Saturday, July 14, 2012

Smocked Safari Shortall...

This outfit is by far my favorite project.  I was inspired by a shortall I saw on facebook.

I couldn't find a smocking plate that looked enough like this, so I made my own.  The pattern for the shortall is "Jeffrey" from Children's Corner.

The giraffe plate is for sale in my etsy shop, The Polkadot Pup, if you're interested.  The others will be put up later this summer.

I think the elephant is my favorite.   

The zebra was more difficult to design, because of the stripes.  I finally decided to smock him all in white (I actually used cream), and use decorative stitching for the stripes.  The eyes and muzzle are smocked.

I went back over the elephant with those same decorative stitches (I think it's just a plain stitch) to outline the ear...

and again on the giraffe to the underline of his jaw.

A close-up of the zebra's stitching.  As I look at these close-ups, I see imperfections in my smocking.  This just my 3rd picture smocking project (I don't have a pic of the 2nd - I finished it in time for my niece to wear for Christmas, and never got a pic!  Oops.), and I see LOTS of room for improvement.  The June/July issue of Sew Beautiful has a little mini-tute on picture smocking by Michie Mooney, and I found that helpful for the July 4th outfits I made for my guys.

Here's my bullion stitching.  I used bullion knots for all the tails.  I've never made bullion knots before, but Google and YouTube are great resources!  I think I may use bullion knots in a few more projects.  I like how easy it is to manipulate the ropes into shapes, a la Kari Mecca.

I found the tails looked more natural if I made the small ends first, then the larger top part.  The idea was for the ends of the smaller knots to look like they were wrapped in the larger knot.

And once more, because I love this outfit so very much:

I see my finished projects, and I'm reminded all over again why I started this venture to learn hand smocking and heirloom sewing:  so I can create beautiful clothes for my children (and for others!) because I can NEVER find what I'm looking for, and when I do find it, I can't (or won't) afford it.  Here's the breakdown of expenses for this outfit:

Material, 1 yard (and I have plenty leftover for some shorts), 9.95
Pleated insert, ready-made from the shop, 6.00
Embroidery floss, 9 colors, less than 3.00
Pattern, on sale! (and I'll reuse it) for 6.00
Total expenses:  $25-ish

I did spend a lot of time, drafting the smocking plate, looking for the shortall pattern, running here and there for materials, and then the time to actually MAKE the outfit, but I gained so much from the project, reusable materials, new skills, etc.  I could have bought the outfit USED for around  the same price, but not in the color I wanted (it's orange gingham on etsy).  Was it worth it?  

Have you ever made your own (fill in the blank) because you couldn't find what you were looking for?  What was your learning curve?  Was it materials or skills that stumped you?

Thursday, July 5, 2012


Ummmkay.  It's been a while!  I've been sewing and smocking, and traveling, and, oh, drat, I forgot to blog about ANY of it.  I'll get back to regular posts next week, and I'll even get around to showing exactly how I make a few things.  For now, here's a sampling of what I've made this summer:

Prince Charming costumes for our trip to Disney World...

Seersucker top, ruffled Capri pants, and matching sash...

Dinosaur Tail...tutorial and free pattern coming for this one!

Swim trunks and swimsuit from a Sew Beautiful pattern

 I'll post about each of these, giving details on the patterns used, difficulty, tricks I found helpful, yada yada.  And I'm going to post about shears soon, too.  Mine are the pits.  I feel like my hand is going to fall off at the wrist just from cutting a line of fabric, lately.  And I have a deadline for this discussion:  Hancock Fabrics is having a 50% off all scissors sale on Saturday, July 14!  Whoohoo!

Have you had to buy new shears lately?  What price range should I look at?  Brand?  What do you like about your shears?

Thursday, January 26, 2012

My first attempt at smocking

I have a friend whose family photos are always just perfect.  Everything coordinates, outfits, backdrops, props, even her jewelry.  I shamelessly copy her style for dressing the kids for photos or church (and I hope she knows it's not because I'm a psycho facebook stalker...).  So when I found this outfit on ebay, in W's size, I HAD to have it, and one to match for T.

