achievement unlocked: Little Ramona doll

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


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


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


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


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

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


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


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


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


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


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


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


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

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



sewing with a plan: September

Well, my late August sewing didn’t go exactly according to plan. A nasty cold began circulating at the preschool as soon as it was back in session. Ramona caught it right away & passed it along to Jared. Somehow I have thus far been spared, but they are both malingering a bit. Jared has been sleeping on the couch so his coughing doesn’t wake me up. I guess the only way this has really affected my sewing is that I have felt like I need to be around downstairs because I’m the only healthy member of the family who also possesses opposable thumbs, in case people need water or applesauce or whatever. I’ve been cross stitching to make the most of my time. I can do that on the couch with Ramona while she watches “Arthur”.

I did finish the skirt I was working on, but I haven’t had a chance to take photos yet because my tiny photographer has been sick. Plus I wanted to make something to wear under it, because it gets short in the back if everything isn’t laying just right, & I didn’t get around to finishing that right away.

I decided that September 1 would be the day I finally get my shit together. This is the vow I make to myself on the first of every month…& every Monday…on my birthday…on New Year’s Day…Any excuse for a fresh start. Never mind that I’m 38 years old, & if I was ever going to get my shit together for real, I probably would have by now. But it actually has been going pretty well so far! We’re only three days in, so there’s still plenty of time to crash & burn (especially if I catch that cold), but I might have set a new record for myself. Usually I have one really productive day & then I spend the second day of the month/Tuesday/the day after my birthday/etc laying on the couch, unshowered, ordering in a pizza & binge-watching “The Golden Girls,” because I exhausted myself the day before.

(Incidentally, I once got a comment in response to a similar post from someone laying into me about how I was a useless, lazy sack of crap because some people have jobs to go to & how I’ve got to pull it together if I hope to be a functioning member of society. I don’t really remember the details. Joke’s on them though because I already know I’m not a functioning member of society! I have chronic, debilitating, treatment-resistant depression & anxiety instead. You win some, you lose some.)

Sewing plans?


Mostly I just wanted an excuse to post this photo, because I worked on these drawings for like one thousand years.

These aren’t ALL of my sewing plans for fall/winter, but it’s a lot of them. I put checkmarks on the garments that are already finished. There’s a lot of stuff here I am excited about! Like the hooded blouse (bottom row, second from the left, with the black overalls). I’m planning to use Simplicity 8447 (for both the blouse & the overalls). I just really like the idea of a hooded blouse. I bought some banana print cotton lawn to use, & am thinking maybe black buttons, to coordinate with the banana stems & the fact that I wear a lot of black?

Also, the top row middle look is a nice snuggly set of rib knit pajamas. The fabric is a ditsy floral, not ordinarily my thing, but I just couldn’t resist it when I saw it on in the spring. The only hitch in the plans is that I want to make the bottoms leggings, but I don’t have a leggings pattern I swear by. I actually have never made leggings. I’m not a big wearer of leggings (though I’d like to start, because I think laying in a supply of leggings will make it easier to wear skirts & dresses in cooler weather). So this is me, soliciting pattern advice. In a perfect world, I’d like a pattern with options for either ankle length or cuffed, a slim elastic waistband, & a mock fly would be the icing on the cake. If there’s an affordable pattern out there that fits the bill, let me know! I already have the Patterns for Pirates Peglegs pattern (because it’s free), but it has like 12″ of negative ease, which seems like…a lot. I know the whole point of Patterns for Pirates is that they enable women to sew their own knock-off Lularoe clothes, but I’m not looking for that Lularoe split-up-the-back experience. I also don’t mind drafting my own.

The pants in the middle row, at the right & second to right, I’m envisioning in reversible sequin fabric. This would be a total experiment, who knows how it will turn out or how much wear reversible sequin pants will receive. But I’m thinking, more than you’d probably think, because I like to dress a little crazy.

As evidenced by the skirt all the way to the right in the top row. It’s the Oki Style Sasha skirt, which is made to look like trousers re-fashioned into a skirt with all kinds of ruffles & flounces. I kept seeing it in my head in a business-y kind of glen plaid, & I found the perfect fabric from Mood. It’s gray with a touch of baby pink, exactly my jam.

