Saturday, April 16, 2016

Felty Prettiness

Well, my computer has proven more difficult to tame than my sewing machine, so though I have greatly expanded my Japanese book collection and made more clothes than my daughter could possibly wear, blogging about the experience proved too much for me.  I still hold out hopes of getting around to it someday, but we'll see.

In the mean time, here are some pretty felt hearts I came up with as Christmas gifts.  (Yes, I am aware that was months ago, but my camera to computer lag time is pretty long these days.)

The one with the three white flowers actually got dropped underneath the tree, so it missed Christmas.  But one thing I like about these hearts is that they aren't in traditional Christmas colors and can be used year-round, so it became a gift for grandma on her recent visit.

The other felt gift I made turned out a little strange, but as it was going to my four-year-old who isn't all that picky as long as it can be deemed "pretty."  
 My husband thinks this little bunny has alien eyes, and I sort of agree, but it  had enough flowers to pass my daughter's "pretty" test, so it worked out fine.  

I have not been able to find 100% wool felt here in Taiwan, but I have been able to find wool blends at the local quilting store, and they are so much nicer to work with than the acrylic craft store variety.  My local fabric shop actually has some pretty decent acrylic felt which I have used to make some food items for the kids, but it shows its age much more quickly than the blended version.  So, if you haven't done so already, I highly recommend investing in a few sheets of the good stuff.  It might be considerably more expensive, but most felt projects are so small you only end up using a few dollars worth anyway.

Post-Christmas I had many more opportunities to make a dent in my felt collection, thanks to one Christmas gift from my mom (which I chose), but more on that later.

Saturday, May 16, 2015

Diving into the Japanese Sewing Book Craze!

A month or so ago, my mother surprised me by telling me she was planning on coming to Taiwan and seeing the grandkids since they are at the age they change so fast.  Well, I was still going strong with the clothes she brought last trip, so I thought I would have her bring something different this trip: Japanese sewing books IN ENGLISH!!!

Having lived in Taiwan for quite a while, I am very familiar with Japanese craft books of many kinds.  Half the craft books on the shelves in Taiwanese bookstores were originally published in Japanese.  I can usually tell without even looking at the publishing information just by the quality of paper and the style of the photography.  One of the best features of these books is just how visual their instructions are.  I have seen them in both Japanese and in Chinese here, and although I can't read either I own quite a few in Chinese (which are more plentiful here and cheaper than their Japanese original counterparts) and even a few in their original Japanese.  They are hands-down the best books I have seen when it comes to needle felting, and I have learned a lot of fun stitches from the amazingly visual charts of both knitting and crocheting motifs.  Embroidery and doodling are mostly about the designs anyway, and I have a few on making various stuffed animals and felt toys.  Often they will highlight a few techniques each book in incredible detail with a step-by-step photo tutorial, and you can usually extrapolate how to make the other designs from there.

The one thing I haven't been brave enough to buy is their sewing books. I just don't know enough about sewing to be able to figure it out without any language.  Plus, I mostly want to sew for little girls, and most of the sewing books here are either for quilted bags or adults.  So when I discovered that Amazon is now selling several Japanese sewing books for children, translated into English, I just knew I had to try them.  I found a wonderful English website from a woman in Singapore that reviews Japanese sewing books (both translated and not) and found that there are basically six English books available for girls' clothes at the moment.  After endlessly poring over both the Amazon reviews and the ones on the site, I ended up going with all six because each had several things I could see myself making.  Besides, Vivienne is three now and it's the perfect age for these books.  She's still in the smallest or second smallest size in most of the books, and she's young enough to look cute in about anything so I don't have to worry about embarrassing her with my homemade attempts and my old-fashioned fashion sense. 

If you Google around and search through blogs, you'll find that sewing from Japanese patterns is a thing quite a few bloggers are into, but until recently English speakers had to look at diagrams, bring what they already knew of clothes construction to the table, and guess a lot, it seems.  Now, with the English books, a fairly beginner seamstress (like me) has no excuse.  All but one of them do assume you know something of what you are doing, so it's a good thing I made a few PDF tutorials from American sellers that walked me through basic garment construction step-by-step, but I am surprised at how little you actually need to know.
These are the books I bought:

Both on-line and when I first bought them, they seemed to meld together, but once I started using them they began to distinguish themselves from one another and I'll be listing them out separately in the next post (or so).  As similar as they are, I don't regret buying a single one.  I am definitely going to get use out of all of them as I embark on my mission to teach myself to sew.  Unfortunately, Vivienne's wardrobe is pretty full of character T-shirts and leggings and shorts with pockets which she is content wearing every day, so I am going to end up making way more than she can use.  Really, I can't see myself doing all that much sewing for the boys (though mastering a few simple shorts patterns will come in handy).  I don't know what I am going to do with all the results, but I'm going to work through the books anyway and by the end of it, I should have a pretty good idea of garment construction, fabric choices, etc.  Who knows where this will lead -- but at least I can fulfill one aspect of my childhood dream of living in the olden days (albeit, thankfully, with an electric sewing machine and an internet full of tutorials for when I get stuck.)

