small swayback adjustment there, which will be a first. (not that it wouldn’t have been useful in other dresses i’ve made; just that i haven’t done it before.) i’m going to lengthen the shoulder a half-inch & extend the front darts a quarter-inch on either side & see where that gets us. honestly, the fit is probably “good enough” at this point, but it’s not like i’m in some huge rush. i have plenty of time to try to make it better.

i’m also excited about some of the new construction techniques i plan to implement with this dress. it’s a sweetheart neckline, & they have a tendency to gape away from the body. the muslins i’ve made definitely have that issue. so i’m thinking about reinforcing it with silk organza or stay tape to make it curve toward the body. if i have enough fabric, i’m hoping to also experiment with pattern-matching across the zipper. i’ve never done it before, so who knows how it will turn out, but why not try? i’m also thinking about adding piping to either side of the waistband–another technique i’ve never used before. all i have is 1/16″ cording, so it will be pretty subtle. i’m thinking about red, because red & pink is one of my favorite color combos. i’ll probably also use red for the pockets. i’m hoping to have the whole thing done by the end of next weekend!

jared, ramona, & i went to a yard sale yesterday morning, not realizing it was being thrown by our handyman’s girlfriend! she was selling lots of interesting sewing stuff for cheap. i got pinking shears for $3 (they could stand to be sharpened, but they work pretty well & are very easy to handle) & a little mat for my machine pedal ($1) to keep it from skittering all over the floor while i’m sewing. i also got a big bag of various needle-threaders, hem tape, etc, for 50 cents. we chatted a bit about sewing. apparently she took some classes in kansas city back in the day & learned a lot of construction techniques. i’ve looked into classes in lawrence, but there’s nothing at the arts center or the university. the local fabric shop offering “intro to sewing,” but when i asked if they thought i’d get anything out of the class, considering what i already know, they just looked at me & asked, “did you make what you’re wearing?” “yes,” i said. “you won’t get anything out of the class,” they said. apparently it’s all stuff like how to use rotary cutter, how to thread a sewing machine, etc. BUT. they are working on expanding their building & adding a second story, & once that’s finished, they want to add more classes. so maybe there will be something more appropriate for my skill level then! i’m learning a ton just from reading books & blogs & the occasional youtube tutorial, but it would be great to have an actual experienced seamster to bounce ideas & questions off of in real life.

some of the other moms in playgroup are astonished when i show up wearing another new thing i’ve sewn. they’re like, “don’t even pretend like you aren’t insanely productive.” i’ve tried to explain that i’m just obsessive, & that i am sewing instead of doing other things that should probably be higher priority: brushing my teeth, eating, cleaning the litterbox. when i’m neck-deep in a project, it’s really hard for me to tear myself away from the sewing table. it’s not because, oh, i’m so talented or i’ve got my shit together so much. it’s just that i LOVE SEWING. people have their passions, something they can do for hours & feel like no time has passed. that’s how i feel about sewing. other people feel that way about cooking or watching TV or gardening or tinkering with their bicycles. sewing seems to intimidate people a lot because it seems to involve all these skills that you really have to work to learn. it’s kind of like math in that you have to learn the basics before you even know what sorts of questions come next, if that makes sense. like, recently, i went to the fabric store & said i was about to take on a project involving organza, & i asked if they had any tips on how to stabilize it to avoid puckers or skipped stitches. that’s not a question i would have been able to ask a year ago. i had heard of organza a year ago but wouldn’t have been able to identify a bolt of it in a fabric shop, let alone have any concerns about the way it handles. the clerk suggested using sharps needles–which, again, a year ago i didn’t realize that there were different needles suitable for different types of fabrics. who knows what i will learn in the next year that is an impenetrable mystery to me right now?