The coat in the middle is something really different. I went downtown to run errands the other day. I needed new Frixion pens so I started walking to the indie fabric shop, Sarah’s, but I got distracted by the Antiques Mall. Because I was sick all last year, I hadn’t been window shopping downtown in literally like a year. I tried to keep myself in check, but I found an amazing embroidered dress that I just had to have. & then a vintage bias cut silk slip EXACTLY my size for only $5 (which is remarkable on a lot of levels–I am usually too big to fit into truly vintage garments). & then I found a black woollen cocoon coat from the 1950s…also an exact fit. (The bottoms of the sleeves are maybe a little tight, but I can probably let them out if it really bothers me.) I had been planning to make myself a fairly simple black coat & elevate it by adding an embroidered tulle overlay. I already had the tulle, but had been putting off buying fabric for the coat because everything I liked was quite spendy. I’ve never been big into re-fashioning. I have preferred to just sew from scratch, but…I decided that sewing the overlay to the vintage coat would be a lot easier, & a lot cheaper. So I bought it. That will be an interesting experiment. If it turns out well & I enjoy it, maybe I will do more re-fashioning.

sewing plans from eclipse to September

Happy Great American Eclipse Day! Here in Lawrence, Kansas, we are just outside the path of totality. Apparently we will have a 99.3% eclipse. I was thinking that that was good enough for me, but Jared convinced me that it’s really worth making the drive to experience totality, being so close & everything. We have our eclipse glasses, we’ve told Ramona’s teachers that she will be out today, we’ve cleared our schedules…&, as it transpires, it’s supposed to be cloudy & stormy in our little corner of Kansas, so we might not see anything at all. Jared said we can get Ethiopian for lunch, since we’ll be in or close to Kansas City, so I guess that’s something. I’d jump through a flaming hoop for some kik alicha.

I have a post all written up & ready to go, but I hate the pictures. I’ve just been sitting on it for like a week & a half. So I think I will draft Ramona to take some new, better photos for me before I post it. In the meantime, let’s talk about the topic that has been consuming a lot of my attention lately: SEWING PLANS. ‘Tis the season, after all.

I wrote in the spring about all my big plans for spring/summer capsule wardrobes. I got quite a few garments on my list done, but I also got distracted by Indie Pattern Month & wound up making a few pieces for that that weren’t on the list, nor season-appropriate. When I think about sewing the rest of the summer-y garments I had planned (several of which are all cut out & ready to go!), I just feel really meh about it. Even though it’s still really hot in Kansas, I feel like I have plenty to wear & I’m ready to move on. So I’ve stuffed all those garments into bins for safekeeping. I’m thinking of it as getting a jump on my spring/summer 2018 sewing. I’ll still need maxidresses & shorts & cute blouses then, right? (Well, “need” may be a strong word.)

As my new sewing space comes together, I am just overwhelmed with ideas for things I want to sew. & not just clothes for myself! Ramona picked out some fabric at Ikea & she wants me to sew pants for her. I’ve decided that her growing has slowed down enough that it’s probably not illogical to make her some clothes. I also promised Jared that I would make us a cozy flannel fitted sheet two years ago. I need to replace my entire lingerie drawer. My bra size changed after my hysterectomy (which I hear is pretty common). I now have a smaller band & a larger cup, & I need a different wire style. & the elastic on all of my self-sewn undies is wearing out. I treated myself to a really nice cross stitch design program & have been fiddling with some pretty elaborate designs. I told Jared I would make seat cushions for the new dining room chairs we bought. (Our old ones were literally falling apart.) & I definitely need to replace my handbag. I’m currently using the Noodlehead Supertote I made a few years ago, but it’s looking pretty beat up.

I’m an obsessive list maker, so I sat down & made some lists:
* eight complete fall/winter outfits, which can be mixed & matched into a minimum of six other outfits
* three sets of weather-appropriate pajamas
* six bra/undies ideas
* two bags
* two pieces of outerwear
* two very complex cross stitching projects
* six “sewing for the home” projects
* six projects for Ramona
* six paper-piecing projects
* two knitting projects (maybe)
* I’d also like to try my hand at re-fashioning some sweaters. I have one in particular that I never wear, but am loathe to give away because I have a sentimental attachment to it.

This is definitely kind of a lot of sewing. But it’s a mix of instant gratification projects & more complex & time-consuming sewing. I’ve also included some of the more cool weather-specific garments I have made recently when thinking about outfits, so some garments are already finished.