So, if anyone is reading this blog and is interested in sewing little kids' clothes, I thought I would attempt to walk through a few of the projects I am making to give you a little feel for the experience.  (Feel free to skim -- I don't have time to sew AND to edit blog posts to nice succinct summaries!)  I might possibly even write up some reviews or comparisons of the different books in case anyone is interested in giving Japanese sewing books a try.  (Not everyone is as obsessive as I am and wants to dive in with six at once, but I totally recommend giving one or two a try.)  I'm not going to try to reinvent the wheel -- go to for complete reviews -- but I thought I might have a different perspective, being relatively new to both sewing in general and the Japanese sewing book scene in particular.    Also, if people start leaving comments to show that there's some interest, I may even do a give-away from Asia somewhere near the end of summer, just for fun.  I have some ideas kicking around my head.  (Yup.  My love language is definitely gift-giving.)  Yes, I'm blatantly begging for comments.  I try to talk about this stuff with my husband, but he's just not a very satisfactory conversation partner when it comes to discussing the advantages or disadvantages of including seam allowances and whatnot. 

If you are my Facebook friend (and since I am terrible at both updating and promoting a blog, I'm going to guess that most readers are) you may see the outfits well before the blog post.  There is definitely going to be a bit of a time delay on this series.  Then again, I have a pretty big time delay for posting to Facebook as well.  (I have to admit I've already finished four projects before this was even written up, but immigration issues must soon be tackled again so I'll be slowing down the pace.)

A sneak peak of Vivienne in the first shirt I made from the books since this has been a pretty text-heavy post and needs a bit of cuteness.

So there you have it, and away we go!

Thursday, April 30, 2015

The Birthday Party Dress, takes 2 and 3

I'm starting to get the hang of sewing ... this pattern, at least.
Well, I did eventually finish the kitty cat dress of the last post (except for the sash which will eventually get done, I hope), though I am not at all happy about the way the gathers lie at the waist.  I tried lining the skirt with a nice, lightweight blend I found here -- no idea what it's called since it's only labeled in Chinese, but it was soft and cheap, so I went for it.  I was planning on sewing up the lining and the skirt into tubes and then just slipping one into the other and treating them as one fabric for gathering the skirt and attaching it to the bodice, but I had made a rookie mistake.  Instead of measuring the width of the skirt I had just been going from selvage to selvage since it was close enough -- a great idea, in theory, but I didn't take into account the fact that the lining and the cotton fabrics were sold in different widths.  Sigh.  I had to gather then separately and pin all three layers together, and then, since the lining was on top and not the outer skirt, I couldn't really adjust the gathers when sewing the whole thing together.  That, coupled with the fact that I added a tier to the lining, made the whole skirt a bit too poofy and the gathers a bit wonky.  Oh well.  It was a play dress, anyway, and once I get around to the tie, hopefully it will pull together well enough for getting covered in dirt and ice cream and marker and play-doh and all the other thing little girls love, but as of yet, it still sits on the hanger unworn. 

My latest attempt also had a few bumps in the road to completion, but I couldn't have asked for a better end result.  Initially, I had planned for a more elaborate Easter dress from a new pattern, but an immigration deadline for paperwork regarding my older (adopted) son meant I couldn't seriously think of starting anything until the week before Easter, so I went with the one pattern I had quasi-mastered.  (Also, I might have wanted to make up for my last attempt at it.)  So, I went with a sweet little pink print that Vivienne and I chose together last time we went fabric shopping.  (She's 3.  It's not all that difficult to talk her into anything in pink or purple.)  We also have a large Japanese craft store here in Kaohsiung, Taiwan.  It's very different from the kind of store you'd find back home.  It's incredible for needle felting and bedazzling, not so strong on the standard needlecrafts.  One thing it does have in spades, though, is cotton lace, and their wholesale prices really are reasonable.  A few weeks ago I bought some to try out and already had it pre-washed and ironed, so this seemed like an ideal time to try it out.  The only tricky part was figuring out how to finish off the cut ends on the sleeves, but I ended up seaming it and trimming it several times until it curved nicely at the ends.  It seemed as long as my thread matched the color of the lace pretty well, I could get away with not really knowing what I was doing because the stitches pretty much just disappeared in the lace's thickness.  I also had to sew it on really, really slowly and pin really, really well to make sure the seam caught it completely, but the end result was worth it.

