Friday, July 30, 2010

Tutorial: Lighter Than Air Peasant Top

It's still really warm here. It is, after all, early August in North Carolina, and I'm not complaining; if I wanted cool weather, I'd live in a different part of the country. But my mind has been wandering more frequently to the quickly-approaching end of summer, when I'll go back to school and will have to wear more subdued, school-appropriate clothing, and fewer strappy dresses and summery frocks. Determined, however, that "professional" doesn't have to mean "boring," I wanted to come up with something that I could wear now (when it's hot and I'm more casual) and then (when it's cooler and I have to look more..with-it). So I came up with The Lighter Than Air Peasant Top.

It's made from an upcycled t-shirt, so it's cheap, eco-friendly, and comfortable. Plus, the options are endless, which means you can make it all yours. Here's how you do it!

Materials Needed:

  • upcycled man's t-shirt (I used a size L)
  • 1/4" elastic, in a length to be determined (I used about 29", which let the top have a gather of about 1/2 of the original shirt size when all was said and done)
  • safety pin
  • coordinating thread
  • sewing machine
Time required: 1-2 hours

Just like with the Heat Wave Halter, I've given instructions for optional or alternative steps, so you can pick and choose to make the kind of shirt that's ideal for you, based on your preferences and the amount of time you have to spend on the project.

What to do:

Step 1:
Start with a t-shirt that's about 2 sizes too big for you.

Tip: This would even work with a printed t-shirt, so it's a great project to give new life to one of your husband's old long as you love it and it's not really gross from yard work and other Manly Responsibilities, as most of my husband's are. If you don't have a shirt big enough to use, it's time to hit the thrift store, where the selection is huge. Huge. A long-sleeved shirt would make a great alternative for cooler, winter weather; you could make 3/4-length sleeves.

Step 2:

With chalk (you can kind of see the light-purple chalk line in the picture above), draw a chalk arc right below the neck of your shirt, extending about 2"-3" down on the shoulder on each side. Cut off this top part.

Step 3:
Cut off the edges of the sleeves, right inside of the existing stitching lines. Do the same thing on the bottom hem of the shirt, being sure that you DON'T cut into the stitching, especially on the bottom tube. Set these aside, as you'll use them later.

When you're through with these steps, your shirt will look like this:

Step 4:
Cut a vertical 3-inch slit at the top of the neckline of your shirt. We'll work more on this later.

Step 5:

This next step is fun. It's magic, like shirring ;-). On the hem, sleeves, and collar, which are all cut, raw edges now after you sliced them off, you're going to make them into lettuce edges. Basically you're going to make them a little ruffly and finish them at the same time. So set your machine for a normal zig zag stitch, normal stitch length and width with regular tension, stretch the fabric gently as you feed it through the machine. When the needle comes down on the left, it will land on the fabric, and when it comes down on the right, it will land just off of the fabric. Do this on all of those edges. When you're done, the edges will be a little ruffly (bonus: when you wash your shirt, those edges will be less likely to roll). Be sure not to sew over that slit in the front. We want that little gap for later.

Step 6:

Take what was once the waistband, which you cut off earlier. Cut open the loop, so it is now one long piece of fabric (but don't cut through those existing stitches that actually make it a long tube of fabric). Iron it so that the raw edge (the edge that you cut) is on the bottom, and you have a smooth tube on top. It's hard to see in the picture, but basically you'll have a smooth casing, with the sewn/cut edge ironed on the bottom.

Step 7:
Stretch this tube gently so that it fits all the way around the neckline of your shirt, and pin it down on the outside of the shirt, about 1/2" from your newly-ruffled top edge of your shirt.

Edge stitch down both sides of your tube to attach it to your shirt. This will be the casing for your elastic.

Step 8:
Using a safety pin, thread your elastic through this casing. My elastic was about 29" long, or the width of the front of my shirt from shoulder to shoulder. This was a great length for me and it gathered the shirt just enough, but you might want to play around with the measurement to get a length you like. Sew each end of the elastic down at the edge of the slit you cut in step 4.

