Back to School Wardrobes: Tween Girl (and why it’s so hard to dress them)

Alright!  Time to get sewing these clothes for school.  I’m starting with the toughest to sew for, and working from there–in our house, that’s our tween girl.  She’s 8, so just barely a tween, but old enough that a lot of the available sewing patterns on the market either don’t go up far enough in size or look too juvenile for her to realistically wear to school (or both, let’s be honest).  My goal was to fill the gaps in her wardrobe with things she’ll really want to wear and like wearing, that make her feel excited and also let me feel confident that she’s dressed well–truly well, in things that are well-made and good quality, and that don’t have crappy “sassy” or “juicy” logos and skeezy messages all over them, that encourage her to think well of herself.

back to school wardrobe step 3

There are times when I think my attitude about how my girls dress is so fundamental to how parents think that I skim right over it.  And then there are others when I realize that for a segment of the population, they REALLY don’t think about the messages our children’s clothing can send, and how that will impact them throughout their lives.  Mainstream media–like this article from ABC  or this one from CNN about skimpy fashions–have even begun to report on the long-term negative effects of overly “sexy” tween clothing and how that impacts our girls.  I would extend that argument to include the “sassy” contingent, who seem to want to imbue tween girl clothing with messages virtually guaranteed to breed a whole host of Mean Girls in the fourth grade.  It makes me gag, over and over, and I know I’m not the only one.

kids back to school wardrobe organization

At the same time, I am a mom of older girls, and I totally get it: there just isn’t much on the market for them.  And it’s hard to sew clothing, especially, beyond just buying it, that allows our girls to look…well…normal, for lack of a better word.  I don’t want to send my girl off to school looking like Holly Hobby (oh, how I miss her, though!), or like some homemade bumpkin who doesn’t fit in and never could.  But I also don’t want to send her to school looking like a miniature adult–which she isn’t.  It’s a tough age, and a tough transition, and I know I am not alone in wanting to make it gracefully.

girls knit tee walking away

So I’ve worked to locate patterns that satisfy our goals: well-made, nice-looking clothing that is classic and that a young girl will love to wear.  I’m less concerned about “fashion-forward” than classic shapes, but confess that there isn’t much being designed right now for this age that is fashion-forward without showing more skin than an 8-year-old needs to be showing.  (There does seem to be a movement in the right direction–there is Yellowberry, a line of bras and panties for young girls, and some argument in the media that we’re headed “away from trashy twelve and more toward sweet 16.”  A recent article pointed out that “there’s a trend toward…something that’s a little more timeless, a little more quality,” which I think is amazing.) When it comes to sewing patterns, though, at least for the moment, the choices are often between large-toddler and mini-grandma styles–I suspect that will change rapidly, but finding patterns to sew for your tween is still more time-consuming than for your toddler girl, where there are seemingly new crops of patterns out every ten minutes.  The gap seems to be in finding patterns that are suitable for girls as they try to figure out how they want to dress before they understand that what they wear sends messages, intended or otherwise.

I am all kinds of willing to fight this battle, with my needle as my sword and an oversized bobbin for a shield, y’all.  Our To-Sew list for my eight-year-old includes the following items:

sewing plan for a tween girl wardrobe

I created a printable to organize these projects, just the ones I’m sewing as opposed to the ones I’m willing to buy.  It lists what garments we need, what patterns I’m planning to use, and what fabrics I think will work best for each one.

back to school wardrobe sewing list


And I’ve rounded up a short list of the patterns I have on hand or have already sewn up, that I think work for what we hope for our girl while still giving her the sense that she’s free to make her own choices.  Lots of these are meant to be mix-and-match, too, so that I don’t have to sew a zillion separate pieces for her to have a wide number of wearable outfits.bateau top sewing pattern by Wee Muses on EtsyFor the knit tops, she needs at least two short sleeve and two long sleeve tops.  I have been hoarding striped vintage-feel jerseys from Girl Charlee all summer, and am planning to make three striped and one solid top for her to supplement the ones she already has.  The Bateau Top, above, is such a sweet and versatile pattern, which I’ll be using for both the long sleeve and one of the short.  I’m thinking of modifying the Schoolbus Tee from Oliver + S for the other short sleeve, and giving it a little more volume and a lower neckline.


For the skirt, I’m thinking my 20-minute skirt, with just a dirndl shape and an elastic waist.  We have a mess of these that she’s handed down to her younger sister, and she keeps trying to wear the too-small versions, so some larger ones might be in order.  (On a side note, this is HER, in this photo!  Man, it all goes so fast…)  These skirts are the PERFECT place to use novelty and seasonal prints–they look great with solid or striped tees plus a cardigan, and allow me to indulge my long-standing passion for silly prints.  Plus, our kids really, really groove on the almost-but-yes-ok-totally-tacky seasonal prints from the big box stores: Halloween, Thanksgiving, Christmas, Easter, Fourth of July.  They looooove that there is fabric that’s specific to a special day, and a quickie skirt that uses just a half-ish yard is the perfect place to let them choose their own fabric and wear it with pride (and for tweens, they can even make the skirt themselves!).

dimensional denim shorts w ruffled pocket

She’s already got one new pair of shorts, using my go-to self-drafted pattern, and needs one more.  I’m not really sure what fabric I’ll use here, but suspect I still have some cotton twill down in the basement in a box that I can dig out.  I feel like, to minimize the sheer NUMBER of garments I’ll be sewing, I should focus on versatile fabrics and colors that can be incorporated into a LOT of outfits.  I think this is a really important point, and while it might seem to contradict using those seasonal prints for the skirts, they go hand-in-hand: I want my children to have unlimited choice within an edited palette of options.  By making quick and simple-to-sew projects in fabrics that don’t go with much but that they love, and making more challenging projects in fabrics that are versatile and go with everything, they get to have freedom and have a solid foundation from which to make choices.