I’ve picked three projects that I want to finish by the end of August:
1. That confounded skirt from “Mrs. Stylebook”. It’s been in the naughty corner for the last few days because I have not been able to work out exactly how the damn thing is pleated. But I had a brainwave last night as I was falling asleep, & I think I know how to finish it now. It won’t be exactly like the skirt in the magazine (at least, I don’t think so, but who the hell knows because I have no idea what the description is in Japanese), but it will suit my purposes.


the gray asymmetrical skirt

2. A self-drafted mori style pink & white tunic with a pintucked yoke & half-length puff sleeves

large_0365257      r330-white-nylon-sheer-fabric




3. A September-themed paper-pieced wall hanging. Don’t judge me! I think it might spruce up the house, & I think Ramona would really like it. My plan is to use two patterns–a bushel of apples & a butterfly with some flowers (which I will convert to sunflowers, since September is sunflower month in Kansas), & a third alphabet pattern to spell out the name of the month.



I’ll leave it at that for now, because September plans are a lot more involved, & we are also thinking about driving all the way to Columbia, Missouri for the eclipse, which would necessitate getting on the road in a minute.

Do you love planning posts as much as I do? Obviously I love seeing finished garments & hearing all about their creation, but I find planning posts super-inspirational. Am I just a weirdo?



achievement unlocked: railroad denim Burnside Bibs


Yes, I have already sewn another pair of these overalls, even though the pattern has only been out for like six weeks! & even though it is overalls, & the question exists: how many pairs of overalls does one 38-year-old woman really need? Apparently I will not rest until I have a pair of overalls for every possible occasion.


This design gives me a real 1930s hobo vibe, so of course I had to sew a pair in classic railroad stripe denim (& damn, I’m glad I bought it when I did, because it’s out of stock now). Some years back, before Ramona was in the picture, Jared joined a hydrology research team for a summer. They did half their research in the Adirondacks & half in New York City. I spent the summer living in Philadelphia so it would be easy for us to visit each other. During one of my visits to New York City, we went to American Girl Place, because…why not? They had the most elaborate, museum-quality displays for each of their historical dolls, one of whom is Kit, a plucky aspiring journalist & baseball enthusiast growing up during the Great Depression. Her display included a huge TV that broadcast a loop of a young boy in tattered overalls held up with a rope approaching a house to ask for work. Jared & I found the juxtaposition of the real history of desperate, starving children (I have relatives who actually died of deprivation during the Great Depression) in this outrageously luxurious consumerist paradise absolutely hilarrible. So that is what was on my mind while I made these overalls.


I made a few small changes to this pair, mostly to just tweak the fit a little. I added a 1/2″ of length to the bib & extended the front crotch curve 1/2″. I shortened the legs by 3 3/4″ (I’m 5’5″, & Sew House Seven drafts for a figure several inches taller than that). I raised the back pockets…um…a lot. Maybe too much? They’re right up by the belt loops now. I’d lower them a smidge if I make these again, but I do prefer them very high instead of halfway down my thigh. It makes me feel kind of glam, in a tacky “Three’s Company” sort of way. I think it works okay with the slim-fitting darted back waist. Depression-era hobo meets Studio 54? Have I just defined my personal style concept?


I did press & topstitch the ties & straps this time. There was no way I was going to be able to pull tiny tubes of this heavyweight denim inside out. I even considered swapping the invisible zipper out for an exposed metal zipper because of the weight of the fabric. But I decided to try an invisible zip first, just to see how it went. Spoiler: it actually went surprisingly well! Hands down the best invisible zipper I have ever sewn, probably because I just kept ripping it out & doing it over until it was just right. I must have sewn it seven or eight times. Even with an invisible zipper foot, it was challenge to get right up under the coils through all the layers of denim. But it zips very smoothly, & the waist & hips are EXACTLY the right size for me, so the zip snugs things up without straining itself.


This is also the most perfect facing I have ever sewn. I spent a few days just unzipping it & admiring it because I was so damn pleased with myself. I still have not achieved that elusive “perfect sew” (this one was a bit of wobbly stitching at the back waistband, though it’s camouflaged by the fabric), but this is as close as I have yet come. Which was a really nice change of pace, because the two garments I whipped up before these were just a hot fucking mess. Like, they’re wearable, but I know I can do a LOT better.