The problem came "Easter-eve" when I was almost finished the dress.  While winding a bobbin, something snapped inside the bobbin casing, and from then on, the machine refused to pick up the bobbin thread: in other words, it wasn't going to sew anymore, no matter what I did.  Having gotten that far, I really didn't want to give up on my daughter's first homemade Easter dress (even though I am the only one who cares about such things around here -- she was the only little girl in an Easter dress at either of the two church services we went to the next day, and at 3, she doesn't really know what an Easter dress is).  So, I sewed the gathering stitches at the top of the skirt by hand and then seamed it onto the outer bodice.  That left sewing down the inner bodice lining, a feat usually achieved by a nice, fast row of top stitching along the waistline.  I'm not terrible at hand stitching, but there was no way I wanted a whole long line of my stitches showing, and I had already pretty much stayed up most of the night sewing.  I had to get creative.  A long time ago, in my cardmaking days, I picked up a large pack of pink rick rack which I had earlier noticed went very well with this cloth.  I decided to sew it only the high waist as I attached the lining.

Soon, I realized that this was exactly the right call because the rick rack only needed one tiny stitch each little wave.  Not only did it make the seam look nice and pretty, but it saved a whole lot of time.  I felt like I discovered a prairie mother's secret weapon from the heyday of hand sewing.  I'm pretty sure I'm going to be hitting up the local quilting shop for their extensive rick rack selection in the future -- at least until Vivienne is old enough to think she's too cool for the old fashioned look.
Finally finished!
On the way to church -- the sash didn't survive the whole day, so it was just as well it had the pretty waistband.

Totally gratuitous cuteness.  This Easter outfit is completely courtesy of Gymboree and not mommy, but I can't resist this photo of baby brother David.

Friday, March 6, 2015

Looking ahead ...

Well, I haven't done much sewing recently, but since we haven't yet moved out of long-sleeve T-shirts and most patterns I have are for spring and summer dresses, the three I have done haven't even made it off the hangers for more than the initial fitting/photos.  I haven't completely given up on this learning to sew thing yet, though.

I did start one more version of Lily Studio's Birthday Party Dress, this time in fabric Vivienne chose from my stash.
When in Asia ... buy Japanese cute!  Vivienne is a huge fan of these kitties.

Since the last one was mommy's choice of black and white sophisticated patterns, I figured it was her turn.  This is the first time I am remaking the same pattern.  The only major change I am making is lining it with a super cheap, lightweight cotton blend white fabric because lining it with itself would show colors through the white parts and I'm going to try to add a skirt to the lining.  (At least, I think it's some kind of cotton blend fabric.  My Chinese for fabrics doesn't go much beyond the words for cotton and wool, so I never really know what I'm buying.  So far, I lined her bunny dress with it and I really like it.  It's so light it doesn't weight the dress down, it will wrinkle less than pure cotton, it feels nice, and it doesn't double the price of the project.  We'll see how long it lasts before it falls apart!)  I'm going to have to do a bit of thinking it through when it comes to attaching the skirt lining since it's not in the instructions, but I think I can figure something or other out by looking at other patterns, etc.  If I learn anything earth-shattering, I'll let you know.  I also really want to pay attention to when I should topstitch what since that isn't in the original pattern, but I really like how the topstitching makes the dress look more professional and will help it hold its shape when it gets washed.  Anyway, if all goes well, I'll be posting pictures here pretty soon, as long as I can stop thinking of a thousand future projects long enough to actually figure out how to finish this one.  

Friday, February 20, 2015

Takes one, two, and three

I really should be able to sew much better than I do.  I come from a proud tradition of seamstresses on my mother's side, including, arguably, the most famous seamstress in American history, Betsey Ross herself.  Slightly closer to the present, my mother's mother was quite talented, and though she was slowing down by the time I came around, she did sew the flower girl dress I wore when I was six and an incredible little dress and pinafore for my beloved Cabbage Patch doll.  Even my mother, a busy doctor, managed to sew said doll a little flannel nightgown.  Between the two of them, they gave me scraps of cloth and taught me the basics of sewing by hand, which I am actually pretty good at, but they machine has always been a bit beyond me.  For a little while when I was young my parents had an incredibly talented woman at church give me sewing lessons.  I made two skirts on her old Singer at her house, but that was that.  I never did figure out threading my mother's more complicated machine at home.  In high school I mostly focused on music and drama and writing things no one will ever read, and then I moved out to go to schools and taught myself to knit and crochet, two crafts I love because they require minimal equipment.

