Thursday, February 28, 2013

Chaos Theory

A very small cause which escapes our notice 
determines a considerable effect that we cannot fail to see...
~ Poincaré (1903)

If you had asked me yesterday, what is the most important thing that I have ever done in my life, I’m not sure how I would have answered…  I was a literacy tutor for several years and I think I made a big difference in one student’s life in particular.  I think (I hope!) my ESL classes help my students – both through teaching them vocabulary and grammar, and through giving them encouragement and a safe environment to build their language skills and their confidence.  I think I am making the difference in the lives of two children right now – opening up a bit more of the world to them than their parents can afford to do – providing singing lessons, video game designing lessons, and – perhaps most important of all – being a constant in their lives, an adult who cares and spends time with them and pays attention to them. 

But recently an eFriend wrote to me and confided that a gift I had sent her several years ago – an out-of-the-blue, for-no-particular-reason, little friendship gift - made her postpone her plan to commit suicide.  And one postponement led to another – and eventually things got better in her life and she was able to put aside those plans. 

Wow!  Never in a million years would have I guessed that my small gesture might have such a large impact in someone’s life.  It’s both wonderful and (to be honest) a little bit scary at the same time… 

In recognition of this potential that each of us has, I am going to start my own, personal “Human Chaos Project.”  The idea is to do a better job sowing little seeds of kindness...  Realizing that many may only bloom briefly, but some will become those “small causes” that PoincarĂ© described over one hundred years ago, capable of determining “a considerable effect.”

What’s the most important thing you've ever done in your life?  You may never know…  

Wednesday, February 27, 2013

There's the Pitch... She's going for it.... It's a ...?

Don't let the fear of striking out hold you back.
~ Babe Ruth

Sadly, I have not finished my husband's Valentine's Day shirt yet...  :(

But I figured I could show you a comparison between my old TNT pattern for casual shirts for men and the new pattern that I am hoping will become a TNT.  

(Oh, please try to disregard the influence of the underlying female dress form in these photos...)

Here is the front of a shirt made from my old TNT pattern - notice how "roomy" it is?  

You can see here that it is a single piece back:  

And a single piece collar:  

The new pattern boasts a more fitted look (note that I have not yet put on the button bands):  

...with a yoke and center pleat in the back:  

And, when I get around to completing it, a two piece collar:  

I think he's going to look really hot in this shirt!  ;)

Next up is the button band, followed by the collar and hem.  I'm really hoping to be able to finish it this upcoming weekend.  

Fingers crossed that it's a hit with my husband, and I don't strike out!  

Tuesday, February 26, 2013

Gratuitous Kitten Picture

Your tummy, soft as
warm dough.  I knead and knead, then
bake it with a nap.  
~ Lee Wardlaw 
(Won-Ton: A Cat Tale Told in Haiku)

Monday, February 25, 2013

Lunch Break Sewing

I haven't trusted polls since I read that 62% of women had affairs during their lunch hour.  I've never met a woman in my life who would give up lunch for sex.  
~ Erma Bombeck

Sewing?  That's a different story!  ;)

Last Friday I did just that - spent my lunch break sewing for a friend who was planning to run in the Disney 5K with a friend of hers on Saturday.  They wanted to go dressed in Snow White costumes and had found this tutorial on the blog "This Mama Makes Stuff."  

I actually forgot to take in my machine or any of my gear to work that morning - but my friend brought in her mother's machine and we cannibalized office supplies to jury rig things like straight pins.  ;)

It was frustrating to not have my own machine or even the most basic tools, but I was able to get the ribbon sleeves attached to the RTW tops.  (They had already made their own tulle skirts.)  

The best news of all - they finished the race!  Pushing kids in strollers, no less!  Now, that's dedication!      

Friday, February 22, 2013

Small Business Small Update

To open a shop is easy,
to keep it open is an art.
~ Chinese Proverb

There have been some really exciting updates regarding The Original "How Much Fabric?" Reference Cards lately!  :)

First, Londa of Londa's Creative Threads 

will have them for sale in her booth in Puyallup at the Sewing & Stitchery Expo!  