in other news, i think i have written here before about all the fellowships, grants, etc jared has been applying for all winter, & how we don’t know if one of them will lead us to move away from lawrence. it’s been hard not knowing. there was the possibility that we could be leaving as soon as next month! i’ve been trying hard not to think about it because there’s nothing i can do to make the decision or plan ahead. but on friday, KU offered jared a job teaching environmental studies next year (he’s an environmental historian), so it looks like we’ll probably be staying! it’s a huge relief to more or less know the plan. (there’s still a small possibility that some big grant will come through & we’ll move after all, but it’s not terribly likely.) jared will teach & finish his disseration, go on the job market next winter, & hopefully we’ll be leaving lawrence next summer to move to wherever he gets hired. in the meantime, we can keep paying cheapo rent to live a block from downtown, we can keep going to storytime at the library (which is moving into its gorgeous new building this summer), we can stick with our awesome playgroup, i will be here to see what happens with the fabric store expansion, & maybe we can even go ahead & have a second kid. maybe.

ramona has made a ton of progress in the last few days. she’s getting better & better at walking with only one hand held, & yesterday she actually let go of both of jared’s hands & just stood there for a minute, holding a toy, before plopping down. & she didn’t cry when she sat down. he also took her to the playground & she climbed up to the slide & slid down all on her own for the first time! (feet first, on her belly.) this is great, because it shows that she’s more physically confident. we’re slowly getting used to the climbing & now that she’s more physical, she’s been less demanding with the constant books. she is understanding more & more words every day. she knows how to high five now!

ramona climbs & i sew

ramona had a poop download yesterday (sorry, non-parent readers, but poop does indeed sometimes happen), & when i returned from dealing with it in the bathroom, i found her sitting in my sewing chair! she has climbed up into our landlady’s patio chairs & on to a bench at the playground, but i didn’t think she was big enough to climb into a regular chair for some dumb reason. the rest of the day was insanely easy. she just kept climbing up into my chair, where she would sit, happy as a clam, for literally an hour at a time. she wasn’t making a mess, she wasn’t begging for stories, she wasn’t tormenting the cat. she was just sitting in a chair. i was like, “fuck yes, this rules.”

fast forward to today. today she climbed on to my desk chair. & from there, on to my desk. i found her perched up there, gnawing on my journal. not cool! i gave her the boot & she climbed back into my sewing chair. & started reaching for my sewing table, & specifically, the lovely shiny things on the sewing table, such as my very sharp embroidery scissors, my even sharper sewing shears, my pin box, & my ridiculously expensive computer. (i was researching the cambie dress by sewaholic, which is going to be my next dress project. read on for more on that later in this post.)

i gave her the boot again & she proceeded to climb into jared’s dining room chair & then on to the dining room table, which was littered with my kind of expensive special order writing pens, a dirty diaper (just wet, don’t worry) i hadn’t yet put in the hamper, & a vase of flowers. terror baby!


there’s probably a fairly simple solution: we must always keep our chairs pushed in when we’re not using them. obviously she’ll eventually learn that she can pull them out & position them to climb to forbidden heights, but hopefully it’ll take her a while. i will also have to train myself to put away potentially dangerous sewing items or things like pens & journals that i don’t want her ruining when they’re not being used. when i first started sewing, i was awful about just dropping thread & little snips of cloth & even pins all over the floor. but obviously none of those things is good to have on a floor with a baby that stuffs everything in her mouth, & i trained myself to immediately put pins back in the box & to brush threads & scraps to the side instead of the floor. it’s just a matter of developing a new habit.

i left ramona with jared for an hour yesterday while i ran downtown for an appointment, & when i came home, she was in a completely different outfit. i said, “oh no, did she sog through her outfit?” & he said, “no, i took her outside to play & she jumped in the pond.” !!! our landlady, who lives right next door & shares a yard with us, is really into birding, & she has two small, shallow ponds in the yard that are basically overgrown bird baths. they are surrounded with decorative rocks & ramona likes to pick the rocks up & throw them into the water. & i guess this time, she decided she’d like to follow the rocks! the water is more shallow than her bath, & jared was right there, so she wasn’t in any danger, but she still just dove in fully-clothed! shoes & all! jared said he had to give her a bath, since obviously a glorified bird bath is probably full of bird poop.

