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pajamas

Christmas Pajamas: the Ultimate in Deadline Sewing

I wasn’t going to sew Christmas pajamas two years ago.  Until my children heard about it.  They were actually speechless.  Aghast.  Appalled.  Couldn’t IMAGINE a world in which they didn’t launch into bed on Christmas Eve wearing new handmade pajamas.

We work hard not to go (too far) overboard for Christmas, to the point that we only get our children two gifts each.  We stuff their stockings full, though, and I personally love the tradition of wrapping new pajamas and opening them on Christmas Eve.  It makes for a nice preview, and for snappier Christmas-morning photographs.  Side benefit: since we have grown even more fond recently of giving gifts that are experiences over items–our children have gotten tickets for family trips the past three years, and will again this December 25–they can take their jammies with them when we travel, and have a little home comfort while we’re away.

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Nothing Says “College” Like Harry Potter Pajamas

HP pajamasMy oldest child is going off to college this month.  On the one hand, I have wrapped my brain around that and am excited for her–and for us, with all the changes that come along with launching a bird from the nest.  On the other, I’m terrified and want to hang on to her just a little bit longer, probably for the reassurance that we’ve done a good job and she’ll have a fulfilling life when we’re not there to take on the bogeyman for her and keep her safe.  It’s happy and it’s sad, on both sides.

HP pajamas action shotIn honor of the occasion, I finally got around to sewing the pajamas I promised I would make for her 10 years ago.  Yes, TEN.  Better late than never, right?

harry potter fabricI bought this sparkly Harry Potter quidditch fabric from Jo-Ann back when the fourth book was released.  I have a hard time believing it was really that long ago–but I checked the publication date on the book, and it’s 2001.  2001?!?  When did an entire decade fly by?  While my child was growing up, it would appear.

harry potter fabric selvageAnd just in case you suspect I might be exercising a little hyperbole for dramatic effect, I present to you: the selvage.  So, this has been sitting, pre-washed, in my stash for over a decade, waiting to be sewn into pajamas for my oldest, who first met Harry Potter when Book 1 was read aloud to her first grade class.  She has read every single volume multiple times (as have I), and when the final book came out, I hit the grocery store near our house just after midnight the day it was released and bought THREE copies: one for her, one for me, and one for my husband.  No one wanted to have to read it last.

HP pajamas front viewThe pattern is an ancient out-of-print Simplicity juniors pajama pattern, with three styles of top and two bottoms.  I didn’t have enough fabric to make her pants here–I thought I did, but then I remembered I purchased yardage to make a set with pants for a six-year-old, not an eighteen-year-old.  Wow.  So she got a sweet little top with elasticated neckline and a pair of “sleeping shorts.”

HP pajamas back viewThe neckline could have had a drawstring, but I thought the elastic was more practical.  The pattern also called for elastic at the sleeve hems, but I don’t like the way that style rides up on my shoulders when I sleep, and figured she’d be more comfortable in this.

HP pajama sleeveThe sleeves and neckline are all one, and the casing is just a super narrow channel for the elastic.  Thank goodness I happened to have some 1/4″ elastic on hand, too–it meant this was a crazy quick project.  Not including cutting out, which I had done a few days before, the top and bottom together took one afternoon while the younger children were having their naps.  It was super satisfying.  Only two hours!  Well, ten years and two hours.

HP pajamas jump for joyI think her facial expression really captures it here: total joy and total terror.  On both sides of the camera.  Look for me in a couple weeks–I’ll be the mom who starts out gleefully assisting in decorating her daughter’s dorm, and then cries the whole way home.  Transitions are hard, even the good ones–but at least with her super cool pajamas she’s sure to be the hippest girl on her floor and make instant best friends with everyone in her dorm.  Right??

Get Dressed To Stay Home

text image describing the author's journey to dressing better

A little over a year ago, I was inspired by a review of my own handsewn wardrobe–following months and months (and months) in a sewing rut–to GET DRESSED TO STAY HOME.  I have worked from home for more than a decade, and had begun to think of getting dressed as an unnecessary waste of time, something I could skip in favor of More Important (or more enjoyable) tasks.  It took a huge toll on me, y’all, in a quiet, sneaky way–breaking free from that has been work, but it’s been JOYOUS work.  I’ve actually been cataloging the outfits I put together each day and taking photos of them, and am developing the whole series into a project I’m sharing with the League of Dressmakers, where I’m pairing sewing pattern suggestions and video guides with the four concepts I’ve developed to formalize what’s worked for me.

Given the Current Situation, where nearly the entire globe are now finding ourselves sheltering in place and unexpectedly, indefinitely staying or working from home, I want to share these ideas in a five-part series here with all of you.  These posts are about getting dressed, but they’re also about taking active steps to keep ourselves mentally well when we don’t “have to” go anywhere–and are tempted to stay in pajamas all day, every day.

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Fiesta Fun Fabrics Romper for Summer

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I first met Dana through a benefit auction online.  I offered up one of the dresses I used to design, and she was the second bidder–outbid by a dollar.  And we bonded over how, in a benefit/charity situation, maybe our goal shouldn’t be winning the auction by the least amount possible, because maybe the goal isn’t winning the auction, but rather making an impact and the “winning” is icing on top.  We became fast friends.

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Posts of Christmases Past

Today, on a whim, I searched my own blog to see what I’d posted in past years during Christmas time.  If you had asked me, I would have told you there were two or three posts, four max.  But I’ve been writing for a long time, and it turns out there are a TON of posts about how we do Christmas at our house, what we make, where we go, and what matters to me most at this time of year.  Below, a selection of the best of them, for inspiration and as a snapshot of how our family has grown and how it has stayed the same over the years.

