Browsing Tag

sewing for family

Hello. My Name is Deborah, and I am a Halloween Failure.

I have this vision of myself as a Crafty Mom.  The one who sews clothes for her kids, who makes every Halloween costume from scratch.  I almost get the feeling that if I don’t make a Halloween costume each year, I am dropping the ball, that I have a rep to protect, and really can’t afford to NOT sew something for my kids.

So I have a confession to make:

These are…what they look like.  They are store-bought Halloween costumes.  That’s right: I am a Halloween failure.  I will not be sewing costumes for any of my kids this year.

And here’s the thing: I don’t care.  I confess that I feel guilty–G U I L T Y–that I spent what I spent, because even on sale (which these were–I haven’t completely lost my marbles), a store-bought costume seems to cost way more than seems strictly necessary.  But do I feel guilty that I didn’t sew this year?  No.  I don’t.

And here’s why:

  1. Like every other mom I know, I’m busy.  Like, super busy.  And I could have chosen to sew costumes for my kids this week–or I could have devoted myself to the other nine million tasks (like feeding them and folding their laundry and getting them to and from school, etc) that were calling me.  Halloween matters, but man, that other stuff is what builds a life.
  2. I offered to sew costumes for them, I really did–and I would have made the time to do it.  But our five-year-old saw a Rapunzel costume at Target the other day, and asked me to buy it for her, and when I said I would sew her one instead, she cried.  She cried, y’all.  Not because she thought I wouldn’t do a good job, but because she just really loved that one.  Halloween isn’t about making me look good–it’s about having fun and dressing up and laughing and staying up past dark and consuming unnatural amounts of high fructose corn syrup.  Who says I have to sew a costume by hand in order to make that what the kids are hoping for?
  3. When we go trick-or-treating on Monday night, I don’t want to be the cranky mom, the don’t-get-any-dirt-on-that-costume-I-slaved-over mom, the too-tired-from-staying-up-late mom.  I want to be the mom who is at least as excited about Halloween as the kids are (heaven knows my husband will be completely dressed up from head to toe and the first one out the door).  If my choice is between being that mom and buying costumes, or sewing costumes so I can save my pride but being so crotchety that I don’t enjoy myself and no one else does either, I’ll take store-bought every time, thankyouverymuch.

I think it’s easy in Craftland to perpetuate the myth that we moms can–and SHOULD–do absolutely everything.  I revel in the things I do for my children, for my family.  I delight in those tasks, because they are a gift that springs whole from my heart and one that I am proud to offer them.  But the minute that gift becomes an onerous task, the minute I become a Craft Martyr, the instant it stops being about love and starts being about What I Have To Do (or worse, What You Owe Me Because Of All The Things I Do For You That I Don’t Really Want To Do), that’s when I pull the plug. That’s not what love looks like, dude.

Yes, I would have made every stitch of these costumes late at night with my very hands, if that was what my children were dreaming of. They weren’t, so I didn’t.  And I can tell you with 96% certainty that we will all think the candy is that much sweeter as a result.


My mother uncovered this photo of my great-grandmother, the maker of this antique quilt.   She actually found two photos, and allowed me to select one; I chose the one where she doesn’t have her teeth in, because there was something about the intimacy of seeing her in a moment when she thought no one was looking that really appealed to me.  I love the light in this photo, and how focused she appears.  She looks like the kind of lady who makes zillions of quarter-square triangles, doesn’t she?  How awesome to have a face to put with the quilt, and a story to put beside the two.  One of the things I love about sewing the most is how personal it is, how tactile and immediate and rewarding, but really how personal and direct a connection it makes between two people.  Nothing like uncovering an old photo to bring that home.


Labels are a GOOD Thing: Adding Info to Your Handmade Sewing

We are surrounded by labels, of all kinds, every day.  For many of us, labels on our clothing or the goods we purchase are that marker that divides the store-bought from the homemade.  But I’d like to challenge you to think about your handmade yummies differently: I want you to value them enough to tag them, and mark them as professionally and prettily as anything you get from a shop.

Image via NightOwlsMenagerie on Etsy

When I was designing children’s clothing, I labeled the garments I sewed and sold.  It was obvious: to create a brand, and to remind customers of who you are so they can come back again, one must include a permanent reminder of who created the garment to begin with.  I think a lot of us feel differently about things we make at home, for our own families.  We think that because we won’t be selling something, there isn’t any need to add a tag or label.  I wonder if that isn’t because we undervalue those handmade things just a little bit.  Foolishly, if you ask me.

