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…

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

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!!!

A ghost from my Christmas past

A few years my parents moved back to Colorado and hosted Christmas. That year my mom had put up three Christmas trees. Yes, I did say three, which should tell you something about what her house turns into at the holidays. Every room is decorated; sometimes one of the bathrooms will have its very own miniature tree. It’s both alarming and impressive.

I hadn’t been to their house for the holidays for a number of years, so when I ran across this little guy I wasn’t surprised by the fact that he looked familiar.

At first I thought perhaps I’d seen him in years gone by. Then it occurred to me that maybe I’d bought him and given him to my parents one year. And then I realized…

I’d made him!!!!!

Coincidentally, he’s made from the same fabric I used for my Christmas tote some 18 or so years later.

I didn’t find anything new at their house this year, but I know my long ago holiday craft phase involved more than making one Santa, so it’s just a matter of time before something else pops up…