Busy as a bee

My sewing has suffered over the past two months, but I’ve been quite productive nonetheless. And I managed to spend my clothing budget on shoes, so now I need to sew…

Here’s a quick overview of a few of the things I’ve been occupied with.

I made napkins! Not that they were very challenging, but they’re polka dot napkins, so they’re super awesome. And check out those mitered corners!


Napkins are incredibly boring to make, so I’ve only made two of the four I cut out. One of these days I’ll need a tedious task and I’ll get to the other two.

I’ve started a stole!


Okay, so I’m not very far. And after rolling this lovely mohair into a ball I was told that this is very, very bad for the yarn. Fortunately one of my sisters is a master knitter and she explained how you can actually recover mohair from foolish mistakes like this. Obviously I haven’t acted on her advice yet, but I will. I believe the pattern I’m using is from 1952. It’s a crochet pattern, not because I’m afraid of knitting, but because it was the one that looked like it would work the best with this yarn. And even better: the pattern is named the “Donna” and I picked it out at a craft night with my girlfriends, one of whom is named Donna! I was clearly meant to make this pattern.

I have been working on a skirt for a few weeks, but stalled once I decided it really needs a lining. You’d think that would be easy to do, but cutting out the lining fabric seems like an incredible chore. Here’s where it’s at (sans lining). The fabric kept feeling very familiar, and I finally realized the other day that it reminds me of a couch my parents had when I was a kid. I’m not sure what to make of that.


One of the more exciting events of the past few months was that I finally found a pattern I’ve wanted for over a year.


I’m VERY excited about making this dress.

And, of course, I’ve been making lotion.


This is the first batch I’ve made using cocoa butter, and I love it. As you can see, I really like vanilla.

The dogs have not been neglected…


Unfortunately Jasper has learned to destroy toys from Maisie, so he’s only allowed to play with these under supervision. At least eating small bits of fleece doesn’t seem to have caused him any problems…he failed to notice that Maisie destroys things but doesn’t eat them.

And last, I published a small short story collection.


That might not seem like a lot of work, but it really was. I had a pretty good idea of what I wanted the cover to look like, so I designed it myself. It was fun to do, but it took forever.

The bulk of my free time right now is spent either with the dogs or working on my second novel. I’m going to try to finish the skirt soon, but we’ve had record cold weather, so I’m really tempted to make another pair of flannel pajama bottoms…

Cotton voile skirt – New Look 6155

I made a skirt!

2013-09-28 cotton voile skirt

I actually made this back in July, but failed to get a single photo of it until today. It’s view B from Simplicity 2368.
Simplicity 2368

This skirt is the easiest piece of clothing I’ve ever sewn. The waistband is super simple – it’s just a folded over strip that you thread elastic through.


The two layers of the skirt are the same except that the bottom layer is a little longer than the top. Each layer has a narrow hem.


The fabric is super cute. I purchased it in from fabric.com last year, and when it arrived I realized I had no idea what to do with it. My original plan was to make a dress, but the orange flowers and sequins became a little overwhelming with that much surface area. I would pull it out and admire it occasionally, and assumed that’s what I’d do forever until I ran across Simplicity 2368. The fabric is light and airy so it works very well with this pattern. Plus it’s a little see-through, so making a two layer skirt meant I didn’t need to make a lining.


I love this skirt – it’s so light and summery! Of course, that means I won’t be wearing it much longer. If I can find the right fabric I’ll make a fall version, but in the meantime I’m working on my first wool skirt.

It’s been a busy few months, so I’m behind on my sewing projects. Maisie was at the vet for five nights and had surgery – she’s fine now, but that was very scary. I finished the first draft of my next book, which was exciting but a lot of work. And, of course, there was the flood. Our house was fine – we were very fortunate. We have friends who lost their homes, and friends who still have water coming in to their basements. The amount of devastation is amazing. Here’s a look at one of the local trails – a mudslide carrying huge boulders and tree trunks is blocking what used to be a simple dirt road up the valley.


I did get to help out Rudy, a flood victim who shared my office one afternoon after being evacuated. He’s back home now and everyone at work misses him. :)

2013-09-16 Rudy

And yet another flower! Simplicity 1601 – view G

Today’s flower is the easiest one yet – view G from Simplicity 1601, designed by Andrea Schewe.

