Conclusion to the Be A Better Craft Teacher Series Up at Sew, Mama, Sew

tutorial image

Up NOW over at Sew, Mama, Sew: the conclusion to my Be A Better Craft Teacher Series.  You can also read all the other installments of the series, from introduction through wrap-up:

I have really, really enjoyed writing this series, and think there is so much more to say and explore on this topic.  If I were to, say, develop this series into an in-depth e-book, the kind with worksheets and charts to fill in and bullet lists of ideas and checklists for planning, is that something that you all would be interested in?  Share with me in the comments today what you’d like to see in a guidebook to teaching sewing & craft, and I’ll cogitate on it some more!  I’d love to create a really practical, useable guide for teachers who are tackling bringing these skills to students, all over the world, and I’d love to hear from you what you’d most like to see!

The (Secret) Toy Society

Screen shot 2013-10-22 at 5.07.24 PMHave you heard of The (Secret) Toy Society?  I just stumbled across them the other day, and honestly, I teared up when I read what they’re doing over there.  Volunteers make snuggly, hand-sewn toys and package them up to leave anonymously in parks, on benches, in grocery carts, or anywhere else they might be found, and each toy has a little note that says, “Take me home, I’m yours!”  The finder gets a number and can match it up with the maker on the Toy Society website and see where their toy originated!  In many ways, it reminds me of BookCrossing (another awesome project), where folks leave books lying around to be “found” by others, to share the love.  This is like that, but with awesome toys!

If you’re looking for a charity project for your sewing group, or something to do with your children leading up to this season of heavy advertising as we roll into the holidays, I can think of few opportunities as rewarding as this one.  How fun to sew up some joy, not knowing where it would end up!  Open to anyone, anywhere in the world, with registration on their site.

Happy gifting, y’all!


Thanks to my Slip Covers Class, No More Eyesore!

This chair is in my oldest child’s room.  She has since gone off to college (sniff!), and now when we have guests, they get to sleep in her room–surrounded by her books and her hot pink four-poster bed.  Years and years ago, when her whole room was done in lilac and pink (so, like, twelve years ago), I got this chair off Freecycle so our girl could have a reading chair, and made a linen-blend slip cover for it–complete with contrast piping in a floral print.  It has had a good, long, hard life with lots of play and stories and phone calls made in its arms.  And the years show:

slip cover chair before 1

That enormous rip wasn’t our fault, that was the damage caused by movers who were still hauling our stuff hours after dark and in the rain.  They were grumpy, and the chair paid the price.  Bygones, though, because thanks to my Slip Covers e-course, this chair has a new life!

*Updated to add: I don’t think any of us really appreciated how tragic and disgusting this chair had become.  My oldest kept her clean-but-unfolded laundry here the last two years, and this is a tucked-away corner of the house that doesn’t get much foot traffic.  Having said that, thanks for being kind and not pointing fingers at the family with the horrifying chair!

Obviously, it couldn’t go back to what it was before the slip cover:

slip cover chair before 2

Although I did make 25 cents when I cleaned out the cushions (I think my face here is asking, “What is all this garbage??”).

A new slip cover was in order, and Amy Butler fabric purchased 2+ years ago for just this room saved the day.  The finished result:

slip covered chair 3

slip covered chair after 2

slip covered chair after 1

Totally renewed.  I love that the piping matches (so much more grown-up).  I love that the print matches across sections.  I love that the color works so well with these walls (the ONLY walls in the entire house we didn’t paint when we moved in).  And I love that it only took four hours sewing time from start to finish (not including the video and images I shot for my class).  Come on down, house guests!  The chair’s not scary anymore!

Getting Out of a Dinner Rut

dinner rut pt 1I don’t really cook.  I mean, I don’t suck at it, necessarily, but I don’t relish it, either.  I know that these days, it seems like every mom is supposed to have infinite patience and DIY fancy decor and parties for the kids, plus look smokin’ hot in a pair of yoga pants while whipping up five-star-restaurant quality meals on a weeknight for the family.  I…haven’t mastered all that.  I’m working on the ones I think matter, have let go of the ones that don’t, and am pretty content being less than the currently-held-up-as-perfect Mommy Ideal.  However.

