Sewn Gifts for Little Heart Warriors

Because our LO was born with a congenital heart defect, we have spent a lot of time in hospitals both here at UVA and Boston Children’s Hospital (BCH).  Over the last year, we have met so many amazing heart parents that are giving everything they have to support and love their little heart warriors.  And the kids?  They are some of the strongest fighters I have ever seen.  These families are the definition of courage and grace.  So, as the holiday season approached, I knew that I wanted to try and do something that might bring a little joy to all of the BCH and UVA families that will be spending it in the hospital.  Unfortunately, illnesses don’t observe holidays.  And DH and I know from experience how lonely and depressing spending a holiday in the hospital can be.

I had just made a bunch of pairs of knit leggings for LO (because she is super tall for her weight) from an awesome Brindille & Twig pattern, when the light bulb came on.


Brindille & Twig Leggings for LO

UVA and BCH both struggle every time LO is admitted to find something for her to wear.  The hospital gowns that they usually provide us are HUGE, (picture me in Andre the Giant’s clothes), and they don’t keep her legs from getting cold.  It seemed like a no-brainer.  Both of these hospitals could use leggings for their pediatric patients.  Then, I also remembered how there were limited things for LO to chew on there when she was teething and figured they could use some teething toys too.  So, at 2am (because that’s always when I do my best work), I started a Go Fund Me campaign to raise money to purchase fabric for leggings, teething toys, and teething bibs.

I. was. shocked.  I set the goal originally at $1,000 and it was met in less than 2 hours.  So, I changed the goal to $2,000, and it was fulfilled by 24 hours.  I sat crying in front of my computer as I witnessed the amazing generosity and love from family, friends, and friends of friends.  It was humbling.  It was also time to run to JoAnn’s.  My husband jokes that I’m having a lesbian affair with a woman names JoAnn because of how often I am there.  Whatever.  A girl’s got to craft.  After some serious waiting in line at JoAnn’s, I had my fabric!


JoAnn’s has quite a nice selection of knits these days.

Now, it was onto the tedious process of creating a pattern for each of the legging sizes.  I needed something a little thicker than paper because I planned to use my rotary cutter to cut out all of the leggings.  Hello, beautiful manilla folder.   With a little tape, they worked beautifully.  Sorry for the bad picture.  We’ve lived in our house for almost two years with no window treatments.  Don’t judge.


After the patterns were cut, I faced a large game of “fabric Jenga” trying to figure out how to place each one to minimize fabric waste.  After some trial and error, I think I figured out several layouts that will work.  I also decided that I could further cut down on the waste by cutting out some cute baby hats from a Coral + Co pattern with the larger pieces.


Fabric Jenga

Several hours of serious wrist action, yielded a huge stack of 60 leggings. Whew!  And crap.  Crap, that is a lot of sewing.


Stacks and stacks of leggings!

So, I leave you with this……..

The family is nestled all snug in their beds,
While visions of iPad pros dance in their heads.
And me with my wine, and Juki, and rom coms galore,
Will just settle in to sew, and sew, and sew some more.



A Purse for All Seasons?

My mother (“God bless her”, as we say in the South) has been known to either carry a beat-up purse from the late 70’s or to stuff a cheap plastic purse so full of receipts, tissues, mints, and other sundries that it moments from bursting at the seams.  Seeing as everyone else in my family had been the recipient of a leather bag from me, it was her time.  So, for Christmas I began exploring purse options for her.  The challenge?  Making her a purse that she would be able to carry with her in every season.  A handbag so well-rounded that it could be her partner in crime indefinitely.  Challenge accepted!

I began sketching up concept ideas and finally settled on a nice medium sized bag with pockets on the sides.  My inspiration was the Jolie bag from Adeleshop.  On to picking the leather.  I knew she needed something classic, either brown or black.  I picked a nice warm brown from my leather stash and began getting it done.  As always, I used a ticking for my lining fabric.


Don’t you just love those clips?  They are essential when sewing with leather!

My roadblock came (and there is ALWAYS one in every project) when I went to find a zipper.  I could not find a zipper, Riri or YKK, that worked with the color of this bag.  I spent some long hours on hold.  Tears were shed.  I thought about switching to a snap closure.  Eventually, I decided to DIY-dye my own!  So, I bought a longer-than-I-needed white cotton metal zipper and several shades of Rit dye (brown, tan, orange, red) and began mixing the different dyes, in varying amounts (which I was careful to record in order to recreate),  into plastic cups.  Then, I snipped off small pieces of the zipper and placed one in each cup.  I think I had six different mixes going.  I wish I had taken pictures of this process.  I truly looked like a mad scientist.  I figured one would have to work.  Sure enough!  One of the mixes came out looking exactly like the red-brown of the bag.  So, if you ever need a zipper of a special color, it is possible to dye your way to triumph!


Coming along!  Just needs a strap!


Gotta have lots of internal organization, and boy do I love ticking!

Now, because I had promised my mother this purse last Christmas and was a year late (welcome to “Jen Time”), I decided I had better up the ante and make her some accessories as a kind of “look how pretty this checkbook cover is, no your purse isn’t a year late” kind of thing.  So, I whipped up a tissue holder, checkbook cover, and makeup bag in complementary fabrics.  Now, the big test.  Often, we give our parents gifts that will replace an outdated or even falling apart object, only to find gift sitting in a closet with them still using the broken one.  Was this to be the fate of my purse?  Hell no!  My mom has used her purse every day since I gave it to her.  She likes it so much, she has now asked me for one in black!  Winning!  I’m just happy that I gave her something that she treasures and that is worthy of the love, patience, and support she’s shown me over the years.  Love you mom!




