Tuesday, 31 March 2015

Making Soap

Hello, my name is Mandykatt and I’m a serial crafter. I have a large Expedit case full of banker’s boxes labelled with a different craft. Stamp carving, fabric painting, soap making, embroidery, paper crafts, fine arts drawing… I can’t stop myself! I want to do it all. I even learned to weld in high school, though I was never very good at it.

I found a recipe for coconut milk soap online that seemed really straight forward and used only a few inexpensive ingredients, which seemed perfect to start with. I headed to Voyageur soap and candle and purchased my supplies, then to Dollarama for my tools. Dollarama is a crafter’s best friend.  You can get anything and everything there for $3 or less.

Aki helped me make the soap at the beginning of March.  He helped measure everything except the lye, and then I went outside and mixed it all up.  My recipe failed to mention anything about temperature control so I ended up soaping too hot.  It worked, but not the best results.  Trace (the thickening of the liquid mixture) was accelerated and it nearly ceased up (turned solid and unworkable) on me.  I glopped it into my tray mold and called it good.  I'm pretty sure it went through a complete gel phase it was so hot. Whoops!

Cut bar on the laundry sink. It's a little soft so I've stacked soap dishes to help drain it.
Aki insisted on colouring it green. I tried to convince him that coconut soap would be better white, but he didn't buy it.  It took on a snot green colour that gets a sort of theme going with the embedded coconut shreds. Spart is less than happy to use it.

That's been left to cure for 6 weeks, minus the above pictured bar that I couldn't wait any longer for. I'll parade the rest out at the end of April.

Next, we tried some melt and pour glycerin soaps.


In the beginning, I had overlooked melt and pour because I thought it would be boring.  It's true that if I were to keep this hobby to myself I probably wouldn't bother with it, but since the kids want to help me and it seems a wonderfully useful thing to make together, I decided to go this route.

I wanted to test my colours, so we did one of each colour.  We're going to try rainbow stripes over Easter, I can hardly wait!

Who's a cute little bunny rainbow?

You are!  You're a cute little bunny rainbow!

They're bubblegum scented! I used the LabColours to colour them, and I'm really happy with how vibrant they are!

I tried some cold process again because I like the mad scientist feeling I get when working with it.  I did up a castile soap, which is just olive oil and lye.  No scents, no colours, no other oils.  I used a pomice olive oil, so it reached trace pretty quickly.  I had read it could take hours, but it was under 10 minutes.



It looks like a partial gel to me. I forgot to wrap it in a blanket to conserve heat.  One day I will remember every single step and it will all come together perfectly.  I'm looking at larger loaf molds so I can make this to then melt down and make fancier milled soaps with.  This way I don't have to do a whole batch of soap using expensive ingredients, I can just do a bar or two.

I then did a lavender slab.  This was at Spart's request as he likes lavender a lot.



Looking good! I even think this could be unmolded after a 24 hour sit.


I may have a problem....

Sunday, 29 March 2015

Of wide leg jeans

Once upon a time, in a land somewhat far from here, there was a young woman who liked to dress in a somewhat shocking manner. Being the early 00’s, shocking styles weren’t hard to come by. I think that whole new millennium thing was way too exciting for some people so space-age clothes and a slight post-apocalyptic flair influenced the trends.

Ripped Jeans




Belly shirts




Metallic anything

So much metallic.

But also, being Canadians, there were a lot of cultural influences involved. Short skirts weren’t practical in the winter, and polyester wasn’t in the summer.  One of the ways Canadians survive the extremes of their seasons is to always adapt to their environment.

(side note: I actually don’t remember a lot of fashion trends from high school.  I remember that Columbia brand Bugaboo coats were the winter must-have for the stylish set, and almost everyone wore those awful GAP hoodies.)


This young woman dressed in a way that had her dad comparing her wardrobe to Zoot suits. Excessively wide leg jeans.  The most excessive, the better.

Burda pattern, but adapted to use the entire width of the 150cm fabric.

Now, she lived in a small town, a farming community, where the “acceptable” clothing shops were in Brantford, about a 45 minute drive away, and the “good” shops were in the large city just over an hour’s drive away.  Of course, the “best” shopping was had in Toronto, which was about a three hour drive depending on traffic and how many wrong turns you took once in the city. So, styles were limited to whatever you found in town, whatever you ordered from the Sears Catalogue, and whatever you bought on your semi-annual shopping trip to Hamilton or London. The jeans I really liked were sold somewhat locally at the Jean Machine in Tillsonburg.  I loved the JNCO jeans to no end.  However, my clothing budget at the time didn’t allow for $200 jeans.  It didn’t even allow for a $200 winter coat and that was a garment of survival.  So I sewed my own.