I’m bored.  With my meals.  We eat the same basic four meals over…and over…and over.  I used to have about 10 in rotation, pretty easy and quick things, but my husband is looking to limit his weekday carb intake, and that has knocked out about half of my usual stuff–no more stuffed shells, no more knishes from scratch.  Sigh.  So while I am happy with my mom identity, I am NOT happy with my dull-as-toast meals.

I’m looking for help.

The internet is a great place to dig for ideas, and heaven knows Pinterest is rife with sixty-five billion pins for scrumptious-looking meals that swear they cook themselves and leave no dirty dishes.  I want something else. I want recipes that I can rotate through that:

  • require ingredients I don’t have to visit a specialty store to obtain
  • my kids will eat
  • my husband will be impressed by (he’s impressed with good ingredients & solid flavor, just FYI)
  • contain vegetables (we never seem to eat enough)
  • take 45-minutes or less to prepare
  • store well and travel for leftovers (hubs takes his lunch to work, and it’s usually last night’s dinner)

If I were being extra picky, I’d also dream of recipes that:

  • go easy on the carbs or have the carbs primarily as a side dish
  • include meatless options, but don’t rely too heavily on soy
  • can be made ahead and frozen, for when we travel and the kids are with the grandparents

Is this the Holy Grail of home cooking?  Probably.  I don’t mind cooking from scratch–that’s my preference, so most “quick” meals and crock pot dishes are off the table, since they contain mixes and pouches and pre-packaged ingredients, and we’re really sincerely doing our best to stick to foods we can point at and identify.  I don’t mind shopping for ingredients the day of, so fresh is fine by us.  I don’t mind spending the hour between 5 and 6 cooking, although I am pretty much never ever going to spend more than an hour on a weeknight dinner.  I want something more than just a pin on Pinterest–something real people have actually made and served to other real people, and all those people ate it and said, “Yum!”  Ideally my kids will try it and eat the portions I serve them, and it sure would be lovely if my husband was impressed and thought I was even more awesome than usual because I prepared a yummy meal in the middle of the work week.

Tell me these recipes exist.  Not a whole zillion pages, just a dozen or so delicious meals with real ingredients that have been tested by actual families with young children and not thrown in the garbage disposal at the end of the meal.  Can you help me? Because I could really use the help.

If you’ve found one of these elusive recipes, hit me in the comments.  Links, images, your own blog, names of cookbooks, whatever you’ve got.  Our test kitchen over here, with five hungry and discriminating mouths, will cook them up and let you know how it goes.  I’m looking to build a stable of recipes to put into regular rotation and hopefully shake off the rut we’ve been in.

I’m ready, y’all.  Bring it on.


New Be A Better Craft Teacher Post, and You Can Vote For Me!



So, I got an email yesterday that I’d been nominated for the Best Craftsy Instructor Blog in the Sewing category–you guys are so nice!  Final voting is taking place now through Oct 29–hop on over and you can see all the nominees (including MADE and Sew, Mama, Sew).  Click on the “Sewing” category and scroll down to see the other great blogs who’ve been nominated, and to cast your vote–every vote gets entered to win a free class, apparently, so why not, right?

whipstitch buttons

Speaking of Sew, Mama, Sew: the last major installment of the Be A Better Craft Teacher series is UP and ready for you!  I’ll be back next week with a conclusion post to tie it all up in a bow, but until then, you can read all the posts in the series:

I have really, really enjoyed writing this series, and think there is so much more to say and explore on this topic.  If I were to, say, develop this series into an in-depth e-book, the kind with worksheets and charts to fill in and bullet lists of ideas and checklists for planning, is that something that you all would be interested in?  Share with me in the comments today what you’d like to see in a guidebook to teaching sewing & craft, and I’ll cogitate on it some more!  I’d love to create a really practical, useable guide for teachers who are tackling bringing these skills to students, all over the world, and I’d love to hear from you what you’d most like to see!