Who doesn’t love a matching accessory?



2nd Day of Craftmas: Coffee Cozy Tutorial

Well, sadly, we have a man down as of this week.  Minneapolis finally took it’s toll on my DIYnamic other half .  Despite having the best (and cutest) Sorel boots available, black ice is a cruel master.  Down she went, and in the process, fractured her elbow.  Needless to say, this will take a toll on our “12 Days of Craftmas” grand ideas.  However, I will soldier on and try my best to pick up the slack in Jaryn’s absence.  I can’t promise that I’ll get all 12 posts in — as I have many partially finished Christmas gifts.  Story of my life.  But, we’ll do the best we can and just enjoy the holiday season, eh?

Our second easy and inexpensive DIY Christmas gift is — drumroll, please — the lovable and very versatile and felt coffee cozy!  My friend Sarah-Henning came down this weekend to celebrate my birthday and we definitely felt the crafting spirit move us (ha! Get it?).  So, a quick trip to the craft stores and we were all set to get cozy.  (Another one!  So, punny today.)  All you’ll need for this project is a pack of felt (very cheap at JoAnn’s or Michaels — and now they even have textured felt!  Fun!), various thread, fabric glue, scissors, buttons, thin elastic, and your imagination!  First, you’ll need to decide what types of things you’d like for your coffee cozy decoration.  Here are a few of mine before they were glued/stitched down.

Felt Mustache

Felt Mustache

Zombie Coffee Cozy

Felt Zombie

Here is my mustache and Honey Badger template, if you’d like to whet your whistle with those first.  (Sorry, I didn’t have time to actually do them up nice in Illustrator.)  If you aren’t an artist or just some inspiration, print some pictures and just use them as traceable guides.  Cut out all of your small pieces.  I used a thin Sharpie to trace everything on the back of the felt in order to be able to cut with clean lines.  Use Ziplocs to keep each set of images’ pieces’ll need to cut out a template for your cozy.

Next, you’ll choose your background colors for the cozy.  The main cozy consists of two pieces of felt, the top panel being slightly smaller than the bottom panel.  Here is my template, if you’d like to use mine.  Once you have all your felt pieces cut out, you can begin to glue your decorations to the top panel of the main cozy.  The glue we used is Beacon Fabri-Tac.  It’s much like hot glue without the need for electricity.  It dries very quickly and is super durable.  Just be careful of the “tails” that form as you pull the bottle away.

Once you have all your decorations glued down, and have given them time to dry, you’ll need to do any decorative stitching.  For example, I had to do some embroidery stitching on my sock monkey.

Stitching my sock monkey accents.

Stitching my sock monkey accents.

Next, it’s time to stitch the elastic loops onto the right end of the cozy between the top and bottom panels.  You really want to make sure that your stitching is catching the elastic.  I used the shortest stitch length I have on my Featherweight and went back and forth about four times.

Stitching the elastic loops onto the end of the cozy

Stitching the elastic loops onto the end of the cozy

You can also hand stitch this, if you don’t have a sewing machine.  Next, you ‘ll need to either glue or machine stitch the top panel to the back panel.  I used my sewing machine and a the longest stitch setting, backstitching at the ends.

Stitching the coffee cozy panels.

Stitching the coffee cozy panels.

Trim all the threads and then pick out your two decorative buttons.  This is a great opportunity to use up some of those single buttons you have sitting in a drawer, as mismatched buttons are just as cute!  Hand stitch your two buttons onto the left end.

Sew your buttons onto your cozy.

Sew your buttons onto your cozy.

Voila, you’re done!  Make as many as you can think of decorations for!  If you’re like Sarah-Henning and I, you’ll have trouble falling asleep because you’ll keep thinking of cute decorations for your next cozy.

Sock monkey and old microphone coffee cozy

Sock monkey and old microphone coffee cozy

Honey Badger and bicycle coffee cozy

Honey Badger and bicycle coffee cozy

Owl and zombie coffee cozy

Owl and zombie coffee cozy

Power On and mustache coffee cozy

Power On and mustache coffee cozy



















Coffee cozies galore!

Coffee cozies galore!

More cozies!

More cozies!


Last cozies!

Even more cozies!










The only thing left to do, is to figure out your presentation.  If you’re giving them to co-workers, slap a gift tag on them and you’re done.  Sarah-Henning came up with the winner gift tag slogan….”Hope your Christmas is good to the last drop!”  If you’re giving them to friends or family, you might consider purchasing a mug, some coffee beans, and/or a coffee gift card to go with your lovely cozy.  So versatile!  If you decide to “get cozy,” please post some pics, we’d love to see them!

1st Day of Craftmas: Making A Simple Ceramic Plate

Who doesn’t love commemorating a special occasion with a ceramic plate?  Special occasions just scream ceramic plates, don’t they?  There are lots of cute variations floating around on Etsy to celebrate engagements, weddings, births, etc.  In addition to highlighting special dates/events, you can also capture family phrases or sayings.  Creating one of these plates is fairly fast, easy, and inexpensive.  So, if you’re still looking for that gift for the hard-to-buy-for, why not give this a try?