Simplicity 1601 front

I used some light cotton fabric that was left over from the 1963 shift dress I made last summer.

The petals of this flower consist of five squares with rounded edges. Each square is folded in half, then you gather all five sections using one piece of thread.

2013-08-11 gathering petals

Gathering the petals was very easy. View A and D were a little more work because they involve gathering two or three sections of fabric, then all of those gathered chunks must be hand sewn together. View G was much less work because there was only the one layer of petals to gather.

2013-08-11 gathering all five petals

The petals have a lovely curve.


The next step is to gather a circle of fabric around a button for the flower center. This is the same as for views C and D, except the button is a little larger.


The final step is to sew the covered button to the gathered petals. This is pretty easy, but next time I’d tighten up the gathered petals first. I looked at them beforehand and felt they were pretty tight, but when I sewed the button to the petals there were a few places where I had to add extra stitches in order to hide all of the gathers underneath the button.

I still don’t have green felt, so there are no leaves on this flower…the black felt didn’t seem appropriate. I had planned on getting some during the week, but we had a little too much excitement – Maisie spent five nights at the vet and had surgery. She’s back home and recovering extremely quickly, but it was a long and stressful week for everyone.

Even without leaves, the flower is super cute!!!

2013-08-11 the finished flower!
Maisie was completely uninterested in flower-making, but she did want to play with her ball, which made us very, very happy after such a scary week. She’s in the background here, since Jasper stole the ball (she’s not yet allowed to play with it anyway).

2013-08-11 Maisie and Jasper

Simplicity 1601 – Tote bag with flowers

Since I made my Christmas tote bag last fall, I’ve been wanting to make another bag – but I wanted to add something decorative. Andrea’s flower pattern, Simplicity 1601, provided lots of fun flower choices. I loved the pink gingham flower I made a few weeks ago so I decided to go with that version. I had some cotton fabric I purchased last fall during my apron-making spree, and came up with a plan for the bag and three flowers to sew on the outside of the bag.

The pattern calls for not sewing the edge of the fabric on the bottom of the flower (the part that attaches to the felt base), but I decided to sew this for two reasons. First, because I thought rough edges might be too visible on a bag, and second because the gingham flower was wider than I wanted this time around (since I wanted to attach three flowers instead of just one).

I started off by sewing the edges of the flowers except for a small hole, then I turned them right-side out and pinned them in place. Because I was stitching the gather (which I did by hand…this time…), it wasn’t necessary to finish off the unstitched portion. After the gingham flower, pinning these together was super easy – which was good, because with three flowers I had to pin/gather six separate rosettes.

2013-07-28 pinned flower
Gathering the flower by hand turned out to be pretty easy. I did end up breaking the thread a few times, but it was pretty easy to recover from. I think you could avoid that by either using two gather threads instead of one, or by making larger stitches.

2013-07-28 gathering a flower

I didn’t follow a pattern for the bag, which could imply something about my skill level, but really indicates a complete lack of patience. I went back to see what measurements I’d used for my Christmas tote bag, then looked at that bag and decided it was taller and narrower than what I had envisioned for this version. I went with the following measurements.

main fabric

exterior and interior: 16″ x 17″ on the fold

contrast fabric

straps: 3″ x 27″
interior pocket: 6″ x 6″

I changed the size of the pocket at the last minute because I realized I’d changed the width of the bag (to roughly 9″) and the pocket I’d cut out was much too large.

2013-07-28 pocket

I didn’t realize I was going to change the depth of the bag until I eyeballed it when I went to sew the bottom seams. My last bag was 3″ deep, but this one is 5″ deep.

2013-07-28 sewing the base

This time I put a layer of interfacing on the inside of the bag to make it a little sturdier. Next time I’ll do the same for the straps – I didn’t think of doing that until I’d already sewn them.

I laid out the flowers on the bag to figure out how they should be arranged.

2013-07-28 before sewing flowers

Since I had three flowers to attach right next to one another, I decided to sew one large felt base instead of three separate bases.

2013-07-28 before sewing the felt base

Sewing the felt base on was not too much work.