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For church dresses, I like this simple and classic shape with princess lines: Simplicity 1382.  I know it doesn’t look that great in these line drawings, but if you look closely, you’ll see that this pattern can be easily adapted with a lot of fabrics and made to look both classic and chic, and not-so-little girly.  She’ll need at least one in a nicer fabric for the holidays (I have some silk-blend plaid left over from a holiday skirt I made myself) and another in a pretty cotton print (I’m thinking a Cotton + Steel print).  Yum.

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For a woven tunic, I also love the Ice Cream Dress from Oliver + S.  (Their blog even has an article posted about all the versions of their patterns made in tween sizes–did you know nearly EVERY O + S pattern goes up to a size 12??)  I also really like the idea of sewing up the Book Report Dress, with its cool pocket detail, in a knit.  Our girl would wear the stink out of these both on their own, now while it’s warm, and later over leggings and skinny jeans.  I have some heavier knits (including a polka dot Ponte de Roma) that might be great for this.

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She needs a couple woven blouses, to balance out all the knit tees in her wardrobe.  At first glance, this Simplicity 1625 is total crap–I don’t have the first clue what’s happening with that weird overlay, for one thing.  But I do like the view C top, and think she would look great in a slightly longer version of that–somewhere between the dress and the top length–in a Liberty floral.  Yes, I will sew Liberty for my child.  But only because I know she can pass it down to her little sister.

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I also totally love this fun vintage look that I discovered on Etsy.  There are SO many great vintage patterns you can dig up in girls’ sizes that have a classic vibe with clean, classic lines.  If you’re struggling to find things you love, you could do worse than to haunt Etsy and eBay looking for great styles from the past.

And that’s that!  A total of 10 garments to sew for our oldest girl, and a stack of those are repeated patterns.  Now tell me: am I crazy in thinking that pickings are SUPER slim out there for tween girls?  Did you read all this and think she has lost it/I know of a zillion patterns & stores to get great stuff for this age/geez, Deborah, when did you get so uptight?  Tell me in the comments!  I’m still on the hunt for a great tween girls’ skirt–share your pattern numbers, folks!