Tip: don't let it slip all the way through the casing, or you'll lose the ends of the elastic and have to fish for it with a safety pin and you'll poke yourself and get blood all over your newly-created shirt. Not that I know anything about that. Or that I did that here. But it could happen.

Step 9:
Take the arm bands that you cut off and cut off the stitching line. Cut open the tube so you have one longer piece of fabric, stretch it gently, and tie a small knot close to the end of each of them.

Step 10:
Using a zig zag stitch, sew one of these strips to each side of that slit in the front, just under (or just in or even on top of, if you don't have room otherwise) the casing. They will be ties for the front of the shirt.

You're done!

You might want to adjust the length when you're done. If you do, just cut off the shirt and re-ruffle it, the way you did in step 5.

Another one done!

Thursday, July 29, 2010

Audrey is here! (and so is the new Project Runway season)

In what has to be a fantastic example of great timing, my new dress form, Audrey, arrived yesterday!

That's her. I dressed her up in some of my favorite clothes, dragged her outside into the natural light, and set her up (yep, I felt a little weird dragging a dress dummy into the yard, but so be it). She was a perfect model, very patient and understanding as I re-positioned her and asked her to stand still for different shots. She's a true professional. She has a permanent place of honor inside, in the dining room:
She appears to be unscathed by her journey, via the USPS, across the country. She's my size, she's in great shape, and she cost $74, including shipping, from a eBay seller. My husband, who encouraged me to buy her, is an awesome supporter. He's my biggest fan (and I mean that in a totally non-creepy way). I feel like a real designer now.

A totally unexpected (but totally welcome) benefit of Audrey's arrival is that she came in a large, perfectly usable box. And a 6-year-old and a 7-year-old certainly know how to put that to use on a rainy afternoon
So far, she has been a tv-watching box, a resting spot, a hiding place, a beanbag portal, and a boat. Pretty good for a free, recyclable toy that was responsible for letting me have an hour or so of peace. I love you, Box.

Speaking of real designers...the reason Audrey's arrival is timely is because the new season of Project Runway begins tonight! I have never been anticipating a season as much as I am this one, for some reason. As my sewing skills become more advanced, I find I become more engrossed in the show. And the episodes are 90 minutes long now, which is even better.

What a good day, really. I'm stressed about a couple of things, letting some relatively minor issues weigh on my mind when I should let them go, but really, it's a good day. I'm home with my kids. My husband is on his way home. One of my favorite shows is on tonight. I have it good.

In the next couple days, I'll be debuting the tutorial for the shirt that Audrey is wearing above. Here's a sneak peek:

Now...carry on!

Tuesday, July 27, 2010

Yogurt Pops from Danonino Cups

I do not begrudge the ice cream man the right to drive down our street, Christmas carols blaring from his van at full volume (I'm not kidding), trying to entice kids to go to the curb with loose change in their grimy fists. The kids get very excited, and a few times every year we really do go out and buy something from him. But it's all artificially-colored, artificially-flavored, high fructose corn syrup-sweetened stuff. I cringe when I see them eating it. So last week we made yogurt pops from Danonino yogurt mini cups. I buy this yogurt a lot, anyway, since the cups are the perfect size for K's lunch box, and they're way better than most of the other yogurt out there. Check out the nutrition information on their website. They are naturally colored, use real sugar, and are healthy.

It was super-easy, super-cheap, and very healthy. This is what we did:

1. Start with a 6-pack of Danonio yogurt cups

These were on sale for $2, I think, and I used a coupon, which made them a grand total of $1. Can't beat that.

2. Insert popsicle sticks.
Good thing J is a hoarder (ahem, I mean recycler) and has been saving the popsicle sticks from his store-bought treats for the past few months. We borrowed 6 of them (they were clean), I cut a small slit in the top of each unopened yogurt cup, we inserted popsicle sticks and the cups went into the freezer.