& then our babysitter (jared’s very generous colleague, allison) showed up to take over & we were able to go on a real date! yesterday was our anniversary: seven years. it was also the first time jared has ever actually been kind of excited about anniversary. every year before this, he’s been like, “well, two years is when it really counts…actually, three years is the big one…anniversaries don’t really matter until four years…” etc etc. but i guess in jared’s world, seven years is when you really know you’re serious. he was perhaps more excited than i was! we just went out to dinner & tried to see “the grand budapest hotel,” but we missed the first ten minutes. so we decided to take in the later showing & go have a beer in the meantime, but we wound up having such a nice time sitting around & talking at the bar that we just skipped the movie altogether. we never get to just sit & talk anymore! it’s just baby baby baby work work work until she goes to bed at night, by which point we’re both so exhausted/overwhelmed with all the work we didn’t get to because of the baby that we still don’t really end up hanging out, really.

we had a very serious conversation about buying a new mattress. it went like this.
ciara: “i can’t wait until it’s time for us to buy a new mattress.”
jared: “that will be really nice. i feel so sore when i wake up in the morning.”
ciara: “me too. but that’s because i have arthritis. & am also old. but i’m scared of mattress places that advertise easy financing. i’m scared of buying a mattress so expensive that we have to have financing. we didn’t even need financing for our car. but i guess we spend more time sleeping on our mattress than we do sitting in the car.”
jared: “yeah, & places that sell you a mattress without financing seem really sketchy. i think it’s time to start saving up. maybe we should make a timeline.”
ciara: “i can’t wait until people ask how we spent our anniversary. ‘we decided it was time to get a new mattress. but not in a sexy way. just because we feel stiff in the morning. again, not in a sexy way. i really want to stress that no part of our anniversary was remotely sexy.’”

so, sewing stuff! i altered the sleeves on my mix tape dress a bit (during one of ramona’s naps). i cut the elastic for the sleeve hem a little too big, so i couldn’t push it up if i wanted. i cut out an inch or two of stitching to pull the elastic edges out of the casing & trimmed about three inches off. i sewed it all back up again & now it’s perfect! i wanted a puff sleeve effect & that’s what i have now. i wore it to toddler gym this morning & another mom immediately ran over to me & was all, “i love your dress! did you make that? you are so talented!” i told her it was only the third dress i’ve ever made & i’ve only been sewing for a year & she said, “that’s so inspiring! maybe i should try sewing too! i’d love to be able to make something like that!” now THAT is the kind of reaction i live for!

like i said, my next dress project is probably going to be the cambie by sewaholic ( it’s a very sweet dress: gathered sleeves, a sweetheart neckline, & of course i’m doing the full skirt silhouette. very sugary, very girly. a lot of other people who have made this dress have tried to choose fabrics that contrast with the femininity of the design, but i say, go big or go home. so i’m doing it up in this fabric:


i sewed up a muslin yesterday (again, during ramona’s nap–i like to just put on a podcast or a TV show in the background & sew while she naps), & it was just a HAIR too tight in the biggest size. sewaholic is an indie designer that is specifically cut for the “pear-shaped figure,” & i have written before about how that is not my fit issue. my bust measurement is larger than my hip measurement, & my bust measurement is slightly larger than sewaholic’s largest offering. bummer. luckily, i have been combing the internet for blogs written by plus-sized seamsters, to get tips on how to fit patterns written for smaller measurements, & i picked up a copy of “the complete photo guide to fitting,” which has a WEALTH of information on fitting. the cambie pattern was really just a little too snug–i could get it zipped, but i don’t think it’s realistic for me to wear a dress that tight & take care of a baby or be totally comfortable, & what’s the point of sewing for myself if i’m not making something i can actually wear in my day-to-day life? i’m not sure what the fix is, but i’m going to start by adding just a little extra width at the side seams & see if that solves the issue. i don’t think i’ll have to make an actual full bust adjustment.

i have also already picked up the fabric & selected the pattern for my next dress after that. two words: BACON DRESS. here’s a sneak peek:

achievement unlocked: mix tape dress

another dress is completed.


in keeping with my “terrible photos of myself” series. my hair is still wet from the shower, & you can see the black hole that is the top of the fridge. who cares!