Have you ever been to Puyallup?  I've been hearing about it for years and reallyy hope I can go some day!  

If you are lucky enough to make it there next weekend, stop in to see her, check out her talking sewing patterns (!), and say "Hi!" for me.  :)

Next, Tasia of Sewaholic posted a review of the cards on Wednesday and is hosting a give-away!  

It's exciting to see how much interest her post has generated!  :)

Have you sewn any of Tasia's patterns?  I've been eyeing her Cordova Jacket for a while and, now that I'm re-doing my wardrobe, I may just go for it.  The only thing that has held me back is that my initially pear shaped body has been taking on more of an apple-ish hue over the last few years...  ;)

One of the coolest things about all this business stuff is making connections with amazing, talented people who are successful in our field!  :)

I hope you all have a wonderful sewing weekend!  :)

Thursday, February 21, 2013

Kicking it Up a Notch

A good goal is like strenuous exercise.
It makes you stretch.
~ Mary Kay Ash

For Valentine's Day I wanted to make my husband one of the Hawaiian shirts that he likes so much.  (I know, I know - Valentine's Day was last week...  Don't worry, he loves me!)

I've made him about 2 dozen in the past - all with the same pattern - a very, very (very!) basic casual shirt pattern from Simplicity.  It was a great pattern for a beginner - one piece collar, one piece back (no yoke), self-faced front pieces, symmetrically cut sleeves, etc.

I decided it was time to kick it up a notch and start making him some nicer, casual shirts.  

And I wasn't the least bit influenced by the fact that I couldn't find my old pattern...  ;)

So I picked up this McCall's pattern.  It has a two piece collar, a yoked back (with a single, centered pleat), button bands (that's new to me!) and should be less baggy...  (I don't want to use the "f" word in case my husband reads this post!)  

I have several Hawaiian-shirt fabrics already in my stash and I picked this one:  

I'm about half-way done - pictures to come!  :)

Wednesday, February 20, 2013

Hi-Ho, The Derry-O, The Wardrobe Takes a Blouse

I must have flowers, always, and always.
~ Claude Monet

Well, I got a blouse finished last weekend!  

I've made the pattern once before, and had problems with the neckline, so I was very careful this time and it went a bit better.  Notice that you make a bias binding from the same fabric and then use that binding to create a button loop:  

One thing that struck me as kind of odd is that the back has a center seam.  I think it is to help make the top more fitted, because neither the outer edge nor the center edge is straight.  I didn't do a great job of placing the pattern pieces for the back - I wish I didn't have those 2 relatively big flowers cut in half.  

I did a 3 step narrow hem.  The first step is to sew a row of stitches around the bottom and use those a guide for folding and ironing the hem up.  Next you sew a 2nd row of stitches just to the inside of the garment from that "fold line."  And you trim the excess fabric very close to this row of stitches:  

Finally you fold the hem up one more time and stitch all the way around, one last time.  You can see the final result here:  

Notice that I used french seams, as this fabric is somewhat sheer and frays easily.  

The sleeves have a drawstring - the pattern has you reinforcing a small area with interfacing and then adding button holes to pass the drawstring through.  

The instructions also have you cut a bias strip for the drawstrings, but I decided to try something different and I used grosgrain ribbon.  We'll see how well this works.  ;)

I finished the blouse Sunday morning and was able to wear it to our ballroom dancing lesson (over a flow-y skirt) that afternoon!  Yay!  :)

Because of the colors in the fabric, the blouse works nicely with the black, grey and brown bottoms in my new wardrobe!  Double-yay!  :)

Next up?  You'll find out tomorrow!  ;)

Tuesday, February 19, 2013

Gratuitous Kitten Photo

Happiness comes from... some curious adjustment to life.
~ Hugh Walpole

Looks like we are all adjusting to the new member of our household...  ;)

Monday, February 18, 2013

Sewing for the Sewing Room

Don't make something unless it is both made necessary and useful;
but if it is both necessary and useful,
don't hesitate to make it beautiful.
~ Shaker dictum

I recently ordered some nice hand sewing needles and I wanted some way to store them.  I browsed a bunch of gorgeous needle books on Etsy, but just couldn't bring myself to shell out $10 or more for something that I could make so easily.  

