Friday, December 28, 2012


I cancelled with the group I volunteer with at Harvester's Food Bank to work on our nephew's costume presents. I also cancelled because I was still sick. I'm really looking forward to the days when I feel energized and healthy again!

Cape and tool belt for our youngest nephew

The cape:

In the last post, I had already cut the fabric and applied the lightning bolt applique. All I had left to do were add ties and finish the seams. I used a zigzag stitch to close up some purple bias tape that sweetie had made awhile back. It matched the cape and saved me from more measuring, cutting and pressing. I cut them to a length that would manageable to tie and pinned them between the inner and outer cape layers.

Then, I pinned the cape around all sides and marked with chalk across a 6-inch section so I would remember not to sew it shut. I needed a place to pull the cape right-side-out. Anyhoo, when I got the bottom of the cape, the fabric wasn't lining up. The black was anywhere from flush with purple to a full inch longer. I called out to Sweetie for help, asking if I should trim the black flush with the purple or just wing it and sew along without the 5/8 inch guide mark. She suggested I flip it right-side-out, fold the bottom pieces inward and press with an iron, then just close the gap with the top stitch. Basically, she wanted to ensure that I kept the bell-shaped curve along the bottom and since I couldn't stay along the plate guide, I was more likely to not keep the shape.

That seemed like a lot of trouble to me. It also seemed more likely for me to mess up. I told her I understood and let her walk back to what she was doing. Then I flipped it wrong side out again and looked at it.

I didn't trust myself to cut the black fabric flush with the purple. It stretches weird (which is how it ended up this way to start with) and I was afraid I'd end up with it even shorter in spots and then I'd have another mess on my hands.

I also didn't trust myself to fold it under evenly along the entire length of the cape. Six inches is one thing but there was a lot of room for error along 3 feet or so.

Since I knew the purple fabric was cut right, I decided I would draw a line to sew along. I found a piece of chalk that was the exact length from the middle of the foot to the 5/8 inch plate guide. I laid one end of the chalk at the edge of the purple fabric and applied pressure to the other end, drawing an even line all the way along the bottom of the cape. Then I went back to the machine and sewed it (remembering, miraculously, to leave a 6-inch gap).

My fix

Once the lining and outer fabrics of the cape were top-stitched flat, I could have been done. However, I wanted to add Velcro to the tie straps so that our nephew could put it on himself and wouldn't choke himself if he got snagged on something. If an adult wants to tie them and supervise, then fine, but the other option is now available as well!

My compromise

Once that was finished, the cape really was done!

The finished cape!

The tool belt:

Sweetie didn't like the pattern that she'd picked up for the tool belt. It was sized for an adult and for her, it was just more trouble than was necessary to size it down. She found a quick and easy follow-along online that gave the basic idea and she just winged it. She cut all the pieces and I did the sewing. We both worked the strap tubes right-side-out. Working an 18-inch long damp denim tube of about 1-inch diameter right-side-out is a tedious task but we got it done!

I pinned the straps between the layers of denim and sewed a quarter inch seam around the perimeter. Apparently, I didn't have the edge of one strap completely flush with the seam because when I flipped it right-side-out, it was hanging off. One tough tug from a little boy and that strap would be a goner. Sweetie pondered how to fix it as I pressed and top-stitched.


What Sweetie came up with was to attach a strip of denim or corduroy to pull it together and add strength. I suggested that denim would look like a patch job, whereas corduroy would look like a trim accent. I got the strip sewed on and it looks like the repair was a success!

Perfect fix - and looks like intentional trimming!

I pulled out some of the cheap-o play tools we'd gotten for him and filled the tool belt.
Lookin' good! That hammer loop is my favorite part :-)

The finished tool belt!

Sweetie informed me that she is going to do the apron for our niece. I had thought I was doing that and was more than a little stressed about when I'd find the time, but apparently that wasn't necessary. We bought oil cloth to make the apron so it can be wiped down. She thinks the oil cloth might be difficult for me to work with and we don't have enough extra for me to make mistakes. I don't mind at all.

Thursday, December 27, 2012


Sweetie helped me with the next step for the cape on Wednesday evening: a layered applique. It's not beautiful but it's not horrendous either. It will still look fantastic flying through the living room and I highly doubt our 3 yr old nephew will pay any attention to the detail, right?