2013-07-28 sewing felt base

However, sewing the base on meant that the flowers were secured together on the bottom – I needed to do extra stitching on the top to make sure they stayed close together.

2013-07-28 tightening up the flowers

Maisie kept me company.

2013-07-28 Maisie

I then sewed the flowers to the bag and was very happy! But as you can see, I made one tiny mistake…

2013-07-28 oops

Oops!!! Fortunately it was easily fixed.

2013-08-03 finished bag

And here’s a close up of the flowers. They turned out beautifully!

2013-08-03 flowers!!!

Simplicity 1601 – Pink and black flower

My latest flower for Andrea Schewe‘s pattern test is view D.

Simplicity 1601 front

This flower consists of three gathered strips sewn together. Gathering these was super easy – and this time I used my machine and that’s what the pattern instructions called for!

2013-07-19 flower pieces

The one thing I’ve found a little confusing so far is how many stitches to make when gathering. For view A, the illustration made it look like I was to sew one gathering stitch, but for view D it looked like I was supposed to sew two. So I did, and I’m going to assume that going by the illustration is the thing to do – but since I’m “testing” the pattern I’m trying to think about what might be unclear to someone else.

The most alarming thing about this flower was that it made it brutally obvious just how few fabric scraps I have. And here I’ve been thinking I had too many! I had to find four fabrics that went together well, and boy was that a challenge. Never again will I feel guilty about keeping a tiny scrap!

The three strips are of different widths and lengths. After they’re gathered, you sew them together to make the petals of the flower.

2013-07-19 flower petals

The center of the flower is a button with a tiny circle of fabric sewn over top. This was quite interesting. When I first looked at the pattern I assumed that this was a fabric-covered button. I don’t have any at the moment, and while I’ve got everything to cover buttons, I’ve never tried it – so I wasn’t quite sure what I’d do when I got to this point. It turns out that I had worried needlessly! Andrea’s pattern calls for you to wrap a circle of fabric around a button, then gather the fabric around the button.

2013-07-19 flower center

After camouflaging the button, you stitch it to the petals.

2013-07-20 flower petals and center

Next you add a base to the back of the flower, plus leaves. Both are felt. Apparently I never bought green felt during my Christmas holiday craft phase years ago (although I have a zillion jingle bells left), but I did have black (from my Halloween craft phase). Since this flower has so much black in it, I thought I’d give black leaves a try.

2013-07-20 leaves and base

The colors may be a bit non-traditional, but I quite like the black leaves.

2013-07-20 view D - complete!

The funny bulge in the pink petal section is because I didn’t sew that section to the other two petal pieces well. This part is all hand sewing, and you’re stitching through three layers of gathered fabric, so it’s easy to miss a chunk if you’re not careful. I think I was focusing more on the outer and inner petals, and missed a section of the middle. It’s stitched in now, but it would look better if I’d noticed this sooner.

The one thing I wasn’t sure how to do was fray the ends of the fabric. The pattern says to place the lower end of the pattern piece on the cross-grain torn edge of the fabric. I didn’t read this until I’d already started gathering – which is totally my fault, not Andrea’s. This instruction is in the right place – I just have a (bad!) tendency to jump around with pattern instructions, and I skipped over this one at first. Andrea shows how to do this correctly in her tutorial for views C and D.

I’d also like to try this in other fabrics. In Andrea’s tutorial she made some petals from burlap, and I really like how they turned out.

My next flower is view A again, but I’m going to do something a little different with it than last time. I’m excited – I really hope this turns out well!

The dogs were too sleepy to be in any photos today because we went on a long hike this morning, but as you can see they were very, very happy.

2013-07-20 hiking in the Flatirons

Simplicity 1601 – Pink gingham flower

I’ve made my first flower for my first ever pattern test!

Andrea Schewe designed this pattern for Simplicity, and I’m very excited to be one of her pattern testers!

Simplicity 1601 front

Let’s be clear, though…Andrea asked for volunteers. I was not selected based on any skill other than I responded to her request on her blog post. :)

I decided to start with view A, but found myself baffled by the pattern.