It’s been unseasonably cool in Kansas this month, so I’ve actually gotten to wear these sooner than I expected. I wore them over the weekend to go see a friend who just had a new baby. She found out she was pregnant on the same day that I had my first cancer surgery–she actually picked me up from the hospital just a few hours after finding out, & kept it to herself so as to not further traumatize me while I was on my journey to uterus-lessness. But she’s really the only pregnant person I have not been wildly resentful of in the last year, & it was a real joy to meet her new baby. & because she is a good friend, she even took the time to compliment my overalls, even though she had literally just had a baby like 45 minutes earlier. I don’t think I even had it together enough to know my own name 45 minutes after I had Ramona.

In other news, the sewing room is coming together. I was just up there doing a bit of drafting. I treated myself to the high summer 2017 issue of the Japanese pattern magazine “Mrs. Stylebook” (I am obsessed with that title) & instantly fell in love with one of the skirt designs. Some of the looks in “Mrs. Stylebook” are featured as paper patterns, but the majority are drafted from scratch or from bunka slopers. On the one hand, I love this concept because it means that the size range doesn’t matter. You’re drafting from measurements, so it’s going to be a custom fit every time. On the other hand, the entire magazine is in Japanese. I know absolutely zero Japanese. Luckily there are some websites that include Japanese sewing glossaries, but it’s seriously a matter of being like, “Okay, that character kind of looks like a ladder with a roof over it…” & then poring over the glossary until I find a match. There’s barely even any context to help a non-Japanese speaker figure out if they are looking at sewing instructions or fabric types or what. You really need to have a solid technical knowledge of sewing patterns to puzzle it out. It’s fun, but also kind of exhausting. After spending a solid three hours yesterday translating Japanese terms & converting measurements, my brain just switched itself off & I spent the rest of the evening laying on the couch watching “The Octonauts” with Ramona. Maybe I should sign up for Duolingo?

& of course, I had to choose a somewhat complex skirt. It’s asymmetrical & has pleats & it took me an embarrassingly long time to figure out exactly what edges are supposed to be sewn together. But as with all things sewing: you won’t learn if you don’t try!

pattern: Burnside Bibs from Sew House Seven
size: 18
fabric: 3.5 yards of fairly heavy Kaufman railroad stripe denim
notions: denim needle, navy thread, invisible zip foot, navy invisible zip, a bit of lightweight interfacing for the waist facing
total cost of all supplies: around $35
alterations: lengthened bib 1/2″, lengthened from crotch curve 1/2″, shortened legs 3 3/4″, & raised back pockets maybe 2″?
next time: lower back pockets maybe 3/8″?
remarks from the public: “What zipper? ;)” — Instagram comment in response to me bragging about my invisible zipper
photos: Ramona took the photos of me, I took the rest, as always

I have a new sewing space!

Things have been a bit quiet here because we moved house at the beginning of the week. We only moved a few blocks, but it was still an enormous production. There was a miscommunication with the former tenant, so we wound up having to move our stuff in two trips, which meant we did not have movers for as much of the process as I’d hoped, & we had to spend one extra night in the old house. We are still slowly unpacking & trying to keep our heads above the water of chaos a 4-year-old can sow (mixed metaphor alert?) when half her toys are in boxes & her parents are exhausted.

But mostly I am THRILLED with the new house! It’s definitely the biggest house I’ve ever lived in with so few people. Like, I lived in punk houses that were as big or bigger, but I had four or five roommates. Here, it’s just me, Jared & Ramona (& Biscuit, who went on an initial territory-claiming sojourn the other day & didn’t come back for almost 48 hours), & we have SO MUCH SPACE. We have room for all of our books & bookcases, real storage for things like extra quilts & Christmas decorations, all of Ramona’s toys (even the big ones, like her play castle)…& best of all, to me, I have my very own SEWING SPACE.

It’s upstairs, which is an open attic area. There’s a little room with sloped ceilings at one end, which Ramona has claimed as a playroom. & there’s an inset room with a wall of windows in the middle, & that is where I’ve set up my sewing stuff. I have SO MUCH ROOM! There’s space for my pressing station, my cutting table, my entire fabric stash, my sewing table, my dress form, my cabinet of lingerie supplies, all of my sewing books, my serger & spare sewing machine…& all of it is in the same space, which is going to make my sewing so much relaxing & efficient. There really wasn’t room for my sewing stuff at our old house. My pressing table was on the opposite side of the house from my machine, so I had to walk all the way across the house & back to press every individual seam. Half of my notions were basically in storage because I didn’t have room for them. Using the serger was this big production & pulling it out of storage, clearing everyone out of the kitchen (the only space big enough for me to use it), setting it up, & racing to get my serging done before everyone got annoyed with the noise & the space I was eating up.

