On the road

via Pinterest

I’m preparing for a 16-day trip to London, Paris, and Edinburgh – my first international trip, and the longest vacation I’ve ever taken. When we first started planning the trip, I immediately began dreaming up all of the clothes I wanted to sew to take with. How chic I would feel when wearing a sleek pencil skirt in Paris, and, when complimented on it, I would gaze down my nose, flick an unlit cigarette bought expressly for this purpose, and coolly say, “Je l’ai fait.” …To which the Parisian in question would laugh and say, “Put your Google Translate away, dummy, your French is terrible.”

Alas, between getting ready for our upcoming move, organizing a big fundraiser at work, and regular life stuff, I have barely any new me-made clothing to take with. A couple of unblogged skirts, but nothing too special.

Now, though, I need to think of the crafts that I’m going to take with me. I’m going to spend most of my time exploring (and sniffing out all of the fabric shops!) but I have two 8-hour plane rides and several train trips to look forward to, and want to bring something with to keep my hands busy.

I’ve thought about crochet and knitting projects, and, inspired by Kalimak’s recent post, embroidery. But then I discovered The Machineless Sewist, and man, I was blown away. Obviously, I know that people sew by hand, and that hand-sewing used to be very much the norm, but I had never even considered hand-sewing an entire project.

Now, though, I’m thinking about that list of clothes I wanted to make for this trip, and thinking, “…Maybe?” What do you think? Is hand-sewing a simple garment  on the road completely insane? I mean, it is, but is it doable? Do you craft on the road?



For a crafting blog, I haven’t been able to chronicle much crafting lately. Or at least, not much crafting that has led to a finished item.

My boyfriend and I found out several weeks ago that he had been offered a fellowship in DC. He’s a grad student, and I moved from Chicago to middle-of-nowhere Pennsylvania with him three years ago so that he could finish his degree. The transition from a city  that I love deeply to a town of 5,000 in the mountains of PA was… bumpy. I dreamed of going back. I read The House on Mango Street and cried. I watched YouTube videos of Tom Skilling, ace Chicagoland meteorologist, and cried. I complained about having to drive everywhere, and having to drive really far for good Mexican food. I was miserable.

But now, all of that is changing. We’re moving back to a city. A city without Tom Skilling, but whatever. Chicago is my #1 for a reason.

In the time that I’ve lived here, I’ve grown more than I imagined possible. I’ve made incredible friends, worked 60 hour weeks at crummy jobs until I landed my dream job at a small non-profit, became an adult. Before moving here, I hadn’t lived more than 25 miles from where I was born. Now, I feel like I can go anywhere. I feel free.

Living in the middle of nowhere also influenced me creatively. We were able to find a 2-bedroom apartment that’s affordable, and I turned one of the bedrooms into a craft room. We have a little yard, and I found out that I love gardening. I wanted to do something with the herbs I was growing, so I borrowed a bunch of library books about herbalism, and started making skincare products.

A lot of preparation is going into this move. I’m taking stock of what I own and getting rid of everything I can. It’s forcing me to prioritize my possessions, which is hard for someone as sentimental as I am. Mainly, I’m finding it hard to let go of the fabric, yarn, and patterns that have been stuffed into drawers, but that I might use someday. And I have a lot – I had an entire craft room to fill, after all! But, I keep reminding myself that we will barely be able to afford a 1-bedroom in DC, and that things like the couch will need to take precedence over crafting materials.

I’m still sorting through my feelings about the upcoming move: excitement, nervousness, loss. But I have been thinking about the ways that our environments impact our hobbies and interests, which I think is really interesting. I was able to explore totally new hobbies while living in central PA, but am looking forward to taking more advanced sewing classes in DC that I just don’t have access to right now. Obviously, space will also impact the types and number of crafts that I’m able to pursue once we move.

Do you have experience with crafting differently depending on your location? When you’ve moved, how did you decide what to take, and what to leave behind? How has your relationship to crafts changed depending on your circumstances? I’m really curious to hear some other people’s thoughts!

I clawed my way through hell to make this skirt.

I started a blog in part because I thought that it would motivate me to sew and craft more. That has been the case, mostly, but the dress that I have been working on has been such a nightmare that a week-long project is still on my sewing table over a month after I started it.

Last week, I decided that I needed a palate cleanser. Something quick and easy that would be satisfying to make.

I decided that I would make a gathered maxi skirt out of some inexpensive rayon that I picked up from Joann’s. I would make a waistband, gather a single length of fabric, sew one seam, insert a zipper, and hem it up. EASY. Done in a couple of hours.

…Three sewing sessions and a total of twelve hours later, I sat hunched over my sewing machine yesterday evening, eyes darting around wildly, unwashed hair forming a frizzy helmet around my head.

