Blue Velvet Cocktail Dress: World Prom

After all that work planning and sewing and staying up late and drinking coffee, I got exactly THREE photos of me wearing this magnificent dress.  Here she is, in all her post-party glory:

handsewn blue velvet cocktail dress

Getting shots of the dress NOT on my body is way easier than getting them ON my body.  For example, here’s a classic:

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That’s RIGHT, baby.  We were shutting. it. down.  But the dress?  You can’t exactly see it so much.

Where you CAN see it is right here:

blue velvet dress photo booth prom picture

That is PROM, baby!  Which is nice, because no one ever invited me to prom, which means I never went, which makes me like the girl Annie Potts talks about in Pretty In Pink.  (My husband is about done hearing this story, but it is a part of me, so.)

I’m a little disappointed, I’m not gonna lie.  This venue is dreamy, and I had really hoped to get some pictures of this beautiful, classic dress in front of the rustic wood barn walls and the lovely, upscale antiques that fill it.  This photo was taken early in the evening, before guests had begun to arrive, when the photographer was testing the backdrop (it was later taken down–after my chance was gone, sad trombone).  But my husband and I were having such an awesome time, and so many of our friends were there, and the music was so good and the drinks were going around…I just never quite got back to the photographer to have another shot taken.

But then I thought: why do I need to have them taken only there?  What I mean to say is, what’s stopping me from taking this dress on a WORLD TOUR??  So I present to you: The Blue Velvet Cocktail Dress Prom Picture Around the World Tour 2013!

eiffel blue velvet

leaning tower blue velvet

taj mahal blue velvet

maori heads blue velvet

macchu-picchu blue velvet

chichen blue velvet

coliseum blue velvet

great_pyramid blue velvet

stonehenge blue velvet

mount rushmore blue velvet

Sigh.  What a dream, right?  I would totally take prom pictures in any and every one of these places.  And maybe even UNDERWATER?

blue velvet underwater

But really, why stop at a WORLD tour?  Let’s make it COSMIC!

blue velvet on mars

Prom pictures for the whole universe, from Mars to wherever!  Heck, even Pluto gets to be a planet in this scenario.  Prom for everyone!!

Happy New Year, y’all.  May your next twelve months be filled with laughter and adventure.  See you there!

  • All background photos via Google image search, with apologies to their respective owners for our photobombing.  All hack-job photoshopping skillz my own.

Sewing a Velvet Cocktail Dress

Each year for the past four years, my husband’s firm has thrown a Christmas party.  The first year, it was a lovely and classy affair in a floor-to-ceiling glass penthouse venue, with views of the lights across our city.  The year after, it was a small-but-enthusiastic bunch gathered in a converted polo barn in the heart of town, complete with live band for the first half of the evening and karaoke for the second half, gourmet popsicles served straight from a cart on the dance floor, and (perhaps my husband’s most inspired contribution) a photo booth for the capturing of ridiculous moments inspired by an open bar and an all-80s-band (the best in Atlanta, BTW, you should totally go hear them play).

barn ext

The past two years have taken that theme and raised it to a whole ‘nother level, with the excitement ratcheting up alongside the guest list each holiday season.  It is, hands down, the best Christmas party in the city.  And for three of the four years, I have sewn my own holiday couture in which to rock down to Electric Avenue.  (Literally–see link above and photo below.)

band

This year, I began thinking about what I’d sew pretty early on–I suspect that before my birthday in September, I had already envisioned what I wanted the final dress to be.  Never mind that things so rarely turn out identical in every respect to something we dreamed up in our heads (particularly garments)–what matters here is that I care enough about this party that I was already dressing for it far in advance.  I never do that, dude.  I was notorious when I taught school for getting veeeeery rare compliments on my appearance from students–invariably on days when I was forced by an errant laundry situation to resort to wearing something gasp! that had to be ironed. I am generally content with choosing my clothing at the eleventh hour, and don’t often plan outfits in advance.  This party, however, makes my husband soooo happy, and we have the best time there together, so looking pretty and feeling festive boost my planning way higher than it ever is in regular life–like, months higher.

I knew I wanted velvet.  I have zero explanation for why, except that it seems luxurious and regal and sumptuous and very seasonally appropriate–something about velvet says rides in a sleigh with a fur stole, doesn’t it??

On a shopping trip with my only-ever-hung-out-online-before friend Brooke, we headed to Gail K here in Atlanta, and I found just the thing: midnight blue velvet with just the right amount of heft and drape.