Sketchbook Shirts in Fanfare Flannel

fanfare flannel shirts and whipsers Well, I can cross off two more items from my to-sew list for the kids, thanks to today’s Fanfare Flannel Extravaganza!  Plus, I finally got around to sewing up the Sketchbook Shirt from Oliver + S roughly five years after purchasing it, so today’s sewing is a gigantic WIN at our house. fanfare flannel shirts for fall I made one shirt each for our two youngest: his is a size 6, and hers is a size 5.  I wanted a classic button-up shirt, but like a lot of folks who sew for their children, am trying to be cautious about using the same pattern again and again and AGAIN (two agains is totally acceptable, but when every. single. shirt. in their closets is identical in construction, it gets a little repetitive).  Using my inventory (more on that tomorrow, along with a new printable for keeping track of what patterns you’ve selected to keep track of filling various gaps in their wardrobes) has really helped in that regard.  So: Sketchbook Shirt, a pattern I haven’t sewn up previously (sewed up? whichever), and that went together crazy fast.  His took a total of two hours from tracing to complete, not including buttonholes, which I always procrastinate installing; hers took closer to three hours, since I was adding ruffles and FORGOT to add them the first time I sewed on the front button plackets.  Ahem.  Sometimes I just get super excited. boys button up shirt in fanfare flannel I wanted to play a little, so I didn’t just use this FABULOUS chartreuse elephant print from Rae’s new line of colors in her Fanfare Flannel (an organic cotton flannel from Cloud9; see links to purchase at the bottom of this post); I threw in some bits of the Fanfare solids, too, on the button placket and the undercollar, just for fun.  You can see a bit of it peeking our here, at the neckline–I love that bit of POP, and feel like I’m seeing it a lot lately on men’s shirts, right?  Like, a hot pink on the collar band, or a little peek of a contrasting fabric on the inside of a sleeve cuff.  This isn’t a strong a contrast, but I love that the Fanfare flannels come with solids that coordinate so I have that option. one piece collar in fanfare flannel The Sketchbook Shirt pattern features a cut-as-one banded collar, which means that unlike a men’s collar on a button-up shirt, the band–that little curved section under the collar that helps it stand up–and the collar itself–the part with points–are a single piece.  I like how much quicker that makes the sewing, since you don’t have to go through the extra steps of attaching the collar to the band before you can sew it to the shirt; if I’m being totally honest, though, I really do prefer my go-to banded collar where they’re separate.  I think I just am so accustomed to the seam between the two that NOT having it is less satisfying here.  Having said that, the collar looks GREAT, it has plenty of support, and the shaping is super flattering.  So if you dislike sewing a banded collar, or have avoided sewing one because it looked too involved, this is an excellent pattern to try–it takes that step out of the equation and is nearly fool-proof! oliver and s sketchbook shirt in fanfare flannel The back of the shirt has a classic yoked upper back, and a small pleat in the shirt back below it–I love, love this detail, and how simple it is to sew while also making the shirt look really professional.  Downright store-bought, if I do say so myself.  I topstitched the lower yoke seam, after serging the seam allowances, and then I topstitched the shoulder seams, as well, both within the body of the yoke.  There was a decent amount of topstitching on this pattern–collar/collar band, cuffs, yoke–but truly not overwhelming.  And I like topstitching, so it was fun. upside down flannel shirt fanfare Good grief, this fabric is ABSURDLY soft.  Have I mentioned that previously?  I mean, like SUPER soft.  I really, truly love it.  All three of our younger children and I have pajamas made from the first release of Rae’s flannels, and have been wearing them regularly (read: most of the time when they’re not in the wash) and I feel like they’ve held up really well.  I haven’t noticed a ton of pilling, like I sometimes do with other flannels, and while I wish they’d softened up a little bit more, sometimes that just takes more wear.  The colors stayed super vibrant on our jammies, which was part of what motivated me to choose really bright shades for these shirts: this chartreuse is really deep and rich, and the lilac is so warm and bold.  I feel good about those colors lasting and looking great all winter, wash after wash, and staying new-looking and un-pilled through what looks like it might be another cold season. his and hers fanfare flannel shirts for fall When I very first agreed to be part of the Fanfare Flannel Extravaganza, I knew for SURE that I wanted to make button-up shirts, but even more than that, I knew I wanted to experiment with adding ruffles at the front button placket on the girls’ shirt.  Wow, do I love it–I mean, like reeeeeaaallllly love it.  So sweet, such a simple bit of sewing, and it makes this a whole different shirt, even though the two are the exact same pattern! ruffled shirt fanfare lilac foxes This one is for our youngest, and like on her brother’s, I really wanted to play with the Fanfare flannel solids.  I did the undercollar and the button placket both in the same chartreuse, and was tempted to carry that over to the ruffles–but figured less is more (hah! as if) and went the cautious route (chicken route? maybe) and used the coordinating lilac solid, instead.  It is a DEAD MATCH for the shade of this fox print (gahhhhh!!  which I totally love), and ruffled up MUCH more easily than I would have expected.  Flannel can get really thick, and I wondered if that would mean that the ruffles wouldn’t lie flat; in that case, I would have had to relax the ruffles and use fewer of them/less volume, which isn’t as fun, quite frankly.  But this flannel really drew up nicely, without a ton of bulk, and they lie so neatly along the sides of the placket!  Gah!!  Ruffles!!! fanfare flannel shirt with ruffled peter pan collar When I traced out the size 5 from the Sketchbook Shirt pattern (yes, I did trace, even though I was tempted to JUST GET SEWING ALREADY, because the pattern goes up to size 12, and we have a lot of years left when I want to have the option of choosing this pattern), I rounded out the collar points to make a subtle not-quite-Peter-Pan-collar shape.  Could I love it more?!? No, I could not.  CRAZY cute with these teensy ruffles. ruffled front lilac foxes fanfare shirt For the ruffles along the front button plackets, I cut a strip crosswise that measured 1.5-times the length of the button placket by 1.25″ wide.  That gave me a 3/4″ ruffle along the edge of the seamline, with a 1/2″ seam allowance to match the seam allowance in the pattern.  On one long edge, I used an overcast stitch to finish off the edge and prevent unraveling (I debated switching to a matching thread rather than white, which I used for the entire construction of both these shirts, and went with white; I don’t THINK it shows up too much, but might do it differently if I were doing it over), and then ran a line of gathering stitches at 1/2″ from top to bottom.  When I attached the button plackets to the left and right shirt front, I simply laid the ruffle wrong side to right side on the shirt front, sandwiched between the shirt front and the placket, then captured it in the same seamline.  Easy peasy!  Ditto the collar, but there I cut a 3/4″ strip, overcast the edge, ran a gathering stitch at 1/2″ and basted in place on the main collar piece before attaching the undercollar. fanfare flannel shirt inverse box pleat On the back of this one, a happy little accident: I stitched the pleat line down right sides together, rather than wrong sides together, and made an inverse pleat.  But I love it!  So I left it.  So cute, and just a smidge different enough from his shirt that they really look like different styles. sketchbook shirt sleeve and cuff in fanfare flannel I confess that I read very few of the directions that came with this pattern.  I’ve manufactured styles similar enough to this that I skipped that part–with one exception: that slash in the sleeve where  the cuff meets and buttons shut.  See that skinny strip of contrast there, on the inside?  That’s such a finicky, fussy bit of sewing, and I can always use a new tip on how it goes together.  Liesl’s directions were EXCELLENT, and gave me a new insight into how that particular bit of sewing can get done well–I don’t remember how I used to do it (badly, I think), but I know I never got results that looked as good as this, and I’m really, really excited about it!!  I was also really pleased with how UN-bunchy the flannel is here.  This step requires a lot of folding and some narrow stitching, and another flannel might have been too stiff or lacking in flexibility for the job.  This organic cotton flannel really pressed well and held its shape, and was very easy to sew in tight quarters. fanfare flannels and flowers I also switched up how I attached the collar.  Most patterns of this style have you sew the whole collar and then attach it with the undercollar already sewn on.  I attached the undercollar to the shirt FIRST, then sewed the whole collar on top of it–MUCH easier, I think.  More details in a future post! fanfare flannel shirt surprise I’m completely delighted with how these two shirts turned out   Despite the fact that I ran out of buttons and couldn’t add them to the cuffs (anyone catch that??), they are nearly perfect, and will be a GREAT addition to the kids’ wardrobes this winter.  The weather hasn’t turned here yet (poor darlings, they were troopers and modeled these in 85 degrees!), but when it does, the kids will wear them a TON–our girl has refused to take hers off, and keeps talking about how soft and fuzzy it is.  We’re all in love! Fanfare Flannel has hit stores all over!  Get it from Hawthorne Threads, Pink Castle, or your local fabric shop.  You can get the Sketchbook Shirt pattern as either a printed pattern or a PDF direct from Oliver + S or from most of the shops listed above!