But having champagne taste on a beer budget means I can't buy the one I want for $49. I went to find a pattern for the shortall and a smocking plate.  By the time I gathered my materials, I had exactly one week to learn to smock and make the outfit, shirt and all. And I did it!  I went to a sewing shop nearby, a great place called "The Stitcher's Playhouse" (doesn't that name just inspire you to make something!) to ask for help and to see if I could have some material pleated.  Those ladies are the best.  She had a pleated insert in white already, which I bought for $5, THEN she went on to give me a 30-minute, quick-and-dirty tutorial on smocking.  I knew nothing about back-smocking or blocking before this.  She got me started, blocked the insert for me, and then we talked about stitches until I had to go pick up W from preschool. 

At home, I made up my own football pattern by printing a picture of a football about the size I wanted, then cutting it out and tracing the shape with a pencil onto my pleated section.  My stitches are all made up, and don't line up at all the way they're supposed to.  But it's my first attempt, and with no instruction (almost).  So I'm not too hard on myself. 

I didn't really understand how the stitches were supposed to lay against each other, as you can see in the picture above.  Now, when I look at it, I see gaps where I missed pleats, misalignments where I stitched across an extra pleat, and more improvisation than I'm comfortable with.  I'm still proud that I accomplished this in a few days, but.  but... but...

At least you can tell what they're supposed to be.

The pattern I used was a Vogue pattern for a lined shortall with smocking and a smocked girl's dress.  It's hand-down the most DIFFICULT pattern I've ever attempted.  The body of the outfit came together nicely, and even the pleated insert and piping around the armholes wasn't too bad.  But when it came to the legs, and that darn snap crotch, I nearly threw in the towel.  I did go ahead and topstitch the leg holes because I was so tired and just weary of thinking.  I don't really remember how I finished the snap crotch, though.

W is a proud boy.  I'm grateful he's so excited to wear something I made for him.  He's only 3, so I've got a few more years of him loving what I make for him.  And thank goodness, he's the oldest.  I've got Tim and any future babies to make more clothes for.

All done but for the buttons.

The finished product:
Happy sewing!

A brown paper package tied up with string!

Here's a peek at a future project (or 3 or 4...):

OK, it came in white plastic, and it's felt, not paper.

Just look at all the colors!  I'm making quiet books for my munchkins.  It's high time, too.  Nothing makes more noise than W dropping wooden trains in church.  Our building is old.  OLD.  The ceiling is tin (I'm fairly certain it's original to the building), and the floor is hardwood (I'm not as certain this is original, but I wouldn't be surprised if it was.).  So sound travels...  Hence my need for quiet books.   And maybe some quiet felt toys... stuffed cars, umi zoomi characters... 

I ordered the felt from this company on recommendation of some felt crafters whose blogs I stalk check in on.  I'll let you know what I think of this felt, and more importantly, why I chose to buy felt that IS considerably more expensive that the .25 bits you can buy at HobLob or Michael's.

And here's my inspiration (all from Etsy, if you're curious):

(I'm still thinking about making a book using my embroidery machine to do the details.  I haven't decided if that's more work or not, or if it's worth it, since I'll have to buy all the applique patterns as well as fabric.)

I've been collecting pictures of busy books for a long time (before I joined Pinterest), so I don't know who to credit these to, but they are all from Etsy, and I grabbed them sometime this year.

I'll start this project after I wrap up a couple of outfits, so you will have to wait a bit.

Happy sewing!

Wednesday, January 18, 2012

Slip-on dress

This little dress pattern is another easy one I came across.  The pattern gives several options for waist length, shoulder straps (button or tie), embellishing, smocking or no, and of course material patterns and applique/embroidery can make any simple pattern seem brand new each time you make it. 