Image via Obsessively Stitching

My mother always labeled the things she made for us, decades ago.  And every time we put them on, we were reminded that she loved us and made something for us with her very own hands–maybe even letting us pick out the fabric or the pattern.  It was this really warm feeling of happy that maybe we only truly feel as children who are completely loved.  I think labels do the same for us today, and that by recognizing that something made at home can be worth MORE than something bought in a store, we give ourselves credit for the thought and feeling that go into sewing something from scratch.

JHB Labels, available at major chains

There are practical reasons, too.  Labels can be all kinds of things–including simple size labels.  And when you have four kids, and insist on handing clothing down from one to the next, figuring out a way to label sizes so that when your handmade treasures come out of the attic for the next kid down the line you can actually tell what size they are–well, that’s pretty awesome.

Adding a note about who made it and where and when–it might seem silly to you today, but someday someone might really care quite a lot about the one garment you made that you cared the least about.  Wouldn’t it be cool to find a dress your great-grandmother made, with her name sewn to the inside?  Wouldn’t you love to know more about who made that vintage quilt you bought at an estate sale, and how long it took her to sew?  How inspiring!  How connected to those who have come before!

Image via Skinny Chiquita on Flickr

There are about a zillion variations on labeling, but they come down to some basics: labels are washable tags that indicate the brand or name of the maker; the size of the garment/provenance of the quilt; and often the fiber or care instructions.  They can be handmade, printed on your printer, or ordered from a company.  Below, I’ve listed some sources and references for scoring your own (very unique) labels for the projects you’re stitching up–I think you’ll be surprised how your own attitude changes toward the things you make once you add your name and the date.  You might not think so now, but even you might forget later when you made that little dress or who for.  And who hasn’t heard some horror story about giving away a quilt only to learn that the recipient used it for the dog’s bed, or hand-sewing a lovely gown for a new baby only to learn it’s been given away to a complete stranger?  Labels can make such a difference, and they only take a second to add.

Let’s start with the ones you can click and order, and work our way down to the ones we make ourselves.  I ordered these from NameMaker, a company based right here in Atlanta.

They come either iron-on or sew-in, and are super simple and easy–here, I’ve ironed it on and used the adhesive to hold it in place prior to stitching it down (they can also be folded double, wrong sides together, and added to side seams).  This particular style doesn’t involve uploading any graphics–you just choose your style and font, add your text, and you’re set!  I chose the silver metallic thread, and came up with a name that’s a play on my husband’s nickname.  These didn’t make it into production when I was designing, so we have a bunch leftover that get put into our boy’s things.

Dana from MADE did a great post about the labels she uses, which I love and are super popular (and great-looking).

The company she uses, ClothingLabels4U, allows you to upload art and logos and get super fancy, if you want.  I love their options for fabrication and colors, and while they’re a little pricier than some of the other options, they are crazy professional and cool.

You can also have someone make your labels on a small scale–some folks will even develop a logo or art for you prior to printing.  Check out all the options for custom clothing labels on Etsy (like the ones above, from Inked Papers).  I like these twill tape ones especially because they’re great for lots of projects–from clothing to knitting to crochet, even quilts.  And because they’re made in smaller batches, you could customize your labels based on what kind of project and just how much info you want on each one.

Allison Hill has put together a great tutorial for those of us who want to make our labels ourselves, using computer-generated text or art.  Hers (above) is a variation on a simple freezer paper technique.

Simply iron pre-washed and pre-treated muslin or Kona cotton (pre-treat with a product that will make home printer ink permanent, like Bubble Jet Set) to a piece of freezer paper.  Cut to 8.5″ x 11″ and iron to bond the fabric to the paper.

The paper makes a stable base so that the fabric can now be sent through your basic desktop ink jet printer!  Since the fabric has been pre-washed, it won’t shrink, and pre-treated, the ink won’t bleed (but read Alison’s notes on the post linked above regarding the quality of your ink and the importance of washing your tags before adding them to your treasures).  Easy!  The super great thing about this technique is that if you enjoy making graphics on your desktop, you can translate them directly to your tags.  You also have total control over the size and dimensions of your labels, which is great for unusually-shaped projects, or larger ones like handbags or quilts.