I knew last year when my sister announced that she was pregnant, that I wanted to find something that said, “Home is where my grandma is.”  The hard part?  In our family, grandparents of the female persuasion do not go by “grandma.” They go by “grangi.”  What were the chances I could something that said, “Home is where my Grangi is?”  I’ll tell you – nil, zilch, zero.  My next thought was, “Why don’t I just have something commissioned from Etsy.”  I’ll tell you why.  Firstly, you have to be forward thinking enough to request it two months in advance.  Yup, negatronium.  Secondly, you apparently need to make more money than a highly appreciated, underpaid high school teacher.  So, you know what came next, dear reader…..DIY!

I’d taken some pottery classes in high school.  (Ok, in reality I think I made A pot in ONE class – which, in all its ugliness, my mom still has sitting on a shelf.  Bless her heart.)  But I figured, why not give it a go?  Since I am not lucky or skilled enough to have a wheel or kiln, I decided to explore the world of polymer clay where all you need is an imagination and an oven.  That’s my kind of clay.

So, here is what you’ll need to make your own fabulous ceramic plate!

2 Types of ribbon (I used one patterned and one solid), acrylic paint in various colors, modpodge, white oven-bake Sculpey polymer clay, alphabet & decorative stamps, paint brushes (very thin for lettering and thick for glazing), and clay molding tools

First, you’ll have to decide what shape you want your plate to be.  I went with the traditional ’round’ because I knew I had a lot of things lying around in that shape that I could use for a mold.  I used the top of a mid-size pot.  Before starting, I cut a circular piece of wax paper and laid it into the bottom of the pot so that it would be easy to remove the clay circle when I was finished.  Next, I took the block of Sculpey and pressed it evenly into the bottom of the skillet, carefully trying to ensure that my circle was the same thickness everywhere.  (So sorry not to have pictures of these steps — my hands were goopey!)

When I was finished and it was relatively smooth, I used the edges of the wax paper to pull it out, flip it over onto another piece of wax paper, and put it, smooth side down, back into the skillet.  Then, I worked on smoothing out the other side.  (Note:  Since I knew that I was going to paint mine, I wasn’t worried about using my hands to do the smoothing.  This, however, did mean that the clay did not stay pristinely white.  If you want your dish background to stay white, use clay sculpting tools or plan on painting is back to white!  The wooden tools you’d need are inexpensive and can be found at Michaels.)

Because I knew there was no way that I was going to be able to freehand letters, of that size, to look nice.  I decided to utilize stamps.  I bought a stamp alphabet in a font I thought looked cute and whimsical.  (Note:  My letters are fairly small, which meant that painting them required patience and a very steady hand.  Purchasing larger or bolder letters would help with this, but you’d need a bigger plate.)  In addition, I knew that I wanted to put a peacock feather on the plate (my sister’s last name is Peacock).  I figured that I would have to freehand that.  But, as luck would have it, I found a peacock feather stamp.  After looking through the samp aisle in Michaels, I realized that no matter what your need, “There’s a stamp for that.”  There are literally, thousands of stamp possibilities.  You’ll be able to find something that is applicable and cute for your own plate, I’m sure.

So, I roughly laid out where I wanted each letter to be by placing them (wooden side down, first) on the circle, one word at a time.

Once I’d figured out the layout, I turned them over one at a time and pressed them down firmly into the clay.  You’ll quickly see that the pressing firmly means you’ll have some lines here and there from the edges of the stamp.  Don’t fret!  Just gently smooth those out with your finger or a tool once you’ve pressed everything.

Lastly, you’ll need to use something circular and hollow (I used a small test tube from work) to make the two holes at the top for the ribbon.  And, then you are ready to bake!

Ready to bake!

Place the plate in an oven safe dish and then into the oven.  I used a large, Pyrex casserole dish.  Use the instructions on the clay to determine the time spent in the oven.  When it is finished baking, carefully remove it and allow it to cool thoroughly on a cookie rack.

Now, you are ready to paint!  There isn’t really any trick to this.  A steady hand and painter’s tape, if you need it, are key.  Once you’ve finished painting it and the paint has dried thoroughly, you’ll need to coat it with about four layers of Modpodge to get that glazed ceramic look.  Make your modpodge layers very thin.  You don’t want excess to pool in the recessions of your stamped letters or decorations.

When the modpodge has dried and you are satisfied with it’s sheen, add your ribbon (I used two — a blue and a peacock print) and hang!  Voila, you can now call yourself commemorated!

The finished project — look how it gleams!

Dishing up the “Comfort Slouchy”, with a side of apology.

Ok, I know.  It’s been a long time.  I’m SO sorry, dear readers!  Just when you thought I might actually have one or two good ideas, I disappear.  I really have no excuse.  It just all happened so fast.  August 23rd dawned, and before I could duck, school up and hit me like a mac truck.  And sadly, the blog got tossed to the back burner.  The beginning of the school year is always such a rough time for me.  I’m exhausted when I get home because I’ve lost my teaching stamina over the summer and I have little free time because I’m starting with a whole batch of fresh, un-molded minds.  But, I’m happy to announce that things have now settled down and I’m back in the saddle again.


My sad, “won’t you please forgive me” face.