As I was cutting the pieces I wanted last week, Sweetie kept saying "You don't want to do that many layers. You need to just stick with the one piece for this." But I was adamant. That lightning bolt was going to have layers! And if she wasn't going to show me how then I'd just figure it out.

The first step was actually using stitch witch to hold the corners down but I didn't take a picture. Next, I placed some backing behind the purple fabric, laid the 3 layered lightning bolt down, and "pinned the hell out of it." Sweetie chuckled when she saw that I took her instructions quite literally.

Sweetie's instructions: "Pin the hell out of it"

You can see in the next pic what I thought my finished lighting bolt would look like. Sweetie showed me what changes to make on the machine to create a super close zig zag stitch which would hold down the edges and hide the fraying. I had been wondering all week how this would work. I thought I'd have to hem each layer and then sew along the hem line to attach them together. This was ridiculously easier, LOL

Start in the middle

The corners were touch & go for my learning curve. Sweetie had me practice on scrap pieces first and I did fine but apparently I was lucky. There were some corners where I'd turn and go and the stitching seemed to continue normally. Other times it left a huge gap. The closer I got to the outer edges, the more the fabric wanted to pull inward, leaving less and less of the outside border.

The (unfortunate) finished result

I learned some tips for next time. I didn't know to leave extra allowance so there are parts where the stitching hides the fabric. Oh well. I'm glad Sweetie still helped me in the end but I stand by my stubbornness for this one.

The next warning/dispute: Tie strings vs. Velcro.

Stay tuned for the results of that one!

Wednesday, December 19, 2012

Not Procrastinating

I have yet to start anything else since finishing the chef's hat. I swear I'm not procrastinating.

Sweetie suggested I try the cape next.

I have pulled out the appropriate sheet from the pattern but I haven't yet cut out the pattern nor (obviously) the fabric.

The dining room table has been full of Christmas presents, boxes, and sewing stuff for the last two weeks.
I had strep and was down for the count for about a week.
I'm working extra shifts because during the Christmas season there are more services at church.
I'm reading again (major time sucker!)
My family isn't celebrating until December 29th so I have time.

Oh wait, that last one is procrastination, LOL

I have a feeling that if I just sat down and started doing it, I could have it done in a few days - even with all the other things I'm doing. I should get home from work tonight around 9. That's one hour before I need to be getting into bed. That should be plenty of time to cut out a pattern and probably even the fabric.

If only I could read while cutting ...

Saturday, December 8, 2012

Learning to Sew

This year, Sweetie and I decided to handmake as many gifts as possible. In past years, my contribution was that of money to buy the materials needed because I lacked the skills to assist in making the gifts. This year I told Sweetie that if she was patient enough to explain what needed done, then I was willing to help, even if all I ended up being able to help with was cutting and ironing. I didn't want to feel useless.

Among the projects I am not likely to screw up too badly, and therefore can learn on, are the chef's hat for our niece, a tool belt for our youngest nephew, and a cape for the same nephew. There are a few other projects that Sweetie is doing on her own because they require someone with more skill.

I started on the chef's hat on November 30th. First, Sweetie showed me how to determine which part of the pattern to cut away from the rest. I had never seen this step while watching my mother sew when I was a child. Apparently she had always already had the tissue pieces cut out by the time we were watching. I was surprised at the massive map-style tissue paper! The entirely unfolded pattern map took up the dining room table. And that was only one of the two maps provided. I cut out the two pieces required for the hat then folded it back as well as I could and put the poofy bundle back into the packet.

Sweetie suggested not pinning the tissue to the fabric but instead weighing it down with household objects. She said the fabric tends to stretch and move funky with pins. So I laid some books down and got to cutting. This is when I found out I don't do well at cutting along the lines when cutting double layers.

Pins came later in the project but good
example of my uneven cuts

Next time, I'll cut the pattern exactly around the lines and then draw with chalk onto the fabric. I think I'll do better with that method.

That was all I accomplished on the 30th. About an hour or so and all I had done was iron and cut out fabric pieces. This was going to be a long journey.

Some evening during the next week I took it up again. That evening I stitched about 3 inches of an opening. I became very familiar with the seam ripper and the term "Put the foot down!" This familiarity came, of course, once I discovered that the tool I was using was not - in fact - a seam ripper. Sweetie got quite a chuckle out of that.