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Making the Flip Flop Dress with an Unlined Bodice

The Flip Flop Dress: optional unlined bodice with rounded neckline

The Flip Flop Dress is a classic girl’s dress with a fully lined bodice.  One of the features I love about this dress is that all the interior seams are completely enclosed: the shoulder seams, armhole seams, side seams and even waistline seam are all tucked inside the bodice lining, so that only the skirt side seams are visible once the dress is complete.  Lining a garment is always my preferred method of sewing, since it’s so tidy and neat.

On the other hand, some garments demand to be left UNlined.  The dress above, for example, is made of double-gauze, which has as its greatest asset its breathability.  The lightweight weave allows air to move through it while still remaining opaque, and it’s my go-to summer fabric for everything from pajamas to blouses to dresses and skirts.  Lining it would defeat the purpose of using double-gauze in the first place, so I needed a technique to keep this version unlined.

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Tweens Can Sew! The Girl’s Guide to DIY Fashion

Girls Guide to DIY Fashion

My little girl is going to be nine this year.  NINE.  It’s an awesome and icky age for any kid, and I can’t believe how quickly it happened.  When did my little girl get to be NINE?!?

Like my sisters and me with my mom when we were little, my kids see me sewing.  Like, every single day, sewing.  It’s how I internalized sewing as a natural extension of my own hands, as a way to take my creative ideas and make them real.  I want that for my children, and most days I feel like we’re doing a pretty good job of getting there (all those hours spent tracing shapes with embroidery floss must be building a foundation, right?)  Nine years old, though, has its own ideas.  Nine years old wants to do for itself, wants to express a viewpoint that’s independent of mom and dad.  Nine years old wants to design and plan and select and construct and MAKE.

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How To Finish Your Christmas Shopping Before Thanksgiving (or: How We Keep It Christmas)

writing Christmas cards

About seven years ago, we had an AMAZING Christmas.  Amazing in the sense that there were a LOT of presents.  Like, SO many.  It was an embarrassment of riches.  And I couldn’t quite explain it, but it really did feel like…an embarrassment.  There was something about the sheer VOLUME of gifts that made me feel overwhelmed and spendthrifty and gluttonous.  After all the gift wrap drifted to the floor following the frenzy of ripping and tearing, I realized that I didn’t feel happier, not the way I wanted to.  I didn’t feel more fulfilled.  I just felt let down.  Like a balloon that slowly loses air and is all wrinkled and tragic at the end.

One of my favorite writers to quote is Amy Dacyzyn, and she has written about this phenomenon.  Based on her writings, we’ve come to call this the Ice Cream Sundae Principle.  She says, basically, that when most folks take their kids out for ice cream, over time, the kids want more and bigger ice cream treats.  It starts out with a cake cone and a scoop of vanilla, but pretty soon, that’s old hat, so their parents get them TWO scoops, but that’s not enough after a while, so it’s a sundae, but then that’s familiar (and so contemptible), and they have to have a banana split…  You see how this goes.  It’s the same idea behind eating any sweets: your taste buds get numb to the flavor, so the fifth bite really isn’t as sweet or as satisfying as the first.

Dacyzyn’s argument is that when the thrill wears off on a treat or a pleasure, the answer isn’t MORE, it’s LESS.  She points out that most folks assume they have to keep cranking it up a notch, but for her family, they simply do it less often in order to allow time to bring back the original thrill.  So when a cake cone with a scoop of vanilla isn’t satisfying or exciting for her kids, they just go to the ice cream parlor less often, until a scoop is AWESOME again.  It’s not a punishment–it’s about pacing our lives and our desires in a way that prevents a good thing from becoming a bad thing, prevents a wholesome desire from becoming a greedy obsession.

Christmas packages

This is the single most influential concept I have read or heard as a parent, seriously.  In terms of how we handle basic, day-to-day navigation of a world where we can have so much for so cheaply, this one idea–that sometimes what we need is LESS of a good thing or it becomes a bad thing–has changed how we address a multitude of lifetime events for our marriage and our children.

So, then: Christmas.  One year after the Christmas I described above, we decided to make a change.  I had an idea.  I had a wonderful, awful idea: what if we did FEWER gifts for our children?  Like, JUST TWO?  I know, I know: that’s insanity.  But it has led to some of the most fulfilling Christmas memories we have.

Here’s how we do it:

  • One gift for each child is from Santa.  We monitor their ideas and requests super closely, and try to visit Santa as soon after Thanksgiving as we can.  That way, whatever they’ve asked him for, we’re more likely to be able to get.  We do emphasize, like this year, that Santa doesn’t always give exactly what you ask for, to give us some margin, but with just one exception so far, we’ve always been able to make sure that Santa delivers on Christmas morning.
  • One gift for each child is from Mommy and Daddy.  We do our best to get them what they most want, but tend to fold in here what we think they NEED, too.  If one child always gets building toys, we might give an art-based toy.  If one child always gets dolls, we might give an architecture toy.  Because there are only TWO gifts, we can (1) give bigger gifts and meet more exciting requests, because we can spread our entire per-child budget over two really great gifts than over a lot of smaller ones; (2) invest in quality gifts that really last, and so build a library of things for our kids to do all year long, meaning that Christmas gifts really get used over an extended period and passed from one kid to the next; and (3) our kids don’t have that Law of Diminishing Returns on Christmas morning, where the 12th gift is just less exciting than the 1st.
  • Stockings are INTENSE.  There are always small things that kids need (socks, for example) that are a part of Christmas.  We also maintain a tradition that kids are allowed to get up before adults on Christmas morning, but they can’t open any gifts–they CAN open their stockings, so I like to make them super fun (while the adults get their coffee and settle in for the Main Event).  And I’m not super-human, so there are always little goodies I like to give that don’t fit into our only-two-presents rule.  So we do not-too-large wrapped gifts inside the stockings–a boxed domino game, or a small locking diary, or a piggy bank–that the kids can get first thing.  It gives me both a steam valve (to allow me to spring for a small gift that I’m having trouble resisting) but also a boundary line (I know we don’t give more than two gifts under the tree, but some things just won’t fit inside a stocking, so it helps me control any last-minute impulse spending on things that, let’s be honest, we just don’t need and they won’t really appreciate).
  • We give Christmas pajamas on Christmas Eve.  Christmas socks are included in stockings.  Christmas-themed outfits are sewn some years (but not others) for holiday services, Santa photos, or family events.  These are given during the weeks leading up to Christmas, and are not wrapped.  No other clothing is included in Christmas gifts.  That eliminates a LOT of the “filler” gifts under the tree, let’s be honest.
  • I enlist the help of family members.  When grandparents and aunts or uncles ask what the kids want for Christmas, I generally tell them what WE’RE getting them, and then make themed suggestions for gifts that might be in line with that.  One year, my eldest got a digital camera, so her grandmother got her a Spielberg-style leather jacket.  One year, our other daughter got a lovely handmade wooden doll house, so my mom gave a selection of doll house furniture.  When our boy got a train set, my in-laws sent the roundhouse for them to “sleep” in.  The extended family are giving a gift they know will be appreciated, but the children feel less overwhelmed by the number of gifts since they all “go” together.

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We–the internet culture–spent a lot of time the past couple of years talking about FIRST WORLD PROBLEMS.  Well, here’s a FWP for you: it’s Christmas morning, and you’re surrounded by presents and torn paper and ribbons and bows, and you feel empty inside.  Like, you’re glad it’s Christmas and the tearing and excitement was awesome, but now that it’s all over, you feel a little let down and dissatisfied.  It’s not that you want MORE, not really, it’s just that you’re not sure that’s all there is–or that it’s all there’s SUPPOSED to be.  It’s a weird longing, a just-out-of-reach ache, when you realize you’re not super enthused about ANY of the gifts you’ve received and think maybe you’re just ready to head back to your regular life.  Let’s turn on the TV.  Christmas is over.

Have you ever had that feeling?  How tragic is that?  And let’s be honest: how pathetic?  Right?

To have a world of presents dumped on you and STILL NOT BE HAPPY.  It’s the root of what we’re fighting as parents, this sense of emptiness when given so many riches.  And I’m trying so hard to fight that as I raise my kids.  In part, I want them to learn to be grateful when they receive something they didn’t want or don’t necessarily like–my oldest is an ACE at this.  She has gotten some, let’s be honest, totally CRAP gifts over the years from extended family who didn’t know quite what to get her but wanted to give her SOMETHING.  And man, that kid can look beyond the object and to the giver and truly be thankful to have been thought of and remembered.  She amazes me that way.  I want all my children to learn that deep level of gratitude.

At the same time, I want to recognize that I have the power to limit the number of items they receive, and cultivate both that gratitude AND their appreciation for how it feels to experience true joy and rapture when opening that Perfect Gift.  I remain convinced, just like that ice cream sundae, that FEWER gifts will allow them the room inside their hearts to deeply love what they DO receive.  I don’t know where I read it, but there was a story a couple years ago about a kid who loved, loved, loved his two toy cars, so his grandmother bought him TEN new toy cars.  And then she saw that he didn’t play with ANY of them anymore.  She asked him why and he said, “Gramma, I can’t love TEN.”  Something about having too MANY made it hard for him to love ANY.  How’s that for a snapshot of what’s happening to our children in this culture of constant want and immediate gratification?

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Here are the benefits from limiting our gift-giving to only two gifts (plus an abundant stocking):

