At the beginning of this year, I became a Lector at my church. This means that on my assigned weeks, I get to read one of the Scripture passages of the Mass from the altar. It’s a great privilege and it’s really special to serve in such an active way.
I only had the opportunity to read on three occasions before the church shifted to virtual Masses due to Covid-19, but those three occasions wiped out the majority of my lector-acceptable wardrobe. When I’m scheduled to read, that means I spend the first ten minutes of Mass sitting on the altar, facing the congregation. None of my skirts are very short, but I don’t have many that go well below my knees, and that’s obviously what I want if I’m sitting facing everyone.
“Lector Skirts” were high on my sewing list, and “isewlation” is the perfect time to work through my more practical to-do’s. On my recent trip to Japan and Thailand, I bought this gorgeous poppy-printed rayon in Bangkok specifically to make a lectoring skirt. Fortunately, Bangkok fabric prices mean I always buy more than I need, and I had enough fabric to make a full maxi dress.
I have a much easier time wearing dresses than skirts, because skirts always have the issue of finding a matching top. This dress will be easy to throw on for dinner by the beach (dreaming of someday when we can go out to dinner again!), and it will be perfect for lectoring with a little sweater over my shoulders.
I lined the bodice with a soft knit to add some comfort to an already very comfortable dress. I didn’t use a formal pattern for this dress – a few years ago, my mom bought me a dress in this style and I LOVED the fit but the fabric wasn’t quite right. So I traced the simple shapes of the dress to save the pattern, a la Tabitha Wheelwright, and my mom returned the dress to the store.
I didn’t include pockets as I was sewing the dress because I was eager to just be DONE. And then I realized a dress without pockets is just sad. So I opened the seams back up and added in-seam pockets. I might not use them often but I’m glad they’re there.
I have fun selecting lining fabrics that coordinate rather than perfectly match. This allows me to work from my stash and worry less about having all the perfect fabrics before I can complete a garment. My bodice lining is a golden yellow that matches the yellow poppies, and again, it’s comfy knit which is more important to me than having it be a perfect match. And the in-seam pockets are a peach that matches the pink flowers. The pockets, especially, are never seen from the outside of the garment, so this fabric was also chosen by weight first – it’s a midweight rayon with enough support for a pocket, but thin enough that it won’t weigh down the dress.
The back has a little keyhole with a button, which is mostly a design detail, as I don’t need to unbutton it to put on the dress. Choosing buttons is always both very fun and very challenging! Here I debated going for something more “fun”, like a flower shaped button, or something more contrasting, like the handful of yellow buttons I found in my stash. In the end, I went with a flat pink shank button… nothing fancy, but I like its simplicity. I used a thin hairtie for the button loop! I have a whole pack of assorted colored hairties that I keep on hand for occasions like these when I might need a thin, colored elastic.
I’m looking forward to the day when I can wear this dress farther than around the block to my favorite pink wall! But I can’t complain about days spent inside, they certainly help me cross projects off the endless to-sew list.
Happy May! Somehow, we’ve made it all the way to this new month and it’s time for my favorite sewing-community celebration: Me-Made May. Started by Sozo Blog, here’s her Me-Made May FAQ if you want a formal introduction.
The wonderful thing about Me-Made May is that it’s simply a celebration of anyone who makes their own clothes. There aren’t formal rules or requirements. I’m realizing now that I’ve never actually posted my outfits in past Mays, so this will be a first. I’ve done a few Mays now, though, where I’ve worn at least one me-made garment every day for a month, and I love the challenge.
My first MMMay must have been at least five years ago now, but May arrived and I decided I was ready to take part. I’m best at all-or-nothing, so I decided to wear at least one handmade article of clothing each day. It was a big decision at the time. I had a pile of handmade tops in my dresser, but for some reason they hadn’t really made it into my wardrobe rotation. I mostly wore jeans to work, and there weren’t really any rules for what tops I could wear, but for some reason I never chose my me-mades.