so, the stats on this one: it’s based on the licorice dress in “the colette sewing handbook,” which i purchased in january when i decided to start dipping a toe into the world of sewing my own dresses. here’s the photo from the book:


on first viewing, it definitely did not leap out at me as being something i was dying to sew. i like the polka dot version is a little better, but just because it’s more fitted around the bust & i suspect that’s more a function of the model being skinnier than it is a function of design. i say that as someone who is probably considerably larger than the model in the blue dress. but i was inspired by some other seamsters on the internet who made alterations to their patterns, switching up sleeves & hemlines with abandon. i am not terribly attracted to this dress as designed–that collar! i really don’t think that would work on my figure at all. fine for other people, but definitely not my style. so i decided to experiment with changing it up.

i wound up eliminating the collar altogether. i made a facing out of bias tape to turn it to the inside. i shortened the sleeves by half to make them more of a puff sleeve & less of 1980s secretary sleeve. i made it shorter, & i added more flare to the skirt to turn it into more of an A-line shape. i also added pockets, just because i really like having pockets. & of course, the pattern suggests making this dress in a slinky, silky material, but i used quilting cotton & synthetic organza.

as with my last colette dress, i think the bodice on this thing is a little too big. i said last time that i’d cut a size down with my next colette pattern, & i did with a muslin, but it seemed TINY so i gave up & cut the usual size. & it’s big. it definitely gaps away from my body at the neckline. i should have finished the smaller muslin & tried it on with my nicer bra before making a final decision on the size. next time, i guess.

i also suspect that it gaps because quilting cotton is so much stiffer than the slinky fabrics suggested by the designer. this dress is meant to “skim over curves” & be a little loose. in something silkier, the extra fabric would just lay against the body, but because it’s cotton, it sticks up more. which is fine. i’m not going to be winning any prizes for the fit of this bodice, but it’s okay. it is, after all, only my third dress ever.

new skills i learned:
* fabric layering to create a new textile effect. i basted a layer of organza over a layer of cotton to make the band on the skirt & the sleeves.
* making my own bias tape. i’ve had a bias tape maker for almost a year & never used it. it makes single-fold bias tape. i checked & re-checked the instructions for this dress & it didn’t say anything about whether i should use single-fold or double-fold bias tape (for the hems on the sleeves). so i took a chance on making my own single-fold tape. & it was a disaster. maybe it was my fault? maybe it could have worked if i was more precise in my stitching? but i just could not get it to wrap all the way over the edge of the sleeve & still have room for the elastic. so i picked it all out & replaced it with store-bought pink double-fold tape. live & learn. i’ve learned that single-fold bias tape is essentially useless.
* how to set in sleeves! i was so anxious about this, but it wound up being way easier than i expected. when i am instructed to “sew three parallel rows of basting stitches” & “pull the thread tails to ease in fullness”, etc etc, of course i was scared. this is the kind of thing that makes people think they can’t sew. but i jumped on in there & it was a breeze, honestly. helped by the fact that the sleeves are supposed to be puffy, so i didn’t have to worry about creating a perfectly smooth sleeve cap.
* & of course, various pattern alterations. if i had it to do over again, i would have been more precise in my skirt measurements. the bodice all the way down to where the organza starts on the bottom of the skirt is one piece, & i just kind of winged it in doing the organza piece & them hem piece. it turned out fine–not 100% perfect (the organza is not perfectly lined up at one side seam), but it’s close enough. i could have done a better job had i taken the time to measure carefully & maybe even draw up pattern pieces.
* hemming a sleeve with elastic. this was very easy! (once i swapped out the bias tape.) i could see myself doing this with all kinds of stuff for ramona once she starts walking & doesn’t look so weird in skirts & dresses. (right now, they just pull up over her diaper butt because she crawls everywhere.)

if i had this to do over, i’d fit the bodice more carefully, & i’d make the sleeve elastics more snug so i could actually push the sleeves up. (update: i picked out an inch or two of stitching on the sleeve hems & did end up losing about three inches off the elastic, so now i can push the sleeves up & give them more of a puff sleeve silhouette. yay! it was a super-easy fix.) i would also just cut the sleeves shorter. i halved them from the original pattern piece, but they are still just a little too long for my taste.