FYI: this is NOT a seam ripper
THIS is a seam ripper

My first mistake was pulling the fabric through the machine. This caused the thread to stretch and not stitch properly. I ripped the seams and started over.
My second mistake was forgetting to put the foot down after rotating the fabric. I don't even know how to explain what happened there. But I had to rip the seams and start over again.
About an hour later, I had the opening stitched and was done for the night. Whew! Sewing is a LOT more difficult than it looked when Sweetie was doing it!

On December 7th, I made more progress. The folds I had created from stitching earlier in the week needed pressed. Then Sweetie patiently explained how to create the pleat. I had misunderstood one of the instructions in the pattern so the pleat wasn't making sense for awhile.
Then it was time to baste along the edge of the entire circle piece (which apparently just means a "really loose and long stitch" ... sigh). I became very frustrated because I thought I wasn't supposed to hold the fabric but I couldn't get it to stay on the 5/8" line without holding it. Sweetie caught on to my misunderstanding just in time - the tears were forming in my throat but hadn't traveled to the eyes yet.
I got the basting done along the outside of the circle (not perfect but I was told it was okay because it was for gathering). Then Sweetie showed me how to gather.
So in about two hours, I had pressed, pleated, basted in a circle and gathered. I was pretty impressed with my progress!

I started again the next day. Next up on the list was pinning the band of the hat:

Beautiful. That was an easy step. After sewing 3 of the edges, flipping it right-side-out, and pressing it with the iron to get good crisp edges, it was time to line the marks on the band to the marks on the hat. It got a bit tricky at this point. Some of the marks on the hat and band had faded since I drew them with the erasable fabric marker almost a week prior (or as Sweetie called it: magic disappearing ink ... I thought she was kidding). As I reached the other end of the hat crown's circle, I noticed the thread was missing from the hem and the gathers were not gathered. Ummmmm....

After a bit of squinty-eyed confusion faces, we realized what had happened. While I was learning to baste the day prior, there was a problem. In the process of fixing it, Sweetie had cut out the knot I'd been instructed to make on one end but forgot to tie it back. Me, not knowing any better, didn't know to watch for it. So since there was no knot on one end, the gather pulled the thread out. I had to rip the entire perimeter of the crown and re-do the basting. Practice makes perfect, right?

Actually, the second time around the circle was much easier and faster. So apparently yes, practice DOES make for improvement anyway. Part of what I think made it easier was that I had the fabric to the left of the foot instead of the right. Everything went smoother once I figured that out.

Once that was done, I stitched a line around the crown with the band in place. Then I stitched another line around to secure the gathers. I didn't know to keep the gathers "flat" as they were passing under the foot so I ended up with a few unintended pleats that Sweetie had to help get out and then I re-stitched in those spots.

The hat looked like a hat! I was impressed! Oh, but I wasn't done ... I still had to add velcro strips.

So I learned how to use fusible tape (familiar to me by the name of "Stitch Witch"), then I stitched a square around each piece.

My lines are getting straighter!
 And viola! The finished chef's hat for our niece!
Hoping that bongo drum is about the
size of a child's head, LOL

Garden Update ... In December?!

To say this fall and winter season has been mild would be an understatement. I live in Missouri and as of today (December 8th) the closest I've seen to snow was the 10-minute flurries that happened in November that one night when temps dropped below 30 and there was moisture in the air.

You might remember back in May that Sweetie and I decided to try our luck with cauliflower and brussel sprouts even though they are plants that should have been in the ground way before Spring. They didn't do much outside of growing leaves throughout Spring and Summer. However, once Fall struck they started producing!

Here are some progress in pictures:


November 22nd:
A bit smaller than a baseball
December 6th:
Harvested cauliflower
The other (sad) cauliflower
that will feed compost
I was worried that an evening of freezing temperatures (which didn't happen, btw) would ruin the cauliflower so I had Sweetie run out and harvest them. One has brown spots and just looks all-around icky. The other looks great but is small. This is the product of a season of non-gardening. So if you want to grow cauliflower, and don't want to baby it like they instruct in the gardening forums, this is what it might look like. Small but otherwise perfect :-)

Brussel Sprouts
November 22nd:
About marble-sized
December 8th

Droopy sprouts
The brussel sprouts probably should have been staked. Now I know for next year! I read on gardening forums that brussel sprouts can thrive in snow so I'm letting them hang out until they look like they're done, or until they wither and die - whichever happens first.