Want to make your own tags without the computer, and go totally handmade?

Image via Ivy Designs

Check out the tutorial on Dollar Store Crafts from Obsessively Stitching (the results are pictured at the top of this post).  A quick and very cool way to create tags–and one that, might I point out, could easily be done as a group activity with the kids.  Our oldest has always wanted to sew enough things to take to a craft fair at her school–she really would feel motivated if she had her very own, handmade labels to put on them!

Image via Lemon Tree Tales

Quilts are a special case, and really the reason I put this whole post together: I’m finishing up the binding on our boy’s quilt, and I know it’s not one he’ll have on his bed forever.  I mean, I lovelovelove it, and I think he will, too, but really: it’s animals and letters, and I don’t see him hanging out with his friends in junior high with this particular quilt on his bed.  I do want him to know why I worked so hard on it, and hope that he’ll hang onto it to pass on to his own children, and that they’ll care that Grandma made it by hand.

I used the freezer paper technique above to make this quick label.  You can also easily add fusible webbing (like Heat-N-Bond or WonderUnder) to a piece of Kona or muslin, create a tag with a Sharpie, and fuse or whipstitch it on to the back of the quilt.  I love the idea of adding details about the creation of the piece–ever since I saw a yo-yo quilt at a flea market where the maker had added her name, city, and the range of dates when she made the quilt (“Took 2 years to sew these yo-yos, 1936”).  I loved the extra heart wrapped up in that tag, and want to imbue my own sewing with that love.  See these tips for quilt labeling, and even download templates and outlines you can use to make your own.

I know it seems like a small thing, and by the time I’m done sewing, I’m always SO ready to be done so I can go play with my new things–be they knit, sewn, or quilted.  But adding a tag can make a world of memories.  You’ll thank me later.

Quest for the Perfect Pants

In a startling departure from our usual Thursday Sewing with Kids, I’ve been spending the bulk of my week sewing FOR my kids.  And today, I’ve been refining my Perfect Pants pattern.  It’s hard to know just what to look for, where to trim and where to expand–I mean, do I want a narrower leg? a wider hem? a lower rise? pockets?  These particular pants are for our boy, but something in me has me convinced that there is a universal Perfect Pant that looks good on everyone and that translates to all sizes.  I am on the hunt for such a pant.

So tell me: what do YOU look for in a pant?  What makes the difference between your favorite pair–for yourself or your loved ones (my husband has a pair of jeans that I’ve been known to request frequently)–and all the others that just don’t quite measure up??

Historic Textiles: Middleton Place, Charleston, SC

As the last stop on our weekend in Charleston, we visited historic Middleton Place, a pre-Civil War era plantation on the outskirts of town.  My husband and I were both raised going to historic mansions and museums, so for us this was a ton of fun–plus, his parents lived near here for a few years when they were first married, so it was nice to shoot some photos of the kids there to give to them.  We got lucky and were there for Plantation Days: costumed interpreters all over the plantation doing tasks that were performed on the site over the past 300 years.

Obviously, I loved the weaving room the best.  All the work areas are located off the stableyards, and must have been desperately hot in the summers–we were able to enjoy them in gorgeous, sunny 76-degree weather, but we asked the historic interpreter what it’s like in the summer.  “Brutal,” she told us, very shortly and to the point.  She said that there are folks every summer who ask why she doesn’t have a fan out in the weaving room to keep her cool, but that she doesn’t feel it’s fair to the women who worked there 300 years ago–she feels it honors their memory to allow visitors to see what it really felt like, even for a few minutes, and make their lives that much more real.  I loved that perspective.

The other surprise I had was in talking to the gentleman making candles–it’s not as though I’ve never seen these tasks performed, and I’ve done a bunch of them myself, but he said one thing that made me really absorb it all more deeply: just in passing, he mentioned that when candlemakers were ready to render the animal fat and make their tallow candles, they’d go over to the weaver and “put in an order for some wicks…”  He kept talking, but those words really sunk in with me.  It had never really clicked for me that these folks had to make EVERYTHING they used in their daily lives–no running to the craft shop or ordering online to arrive at your doorstep.  It was a whole other window into what homesteading must have been like, what a huge gamble to come over from another continent, what a cost to travel across this one, and how for all manner of people in all walks of life, their day-to-day was fundamentally different than what we experience today, on the most basic level.  It was a really cool moment for me, and made me take in each piece of history we saw that day more deeply.