  • We have fewer things coming into our home, and the ones we do generally are able to fit into categories that make them easier to store (all the trains go together; the doll furniture goes in the doll house; etc).  This extends the usefulness and shelf-life of gifts at our house–no more “disposable” presents or gifts that get tossed aside the day after Christmas.
  • Our children can focus on a smaller number of gifts, which means they can really love, love, love the ones they get.  Toys get played with more, and interestingly, the kids are more likely to share their toys with one another when they have fewer than when they have more–it’s fun to see the TWO treasures your brother got, rather than hoarding the zillion tiny treasures YOU got while nursing a confusing sense that you’re not super excited about any of them.  (Have you ever read Morris’ Disappearing Bag?  It’s like that–fun to share your thrilling gift with others, because your excitement bubbles over.)  I am convinced this is building a sense in our children that Christmas morning is about appreciating what you have versus accumulating.  No one wants a Cousin Dudley, counting gifts this year compared to last year, right?
  • I am better able to control my own greed and spending, which I am realizing is an issue for me.  I want so badly to give my children the world, and it’s hard to avoid over-buying.  The two-gift rule helps me to reign it in, and reminds me very actively that I want to give my children EXPERIENCES more than THINGS.
  • I am better able to resist last-minute impulse shopping, to which we are all susceptible.  The first year we did Christmas this way was a bit of an experiment–I didn’t know anyone who’d done this, and I wasn’t totally sure it would work.  I was in Target (gah!!) the day before Christmas, and realized I was anxious–what if it bombs? what if I’m wrong? do I need to GO BUY MORE PRESENTS RIGHT NOW?!?  I talked myself down, convincing myself that if it all went to the crapper, big deal.  Lesson learned.  And it didn’t–the kids were actually more thrilled with their smaller haul.
  • Our children learn to prioritize their desires.  This one is huge.  They know they’re only getting TWO gifts.  So when they make their “lists,” they are forced to be very, very clear (with us and with themselves) about what they want MOST.  Our 8 year old, bless her, told us two years in a row that she wants Santa to surprise her.  Seriously?!?  Yes.  She doesn’t even ask for something specific–she loves that she wakes up Christmas morning and something is under the tree that’s JUST RIGHT for her, without her even asking.  That kind of trusting love is impossible to fake, and if this practice at our house has had even a small hand in cultivating that in our children, then it’s all worth it.
  • The grandparents go (a little) less crazy.  Because WE have limited the giving, and because we encourage the grandparents to give “companion” gifts, there has been an unexpected side effect where we have fewer gifts overall coming into our home.  The idea that it’s better to spend a little more on a quality, lasting gift and have ONE than to have LOTS of less expensive but lower quality things has rubbed off and rippled through our extended family, too.  My grandfather was right (of course): buy the best that you can afford, or else you’ll end up buying it again and spend twice as much as if you’d just bought the good one to start with.  He was talking about tools at the time, but he always understood: invest rather than spend.
  • We are encouraged to purge before Christmas.  Because we know we’re getting fewer gifts but that they tend to be more special, we are encouraged to purge old toys and games between Thanksgiving and Christmas to make room for the ones coming in.  This has its own ripple effect–we have to have conversations with our children about how they use the toys they’ve received over time, and why they use some but not others; our kids have to evaluate what toys they truly love and what toys they won’t realistically use any longer; the children occasionally discover things they’ve forgotten they had, and either fall back in love with them or give them one last good play time before saying goodbye; we get to hear from our children more about what it is they look for in a toy, which helps as we select new things to bring into the house (including narrowing down the areas where they have strengths and the activities to which they’re most attracted); and we pass along to the thrift shop good-condition toys for another family who are themselves shopping for gifts, which gives us a chance to talk about money and charity and greed and giving with our kids while the rest of the world is busy losing their minds with shopping frenzy.
  • Our kids have learned that “new” doesn’t equal “better.”  Because we look to give our children just the right gift, we can’t always get it from Amazon or Target.  Some things are handmade, by me or someone else.  Others are vintage, found on eBay.  Others are discovered at a thrift store.  It doesn’t have to be brand-new or expensive to meet their desire, and I think it’s valuable to communicate that to children when they’re young.
  • Our children have begun to voluntarily express concern for others.  Very simply, because we only do two gifts and our kids have consistently received the things they most hoped for, they are growing up with the sense that their needs will be met.  The result (again, unexpectedly on my part) is that they are free to think of OTHERS in this season, and show desire to meet THEIR needs.  Never saw that one coming, but it’s a good reminder that when each of us feels safe and loved, we are better able to love others openly.  Shouldn’t Christmas teach that?
  • I am better able to offer our kids handmade gifts each year.  Because we don’t do a LOT of gifts, I have the time to really invest in a GREAT handmade present–either by me or by a cottage maker.  Our eight-year-old is getting multiple American Girl doll outfits with matching dresses for her this year, which is exactly what she most wants.  Because I have the time, since that’s her only big gift this year, I can add details and trims and make them really special for her–I’m not busy spreading myself over a ton of shopping for a large list of gifts.  Two years ago, we bought her a whole collection of granny-made Barbie clothes from eBay–not made by me, but made by hand, and carefully selected and accumulated, and which she treasures.
  • I spend less time overall shopping for Christmas gifts.  While I’m more inclined to really think about and focus on each gift, on the whole, the month of November is the ONLY month during which I do Christmas shopping.  If I did it too early, they might outgrow their request or change their minds, so accumulating over the course of the year isn’t the best practice for our kids.  I had the time to search and search eBay for those Barbie clothes because all the other Christmas gifts were taken care of, but I did all of it in the space of about two weeks.  Fewer gifts equals more time to devote to making each one special, but it doesn’t mean I’m a slave to the shopping.

I’ll close by openly saying that this practice does NOT (so far) seem to save us any money.  We set a budget for each child and work to stay within it.  I am not concerned with spending an equal amount on each kid, only on meeting that child’s hopes as best as I am able within the set amount we’re willing to spend.  We nearly always go over budget on one of them, but come wildly under budget on another–our four-year-old this year stated emphatically before Thanksgiving that all she really wanted from Santa was an Anna doll to play with her Elsa doll.  It’s a $25 doll, and we were delighted to order it for her.  She came in well under budget this year, but will be elated with her gift.

What it DOES save us is our sanity and, I think, our integrity.  I can’t feel good about spending 364.25 days a year writing and talking about loving handmade and teaching our children the value of good quality–and then buying up a zillion cheap gifts on Christmas.  I sincerely believe that by limiting what we put under the tree, we’re communicating to our children in the most powerful way that we mean what we say: it isn’t THINGS that matter, it’s people.  It isn’t STUFF that makes life special, it’s experiences.  And that the Christmas memories–the FAMILY memories–we most want them to have are about loving each other and being together.

