west coast delight, but a quilting disaster

Writing today from sunny Santa Barbara; travel yesterday went surprisingly smoothly and I was cooing over E’s new baby girl by early afternoon!  She’s so sweet (and soooo tiny–I haven’t been around a lot of newborns so its really striking).  I had a suitcase packed full of goodies for them–funky and awesome thrift store finds, a colorful birth announcement print I whipped up at the last minute (a fun typographic design with the name, date, birth weight, etc), and last but certainly not least, the baby quilt I’ve been working on since December!  Except, oops, that last one’s not really finished….

Despite my best (frantic) efforts on Saturday, I could not get this quilted in time.  I had been procrastinating the quilting stage for months, and it looks like that was for good reason! The quilt top has been finished since January–I even had the binding made, but was playing chicken with actually finishing.  I had never machine quilted before, but I read a bunch of tutorials, bought the right machine foot, 100% cotton thread and I’d been practicing over the past week or two on mini quilt sandwiches.  It was going sort of okay; I had a lot of issues with keeping the stitches an even length, but I was pretty good at going in good swirlies.  I should note here though that I never practiced with the cotton quilting thread, just whatever was in my machine.  Probably a mistake, as you will see.

By Thursday I had the quilt back put together, and the quilt sandwiched together (I used the quilt basting spray vs. the pinning method) and was ready to tackle the actual quilting.  But I was still kind of scared to get started, so I procrastinated some more.  Friday I was totally swamped with last minute grocery shopping and food preparing for my hubbie (don’t want him to go hungry while I’m away), so I couldn’t really work on it.

Saturday morning, I was up early and got my sewing room all set up for the main event.  I moved my sewing machine to my cutting table so I would have space for the quilt to be fully on a tabletop; I even stacked up a bunch of my plastic storage containers on the other side of my table to make SURE there was enough room for the quilt to be constantly supported and not hang over the table edge.  I wound two bobbins of the cotton thread, attached the free motion foot, dropped the feed dogs and got my quilt in place.

And off I went.  For about 30 seconds. Then my (first) needle broke.  Hmm, annoying, re-needled and started again.  I think I might have sewn for about 45 seconds the second time before the needle snapped.  Okay, must need a much beefier needle (I was using size 80/12 originally)–swapped to my jeans needle.  This is when I got my best run in–no more needle breaking, but on two occasions the prong of semi-circular foot got caught in a somewhat long stitch, pulling up a loop of thread and impeding motion.  Each time that happened, I had to stop, pluck out the last few stitches up to the loop and start again.  It was in one of these instances that I noticed from the backside of the quilt that the thread tension didn’t seem quite enough.  I knew from my practice quilts I needed to turn the tension up, and had it up to 7, but it looked like would be better to turn it up more (in some spots, especially around the curves, I could see the little loop of the upper thread protruding to the underside).  So I turned it up to 8 and went back to sewing.  For 30 more seconds.  Then the thread snapped.  So I turned the tension back down a bit and started again. Except the thread snapped again, AND the underside looked worse.  This happened one more time before I decided to give up (yeah, I’m stubborn, I should have stopped WAY sooner).  With all the starts and stops and tension issues, the quilting really didn’t look that great, especially from the backside, so I decided to just pick it all out.  In total, I had gone about 36 inches down the quilt (in about a 8″ wide swath), so it was doable, but with all the winding around it added up to quite a lot of unpicking.

I don’t know if my machine just doesn’t like doing free-motion, or if I need a different thread or needle or what.  But I think I will either just quilt it in straight lines with my walking foot, or see about outsourcing the quilting bit to someone who has experience free-motion quilting and knows what they’re doing.

But I packed it up and brought it to California with me anyway, glad I did because they did love it and were excited about having a handmade quilt for baby, but I’m sad its not finished and I can’t leave it with them.  Happily though, I won’t even need to worry about mailing it back out, because they are moving to my area in another month for E’s new job.  That’s exciting for many more reasons that saving on quilt postage!  So this will now be a housewarming gift for baby. 🙂

Oh, almost forgot to mention, I used this tutorial for the Stacked Coins Baby Quilt over at  Moda Bakeshop for the quilt top and back (using some charm packs I found at JoAnn Fabric).  I decided to make a quilt for E pretty much as soon as she told me she was pregnant, and when I started this project she didn’t yet know the sex of the baby, so I chose something cheery and bright but gender-neutral.

If you are a quilter and reading this post, suggestions welcome–feel free to unabashedly tell me where I went wrong with my quilt disaster!

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a thrift store revamp

I love love love to shop, and l love hunting for bargains even more!  I’ve discovered that an afternoon at the thrift shop really fulfills my primal urge to gather the choicest nuts & berries (er…books, clothes and household goods)–its a total treasure hunt!

I don’t normally look for clothes for myself; being plus-size generally means not much thrifty selection.  I have no doubt there are some things my size hiding in the store, but when the clothing is sorted by color, I’m not searching through a bazillion size 6, 8 and 10s to find it!  I did find a super awesome, somewhat gaudy giant gold owl necklace the other day that I’m planning to incorporate that into my fall wardrobe, so that counts, right?!