3. Less than 24 hours later, we had yogurt pops! K likes these so much that she requested one over going out for ice cream the other day. They're perfect for us. The possibilities for variation are endless, too - organic pudding cups, natural gelatin cups (they have them at Trader Joe's), etc. You could even re-use the plastic cups and fill them with your own concoction later, thus making them environmentally-friendly (no plastic in the landfill) and even cheaper.

It's a balmy 89 degrees here today. Do I feel an arctic chill coming on? I better go have a yogurt pop before it freezes over outside.

Sunday, July 25, 2010

Tutorial: Heat Wave Halter

It's 100 degrees here today. I'm not even kidding, people. I'm hot, and I'm never hot. We need things to keep us cool, to keep our minds off of the weather, and to help lessen our carbon footprint that might be contributing to the heat wave that is gripping a lot of the country (or might not be contributing...depends who you ask). So without further ad0, let me introduce the Heat Wave Halter:

I was inspired by this tunic, from Forever 21:

My version is made from an upcycled man's shirt - readily available from any thrift store, or even from your favorite guy's closet - and is customizable with myriad options, so you can make exactly the kind of shirt that's right for you.

Materials Needed:

  • upcycled man's shirt (short-sleeved is fine...I used a size XL.) Note: this size fit me perfectly when I was done, and I have a small frame. If you think you might need a larger size when you're done, start with a 2XL or 3XL. There are plenty of those out there, too, and it's better to guestimate on the larger side from the get go, rather than go through all of your steps and find out that your final product is too small)
  • 1/4" elastic, in a length 3" smaller than your upper bust measurement (the measurement right above your breasts, almost around your torso under your underarms, where a halter top would rest)
  • cording, long t-shirt scrap or crocheted chain, to use as a tie
  • safety pin
  • coordinating thread
  • elastic thread
  • sewing machine
  • serger (optional, but nice)
Time required: 1-2 hours

When possible, I've given instructions for optional or alternative steps, so you can pick and choose to make the kind of shirt that's ideal for you, based on your preferences and the amount of time you have to spend on the project.

Step 1:

Start with your average, garden-variety discarded (or soon-to-be-discarded, if your boyfriend doesn't yet realize that you took it from his closet) shirt. Feel good that you're creating something new and functional and trendy from something that is otherwise unloved and would be unworn. Pat yourself on the back, and keep on keepin' on.

Optional: Regular fabric, in a width that is a comfortable circumference of your upper bust (plus about 5") and the length from your underarms to your desired shirt length (plus hem) is fine, too. Example: if your upper bust measures 35 inches around, make sure you have two 20" wide pieces of material.

Step 2:

Using a seam ripper, take off the breast pocket, if there is one. If you want, you can take time to admire the Silly Bandz on my wrist. They're from my kids and have been on my wrist all summer.

Also, take your time and don't tug too much at the material during this step, or you'll create a hole, like I did (you'll see it later, if you look hard). If you do make a hole, it's fine; you can just take a few stitches to mend the hole, and no one will be the wiser because the top of the final shirt will have a little gathering and blousing to camouflage the mended hole, but it's easier to not make a hole to begin with. Lesson learned.

Optional: Leave the pocket on, as is. Or if you're worried about it sagging on the finished shirt, leave it on but sew the top of the pocket shut.

Step 3:

Chalk marks might help you with this (like in the picture above), but they're not absolutely necessary. Cut off the bottom of the shirt, right above the curved hem; cut the top, right below the collar (about 1" above that second button); cut the sides right inside the arms. Cut through both layers of the shirt. When you're done, you will have two layers of this:

Note: the back of your shirt might have a pleat right in the middle, like mine did, as part of its pre-transformation construction. This is fine; just treat it like it's not there, and keep going. It actually adds a nice little bit of extra room in the back, which is nice .

Step 4:

Sew the front shut, right down the edge of the botton holes. You could use a zipper foot for this, if you're worried about your presser foot hitting the buttons, but my regular foot worked fine. Which is a good thing, since I didn't want to change my presser foot. Because of feeling lazy.