the back. the dress closes with an invisible zip in the back & a hook & eye. you can see in this photo that the neckline doesn’t line up exactly perfectly, & that i should learn how to do a swayback adjustment, but all in all–not too bad.

oh, also! i lined the dress with white rayon bemberg. this was my first time using a silky lining, & my first time lining a dress. i cut the pattern pieces from the bemberg first & basted it to the mix tape fabric & then used it all as one piece to construct the dress, rather than cutting out the fashion fabric, making the dress, then cutting out the lining & making a second dress & then stitching them together. maybe one of these days i will install the lining like the directions instruct. i really like the lining! it’s so cool & smooth against my skin.

at the risk of sounding like an asshole, i also want to mention something else. it seems like every time i sew something new, someone pipes up to ask me to make them something. maybe half the time, the person offers to pay me. the rest of the time, they just say, “could you make me one?” leaving me to broach the awkward topic of payment if i was amenable to taking the time to sew them some bespoke item of clothing or something in the first place. even when people offer to pay me, they don’t always seem to understand exactly what is involved in the cost of having someone make you a handmade item of clothing (or quilt, or set of curtains, or whatever). i’m not going to pretend i’m some super-talented couture seamster. i think you can see from my photos that i am not. so i’m not sitting here thinking that i’m so talented i ought to be paid $100 an hour or something. BUT. as soon as i finished this dress, someone asked me, “will you make me one?” let’s break it down.

i ultimately used about four yards of mix tape fabric for this dress, & let’s say two & a half yards of rayon bemberg, & maybe two yards of organza. plus thread, a sewing needle, a hand-sewing needle, a 22″ invisible zipper, maybe two yards of 3/8″ elastic, a hook & eye, a package of double-sided bias tape. plus, the cost of the pattern.
mix tape fabric: $40
rayon bemberg: $15
organza: $12
notions: $15
pattern: $5

we’re already up to $87 just for materials. poke around on modcloth or eshakti or even the anthropologie website & see what you can get for $87. having someone sew you a bespoke dress is not likely to be cheaper than buying off the rack.

now let’s get into time. i spent maybe two hours last week cutting & sewing a couple of muslins. & as you can see, the fit on the bodice is not spectacular. so let’s say i’m doubling the time taken making a muslin to really get a perfect fit on someone who is not me. that’s four hours. i spent maybe an hour prepping the fabric (washing, pressing, etc). i started tracing the pattern & cutting on saturday morning at around 9am. i worked straight through until 4pm, with a little break for putting ramona down for her nap & eating. call it six hours. then i worked again from 6pm until 10:30pm, with a break for dinner & baby bedtime. three & a half hours. on sunday, i started working at 8am & finished the dress at about 2:30pm, with another break for baby nap & lunch. so, five & a half hours. so that’s twenty hours altogether. even if i am only paid $10 an hour for my time & work, that’s $200. & really, $10 an hour is a bargain considering that all the time i spend sewing is time i am NOT spending with my daughter, or my partner, or keeping up with housework, or reading books, or any of the other things i would probably prefer to do rather than making a dress for someone other than myself. round up & this is a $300 dress. i suppose if someone really wanted to pay me $300 to make them a dress, it would be hard to say no. that’s a lot of money. but pretty much no one who sees me sporting a new dress i’ve made & asks me to make them one is thinking, “yeah, i would drop multiple hundies on that.” they’re thinking they might be really generous & offer $50. & allow me to add: this dress is made out of quilting cotton. if someone wanted me to make them a dress out of actual garment fabric, that would be even more expensive. if they wanted silk organza instead of synthetic (which cannot be ironed)? add some more money. i could go on. plus, after busting my hump all weekend making this dress, my body is wrecked. my wrists, knees, hips, back, & neck are a mess. this isn’t just something i can whip together in an hour during ramona’s nap or whatever. it’s time-consuming & physically taxing. as i get more experience sewing, i’ll probably get faster. i remember the first skirt i ever made took me like thirty hours (mostly because i kept installing the zipper wrong), & now i can put the same design together in maybe three. but still!

in closing, one last photo of the dress (& ramona!):