After having a baby girl, however, and falling in love all over again with little girl clothes, I thought that maybe now was the time to demystify machine sewing, so when a friend at church mentioned she had an extra machine that I could borrow, I jumped at the chance to give it a try.  So, despite having a tiny baby two toddlers, plus no place to actually set up, I jumped on the internet and started looking for some ideas.  I managed to pull together exactly one skirt (with the ruffle sewn on inside out) and a crude peasant dress (with the selvedge left on the hem and sleeves instead of proper hems) and was just beginning to sew a proper dress from a purchased PDF pattern (the Birthday Party Dress from The Lily Bird Studio) when I managed to wreck the feeder that pushes the fabric through the machine.  Well, that was that, so back the machine went to my friend to be repaired and I only recently managed to get it back again.  So, after scouring just about every PDF little girl's dress available from about a hundred different websites, I decided to start with a simple free skirt tutorial found on the blog Scattered Thoughts of a Crafty Mom.  Here in Taiwan, the smallest length of fabric you can buy is a "zhi" which, as far as I can tell, is about 1/3 of a meter or 13 inches.  I had bought two separate 13 inch lengths of a loosely woven purple cloth on sale at two separate times, and I found out this was actual perfect for a toddler skirt.  I was able to use one 13 inch piece (selvedge to selvedge) for the body of the skirt and divide the other into two 7 inch lengths to sew together for the ruffle piece.  I love this tutorial because they have you use a doubled over ruffle, which saves a hem and gives nice body to the ruffle.  So, here is the first entirely successful solo skirt attempt:

Next, I decided to get brave and give a dress a try, though I am still nervous about figuring out button holes and zippers.  This simple little Colorblock Dress from Heidi & Finn. I love a good ruffle and a nice, big sash, but sometimes you need something a bit more sophisticated to counter ruffle overload and they have some great options.  This particular pattern closes with just one simple loop and button, which I was brave enough to try.  It's fully lined, so it should be pretty easy to make it reversible should the fancy strike at a later date.  I have a few solids already lined up to do the three blocks of color mentioned in the title, but I thought for my first attempt I would combine the top two blocks so I only had one set of seems to line up.  It turned out really cute in this Japanese-esque rabbit print.
We'll see how it works as a stand-alone dress once the weather warms up.
I made it in 3T for my skinny 3-year-old, and it fit OK but it was definitely a slim fit, especially over the turtleneck sweater, so I've already cut the pattern out in 4 T for the next attempt (which will actually be done with blocks of color, I think).  We'll see which works out better.

For my third attempt, I had a small piece of this pretty rose cotton I wanted to try to do something with.  Now, they have a lot of loosely woven cottons here and I am not quite sure that they are suitable for kids' clothes, but I thought I would try them out anyway from time to time because the patterns are too nice to pass up entirely.  This dress might fall apart by the end of the year, but it wasn't too much work and will hopefully last for a few wears.  This is from a free pattern called Simple Elegance from one of my favorite kids' clothes sellers, Ellie Inspired.   Unfortunately, it's not available anymore, though other designers have similar ones floating around.  It was my first attempt at making and using bias tape which worked out great and I am definitely going to try to do again (though the pack of workspace might be a bit of a problem in making a lot of it.)  I chickened out with the closure, though.  She wanted you to cut down the back and make a placket for buttons, but the size I chose was a bit big and as I was putting it together I thought that if I added snaps to the straps, she should be able to get it on just fine.  The snaps are actually in the back since she's three and doesn't really dress herself much anyway.  Just look at the fun she had modeling it.

So, nothing fancy like buttons or zippers or any such thing, but there you have it.  I figure that sewing up way more dresses than Viviene could ever wear is a much more fun way of learning how to sew than sewing practice swatches or pillow covers.  The only thing that scares me is how much ironing all these cottons are going to require.  I really don't do ironing.  Oh well.

Saturday, December 27, 2014

I think I'm in love ...

I live in Kaohsiung, Taiwan, right next to the Cultural Center.  On Saturday and Sunday nights, there's a craft fair with tables set up around the sidewalk on the side closest to our house, and it's a bit like strolling through real live Etsy shops.  A few years back, I noticed some amazingly cute animals made out of wool set up at one stand, though she wasn't selling them.  Then, while I was in England a few years ago, I noticed some books on needle felting.  (Google it.  I didn't know what it was either.  Or you can check out my Pinterest board.  I've gone a bit crazy on that one.)