My friend Trish modelling my JNCO knock-offs.


(another side note: 10 points to anyone who can guess the town I went to school in based on my description of the shopping choices.)


Not pants, but a skirt.  Same spirit.
And it was glorious.

Wednesday, 25 March 2015

Stash inventory

I’ve been sewing for 20 years, and 10 years ago I worked at a fabric store, so I’ve been collecting fabric for a long, long time. I still have scraps from my first sewing project languishing in my scrap drawer.  I have whole cuts of fabric I vaguely remember buying from Fabricland when it was on sale and apparently went through a polar fleece phase.  There are metres and metres of it in my closet.

And then the patterns.  At the time I worked at Fabricland, we were given free patterns from the pattern suppliers.  Every month we could choose 1 free pattern from Burda, Vogue, Simplicity or New Look and McCalls or Butterick.  Four free patterns a month!  And there were occasional pattern sales for $1.00 or $2.00 which we all dove right into.  I worked there for almost a year, which means I had lots of time to amass a collection.

Being a naturally organized type and hating disorder in my work space, I needed to tackle the fabric and patterns.  Last year I organized everything well and felt good about that, but I still needed a database of some sort to keep track of everything.  My inspiration came from Ravelry’s yarn database organizer.  Item / fibres, purchase details, description / measure, and a photo.  Nice and easy.  Then for the patterns, same deal.  Company, details, suitable fabrics / pattern in mind, and a photo.



I decided to put it in a word document rather than an Excel one.  I can’t remember my reasoning on this, but it’s done now.  I can always export it into Excel later if I feel the need.


This system also helps me to keep track of any PDF patterns I have that I may not have printed off yet. For now, I'm organizing it by garment type like my actual patterns are, but I may change it around and organize by company.

My patterns are cut and folded to fit into these letter-size folders.  The folders fit into the Banker boxes and the Banker boxes fit quite well in my IKEA Expedit case.

The fabrics are mostly hanging up on pant hangers.  The fabrics I'm going to work on next or just bought and am waiting for inspiration for hang in my sewing space on single hangers, and everything else is on four tall hangers in my fabric closet.  I'm trying very hard to destash and work through it all so that I don't have to take over Itsa's closet, but it's not going well.  For every piece that leaves the closet, two new ones move in.  Sorry honey, Mama needs more room for her fabric.  How do you feel about using dressers instead of your closet?

And there's still all that fleece.  What on earth did I buy 10 metres of penguin fleece for?  And why did I lug it across Canada with me?  I must have been a very strange 20 year old.

Thursday, 19 March 2015

Easing sleeves and basting

I'm generally a firm believer in shortcuts.  If I can do something with less effort or time, and still achieve the same results, I'm going to do it.  I guess I'm a bit of a slacker.

Some rules I will always follow to the T though.  Using turn signals for every change in direction while driving, always brush my teeth before bed, don't feed the cats too much no matter how they beg, and always baste sleeve caps before sewing.  ALWAYS.




So when you end up with a fold like above, it's not a big deal.  Just rip the seam about an inch on either side and baste it in again.


You end up with a ruffly thing like this which you then massage into place.  Literally massage with your fingers until it's all smoothed out.


Smooooooth!


And nice and smooth on the inside too.

But Mandykatt, how do you put together the two pieces in the first place? The sleeve has way more fabric than the armhole does! True. And it's a good thing it does or you'd have to walk with your arms straight out the sides because there'd be no ease.  I use this method for pinning a curved piece to a straight piece too, like the bodice front with princess seams.  My teacher showed me this in high school, so I don't actually know if there is a better method, but this produces a nice result so I keep using it.  If anyone knows of a more efficient method for easing in sleeves, let me know please, I'm always eager to learn new techniques.


Get out your pin cushion, you're going to need lots of pins. Start by lining up the notches on either side of the sleeve with the ones on the bodice. These are usually placed just below the area to be eased in (sleeve cap). Right sides together (turn your bodice inside out and the sleeve inside out, and slip the sleeve inside the bodice) and matching front and back notches (back has double notch, front has single for most patterns, read your instructions / photo match your pieces) pin the sleeve to the bodice at the notches.  Then pinch the two pins together and find the middle of the sleeve cap on both pieces.  Mark those points with pins, then match them and pin together.



Keep folding in half between two pins, finding the middles and pinning together.  The steeper the curve the closer the pins should be.


Try to stay within the seam allowance to keep the garment maneuverable under the sewing needle.