Dimensional Denim from Amy Barickman

Amy Barickman of Indygo Junction, one of the kindest and most lovely human beings around, is launching a new book AND a new line of denims.  What?!?  That’s right: NEW DENIMS. dimensional denim colors Back when I very first started selling fabric retail, I had the worst, worst, worst time finding denim on the bolt to sell to customers.  There was exactly one manufacturer who made any denim at all, in two weights: very light and slightly less light.  Nothing heavy, nothing close to what we’ve become accustomed to buying off-the-rack in the form of jeans and jean jackets and denim skirts.  I was looking for something comparable to what I’ve worn most of my life, but outside of buying designer mill-ends (as some retailers do), I couldn’t find it anywhere. DImesional-Denim-CVR-Final-3 So I was all kinds of delighted to learn that Amy has developed a new denim line, Crossroads Denim, that is specifically woven so that it will rip easily and fray well.   AND!  She’s got a new book out, Dimensional Denim, that walks through a whole series of projects to showcase the properties of this fabric in really fun ways. dimensional denim shorts w ruffled pocket Amy and her Indygo Junction ladies were sweet enough to send me four one-yard cuts of the new Crossroads Denim to play with.  I pre-washed and played with it a bit–and did pretty much only that for about a week.  Seriously, the weight and texture of this stuff is really good.  It’s a bit stiff, but in a good way–like, it’s not a quitter the way some fabric-store denims can be.  It has some real heft to it, like it will wear well for kids’ pants knees and for summer shorts bottoms.  And it’s so soft!  Great twill texture that’s really nice to touch without being droopy. dimensional denim shorts I planned to make some shorts for myself, but since I’m in the middle of working on the back-to-school wardrobes for my kids, and our eight-year-old is in need of new shorts, figured I’d take one for the team and back-burner my own desires for my children’s needs.  Here’s hoping they thank me later.  I used my current go-to shorts pattern and put together a quick pair with slanted front pockets for her, and threw in a sweet little ruffle to take advantage of the weave of this denim. denim pocket closeup The short fronts and backs are cut on the fabric grainline, but the waistband and pocket facing are on the crossgrain.  The ruffle that’s in the pocket slash is showing with the wrong side out.  All of that’s an effort to give as much visual impact with a simple project–and I think it really shows how versatile a core fabric like denim can be. denim grainline closeup The ruffle is a one-inch strip that was rotary-cut on one side, but then ripped on the crossgrain on the other.  I gathered it up down the center, and then popped it into my 1/2″ seam allowance.  SUCH a simple detail, and the fabric ripped perfectly, and it has just a subtle touch of fray along the edge, but I think it really gives an extra flavor to these shorts that prevents them from looking homemade and will turn them into something my child will love to wear.  (And how sweet is that lilac color, right??) denim shorts elastic back The length is just below mid-thigh, and the back waist is elastic, which is still my favorite method for making kids’ pants.  It’s just so simple, for me and for them–not just the sewing, but the dressing, too.  Easy to wear, and makes great play shorts for later, when these have been washed a zillion times. elastic back closeup The elastic also gives plenty of space to move.  Our girl is eight, so she’s just entering that tween age range, but she really is a little girl still (thank heaven), and she love to climb and jump and run and play.  And that’s SO awesome, and something that I know won’t last too many more years (at least six more, if I’m asking, though), so I want to make sure she has memories of all that running from when she was littler. You can win a copy of Dimensional Denim AND a bundle of these fabrics so you can play with them yourself! Enter here for the drawing, and if you just can’t wait, you can find Crossroads Denim for sale at Hawthorne Threads, Beverly’s, and Fabric Depot (and you can always ask your local fabric shop to carry the line–I think the more apparel fabrics we can get locally, the better).

Back to School Wardrobe: Inventory Results, and Analyzing WHEN to Sew & When to Buy

So, OK, this took waaaay longer than I expected.  Partly because–duh–I realized that you can’t really do a complete inventory without first doing the LAUNDRY so you know that you’ve really counted everything.  Fortunately, I didn’t wait to start the inventory until after the laundry was done (because WILL IT EVER, EVER BE DONE????); I counted all the clean stuff while a load was drying, then folded the clean things, then corrected my tallies.

backto school wardrobes step 2

My finished pages look like this (I realized as I worked through that I had left a few categories off, so I’ve updated the checklist I posted last week.  You can find those here and here, or on the original post!):

completed back to school wardrobe inventory

What I found when I did these inventories is that (1) it is really, really helpful and motivating, and MAN did it make me feel unblocked and super organized and ready to ROCK for the first day of school, and (2) that what I knew I knew wasn’t really what I knew, and wasn’t necessarily accurate.  Which was confusing but so, so helpful.

kids back to school wardrobe organization

For example, I was sure that our four-year-old had plenty of underpants but not enough socks.  Turns out she has outgrown most of her underpants, and needs more–but I thought she had about a dozen pair and deliberately DIDN’T buy any recently when I had the chance, because I was so certain.  Note to self: check those size tags more often.

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Check out all the items to donate! We take the tax deduction for all the kids’ clothes we don’t keep; that way, we earn back a portion of what we’ve spent each year sewing & buying clothing for our family. During this exercise, I filled TWO garbage bags with outgrown-but-still-nice clothing to take to Goodwill.

Another example: I was sure our eight-year-old had plenty of short-sleeved shirts and very few long-sleeved tops for layering; the reverse is actually true, and I would never have guessed from looking at the jumbled mess in her drawers.

Another another example: I figured our boy had the very least number of garments, and would require the most sewing; turns out, he just needs a TON of tee shirts, since his are almost universally torn/stained/stretched/outgrown, and pants (he actually owns ONE pair?!?  what??) but very little else–and since tees are pretty quick and easy to sew, he needs one pattern over and over and some jeans and he’s done!  It turns out it’s our tween girl who lacks the most clothing–she doesn’t have anyone handing down clothes to her (we have a very few nice things saved from our oldest, but I was extremely choosy, since there are 11 years between them, so pickings are slim) and she is growing like a weed.  She’s also really hard on her clothes, because she still plays HARD, but is starting to care a lot about what she wears and if it matches and how she feels in her clothes, in a way the younger ones don’t.  So her list of “to sew/to buy” is MUCH longer than either of the other two.

