Tuesday, December 29, 2015

Christmas-Themed Seamwork Denali Vest

You guys have heard of Seamwork Magazine, right? It's a monthly online sewing magazine that also includes two patterns that take three hours or less to complete. Access to the articles is free and the patterns are $7 each, or you can subscribe and get them both for $6.

The October issue featured menswear and included two unisex patterns: a sweatshirt and a vest. I knew immediately that I wanted to make the Denali vest! My least favorite thing about these patterns is that they are PDF and you have to print and tape them all together. It seems like a waste of my precious free time. But I didn't really have a choice since these patterns are only offered as PDFs.

My original plan was to make an autumn themed vest that was burgundy and plaid, but that never happened. Then when I was in Joann at the end of October I happened upon this awesome fleece-backed knit Christmas print and snatched some up. I'm glad I did, because the next time I went back there wasn't any left. I also found pre-quilted navy fabric at Joann, which was a super time saver.

The weekend before Christmas I had a pocket of free time before a dinner date with friends so I cut out all of the pattern pieces and started sewing. This thing goes together quickly! Definitely under three hours from start to finish, as long as you don't have major issues installing the snaps.

Am I the only one who struggles with getting snaps to clasp together correctly without ruining them? It took FOREVER to get these eight snaps on and my husband and I ruined at least 10 snaps in the process. I think part of the issue was that the vest is thicker than recommended for the Dritz snaps, but the cheap installation tool is also partly to blame. It was such a relief when that last one attached!

And then it was 70 degrees on Christmas (in SE Pennsylvania!) so I wore it to my in-laws' house and promptly took it off. I wore it home from my parents' house later that night, but I didn't really need it. I felt like I needed to get some wear out of it for my efforts! It was finally the perfect temperature to wear today on a day date with my husband to Distrito. If you haven't been there, I highly recommend. It's my favorite restaurant and we appropriately pigged out. And then browsed for books while we tried to digest. It was the perfect setting for a dreary day photo shoot!


In retrospect, I would have only used one layer of the knit fabric for the pockets so the edges don't turn out so bulky. The pockets are actually lined up on the vest, I think I'm just standing kind of weird here. There were so many people around and it was hard to get a good shot in without looking like a total nut!

I took extra care to line up the fabric straight when cutting out the pattern pieces, but the placement of the red row at the seam was a very happy accident! I was focusing on getting the snowflakes and reindeer in (they are under my hair), but the red row is the perfect framing for the back yolk.

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 I also really love the inside. The facings with the lining make it nice and clean inside and out.

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All in all, the pattern is a little boxy, but it was quick and easy for a Christmas-themed article of clothing!

Monday, December 28, 2015

The Year I Made 105 Handmade Christmas Gifts

I know that title seems insane, but I actually did make 105 handmade gifts for Christmas this year! OK, some of them were batch gifts, but when divided, they came out to 105 items. Am I nuts? Perhaps, but there is a reason to my madness. My husband’s family decided to forego a Pollyanna for the adults and just get something small for everyone’s stocking. The kids, of course, can receive gifts from everyone, but since it’s been getting harder and harder to find gifts for the adults, we all welcomed this change. I also knew that we’d have a few extra guests this year with my brother in law’s family joining us from Honduras, so I wanted to make our stocking gifts extra special. This simple idea turned into my most prolific handmade Christmas to date. Or probably ever. Maybe.

My initial plan for the stockings was to make about 12 different gifts, have the adults draw numbers, and then select their gift in that order. Then I decided to expand the stocking gifts to my family too. Then I had so much fun making the gifts that I decided to expand the game: the adults get to select one gift from each of three categories of gifts. The categories are: rope bowls, concoctions, and comfort. Here we go, but forgive my pictures. I was managed to get everything done on time but I didn’t have time to get good pictures of everything. Forgive my late-night, bad lighting photos!