I don’t know how helpful this is to others to hear that we do Christmas this way, and I freely admit that it’s an on-going process through which I learn more about myself and my children every year (did I mention that I’m discovering I have issues with greed and hoarding?).  I feel deeply convicted that this is a step in the right direction to building a family culture of generosity and thoughtfulness and gratitude and contentment, and one of my dearest wishes is that my children will grow up and carry that into the world with them where it will spread like ripples in the water.  Here’s hoping it does the same for you and yours!

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!

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

STEP ONE: INVENTORY

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.

Tips for Working with Velvet

When I got the (possibly hare-brained) idea to sew my blue velvet cocktail dress, I had pretty minimal experience sewing with velvet.  This was absolutely my first time making something from velvet on this scale–anything larger than a sleeve cuff would have been bigger, honestly.  So I’m totally no expert on velvet or on fancy fabrics.  I did learn a ton in making this dress, though, and some of what I learned had nothing at all to do with sewing velvet.

For example: I like learning that no matter how much you know–or THINK you know–there’s always more to learn.  That’s a great lesson to be reminded of, because grown-ups have a tendency to forget that they don’t know everything, and one of  the things I love most about sewing is that you can always try SOMETHING you’ve never tried before, and odds are pretty good it’ll be awesomely fun.  I like seeing that up close now and then.  Both humbling and motivating.

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This whole velvet thing was like that: it seemed a little intimidating, and golly but how! did the internet have scary things to say about velvet.  On the whole, I found the internet’s general dislike and fear of this fancy fabric to be largely unfounded.  I didn’t think it was horrible to sew with, but being the girl I am, I totally did my research first.  I’m all for jumping in feet first, but I like to do a lap before committing to the jump, so to speak.

I found both Emma One Sock and Threads super helpful, with extensive and thorough guides to sewing with velvet available from each.

velvet needle board

Top tip: use a velvet pressing board, also called a needle board.  Now, I have also read that this could be a plush towel or another scrap of the same velvet, but (1) this dark midnight blue color I was using would show fluff from a towel like a crazy person, (2) I was pretty tight on yardage and didn’t have a scrap to spare, plus (3) those felt just the tiniest bit bootleg.

They felt a lot less bootleg when I saw the price on this velvet press board at JoAnn.  Sheesh!  Good thing I snapped one up with a 50% off coupon.  Boo-yah!  That’s what I’m talking about.  This little gadget is a rubber backing embedded with dull-tipped needles.  The needles serve to press into the pile of the fabric so that you can steam out the seam allowances and any wrinkles without pressing the outline of the seams into the fabric where they’ll be visible from the public side of your sewing.

velvet needleboard needles up close

Now, the major tip I read repeatedly was that you don’t actually PRESS the fabric into the needles.  You place the velvet pile side down, so that it nests in with the needles, then hover the iron above the wrong side of the fabric and steam the velvet into submission.  The fabric will relax from the steam, but there won’t be any residual outlines on the pile side of the fabric, and the pile won’t be crushed.  It’s magical.

steaming velvet with pressing board

After steaming, allow the fabric to cool completely (which increases its “relaxation” and lets the steam evaporate so you’re not sewing on a sopping wet mass by the end) before moving on to the next section or step.

pressed velvet seam

The next giant tip I picked up in my research, and which was borne out in practice, was that velvet has a tendency to “creep” when you’re sewing.  Best way to combat the creep?  Your walking foot, naturally.

walking foot on velvet

If you’re not familiar with the walking foot--for example, if you don’t do much quilting, where the walking foot figures predominantly–you might not be friends with this fella.  But he’s a lot of handy fun to have around.

feed dogs

I do use my walking foot for quilting, since it prevents the layers of quilt top/batting/backing fabric from scooching around as you put in the quilting stitches, but I also use it for knits on occasion, and for working with plaids–it has the amazing ability to keep the plaids all lined up just the way you pinned them, so that everything matches along your seam lines.  Yum.

bernina walking foot

The walking foot installs on your machine very much like a standard presser foot, but it has a second set of feed dogs IN the foot, which are tied to the motion of the needle bar.  As you stitch, the lower feed dogs draw the fabric forward from beneath, and the second set draw it forward from above, so both pieces are moving at the same rate.

upper feed dogs on walking foot

For a pile fabric like velvet, that can really make the difference, since the fibers tend to want to push against one another, creating weird bumps and bulges and distorting seam lines.

velvet with presser foot

I tested the theory out first, using some of the shreds left over after all my pieces had been cut.  It seemed as though I was able to easily sew without any movement, but the sewn pieces were horribly puckered along the seamline–totally unacceptable.  So I added a ton more pins (another tip I read repeatedly) and switched to my walking foot.

pressed velvet seam

Vastly better results!

Smaller tips that still played into the making of this dress:

  • I cut everything in a single layer.  Despite that care, I still made a cutting mistake–so be careful!  Be sure to REVERSE your pattern pieces when cutting on a single layer so that you end up with a right and a left, and not two rights.  Blergh.
  • Also, match the pattern to the drape of the fabric.  Velvet is heavy and swingy and has the most beautiful movement, so it’s not well suited to a design that requires a lot of stiffness or shaping.  It gathers extraordinarily well, and the light just bounces off those gathers to create beautiful results–in any room.
  • Make all your marks for tucks, gathers and darts on the WRONG side of the fabric, preferably in chalk, as they will migrate or disappear entirely on the pile of the right side (or not come out completely, which is another kind of disaster).
  • And finally, hem carefully.  This fabric is luxurious and looks expensive, no matter what you paid–take the time to hem by hand and create a really lasting garment.  Even in my holiday time crunch, I hemmed this entire dress with a hand needle, and am so pleased I did.  Took about an hour, but it was an hour well invested!