I think that in my head, that pile of shirts was still just, “things I made,” not, “things I wear”. It wasn’t a pile of clothes, it was a pile of accomplishments. But what a sad life for a shirt to lead!
Suddenly, every morning when I opened my dresser, I was confronting that pile of handmade shirts, and forced to choose one. It was a huge learning experience! I wore each shirt all day, and at the end of the day knew exactly how I felt about it. There was at least one that didn’t fit quite right, and I knew I shouldn’t use the pattern again. There were a few whose fabric wasn’t quite right, or that didn’t feel like me. But for the most part, I felt great. I was wearing the clothes I had made, clothes I was proud of, clothes that made me feel like me.
It’s not an exaggeration to say that one month of focus changed my sewing habits and my dressing habits for good. My (Marie-Kondo-folded) tops sit in my drawer by color, with the me-mades interspersed between ready-to-wear: they’re no longer sacred objects, they’re just clothes, and I wear them. I make much better decisions now when buying fabric, and I’m able to focus on buying fabrics to make garments that I’ll actually wear. My sewing practice feels much more efficient and joyful when I know that I’ll wear the clothes I make, even if they take more time or effort.
This year, I’m planning to wear a me-made every day. Sometimes this might just be a simple refashion, but every day it will be something that came from my sewing machine. Unlike previous years, I’m going to document what I can. One of the downsides to sewing more basic, wearable garments, is that when I finish them I simply… wear them. This is fantastic! This is what they’re made for! But this also means I skip pictures for the blog or Instagram, and MMMay will be a perfect time to catch up and share.
I’m excited, as always, to take stock of my handmade garments and re-find some old favorites. I’m hopeful that I will be able to better diagnose any gaps in my handmade wardrobe, and maybe get to start on some new projects. I’m already loving the peek into what everyone else is wearing – the #memademay2020 hashtag on Instagram is an absolutely fantastic source for finding new patterns to try. I made a hashtag to keep track of my outfits this year: you can follow along at #samanthasewsmmm2020!
My formal goals are to post at least 2 outfits per week to instagram, and blog one article of clothing per week, but I’ll be wearing me-mades every day even if I don’t post.
Are you playing this year? What’s your goal? And if you’re posting outfits somewhere, please share – I’d love to see.
David is a huge Star Wars fan, so we watched The Mandalorian as soon as the first episode was available. He was hooked from the first second of the first episode because… it was Star Wars. I was hooked by the end of the episode, when we got our first glimpse of “baby yoda”.
I wanted to hug baby yoda from that moment on, and certainly the rest of the internet shares my feelings. But it wasn’t until David wondered aloud, “I wonder if you could make a baby yoda,” and “maybe for my birthday,” that I really began to plan the plush version in my head. I mean, was that a challenge? Of my plush-making abilities?!
Baby yoda took a lot of planning, sketching, and practice sewing. First his head was too big, then too small. For my first ear prototype, I lined the ears with a furry fabric to give him some ear fuzz, but that immediately turned him from baby yoda into just… regular Yoda.
And I have a newfound respect for the Muppet/Yoda sculptors because it is alarmingly easy to turn baby yoda from cute into horrifying – just a few millimeters difference in eye placement or ear size could transform him from that cuddly frog-snacker into some kind of Furby-monster.
All of this tweaking, cutting, and stitching happened in secret, because I forbade David enter the sewing room by telling him I was working on my wedding dress. I would have known if he tried to peek, too, because I’m sure he would have been horrified to see the green fleece and tan fur as part of my “wedding dress” progress.
There are many stuffed baby yodas on the internet, but the pièce de résistance of my version is, in my opinion, his little mug. My favorite scene (and corresponding gif) featuring baby yoda is when he is holding his little mug, and casually takes a sip as he stares at the world with his adorable giant bug eyes. I knew my version needed a mug, but I didn’t want him to have the mug all the time… so of course the answer relies on the magic that is magnets.
Each of his little hands has a steel washer sewn inside, and the mug (filled with blue milk, which I thought would be appropriate) has two hefty rare earth magnets sewn inside.