The big windows mean I have lots of natural light, which is really crucial to my sewing success. My sewing machine was against a solid wall at the old place & it often made me feel anxious & sad to be sewing there. I had to have all kinds of lamps on, even in the middle of the day, to see what I was doing.

So yeah, I am THRILLED. I even re-organized things so that all my quilting fabrics are stashed & I’m using the storage piece I originally bought for them to store WIPs. Each project has its own individual bin, with fabric, notions, pattern, everything I need, right there next to the machine.

& best of all, there’s plenty of room to expand, if need be. I joked to Jared that I could start hosting sewing retreats. There’s plenty of room up there for another person to set up a sewing space & a bed, & they’d even have their own half-bathroom. I did a writing residency ten years ago at a space called the Anchor Archive, in Halifax. I slept in a little cabin & I had to staff the zine library for a few hours a week to earn my keep, but otherwise, it was just a workspace for me to write. I wound up writing twenty logic puzzles from scratch & releasing them as a zine at the end of two weeks. It was really fun, & now that I sew, I think it would be so much fun to do something similar with sewing. But this is only the most nascent of ideas. Feedback welcome!

me on the front porch of the Anchor Archive in June 2007

I still have some more work to do up there to get everything set up. I have some lights to install & a few things to hang, & I need to sort out how everything is going to be plugged in. But I will definitely post photos when it’s finished. I really cannot WAIT to start sewing up there! Ramona convinced me to buy some vegetable print fabric at Ikea yesterday, & I’m planning to make her a pair of pants, & I got some striped fabric to make myself an experimental, structured dress situation. Plus all my WIPS, & a bag to replace my Noodlehead Supertote (which is starting to look pretty shabby after two years of daily use), & curtains for the new house, & something from the Fabric Hamper I won from Minerva Crafts for my Shenai dress…I have a lot of ideas. I just need preschool to start back up so I have the time to execute them!

Incidentally, I have three yet-to-blogged garments that I entered into the Indie Royalty competition over at the Monthly Stitch. I made a striped waffle weave henley shirt, I hacked the Paprika Patterns Jasper sweater into a really cute hoodie, & I made another pair of Sew House Seven’s Burnside Bibs, from heavy railroad striped denim. The editors decided to make all the entrants finalists, so maybe go check it out & kick me a vote? I’ll try to post about the garments in more depth here soon.

achievement unlocked: pink gingham swimsuit


Hey ho, I have made my one trillionth swimsuit. Actually just my third. But three swimsuits is still a lot of swimsuits for a person who does not spend much time in the water. I used to be deep into water aerobics & water walking. I went almost everyday while I was pregnant with Ramona, & was back at the pool again as soon as I was cleared for water immersion after giving birth to her. But then I discovered sewing & it’s been a tug of war ever since. Do I want to suit up & head to the pool, or do I want to keep wearing my jammies & chill at my sewing machine, listening to podcasts? Sewing almost always wins.

I decided to get back into it last fall & splashed out (see what I did there?) on an annual pass, with the thinking that I’d definitely use it if I spent so much money on it. (An annual pass costs a little more than $200, which is a great bargain if you’re planning to hit the pool several times a week.) I was diagnosed with cervical cancer approximately two seconds later, & was forbidden any kind of water immersion during my treatment. I was just cleared to get back in the water (& that includes baths) in May.


Anyway, I have been wanting a pink gingham swimsuit for years. Having made two suits previously, why didn’t I make one of them in pink gingham? I don’t know! When I started sewing & realized that gave me complete control over the textiles, colors, & prints I wore, my immediate instinct was to make everything PINK because I love pink. There’s precedent. At one point in my 20s, I wore nothing but pink for a few years, right down to my shoes & shoelaces. I even dyed my hair pink & had pink-framed glasses. But I guess I had this idea that pink was too “expected” of me (by who?) & that having the opportunity to branch out & experiment, I should.

& before I sewed, I got most of my swimsuits from Modcloth, & usually chose a retro bombshell style in gingham, with a brief time-out for a woodgrain print with a cute belt, which exploded off of me one day at the pool when I was pregnant. I guess I didn’t want to sew one because they were too easy to find in RTW, even though finding a suit that was EXACTLY what I wanted/needed was next to impossible in RTW.


