Back in the Before Times, February 2020, I went on a trip that included a stop in Japan, which for me meant a stop in Nippori Textile Town aka Fabric Heaven. My dear friend Marie was expecting a baby, and I wanted to make her a little something… then I found this sheep fabric and it was just PERFECT.
Marie loves knitting, and animals, so by association she loves sheep and alpacas – they’re both adorable AND they help make yarn. I loved these cute baby sheep, plus the fabric was gray – extra perfect since I didn’t know the baby’s gender yet.
By the time I started on the quilt, of course, we were in full stay-at-home, mask-up mode. A trip to Japan was as likely as a trip to Mars. I had just completed my rainbow quilt top, QUILTID-19, and in true quilter fashion, I decided to start another quilt top before actually quilting/finishing my first quilt. So I pulled fabrics from my stash to match the sheep accents: soft red, yellow, aqua, and gray; and started cutting.
After the 500+ triangles that went into QUILTID-19, I treated myself to simplicity this round and cut really big triangles, 10″ each, for a breezy 40 triangles total. The finished quilt came out to about 35 x 44″.
One of the hardest parts of quilting, for me, is laying out the blocks. I always have to play around with the layout and I never feel like it’s just right. Here on the left, you can see my “first draft”. I loved the rainbow gradient of QUILTID-19 so much that I considered trying that again, but it didn’t work AT ALL with these colors or the large blocks. I then pivoted toward a flying geese-based design. I chose the solid gray, red, and aqua as my dark contrast, and the yellow, light gray, and light red as my lights. I think this is a fun way to play with a classic quilt pattern: the large scale and the non matchy-matchy makes it more modern.
It was so refreshing to work with these large blocks and the quilt top came together so quickly!
Next it was time to quilt. I once again used my ill-advised method of basting with just straight pins. This quilt wasn’t too big, so it was much easier to wrestle through my home machine. I also didn’t need to use nearly this many pins!
I quilted with simple diagonal lines again. I like how the minimal quilting keeps quilts more lightweight and “scrunchable”. I also don’t trust myself to do intersecting quilting lines yet… I just know that will cause some puckers to get sewn down on the back of the quilt.
I didn’t want to add yet another print, so I bound the quilt in the same solid dark gray that I used for some of the blocks. This also helped to tie in the dark gray blocks, since that was the darkest color on the quilt top. The dark gray border gave it an anchor.
I always make my own quilt binding, and this one I cut on straight grain rather than the bias. Here’s how I bind my quilts. But I did the binding entirely by machine this time! No more hand sewing for me. I used this machine binding tutorial from APQS and intend to machine bind probably all of my future quilts. I also believe that machine binding will hold up better to regular machine washing.
As always, I find Clover wonder clips to be a godsend when it comes to binding.
Finally it was all done and ready to make the long journey to the UK!
Baby Benjamin and his cat friends – I’m not sure whether this is Luna or Tonks (fantastic names) – are big fans. The quilt has been part of tummy time and many a park outing and I’m so, so glad it’s being used and loved!
I also love that many of the fabrics have tiny animals on them (including more tiny sheep!). It’s so fun to think of Baby Ben becoming Toddler Ben and noticing the little zebras, sheep, and elephants on his quilt. Every baby quilt should have a little bit of I Spy to it, I think.
These are my go-to quilting items that I used on this (and every) project:
The Warm Company Warm And Natural Cotton Needled Batting 90″x96″ – this batting is so easy to work with! Natural and not too heavy.
Juki HZL-F600 – My trusty sewing machine. I finally upgraded a few years ago and this machine is just amazing. I wouldn’t have dared to machine quilt anything bigger than a placemat on my old machine.
Clover wonder clips – Perfect for pinching and holding layers together without pins.
As I mentioned in my intro to Me-Made May 2020, the true value in MMM is the opportunity to reflect on my handmade wardrobe. When I’m wearing me-mades every day for a month, I’m able to make better decisions about what I should make next, and what I probably shouldn’t make again.
When I look at the clothes I’ve sewn, I tend to focus on the exciting pieces: the dresses, the printed tops, the jumpsuit. But when it comes to everyday wear, the basic pieces are the ones I reach for again and again, but never giving them the credit they deserve. And possibly the most overlooked of all are my refashions : the items of clothing that I have modified, slightly or extensively, to better fit my body and my style.
These are two of my favorite t-shirts, first because of the designs but second because of the way they fit and feel. They are well worn and well loved because I took the time to make them fit me better than the “one shape” t-shirts they were when I bought them.
The Guster shirt is the softest shirt, but it was a unisex shirt that just fit me like a square. I wanted to wear it because it was so comfy, but whenever I had it on, I just felt like a bum. So I took the sides in very slightly and added a little bit of shaping along the side seam. I also shortened the sleeves. Finally, I removed the neck band and cut a bigger neck hole with a little bit of a V-shape. The new neckband needed to be longer than the original, so I patched the back of the neckband with a piece of the fabric that had come off the sleeves – if you look at the photo you should be able to see the seam.
(p.s. here’s my favorite Guster song, Come Downstairs and Say Hello. The line “be calm, be brave, it’ll be okay” is pretty perfect for our current uncertain times.)
This neckline trick is my favorite t-shirt upgrade. It makes a huge difference in the “frumpy factor” of your average tee. I did the same thing after I bought this amazing shirt from Mood. The fit was fine on this one, but the neckline was really high and awkward. I love wearing black, but with the neckline that high, I looked extra ghostly. So I did the same neckline trick: removed the ribbing, cut a new neckline, and lengthened the ribbing with a scrap before reattaching it.
Because how could I NOT wear this shirt all the time? The only t-shirt I’ve ever seen with a golden yellow sewing machine on it. I love it so much.