girls handmade tee shirts

If you think about it, that totally makes a ton of sense.  Tweens are such a funny age range–my husband swears you can’t be a tween until you’re 10, but the marketers sure want to tap into these kids once they hit 8.  Eight!!  She’s in third grade, and is beginning to have a much more clear image of herself as SELF, as an individual separate from us, with an identity of her own.  And what she wears and what she likes is a big part of that–her desire to have us HEAR her when she expresses an opinion, and demonstrate to her that her ideas and likes matter to us.  So.  Sewing list for her.

back to school wardrobe planning checklist

Let’s start with a confession: I did some shopping for her.  Actually, I did some shopping for all of them, and then I went back and did some more shopping just for our eight-year-old.  Her sewing list was just SO LONG, and we stumbled on some really absurd deals at Osh Kosh, and I bit.  (Can you say 25% off flash sale and $9 jeans? I am not a machine, y’all.)

back to school shoppingHere’s what I learned from the shopping I did for these children: I was right, and it can be INSANE the amount of money you can drop on back-to-school shopping for children.  My husband and I were invited to the opening of a local Osh Kosh/Carter’s shop (the company is based here in Atlanta, and they have a new shop about 10 miles from where we live) that was doing 40-60% off deals on almost everything in the store.  I bought one outfit each for our three kids, plus two pair of leggings for each of the girls and a pair of shoes for our boy (plus some underpants, because: unicorns!).  With the sale factored in, everything was in line with Target-level clothing pricing, and I think (hope–it used to be, but plenty of brands have been letting me down the past few years) the quality is a bit higher.

price of back to school shopping

Grand total?  (And remember, these are door buster deals with an additional 40-60% off many of the items.)  We spent $200 on these things.  Again: one outfit each, plus leggings.  On DISCOUNT.  I went back to their online site during the flash sale and spent an additional $200 on jeans for all three of them, and another two outfits for our eight-year-old, plus a winter coat for the youngest.  Which means for five outfits, four pair of leggings and five pair of jeans, I spent a little over $400. That is an appalling total, but still way below that national average cost for back-to-school clothing (which clocked in at $246 per child back in 2012).  According to their numbers, our family could easily have expected to spend $738+ for our kids TO GET DRESSED.

Screen Shot 2014-08-11 at 1.24.05 PMI feel guilty about this number.  For real, I seriously do.  It seems HUGE to me, and it makes my gut churn.  It seems like such a lot of money.  It helps that I know that a part of it was “opportunity cost” associated with sewing EVERY garment our children will wear this fall and winter: I just can’t make it all.  I don’t have the time, and the costs associated with buying some items are much lower than the time it would take to sew all of them.  Had we not been invited to the store opening, would I still have purchased this clothing?  Probably not–or at least, not before doing the sewing.  I did try to get things that I would have gotten anyway–I’m not planning to sew any of them jeans any time in the foreseeable future–but probably purchased more than I might have if we’d never been invited, since I would almost certainly not have gone to the store in the first place.  When I filled my basket, I made a choice: more time with the actual children and less time sewing for the children.  So I feel like I spent too much, but looking at the national average expense and my own schedule (which is rapidly filling up), I am letting myself off the hook.  Putting that guilt in my back pocket, as it were, and forgetting it.

what to sew what to buy

Now it’s time to get down to the business of sewing what I CAN reasonably sew.  I made a whole new chart, after seeing how I used the inventory lists, so that I could organize my ideas (you can download this chart here or by clicking the image above).  In fact, I used this when I went back to the online flash sale and bought jeans and two more outfits for our eight-year-old–I knew what I was willing to buy new and what I wanted to sew, and used that to guide my purchases.

back to school clothes to buy new

One column is for “purchase new.”  These are things that I (1) won’t sew myself because they’d be too time consuming (like a winter coat) or (2) don’t want to sew because they payoff is too low (like underpants) or (3) can’t reasonably make at home (like socks, which again, I won’t be hand-knitting for children who routinely leave them in mud puddles in the backyard).  Also included here are hair accessories, shoes/boots and knitted sweaters.

back to school clothes to buy at thrift store

Another column is for “thrift store purchases.”  These are items that I (1) will use if I can find suitable candidates but that (2) I can live without if I can’t find them (or sew or buy new, if they’re essential).  Anything under the to sew/to buy list could reasonably fit here, but some things just don’t turn up at the thrift store in great condition with enough frequency for me to bet on them.  I don’t buy shoes for our kids at the thrift store (I have an ick issue, although I recognize that not everyone does), and I have ONCE, in nineteen years of mothering, found a decent winter coat.  So mostly these items are tee shirts, dresses, jeans, slacks, that kind of thing, the stuff that’s ubiquitous in the kids’ clothing at your usual thrift spot.

back to school clothes to sew

The last (and largest) column is “to sew.”  These are items that I (1) can’t bring myself to purchase because they’re so simple to make (like striped or printed tee shirts, which I have pre-hoarded jersey fabric to sew and am pretty excited about) or that I (2) know I can sew easily and thus can defeat the cost/benefit curve, or that (3) the in-store, off-the-rack versions are so poorly constructed/simply designed/over-priced that I cannot, under any circumstances, bring myself to pay the exorbitant prices that are being asked.  Even at a store like Target there are items on the shelves that are simply not worth the asking price–even if that price is $10.  They’d be so quick and easy to make that I can’t seem to put them in the cart–whether I actually MAKE them is the real question, but that’s for a later post.

So that’s where I am now.  And that’s why it’s taken so long to get this far.  I figured the real work would be in locating patterns for the things I’d like to sew, but that’s been way easier than the mental exercise of determining WHAT to sew, WHEN it’s worth it to sew rather than buy, and WHY I want to sew some things and not others.

How about you?  How do you make the decision when to sew and when to buy for your kids’ clothing?

Meet Spice Berry Cottage!