My big issue with swimsuits has always been support up top. I have a big rack, & it’s not very self-supporting. Swimsuits are not exactly known for their lift & separation. Halter necks are bafflingly prevalent in larger sizes, even though they are torture devices for women with large busts. I’ve also learned that I have an unusually high quantity of breast tissue deposited at the top of my bust, which makes finding a suit with decent coverage a big challenge. I want some lift to keep my bust from blending imperceptibly into my belly, but a bit of lift leaves me spilling out the top of a traditionally-cut suit.


Okay, so this suit: I decided to just follow my dreams & get some pink gingham swim fabric. I combined two patterns to make a tankini style with swim shorts. The tank is based on the Harriet bra from Cloth Habit, & the bottoms are hacked from the Closet Case Patterns Ginger jeans.


I made myself a Harriet bra last month that I have yet to blog, but I will say that I was quite impressed with the pattern. I’ll make a few small alterations next time, but I was generally very impressed with the fit right out of the gate. The cups in particular were absolutely perfect: no wrinkles, no flat spots. I did find the neckline & underarm coverage a little low–see again my proportionally larger volume at the top of the breast. Since I was adapting the pattern for a swimsuit, I knew I’d want even more coverage than I like in a bra, to keep me decent with all the other preschool moms (& dads!) at the wading pool. So I added an entire inch of height across the cup & frame.

I converted the cup pieces to make them suitable for foam (trace ’em off & eliminate the seam allowances where the cup pieces are joined together). I made foam cups & separate gingham cups & sewed them together along all the cup seamlines, to maintain that bra-style topstitching. Then I set them into a frame made of very firm powernet & gingham basted together. I added the channeling & wires as you would with any underwired bra.


For the tank part of the tankini, I just drafted it according to my measurements. It’s easy. All you need is your underbust, natural waist, & high hip measurements, as well as the distances between them. Quarter the diameters & draft yourself a trapezoid kind of shape along the edge of a big piece of paper, so you can cut your fabric on the fold. (The edge will also serve as your grainline.) No need to add seam allowances, as a bit of negative ease is desirable in a swimsuit. I added another 5″ to the back piece at the top to account for the height of the bra portion on the front, & I added 4″ of length to the front piece so I could gather it into the lining for a ruched effect. Seam the bra to the front, & then sew the side seams. There’s no need for a back bra piece because the back of the suit can serve that purpose.

I guesstimated the length of straps I’d need to cross over in the back (no surprise looking at a lot of my recent makes–I love crossover straps) & made them from two tubes of swim fabric with strap elastic sewn through. I finished the back & underarms with swim elastic, with the tension distributed the same way you’d finish a bra (neutral in the back, pulled taut along the underarm). To cover up the bartacks where I attached my straps & channeling, I sewed some decorative buttons to the straps, & added a cute little retro tie to the bridge. The tie is just a fabric tube with tapered ends, sewn to the center of the suit & then tied in a knot. I’ve never had good luck with the kind of tie that actually gathers up fabric from the suit because I really need the coverage there. I think my purely decorative tie is a really nice detail that pulls the whole suit together without compromising my desire to keep my cleavage to myself.


I decided to make swim shorts rather than a traditional swim bottom because I just like the idea of swim shorts. They’re not easy to find, you know? So often they are attached to an ostensibly thigh-concealing skirt, which just screams “I’m insecure about my body” to me. I mean, I get it. We are all constantly beaten down with a fusillade of insistence that we hate our bodies. Swimsuits are an especially fraught apparel concern for many women, as I learned from “Cathy” cartoons as a child. But my philosophy is that there’s nothing I can wear that is going to fool anyone into thinking I am slim. & when you actually go to the pool & look around, there are all types of bodies. Maybe especially because I got into the pool through water aerobics, that province of the elderly woman, I embrace the idea that EVERY body is a pool/beach body. You don’t have to earn the right to enjoy the water, or wear shorts, or go sleeveless, or wear a crop top, or whatever whatever, by making your body conform to a particular shape or size. There’s a lot of talk about figure flattery, dressing for your shape, etc, but I think the most “flattering” look a person can wear is WHATEVER THEY DAMN WELL PLEASE.