I’ve also found some very cool baby wear for my friend E, who is the very first of my close friends to have taken the leap into motherhood, which is pretty darn exciting.  She was thrilled to find a giant box of sara-selected finds on her doorstep one day, so I admit I continue to keep my eye out for thrifty awesomeness for her new little one.

This little outfit is certainly nothing special, but it was just *begging* for some fun embellishment–seriously, it *made* me buy it. 🙂

I used a matching thread color to do a decorative stitch along the hem of the way-too-plain top. I then just did a simple straight stitch in the same pink along the bodice seam and neck trim, using my stitch-in-the-ditch foot for guidance and sewing about 1/8″ away from the original topstitching.  It definitely needed something to break up that sea of cream across the front–I’ve been practicing my free motion quilting and decided to give that a whirl and embroider my own design on the top.

I drew a floral pattern free hand using a disappearing ink pen, and set to work.  I will be the first to admit I am not the best at free motion; I haven’t had a lot of experience and its taking me a while to get the hang of it.  Despite that, I think it came out pretty well. And to someone who doesn’t sew, it probably looks just fine (at least my husband thought so!)

I’ll be taking this with me on my cross-country baby visit to meet E’s new little girl, along with some other, more exciting handmade goodness, which I’ll be blogging next week.

yes, I do actually sew!

I’m finding it frighteningly hard to believe its been three whole weeks since Memorial Day; time is flying like crazy for us here this summer!  Hubbie, Humphrey and I headed to my hometown to celebrate this holiday harbinger of summer, and I decided to whip up a little outfit for my cousin’s daughter G to take with me.  I only get to see them four or five times a year, so I always like to come bearing gifts. 🙂  Here is the finished outfit (apologies on the bench background, we were camping and I had to get creative on photo locations):

I made up the Oliver + S Class Picnic shorts in a teal bengaline (which I used because I liked the color and also because I have a huge stash of it in many colors since fabric.com had a major sale on it last fall), and used a long-stashed quilting cotton print for contrast.  The smallest size in the pattern I had was a 5, and seeing as G is almost 4 I thought it wouldn’t be too far off.  Except I totally forgot *just* how skinny that girl is, and the shorts ended up being pretty big.  Oh well, kids grow and until then, elastic to the rescue!

Cinched up back view–love that little inside waistband surprise!

For the top, I really wanted to try out the free Ruffled Halter pattern offered on the Oliver + S blog–it looked so fun and breezy for summer!  The pattern includes sizes XS (18m/2T), S (3T–4T), M (5–6), L (7–8) and XL (10–12).  The instructions suggest using a light-medium weight cotton (such as quilting cotton, shirting or linen), however the only fabric I had in the right color was a drapey rayon (rayon challis, I think), and it worked pretty well–the top maybe had less ‘body’ than was intended for the pattern, but I liked the result.  This top goes together really quickly, comes out adorable, and the pattern is free–you really can’t go wrong!

These were my first Oliver + S projects, and sewing them cemented my utter love of this pattern line.  If you would like to read more of the nitty-gritty sewing details, you can read my pattern reviews here and here.  I’m currently working on another pair of the class picnic shorts as well as the class picnic top for my niece–sewing on those has been a little stop-and-go though because of my current near-compulsive drive to clean/organize my sewing room.  They’ll probably have to wait even longer to get finished, because I have two other projects that MUST get finished by Saturday–a birthday dress for my goddaughter and a ‘welcome baby’ gift for my friend E and two-week-old daughter who I’m flying to Cali to see this Sunday!  Ah, new baby visiting, yay!

Mini fabric bolts make me happy

When I moved my sewing area from the basement to an upstairs bedroom a year ago, I had been diligent about organizing most of my fabric by winding it into ‘mini-bolts’ using comic book archiving boards (I use the ‘magazine’ size ones which are 8.5×11, about $10 for 100pk at the local comic book store). HOWEVER, I still had four huge plastic tubs of fabric stowed away under my cutting table, and a giant cardboard box of knit fabric living at the end of the table in a very ‘i dare you to stub your toe on my every time you move’ kind of fashion.  For some reason I decided about 9pm on Monday that it was time to get these renegade fabrics into the ‘official’ stash.

I only had about 30 or 40 boards left, so I deviated from my previous method of using 2 boards per bolt and just used one.  This works *okay* but two definitely lend more stability. I find wrapping these mini-bolts is kind of addictive–I just couldn’t stop once I got started! The perfect thing to do while streaming an entire season of say, Doctor Who on Netflix (oh yes, I’m not just crafty I am also a total geek!).  Here is a peek into the closet, replete with 35 newly wrapped fabric bolts:

I also took this as an opportunity to reorganize my shelves; I manged to fit all my bottom-weights on the lowest shelf, flannel and other specialty cottons on the next, quilting and shirting cotton above that, and all my silky/polyester/chiffon fabrics on top (note you can’t see that row in my picture).  I had always felt almost giddily happy when staring into my ‘fabric-shop’ closet, but it’s even better now!  I took this picture at kind of a funny angle–there is even more fabric-goodness hiding behind the right closet door–another good 12″ or so of mini-bolts.