See, I also read over and over that I should take my time when sewing velvet, but let’s just say I didn’t have a whole lot of that to spare, and what I did have I threw at making a muslin, under the idea that I needed to get the fit right more than I needed to get the finesse right–it was going to be a dark party, and while I hoped for perfect results, I was more worried about (1) being finished and (2) looking thin.  Let’s be real here: it’s all well and good to sew a dress for yourself, but if it doesn’t flatter your figure, will you really ever wear it?  So while in general I like to pay attention to the details and do the best sewing I’m able, if I have to choose between perfect seam finishes and a flattering fit, I’ll pick fit every time.  (Plus, I think we all know my track record when in a fancy dress time crunch.)

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I stand by that decision.  But I also recognize that had I been in possession of more time, I might have made some changes to how the dress was constructed.  For example: all the research indicated that velvet sheds horrifically.

velvet shedding

While “horrifically” might be an exaggeration, I totally had some fluff left under my throat plate by the time I waltzed out the door:

fluff under throat plate

Granted, some of this was leftover from making the flannel Fanfare pajamas I sewed for the kids at Christmas, but the velvet left its mark, both under the needle and on the cutting table:

velvet sheds

Always good to do a solid round of sewing machine maintenance after working with a fabric like this (and I strongly include minky in that designation).  With all that shedding, I might have handled the waistline seam differently if I’d had more time: I was forced to skip a nicer seam finish, and simply treat the lining and bodice as one when joining the skirt to the bodice at the front.  There’s an awkward shaped inset there, and I just couldn’t work out how to tuck it under and still cover the seams.  I think I’ve figured out a better solution, but at the time–late in the evening and up against a deadline–I didn’t see it; if I’d had longer, I might have unpicked this seam and re-sewn it.  No one knew but me, so no biggie, but fill disclosure and all that: this dress is gorgeous, and imperfect.  Sewing can be both.  Just like people.

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On the whole, I didn’t dislike sewing with velvet at all.  Mostly that was the joy of learning to do something new that I haven’t done before–it’s a little thrilling, right?  To just jump in with two feet and see what might happen?  But it was also the excitement of making something beautiful that I knew I’d be wearing someplace magical with the man I love.  That part of it–the delight of sewing something that I knew I would wear and enjoy and be proud to show off–made any inconvenience seem so tiny in comparison.

Man, how many things can do that?  Make you so excited to see the other side that you don’t mind any of the irritations along the way?  True love, and the act of creation.  Those are the ones that spring to mind.  How inspiring that making something with our hands can provide the same powerful emotion that we experience when we share our hearts with someone!  Sewing is as close as we get to magic, y’all.  Velvety, lovely magic.

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!

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Building an Audrey Wardrobe

Building an Audrey Wardrobe | Whipstitch

Very few individuals in recent memory can compare with the class and beauty of Audrey Hepburn.  Her grace, her loveliness, her charm and her kind nature permeate every image, every foot of film we have of her.  Something about Audrey–like Jackie Kennedy Onassis and Grace Kelly–has the power to capture our attention and hold it.  And is there any one of us who doesn’t admire Audrey, and want to emulate her, at least a little?  I’ve been doing my own Audrey binge lately, and cannot get enough.  Again.

The stories of how Audrey handled her wardrobe are legend.  She was well-known for being incredibly specific about what looked best on her frame and what shapes and fabrics and colors she would wear to give her the look she sought.  She had the most flawless taste in clothing, choosing looks that were both timeless and edgy, and that you could wear any day of the week and any year throughout history (well, since Audrey’s day, anyway) and look absolutely perfect.

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image via Vogue

I haven’t had that skill for most of my life.  I mean, I do think I do a good job of choosing my clothing, for the most part, and I’ve had a life of training in Shopping as an Art Form (thanks, Mom!), but I don’t think any of us is born with the gift of always putting together a WARDROBE, in the sense of choosing individual pieces and creating a collection of our own from which we can build looks and create an overall style of our own.

When I think of going through my closet and analyzing what I have and what I need, I generally get as far as deleting things I no longer wear, but I’m not very good at adding things that I WILL wear.  I understand the idea of filling in gaps in my wardrobe, but I don’t always do that in a timely fashion–I’m not very good at dumping the stuff that hasn’t been worn in ages and adding in new things RIGHT AWAY so that I can have a complete range of things to choose each day when I dress.

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image via Biography

Sarai over at Colette Patterns put together a really excellent post about evaluating your wardrobe and thinning out the categories that are over-full while plumping up the categories that need additional items.  I love that idea–and I super love her template that she created to help you do it (and not just because she and I share what amounts to an unnatural love for the cardigan).  It’s pretty close to spring cleaning time around here–which I tend to do every year, not in a deliberate way, but just because it’s when the kids outgrow all their winter clothes and it’s time to supply all of us with new things for the warmer weather.  I’m ready to work my way through this list, through my closet, and build myself what I’ve always pictured in my head: an Audrey Wardrobe.