So, swim shorts. I was imagining a boxer-brief kind of thing, but shorter. I didn’t anyone to think “bike shorts” when they saw me. So I traced off the Ginger jeans pattern, extending the rise to my natural waist (& eliminating all the bits for the pockets & fly) & giving myself a 2″ inseam. I’ve seen a lot of bloggers write about trying to make shorts out of the Ginger jeans & it never works out well for anyone. & that is because the Gingers rely on negative ease & stretch denim to fit, while jean shorts tend to have at least 1″ of positive ease (think a fitted waistband on a skirt–form-fitting/skimming, not squeezing).


Negative ease is perfect for swim shorts, though! These were easy peasy to make. I drafted a waistband (ie, drew a rectangle) & fed through some elastic, & I used the Ginger fly piece to whip up a mock fly, which I just topstitched into place. I sewed on a few decorative buttons for that boxer-brief styling & voila!


This suit has already been pool-tested & -approved. I might shorten the straps maybe an inch or so, & might also try out a different wire in the bra portion. My bust situation has undergone some weird changes since my hysterectomy. They actually got bigger, which I really was not anticipating, but apparently it’s a pretty common side effect of hysterectomy/menopause. My high & underbust measurements are also smaller because I no longer have the hormonal fluctuations I once had. Instead of being a 40D, I’m closer to a 36E. It’s a small change, almost a sister size, but with bras, a tiny change makes a big difference.

pattern: Harriet bra from Cloth Habit & Ginger jeans from Closet Case Patterns
size: 36E for the top & 16 for the bottoms
fabric: 1.5 yards of pink gingham swim fabric, 1 yard of white swim lining, a quarter-yard of swim foam, a quarter-yard of firm powernet
notions: stretch needle, hot pink thread, 1 yard of strap elastic, 1/2 yard of band elastic, 1 yard of underwire channeling, two size 44 regular underwires, nine 1/2″ transluscent buttons, 1 yard of swim elastic
total cost of all supplies: around $25
alterations: added 1″ of height to the bra cups & frame
next time: use deeper & longer wires, make a wider waistband for the shorts, sew mock fly piece on before construction, shorten straps 1.5″ or so
remarks from the public: “I really like your swimsuit, Mama. [faux-contemplative pause]…I have an idea! We should go to the pool! I’m already wearing my swim trunks!” — Ramona (She is going through a big swim trunks phase. She has three pairs & zero “girl” swimsuits. The trunks combined with her short haircut is really inspiring a lot of gender panic among moms at the pool.)
photos: Ramona took the photos of me, I took the rest, as always

achievement unlocked: teal gingham Henrietta Maria top


All right, let’s talk about this top, which is the Henrietta Maria blouse from Scroop Patterns. (Note: I’m recycling some of the photos from my last post. Sorry not sorry!) This was the very first Scroop release, & I’m not gonna lie: I had zero plans to sew it up. The line drawings made it look like an Edwardian nightshirt, which is not exactly my style jam. But I wanted a loose-fitting woven blouse of some sort to pair with my suspender skirt. I was imagining a modern riff on a dirndl, kind of, so I was looking for some kind of updated or unique twist on a peasant blouse. & I was especially looking for an indie pattern from a company I haven’t sewn before, to fit into the Indie Pattern Month “new to me” challenge.


I briefly considered the Scroop Patterns Ngaio blouse, which is a new release that I’ve been seeing on blogs a lot recently. But I just haven’t been sold on any version I’ve seen. Something about the boob situation always looks a little bit weird.


I mean, right? I think I personally just prefer a wider/lower neckline.

I really don’t know what compelled me to pull the trigger on the Henrietta Maria, given that it looks an awful lot like a maternity shirt my mom wore back when she was pregnant with me in the 70s. But I’m glad I did because the final results turned out much better than I expected while I was sewing!


I was initially going to use a yellow tiny gingham seersucker (yardage leftover from a maxidress I still need to sew). But it just wasn’t speaking to me, so I went stash-diving to see if I had anything better. I found this teal gingham seersucker that I originally bought to make a shirtdress. Perfect! The larger checks were just what I needed, & inadvertently made sewing this blouse up so fast & easy, because they served as a built-in measuring device for all those cartridge pleats.

Also, not for nothing, teal is the official awareness color of gynecological cancers, & let us not forget that I was treated for cervical cancer this past year. Layers upon layers, amirite?