Yellow Sofa is in the House!

yellow vintage sofa

Remember when I was working through my living room curtain uncertainty, and mentioned that I’d be re-covering my sofa?  Well, it’s done.  And it’s home.  And it’s AMAZING.

two curtains

If you’ll recall, this was the original sofa (along with a mock-up of what white curtains would look like in this space).

yellow sofa one curtain

And this was the projected yellow sofa with those projected curtains (before we somewhat misguidedly painted the mirror silver).

And here is the sofa now, along with temporary curtains:

yellow mid century modern sofa

I ain’t even gonna lie: it is even better in real life than I ever imagined it would be.  Took me somewhere around 19 swatches–no exaggerating–to finally find the right fabric.  It’s a wool/poly blend, and while I generally avoid poly like it’s the source of all zombie viruses, in this case, it gives the fabric a real heft and recovery that I like, and it’s a very small percentage of the overall content, so I gave it a pass.

wool upholstery fabric in corn

It might have been the weave that really tipped things over the edge.  See how it’s this really bold, over-stated weave?  And how this corn color is nothing short of life-changing?  OK, maybe not life changing in the way that, say, a miracle cure would be, or meeting the love of your life.  But man, does this puppy give a boost to my mornings every time I walk past the room.  And it has done nothing short of transform the atmosphere in our house, no joke–that pop of bright joy where a lump of down-and-out day-old chocolate used to be?  An injection of happy, nothing less.

bright yellow mid century sofa

There is still PLENTY left to do in this room:

  • have lamp repaired (because, like a dork, I set it down to polish the side table and knocked it over, making the fitting loose so it won’t support a shade or hold a bulb anymore–the lamp on the left is currently decorative)
  • either re-paint the mirror black or find a new mirror (or both, with the painted mirror the temporary fix until we find a piece of art)
  • to throw pillow or not to throw pillow? (am leaning very hard in the direction of piped boxed skiiiiiiny pillows along the entire back of the sofa)
  • re-plant the tree in the larger pot and locate a smaller indoor plant for the blue pot–that’s a houseplant tragedy over there (and maybe move them to the other side of the room?)
  • find some glass wall plant sconces like these for the wall behind the plant
  • score myself a Craig’s List Eames chair–I know it’s out there–for the corner opposite the plants
  • oh, and FINALLY figure out the right fabric to sew the forever drapes for this room, rather than the white linen temporary ones

So, yeah, we’ve got a long way to go in here, but as I tell my husband: when you pull back and look at the long train, you can see that we’ve come a zillion light years from where we began, and the rest is the details.  This is like constructing a garment, where the major seams do the most work, but take the least time; it’s the details that really make the dress stand out, but they take a little longer.  We’re in detail land right now, but we’ll be pulling into the station soon enough.

And that’s enough mixed metaphors for one day.

New Installment in the Become a Better Craft Teacher Series is up!

presser foot

The next installment of my Be a Better Craft Teacher series is up over at Sew, Mama, Sew!  This week, I’m talking about how much fun it is to plan HOW you’ll teach a class, and what format that will take–and why one format might be better than another depending on your topic and the students you’ll be teaching.

I’m writing this series with a focus on folks who are currently teaching and looking for more structure and direction as they work to improve their classes, and for new teachers who have never planned a class before and are looking for where to start.  I’m also hearing in comments and emails and on Facebook that even non-teachers, folks who are and have been students of sewing and knitting and embroidery over the years, are getting a lot out of the series.  One reader said it was helping her better understand what to look for in a class so she can find the ones that have the best planning and thoughtfulness at their core.  Another said reading through these ideas was helping her have a better handle on what feedback to give instructors after a class, and how to put into words her thoughts when the instruction was complete.  Those are totally unexpected responses, and so exciting for me!  I can’t wait to see what you think of thee last three installments now that it’s October (!!).