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Originally, I envisioned this as a version of a Ralph Lauren dress (similar to this), with some kind of beaded drape at the back.  I was planning to work with this pattern and adapt it to my design:

Vogue 2931

And then I came to my senses and realized just how much work it would take to adjust the pattern.  Plus, this style is really more suited for a crisp fabric with a lot of body, not a soft and drapey fabric like velvet.  In my stash (of all places), I found this Vogue pattern, instead:

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It was a little bit of a gamble, to jump in with a n unfamiliar pattern with just a few days before the deadline.  Oh, did I not mention that?  I was about 72 hours out on this party when I finally sat down to sew and switched patterns.  Eleventh hour, indeed.

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I made an entire muslin out of a cotton, just like a good girl.  I deliberately did it in a print, one that I thought I’d be able to wear later on, all things going according to plan.  The fit was vastly better than most out-of-the-envelope patterns I’ve tried–feedback on Instagram has led me to believe this is frequently true of vintage Vogue patterns (either that, or vintage Vogue patterns are just drafted for busty, short-waisted girls).

I launched into cutting the velvet–eeep!  It wasn’t super crazy expensive–which is how I know it isn’t silk–but it also wasn’t cheap, so I wanted to be sure I did a good job of cutting.  I have said it for years: sewing really is 90% cutting, and if you do a good job of that step, you’re home free for the rest of it.  I cut everything out, carefully, carefully, and naturally STILL had a cutting error on one of the back panels.  So that set me back another 45 minutes.  I bootlegged a solution (determining that I could add a smidge with an extra seam and then hide the whole Franken-mess in the pleated back panel where it would be largely invisible), and moved ahead with the bodice.

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I feel like, with a style that has a fitted bodice and a gathered, full skirt, the bodice is where your energy and efforts should really be invested, from a sewing perspective.  I knew that folks were more likely to notice errors and flubs in the bodice, and that I really wanted to look my prettiest (translation: thinnest, let’s be honest, now), and so I worked to invest the majority of my time here.  I opted to underline the entire bodice with a black cotton flannel (pre-washed/shrunk, naturally), to give it more body and heft without adding too much stiffness.  Given the fit later, I think this was totally the right choice to make, and am really pleased that I did it.  I cut the underlining using the same pattern pieces as the bodice, then basted them together with my longest straight stitch, with the wrong side of the velvet to the flannel.  After that, I treated both pieces as one for the rest of the construction.  The flannel really stabilized the whole bodice, and was much easier to sew than I’ve been led to believe velvet often is, which was nice for me.

Nearly all the construction stitches were done with my walking foot, flannel underlining notwithstanding.  I had read in my research (most notably here and here) that velvet likes to “travel” while stitching, a function of the pile of the fabric.  No matter how you pin and stabilize, apparently, edges shift and move about.  I didn’t have the world’s worst experience of that, but I did switch to my walking foot after the very first (test) seam, which came out terribly puckered.

After assembling the bodice, the lining was assembled the same way, this time out of Ambiance rayon, purchased from Vogue Fabrics.  They didn’t have exactly the midnight color I wanted, so I went with a deep, deep navy, which looks in these photos like silver, making me think that a silver lining might have been kind of cool, but it’s done now so no use looking at the past.

Screen Shot 2013-12-30 at 3.01.51 PM

Lining the notch was going to be an obvious challenge, so I opted not to think about it too much at this stage, and just focus on getting the best fit out of the bodice that I could possibly get.

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The skirt went together without a hitch–or at least, without any hitch in addition to the weird extra seam I was forced to sew to correct my cutting error.  Attaching it to the bodice went smoothly, too, except for the waistline: because this pattern calls for the bodice to be lined but not the skirt, I didn’t have any guidance for how to make that happen.  Now, ordinarily, that’s not an issue and I’d simply sew the skirt lining to the bodice lining and then attach the lining to the outer dress.  Done and done.  In this case, I wanted to catch the skirt lining in the waistline seam, to give it some more support.  Which made attaching the skirt and bodice tricky, since that same waistline seam involves two Y-corners and some weird finagling to get it all lined up.  There may or may not be some funkiness on the interior behind that front apron placket section.  I might consider my usual make-two-dresses-one-of-lining-and-attach-at-neckline technique for the summer version of this–honestly, at this moment, I don’t really remember my thought process for why I didn’t do it that way on this version, but I know it must have been a good reason.

