Monday, July 16, 2018

My Sewing Journey Part IV - Robes and Up-Cycling

One of the most supportive groups along my sewing journey has been the Up-Cycled Cloth Collective on Facebook.  It's not a beginning sewing group, but the people on it are so incredibly creative and diverse in both their personalities and talents that there's just a wealth of ideas and things to learn.  Plus, everyone's supportive and complimentary towards each other's work.

My daughter needed both a new bathrobe and a new bathing suit cover for the beach.  She'd outgrown her previous ones.  I knew I wanted to do the bathrobe in a double-sided minky fabric--a very very soft furry fleece and I knew it'd be best to purchase that, but I thought the bathing suit cover might be a great up-cycle activity.

I found a free pattern called The Sleepy Robe from Melly Sews, one of my favorite YouTube Sewing Vloggers.  My daughter and I took a ride to a new-to-us independent sewing store and found some gorgeous velvety double-sided minky in dark purple.  It wasn't cheap.  To tell you the truth, it would have been cheaper to buy her a new robe fully made, but there's value in my learning new skills and in homemade things!

Here's the finished robe:

(Don't mind the belt loops...those will get replaced with purple)

I'll be honest with you.  Double-sided minky like this is a pain in the butt to work with.  It sheds EVERYWHERE.  We're talking clouds of purple fluffies floating all over the room for days and sticking to your clothing.  Also, it was a bit thick for some of the pattern instructions (such as turning hems under or making belt loops).  So you do need to improvise a bit.  But it came out great!

For the beach robe, we were looking to do more of a "house dress" style robe.  I was thinking I could use the same pattern, but use a much lighter weight fabric and snaps instead of a belt.  So we took a ride to Savers, a chain of thrift stores, and started poking around in both the bedding and adult clothing sections to find something that might work.  We ended-up finding a thick cotton women's nightgown with, of all things, FISH on it!

Here's the before and after to show the transformation:

I'm getting familiar enough with garment construction (and this pattern) now that I was able to place the pattern pieces so as to preserve the pockets from the original nightgown.  I was also able to cut the new sleeves from the old sleeve pieces, saving me a hem on each of them.  Everything else was new construction as if I were cutting from a bolt of fabric.  I love how it came out!  It'll be great for our upcoming lake house vacation.

Sunday, July 15, 2018

My Sewing Journey, Part III - A Simple Rectangle Skirt

My next project was to make a "Circle Skirt" for my daughter.  If you've never heard of the term, it's basically exactly what you'd expect.  You cut a piece of fabric into a circle (really more of a donut shape) and then turn it into a skirt.  It's a nice project because it can be done entirely with measurements and doesn't require a pattern.

However, after going through several circle skirt tutorials online, I determined that it just wasn't the right approach for this project, for a few reasons.  First of all, it requires that you have fabric as long and as wide as the double the length of the skirt you want to make.  I was using a half-yard of fabric I had on hand that would have come-up short.  Second, every tutorial I found involved knit (stretchy) fabric, which will hang and drape differently after the skirt is made (and continues to change a bit overnight).  I was using basic cotton fabric that would have behaved differently.  And third, I really wanted something dead-simple that could have an elastic waist.

Enter the rectangle skirt.  This skirt is made very simply from a long rectangle.  You sew the short ends together, hem the bottom, build a channel for elastic, install the elastic, and you're done.  And it's perfect for a little girl.

You'll notice a bit of contrasting pink fabric in the waistband.  This is because I miscalculated ow much I'd need for the waist and the first attempt was too short.  So I took-out the waist and added some fabric.

You'll also notice that I tried out one of my machine's decorative stitches on the bottom hem.  I'm pleased with how it turned-out.

 This is more or less the method I used:

Saturday, July 14, 2018

My Sewing Journey, Part II - Another Dress

As mentioned in my previous post, I've been on a journey to teach myself to sew.  The last project you saw was a simple dress that I made for my daughter from a commercial pattern.

The next project was a tad more difficult.  It was another dress, but one that included a curved bib around the neck, a zipper that is installed AFTER dress construction (no small feat), two different fabrics, gathering, and an underskirt/petticoat.

It was a heck of a challenge and Burda is not known for having the most detailed instructions, but nonetheless, I'm pleased with the results and so is my daughter.

 (Google Photos actually offered me that artsy pop-color print, so why not!)

Alicia (the doll) does not have a matching dress, but I did order a bunch of plain white headbands and whipped-up a quick matching headband with some strips of leftover fabric.

Overall, I'm quite pleased with how this dress turned-out.  There are a couple of small flaws that I can see, but your average person won't notice them.  Also, this pattern has some flaws in the bodice construction, in my opinion.  I probably won't be making it as-is again, but I like the silhouette and might re-use the pattern pieces to make a simpler sun dress.