I was then able to use my newly liberated plastic tubs to organize all those pesky ‘unfoldable’ knits; I sat my tub on its side, rolled/smooshed my pieces of knit into the neatest little packages I could manage, and stacked them up in the tub.  These tubs will then live on the floor of the fabric closet, and this method is so much better than just throwing them all in the tub on top of each other, because now I can see each and every piece of fabric!

This frenzy of fabric organizing has really gotten me in the mood to finish cleaning up my sewing room–actually putting away all the little bits/pieces/tools/scraps instead of just piling them in out of the way places.  And I promise when I do, I will take some pictures of my whole sewing room to share!

oh oliver + s, how I love thee!

I have been seeing some absolutely adorable clothing being made from these quirky paper-doll-looking kids patterns around the blog world for quite some time now, but since they were kind of pricey and not available locally, they weren’t really on my ‘must-buy’ radar. I really try to spread out my sewing dollar and have grown accustomed to the $1.99 big 4 pattern sale…also I avoid online boutique buying sometimes because I *loathe* paying shipping charges.

However, after falling in love with the Class Picnic Shorts/Blouse pattern and musing over it for a month, I really couldn’t resist any longer!  I found an ebay seller who had a small selection of O+S patterns for slightly less than retail price and pulled the trigger.  And why buy just one when I can get three and pay virtually the same shipping charge??  These were my first three Oliver + S pattern acquisitions:

I bought my much-drooled over Class Picnic pattern along with the Ice Cream Dress (what a cute baby gift this will make!) and the Sailboat top/pants/shirt pattern.  I had seen some adorable sailboat pants on one of the sewing blogs I read (sorry but my memory fails just now as to whose blog I saw those on), and figured it would be a good staple to have around.

Okay, three patterns, thats a pretty reasonable purchase and within the budget I allow myself for craft/hobby spending.  No guilt on that one.  Fast forward a week, I trace, cut and sew a pair of the class picnic shorts, and discover this pattern is AWESOME.  Not only is it a cute, inventive style, but the directions are fabulous–just the right balance of wordy and picture-y with some incredibly helpful hints and some techniques that I’d never really considered but that worked great.  Within an hour of finishing my first pair, I had another pair cut out, along with a class picnic top to match (those will be a birthday gift for my niece).  Also, I’d devoured the instruction sheets for both other patterns I bought, confirming that this awesomeness was really an across-the-board thing….and I’d hit up patternreview and pretty much read every oliver+s review there…oh, AND decided I *must* have the Sunday Brunch pattern, the Jumprope Dress pattern, and the Schooldays Jacket pattern.

This took a little searching, as both the jumprope and sunday brunch are out of print in the 4-8 size (which, based on the girls I had in mind to sew this for, seemed like the better choice).  I finally found both at an online boutique (I won’t post where because they are out of them at this point).  But really, three more patterns?  That’s six…okay, pushing it, I didn’t really **need** three more patterns, I don’t even have kids!  Too bad reasonable, financially responsible part of my brain, I am hooked by these adorable excellently crafted patterns. Impulse shopping trumps you again!!

As I was now going to be sewing these lovely o+s patterns, I thought I’d check out the forums on the Oliver + S website to see if there were any good tips/tricks/sewalongs available.  It is actually a great resource and you can sort the posts by pattern, which is a great way to find or post issues for a specific project–but I also found some lovely enablers who had posted places to find oliver + s pattern sales, and how could I resist rounding out my collection for $11/pattern?  That is the special introductory price currently being offered over at fabricdepot.  I was also pleased to note that their shipping charges were quite reasonable.

So I added the 2 + 2 Blouse/Skirt, the School Photo Dress and the Hopscotch Skirt/Top/Dress pattern to my stash.  Yes, we are in full-on awesome-pattern-induced shopping craziness at this point.  NINE patterns??  Will I even make all these lovely clothes up?  Well, maybe not right away, but I firmly believe these styles will stand the test of time. Also, as is probably reasonable for a small company, patterns go out of print fairly routinely–in fact a few days after making this last purchase, I see O+S announced they are retiring the 2+2 pattern.  On the flip side of that, they announce new patterns fairly routinely as well; hopefully there will be 2-3 new patterns released for fall.

The point of this post I (besides the fact that I apparently have no self-control once I get really excited about something), it that  Oliver + S patterns were really a nice surprise in both the quality of the instructions and the versatility of the styles.  If you do any sewing for children, I would encourage you to check these out; I enjoyed the actual sewing experience using an O+S pattern SO MUCH MORE than the last Big4 kids pattern I made. And at the end of the day, what do I want from my sewing–a fantastic finished product and a frustration-free (hmm, that might be impossible, so lets say ‘frustration-light’) sewing experience, and my Oliver+S pattern delivered!