December 8th:
Elephant garlic shoots
December 8th:
Regular garlic shoots


Sweetie and I have also raked the back yard. I don't know if either of us will get the motivation required to finish the rest of our property. To be honest, our front lawn and one side lawn are mostly weeds anyway so I really don't care if they get smothered from leaves.

Thursday, November 1, 2012

The Final Days: William Morris Project - Days 28 through 31

This is the last of the 31-day William Morris Project Challenge. 

I'm really glad this is done. Thankfully, I managed to find four very easy projects to finish off with, because I had completely lost the drive. I like the idea of continuing on Thursdays like Jules did last year. If nothing else, it might help me keep areas from getting re-cluttered.

Now, to show you all what was accomplished these last four days:

Day 28: Different method for storing important papers

Before: "Bill Bag"
After: Binders & vertical file tray

I've lamented about my bill bag before. Basically, all important papers and (theoretically) the most recent two months worth of monthly bills get thrown into this bag. Once a year, usually while doing taxes, I go through and thin it out. I'm horrible at staying on top of it throughout the year.

Last weekend, Sweetie and I were at a second-hand store and I spotted a vertical file tray for $1. I had the perfect use for it and grabbed it up. The vertical file will hold the monthly bills. My thinking is that I will see it filling and it will be easy to grab the old stuff and shred without having to sort through the whole bag.

While I was at it, I went ahead and divided the contents of the bag into 3 binders. I will probably further arrange and label those binders come tax time. They are good enough.

Day 29: Clean out corner by bookcase


This corner is where the bill bag used to live. It seems to accumulate crap. It's one of those spots that just bugs the bejeezus out of me so I just avoid walking in that area. Now I don't have to avoid it anymore, LOL

Day 30: Different method for storing recipes

Before: 2 boxes & books
Before: commonly used are
hanging by stovetop
Before: scraps attached to fridge

Sweetie accesses her recipes through her phone now so all recipes are here for my use only. I tend to look up uses for specific things (like the black-eyed peas I got recently). When I find a recipe I want to try, I jot down the jist of it and tack it to the fridge so it's accessible while I'm cooking. If I like it, I leave the recipe there so I can use it again.We both have a few recipes that we use on a regular basis which we've hung with magnets to the copper tile backsplash of the stovetop. Then there's the two recipe boxes and a few cookbooks in the cabinet above the stove. Since I'm the only one who uses the printed recipes, I had pretty much free reign on how to organize them. I decided to type them up and save them to my Dropbox folder. Eventually, I will have a newer phone that I can install the Dropbox app to and view them on my phone. In the meantime, all the recipes will be in one folder and I can search with keywords for existing recipes when I'm stumped on what to make.

I didn't take an "After" picture, but just imagine that cabinet less the two recipe boxes, a refrigerator without scraps of paper randomly attached, and the copper tile with only one index card (recreation of Little Caesars dough - which we happen to LOVE and make often).

Day 31: Attach pull-down to attic access


Our attic access ladder (and pull-down cord) were damaged by the first person we ever hired to do home maintenance. We learned many lessons from that experience and we were lucky we didn't have to deal with more than just a broken attic access and a few botched sheetrock patching jobs. I have since purchased an extension ladder which can double as a way into the attic, however I never did reattach a knob so that the door could be pulled down.

Just last week, I threw away a finial while purging the junk drawer. It would have been the perfect knob-pull! Such is life, I suppose. I ended up using a long bolt with some twine tied around it. If the twine breaks while attempting to open the access door, the bolt is long enough to grip and pull. If I come across any discarded finials though, I will be replacing this! We don't use the attic for storage so we really only need to be able to access it if there's some house-type problem. 

I'm very glad to have participated in the challenge this year. It's no joke - it took a lot of willpower and dedication. There are still plenty of areas that need work - and plenty of things that can be done without money that really have no excuse. There are some holidays coming up which means days off work so here's to hoping I keep this going!

Sunday, October 28, 2012

Sunday Synopsis: William Morris Project - Days 21 through 27

This is a Sunday Synopsis for the projects I completed in the fourth week of the 31-day William Morris Project Challenge. 

This week seemed to be the week with the highest return of emotional investment. Every project I finished made me feel great! So many of the projects I've done this month won't even be noticeable to any company that visits but it's making me feel more at home. We had rented for so many years (from landlords that preferred we NOT put nail holes in walls) prior to buying this house that it took us a few years to realize we now could!