Then I looked at free sewing patterns for needle books - and there are a bunch! (for starters, click here)  

In the end, I decided to just wing it.  If I can't make a needle book without a pattern, I have no business with a sewing machine!  ;)

So, I guesstimated how big I wanted my needle book to be, cut 3 rectangles (2 of fabric and 1 of batting) and stitched them up - with an elastic hair band for the button loop centered along one of the short edges.  

Then I attached a shank button and stitched some felt "pages" into my book.  

And, voila!  A cute little needle book.  :)

Probably the quickest sewing project I've ever undertaken.  I think the most time consuming step was settling on which fabric scrap to use...  ;)

The only thing that worries me just a tad is that the needles came wrapped in foil, with a note recommending that I leave them in foil to prevent rusting.  What do you think?  Am I going to be sorry that I took them out of the foil?  Have you ever had sewing needles rust on you?  

How about you?  Have you ever done any sewing for your sewing room?  What have you made?  

Friday, February 15, 2013

A Snail's Pace...

Be not afraid of going slowly, be afraid only of standing still.  
~ Chinese Proverb

I didn't get much sewing time in last weekend, but I'm still working on adding to my new wardrobe!  I decided to make a top with a pattern that I've made before.

It's a casual top - unfitted, gathered neckline and short sleeves with ties (the view in the large photo).

As you can see, I have a new helper, who took to this whole sewing business right away...  (Sigh...)

I purchased the fabric without a pattern in hand and didn't have a strong vision of what kind of top I would make - so I got enough to make 75% of the top patterns in my size.  As it turns out, I don't need nearly so much for this particular top, so I have extra.  I arranged the pattern pieces to conserve fabric - I can probably get something cute for a little girl or two out of the remainder...  ;)

The last time I made this top (the only time) I had a bit of a problem with the neckline - you add some gathers and then apply a bias strip made of the same fabric to hold the gathers in place - and it just didn't come out nicely.  Hopefully I can do a better job this time.

Also, I wasn't crazy about using bias strips made out of the fabric for the sleeve drawstrings, so I think I'll do something different this time - not exactly sure what...

Last weekend I got this cut out - but nothing more.  Hopefully THIS weekend I can finish it off!  (And maybe squeeze in some time on a secret, surprise project which is unlikely to be much of either a secret or a surprise!)

I hope you get in lots of sewing this weekend!  :)

Thursday, February 14, 2013

Happy Valentine's Day!

Music is an outburst of the soul.  
~ Frederick Delius

We've had years and years of dinners, roses and chocolates.  

This time we were in the mood for something different.  

He is an amateur musician, who writes and records amazing songs.  

(To hear one of the love songs that he has written for me, click here.)

For my birthday last fall, he got me a beautiful, wooden recorder.  

This weekend we are going to make music together - literally.  ;)

(As for whether or not we are going to make music together figuratively, mind your own beeswax!)  

He's picking an instrumental piece for us to record together.  If you need us, we'll be in the music room...  

Do you have any special plans with the one you love this weekend?  

Wednesday, February 13, 2013

Be Careful What You Wish For...

Time is the most valuable thing that a man can spend.

For years I’ve been saying that the most precious and scarce resource in my life is time, not money.  And now it looks like I’m going to have the “opportunity” to put this claim to a test…  ;)

If you aren’t a federal employee or a serious news junkie, you probably haven’t been paying too much attention to the details behind the current budget battles between the President and Congress, but I am one of the almost 2 million federal employees who is in very real danger of being “furloughed” – which in this case, means I’ll have my work week reduced to 4, 8-hour days and my paycheck reduced commensurately – by 20%! 