Spice Berry Cottage logo

Meet Spice Berry Cottage, a fab modern online shop and my newest sponsor!

alex henry ballet class sbc

Spice Berry Cottage carries a wide range of modern cottons and apparel fabrics, mostly focused on quilting.  Dina, the owner, created the shop specifically to inspire sewing and creativity with the amazing fabrics that keep coming out year after year.  Dina loves color and comes from a long line of seamstresses, and started Spice Berry Cottage after a back surgery that encouraged her to finally do what she loves!

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One of my favorite things about the Spice Berry site is their color matching generator, which suggests other in-stock fabrics in the same color range as one you’ve selected.  But it goes beyond that–you can also ask it for secondary colors, for colors that are similar (if you’re going for a monochrome look) or for a fabric with a shade as a minor color (so you can easily locate coordinates).  Such a great tool!  It lets me select a whole range of fabrics and then SEE them, in my cart, to get an idea if they’re going to work for the project I have in mind.  How great is that, right?


Dina carries all the fabrics that you’ve been planning ahead for (oh, seriously, admit it: you plan ahead to buy these fabrics).  Anna Maria, Heather Ross, Alexander Henry, Rae Hoekstra, Amy Butler, Joel Dewberry, Tula Pink, Denyse Schmidt, the works.  Plus organics, flannels, and the new apparel substrates that I love so much.

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Are you a Facebooker?  I have an on-going ambivalence about FB, but what brings me back again and again is how many people LOVE it there–the interface, their pages, and the deals.  Dina does such a great job of sharing shop updates and coupons on the Spice Berry Facebook page, which makes it super simple to click through and get great discounts.  Since I have, like, fourteen Facebook friends, I never miss an update!

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You can also follow Dina’s Pinterest page, which is filled with great finds–new fabric previews, sewing patterns, tutorials, quilts, DIY projects, party ideas, home decor, and a ton more.  She has great taste, and a huge range of board topics to follow!


I’m so delighted to welcome Dina and Spice Berry Cottage as a Whipstitch sponsor!  Head on over to their shop and use code OMF10 for 10% off any purchase!


Back to School Wardrobes: Inventory

So, I bought all the kids new shoes and it made me feel pretty confident about starting off the school year with all the boxes checked and all their clothing organized.  Which led me to think/realize that their drawers are filled to overflowing with garments, but that I don’t know (1) which ones fit, (2) which ones are horribly and embarrassingly stained, or (3) which ones the kids actually like enough that they’d be willing to put them on without necessitating a bribe.

back to school wardrobes step 1


I can’t know what I want to add if I don’t already know what I have.  (If magic were real, then I wouldn’t need ANYTHING–a girl can dare to dream.)  With the shoes, part of what made that particular shopping trip so successful was that I knew exactly what categories they each ought to have shoes to fit, and I knew exactly what shoes they had already in the closet that would suit each category.  Which is to say, I didn’t go to the store and see a bunch of cute shoes and bring them all home, and then realize that our girls had four pair of sparkly flats and no sneakers, or that our boy had three pair of (ugh) light-up cartoon character shoes with Velcro closure but not one pair of shoes for church.  You see the flaw there–and I think if we’re all honest with ourselves, we know that while we’re saying aloud, “I would never shop for school clothes without a list!” we also know that we have all been guilty of doing just that.

flat piping on shorts slant pockets

lobster shorts post here

The other thing that inventory helps me achieve–or at least I’m hoping it will, since I haven’t really done this before, and am thinking about the whole process differently than I have in the past–is giving our children unlimited choices within limited options.  This is a Montessori idea that I have always loved.  In a Montessori classroom, children can choose any activity they like–from the activities the teacher has set out on the shelves.  Which is to say, they have complete freedom within a highly orchestrated universe.  It isn’t that the teacher controls their choices–her role is to encourage them, over time, to continue to reach for new and challenging work that will stretch their skills rather than allowing them to return again and again to something they can do easily.  It is that the teacher specifically engineers the available options to provide work that will make the choosing itself an enjoyable activity, and to minimize the number of times that a child must be turned away from a selection.

whipstitchier on instagram | girls handmade tee

Heather Ross tees post here

I’m totally certain I can successfully apply this idea to my kids’ wardrobes.  I want to make sure, by doing an inventory and identifying needs, that they have every garment they could need for any forseeable event.  And then I want to give them total freedom to choose.  And if they don’t always match?  No worries–I like an eclectic selection, myself.  And if they choose something grossly inappropriate, like a swimsuit for a funeral or shorts and sandals on the snowiest day of the year?  We have an actual conversation about why we wear what we wear and when–which, honestly, is asking the grown-ups to challenge our own ideas of what’s OK and what isn’t.

yoke tunic lotus pond fabric

Lotus Pond post here

So.  Inventory.  Using our own days and general activities/commitments as a guide, I’ve created a PDF printable to use to check off each garment I think our kids are going to need in the coming months.  Rather than have lists of clothing categories, I mainly went with lists of ACTIVITY categories–it doesn’t do me much good, as a mom, to plan their clothing based on arbitrary ideas of how many shirts and pants they might need, and then hope they’ll have the right KIND of shirts and pants when an occasion arises.  It makes a lot more sense, to my mind, to think about where we ACTUALLY GO and then plan clothing for those events specifically.  So these checklists include school clothes, church clothes, pajamas, those kinds of categories.  And we are one of those old-school families who still have “play” clothes, and change into them at the end of the school day to keep our school clothes nice–play clothes tend to be last year’s things that aren’t as nice but aren’t rags yet, and that I don’t mind them rolling in the mud while wearing.  (By all means, if you have suggestions for how to improve these checklists or for things I’ve left off, let me know in the comments!)  Download here for girls or here for boys, or by clicking the images.