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image via The Telegraph (UK)

No matter what she wore, Audrey always looked (1) classic, (2) lovely, and (3) appropriate.  I remember being just out of college, blissfully past those Grunge Days (by the narrowest of margins), and saying to my mother that what I most wanted from my wardrobe was to never have to be embarrassed if I ran into someone unexpectedly.  She told me that was probably the chief goal we should all have–but in the decades (eek!) since then, something has happened in fashion, day-to-day fashion in the sense of how individuals as real people out on the street get dressed to present themselves to the public.  It’s as if folks just plain don’t care any more: pajamas on airplanes, boxer shorts to the grocery store, yoga pants to every occasion other than yoga, and flip flops to meet the President.  Audrey would have had NONE of that, y’all.

I love what Sarai said in her post, too, about using her inventory of her existing closet to plan out sewing (and knitting) projects for herself: that by evaluating what she does have and what she wants to have, she can make better use of her time and create garments that are most likely to get worn often and loved much.  I want to do that same thing, while layering in my love for the sense of clean, uncomplicated lines and modern, sophisticated fashion that Audrey represents.

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image via IMDb

So here we go, over the next week: a dive into the available sewing patterns on the market and which ones I think will best serve my needs in building an Audrey wardrobe.  I’m not planning a giant sew-along, or to drag you all through narrowing down my list of things-I-have and things-I-need.  I’m not planning on sewing up every look I discover.  But I do think the exercise of pin-pointing what looks I’d like to add to my wardrobe is a motivating one, and will become even more so as I locate patterns on the market and available to me today–not the super hard to find vintage patterns available only on eBay if you cash in your kid’s college tuition, but patterns I can order and have shipped this week–will make it even more of a project that can realistically be completed by an actual human with a life over the coming few months.

Anyone else up for it?  Want to spend the next few days digging through pattern catalogs and books about Audrey to compile a list of designs and sources for fabric that will sew up into a luscious Audrey Wardrobe for this spring and summer?  I’ve already got a list going and some really great ideas in mind–and the pictures!  You’ll lose your marbles, really.

Closet Clean Out Project #2 and #3: Boy’s and Girls’ Closets

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girls before after

I’ve got TWO for you today, because I was on a roll….and because I didn’t think either of these seemed that impressive on its own, so I figured I’d pump up the closet cleaning excitement by doing BOTH today, here at the end of the year.  It’s basically the opposite of what I did last week, but I’m high on a deadline.  Yeah, that’s right–I’m a rock-n-roll rebel.  You heard me.

Step 1: Evaluate and assess

Both of these closets suffered from the same issue: they had become dumping grounds for things that didn’t belong there.  In our boy’s closet, we were storing bits and pieces of puzzles and toys along with leftover supplies from painting his room and renovating the bathroom (old door handle, anyone?).  In the girls’ shared closet, our 6-year-old squirrel had filled empty boxes with bits and pieces of….good heavens, EVERYTHING from around the house.  In both cases, no major renovations were needed, just come emptying and organizing.

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For the girls, the biggest issues were the floor (covered on the right here with edge-to-edge cardboard boxes stuffed with random junk) and the top shelf, which was literally overflowing with clothing–some of it outgrown, some of it not yet grown-into, and some of it “heirloom,” but not stored.  And I had no idea what was what.  I used to have a system where things were stored by size to hand down, so that each clear plastic bin had two sizes in it, and I could always find just what I needed when one of the children was ready to go “shopping” for the next round of clothes.  After the move, when things had been packed away with an eye toward efficiency rather than organization, that whole system broke down, and it turned into a shelf of piles.

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For the boy, it’s those darn puzzles, mostly, but also the fact that he loooooooves to shove things into the corners of his closet (he’s a shover, too!), usually dirty clothes, random toys he’s trying to prevent his sisters from playing with, and assorted boxes and books.  Generally, if you’re looking for anything–his winter coat, his other shoe, his pajamas from last night–the best place to look is on the floor under the pile in the corner of his closet.  Because we also stored buckets of blocks and some of his train set on the floor, too, on either side of the toy box, it was hard to convince him that we didn’t want to keep things on the floor as a permanent storage solution.

Step 2: Purge and empty

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Purging was the fun part.  In our boy’s room, it only took about 45 minutes to take things off the shelf, sort through them somewhat vaguely to determine where they actually belonged–the playroom or the garage or the trash–and then start all over.  He doesn’t have a ton of hanging garments, so this was a pretty quick clean-out.  We did generate a full garbage bag of donation items AND a full garbage bag of trash from just his closet, though, so looks can be deceiving.

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In the girls’ closet, purging was mostly about sorting through outgrown clothing.  We still have a very few things from my oldest that were worth saving for our 6-year-old to grow into, and of course we have plenty of things from the 6-year-old to pass along to the 2.5-year-old.  Plus, there were things here that weren’t worth keeping or had become redundant as they were passed down, and others that I thought were too precious to donate, but when faced with a task like this in a short timeframe and working slightly hungry and fending off the children with one foot while on a stool, you have far less pity and sentimentality.  Which helped me pack up TWO full garbage bags of donation items from this closet.

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The biggest purging task in this closet was the floor, with its wall-to-wall boxes of junk.  Most of the things in these boxes are the missing pieces from toys that are stored in other parts of the house.  Things we’ve been hunting for.  Toys we’ve tossed out because we didn’t have that one essential piece which we now have, because it was squirreled away in the closet.  Most of these things got moved–boxes and all–to the playroom, where they’ll be a whole other task of sorting and organizing and donating.  The boxes I’m planning to cover with fabric and use to organize the toys that survive that purge; I thought I’d need them in this closet, but as it turns out, I had plenty of storage solutions!