These are straightforward fixes but they do take effort. I am very fast at seam ripping, even overlock stitches, but that doesn’t mean I enjoy it. And you might be reading this and thinking, “wow, that is so not worth it,” and that’s where I disagree. Refashions are just like any other handmade article of clothing for me in that my number one goal is to be happy wearing it. I’m not saying any of my clothes are perfect – they’re certainly not – but when I can make a small change to increase my happiness in a big way every time I wear the garment, that’s hugely worth it to me.
Another basic refashion is the one I did of this knit dress. I found it at the thrift store and loved the fabric, but the sleeves were just weird. The dress was sized “One Size” – thanks, American Apparel, I won’t go into the obvious exclusion in that move but this dress is a size Small for sure. And the sleeves were more like size XXS. I could wear the tunic just fine, it’s form fitting but comfortable, but the sleeves were not properly sized to the garment (or my chaturanga shoulders).
Basically it was a poorly drafted series of three tubes – 1 body and 2 arms – but I still loved the fabric so I was willing to experiment. I chopped off the sleeves but left about 1″ of sleeve remaining, so I could turn it under and hem for a little cap-sleeve dolman look. With the sleeves taken care of, the only challenge left was the neckline. With the “all tubes” pattern drafting, the neckline wasn’t really a neckline at all but a straight line, and when I wore it the extra fabric just gapped and flapped. I cut a slightly round neck and added some elastic along my neck hem instead of ribbing to keep the fabric from stretching out.
Now it’s comfy, wearable, and I kept the most important feature of the original: the pockets!
Not all me-mades have to be fancy or elaborate. Often it’s the simple things that bring the most joy!
And if you want more ideas for “real” refashions (beyond a neckline or sleeve chop), Trish has done tons of amazing refashions and her blog is full of inspiration!
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.
Face masks are all over the news, so I certainly don’t have to tell you much about them. If anything, there’s currently TOO MUCH information out there. If you’re trying to make masks to donate to medical professionals, make sure you understand the requirements of your local community. Many hospitals are requesting specific patterns and styles. Mask Match can help match you with a local medical professional who is in need of your masks!
But my masks are not to a specific hospital spec, they’re just for me and David to wear on errands, as a courtesy to the community and the workers there. Fancy Tiger Crafts summarized it perfectly, and helped to convince me: “We all need to be wearing masks when going on essential errands or outside, both to protect our essential workers and the most vulnerable, and to help de-stigmatize the wearing of masks.”
I am so grateful for everyone who is still working at Publix right now, enabling me to pick up essentials like bananas, salad, and Haagen Dazs. But these workers are out in public all day, and have to come into contact with so many strangers. I’m choosing to wear a mask at the grocery store to help give the Publix workers a tiny bit of peace of mind.
One of the many tricky things about this virus is its incubation time: the long period of time in which people may be contagious without having any symptoms. We may be asymptomatic and still pose a risk to our community. We all have to continue to do our best to remain isolated, and for those moments that we can’t maintain isolation, a face mask is a courteous way to protect our community.
The Fancy Tiger Crafts post has many good resources. This is the mask pattern I used. Just two 6×9″ rectangles (optional middle layer for more filtration) and two 7″ elastic ties per mask. I used quilting cotton for the outside, and a soft flannel for the inside/face side. Three pleats on each side (the most finnicky part) and some topstitching, then all done!
I made two masks for each of us so that we can wash one after each wear, and wear the spare while the first is drying. We don’t wear them outside – it’s too hot for that, and not necessary since we maintain distance from others while walking. But for going into stores, it’s nice to be able to show the workers that we care about keeping them safe.
Even before all this practice, I’ve always been fantastic at self-isolation. There are very few things I love more than hiding inside with a pile of projects and sewing away, with occasional breaks for yoga, walks, or snacks.
So it should come as no surprise that this is what my sewing room table looked like a mere 48 hours into enforced isolation. I cut out a quilt! I made cushions for my mid-century lounge chair! And I made a very happy new couch pillow.
The front is a fabric I snagged as soon as it was released, llamas as part of the Stencil collection by Ellen Baker for Kokka. I never buy fabric online, so this was a rare exception!
As usual, it was hard to cut into one of my favorite fabrics… but, as always, I’m so glad I did because now I get to look at the pillow every day, instead of the fabric sitting buried in a bin.
I made my own piping using store-bought bias tape and some tiny cording that’s meant for Roman shades. I feel like piping elevates a simple project like this pillow so much, and it’s really not that hard with the right tools. I finally caved and bought this set of piping feet… it makes all the difference in the world.
The back fabric is a remnant I brought back from Japan on my recent (pre-pandemic) trip. I’m really happy with the way the colors coordinate with the llamas without being overly matchy.
I can never hide a happy colored zipper, so I left this one exposed rather than using a lapped installation as a couch pillow “should”. No-rules sewing! I’m such a rebel.
Especially when I’m spending so much time at home, it’s fun to change things up. I’ve been wanting to make new couch pillows for ages, and this one adds such a nice dose of brightness to my white couch! Are there any overlooked home projects that you’re diving into with this extra at-home time?
I often sew in silence, but lately I’ve been listening to audiobooks from the library, or watching through classes from the Bluprint Creative Care Package. Bluprint is offering unlimited free classes through April 9 to help with social distancing. It’s free to sign up, you don’t even need to give a credit card! Jen Hewett has a new block printing course for Bluprint and even though I’ve taken her class in person, I’m planning to listen through it to soak up even more the second time around.
Full disclosure, I am a Bluprint affiliate, but I’m also taking advantage of this special they have right now and I’m excited for the opportunity to learn some new tricks.