That’s more time for sewing… 

…but a lot less money for buying fabric and patterns.   

To be perfectly honest, this isn't EXACTLY what I had in mind when I complained about not having enough time in my life...  I was envisioning something more along the lines of only having to work 4 days a week, and getting the SAME paycheck...  ;)

But, apparently this option isn't on the table.  Go figure...  

Seriously, my husband and I will be fine – there is enough room in our belts to survive a bit of tightening.  But it’s not going to be so easy for many people and I would imagine that the impacts will be both far-reaching and long-lasting…  :(

For me, it will be a case of “put up or shut up” and let’s see how happy I really am if life gives me more discretionary time and less discretionary money.  ;)

Tuesday, February 12, 2013

Gratuitous Kitten Photo

A common man marvels at uncommon things.
A wise man marvels at the commonplace.  
~ Confucius

Marvel with me...

Monday, February 11, 2013


I always knew I would look back at the times I had cried, and laugh.  
But I never knew that I'd look back at the times I had laughed, and cry.  
~ Shaun Prowdzik

Andrew's third birthday party:

I remember a time...

...when celebrations with this family...

...were filled with unadulterated joy.  

Now each one is tempered with...

...the memory of our loss.  

We miss you, Susan.

Friday, February 8, 2013

The More the Merrier...

Every person is defined by the communities she belongs to.
~ Orson Scott Card (Speaker for the Dead)

Two stories for you today, about the (non-sewing) communities that I belong to:

First, an update on my ESL class.  Enrollment continues to swell – I’ve got about 20 serious students.  They don’t all make it each week, so I’m usually working with 16-18 students per class.  They continue to be a lively, motivated and energetic group!  Think “happy chaos” and you’ll pretty much capture the feel of our class.  ;)

Last week our topic was the weather.  I used a bunch of cute little weather icons (thank you, internet!) and made up two activities for them.  The first was a whole-class listening comprehension activity.  I showed them seven sets of weather icons (three icons per set), labeled A-G.  I verbally described one of the forecasts (“It will be warm and sunny today, with a chance of afternoon showers.”) and they had to figure out which set of icons I had just described.  (Repeat 6 more times.)  They really aced that one! 

The second one, a small group activity, was more difficult.  I made up index cards with weather forecasts (again, three icons per forecast).  One person would draw a card.  The other people in the group would have to generate and ask yes/no questions about the activities and clothing that were appropriate for the day.  For example, “Do I need an umbrella?” and “Can I build a snowman?”  Finally, the group would try to guess the forecast, based on the answers to their questions. 

This was me trying to sneak in practice on a wider variety of topics than just weather – forming questions, clothing and activity vocabulary, etc.  Not surprisingly, it proved to be more challenging for them.  (I did put up some example questions for them to refer to…)  We could have easily spent another 15 minutes or so on this activity – our 90 minute class time just flies by so quickly…  :(


Next up – there’s a shake-up coming in the Campbell household! 

Do you ever find yourself a bit tired of the fact that my “gratuitous kitten pictures” only feature two cats?  (Hint: the correct answer is, “Oh my goodness, no!  How could I ever be tired of seeing pictures of the two most handsome cats in the whole wide world?”) 

Well, that situation is about to change.  For the last three weeks, a very sweet and very friendly stray cat has been hanging around our front porch, trying to run into the house whenever we open the door. 

I know what you are thinking, but this is NOT (completely) our fault.  We didn’t start feeding her until she had been there for a good 24 hours!   Anyways, after putting her picture up all around our neighborhood and hearing nary a peep in response, we finally gave in to our fate and took her to the vet’s office earlier this week. 

She passed her exams with flying colors (i.e., she is disease-free) and, just several hundreds of dollars worth of surgery later (i.e., we had her spayed) she is ready to join her new home and... totally freak out Oliver and Popeye.  ;)

I am not looking forward to the next week or so, but we’ve done this before and I know we’ll survive.  So I have the pleasure of introducing to you the next star of my “Gratuitous Kitten Pictures” series:  


Thursday, February 7, 2013

Have You Heard?