You’re probably thinking that for this, my grand re-entrance, I have something really special for you.  You know, to make up for the last two months in which I completely and selfishly ignored you.  Well, you’d be wrong.  If I were a better, more organized, and less sleep-dependent person, It would be a totally different story.  Instead, today, I’m re-testing the crafting waters with only my metaphorical big toe.  And while I cannot deliver you silver bells and golden whistles today, I can assure you that as the holidays draw near, I am again amassing my crafty strength.  I made myself a new lab coat for the start of school, several new skirts, and two leather bags.  Posts forthcoming!  I also have a lot of DIY ideas for the holidays that I’m going to blog about in my “12 Crafty Days of Christmas” (throughout December) series to help motivate me to get everything done on time and to hopefully give you some ideas for wonderful, homemade presents for your loved ones.  So, please stay tuned!

So what do I have for you today, you ask?  Well, while it’s not Mt. Craftmore, I am pretty proud of it.  I would like to present the first thing that I have EVER knitted out of my own handspun angora yarn (50% Merino, 50% angora — from my rabbit Sweet Pea to be exact).


Comfort Slouchy, in effect!



I call this hat my “Comfort Slouchy” because I plan to wear it….well, everyday.  It’s warm, comfortable, and wonderfully soft.  I feel like a have a cloud on my head.  And, It’s just starting to develop the fantastic halo that is characteristic of angora yarn.  I’m sure as time goes on it will get even more fuzzy.


Angora “halo” is blooming.

I made it using the beginnings of the pattern It All Comes Together on Ravelry.  But, there was a slight error in the chart for the crown decreases, so I just did my own thing when I got to that point.  (Note:  the wonderful author of the pattern sent me the updated chart soon after.  So nice!)  Overall, I’m wonderfully happy with it.  With my next handspun skein, I plan to make a (somewhat) matching cowl.  I’m trying to decide between the Stockholm Scarf, Big Herringbone Cowl, and A Noble Cowl patterns on Ravelry.  I’m so undecided.  Do you think I have to match my hat with a lacey-type pattern?  What are your thoughts?

Ok, thanks again for hanging in there with me.  I know that I have a lot to make up for.  And, I’m going to make you proud.  Really, I am.  And speaking of slacking….I’m not the only one who’s been absent around here.  I want you to make a note of which one of us came back to you first.   It was me.  I came back for you.  Not Jaryn.  Remember that.  Clearly, I love you more……and I win.

See, you really can’t trust Jaryn. Clearly, she consorts with rodents.

I hope everyone’s been having a fantastically, wonderful Fall.  Here’s to a craftastic holiday season!


Handbags Galore!

As you know, I love making handbags.  In fact, I’m in the beginning stages of getting an Etsy storefront up so that I can begin selling my handbags and angora creations.  (So, if you like any of the bags below and want one of your own, let me know.  They make great gifts!  Wink, wink.)  Anyhoo, I’m constantly looking for reasons to craft a handbag.  Luckily, my friend Gwen just recently celebrated her birthday.  Unfortunately, she’s had quite a trying summer dealing with dental visits and a sprained ankle.  Therefore, I really wanted to make her something special.  I decided to whip her up a cute Buttercup Bag (Made by Rae) in a gray IKEA fabric that I think has a cool, urban feel with a muted, lavender lining.

Gwen’s Birthday Bag!

One of the things I’ve changed from the original pattern, is to add a much larger, divided pocket to the lining.  I’m a BIG fan of organization in handbags.  I need a lot of pockets and dividers to keep everything straight.

In addition to the bag, I also surprised Gwen with her finished skirt, made from a Simplicity pattern.  Isn’t she cute?  I just love sewing for friends.

Gwen, in her new duds.

I also needed to make a “thank you” present for my friend, Jill’s, mom who helped us out tremendously by driving our sick lab back and forth from our vet to the emergency vet while we were frantically trying to get home from the beach.  Needless to say, she was a lifesaver!  Jill mentioned that one of her favorite colors is blue.  So, I used a beautiful, royal blue IKEA fabric paired with a bright red lining fabric for her Buttercup Bag.  I decided not to do the button flab embellishment on her bag, and instead, added a line of white bias binding.  I think it turned out really well.

Carol’s Bag

Buttercaup bag….now with more pockets!

Last but not least, I decided I needed a new overnight bag for my trip up to D.C. to visit my friend, Alia.  (See….any excuse to make a bag and I’ll take it.)  I had really been wanting to make the Amy Butler Cosmo Bag from her book Style Stitches – check!  Here are the fabrics I picked out:

My favorite fabric for this bag, though, was a blue and white houndstooth that I decided to use as the inner part of the pockets.  Who doesn’t love a pop of houndstooth?

Pop of houndstooth in the pockets

I love the way this bag turned out and the fabric colors just scream summer to me.  Overall, I’m fairly happy with the bag, though, if I made it again I would give it a bit more structure and some more internal organization.  But, it served it’s purpose well and a good time was had by all in D.C.!

Amy Butler Cosmo Bag

Side pocket


Of course, I couldn’t have done it without the careful oversight of my OCD border collie, Sadie.  Doesn’t she look crazy?  Yup, that’s my girl.  Stay tuned for my next post — summer skirts!

Crazy Sadie




Spinning Jenni’s Fiber Adventures

This year, for the first time, I managed to make it to the Maryland Sheep & Wool festival, a.k.a. “A Fiber Lovers Paradise.”  It. Was. Amazing.  There were sheep, and alpacas, and goats, and rabbits.  It was a veritable petting zoo, which you know I’m all about.  Todd had to keep a close eye on me, as I was casing all the alpaca stands trying to figure out how shove a cria in my pocket to take home with us.  Here were a few of my favorite furry friends:


And then, you could look in any direction and see glorious fiber and yarn.  In fact, there was so much fiber goodness that it was a little overwhelming.  I simply couldn’t choose between all the yarns.  They were all so beautiful.  So, I decided to stick with my game plan of buying my first whole sheep fleece.