Rope Bowls
I’ve been seeing these pop up all over Instagram for the past year and finally decided to get over my fear and try it already. They are SO MUCH FUN. I used the Rope Baskets article by Maya Donenfeld in the FOLK issue of Taproot and Amanda Soule’s rope basket post on Soule Mama as references. But honestly, making them is really a practice of trial and error. The width/length of the zig zag stitch, the size of the base, the angle that you hold the base while sewing the sides, and the color thread that you use make the bowl completely unique every time. It’s exciting to see how tiny variations make such different bowls. I’ve never used a pottery wheel, but I imagine the process of seeing the bowl take shape as you sew is very similarly gratifying to seeing clay take shape on a wheel. And the entire process is so mindless you could use this as a nice buffer between intense sewing projects or just when you need a mental break.


I added an extra element of adventure by dyeing the rope with natural ingredients. My first attempt was a mish mosh of things that I found in the kitchen. I started with a small amount of frozen blueberries. When that didn’t really do much, I added dried peppers, chili powder, and cayenne pepper, but the rope still didn’t change colors that much. Then I turned to curry and that whole combination resulted in a yellowish green, almost citron color. For the second batch I returned to blueberries but used a whole frozen package, which worked great! The last two batches were made with turmeric and about two weeks’ worth of used coffee grinds. I felt like a mad scientist playing with all of the elements! And the one positive to the unseasonably warm weather we’ve been having is that I was able to hose down the coffee-dyed rope outside without freezing. I like the blueberry and turmeric dyes the best.


I’m toying with the idea of selling these at local craft fairs because I can’t get enough of the dyeing and making them. I used a cotton/poly clothesline that I found online for the Christmas gifts, but afterward I decided to go all-natural and I found 100% cotton rope from a company based in Ohio. I’m sure you’ll hear more about this in the coming months.

I’ve been making homemade cleaning supplies for a few years now and since I started I’ve been meaning to try out more handmade pampering products. Making them for others is the perfect time to try it! It wouldn’t be Christmas in our house unless I was burning something on the stove/oven. Usually it’s butter dripping from my cheesecake pans—this time it was mullein leaves and olive oil. I have no idea what happened, but the end result was me sequestering the burning pot in the backyard and scrapping the homemade vapor rub. I ended up making lemon/grapefruit/orange sugar scrub and bug balm. They both smell so yummy! I used Amy Karol’s recipes for both. She has a great homemade apothecary class on Creativebug, btw. I’m also making myself a batch of vapor rub, but making the mullein oil the slow way by steeping mullein leaves in olive oil for two weeks. We’ll see how it turns out!


Infinity scarf: Earlier this year I won an infinity scarf kit and the fabric wasn’t my style, so I decided to make the scarf and offer it up as stocking stuffer. The pattern is free from Free Spirit. It came out cute, but the pleats were kinda a pain and the whole project took way too long for the end result. I doubt I’d make this again.


Coasters: After seeing the adorable modern quilted coasters from Very Shannon on Sew Mama Sew’s Handmade Holidays, I decided to whip up a few sets of these very simple coasters from a charm pack of Anna Maria Horner’s Honor Roll that I bought to pad my cart so I wouldn’t have to pay for shipping from Fabric.com. Of course mine are much more simple than the tutorial, but I’m totally fine with that!

Eye Pillows: I’ve had the free Amy Butler Eye Pillow pattern in my files for years and finally found the time to make it! And I was able to use scraps to make them (Amy Butler Midwest Modern and Nicey Jane by Heather Bailey).

Head/Neck Heating Pad: Another great scrap buster pattern! I saw this one on Sew Mama Sew Handmade Holidays from Sew Can She. They were the most popular item during the game.


It was fun to see the anticipation while our family members selected their items. There were some tense moments when one person thought the other was going to select the item that they wanted! It all turned out great in the end and everyone had fun and enjoyed what they picked out. It was a success!


And then I didn’t stop with the stocking stuffer game.