This was a surprisingly quick pattern. I expected it to take me a couple of days, but the sewing went really fast. The only shaping comes from the pleats, so it was just a matter of a few seams, pressing in the facings, & then pleating. There are more than seventy pleats on this garment, & if I would have had to measure, mark, & press each one individually, it definitely would have taken a while. But since I could use the checks to estimate the measurements, that saved me a lot of time.


I did a few advance alterations. This pattern is drafted for a B-cup, so I did a 2″ slide & pivot FBA. Next time I’d add maybe another 1/2″, because it pulls ever-so-slightly across the fullest part of the bust. The directions suggested cutting the size you’d need for your full bust & adjusting the number/width of pleats to fit the shoulders if you are smaller or larger than a B-cup, but I’m really glad I went with an FBA instead. My full bust measurement is 43″, & I cut a size 38 (Scroop Patterns has a sizing chart based on bust size, so a size 38 corresponds to a 38″ bust), & it’s still pretty wide in the shoulders. I mean, it’s a wide-necked design, but still.


I also did a 2″ swayback adjustment, but I still have a lot of pooling in the lower back. Maybe that’s just inevitable to some degree for a dartless woven top? Especially one intentionally designed to be fairly loose-fitting in the waist & hips?


I also shortened the sleeves a few inches to make them elbow-length. Sewing has taught me that I loathe three-quarter sleeves. If they are touching my forearms, they need to be solidly long sleeves or else I just get mad. Plus I felt like there was already a lot happening with the color & the gingham & the pleats & the volume…I needed to rein it in somewhere.


Per the suggestions in the instructions, I finished the cut-on facings with some lovely narrow white lace. This only really works because the facings are two inches wide & integrated into the shirt via the pleating, but it’s a really pretty detail for this particular garment. It makes the blouse feel extra-feminine to me, which is kind of nice sometimes. I also added bra strap carriers, which serve the dual purpose of keeping my bra straps tucked away (not that I really care about showing my bra straps, especially considering that I sew all my own bras, so they are all pretty) & keep the neckline up on my shoulders. This top would for sure be slipping off my shoulders with every movement without the carriers. But with them, I look like a magical clothes-wearing wizard. I feel like people see me & they’re like, “HOW is she wearing such a wide-necked top with no bra straps showing & it’s not slipping off her shoulder every five seconds? Is she a WITCH?” It feels very elegant, which isn’t something I can say for pretty much anything I have ever made before.


I will say, the length of the this top leaves something to be desired. It wouldn’t really be wearable as-is without the extra length I added via the FBA. & bear in mind, I am fairly short-torsoed. I read that it was a bit short on length on Tanya’s blog, but of course I had to be a maverick & see for myself. It can be kind of hard to gauge exactly how long it’s going to be before it’s completely finished, because it is SO wide before all the pleats are sewn. Almost an entire yard of fabric (!!!) is in the neckline pleats alone! But if you decide to try this top, maybe just add an extra inch or two to the hem to be on the safe side. You can trim it off if the finished shirt is too long. I took the teeniest, narrowest hem possible, & it is just long enough that I feel I can wear it untucked, which is fortunate, because I am not much of a shirt-tucker.


My goal for the weekend is to finish my project for the “hack it” challenge. I would have finished it today while Jared & Ramona were on the Lawrence Community Bike Ride (a photo of them from a few years ago was used for the newspaper article advertising it!), but I had serger issues & then I had elastic issues…It’s so close to being done, & I think (hope) it’s going to be SO cute.


& that reminds me: I learned this morning that my Shenai dress was one of the winners of the “dresses” challenge! Amazing! I won a £100 Fabric Hamper from Minerva Crafts! Wow! I know I thought my dress was pretty terrific (I’ve been wearing it almost non-stop ever since I made it), but it’s nice that other people thought so too!

pattern: Henrietta Maria top from Scroop Patterns
size: 38
fabric: around 2 yards of teal gingham seersucker
notions: universal needle, white thread, 3.5 yards of narrow white lace, 10″ of white 3/8″ ribbon, two sew-on snaps
total cost of all supplies: around $25 (including the pattern)
alterations: 2″ slide & pivot FBA, 2″ swayback adjustment
next time: add maybe another 1″ to the length of the top, do another aggressive swayback adjustment, take another 1/2″ off the sleeve length
remarks from the public: “You look beautiful.” — Jared (In fact, he said the Henrietta Maria/Madeleine suspender skirt combo is his favorite thing I’ve ever made, but I don’t know if that’s just recency bias talking.)
photos: Ramona took the photos of me, I took the rest