At first I thought that this was something I would have to wait to discover when I finally made it back to the west, but it turns out, as with so many things in Taiwan, I just didn't know where to look.  Apparently, needle felting wool is a very popular craft in Japan, and since Taiwan's craft scene is heavily influenced by Japan, quite a few books have been translated into Chinese and are available in the bookstores here.  And then I happened to wander into a large building that looked like a jewelry supply store -- it turned out to be a three story Japanese craft supply shop with an entire back wall on one floor devoted to selling wool roving and the other things needed to needle felt.  The supplies are actually quite minimal.  At its most basic, you need one little barbed needle, a foam mat, and a bit of wool.  So last year, when David was still small enough that I could craft with him on the bed, I experimented with a few things.

Using a cookie cutter as a form, I came up with this little bear.  Some day I might get around to attaching a string so he can join the ranks of the Christmas decoration.  (He's pretty sturdy, which is a good thing in a house with three kids under 5!)

Snowmen are also a nice, easy place to start, so I tried one out.  This is what he looked like originally, with his nice, traditional top hat.
Well, I was pretty new at making these, and obviously I needed to work better at joining the pieces because this is what he looked like after two minutes with a two-year-old.
Apparently, decapitated snowmen still smile.  Notice the teddy bear survived just fine.
Fortunately, needle felting is repairable, though the top hat did get transformed into a beret.
Now he's ready again to wish you a very Merry Christmas.
Well, he's still a bit delicate, but now that David has moved into his own room at nights, I've pulled out the needle felting supplies again.  This time I am trying to come up with ways of building my core snowman much more stably so he is play-safe.  I've figured out at least two or three ways to do this.  The only problem is, I get part way through making the basic form and something other than a snowman suggests itself to me.  So far, I've started a snowman twice and ended up with a duck and a little Japanese kokeshi doll.  (Google it -- they're cute!)  Once I put the finishing touches on them, I'll post them, too.  Oh well.  One of these days I'll get back to my snowman.

But yes.  I think I'm in love with needle felting.  It's definitely going in my arsenal of crafts to keep working on.

Wednesday, December 10, 2014

Well, here we go

The older I get, the more I realize that at core, I am a creative person.  I am not particularly skilled in fine arts or music or the like, but I do seem to need a creative outlet to survive.  This has particularly come to light now that I have three small children and no time to actually make much.  The thing is, nursing two babies in a row and co-sleeping with them leaves little time and space for spreading out projects, but it does give hours and hours of dead time to troll the internet looking for inspiration.  Now that the youngest has moved into his own room, I have years worth of housework and immigration paperwork and reading and writing to catch up on, but I do have a bit of space to try to actually work out a creative endeavor or so.

Ever since I got my first digital camera, I've had an iPhoto folder called "Pictures of Projects."  I have been debating whether or not to post a few of my projects on my family blog or not, at least so I could occasionally see a sweater or two I've knitted up there on my Pinterest boards among all those other creative people's beautiful work.  (Ah, Pinterest.  If that little girl who used to pour over the one old doll making and single gift wrapping books in her town and school libraries had only known that one day, the creative world would be at her fingertips -- well, she might not have graduated high school, so I guess it worked out just as well this way.)  Well, I decided as easy as it is to start a new blog, I would try to go this route instead.  At the moment, with three kids between 1 and 4 I don't see this getting many posts or much traffic for a while, but you have to start somewhere.

And now, what to call it.  Currently, I am an American living overseas trying to get back to America. (That's easier said than done, though, with a family of five on three different country passports!)  But some day, when I am home and the babies are a bit less clingy, I have a dream of throwing my hat into the ring and opening up an Etsy shop to sell things that little girls and boys and their mother's could delight in.  I don't see this being my career or anything, but it would be nice to sell enough to pay for a few of my balls of yarn, at least.  Well, one day I was thinking about what I would name an Etsy shop were I to have one, and I thought it would be nice to name it after my daughter, as so often is the case.  Her name works well in French, so I was playing with French-i-fied versions of her first and middle names and stumbled across a painting by Renoir nicknamed "La Petite Irene."  Happily, it happens to be the picture of a beautiful little girl dressed up in her finery, lace, and bows, exactly the image I would choose if I could.  I spent my childhood fixated on the olden days and have always loved long hair and the color blue.

But the Etsy shop is for another day and another continent, most likely.  For now, I thought I would start a blog to keep track of my crafty endeavors attempted from time to time to help keep my sanity, if nothing else.  And so, here we go ...