For those of you uninitiated to the world of fiber, buying your first fleece is akin to entering the Tour de France as a young rider.  It’s exciting, daunting, and very scary.  Since I’ve never purchased a whole fleece before, I really had no idea what I was looking for.  I know……shocking, right?  There were hundreds of trash bags full of shorn sheep fleeces to dig through.  I wish I’d been smart enough to get a picture.  I was quickly reaching “sheep fleece saturation point.”  So, lacking in any formal knowledge, I did what I do when picking a wine — choose based on aesthetics.  I was able to narrow down my choices because I wanted a white fleece so that I could blend it with my angora rabbit wool.  Then, I just looked at the names of the sheep and let my fingers be my guide.  I settled on four pounds of the softest wool I’ve ever had the pleasure of groping.  My fleece is from a lovely little Cormo sheep named Lillian.  (Each fleece comes with a label telling you the weight, sheep’s name, and farm that it came from.)  Here is my bounty:

Four pounds of Lillian the Sheep

The first step towards turning raw sheep into wonderful yarn is a very long washing process.   You have to get out all the lanolin (natural oil), dirt, vegetable matter, and other nastiness that I won’t explain, but you know…… The tips of Lillian’s wool was especially dirty, so before washing it, I clipped those off.

Clip the tips

Ready for the wash

You have to be very careful when washing wool.  If you’re not careful with the temperature changes and agitation, you can end up with felt, which probably some of you are familiar with if you’ve ever put a wool sweater in a dryer and ended up with a baby cardigan.  Doh!  One thing that helps, is putting wool into lingerie bags.  So, after clipping in they went.

Packed into lingerie bags

Since the plan was to blend this Cormo with my angora, I wasn’t too concerned with preserving the lock structure the wool.  That meant I could use the washing machine instead of large tubs.  Each batch of wool was given three separate, 30-minute soaks in hot water and laundry detergent.  At the end of each 30-minutes, I’d put the wool through a short spin cycle to remove as much dirty water from it as possible.

Wool in the washing machine

The fourth soak was in clean, lukewarm water to rinse out any remaining soap.  Then, I spread out the wool on sweater racks to dry.

Drying wool

Washing an entire fleece is not for the faint of heart, let me tell you.  You have to commit.  It is a LONG process.  I have now finished, four loads of Lillian, and I still probably have two more loads to go.  Ugh.  Yes, I purchased Lillian in May.  Yes, it is now July.  Touch of the ADD, what can I say?  But, the effort has been so worth it — I now have a HUGE plastic bin full of heavenly, cloud-light, soft-as-a-baby’s-bottom, wool.

Big box o’ fluff

What am I going to do with all of this, you might ask?  My plan is to eventually spin it into a bulky wool that I can use to make the sweater Cameron Diaz wears in “The Holiday.”  I love this sweater!  I’ll probably have it done by 2035.

Washing all of that fiber has inspired me to get some spinning done.  Since I have a bit of a backlog with my angora, the mission was to use up as much as possible.  I started with a small skein for my mom that was 50% alpaca and 50% angora.  The picture’s color is a little washed out — it’s actually lavender.  I think she plans to make something for my niece with it.

Then, I spun up a skein of angora, silk, and merino in baby blue on my spindle while we were at the beach.  And this week, I spun up a 50/50 skein of angora and merino wool on my wheel.  I was really, really pleased with the latter.  My ability to keep a consistent thickness of yarn is definitely improving.  There is definitely still a variation, but it’s less apparent.

After winding both of these skeins into balls, I started knitting up the “It All Comes Together” slouchy hat with a twisted stitch rib in the 50/50 mix.  While you can see the diameter variation, I think it still looks okay.  Look at the halo starting to form — so soft!

With the remaining 50/50 and the blue, I plan to knit up the Ski, Bunny, Ski! hat from Ravelry:

Ski, Bunny, Ski! hat on Ravelry

It’s been so nice to crank up the AC and pretend that it’s snowing outside instead of this nasty 100 degree weather we’ve been having.  Hopefully, it’ll start to cool down soon and I can really start picturing fall and wearing all these wonderful knit garments!




The Knit Diaries: My Striped Maxi

The quest to become up close and personal with my serger continues, in the next installment of The Knit Diaries – a maxi skirt.  So, I’m not going to lie, when I realized that the maxi skirt was “in” this spring, I had to actually look up what a maxi skirt was.  Let me just say, wikipedia totally schooled me on my skirt lore.  Who knew there was so much I didn’t know abut skirts?  Dirndl, and Prairie and Scooter skirts, oh my!  I know, I know…..for a sewer, I’m terribly fashion illiterate.  What I quickly realized was that a maxi skirt is just a fancy way of saying a long, A-line skirt.  And since, A-line skirts are about the only type of skirt that looks good on me, I was psyched.  So, after hunting around on Pinterest for awhile for some inspiration (see the lovely skirt below), I knew that a striped maxi was exactly how I wanted to delve into this wild and wonderful world of long hemlines.