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I’ll share the results for each of our three kids-still-at-home in the coming days this week.  We have one tween girl, one school-age boy, and one preschool girl who all need to examine what they’ve got and what they don’t.  That’s a fairly wide range of ages for the current crop of sewing patterns, but I think it’s a good representation of ages that other moms I know have at home, so hopefully by working some of this stuff out in front of all of you, it’ll be useful to others!

kids shorts summer 2014

kids’ shorts post here

Part of this endeavor is organization, obviously.  A good start to the school year is much more likely if we’ve got at least the majority of our ducks in a row.  Another part of this is frugality, although I have mixed feelings about how forthright we’re being in that regard.  On the one hand, I have literally never, never in my entire 19+ years of being a mom, EVER done the traditional “back to school shopping” extravaganza trip.  Not once, honestly.  It’s not on my agenda, it’s not really in my nature (having been raised by parents and grandparents who I swear were Puritanical enough to have sailed the Mayflower and made good time on a single tank), and I don’t like the whole hype and expense that surrounds it.  At the same time, there are things that I WILL be buying for our children because in the cost/benefit analysis, even though I can make them at home, I’m not sure it’s worth it to do so (I will under no circumstances be knitting my children socks just to have them lost or abused in the mud; I still have not made the kids underpants, although the idea intrigues me; and while I will sew a zillion knit tees, I probably will purchase solid-colored ones rather than making them myself).  So I think we’re sewing much of their school wardrobes to save money, but we’re willing to spend money if it’s more economical in the Big Picture to buy rather than invest the time to sew.

mock ribbon tie on fanfare flannel pants

Fanfare flannel jammies post here

When I ask myself the major reason I like and want to sew for my children, it really is the satisfaction I get out of heading out of the house and realizing that they’re all wearing things I have made myself.  I have stopped waving off compliments when people learn that I’ve sewed for the kids, and instead take every “You made that?!?” as an opportunity to spread my agenda: I genuinely think everyone ought to sew, and that it will bring people together in ways that very few other things could do.  So when I lay out these list and stack up their “keeps” and their “donates” and their “throw aways,” I won’t just be thinking about all the money we’re saving by stash shopping for fabric to sew up their school clothes.  I’ll be thinking about how fun it is to see them all arrayed in home-sewn clothes, and the memories they’ll have and share with others down the road.

handmade kids clothing group shot

Next post: Our tween girl’s inventory results, along with her list of To-Sew and links to patterns and fabric to get us there.

Back to School Wardrobes for Three

Our children go back to school next week, and I have mixed emotions.  On the one hand, this is the first summer that they’ve spent HOME all summer–we did only two week-long camps this year, which means that the other seven weeks, the children were home all day, just me and them.  And it was really pretty great.  We spent untold hours at the pool, and piles of time in the backyard, and went on a road trip and had adventures…and you know, I don’t think I’ve ever felt this way at the end of the summer before, but I don’t think I’m totally ready to have them gone all day.  Which is not to say I won’t be delighted to get some time to myself, but rather than I didn’t feel overwhelmed and rundown and frustrated this summer–which is something way beyond awesome.

On the other hand, these children are really excited about what comes next for them.  They want to see their friends and they want to have homework and they want to do after-school activities.  Our boy is ready to start elementary school and ride the school bus and have a backpack.  Our older girl is ready to change classes and take standardized tests and do the science fair.  Our littlest one is ready to be in the Big Girls ballet class and go to golf class and spend extra time on the playground after school.  They’re just READY.  Summer has been awesome, but they’re rested and excited and itching to see what comes NEXT.

Which puts all the parents in the same boat: going through all the clothes from the past year, a ton of which have been rolled around in (mud) and slid down hills in (dirt) and had their pockets filled up (sand).  There needs to be some serious removing-and-replacing before I send them off into the world to explore for the next school year.

back to school series image

We have three children still at home (our oldest is away at college and won’t be figuring into my back-to-school planning this year).  Each of them needs to have a few new garments along with judiciously editing their existing garments to get rid of the ones that are too small, too grubby, too tragic to be worn to school.

My goal isn’t to provide my children with a completely new wardrobe–I find that to be super inefficient, along with feeling a little wasteful.  The costs associated with buying an ENTIRELY new wardrobe for three children makes my gut seize.

We DID go out last weekend and buy new shoes for all three of them, which was bad enough.  Fortunately, it was the tax free weekend in Georgia, so we got eleven pair of shoes and paid only $1.96 in tax.  Yay for savings!

This is, it would have been really tough to do that if we hadn’t had a very specific list of what shoes the children needed, so that we could be specific in our shopping.  So riding high on the success of Project Shoes, I’m doing the same with the rest of their wardrobes: creating a list of categories and working my way through them to determine what they need and what they have and what they’re lacking.  From there, I can start drilling down on what patterns will work best for what they need, and locating fabric to fill those gaps (ideally from my stash).

Wanna play along?  For a lot of the US, there is way more than a week left before school begins.  With Kids Clothes Week under our belts, maybe now it’s time to organize our sewing projects and make the most of the sewing time remaining–kinda like Colette’s Wardrobe Architect series, but for kids.

Tomorrow, I’ll be doing a comprehensive INVENTORY, where I (deep breath) empty the kids’ drawers and closets and determine what they have and what they lack.  I’ll be sharing a PDF checklist of garments and categories to fill so they’ll have a well-rounded selection of clothing.  From there, I’m compiling a list of what they need and what sewing patterns are out there to make up the gaps.  On Wednesday, I’m sharing TWEEN patterns for our girl, who I suspect needs the most clothing of any of them.  On Thursday, I’ll cover patterns for BOY clothing for our son, and locating the best fabrics to make clothes for him that will really last.  Finally, on Friday, I’m looking at patterns for PRESCHOOLERS, and the styles that are most likely to work well from the classroom to the playground, but without being too “precious.”