I get a little preachy sometimes, I think, when I talk about what a huge connection sewing is to the past, and how I believe that makes it valuable in and of itself–but also how I believe it’s good for us, therapeutic for us, meaningful for us to pursue.  See all these stages of cloth production–from cotton fresh-picked to carded to spun and loomed to dyed and woven–made it very real to me that we’re super spoiled and have so much to be grateful for when we sit down at our machines.  Imagine making an entire garment for yourself BY HAND.  And then imagine the cost involved when you have to make every bit of every stage.  Makes more sense that you’d have a MUCH smaller wardrobe.  It’s thoughts like these that remind me why I want to sew for my family: I want to be part of that process that makes a connection to the past and to the future, that invests my time and effort into something that has intrinsic value and that offers me a reward not just in the product but in the process.

Hoping that you’re putting some history in your sewing today!

Search for the Perfect Dress Form

As any woman who has ever had a baby can tell you, our bodies are not rubber bands, and they don’t bounce back right away. It’s almost funny (almost) how many men seem to really think that: enter hospital pregnant, have baby, leave hospital in pre-pregnancy clothes. If only.

Five months ago, we brought home our fourth baby.  And five months later, I’m still not wearing my pre-pregnancy size.  It’s not that I think I’m fat–mostly, I’m struggling to fit into clothes that I really like, and I feel super bummed that nothing in my closet flatters me right now.  I know that all those fashion reality shows tell us to buy clothes for the body we have today and not the body we hope to have when we’ve lost the weight we’re planning to lose–and I think the philosophy is sound, that we’ll be more motivated to watch what we eat and exercise if we feel pretty and confident in our clothes–but if you sew your own clothing, that’s sort of a huge commitment, making a whole new temporary wardrobe.  Not to mention that I’ve hoarded some of these fabrics forever, and I’d rather not use them up on things that may or may not fit me a year from now.

So right now, I’ve been working with a lot of knits, things that I have some hope of fitting into now and that will fit me again later, after nursing is done and I’ve had a chance to get running again.  But I kinda feel as though I’m not using my time wisely: I could totally be working on long-term projects that will be investment pieces later, especially with all the fabulous wools I’ve got stashed away and fall coming fast.  If only I had a double of me, a copy of my body the way it was/will be, someone to model the projects I’m sewing when I can’t…

Enter: the Dress Form.  I think for a lot of folks who are new to sewing, this can seem like the official Badge of Sewmanship, the iconic piece of equipment that marks you as One Who Sews.  For me, it’s more like the Holy Grail, and I’ve been wanting to get one for aaaages.  But never quite knew which one to get.  I’ve done the Duct Tape Dress Dummy before, but it was killed in the Great Flood that ate my basement, and I think if I’m going to the trouble, I’ll just pop for the real deal this time.

So today, a round-up of the candidates as I narrow down my search and get ready to commit to a dress form.  Because I have big plans, I tell you, and I want the right lady friend to put them on.

  • Rae inspired me to look at Uniquely You, a dress form I’d heard of previously and whose adaptable sizing makes it my front-runner.  It’s a foam form that comes with a heavy-duty cover that you stitch to your exact measurements, making it totally personalizable.
  • Amanda of Amanda’s Adventures in Sewing put out a call to ask for advice and got this link back from her readers: Andy’s Dress Forms. I’m pretty sure this is the one we see in all her posts, and while it wasn’t cheap, it looks to be a very high quality custom dress form.  I also really like that these are available in a number of body types, and don’t assume we’re all shaped the same.
  • PMG Dress Form has professional-quality dress forms like we see on Project Runway–they’re also pricey, but they’re amazing and look just like what we’d hope to have and show off.  Plus, if you give up sewing, you can use it as decor, they’re so pretty.
  • Threads and Sew Stylish magazines recommend the Fabulous Fit form, which comes in all number of configurations and is also of professional quality.  I don’t know much about these, but can certainly see the appeal of a form that fits both tops/dresses and pants.
  • If you’d prefer an adjustable form, the go-to brand has always been Dritz.  These allow you to adjust bust, waist, and hip independently and are invaluable if you have or are losing a lot of weight and want to continue to sew through that transition.
  • Singer also makes an adjustable form that’s similar in style and quality to the Dritz.
  • And finally, if you happen to have piles of change burning a hole in your pocket, most folks agree that Wolf forms are the tops in the industry.  I’m not sure what puts them at double the price point, but I have it on good authority from those who have one that they’re worth the extra dough.