(Listen to me, I'm sounding like an accomplished sewist.)

Friday, July 13, 2018

My Sewing Journey, Part I

Recently, I've taken-up sewing.  I've always been a crafty person (crocheting, canning, and general DIY stuff), but sewing has always been a challenge for me.  I knew how to operate a machine.  Both my father and my middle school Home Economics teacher made sure of that.  However, sewing a straight line often eluded me (most likely due to lack of patience) and I'd never properly learned to read and follow a pattern.

However, that's all changed.  I've been making an effort to learn all the little techniques, terminology, and tools required and I'm quite happy with how my all of my projects have turned out.   I started with something simple--a set of "Cat Pads" for the cats to sit on (instead of directly on the couch) and set a first milestone of, "making a garment."

Here are the cat pads.  As you can see, they're just simple squares of fleece--like flat pillows, padded lightly with some polyester batting.

Nebby approves (she had just had surgery, so that's why she has a cone on).


My next project was an overcoat for my daughter's 18-inch doll, Alicia.  Alicia turned out to be a great help as I learned about garment construction and seam finishing and adding snaps and buttons.  You'll see her below with her new fleece coat, rain coat, and a backpack (she has "stuff" to carry).

Then, came the first garment for a human.  I made my daughter a simple dress.  This one was a challenge, as it involved putting in my first zipper (which had to be torn out at least 3 times and put back in, so really it was more like my first, second, and third zipper).  It also involved bodice construction with an iron-on interfacing.

Of course, Alicia wanted one too, so that happened.

Next, came a pair of sleep shorts for my wife with leftover fabric.

And lest you think I'm perfect and don't spend my fair share of time with a seam ripper, this is what happens when you don't understand garment construction terminology and mistake "crotch" for "center seam" or "fly".

(Talk about a thigh gap)

I'll show you a few more in the next post, but for now, I'll leave you with some links to the patterns shown above:

Thursday, April 12, 2018

Instant Pot™ or Pressure Cooker Tomato and Rice Soup

The other night, I was craving tomato soup, but I wanted something a little more robust.  I thought that tomato rice soup, perhaps with a little chicken in it, might be just what the doctor ordered.  And what better way to cook it than the Instant Pot, right?  Right.

So I got out the ingredients, started with my Tomato Bisque and Chicken & Rice Soup recipes, and started doing some quick alterations in my head.  It came out pretty good.

I think it may need a few more tweaks before it's perfect, but it's good enough that I wanted to share it here.  Check back once in awhile because I'll be sure to tweak it if I find any major improvements.

Instant Pot™ or Pressure Cooker Tomato Rice Soup

Note: The chicken in this recipe is completely optional.  I like a little protein to make a full meal, so I included it in mine.  The chicken can go into the pot completely frozen if you wish.

1 28-oz can Crushed Tomatoes
2 sprigs fresh basil (optional)
2 cups water or chicken broth
1/2 onion, finely chopped or minced
1/2 cup white or jasmine rice
1/2 cup heavy cream or half & half
salt and pepper to taste
1/4 to 1/2 cup of sugar to taste
2 tablespoons olive oil
3/4 to 1 pound of boneless skinless chicken tenders or breasts, whole (optional)

  1. Switch the pressure cooker to saute mode.  Add olive oil and onions and sweat the onions until they soften.  The more patient you are softening them, the smoother the final soup will be.
  2. Add crushed tomatoes, chicken broth, a heavy pinch of salt and pepper, and basil.  Using an immersion blender, blend the mixture as smooth as you possibly can.  If the crushed tomatoes don't seem to be breaking down and you have a bit of extra time, allow them to simmer a bit and then re-blend.
  3. Add rice and stir briskly to separate the grains.  Drop chicken pieces, whole, into the soup.
  4. Place the lid on the cooker and set the valve to closed/sealing.  Press Cancel, then Pressure Cook and set timer for 6 minutes.
  5. Once the cooking cycle is complete, quick release pressure immediately and carefully open the lid.
  6. Fish the pieces of chicken out of the pot, if using, and allow to cool slightly on a cutting board.  Meanwhile, stir the soup to distribute the rice into the liquid.  You may have to gently scrape the rice off the bottom of the pot, as it may have settled and stuck.
  7. Chop or shred the chicken into bite-sized pieces, removing any fat, tendons, or gristle, and return to the soup.  Stir it in.
  8. Stir-in cream.  Taste the soup and adjust seasoning.  Thin by adding additional warm water if necessary.  If soup is too thin, switch your pot to the saute or boil setting and simmer-down for a few minutes.
  9. Serve with toast or a piece of nice crusty artisan bread.  A dollup of sour cream or a generous sprinkle of grated or shredded cheese makes a delicious garnish.