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Along the way, I purged items from the kids’ existing wardrobes, both their hanging things and the drawers in their dressers.  Note if you’re considering your own closet cleaning-a-thon: it spreads, the cleaning does.  Now I’ve added not just their dressers but the playroom to the list.  Stop me before I organize the Tupperware.

Anyway, the littlest one especially had a ton of things that she had outgrown, and since she’s Number Last of our children, those all went to Goodwill.  All the kids had things in their dressers that they no longer wore or fit or needed, though, so we had another bag of things from there.  If you’re counting, that’s FOUR donated bags just from the three younger children:

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Step 3: Re-design

I would lovelovelove to paint the interiors of these closets, like NOBODY’S business.  They’re still the original builder’s-crappy-not-quite-white-icky-browny-yellowy color they must have been for the past 50 years, and it makes me cringe.  But I’m making choices here, people, and I knew that if I committed to painting these closets AND clearing them out, that there was no way on Earth it was getting done this week.  So let’s just diagnose that they NEED to be painted (and that the bar arrangement in the girls’ closet is ridiculous, I swear I think whoever designed these closets was a novice), and we’ll have to add that to the To Do list.  I made no other changes to the overall closet than purging and replacing.  I re-used baskets and storage containers from other places in the house to contain the kids’ things, and that was that.

Step 4: Organize and store

So, this is the fun part.  The boy’s closet, after clearing and re-organizing:

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New rule: NOTHING GOES ON THE FLOOR.  It was the old old rule, from before we had four kids and it was easier to enforce, and now it’s the NEW old rule, because nothing makes a closet feel roomier and cleaner than having nothing on the floor to clutter it up.  So the bucket of blocks that used to be to the left of his toy box is now on the shelf above.  All the puzzles have moved out to the playroom.  The Barbie car is actually his sister’s, but it makes frequent appearances in Thomas the Train epics in this room, so it’s on the closet shelf, too, along with some small nylon baskets we picked up at Ikea for smaller toys.

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His clothes have been purged and arranged, with short sleeve shirts together, long sleeve shirts together, jackets on the end where he can get to them and put them away on his own.  You’ll notice there’s nothing on the floor!  I also kept the spare hangers to an absolute minimum–we have a lifetime’s supply of extra hangers in another room, and most of those will be donated, as well.  No one needs 6000+ hangers, and since we now have a fraction of the clothing, we sure as heck don’t want to keep them.

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Because he has the fewest things in his closet and doesn’t share it with anyone, he gets to store the “heirloom” things that have been handed down by my mother-in-law, like the sweater from my husband’s kindergarten or the children’s Christening gown.  He’ll get over it.

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In the girls’ closet, there’s a similar subtle-but-exciting effect–if you’re a raging dork like me and spend your New Year’s Eve getting excited about organizing your kids’ closets:

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The giant pile of clothing from the shelf is gone, and has been replaced by the OLD system, which is back, baby!  One bin for each girl, labeled with her initial and the sizes in the bin–sizes 4-6 for the little one, and sizes 8-10 for the elder.  Bonus!  I had been lamenting that the littlest didn’t have ANY winter pants, and score!  I found FIVE pair for her in the pile while I was sorting clothing out.  So not only did I clean off the shelf, I saved myself some money AND time by not needing to get her new things.  Woot!  A double-double-whammy, y’all.

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On the other shelf, which I realize is totally jacked up because it’s balanced on top of this one, and one of the brackets has come a little loose and you can see the original un-primed wallboard beneath it, we’ve stored the puppets and the puppet theatre.  The kids play with it on a semi-regular basis, especially when they’re all home from school for vacation, but that means a lot of the puppets get mixed in with the other stuffed animals and we have trouble finding them when they want to put on a show.  Now they’re all back in the basket that was purchased for that purpose, and up on the shelf where we can keep track of them.  Above that are some of my vintage (as in, from when I was a kid) toys that are a bit too fragile to be played with, but that make nice eye candy.

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I’m delighted to have found so many clothes for the girls to grow into.  And like the other closets, this one was a nice lesson in knowing what you have so you don’t duplicate it.  I can look at a glance now and tell where the gaps are in their wardrobes, what things get worn to shreds and what gets neglected, and how to better arrange their things to rotate through the stuff they like best.  It’s pretty clear they both love dresses and skirts, and that I prefer them in pants–I guess we’ll all work that out later in therapy.

IMG_5760And look! Nothing on the floor!!  All the boxes are gone, off to the playroom to wait being recovered in fabric and filled with toys that have all their pieces.  It’s like closet heaven.

Step 5:  Maintain

This will be tough, since they’re KIDS.  I think we’re going to have some kind of training seminar about where toys go to help them out.  On the bright side, my 6-year-old is actually a little anal about things like that, so she’ll be a big help.  And the two littler ones don’t mind doing anything so long as they’re not the only ones doing it.  Once again I am reminded that the children are always watching, and that our biggest challenge as parents is to MODEL behavior for them.  Because they’re going to do just what we do, whether it’s what we say we want them to do or not–like at the end of Lord of the Flies, where the kid says, “What went wrong?  We just did what the grown-ups would have done.  What went wrong?”  Sigh.

Happy New Year, y’all!  I don’t think I’ll meet my goal of getting the coat closet done before tonight, like I’d planned, but I’ll carry through and finish it on New Year’s Day, just so I can have this whole task accomplished.  It feels GOOD, I can tell you that.  Has anyone else tackled cleaning out part of the house here at the turn of the year?  I’d love to hear about it!  And if you see places where I could make improvements, seriously, I’m not sensitive–fire away, I’ll take all the help I can get!