Nanny Ogg looked under her bed in case there was a man there.
Well, you never know your luck.  
~ Terry Pratchett (from Lords and Ladies)

In 2013, Mood Fabrics will be giving away $1,000 worth of gift certificates to 5 lucky bloggers!

All you have to do is have this badge displayed prominently on your blog and notify them of this via email (

I sew with Mood Fabrics

They will maintain a list of bloggers who are participating and will draw a random name for a $200 gift certificate every two months beginning in March.

Here is the code for the badge:

<a href="" target="_blank"><img title="I sew with Mood Fabrics" src="" alt="I sew with Mood Fabrics" width="150" height="150" /></a>

So, are you going to do it?  If so, good luck!  :)

Wednesday, February 6, 2013

Gratuitous Kitten Photo

A yawn may not be polite, but at least it is an honest opinion.  
~ Anonymous

Tuesday, February 5, 2013

Stash Smash #1: A Skirt

Don't let it end this way.  Tell them I said something.  
~ Pancho Villa

So, I had to choose this weekend - sew or try another photo shoot?  I picked sewing and, oddly enough, my husband did not protest his lost opportunity to drag out our old lighting equipment and help me with a photo shoot!  ;)

I decided to start with a skirt - the grey cotton print fabric with the pattern for the pleated skirt (lower left sketch):  

There are only 2 pattern pieces - the skirt body and the waistband - so I figured it would be a quick and easy project....  

Do you recognize FAMOUS LAST WORDS when you hear them?  ;)

I had used my cards to decide how much fabric to buy - without a specific skirt in mind, I added 1/2 yard to my average so that I could cover about 79% of skirt patterns out there - and it was just enough!  :)

In the photo above, I've cut (okay, ripped to get the grain line) my fabric into 2 pieces and stacked one on top of the other - so that both right sides are up.  Each piece is the exact width of the skirt panel (cut 2).

Basically you start with 2 large rectangles - minus one small cut-out, where the zipper is going to go - and sew both side seams and then hem the bottom:

I had lined up the bottom along the finished selvedge - so I only had to turn it once for my hem.  :)

Then you put in the pleats and attach the waist band.  The cats were lots of "help" when it came time to add the pleats:

Okay, here's where the real "fun" started for me.  The instructions for my view (D) send you to earlier instructions (views A, B & C) for attaching the waist band.  Here is the illustration that accompanied the earlier instructions:

See how the edges of the waist band and the edges of the skirt line up perfectly in the illustration?

Well, my waist band hung over the edges...  :(

I tried all kinds of machinations to stretch the skirt to fit to the waist band (pinning it to death, laying the longer piece against the feed dogs, etc.) - finally I had to hand stitch it to keep it lined up for machine sewing.  

Then I turned back to where the instructions for my view (D) picked up again - check out the waist band in this illustration - it hangs over the skirt!  Just like mine did!

Well, just like mine did before I worked so hard to stretch my skirt to match the waist band...  :(

So, I ripped it out and re-attached it and moved on to the next step - the zipper.  

And here's where I ran into the next "snag" - this zipper is inside one of the pleats (lapped?).  All of the zippers that I have ever installed were centered, so I really needed the instructions for this one...  

Oops.  Apparently the cats had "liberated" certain portions of the instructions at some time in the past, including the section that I desperately needed.  :(

I tried to "wing it" and must have inserted, ripped out and then re-inserted that zipper 4 times before I finally got something that worked...  :(

I'm sure it's not "done right" - but it holds up the skirt...  (Well, with an assist from the stomach...)  

And, in the end, I'm pretty happy with the result - it fits and looks reasonably nice - although there aren't nearly as many pleats as indicated in the drawing on the pattern.  

I think it will work nicely in my new wardrobe and it was wonderful to do some sewing for myself!  :)