Along the way, I found some links to share for ideas to encourage our kids to dress themselves, tips for organizing clothing so that we rotate through their wardrobes, and my thoughts about unlimited choices from a limited selection–how Montessori has affected how our kids get dressed.

You in??

Read the rest of the series:

back to school wardrobes step 1Step 1: Inventory

Lobster Shorts for the Boy, and the Myth of Flat Piping

This isn’t a real post, so don’t get too excited.  It’s just a chance to show off a particularly successful pair of shorts I made for our son before we headed out of town on our mega-road trip.

Remember this photo?

handmade kids clothing group shot

Our girls are wearing their handmade jersey tees, and our boy is wearing his Lobster Shorts.  Which I looooooove.

lobster boy shorts with slant pockets

These were made with an altered version of the pattern I used for our children’s other summer shorts, but this time I had the good sense to include a little piece of “flat piping” along the seam edge of the slant pockets, and it totally makes the shorts for me.  Plus: lobster fabric!!!  I see no downside here.

whipstitch | lobster boy shorts

These have an elastic back waist and a flat front, which is my default setting for kids’ shorts (the shorts pattern I designed way back in 2010 for my Sewing Clothing for Kids e-course had both the elastic back/flat front and a mock fly, and I’ve pretty much been hugging that lane ever since).  In this pair, I realized I’d inadvertently ordered 30 yds of 1/2″ elastic instead of 30 yds of 3/4″ elastic, and so I used two channels of elastic–sort of a twinnie casing–and ran one length of the 1/2″ with one length of 1/4″ that was in my drawer.  I actually love it a lot, and found that it offered more freedom of movement for my son but more stability for the garment.  Am exploring the ramifications of this two-elastic-channels discovery; hold for details.

flat piping on shorts slant pockets

And as for that set of quotation marks around my flat piping comment above…see, the thing is, I don’t really think flat piping is a thing.  What I mean is, it’s not PIPING.  It’s TRIM, I don’t question that, but there seems to have been a trend in the past couple of years calling this piping, which I find disagreeable.  Or more accurately, maybe I just disagree, because I don’t think I care enough for it to be disagreeable, if that makes sense.  Again, it’s TRIM, yes, absolutely.  But for me, from my experience (I didn’t look this up in any Absolute Sewing Authoritative Handbook of Rules or anything, so what do I know?), piping is filled, usually with some kind of cording; if it’s flat, it ain’t piping, it’s trim.  So I trimmed out these pockets with a length of bias tape, folded in half and pressed, inserting the raw edges into the seam and matching them with the raw edge of the pocket pieces before adding the pocket facings and finishing out the shorts front panels.  I did NOT pipe them.  Or maybe I did, whatever.

flat front lobster shorts

Alright, so this turned into a little bit more of a real post than I was expecting.  Good for me.  I didn’t post anything during Kids Clothes Week (I don’t think I even sewed anything during KCW, since we were on vacation?  or had just gotten back from vacation?  one of those–my calendar is a little muddled), so I’m a bit surprised I have so much kids’ clothing to share at all, to be honest.  Will pat self on back and reward my labors with a nice coffee-flavored iced beverage and an episode of Bones.  Done and done.

Three Little Beach Hats

little things to sew bucket hats

Before our big Summer Road Trip, what really got me started sewing (and sewing and sewing) for myself and the kids was these little hats.  With pale skin, I knew at least that our two littlest would need more protection from the sun–their older sister is brown, like her dad, but even she would benefit from keeping her bitty nose out of the afternoon rays once we’d been on the beach for a few hours.  Which we would be, because that is how I roll: pack every conceivable beach need, lug it all down to the sand, and then MOVE IN.  We have been known to head to the water at 10 am and stay until 4 in the afternoon, but you can’t do that without two umbrellas and sunglasses and an ocean of sunscreen and a pile of swim shirts and HATS.  Lots of hats.

trip of little things to sew bucket hats

This particular pattern has been a darling of the Interwebs this summer, it seems–it’s the free PDF from Oliver + S, the Reversible Bucket Hat from Liesl Gibson’s Little Things to Sew, available on their free patterns page.  Perfectly sized, and easy to sew.  And uses just a smidge of fabric, so I could commit some really hoarded and lovely Japanese canvas to this project!

stack of oliver and s bucket hats

I actually ended up making the same size for all three of our children, who are four, six and eight.  The large seemed just the right size, and measuring their heads as the instructions indicate showed me that each of them were within 1/2″ of the measurement for the large, so I went with it.  Only one size to trace off!

bucket hat topstitching up close

I opted to make these with no hand-stitching, in the manner A Little Gray wrote about, which worked swimmingly.  I always love a finish that allows me to tuck the seam allowances inside and then topstitch them shut–I do that with the tote in Stitch By Stitch for the same reason she does it here, because it makes a clean finish that avoids hand-sewing but still conceals all the work.

little things to sew stack of bucket hats

The Melody Miller Ruby Star hat is for our eight-year-old; the mermaids fabric is for our four-year-old; and the robots is for our boy.

little things to sew bucket hats topstitching

Naturally, I spent a solid hour making sure that all the hats were color-coordinated with their swimsuits.  Because you do.

bucket hat at the pool

Before leaving for the beach, we even test-drove the hats at the pool, and I was gratified (and a little surprised?) to learn that ALL the children willingly and cheerfully wore them.  Whaaat?!?  So exciting.  I was sure there would be a hat battle, but with these simple hats in great fabric, they were more than willing–and even spent time flipping them inside-out and wearing the reverse fabric on the outside.

Made the breeze at the beach that much sweeter.

Stitch By Stitch Giveaway!

Click to purchase a SIGNED copy from the Whipstitch shop!

Head on over to Creative Domestic today and enter to win a signed copy of my first book, Stitch By Stitch!  Charlotte is offering up a copy along with her other favorite sewing books in coming weeks–a great chance to build your sewing library!