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At that point, who can resist a fitting, am I right??  This was my most-liked image on Instagram all year, and truthfully, the encouragement over there gave me the motivation and accountability to push through this project at 2 am when I really was pooped and not sure it was worth it.  Waking up and trying it on and having it fit so nicely–well, that really made it worth it.

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Trim came next.  The pattern calls for all of this trim to be (1) wider and (2) hand-stitched.  Oh, my.  Even if I had not been on a tight deadline, I doubt I would have hand-sewn every inch of this ribbon in place.  Actually, it’s not even ribbon: I used a satin bias tape, because I couldn’t find a narrow-enough ribbon in the right shade of blue.  This was all machine-stitched in place to cover the waistline seam.  I love the idea of it, but because of the way the satin reflects light, am not sure it’s as slimming as the dress was without it.  However, leaving it off wasn’t an option (the seam was pretty ugly) and removing it now isn’t an option (once you sew into velvet, that’s pretty much where it lives–crushing the pile leaves a mark that’s virtually impossible to remove, so this trim isn’t going anywhere), so I’m going to live with it.

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I did add a pretty little bow, which I quite like.

Screen Shot 2013-12-30 at 3.02.51 PM

And there’s the final dress!  This is on display in my studio at home.  Very pretty, very flirty and fun to wear.  Next post: photos of the dress on me, all prom-style!

Sugarplum Dreams for All

This year, we finally sent out Christmas cards.  We have never, in point of fact, successfully mailed Christmas cards, ever in our entire married lives (or, for that matter, before we were married).  Every year since our wedding, I have purchased Christmas cards (usually I get them at the end of the previous season at 70% off, if we’re being totally honest, and save them for the next year in the same storage bin as the ornaments, so we discover them as we’re decorating).  And every year, somehow the days fly past, and I am never quite able to get the ball rolling or the list together or the darn things in the mail.

Not this year, though.  THIS year, we were fortunate enough to have the awesome Heather Ross design a card for us, and nothing lights a fire under your card-mailing behind like having someone you truly admire create an original artwork just for you.

heather ross christmas card 2013

Heather announced last September that she’d be designing a limited number of cards this year, and I immediately emailed my husband with the idea (you can now order gift certificates for commissions on Heather’s blog).  We’d both seen another Christmas card of Heather’s on a blog we read and love (you can see it here), and were really excited about the idea of having something with that same feeling for our own family.  I sent an (extended and entirely too wordy) email over to Heather describing each of the six of us, and she sketched and drafted something lovely.

This is the final result:

christmas card 2013 b

I just love it.  I love most that this is what we do every single evening, no matter where we are: after bath and teeth, we read stories together, everyone curled up on the bed, nestled amongst one another.  This is what I envisioned my family would be, before I had a family.  I wanted this kind of closeness and security and warmth for me and for my children, and I feel so grateful to have found it all.  Heather captured that emotion perfectly, and I’m so thrilled to now have this piece to frame for our home–in addition to the digital file for printing, Heather sent over two 9″ x 12″ signed prints for us to frame, and I just love them.

Christmas print with Nativity

For the cards, I sent the art over to PsPrint, and designed the whole shebang for them to put together.  These are 5″ x 7″–a little on the larger size for a holiday card.  I chose to do just a flat postcard, which seems to be the way holiday cards are heading these days, rather than the folded greeting cards of our youth.  I selected the matte recycled paper, which has this lovely weight and sheen to it, and is just the perfect medium for Heather’s soft lines.

writing Christmas cards

Naturally, I also pounced on a 65% off discount that was mailed to us late-birds at the very last possible minute so that I could capitalize on my failure to get them out earlier.

Christmas cards 2013

That’s right: in this, our inaugural card-sending year, with a custom portrait from an esteemed artist, I STILL managed to wait until December 23 to mail these puppies out.  BUT!  They are out, and I am delighted to know that the satisfaction that comes along with that is pretty filling.

Christmas packages

Our families, whom we will see on Christmas Day and the following Saturday, will receive theirs attached to their gifts, like tags.  I left room on the back of each card to write a note, and I think having a portrait of your nuclear family to share with your extended family makes something sweeter about the holidays.

Hope all of YOU sleep tonight with visions of sugarplums dancing in your heads.  Wishing all of you the joy and peace of family and full hearts this Christmas.