In keeping with the thrifty theme, I used fabric from my stash, I used a pattern I've used once before, and I went with the knotted shoulder straps so I didn't have to purchase buttons.  Cost:  FREE!  I've had this fabric stashed away for 2 1/2 years.  I bought it originally to make crayon rolls for the little girls who came to W's first birthday party.  That was one of my early sewing projects, and I really didn't know how much fabric I was getting when I bought THREE YARDS of EACH FABRIC to make 8 crayon rolls.  I had nearly 2 yards leftover in each fabric.  I made this dress for a friend's daughter's first birthday, along with some bloomers to match.  I'm not quite done with it, but I was too impatient to wait until I added the embroidered monkey to the bodice and bloomers. 

You can't tell because I did such a poor job as photographer, but I made a giant pleat in the front center of the skirt.  It's my first pleat in a sewing project (but not the last... just wait for the boys' Easter outfits!), and I'm happy with it.

I added piping around the top of the bodice, between the lining and outer fabrics.  Sewing piping around all those shoulder straps was tough!  The payoff is great, though, if you manage to sew it tight enough.  It took me 3-4 passes after tacking it all together to get the piping sewn tight enough all the way around.  But I like it too well to leave it off.  The trick is to use a zipper foot on your sewing machine, or some other foot that is open on the outside, so you can sew right up against the piping.  I do think it's necessary to go over it three times at least.  My method this time was this:  1) using a basting stitch (wide stitch, for me it was size 6), I tacked down the piping to the lining of the bodice; 2) again with the basting stitch, I tacked the outer side of the bodice to the piping and lining; 3) using a tighter stitch, I sewed as close to the piping as I could without going over it.  I chose to tack down the piping to the lining and outer pieces separately so I wouldn't have to work with so many layers AND pins all at once.  I had to repeat step 3 a couple more times to make sure I had the piping snug, but I think it worked well enough. 

Piping between the bodice and the skirt was easy-peasy.  I did it all at once, since there weren't any tricky curves (shoulder straps are tough!)

Piping at the front and back of the bodice... Don't you love the contrast in the fabric patterns?  I think when I make my niece's dress (still more of this fabric!) I'll make the piping with the stripe, for more contrast against the polka dot front.  (There's enough fabric for another dress, too...)

My aunt D used to make dresses for a hand-sewing company.  She explained French seams to me, which I've used on every dress I've made since Christmas.  The objective of a French seam is to enclose the raw edges completely.  You begin by sewing the seam with a 1/4" allowance with your fabric WRONG SIDES TOGETHER.  Then you trim the seam to a tiny smidge more than 1/8", fold your fabric RIGHT SIDES TOGETHER, and sew a new seam with a new 1/4" allowance, with the raw edge of the first seam INSIDE the new seam.

You can see  the seam a little better in the pic below.  It's a simple way to make a garment look a little more finished.  It's way less messy than a zigzag finish (my version of a serged finish), and takes the same amount of effort.

The finishing touch (not counting the embroidery I'm about to do) is the hem.  I think this is the straightest stitching I've ever done, bar none.  I'm a tad proud. ; )   And my photography looks pretty awesome, too!

Next time, I'll compare diaper cover patterns and show you the finished bloomers to match this dress.  Until then!
This pattern is Annie's Sundress and Jumper from Primrose Lane, sizes 2-12 (GREAT range on this pattern).  Instructions were easy, pattern preparation was easy.  This is easily a 1-hour dress, if you have your material washed and ready to cut, and if you don't add any embellishments.
Posted by Picasa

Thursday, January 12, 2012

Visiting Thomas the Tank

My oldest, W, is a HUGE Thomas fan.  HUGE.  He's 3, and can name almost all the engines that are current, and most of the old ones.  He's the kid who gets a new train, plays with it, then pores over the booklet, naming all the trains he has and saying, "next, I want that one, and then that one, and..."  So when we heard Thomas was coming to a city near us, we HAD to take the boys.  And I couldn't resist making these outfits.