Now, to show you all what was accomplished these last seven days:

Day 21: Install shelf for modem & router


I entered Max's room with the intention of hanging a shelf and ended up clearing a corner and finding another project in the process. The modem and router used to sit on the pantry shelf. At some point, they apparently got moved to sit on the white cube shelves that hadn't gotten rehung after we moved. I also found a binder which will work nicely for the bills in the cabinet.

I would like to eventually do something to nice-up the cables that are now hanging in the corner but just getting the modem & router up off the floor made that corner seem more open.

Day 22: Hang white cube shelves


I figured since I "found" the white cube shelves, I should go ahead and hang them! We haven't decided yet what to keep on the shelves yet. I'm thinking some 3x5 framed pictures and a few bud vases would be nice. Charlie figured out that he can tip over a flower vase and get an instant babbling brook of water - so we haven't had fresh flowers in a long time. These shelves are high enough up that he can't reach so stemmed buds just might start showing up again!

Day 23: Install shelving in hallway closet


The shelves are useful. They aren't pretty - they aren't perfect - and they aren't all that impressive. I used scraps from when I built the deck chairs over the summer. I used any screws I could find that were long enough and used finishing nails on the ends that didn't hit studs to help anchor them in.

We moved the media rack out of the living room when we rearranged the living room. I thought it would fit in the hallway closet but it wouldn't. So the tower got moved to Max's room until I could figure out what to do with all the media that was on it. The cds, dvds and vhs tapes are now accessible but not an eyesore. Bonus: Due to their size, I could put the shelves in the little nook of the closet which left plenty of space for things like toilet paper or brooms.

Day 24: Purge & organize bedroom closet


Shoes in the hanging shoe caddy, shoes piled on the floor, and (not pictured) shoes around the house. Just a reminder - only two people live in this house. The purple tote on the floor had socks upon socks. There were even 3 pairs of Halloween socks that had never been opened. Talk about perfect timing!

We agreed that we need at least one more of the plastic Sterilite bins. The purple tote is mostly empty and its contents will fit perfectly in another bin. 

The Huggies box has hot wheels tracks waiting on a gift holiday for one of the nephews. I stacked the two shoe boxes with the Huggies box to use for wrapping gifts this Christmas. 

Sweetie helped with the sorting and purging of socks and some more clothing. She slimmed down 7 pairs of shoes and I slimmed down 2 pairs. I found the perfect use for the empty media rack! We moved the dress clothes and the hanging shoe caddy into the closet in Max's room. The hanging caddy will hold only shoes worn with the dress clothes. We are able to store almost every pair of casual shoes on the rack and there is more than enough space in the hanging caddy for the dress shoes. 

Repurposed media shelf as shoe rack

Day 25: Purge and organize closet in cat room


Once I moved what needed moved and tossed what needed tossed, this closet was empty except for the carry-on suitcase.
Funeral price list from 1995

I also found this funeral price list from 1995 on the top shelf. It was obviously left by the previous owner and we just didn't catch it. Since we hadn't intended to use this closet for anything besides cat stuff, I hadn't done a thorough clean of it when we moved in.

Day 26: Purge and organize closet in Max's room


The black bags are polyfill. They got moved to the no-longer-empty closet in the cat's room since that room is where Sweetie's sewing headquarters will be once I get the table and storage built. The folding chairs also got moved into the other closet just because they are rarely used and because that room is where the folding table is.
Yet another project - copy VHS to DVD

Once again, I found something that created another project. This bag of VHS tapes needs to be converted to digital format and burned to DVD. I have the cable that hooks the computer to the VCR but I don't have video capture software. Hopefully, the someone whose gift this conversion is for isn't reading this post. Or if they are, the pretend they didn't see it so they can be surprised at Christmas instead of irritated that I stole their tapes, LOL

Day 27: Purge dresser

All that remained of "lounge-wear" after the purge
Lightweight sweaters are looking a bit sparse

There wasn't much to do in the dresser. I got rid of some lightweight sweaters and one turtleneck. I got rid of  all but one pair of lounging pants. I typically only need them when I'm sick or when we have company so I don't foresee doing any shopping to replenish that stock. The lightweight sweaters though, I need to make a trip to Goodwill soon. Winter is quickly on its way!

I'm hoping to get the next four projects done before Wednesday so that I can have the post up and ready on the last day.

Only 4 days to go!