Striped Maxi inspiration

I have a maxi dress from last season, which I used (sort of) as a template to get that nice A-line shape for my front and back panel.  When cutting, I made sure to leave a lot of fabric (without the A-line slant) at the top so that I could figure out a waistline for my skirt.

Cutting a front and back panel

Once I had my two panels cut, I serged down both side seams.  Then, I thought more about the waistband.  I decided to try a shirred waistband for my maxi.  Why shirring, you may ask?   Well, I wanted to learn the technique, it’s a pretty easy way of creating a waistband, and I like the look.  What’s even better?  All you need to have to ‘get your shirr on’ is some elastic thread, which I happened to have scored a lot of in a flea market find, and a sewing machine.

Elastic thread

I put the elastic thread in the bobbin and regular thread up top in my machine.  I adjusted the stitch length to a basting stitch and I was ready to go.  I folded the top of my skirt in on itself to the inside to create 4-inch waistband – which at this point just looked like a double layer of fabric at the top.  I pinned around the circumference to hold that slippery knit fabric in place.


I began stitching at the edge of the waistband and continued all the way around the top.  As I stitched, I began to see the elastic bobbin thread cause the fabric feeding out to begin to slightly gather. (See below.)

First row of shirring

After finishing the first row, I quickly realized that I’d better take care of securing the open edge of the waistband (on the inside of my skirt) before the waistband got too gathered.  So, I set up my serger to do a coverstitch and did a wide coverstitch at the very bottom edge of the waistband.  Then, I continued to stitch shirring rows (spaced about every 1/2 inch from one another) down my waistband.  I had to be careful to stretch out my fabric as I was shirring it just enough so that it would lay flat as it went under the presser foot, but not enough so that the elastic only brought the knit  fabric back to neutral and didn’t really gather it after it was stitched.

Rows of shirring

When I was finished with the waistband, I had 8 shirred rows.  My waistband now has great stretch and is super comfy! The only thing left to do to finish my skirt was hem it. So, I put it on and made a note of where I wanted to hem it.  Then, using the stripes as a guide, I used a wide coverstitch to put in the hem.  My maxi skirt was ready to wear out on the town…..or at least to my side yard for some pictures until later tonight!  🙂

My striped maxi, and Sadie peeking around the corner to oversee.

My striped maxi

Sour Cream and Onion Kale Chips

Sorry for the small hiatus in blogging, readers.  We headed down to the beach at the beginning of last week and I thought, “I’m going to blog like the wind. This whole trip is going to be great for increasing my creative output.”  The best laid plans, eh?  We got a midweek call from our house sitter that our chocolate lab mix was critically ill.   After several days is doggie ICU and close to $2,000 later, we still aren’t sure what happened and what her prognosis is.  Behaviorally she seems back to her normal self, but after another blood panel today, she still has a really low albumin level (protein in the blood that is super important).  We go back on Thursday.  If, it’s still low then, it’ll be time to panic.  And I don’t know about you, but the first thing I do when someone I love is sick is google it, which is a horrible mistake. You just scare the crap out of yourself and feel even more worried than you did to begin with.  Bad Google!

Needless to say, I haven’t gotten much crafting accomplished since Beanie got sick.  I’d like to say that I’m not a worrier.  But, man oh man, I haven’t been able to think of much else or do much else besides love on her this week.  I mean, look at that face!

The Beaner looking sad

Since she isn’t very happy or comfortable in my craft room, I’ve been sticking to the kitchen so that we can hang out together.  So, first thing I did was can some peach jam from the 10 lbs. of peaches we picked up from the beach.  It’s Todd’s favorite.  Hopefully, I’ve been able to recreate the batch I first made two years ago, which he still claims  is “epic.”

New peach jam

Upon getting home, I also had to make the rounds and spend some time with the rabbits and chickens to make sure everyone else was doing okay.  The rabbits are all doing fine, especially since they all got haircuts before we left for the beach.  (I had to have something to spin!).  The chickens were so prolific, that I had to make several batches of challah bread in order to use up the surplus of eggs.  My recipe comes from the book, “Artisan Bread in 5 Minutes a Day”, which has definitely changed my life.  If you don’t own this book, rush right out and buy it this minute.  It will change your whole outlook on making homemade bread.

Challah Bread

My last chore upon getting home was to check the garden.  Amidst all the weeds, there was quite a bounty to pick.  Our berry bushes are finally getting going.

The first blackberries and raspberries of the season.

So many things are beginning to bolt and many more just need to be re-sown.  I’m definitely going to need to devote a whole day to garden triage this week.  One of the things that is going gangbusters is my kale.  While this might seem wonderful, right now it just seems like a chore, what with Bean sick.  Since, I haven’t really felt like cooking anything elaborate, I decided to try to make some kale chips.  I had seen a recipe earlier in the year by a vegan chef and remembered the basic ingredients.  I just went from there.  As a testament to the tastiness of these chips, let me say that Todd does not like kale.  However, after coaxing him into giving one a try, he had scarfed down a huge handful.  These chips are tangy, crispy, and yet melt-in-your-mouth.  They are also surprisingly satisfying.  So, if you also have an overabundance of kale, give them a try!