I filled his base with poly pellets, the little plastic beads used in Beanie Babies, so he has enough heft to stand on his own… most of the time. When I took these photos outside, the wind buffeted his giant ears more than once, causing the poor little guy to faceplant on the ground.
When it came time for David’s birthday, back in late January, I wrapped baby yoda in a box with his mug to the side, the “accessory kit”. (I’m still meaning to make a frog with magnets, too, to complete the collection). David loved it. He was completely surprised and very impressed, so it’s safe to say that I’ve defended my custom-plush-making crown.
Oh, Nippori Textile Town. It’s hard for me to even begin to describe it because I know I’ll sound sappy and overdramatic. But it’s a truly magical place for anyone who loves fabric. And boy, do I love fabric.
It’s surreal to be sharing this post right now – I can’t believe that just over 2 months ago I flew halfway around the world, and now I barely leave my house! But I think we’re all in need of a virtual adventure, so I hope you enjoy this photographic trip to Japan.
My first visit to Nippori was in the fall of 2015. It was delightful and overwhelming. I was determined to see as many of the shops as I could – I just had to see everything to really get a feel for the place and my options. This is my typical way of absorbing new places, especially when there’s something as valuable as “fabric variety” at stake.
My research served me well because for this trip, I was able to prioritize. You might think this means I spent less time in Nippori than on my first trip… oh no. I spent a day and a half exploring the fabric street. But the majority of that time was spent at Tomato – specifically, the bottom floor of the big Tomato store: the sale floor.
There are multiple small Tomato shops on the street, each with a different focus: notions, home decor fabrics, fashion fabrics. But the heart of Nippori is the 5-story mega-Tomato store, filled with mostly quilt-weight cottons.
My recommendation is to take the elevator to the top, then walk through each floor on your way down. Each floor has specific fabrics, some are grouped by country of origin, others by fabric type. There’s one floor of novelty fabrics, with great holiday prints and prints of all the animated characters you could want: Hello Kitty/Sanrio, Pokemon, Nintendo, Miffy, even some Japan-exclusive Disney prints. And of course, there are the Nani Iro and Kokka sections, made for swooning.
My recommendation is to swoon away, soak it all in, but don’t buy anything until you’ve explored the ground level, the sale floor. This is where I’ve found so many treasures! It’s like eating salad before a meal: snagging some good sale fabrics helps me to exercise better restraint with the full-priced fabrics.
Fabric prices in Japan are similar to those in the US, in my opinion. The nice quilting fabric starts around $7-8 per meter and then goes up to $20 or so for the Echino Kokka or Nani Iro designer fabrics. The sale floor, though, averages $4-8 per meter and there’s even a section where all fabrics are 100 yen per meter – about a dollar! Most of these are what you’d expect for the bargain-bin zone, just solid fabrics of varying weights, but a lot of it is great quality (if mysterious in content).
I’m sure you can find just about any fabric in Nippori, but since I’m always limited by suitcase space, I aim for print cottons because that’s what I think Japan does best. Japanese fabrics are adorable while not being 100% cutesy. I can never get over how many normal-seeming prints have animals hiding throughout, like the Hello Kittys and polar bears in the fabrics above.
Many of the prints are whimsical; many are geometric or modern. They’re all just so much fun.
Besides Tomato, here’s what I call “my other favorite shop”, or also, “the shop with the red awning with the cute little girl with scissors”. It does also have a real name: Yamayo (24 on the map). They obviously can’t compete with the sheer volume of inventory at Tomato, but they have a well curated selection of quilting cottons and novelty prints, plus some fun notions and tools.
Another treasure trove is Satoh Bin, down at the end of the street. It’s extremely unassuming from the outside, but if you’re anything like me, the rubbermaid bins full of clearance remnants will draw you right inside. They had all sorts of fun stuff, all in half-meter cuts: past seasons of Cotton and Steel, Alexander Henry, and other quality designer quilting cottons. Each cut is marked with its price, and some of them are crazy cheap! Even the most expensive were around 500 yen / $4.50 USD for a half meter but many of the pieces were 150-200 yen.