Raw edges should also line up the whole way around. Pin the bottom of the sleeve to the bottom of the armhole without easing.


Handle carefully or that's going to hurt.


Baste in slowly, removing pins as they reach the presser foot.

Yay for smooth sleeves!  I know some people are intimidated by sewing in sleeves, but it's really not that big a thing.  Baste first, use lots of pins, and go slow.  You'll be pro in no time!

Tuesday, 17 March 2015

Sweater Mending

A client gave me a Cashmere sweater to mend for her.  It's her favourite, and she's worn the elbows out of it but it's in great shape otherwise.  The sweater was sooooo soft, so I can see why it's her favourite! The elbows had holes in them, and the underside of the arms have been worn completely smooth and shiny from use.  Thankfully, she suggested I sew up the pockets and repurpose that fabric into elbow patches. It's so much easier to mend something with visible patches than it is to do invisible mending.

First up was to baste a square of silk organza over the hole.  Normally, I'd put it on the inside, next to the skin, but this time I did it on the outside, between the sleeve and the patch. This is to keep the super soft cashmere on the skin, and to completely hide the organza from sight on either side. Silk organza gave me something to stitch onto to close the hole, adds strength to the area, and doesn't add much weight other than the thread.

Then I dropped the feed dogs in my machine and did a little free-motion mending.  This is the most fun part for me. I put down A LOT of thread since this is a well-loved and well-worn sweater.


Then I removed the basting and trimmed 'er down. Again, since I put this on the outside, I didn't have to trim right up to the thread and could leave a little boarder.


From the inside: (pat on the back for that well-matched thread colour)


Both together now.

These little slit pockets enabled me to sew them up and just snip off a double layer of fabric for nice, thick patches.


Cut off the edges, turn right sides out.


When pinning through only one layer, like sleeves, I like to put a ruler in between the layers so I don't accidentally pin through all layers.  It works quite nicely and is one of those "Why didn't I think of that sooner?" things.

Pinned nice and well so as not to shift.


And basted on before the actual stitching.


I did debate about using my machine to do free-motion stitches or to hand-stitch the patches on. In the end, I didn't think I was good enough at free-motion to use it in a visible way yet, but I knew my hand stitching was reliable and tidy. So I just backstitched 1/4" inside the edges, then did a blanket stitch around the perimeter of the patch.  I also tossed in a few pick stitches to keep the layers together and not look so poofy.



The patches should get worn in and slightly felted over time so they'll look much less obvious.  And my client should be able to wear out the rest of the sweater before she wears out her elbows again now.

Sunday, 15 March 2015

Self-made wardrobe

This post doesn't have any relevant photos, so I'm just putting in photos of my cats. Babe has the mostly white nose, and Ebony has the mostly black one.

Sisters from the same litter.

Happy to nap on the kid's stuff.


When I talk to non-sewing people about sewing, they’re often most amazed at my self-made wardrobe.  I admit that I didn’t really think it would be possible until I started on it last year.

My inspiration came from the book Overdressed:  The shockingly High Cost of Cheap Fashion by Elizabeth Cline.  I read the book in January 2014, and it made a lot of sense to me.  I know the title makes it sound like it will be an expose on Sweat Shops or third world labour, but it’s really not.  It does mention that and touch upon it a bit, but the book is actually about our relationship with the clothes we buy in stores.  It focuses mostly on the American market, but I found it mostly relevant for the Canadian market as well.  Obviously, our commodities are more expensive than the US, but we share many brands and manufacturers.

Sorry Mandy, your dad's not getting his package. Cat's claim.


Anyway, it was the part about how our thinking has shifted with regard to what we expect of our clothing now that really got to me.  I had just gone back to work after having my second baby and had bought all new clothes because nothing from before still fit me. Since I needed five days worth of clothing, I sacrificed quality for quantity.  I wasn’t really happy with a lot of the clothes I chose, thinking of them as temporary pieces mostly, but I had hope I would fit into the old clothes again before those wore out. (Overly Optimistic as always).

Laser vision!

No fair!  I want the top shelf!


I also found it eye-opening to learn about the inner workings of thrift shops.  I had heard that they really didn’t need so many donations, and that there was a lot of surplus, but I didn’t realise the extent.  So, in January 2014, I vowed to myself that there were only three ways clothes would enter my house that year. 1. Buy it from a Thrift store 2. Have it given to me by someone and 3. Make it myself. Something of a lofty goal for someone who had two small children, a full time job, and had not touched a sewing machine in over three years.