Contrast-Cuff Lounge Pants in Fanfare Flannel

fanfare elephant lounge pants In addition to the Quick Release Scarf, I made a tiny little pair of lounge pants for the littlest member of our family!  I used the same elephants as the scarf, plus some of the delicious pennants in a coordinating color (thanks, Cloud9!).  She looooves them, and insisted on going all Super Model on me when I took these photos. lounging in fanfare by rae hoekstra I can hardly even talk about how easy it is to sew with this flannel.  It clings to itself in just the right way, so I didn’t use a single pin in making these pants.  I swear, they went together so quickly and so simply that it literally took me longer to thread my serger than it took to make this entire pair of pants–including the contrast cuff. pennants in fanfare flannel Of course, maybe if I’d slowed down juuuust a little, I would have avoided my one glaring mistake.  Anyone want to be the first to point it out? size 3 flannel lounge pants in fanfare Um, yeah.  EVERY SINGLE ONE of those sweet little elephants is UPSIDE DOWN.  Oy.  That’s what happens when you get your sew-jo moving and start a project at 10 pm.  You don’t notice the..ahem…tiny details.  Luckily, my child likes that they’re facing the wrong way–as she said, “Mommy, look, they’re smiling at me!”  Thank heaven for the forgiveness of children.  We should all be so gracious and kind. fanfare flannel pants w contrast cuffs I used a Simplicity pattern for these, which included the pattern for the contrast cuff.  I very nearly made the size 4 for this 3+ year old, and then remembered (even in my late-night haze) that for whatever ridiculous reason, Big 4 patterns for children are ludicrously oversized in almost all circumstances.  This child is dead 50% percentile for height and weight, and these pants are pretty big on her.  I already pre-washed my flannel, so it isn’t going to shrink much (see more about shrinking flannel in Kathy’s recent post on the Pink Chalk blog).

happy faces and flannel lounge pants | fanfare

Luckily, I could easily shorten the waistband elastic to fit her better, and because the cuffs here are folded double–they’re cut as a rectangle that’s the width of the full pants leg (front and back) and the double the height of the finished cuff, so they’re sewing to the pants leg, the opposite edge is pressed over, and then they’re folded in half and topstitched in place, all of which means there’s no wrong side to the cuffs–it’s pretty easy to fold them up this year and leave them long next year.  My children have all been such skinnies that we get way more than a single year’s worth of use out of pants, so long as we can keep them out of the mud! mock ribbon tie on fanfare flannel pants The waistband has a sweet little mock tie from some scrap ribbon I found in a drawer, sewn on using a similar method to the one Dana uses here.  The waist casing itself is double folded and threaded with 3/4″ knit elastic. contrast cuff on fanfare flannel pants | whipstitch Up close, the flannel is every lick as soft as it is in real life, where it is amazing to the touch.  Am I going on and on about how soft it is?  Because I am a sucker for flannel anyway, so I just keep looking for more ways to incorporate it into my life.  I’ve already got flannel relaxing eye masks and flannel boudoir drawer scent sachets, and flannel jammies and flannel sheets.  Now I need a whole flannel wardrobe for myself! fanfare flannel with ribbon tie I mean, for real.  Could you not wear something this comfy ALL DAY?  My toes would curl, too, kiddo. made by unicorns Plus, they’re made by unicorns!!  (Labels from here.) edge stitching on waistband I used my standard elastic waist treatment (like in this tutorial), where I stitch the casing at the lower edge, then edge stitch very close to the upper waistline edge.  Once the elastic is inserted, I also sew up and down IN the side seam on both sides to prevent the elastic from rolling inside the casing.  Because dude, doesn’t that drive you NUTS? folded cuffs on fanfare lounge pants for kids See what I’m saying about the length?  We’re totally getting another year out of these bad boys. silly faces in fanfare flannel She seems pretty jazzed about it, too.  Thanks again to Rae for sharing this sweetness with me!  These flannels are legit, y’all.  No lie.