On the whole, these dress forms range from $99 up to $750, with most falling in the $200-$300 range.  It’s almost certainly a birthday/Christmas/Valentine’s Day combo gift for most of us–the kind of thing that you swear up and down if you get it you won’t expect a single other present the WHOLE YEAR.  And you mean it.

For myself, I’m still on the fence.  I think I’d like to lose the ten-ish pounds I’m still feeling not that great about, and then spring for one of these bad boys.  Until then, I’m enjoying some window shopping, and imagining how much more productive I’ll be once I have my very own double in the studio.


I have a bucket of mending.  It sits on a low shelf, just a cardboard Ikea box where I collect the projects that my family need done: a shirt with a lost button, a hem that’s come loose, a pair of pants that need letting out, a tear in a favorite dress.

I hardly ever touch this bucket.

I think about it sometimes–but not hard.  It just sits in its little Ikea cubby, ready for The Day when I’ll want and have time to mend.  This is an easily procrastinated task, and I’m 98% certain I’m not telling you something you don’t know.

So I started thinking, as I was putting pockets on a skirt this morning–a quick job, an easy job, a brain-on-auto-pilot job–why did I choose to spend my time putting on pockets this morning, and not doing some mending?  Why don’t I ever feel as though I want to do mending?  Is it that it doesn’t seem like sewing?  Because mending is one of those sewing skills that seem to impress strangers (as in the conversation: “You sew?  Really?  You mean you could put buttons back on all my shirts and stuff?”).  Is it that it seems like drudgery and that it’s outdated?  Because last I checked, buttons have been falling off since buttons were invented, so I’m not really sure how it could have become outdated.

Which led me, in the meandering way of auto-pilot thoughts, to Robert Frost.  Most of us were expected to read “Mending Wall” when we were in school.  Whether we did or not is another story, but it holds up well over time.  (The work of Poets Laureate so often does.)  I wondered if his mending and my mending were the same mending.  So I Googled (God bless ’em) and re-read the poem for the first time in a long time.  It’s a poem about two neighbors, one who thinks the wall between their tree-covered, cow-free properties is old-fashioned and needless, laughing at his neighbor for continuing to build it out of habit; and one who argues that “Good fences make good neighbors,” and values the act regardless of whether livestock are involved.  The two meet every spring to mend the breaks in their stone fence that appear at the end of a long season of ice and snow.

When I was younger, I thought this whole poem was pretty dumb.  I mean, it seemed so obvious that the guy who keeps saying, “Good fences make good neighbors!” was wrong, and that it was time to Move On.  Reading it now, though, I see that it was actually the other dude who called him to mend the wall in the first place, who complained about the big holes hunters left in it when they were going after game.  I thought I understood Frost’s point in the poem, that doing things year after year when the usefulness of the task has passed is wasteful and foolish.  It struck me this morning that in Frost’s poem, the wall is built not just out of rote tradition, but because both men enjoy the camaraderie and the community of putting the wall back together, stone by stone.  And that maybe Frost is giving us two perspectives in the poem–that the other side of the argument is not that building a fence makes good neighbors because it keeps the other guy out, but that mending makes good neighbors because it brings the two together in a shared moment, a joint and familiar task that makes for joined and familiar neighbors, the core of any community.  As I mend my family’s things, I feel the same sense of one-stitch-at-a-time satisfaction, of a return to the familiar, of placing needle and thread in a moment and pulling it more tightly about us all.  Mending may seem old-fashioned and outdated, creating walls where there need be none–why spend your time mending, when you could so easily toss and buy new?  But I think today that mending is bringing past to present, is placing value on memory and looking forward to usefulness.  Rather than drudgery, it is an excuse to sit quietly and patiently, to translate the meaning of the act to my children as a commitment to them and to the little bits of daily life that add up to a Life, add up to family.  Mending is trust that a task will be performed, it is devotion in performing it, and it is resuscitating those things that appeared lost and unused.  Like a velveteen rabbit, things that are mended are stitched with careful love and made more real.

Maybe today is The Day, after all.