Sour Cream & Onion Kale Chips:

1 1/2 cups of lightly salted cashews, soaked for 3 hours

3 Tbsp of lemon juice

1 1/2 Tbsp of apple cider vinegar

2 Tbsp of dried, minced onion

1 large bunch of kale, cut into 3-inch pieces

1/2 tsp of kosher salt

2/3 cup of water

Add all of the ingredients, save the kale, to a food processor and process until the mixture has the consistency of salad dressing.  Then, toss the dressing with the kale, making sure you coat all of the leaves as consistently as possible.  Place the coated kale onto food dehydrator trays, or baking sheets, and dry until the leaves are thoroughly crispy.  (This took about 4 hours in my old-school food dehydrator).  I’d dry them at about 150-170 degrees in an oven.  Just make sure you monitor them often!  Then, put them in a bowl, pop in a good movie, and enjoy your healthy and delicious snack!

Sour Cream & Onion Kale Chips

The Knit Diaries, Part I: A Summer Hoodie Tutorial

As you remember from my last post, I’m beginning a small, summer series called “The Knit Diaries” to chronicle my exploration into sewing with knitted fabric.  Why knits?  I love knit fabric because it has low bulk, great drape and a wonderful feel.  (No joke, after a recent purchase of several incredibly soft yards of black jersey from JoAnn’s, I just wrapped myself in it while watching TV for the evening.  So cozy!)  The other really awesome factor in sewing with knits is that they are sooooo forgiving!  Having a little bit of added stretch means that your pattern can be a little off here and there, and, no worries!  I will now get off of my knit soapbox and get crackin’ on the Sumer Hoodie Tutorial.

Recently my friend, Gwen, added a lot of fun, new knit clothes to her wardrobe from Old Navy.  I love all of them.  But, the one that really caught my eye, was a super fun, black, knit hoodie.

Inspiration:  Knit cardigan from Old Navy

As soon as I saw her wear it for the first time, I began coveting it and plotting how I could “borrow” it from her for a day to draft a pattern from it.  Why did I want it so badly, you may ask?  I’m sure many of you have this problem, but I am a rather cold-natured person.  It can be 90 degrees outside, but if I’m in an air conditioned building, every draft seems to find me.  So, I usually never leave home without something long-sleeved.  Last summer, while in France, I bought a knit cardigan from H&M that I love.  As soon as I put it on, I knew I never wanted to take it off.  It afforded me the perfect ‘climate control’ for summer.

Knowing my innermost knit desires, paired with the fact that I now own a serger, meant I was ready for knit action!  After several bottles of wine one night (yes, that was intentional), I very easily (see?) persuaded Gwen to part with her dear hoodie for a day.  I brought the prized article home and immediately (at 12 a.m.) got to work on drafting a pattern from it.

What would you need if you wanted to steal your friend’s hoodie and also make a pattern, you ask?

Drafting tools (minus the weights, as I just used heavy things)

1)  First, drafting paper.  I like to use brown paper for drafting patterns.  It’s super cheap and very easy to find.  I buy it from Lowe’s for about $7/roll.  It goes a long way and it has a decent amount of ‘stiffness’ (I said, stiffness) and longevity — if you want to make more than one.

2)  Measuring apparati:  I used a meter stick and a see-through ruler.

3)  Pins, and lots of them.

4)  Marking apparati:  I used a pencil for my marking on the brown paper so that I could erase as needed.  I also used washable fabric markers for any marks I needed to make on the fabric.

5)  Fabric weights, or as I used, heavy objects:  Knit fabrics love to roll up on themselves, so weights placed here and there help prevent said rolling accompanied by mild swearing.

6)  Scissors – both paper and fabric.

After assembling my tools, it was time to begin.  First, a word of caution:  When using an article of clothing (especially a knit) as a template, you really have to be careful not to stretch it too much as you lay it out on the paper.  If you do that, you’re going to add a few sizes to your pattern.  I also like to pin the article of clothing to the paper in a few spots to prevent it from sliding around while I’m trying to trace it.

Gwen’s hoodie is fairly simply constructed.  Great for my first knit project!  The pieces I needed to trace were:  a back (1), the hood (x2), the front panels (x2), the sleeves (x2) and the band around the edge of the entire garment.  For this prototype, I looked to my mountain of jersey, and chose the navy/white striped.  It has a lovely nautical feel and I’ll enjoy wearing it at the beach.

My mountain of jersey

The Pattern Pieces:

So, I laid Gwen’s hoodie on the paper and started by tracing the front panels.  This is what they ended up looking like.  I included the measurements so that if you’d like to make one of these (in a large — or other sizes by decreasing measurements) you can use my template pieces as a rough guide.

Front panel pattern pieces

Next, I sketched out the back.   You’d place it on the fold of fabric to cut it.

Back patter piece

Here is the sleeve piece, which is also cut on the fold.

Sleeve pattern piece

Lastly, I traced the hood.   The hood is seamed down the back.

Hood pattern piece

Then, it was on to cutting out the fabric.  My fabric is nicely basted down the open side of the fabric.  This prevented a lot of rolling while cutting.  Thank you, factory!  If you are experiencing a lot of roll, just use more weights!  You can also use those lovely, little binder clips from the office.  They add weight and also keep the edges of the fabric lined up.  I didn’t use a pattern piece for the band.  I just cut out two strips of fabric two stripes in width, which translates to roughly 3.5″ and stitched them together at their short ends to make a very long piece.  You can really make the band any diameter you want.  Also, if you are using a striped fabric, you want to make sure that you cut your sleeve pieces so that the stripes will match up with the body.  (I learned this the hard way — one side matches, one side doesn’t.  Lesson learned.)