See more projects using this fabric throughout the blog parade over on Rae’s blog!

Quick Release Scarf in Fanfare by Rae Hoekstra

thumbs up

Ever since Rae announced that she had a fabric line coming out, I think all of us have been buzzing about her beautiful organic flannels.  Cloud9 does such great work, with so many lovely designs, and knowing it’s organic and produced by such kind people makes it even easier to feel good about buying it.  When Rae offered to send me some of her new collection a little early and let me play with it, I ’bout near squealed out loud (let the record show: there is no evidentiary proof that such squealing did or did not occur).

flannel fanfare scarf

I’m sharing not one but TWO project with you today, both made from Fanfare (which is now available at Hawthorne Threads and Pink Castle Fabrics, plus a number of other retailers around the country and the web).  I really wracked my brain to think of ways to not just show off the flannel and the sweet print (elephants!  Shut up!) but also to use it in ways that our family will really benefit from.  Obviously, I already have Big Plans for matching loungewear for all of us, along the lines of the Grinch pajamas I made for the entire family last year.  But what about flannel in the everyday, maybe when we’re planning on actually leaving the house?

fanfare scarf

I am beyond obsessive about the power of the scarf.  For reals.  I maintain–and I am quite certain I’m right–that scarves are the single biggest thing you can do each winter to keep from getting sick.  Yes, you can wash your hands etc etc and I don’t minimize the importance of avoiding contact with germs, but even if you’re maniacal about hand washing and keeping away from others who are unwell, those winter winds sneak down your neckline and I have found again and again that if I leave my neck unprotected, I get a chest cold near-instantly.

flannel scarf for boys

So not only do I wear a scarf almost every second of the winter, but I want my children to wear them, as well.  With my oldest (who is now off at college and free to NOT wear a scarf if she chooses, no matter what her mother says), I had no problem handing her a scarf and sending her out the door.  With the littler ones, though, and especially my boy, who is prone to grabbing hold of whatever scrap of fabric presents itself and tugging mercilessly, I don’t feel quite comfortable having them wear scarves that wrap around their little necks.  I have these horrible visions of strangling and it’s supremely disquieting.  I like the idea of a neck cuff, but I really want the length of a scarf to tuck into little jackets and necklines and keep their chests warm while protecting delicate skin.  Hence: the Quick Release Scarf!

quick release scarf for boys

The construction of the scarf is very simple: two pieces of flannel, both measuring 9″ x 45″ and cut square at the corners.  Attached to each piece of flannel before sewing the scarf is a 5″ cut of hook-and-loop tape (better known by the brand-name Velcro), laid square to the edges of the fabric and edge-stitched in place:

velcro topstitching

The Velcro is placed about 6″ above the lower edge of each piece of flannel–one strip on the main fabric and one on the reverse.  I used the blue elephants from Rae’s collection, along with a cut of Robert Kaufman Mammoth shetland flannel in jet (I got mine from Pink Chalk Fabrics).  Both of these fabrics washed up SOOO soft and so easy to work with–they’re just dreamy and warm and pudding-soft (is that a thing?).

velcro scarf fastening

The Velcro is strong enough to hold the scarf on his neck, but not so strong that he can’t unfasten it himself, or that if another child gave it a yank on the playground it wouldn’t pop free and come off.  I’d rather be looking for a missing scarf than looking at a blue baby face, know what I’m sayin?

herringbone flannel and fanfare by rae hoekstra

From there, construction is terrifically simple: place the two pieces of flannel right sides together, and sew a 1/2″ seam allowance around all four sides, leaving a 4″ opening unstitched to turn it right side out.  Clip the corners to remove bulk, and then turn right side out and press vehemently.  I like to use a bamboo knitting needle to pop the corners right side out to get them nice and pointy.  Then, edge-stitch around the entire perimeter, catching the opening closed as you do. I swapped out my white bobbin for a grey one so that I could sew with white on top and grey on bottom and avoid having too much thread contrast on either side of the scarf.