Men’s Jacket Series: Fitting a Men’s Coat

So this is the stage in this whole jacket-sewing process where we get to actually see someone wearing the jacket (muslin) and evaluate if it fits as it ought to fit, and hangs as it ought to hang, and has the overall shape and “slimness” desired.

mens jacket on model

My husband takes a 42 in suit jackets–which is to say, his chest measures approximately 42″.  The jacket does not measure 42″ at the chest, naturally, since that would make it challenging for him to breathe, and I prefer him less Smurf-like.  Most off-the-rack men’s jackets allow about 4″ of ease at the chest, and this pattern seems to be no different.  I was surprised by how similar the fit is here to jackets he has tried on at Banana Republic and Billy Reid.  This style is a little roomier than some of the jackets he’s tried at Sid Mashburn, which have a slightly more “European” cut, but I think that might be a good thing.  The challenge with a 42 jacket is that many of them are made for men with full chests–and full bellies.  My husband has broad, muscular shoulders (yum), but no gut–so a lot of lesser-quality off-the-rack coats just hang on him like he’s wearing another (bigger) man’s cast-offs from the thrift shop.  I was pleased to see that this style doesn’t have that look to it–because, wow, WAY less work for me.

mens jacket collar back

There are a number of key fit points that we looked for, using his preferences as a starting point and layered with what we know about how a men’s coat should fit–Esquire magazine does a really great job of compiling cheat sheets for this kind of thing, primarily aimed at shopping, but really useful if you’re sewing, as well.  See their article on How to Fit a Suit Jacket, as well as their guide Seven Ways to Tell if Your Suit Fits.

To start with, I wanted to know if the collar hit at the correct point on the back of his neck.  Now, he first tried the jacket on with just an undershirt, but we both realized pretty quickly that we weren’t getting an accurate picture of what was happening, so he changed into a button-up shirt with an undershirt beneath it.  The coat back upper edge should hit just at the base of the shirt collar, so that the collar (when attached) will lie on top of the shirt collar.  Nailed it.

mens jacket across back

One of the things my husband does every time he tries on a jacket, under any circumstance, is reach around to the front and cross his wrists–he’s testing to see if he has enough room across the back for his arms to reach without raising the jacket unattractively.  I don’t want to see a bunch of stretching or puckering across the shoulders, and he shouldn’t feel any pulling when he’s in a more-or-less normal position of reaching to the front.  Again, this pattern looks pretty good in that regard–we’re getting a little pleased with ourselves at this point, what with the fit working out fairly well right out of the package.

mens jacket front underarm

Next concern in the amount of room under the arms, particularly at the front of the jacket.  My husband especially struggles with those more European cut jackets, because the narrowness of the cut makes for smaller armhole openings, which pinches and binds on him at the front.  With both the undershirt and the collared shirt beneath the muslin, there isn’t quite enough space under the arms here–it’s not horrible, but it’s a little more snug than he would like.  Now, if I were to make this shirt out of linen, maybe it would be ok, since he’s less likely to wear an undershirt in the summer months, but if he were to wear a golf shirt or something along those lines, that would be even more bulky than what he has on now.  So first chink in the armor: need to adjust the space under the arms.

mens jacket check length

As long as we have this thing on him, we checked the length.  Obviously, it isn’t hemmed yet–you can see the little dogleg bit at the front edge there where the facings will attache and allowance has been made for hemming.  Taking into account that we’ll lose about 1″ for the hem, this looks pretty good–we want the coat to come to the fold in his knuckles when it’s finished.  Which is to say, when he cups his hand under the finished jacket, the finished edge should rest comfortably in his folded fingers.

mens jacket mark length

I marked that point on the muslin with a pin, so that when I do the hem, I’ll be able to check the length and get it right the first time.  Who wants to do it over again, right?

mens jacket button front

Final check, does it fit around the front?  This style has darts in the fronts and in the back, nipping in the waist just a bit for a slim profile.  That’s part of what I like about it–this doesn’t hang on him like a sack, it’s really a nicely shaped jacket (but without me having to do a ton of tailoring, since I am not a small Italian man).  There’s a 5/8″ seam allowance at the front edges, so taking that into account and placing one side over the other as it will be when he buttons the jacket, we want to verify that there will be the correct amount of space with the jacket closed–Esquire says he should be able to place his flat hand in with ease, but if he places his fist in, it will pull at the buttons.  Seems OK from here, given that we’re assuming a little on button placement.