Next, it was on to the sewing.  I used my Juki 735 serger for this project. (You don’t have to have a serger to sew knit fabric, which is awesome.  However, I’ve never tried sewing knits on my sewing machine using a stretch/knit stitch.  I’ll have to explore that soon!)  I learned a lot of things while undertaking this project that I’m going to share in the hopes of saving you some frustration.  This project, was truly a humbling experience.  If you’re a pro, you can just skip down to “construction.”

Serger Tips & Tricks, thus far:

1)  Use ballpoint needles for knits!  They are specifically designed to go through knit fabric without tearing or ripping it.  Before I bought these, I accidentally ended up with a small hole in my project.  😦  The needles come in different sizes.  Look at the packaging to determine which size is best for your particular project.  I used size 90 ballpoint needles for this project.

2)  Use those thread nets!  Yes, they look like old lady salon hair nets, but they really do help with the thread tension.  Before I put them on, I was getting some skipped stitches on the underside of my coverstitch.

Thread nets – a necessity!

3)  Use serger thread!  When I first got my serger, we took it to the beach.  I wanted to use it, so we went to Walmart to find thread.  They didn’t have any of the “cones” that I’d seen on serger videos.  So, we just bought some larger spools of cotton.  I quickly realized that cotton 3-ply thread is not serger friendly.  Serger thread, which often comes on cones (see above) is 2-ply and lighter, which helps it go through all those loopers.

4)  Thread your serger correctly!  I had a lot of trouble with this one, at first.  Sergers are a beast when it comes to threading.  I felt like I was diffusing a nuclear bomb….one wrong move, and, destruction.  All I can tell you is, go slowly and really use your owner’s manual.  Chances are if your stitch isn’t working, you’ve threaded something incorrectly.  Also, there is a specific order to threading — upper looper, lower looper, left needle, right needle.  Order matters.

5)  Check your settings! (tension, stitch width, cutting distance & differential feed) before starting!  Sergers have a lot of dials and knobs.  So, getting things set up the way you want them is imperative.  For tension, start out in the middle of your tension range and then play with it — small increments at a time.  Chances are, you won’t have to go very far (in either direction) from the mid-range for a knit.  Also, check that your differential feed, which controls the feed dogs, is where you want it.  For knits that have a lot of stretch, you’ll probably want the two sets of feed dogs to be set to take in fabric differently.  Thankfully, I didn’t need to change mine for this project.  You may also have to play around with your cutting distance.  My fabric really like to roll, so I had to set my cutting distance larger that I would normally have liked, to make sure I got a clean cut and that my stitches were perfectly at the edge of my fabric and not hanging off the edge.  I definitely had to play around on extra fabric for A WHILE to make sure I was getting the stitch I wanted.  So, buy a little extra fabric if you’re a newbie, like me!

For the seams, I used a 4-thread overlock (with safety) stitch.  Here is what that stitch looks like on the reverse:

4 thread overlock with safety stitch

For the hems, I changed the threading of my serger to produce a two-needle, wide coverstitch.  Here is what that looks like from the front and back:

Cover stitch, reverse

Coverstitch, front

The Construction:

I constructed the whole garment using a 5/8″ seam allowance and a 1/2″ hem allowance. First,  I placed the sleeve and front panel, right sides together, and starting at the neck and working towards the armpit, serged the sleeve shoulder seam (See Pic, Seam #1).  Then, I placed the other side of the sleeve and the back panel right sides together, and serged the other shoulder seam working from neck to armpit.  I repeated this on the other side (See Pic, Seam #2).

Seam #1 and Seam #2

Doing that first, will allow you to stitch the side seams and the seam along the underside of the arm/sleeve as one long seam. (I actually didn’t do this are realized later that it would have been easier!) It also means that long seam will lay better under the arm.  So, do that next — place the front and back panels with the right sides together and starting at the end of the sleeve, stitch the side seams to the armpit and then keep going from the armpit to the bottom hem (See Pic, Seam #3).  Ta-da! At this point, my hoodie was really taking shape.

Seam #3

Next, place the two halves of the hood, with the right sides together, and stitch the entire length of the back, from head to neck (See Pic, Seam #4).

With the hood finished, place the neck edge of the hoody onto your hoodie, with the right sides together, and stitch the entire length of the hood along the neck (See Pic, Seam #5).  Almost done!

Seam #5

Then, take the band, fold it in half and press it.  Then, pin the open edge of the band along the entire left, front panel vertical edge, around the edge of the hoodie, and then down along the right, front vertical edge of the other front panel.   Serge along the edge, securing the band in place (See Pic, Seam #6).

Seam #6

Now, all that was left to do was to hem it.  I switched my machine over to coverstitch, pressed my hem allowance up and pinned it at 1/2″ and then stitched all the way around the bottom edge.  Then, I turned the vertical edges of the front panels under by 1/2″, pressed them, and stitched them, too.  Lastly, I pressed down all of the serged and coverstitched seams so that they would lay nice and flat.  Voila!  My hoodie was finished!

My summer hoodie!

Hoodie, displaying hood.

I thoroughly enjoyed my first foray into sewing a knit garment.  I hope that this tutorial has inspired you to give knits a try, too!  If I can do it, anyone can.  So, you deserve a summer hoodie.  Go ahead, treat yourself!  Up next, is the Knit Diaries, Part 2:  a striped maxi skirt.  I am also taking ANY suggestions you have for what else I can make with my mountain of jersey.  What other striped wonders can you think of?