quick release velcro scarf

This was a tremendously quick and simple project, aided by the fact that these flannels stick to one another as you’re sewing, so I used nary a pin the entire time.  I really think that it was 20 minutes of sewing time, no lie.

fanfare scarf | whipstitch

And he loves it!  And he looks so handsome!  I like that this print, while delicate and appropriate for a nursery, doesn’t look to baby-fied, even on my big five-year-old boy.  And as he gets older, he can switch the grey to the top and we’ll all just have a sweet reminder of the little man he used to be. All while knowing he won’t get choked on the jungle gym this fall.

Thanks to Rae and Cloud9 for the fabric!  Be sure to check out the comfy lounge pants I made for our littlest from this same flannel, too!


Popping Up On Pinterest

So, there’s this neat little trick you can do on Pinterest, to see if anyone has pinned images from your site.  You type the URL for Pinterest into your nav bar, but then add “/source” and “/YOURURLHERE” and it brings up all the images that have been pinned from your page, like this:

Screen shot 2013-09-27 at 4.34.35 PM

I learned this fun trick from reading Pinterest Power, back when Dana recommended it.  Since then, I think it’s fun from time to time and take a break from pinning a zillion images to my boards and instead see what others have found on my blog to pin.  Somehow, the projects I always think are earth-shattering never seem to make the dent I expect, and other projects that I made on a whim or off the cuff seem to have serious staying power.  There’s a lesson in there somewhere.

Like this project, which gets pinned every single week, my Quickie Quilted Placemats:

reversible placemat beauty

And this one, which I made very specifically at the request of my friend Mika, a Kindle Cover with tutorial:

kindle cover splash

Or this one, which I made because my friend Kim asked me to, for a set of Nested Fabric Buckets:


The Snack Bandolier gets pinned a lot, especially since I published the license for manufacturing:


Here’s another one that I made with no thought to Pinterest whatsoever, the stitch sampler:


I think I get most excited when folks pin things where the image wasn’t really the point of the post, though.  Like the Emergency Dress, which was really about how pretty my husband makes me feel, even when my sewing isn’t perfect:

dress main

Or the Travel Power Cord Roll-Up I made for my husband (at reader suggestion) a couple of years ago, and that he still uses every single day:

travel power cord roll up

Or the pot holders that had a funny surge a week or so ago and suddenly got extra popular out of the blue:

pot holders

I love it when patterns pop up pinned by people, especially free ones, because it makes me hope they’re all out there sewing them up–like the Vintage-Style Teddy Bear:

teddy bear splash image

Or the Bee Skirt I designed at the request of Melody Miller and had such fun putting together with her and her associate, Allison:

Screen shot 2011-09-01 at 12.16.54 AM

And this popular one, from deeeep in the archives, the 20-Minute Skirt Tutorial for girls:


Pinterest is like this fun blast from the past where I get reminded of projects and photos I’ve shared and had almost forgotten.  Sometimes I get bogged down thinking about what’s next, next, NEXT for the blog and for Whipstitch and for me that I forget how much I’ve done and accomplished in the past few years.  Yesterday it dawned on me that my fifth anniversary for blogging as Whipstitch just slipped past me in August, which seems like so little time and yet represents a lot of hours and hard work.  It’s exciting to get to look back at all that visually by peeking in on Pinterest, and so, so gratifying to know that time and thought and love that I put in a lot of years ago still has relevance and is interesting and exciting to folks out there in the wide, wide internet.  On days when I’m buried under calendar dates and my own lists of lists of things to do, it really does my heart good to know that my effort has longevity and has made an impact.  Amazing and exciting stuff, and today, I’m feeling super grateful!  Thanks, you guys.