mens jacket front underarm adjust

I marked this one change we’re going to make–opening up that underarm at the front to give him a little more room–and I’ll re-sew and re-test that fit.  From there, it’s time to transfer that change to the pattern pieces and then cut the fashion fabric.  This is the stage at which I always freeze a little bit, because up until now, it all feels a little like fun and games.  After this, we’re at The Show, and it’s the real deal.  So while I’m gleefully moving ahead, I’ll also be muttering hopeful prayers under my breath that it will all work out and the finished jacket will be flattering and fit well and look professional and he’ll be so delighted he wants me to make another one.

Wait.  Hang on.  Maybe thats not how I want this to work out…  I could inadvertently become a menswear factory on a very tiny scale over here…

Men’s Jacket Series: The Muslin

Oh, for the love of all things holy, thank goodness!  It’s finally done.  Well, alright, the muslin is done, at any rate.

mens jacket button front

This is the shell of the jacket–it doesn’t include the collar or the collar stand, and I’ve left off the facings at this stage.  I was really most interested in working on the overall shape and the fit of the sleeves and body.  I’ll add the collar and facings when I construct the jacket from the fashion fabric, after I’ve had a chance to put this on my husband and verify that it really looks and hangs the way we both want it to.

men's jacket front view

Here you see it modeled on my dress form, with a mostly-finished-and-just-lacking-the-hem-stitches dress beneath it.  I was going to take the dress off and show the jacket muslin alone, but I kinda liked the on-a-date-and-it’s-chilly-tonight-oh-aren’t-you-chivalrous-to-share-your-coat look that’s happening here.  Gotta get my giggles where I can.

basting stitches

I used a black thread and a basting stitch to assemble the entire muslin.  Using the basting stitch–my longest straight stitch–meant that the sewing went faster and will pull out more easily.  That way, I can make adjustments when I fit it, or disassemble the entire thing with very little effort.

mens jacket side view

I made the mistake of putting the sleeves in on the wrong sides, which irked me, but since they’re inside out (meaning they’re facing forward, just on the wrong sides) I left it and moved ahead.  This project was meant to be complete back at the end of Sept and it’s now pushing the middle of December, so I’d like to move ahead and quickly as I reasonably can.

mens jacket from above Next step, I fit this on my husband (which I’ve already done but will share in a separate post).  Any adjustments had to be recorded, and a lot of questions answered about the correct way to fit a men’s jacket–be it blazer, sport coat or suit jacket.  From there, I have a whole new set of fabrics to evaluate, since it’s far too freezing out there to make this out of linen as originally planned.  Sigh.  The price of procrastination.

Wish me luck on the next stage!  Just a few more days until Christmas–eek!

Goo Gone on Gum

how to remove gum from fabric with goo gone

I have this favorite pair of jeans.  They were a little on the expensive side (even though I got them at Nordstrom Rack), and I waited and waited until I was back down to my pre-pregnancy weight after baby #4 to indulge myself and buy a pair.  I looooove them.  For whatever reason, they look great with everything: long over heels and boots, rolled up with sneakers and a sweater, at the park, at a club, on a date.  They are always super flattering and comfortable.

And then one day, after we’d been out to dinner as a family, I reached for my phone in my back pocket and found THIS:

how to remove gum on fabric

An enormous BLOB of someone’s else’s chewed up chewing gum, stuck deeply into my favorite jeans.  Not just stuck there, y’all: smooshed in, rubbed around because apparently, I had not just sat on it, I had wiggled around and made out with it.  Completely gross.  This photo was actually taken after I had discovered the tragedy and pulled off as much as I could (while stifling my sobs).

When I couldn’t get it all out (because the gum and the pants done said them some vows and got married to one another), I naturally turned to that one source for all our travails in this world: the Internets.  Don’t know how to get gum out of fabric?  The Internet Knows ™.  I dug around for a while, looking not just for suggestions, but really for reviews of suggestions.  I didn’t just want a list of ideas–you know how sometimes, you find a whole list of TEN WAYS TO DO THAT CRAZY THING YOU REALLY WANT TO DO RIGHT NOW WITHOUT DOING ANY RESEARCH OR EXPERIMENTING AT ALL and it turns out that nine of the ten ways is total garbage and doesn’t work and requires a lot more than “items you have lying around the house”?  I wasn’t in the mood for all that nonsense.  These are MY FAVORITE JEANS.  I know you’re smellin’ what I’m steppin’ in over here.