Exfoliating Peppermint Soap
For a couple of Christmases in the past, I made exfoliating peppermint soap for my co-workers and it was a big hit. Last year I was out on leave during Christmas so I didn’t make any soap and I think I skipped the year before, so I decided it was time to bring back the soap. You would not believe how much people love this stuff. Someone mentions it to me every few months throughout the year without fail. And it’s so easy to make! As long as you remember to make it far enough in advance so it has enough time to cure before wrapping. I was way ahead of the game this year and made the soap on Halloween weekend. Thanks to the delicious peppermint smell permeating our house, I have been in the Christmas spirit for about two months now. I used the Good Morning Soap recipe from Raleigh Briggs’ How to Make Soap Without Burning Your Face Off. Such a great resource and such a brilliant title!

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Red Riding Hood Cape and Tutu from Little Things to Sew
My niece just turned 3 so it was the perfect time to break out the Oliver + S book Little Things to Sew and make her an adorable red riding hood cape. She is super girly and I knew a red cape was a must, so finding the Lizzy House pearl bracelets on sale at Pennington Quilt Works was a bonus. I’m so glad I finally got to make this cape since it was one of two projects that convinced me to buy the book. I made the other, the Explorer Vest, for my nephew in 2011. I can’t believe it’s been that long!


Shortly after I decided to make the red riding hood cape, I decided that now was the perfect time to also make my niece the tutu from Little Things to Sew. This book is filled with relatively quick and easy projects that turn out so wonderfully and hold up to years of abuse. I made the tutu and the cape in one afternoon. I’m glad to report that my niece loved them and put the tutu on right away.


Kids Coasters
The long-running joke that kids will play with anything but the toys you get them is so long running because it’s true. My daughter is constantly picking up and carrying around the coasters in our living room (and everyone else’s living room for that matter), so I made her a few when I was making the stocking stuffer coaster sets. She loved the new ones so much that I made coaster sets for a few of the little ones in our family.


Teacher Clutches
The teachers at my daughter’s day care are so wonderful and they love our little one so much that I knew I wanted to make them something extra special for Christmas. I started out making them gathered clutches by Anna at Noodlehead, but my OCDness couldn’t deal with the un-uniformity of the gathers, so I ended up making them ungathered clutches. I love how the Cotton + Steel prints mix and match.

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Knit Baby Blanket
Almost 10 months ago, my beautiful niece was born and in the flurry that was life having a 3-month old, I never got around to making her a baby blanket. I had the yarn, but it just never happened. I figured now was the time to finally make her a baby blanket before she completely outgrew it. If she doesn’t get much wear out of it now, she can always use it to play with her dolls. Or when she’s older, to cover hot leather car seats in the summer like my family does with our baby blankets. My point: I’m not worried, this thing will get used even though she’s not receiving it as a newborn.


Stackable Ring Toy
Every time I make this toy I vow to never make it again because it always ends up taking way longer than I thought to make it. I finally have the perfect method to making them: I somehow convinced my sewing teacher to assembly line these things with me. She does all of the annoying pinning and then hands them to me to sew and then I hand them back to her for snipping and pinning the next step. It’s perfect! For me, anyway. She doesn’t seem to mind though! Don’t worry, I’m thanking her for her sweat shop contributions by giving her a rope basket and some soap.

The final tallies are:
56 bars of peppermint soap 
16 rope bowls
1 infinity scarf
4 shoulder heating pads
4 eye pillows
3 sets of coasters
6 lemon sugar scrubs
4 bug balms
4 zipper clutches
1 red riding hood cape
1 tutu
3 kids coaster sets
1 knit baby blanket
1 stackable rings toy

It was a busy Christmas season! I think the key to not getting overwhelmed was starting early and using my nights and weekends wisely. I actually didn’t spend every weekend sewing and we were still able to do some fun Christmasy activities. If I hadn’t gotten sick for an entire week in the middle of December, I would have been on track for finishing everything before Christmas Eve.

I still have my mom’s birthday present and my secret quilter gift for Central Jersey to make, so I’m not entirely out of the gift making woods yet. But almost!

I did manage to sneak in some selfish sewing last weekend and made myself a vest that I intended to wear on Christmas. Unfortunately this weird warm weather we’ve been having had a mind of its own and it was too hot to wear it. Stay tuned for pics!