2013-07-13 Simplicity 1601 pattern

It’s been close to 20 years since I followed a craft pattern, and the pieces are all so small! That may explain why I was confused by all the boxes required on piece #1. After a minute of staring at it, I realized that this was total user error…there are four boxes because you have to cut out four squares. I’ve gotten so used to working with tracing paper over the past year that cutting fabric out this way didn’t even occur to me.

After recovering, I traced one square for piece #1 (the outer flower portion) and one for piece #2 (the inner flower portion), then cut out my fabric.

2013-07-13 cut squares

I’d like to use flowers from this pattern to decorate a few things – a bag, a top, a skirt – but I couldn’t visualize how view A would work in a patterned fabric, so I decided to start with one. I had some seersucker gingham leftover from a dress I may or may not finish this summer, and it seemed like a happy fabric choice.

2013-07-14 outer flower

The pattern calls for laying out the squares, then hand gathering them. I decided to use my sewing machine instead.

2013-07-14 gathering the inner flower

After struggling with the thread and hoping that the ends of the seersucker didn’t fray too much, I ended up with a gathered outer flower.

2013-07-14 gathered outer flower

After gathering both the outer and inner flower pieces, they looked like this. Aren’t they cute already?


Once both pieces are done, you sew the inner flower inside the outer. You could glue it, but I sewed mine because I ultimately want to use this on something that will be washable.

2013-07-14 finished flower

The pattern calls for two additional things which I decided not to do: add ribbons to the center of the flower for the stamen, and add leaves to the base of the flower. I was going to add the ribbons, but I was so enamored with the flower as-is that I decided to leave it be. Before starting, I’d decided to not do the leaves because what I’d like to do with this view is sew it in clusters on a bag or skirt, and the leaves didn’t seem to fit with the vision in my head.

I really love this flower. It’s super cute, and the gingham was perfect!

The only thing I would do differently next time is finish the edges, and that’s only because I’d like to sew these on to something else. That’s probably not the use Andrea had envisioned, but I think this pattern will work fantastically well for what I need. I’ve been wanting to do something like this ever since I accidentally bleached one of my favorite tops that had flowers around the neckline. (The top was white, but the flowers were in a different fabric and are now more of a taupe…oops.) I also might try scaling the pattern down and making this in a smaller size.

I have fabric cut out for another view, and am looking forward to seeing how that one turns out!

2013-07-14 Jasper and the flower

New Look 6155 – Blue Liberty of London skirt

My first experience with Liberty of London fabric was so wonderful I’m now having to fight the urge to buy more and more and more!

Fortunately it’s so pricey that I have yet to talk myself into spending the money…but it’s really just a matter of time before I cave.

I purchased this lovely print from Fabric.com last fall:

Liberty of London Tana Lawn Mauvey Blue

I had a coupon for 30% off. The (pre-coupon) list price was $32.98, which is low compared to what I’ve seen this fabric go for elsewhere. I’m keeping my eyes peeled for more coupons!!!

I was originally going to make a blouse, then got on a skirt kick and this fabric seemed perfect. Here’s the result.

Jasper and New Look 6155

Jasper has shown little interest in sewing, and is really only in the photo because he thought I had his squeaky tennis ball. Maisie has taken over the role of sewing companion, but she didn’t want to leave her shady spot under the table on the patio, so she missed out on today’s photo shoot.

I made version B of New Look 6155. I was going to add the decorative waistband loop the pattern calls for, then changed my mind and made it loop-free.

2013-07-06 New Look 6155 waistband

I only have two issues with this skirt. The first is that I must have made the hem shorter than the pattern called for, because this is what the slit in the back looks like:

2013-07-06 New Look 6155 back slit

It seems a bit…silly. I’m going to either lengthen the slit or remove it entirely, I haven’t decided which.

The second problem is that the skirt is too large. Conveniently, I’m a little large right now too, but at some point this is going to become a problem. I even went back and checked the pattern to see if I’d mistakenly cut out the wrong size, but I hadn’t. I had cut out a size 12, which the pattern claims has a waist measurement of 26 1/2″ and hips of 36″. Clearly this is not the case – I’m going to have to take in both the waist and hips by at least an inch. I do like the pattern, so I’m going to make another version in a size 10, and then adjust this skirt based on how well that goes.