I read suggestions to use peanut butter.  I realize that works with gum in hair (totally does–I’ve tried it way more times than I would like to admit), but I was concerned it would leave a giant peanut buttery oil slick of a stain on my backside.  I read suggestions to freeze the whole pair of pants–not just the ice cube trick of freezing the gum (also mentioned in several sources), but zipping the entire pair of pants up into a bag and popping it in the freezer overnight, and then scraping the gum off with a dull knife.  I wasn’t against that idea, but we don’t have a ton of freezer space, and quite honestly, I wasn’t up for defrosting a dozen pork chops to make room for my pants.  Not even for my FAVORITE pants.  Also: impatient.  Also also: in the middle of a wardrobe panic.

use goo gone to remove gum on fabric

So then I saw a number of threads and forum posts about using Goo Gone.  Now, we have multiple bottles of this stuff floating around–I have used it to get stickers off near about everything, from my bumper to ceramics from the store to the fronts of books that we got on discount.  (Side note: twenty (ahem) years ago, when I was a college student and working in the campus bookstore, we didn’t have Goo Gone–we used lighter fluid and a palette knife to scrape price stickers off used books before putting them on the shelf for sale.  True story.)  I figured: I have this stuff in the garage, a ton of folks attest to how quick and effective it is, and the worst case scenario–that it will leave a spot on my pants–is no worse than the other options I have available.  Plus, with over a dozen different people saying they’ve done it, laundered immediately, and had no staining, I felt pretty solid.

apply goo gone with cotton balls

Naturally, I photographed the entire thing.

I started, as per the instructions on the back of the bottle, by saturating the offender: I used cotton balls to really soak into the gum.  This was just a thinnish layer by now, since I’d picked a lot of it off already.  I dabbed with a fairly sopping cotton ball until the gum was glossy and the fabric surrounding it had darkened enough that I knew it was soaking in beneath the gum as well as at the edges.

saturate a stain with goo gone to remove from fabric

See how it’s darker, and the gum is looking slick?  Bits of the gum–I think it was spearmint, but don’t quote me–had already begun to adhere to the cotton ball and sluice right off the pants.  There isn’t really a better word–it was almost as if it came off in slick layers, and it was a little bit gross.  NOT. MY. GUM.  Ew.

remove gum from fabric with goo gone

Gradually, I blotted and dabbed until I had taken what seemed like a few layers off, and the edges were beginning to peel away from the jeans.  I was feeling a little more confident, but wasn’t going to call it quits until I had mastered this evil blot on the pants of my dreams.

scrape away excess gum to remove from fabric

Multiple accounts on the web had suggested using a knife to scrape the excess gum away from the fabric, and with it all softened up and gooey again, now seemed like a good time to give that a shot.  Using just a table knife, I scraped the blade against the fabric, peeling up the gum as I did.  This took all of four strokes, because the gum was good and ready to come away and hit the road.

gum removed from fabric with goo gone

After the scraping, I was left with this.  Huzzah and jubilee!  Nearly all the gum had been chemically softened and manually scraped away, and I was breathing a little easier.  Did I mention this was all at around 10 pm on a school night?  Panic cleaning, it was.

touch up last bits of gum with a cotton swab

I grabbed a cotton swab (we buy the generic brand around here, so no Q-tips for me) and soaked it in the Goo Gone again.  I used tiny circles to brush away the icky bits of gum that were still ground into the weave of the fabric.  Oy, how yukky.  I really wanted to be sure that I had gotten as much off physically as possible before I threw these in the washer.

That was the next step: laundering.  This is also where I stopped taking photos.  (Side side note: I really should consider a water-proof camera.)  I washed and dried that night, because I didn’t want to take any chances that the Goo Gone would do something unexpected if left to sit without washing, or that the jeans would come out stained if I washed and didn’t check the spot and then dry immediately.  I am delighted to report that I am (1) wearing these pants right this very second and (2) delighted with how simple and effective this solution was.  I don’t know what’s in that Goo Gone–something citrusy, because it actually smells pretty nice–but it totally did the trick, and didn’t leave even a hint of a spot or stain or record of any kind that I ever sat in someone else’s old gum.

Whew!  Next time, I’ll pay less attention to whether the children are smearing ketchup on the table and more to where I put my behind.