I started by sewing some little dresses. Two as gifts and one for my own daughter out of the same sweet little cotton fabric.  Those turned out really nicely, so I was encouraged to sew up a sundress next.  Then the Butterick Walk-away dress, and next thing I knew I was back in love with sewing.
I did end up buying a few items last year.  A linen skirt that was deeply discounted and then a few items at a clearance sale when the last Zellers closed in White Rock.  It had been used as an outlet store for The Bay so had some mid-level fashion pieces in there that were beautiful. A neon yellow skirt by Lord and Taylor, a silk skirt by Ralph Lauren, a green dress made in Italy… each item under $20. I regret nothing.

Fearless wildlife photographer Aki with his ham-cat.

Baby does not want to held, cat does. Spart wonders if other fathers have these problems.

I am sitting in Babe's spot.  She is not amused.


For 2015 I feel in a good groove about sewing my own garments and am slowly replacing all my existing items with sewn ones.  The Ready-To-Wear clothes all had some fit or construction issue that I had just learned to live with, so I’ve slowly been finding patterns for garments that have all the things I like about an existing item so I can then make them up exactly the way I want. I don’t really have a goal in mind regarding my wardrobe at this point, but I guess I want to replace everything RTW eventually. In the next month I hope to sew a couple new bras and get rid of the RTW ones I have now. Then the jeans, dresses, and pyjamas. That should get me through the end of the year.

Oh, are these your work clothes?  Freshly ironed?  Must be, they're still warm.


Last Friday I wore a RTW dress I have.  I bought it last September, wore it once, found the sleeves too tight and then it languished in the mending hamper for three months.  In December I finally got to taking the chiffon sleeves off and making a sleeveless dress.  Friday was the first time I'd worn it since, and all day I was tugging at it and pulling and asking myself why was I wearing a dress that doesn't fit me?  I realized that this is the first affirmation I've had from myself that I'm now sewing clothes that fit me and my skills have improved.  It was a nice thought, but doesn't change the fit of that dress.  It's not worth altering as there is not much to work with, but I think I might just oust it. It's pretty though.

Wednesday, 11 March 2015

Thrift Score: Vintage Patterns

I have a problem with thrift shopping.  I love it so. Sometimes I feel bad for an item and bring it home so it’s not all lonely and neglected in the thrift shop. Handmade quilts usually have this effect on me. I was even considering buying up handmade quilts from thrift shops and re-selling them on Etsy so they’d go to homes where they would be appreciated. The ones with little tags on them tug at my heartstrings the most. I once saw one in Value Village where the label said “The quilt that never ended! This took way longer than it should have!” and I was so sad that it had ended up in the thrift shop. Something like that should have become an heirloom.

My problem with Thrift shopping is my tendency to get emotionally attached to the items I can find there. I blame The Brave Little Toaster for encouraging this in an already overly empathetic child. Last week I saw a text book in French that was the same one we used in grade 7 health class. I think the class was named Quest? But it was health class, or I think Americans call it Hygiene class.  Not Sex Ed, but like Why do my armpits now smell? Class. I almost bought the silly book just for the wonderfully 1993 photos in it, but then remembered that first, I am not fluent in French, and second, health class was always just so uncomfortable. Who needs to be reminded of that?

I like to find vintage patterns or notions.  Feels like a jackpot when I do. On Valentine’s day I went to Commercial Drive with a friend.  We both enjoy thrift shopping so it was a great way to spend the day. I picked up these three wonderful vintage patterns in a charming little shop with excellent prices.







The Vogue pattern is so 70’s, but so pretty. My friend wants to sew it up, but it’s not in her size so I think I’ll trace it off and grade it out.  Shouldn't be too hard since the design is fairly simple. This will be my first exercise in grading out a pattern, which sounds exciting!

The other two are similar patterns in different sizes. I thought these would be super for Itsa's swim suits each summer. We have a pool in our townhouse complex (two pools actually, there’s a shallow kiddie pool as well as a large L-shaped one) so she needs swim suits. Swimwear ends are always in the remnant bins at the fabric store, usually at about $4/m, so a swimsuit for a little girl will cost approximately $2 in materials.  Not too shabby! And I can make her ones to match my suit too, you know, for the extra cutesy look. I like that these patterns are so “little girl” rather than “little woman” that you often see. Low leg cuts, wider straps that don’t fall off (I’m looking at you U-back suits of my girlhood) and the two piece is great for quick bathroom access in a small child.

I wish my mum could have sewn my swimsuits when I was little. I always had a long torso so endured years of too-short one piece suits. Always uncomfortable. I think I had my first two piece suit when I was 13. Tankinis didn't come into fashion until I was about 17, so that wasn't an option in stores.

I wonder if I should add some ruffles or frills…