Everything that could have possibly gone wrong with this skirt did. It started when I decided to cut my waistband and skirt pieces at midnight on Wednesday. Nothing good can come from starting a project at midnight in the middle of the workweek. I ironed the fabric, straightened the grain, and cut out a simple waistband. Off to a such great start! I then happily picked up my sewing scissors and, humming, cut the wrong way into my fabric. I had meant to trim off the excess around the waistband piece so that I had a perfect  rectangle that would form the skirt, but instead ended up having to hack off another 16 or so inches of usable fabric because I made a dumb mistake.

The fabric that survived

If I chronicled everything else that went wrong, this blog post would end up taking you just as long to read as it took me to cobble together a wearable skirt.

So, a highlight reel:

  • Had to unpick and redo the gathers 4 times before I was happy with them. Even though I basted and stabilized them, they shifted horribly every time I attached them to my waistband.
  • Accidentally sewed part of the middle of the skirt to the waistband… twice. (???)
  • Needle broke twice – once when I was inserting the zipper and forgot to change the needle position, the second time when the new needle hit part of the old needle that was stuck in the fabric.
  • Unpicked and inserted the zipper… I don’t even know how many times. It really gave me trouble.
  • Because of some weirdness with the gathers, the hem was wildly uneven, and had to be sewn twice. Should probably be redone again.
  • When trying on the finished skirt, the zipper broke. I burst into maniacal laughter, yelled, “Not today, Satan!” and grabbed a vintage zipper with metal teeth that I had been saving for a special occasion. Of course, I forgot that metal teeth=not good for needles, so I broke a third needle trying to machine sew over the zipper.

So, it’s done now. The inside looks nuts, the hem is uneven, whatever. It’s breezy and looks similar to a skirt I owned in 1997. It’s fine.

Now, some low-quality photos, most of which were photobombed by my dog.

Posing for prom pictures.


The zipper that lived
Calvin approaches


Hello, Calvin




What do you listen to when you sew?

Or knit or crochet or do any other crafty activities?

I love podcasts, and love discovering new ones. I have been going down a deep You Must Remember This hole, and just want to keep digging in further. The podcast examines “the hidden and/or forgotten stories of Hollywood’s first century” (I can hear the host/writer/producer, Karina Longworth, saying those words as I type them). I am by no means a cinephile, but the stories are so expertly told that I am riveted every time. I just discovered the podcast, but am listening to it from the beginning. I’m approaching the third season, which is entirely about the Manson murders, and supposedly covers them from a really unique and interesting angle. Knowing that I have something fascinating to listen to drags me to my sewing machine on those nights that I dread dealing with the ill-fitting mess that is currently on my sewing table.

All of my audio book choices need to look exactly like this.

I’m also venturing out into audio books, of which I really only like super cheesy murder mysteries (Lisa Gardner, come through), or memoirs written by funny people (Bossypants by Tina Fey is only enhanced by listening to Tina Fey read it, and Yes, Please by Amy Poehler is only enjoyable when you can kind of tune out all of the dead parts). It’s difficult for me to give my complete attention to an audio book, and I get lost and annoyed when trying to listen to more literary works. Something edifying read by the British guy who does voice overs for the nature channel? No, thank you, I will stick with stories about sassy detectives who find both the killer and love.

What about you? Do you have audio standbys that you throw on while crafting? Or are you the rare creature who is able to devote all of your attention to the task at hand?


Back in the Groove

After a long hiatus, I’m spending most nights in front of my sewing machine again. My sewing always goes in spurts – I sew every night for a week, then don’t touch a pair of pinking shears for a few months.

Part of my sewing gusto has to do with the beautiful weather we’ve had in central PA over the past week. I’m always so much more productive at the beginning of spring. Last year, I spackled and painted the bedroom (not a small feat, considering that the walls were covered in spooky dents and gouges – from a hammer? fingernails?? claws???), and the year before that I organized and decorated my craft room. The weather warms up, I crawl out from under the mound of blankets that cover the couch from November-March, blink my eyes like a new-born calf, and start making stuff again.

The project I’ve been working on has been ROUGH. GOING. It’s McCall’s 7185, a wrap dress with a full, gathered skirt, and I’m making it out of a really pretty floral fabric that I picked up on a weekend trip to Philly last summer. The fabric was a mystery blend, but it felt pretty cotton-y, so I treated it like a cotton and used a high-heat setting on my iron. Dumb. I melted a hole right in the middle of the left bodice when pressing the darts open. Luckily, I bought lots of fabric, so I was able to re-cut the bodice. There have been a lot of other fits and starts, mainly as I’ve struggled with fitting. But, damn it, I’m going to finish this thing.

I am trying to learn at least one new skill with each new project, and that started right from the beginning with this dress. The fabric is mostly black, so I had to use something other than my trusty neon blue water soluble pens to transfer the pattern markings. Instead, I used tailor tacks, which are markings made by sewing thread loops through the pattern markings, then careeeeeefully snipping the threads and removing the pattern. I think they provided really accurate markings, plus, look at how cute they are!