I’ve been extra busy for the past few months – my goal was to finish the first draft of my current novel before doing much else. I’m close to two-thirds of the way through the first draft, but it’s going a little more slowly than I expected, so I’ve been doing a little more sewing lately. Which is probably what I should have done in the first place. Sewing is a fun – and productive! – break from writing. I’ve finished a few more sewing projects, but I’ll hold off on posting about them because I’m about to embark on something new and exciting…pattern testing!

I’m testing this fun pattern:

Simplicity 1601 front

It was developed by Andrea Schewe for Simplicity. Andrea has designed patterns for years, and I’m thrilled to have the opportunity to test out one of her patterns. She has posted tutorials on making these flowers on her blog.

Flower photos coming soon!

Lotion: batch #8

I learned how to make lotion last fall. My friend Julie had taken a lotion-making class and offered to teach a group of us. We were all somewhat intimidated but, fortified by a few glasses of wine, we bravely followed Julie’s instructions.

It turns out that making lotion is ridiculously easy.

I have a few friends who are interested in making lotion, but are a bit nervous, so I took photos last weekend to show just how simple this really is. One caveat: I’ve only made eight batches on my own, so I’m still learning about the different oils and such. Which is actually quite fun, I just can’t remember the properties of each. Every batch of lotion is a fun new experiment.

The basic ingredients are oils, waters, and emulsifiers. Oils are things like jojoba oil, avocado oil, etc. Waters include the obvious water (although it must be distilled water) as well as hydrosols, which are created from the water that remains after the distillation process that produces an essential oil. They look like water but have the scent of whatever essential oil was being distilled. An emulsifier helps form and stabilize the emulsion (i.e. lotion).

I’m using emulsifying wax, which looks like this.


I start my lotion by measuring the three ingredients into two Pyrex measuring cups. The oils and emulsifiers go in the same cup.


As you can see by the number on my scale, it’s okay to be a little off as long as your percentages are reasonably accurate. Here are the guidelines I’m following:


  • 20% oil
  • 70% water
  • 10% emulsifier


  • 30% oil
  • 60% water
  • 10% emulsifier

I’ve mostly made creams so far because it’s pretty dry in Colorado, especially in the winter, but I’m starting to experiment with more lotion-like percentages.

Once you have your ingredients measured out and happily in your Pyrex cups, you put them in a water bath. I start heating up the water before I start measuring. I have an elliptical pot that works perfectly.


For this particular batch, my ingredients were:


  • 30g jojoba oil
  • 30g kukui nut oil
  • 6g vitamin E oil


  • 25g emulsifying wax
  • 5g stearic acid


  • 100g distilled water
  • 41g lavender hydrosol
  • 39g rose hydrosol

The water should be just barely bubbling – you don’t want it boiling like mad. Both containers should be brought to 150 degrees Fahrenheit, then kept there for 20 minutes to break down the bonds between the oils, emulsifiers, and water.


After the 20 minutes, pull both jars out of the water bath, make sure they’re within 5 degrees of each other, then pour the water ingredients into the oil/emulsifier ingredients…and voilà! Emulsification!


That’s the after picture because I couldn’t figure out how to pour and take a photo at the same time. The next step is to blend them together. I use a hand blender, and I managed to take one reasonably okay photo of this step.


Once you feel happy with the mixing, you can pour the liquid into your containers. I don’t spend very much time mixing – it seems to just take a little bit.


When the lotion is around 110-120 degrees you can add additional ingredients. I’ve only added essential oils, but you could also add preservatives, mica (to make it sparkly), and probably other things as well.


I usually add the oils and make my labels (so I don’t forget what I used), then stir. Here is a photo before stirring. The brown in the first two jars is vanilla oil – it looks and smells like vanilla extract. Once the lotion is at room temperature, you can put the lids on. You can also use cuter labels – mine are pretty bare bones, as you can see.

And that’s it! It really is easy!!!

McCall’s 7233: Gray dress w/white flowers

It took almost a year, but I’m finally done with McCall’s 7233!


This was one of the first projects I started last year when I got back into sewing after a gazillion years away. I hadn’t yet discovered tracing paper, so I actually cut the pattern pieces. (Oh, the guilt!) This was also one of my first experiences with quilting cotton. I love the print, but it does tend to wrinkle easily.