 I had just received my new embroidery machine, a Brother PE770 {LOVE}, and this was my first project.  Ambitious, eh?  I'm like that.  I want it, and I rarely have the patience to practice before I launch into a project.  Or the time, since I often come up with ideas for outfits a couple of days before an event.  I'm working on that. : )

The applique design I used came from an applique designer with lots of commercial appliques.  Let me warn you, not all applique designs are created equal.  In this particular design, the satin stitching was too small to secure the applique fabric to the outfit, so after ONE wash, on gentle, and laying it out to dry, this applique started to fray INSIDE the stitching.  Thatsnotsupposedtohappen.  (Unfortunately for me, I forgot who I bought this from, and later purchased another couple of designs from this designer.)

Another lesson I learned from this venture (well, from a professional sewist) was that button holes should go in the direction of the pull, so up and down for longalls/shortalls/anything with straps over the shoulder, vs. side to side for jackets.  I don't know why shirt and dress buttons don't go that way.  Maybe I'll look that up another time?

 I used the same reversible longall pattern from The Scientific Seamstress that I used for the Easter outfits, but instead of making it reversible (which I think is useless - why have two in one?  That means I lose 2 outfits from his closet every time I have to wash it.), I made the inside a white batiste lining, very thin, since the weather was still warm, but it made the outfit hang nicely, don't you think?  I also made it too long, so I had to hem the pants with safety pins before we left, so W wouldn't destroy the pants while we were out.

It hangs very well in the back.  For classic casual wear, I think this is my absolute favorite pattern to sew.  It REALLY is easy to put together.  The pattern is one piece, and you cut two from your fabric.  The instructions for sewing the legs can be tricky, but it's really not so complicated that a beginner can't do it.  And piping detail could so easily be added to the top, between the outer and inner fabrics, if you were so inclined.  Also included in the set from The Scientific Seamstress are directions for making a contrasting cuff or a ruffled hem, for girls, and cutting lines to make the romper as a shortall instead.  The best part, I think, is that you can print each size individually.  You have to tape the pieces together, but there are NO CONFUSING LINES FOR EACH SIZE to deal with!  BIG bonus!  Her instructions are full color, a combo of drawings and real photos depicting each step.

What? You thought I left little T out?  He's Thomas's sidekick, Percy.  (I got the Percy applique from a different designer, and it was a much better design.)

Find The Scientific Seamstress on or her blog, at

Next week, I hope to have a home project completed to show you...

Happy Sewing!

Friday, January 6, 2012

So, I want to learn to sew.

OK, so I know the basics of my sewing machine (an $80 Brother I picked up at Wal-Mart, and my favorite of the sewing machines I've owned so far). But what I want to learn is how to make stuff look like it's been professionally done. I have a sickness, an obsession, with heirloom outfits for my two sweet boys, W and T, and we live in a fixer upper. I'm also a stay-at-home mom, and my husband's a teacher and grad student, hence the THRIFTY part of my story. I'll share my tips for picking up fabric and supplies, and any sewing tricks or free patterns (YAY!) I learn along the way. My immediate objective is to make SOMETHING, anything really, each week. And I have SOOOO sososososo many ideas in my idea folder. Really, it's ridiculous. So, here we go!
Here are a few pictures of my first attempt at sewing clothes:
Reversible longalls for Easter, 2011

I had no embroidery machine at the time I made these (that came a few months later). The templates for these appliques were made on my computer, printed, cut, traced onto double-sided interfacing (I think that's what it's called??), then ironed onto the applique fabric. I cut out the shape, ironed it on the outfit, then sewed VERRRRY carefully around the edge with a zigzag stitch. If you look closely, you can tell I'm a beginner...
My pattern for the longall came from The Scientific Seamstress, via Etsy (you've really got to check etsy out, if you haven't already!), for $9.95, I think? And the bunny template was clipart I found online (I just made it a silhouette). The letters were done in Word, Comic Sans font, same for the circle, using the draw function.

Happy sewing!