*This is in no way a sponsored post.  Honest.  I just had the product on hand already, and it did the job.  Hope it works for you, too!

Using Tracing Paper on a Sewing Pattern

clover tracing wheel

Most of my students in my Intro to Sewing class over the years have asked me about the various supplies I demonstrate or share with them, and inevitably we get around to talking about the tracing wheel.  Honestly, for ages I just told them they’d never use it, because so few people ever really do.  Times are changing, though, and more and more of us are not only sewing garments but we’re also looking to push our sewing skills and trying new things.  The tracing wheel is coming back into hipness, y’all.

tracing wheel and paper

While I have been working on my husband’s (overdue) jacket, I wanted to make an effort to keep the sewing as accurate as I could, so that when we did the fitting and I made adjustments, I would know that I had followed the original pattern faithfully before messing around with stuff.  The idea is that if I can keep as close to the pattern as possible, then I’ll begin to see some themes in the adjustments I make, and then I can begin to predict changes in advance, making it easier to design, adjust and construct garments for him.  I don’t have a ton of experience sewing for men, so I want to be as methodical as I can.  Hence: the tracing wheel.

tracing wheel with teeth

A tracing wheel is what it looks like: a metal wheel with (or without, depending on the model you have) teeth, on a handle that allows you to roll the wheel along a single line.  By placing a piece of carbon or transfer paper between the pattern and the wheel, it’s possible to nearly-perfectly transfer the markings from the paper to the fabric.  The wheel makes it easy, and eliminates the need to fold the pattern back (which I have done for years) or guess at where the lines ought to be on the fabric (which I don’t recommend).

centering tracing paper

There are a number of different tracing products you can choose from–I’m using the Clover serrated tracing wheel here, along with the Dritz tracing paper, but I also like the Saral paper, and there’s a slightly less expensive but just as awesome Clover tracing wheel that has a plastic rather than a bamboo handle.

sewing pattern tracing paper

Just search for “tracing wheel” or “wax free tracing paper” and you’ll get plenty of great results.

using the tracing wheel on a sewing pattern

From there, the process is just what you’d think: make sure the edges of the tracing paper extend beyond the lines you’re tracing, place the pattern on top with the edges of the pattern and the edges of the cut fabric lined up, and then trace away.  You don’t need to use a ton of pressure, just enough to mark the fabric.  The serrated edges will help, like this:

tracing wheel perforations

See all those teeny-tiny little pinpricks?  They’re made by those spokes on the wheel piercing the pattern paper as they roll across it.  They don’t leave any permanent marks in the fabric itself, but they’ll “dot” the line you’re transferring to the fabric in such a way that it won’t be a solid line.  Generally, this is a good thing, since it means less chalk to remove later.

colors of tracing paper

Most of the transfer papers come in various colors–light colors for dark fabrics and dark colors for light fabrics.  Pretty nifty, huh?

I’m off to finish work on this muslin–my sweet husband, long beleaguered, has given up hope that this jacket he never really thought would be made will actually ever get made, despite how hard I tried to convince him that I was totally going to sew something for him.  My Sept 30 deadline (totally self-imposed, I’d like to point out) has long passed, but I happened to stumble across a really amazing wool that would work for cooler weather.  Shhhhh!  Christmas is right around the corner.

Flannel Handwarmers: A Simple Sewing Project

flannel hand warmers for fall

It has been Simple Sewing craziness out on the internets the past couple weeks, y’all.  So many posts about Katie Lewis’ new book, Simple Sewing, which has just been released, and is chock full of quick and basic projects that will help you hone your sewing skills and master the basics–or whip up some lovely quick gifts for anyone and everyone.

flannel hand warmer with rice

Now, I tend to like to sew things reeeallly tiny or reeeallly oversized–so I had no interest in a teeny-tiny handwarmer.  I might live (quite happily) in the Deep South, but when I spend those 8 carefully-scheduled (I set an alarm on my phone so I never arrive more than 2 minutes early) minutes at the bus stop each day, I can get shivery cold.  Yes, even when it’s only 60 degrees.  Don’t make fun of me.  I am a delicate flower.

A girl who gets cold needs to keep her extremities warm.  And while I have a very nice coat, I can never, ever, ever seem to locate more than one glove at any time.  And I’m not being picky, neither–it isn’t as though I insist on the gloves even matching, just on them both fitting on my hands.  And I can never find two at the same time.  I need something else.  Something BIGGER.