The pattern was very easy to follow, but there were a few steps that weren’t described, like how to deal with the inside of the neckline. The hardest part, though, was finding buttons to match the fabric. I searched for several months, and even bought my first batch of vintage buttons on Etsy, only to find they didn’t go with the fabric after all. That did lead to me discovering the wonderful world of vintage buttons…let’s just say that wasn’t my last vintage button purchase.

I finally found these at Joann Fabrics:


They’re a perfect match for the fabric!

The pattern called for bound buttonholes, but I decided I couldn’t be bothered with all that work. Besides, I had only made a few buttonholes with my spiffy new Janome, and I wanted to make more. It’s super cool to watch your sewing machine make buttonholes without you doing a single thing. I actually am looking forward to making bound buttonholes another time, but I may wait until I’m a little less fascinated with watching the Janome.

The most helpful thing I learned from this pattern was about what back darts do. When I sewed them I was reading The Complete Photo Guide to Perfect Fitting, and it was really neat to see how what I was reading about worked in real life. Obviously this was not anything crazy – back darts are pretty basic – but having what I was reading coincide with what I was sewing was very helpful. If I make this dress again I’ll fiddle with the darts to see if I can improve the fit. I’ll also iron it before I take pictures…


The biggest issue I had was the fit of the bodice at the neckline. I tried on the dress before sewing the buttonholes and buttons, and I thought it fit correctly. I was wrong. The neck was much too wide. I ended up moving the top two buttons to take in some of the space. I had already sewn the buttonholes so I was constrained on that side. It’s closer now, but it could be a little better.

The other thing I found is that the dress moves and wrinkles in weird ways. Some of that is the fabric, since it’s a heavier cotton, but some is the cut. For example, look at this photo.


The weirdest wrinkle looks like it’s at my waist, but it’s really 3-4 inches below my waist. I may try moving the bottom buttons around to see if I can improve this. My theory is that the dress should be a little wider at that point – or at least it should with this fabric. I think a less stiff fabric wouldn’t act the same way.

The dogs were, of course, a big help with the whole process.


My novel is out now, so I finally have more time to sew, and I’m filled with the enthusiasm spring brings – so I’ll be posting about my next project soon. It’s my first experience with Liberty of London lawn, and oh! do I love this fabric!!!

Jasper – my new sewing buddy

Losing Lucy, my furry little sewing buddy, hit me really hard. I actually put away all of my sewing things – except for the four sewing machines, since there’s nowhere for them to go. (Our house has a strange lack of closet space.) I figured taking a little bit of time off would be okay, and besides, it’s hard to sew when you’re crying.

We recently celebrated what would have been Lucy’s 7th birthday, and that night I dreamed about sewing, so I’m getting back in the groove. And I new have a new helper: Jasper!

2013-02-09 Sanitas

Jasper is the fluffy black and white guy – Maisie is behind him.

We adopted Jasper from the Nebraska Border Collie Rescue group. Not only were we sad and lonely without Lucy, our other dog Maisie was sad and lonely, so I looked around and found the little guy. My wonderful friend Kristin went with me on the journey to meet Jasper and bring him home. It was eight hours each way, through an awful lot of uninteresting scenery – unless you like looking at cornfields while your car is being buffeted by the wind. Jasper had been at a humane society for seven months, then in a foster home for about two months, so the poor little guy was without a real home for most of the last year. He’s smart and sweet and cuddly – and he loves lying next to me while I sew or write. He’d rather we played ball 24×7, but sewing is a good second choice for him.

I’m excited to be getting back in the swing of things, especially since I found a pattern I’ve been looking for since last spring:


Isn’t it fantastic? I fell in love with it when I first started looking at vintage patterns last year, and I put in a bid on eBay, but since it was my first eBay experience I didn’t know what I was doing and I lost it by a quarter. Even worse, I bid $2.25, the pattern went for $2.50, and after that I couldn’t find it for anything less than $60!!! A few weeks ago it popped up and I managed to get it for a whopping $5.50. Oh, happy day! I’m super excited about making it!

2013-01-29 Boulder Valley Ranch

I miss Lucy very much, but I’m glad to be back at it again, and I’m looking forward to many years of sewing with my fluffy new helper.