Finally, I know what you’re thinking – show me what you bought already! Here are the gems that came home with me. A lot of linen-blend cottons in the best jewel tones. Some fun animals: polar bears, space animals!, French bulldogs, Shiba Inus with sushi. And of course some Cotton + Steel remnants, and just about any fabric with gold metallic ink.
I’ve already started cutting into some of these and can’t wait to share my next few projects with you. Fabrics like these sure make it easy to want to sew happy things!
It’s extremely easy to get to Nippori from Narita airport – the Skyliner goes straight from Narita to Nippori with no stops. The ride is less than an hour and costs about $25 USD each way. Or you can arrive from anywhere in Tokyo by subway. The Tokyo subway is extremely intimidating, but I just focus on where I need to go and block the rest out, and that works. Also, each stop has a number as well as a name which is hugely helpful if you don’t speak Japanese.
Here are my favorites. The numbers correspond to the Nippori guide map.
24. Yamayo (Google Maps)
22. And Leather (Google Maps)
59. Tomato, main shop (Google Maps)
79. Satoh Bin (Next to humongous, Google Maps)
To see my haul from my first time in Nippori, visit Fabric Shopping in Japan on the Fluffyland blog.
Quilt top DONE! I spent most of Thursday piecing and sewing. I had arranged and pinned the turquoise triangles Wednesday night, so I knew that if I powered through, I could finish both the turquoise section AND the cobalt section to finish the quilt top by Thursday night. It was a lot of sewing for one day, but I’m so excited to have a completed quilt top!
I immediately wrapped it around my shoulders and ran (carefully) down the stairs to show David my “coat of many colors”.
Quilting has been wonderful for keeping my hands busy while my mind wanders or listens to stories and podcasts. I’m always looking for recommendations! Here are a few of my favorites at the moment.
In daily snippets, I’m loving the Robinhood Snacks Daily Podcast. It might not seem like the best time for financial news, but the hosts are goofy and give good perspective on the incredibly volatile market movement lately. It’s interesting to hear how different companies are responding to what the hosts call “the coronaconomy”.
And in longer form, I’ve been listening to Ann Patchett’s This is the Story of a Happy Marriage, a compilation of essays that were previously published in a variety of magazines. It’s always wonderful to listen to an audiobook read by the author, and this is no exception… I love Patchett’s subtle but endearing Tennessee drawl. The essays are the perfect length for sewing entertainment – they’re long for essays, at about 1-1.5 hours each, so they give me a good amount of focused time but then remind me to take breaks. I just completed her novel State of Wonder (in visual-book, not audiobook, form) and was entranced! So it’s fun to listen and absorb her non-fiction writing for some contrast.
And, especially while doing the endless ironing that a quilt requires, I’ve been streaming lots of Bluprint classes (free for another 3 days!). I’m trying to soak up as much about free-motion quilting as I can, because I’m hoping to quilt this one myself on my home machine. I’ve never wrestled a quilt this big through the quilting process, but multiple instructors have shown me that it’s possible, so I’m going to try.
I even chose my backing last week! The majority of my stash is half-yard to 1.5-yard cuts, so I was convinced I’d either have to piece a backing or wait to go to the store (not a great option!). But then I remembered this mustard cactus print. It’s a block print I found in Jaipur, and I loved it so much that I bought five whole yards. Five yards! That’s unheard of for me. And wouldn’t you know, but that’s exactly what I need for this quilt. I have about a foot left over.
It’s always hard to use a fabric that I love so dearly, but as I said at the beginning, a main goal of this quilt is to give life to some of my most beloved fabrics so they’re not just confined in bins forever. So as much as I dreamed of using the mustard cacti to make as many projects as I could… it will be a well-loved quilt back and this is a place of honor for it.
It’s also very, very soft! And was I really going to be able to wear that color? Absolutely not.
Now I’m just waiting on my batting to be shipped by the skeleton crew at Joann’s… but it’s already looking very much like a Real Quilt!
Click here to see all the posts about my Quarantine Quilt, QUILTID-19.