Simple Sewing (1) 700

Giant thanks to Katie for inviting me to be part of her blog tour, because it gave me the perfect motivation to remedy the situation.  Katie’s brand-new book, Simple Sewing, lives up to its name: thirty fast and simple beginner-level sewing projects that allow you to use your foundational sewing skills and make some really great-looking projects.  If you’ve taken my Essential Sewing online class, this book is a fabulous extension of some of those lessons, and offers you clear and easy ideas for translating your new skills into practical finished projects that look good enough to give away.

You can find the book here, or scroll down to win a copy!

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Following one of the projects from Katie’s book, I busted out some jumbo-sized handwarmers to pop in my pockets and keep me cozy while waiting on the kiddos to make it home from school!  Woot.  I used some of the truly (almost obnoxiously) awesome flannels from Robert Kaufman that I picked up at Pink Chalk Fabrics.  They are both super soft and heftily substantial–and can we talk about the fact that they’re in HERRINGBONE for just a second??  I really, really love this fabric, and can’t encourage you enough to grab some for yourself before it’s all gone.

aqua herringbone flannel hand warmer

These handwarmers are filled with rice–or, in my case, some with rice and some with lentils.  The design intends for you to toss them in the microwave and nuke some warmth into them before popping them in your pockets or under the quilt on the sofa, right by your toes where you need it most.  Oh, yeah, you know the spot.  I’m not sure how the lentils will work out in the microwave, but I’m willing to roll the dice–I ran out of rice, but once I got started sewing these, one or two wasn’t enough.  They stitch up sooooo fast, truly.  I am thinking very strongly of making a zillion and sending them off as my same-gift-for-everyone-just-in-a-different-fabric present for extended family this year–I do it every Christmas, and having that assembly line going makes sure that no one is ever left off my list.  Choosing a fabric to suit each recipient makes the gifts really personalized, and you’d be surprised by how fondly family members recall these gifts later: “Oh, was that the year we all got drawer sachets?  Or relaxing eye masks?”  Haven’t done handwarmers before–maybe this year’s the year!

fall handwarmers for the microwave

Katie’s instructions are written so clearly, and there are step-by-step photos on each page.  Every project in the book is designed to be quick and simple to put together, so you can be successful even if you’re just starting out at the sewing machine.  I think there are enough folks out there who are still intimidated by the machine that they’d really appreciate a book that presents a wide range of projects that can all turn out so smoothly, even for newbies.

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A single seam, some top-stitching, and a funnel.  I think I could easily have made two dozen of these in an afternoon.  And adding the rice is such a great task to share with even the smallest children–I smell a teacher gift!

autumn hand warmers

Best part?  You have a chance to win a copy today!  Enter to win one of THREE chances to win a copy today.  And happy sewing, y’all!
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In Progress: Matching Flannel Jammies for the Kids

flannel pajamas Simplicity patterns

The cutting-out step is often the slowest part.

matching flannel pajamas for kids

Three sets of flannel pajamas, all a size up from last year.

foxes flannel rae hoekstra for cloud 9

All of them in the absurdly cute Fanfare from Cloud 9 by Rae Hoekstra.  Love.

November Sewcial is today!

Whipstitch Sewcial meet up

Join me Tuesday, November 12 from 10 am to 12 noon for the monthly Whipstitch Sewcial!  We’ll be meeting down by the Chattahoochee just before the bitter cold weather blows in for the rest of the week–meet inside the Land of a Thousand Hills Coffee shop (now called the Chattahoochee Coffee Company, but still in the same location as previous Sewcials–see link for map).

For directions and details about our meeting site, see the Sewcials page.  We’ll be in the back room, in the comfy chairs, rather than down by the water this month–just come in the door, stop off at the counter for your cup of something warm, and head straight back to find us!  RSVP through Eventbrite so we’ll know to look for you!

I’m still working on my Ferris Bueller cross stitch.  What will you bring?

Screen shot 2013-11-11 at 8.57.47 PMP.S.  The recent Virtual Sewcial was HUGE fun on Instagram!  Check #virtualsewcial to see all the photos, and subscribe to the newsletter to bealerted of future events–I had such a good time, and was super productive all while chatting wildly with my thumbs.  I think we might need a getting-ready-for-the-holidays Virtual Sewcial, am I right?