Optional: You could skip this step entirely. The buttons will still be there to hold it shut, and it won't fly open. I just think it looks nicer with everything sewn down.

Step 5:

Right sides together, sew the front and the back of the shirt together at the side seams. Use a serger or a sewing machine. If you're using a sewing machine, you can zig zag the edges, use pinking shears, or leave them raw.

Step 6:

Serge the top and bottom edges (don't sew them together, just finish the edges).

Your tube of fabric should now look something like this, open at the top and the bottom:

Optional: You could skip the serging if you don't have a serger. You can zig zag the edges on your machine, pink them, or leave them raw.

Step 7:

Cut off the very top button. IMPORTANT: After you remove the button, use an Exact-O knife or a sharp pair of small scissors to go through the button hole and cut through the layer of fabric right behind the button hole. You should have a "button hole" that goes all the way through both layers of fabric (the original button hole, and the one you just cut behind it, parallel to it, in the other layer of fabric). This is going to be important when you insert the elastic later on, since we'll be using the button hole as an opening for the elastic and the tie. It will make sense later, I promise. This is just a small slit (less than 1/2"), and I do not worry about fray. It will be covered, anyway, as it will be well behind the tie.

Step 8:

Fold down the top edge, right above the now-buttonless button hole. Iron and sew this hem. The fabric should come to rest below the button hole, so you can sew it down and still have access to the button hole:

Step 9:

Using a safety pin, thread your elastic through the button hole and through the casing you made.

Sew each end of the elastic on the side of the column of buttons (one edge of the elastic on each side of that 1" or so strip that is the button strip). The elastic will not overlap; in fact, you will have a gap of approximately 1", right where the button strip is.

Tip: make sure you catch that first end of the elastic and sew it down before it scooches through the casing and you have to dig around for it. That's never any fun. Sew down the one end, finish threading the rest through, and sew down the other edge on the other side of the button strip. I used a zig-zag stitch.

Step 10:

Thread your cording or other tie through the button hole in this same casing, right over the elastic. Bring the other end back out through that same button hole.

Optional: I crocheted a chain from all-cotton thread and used it; you could also use a 3/4"-wide scrap of long t-shirt material, stretched to the length you need to go around your chest. Use what you have! Be creative!

Step 11:

Try on the shirt. With chalk, mark your waist. You are going to make 3 or 4 lines of stitching (the line you drew, plus 2 or 3 lines right below it), using elastic thread in your bobbin, to cinch the waist. Make your lines about 1/2" apart. You may want to chalk out your lines before you start sewing, to make sure you don't come across a button when you get to the front. DON'T SEW OVER A BUTTON OR YOU'LL BREAK YOUR NEEDLE! Worst-case scenario, just go AROUND the button (top or bottom, it doesn't matter) and keep on sewing.

Shirring, or sewing with elastic thread, is EASY! You can find a great tutorial on the Ruffles and Stuff blog. Once you try it, you'll be hooked.

Optional: You can add some simple straps, made from the scraps you cut off in step three, if you'd like a more covered look or are worried about it falling down. But I've worn mine all day and have had no problems at all.

Step 12:

Hem the bottom. I used a 1 1/2" inch hem, to add a little weight to the bottom, but try on your shirt and hem it at your desired length.

You're done! Put it on. Tie the top. Eat a popsicle. Show the heat who's boss.

Saturday, July 24, 2010

I just finished a new project and I hope to post the tutorial tomorrow. I remembered to take pictures of each step during the process, but now I need my husband to take photos of me wearing the final product. I love the way it turned out! I compared my item to the photo I was trying to emulate, and even my husband said mine looked just as good, if not better. And I don't even think he's saying that just because he's my husband and wants to be in my good graces on a Saturday night.

Here's a sneak peek of what I started with:

Hmmm...what will it be?

I feel like the evening news, with teasers and hype and mystery...but I promise, this won't dramatically change your life, and it doesn't affect your health, and your kids are not in danger if you don't tune in tomorrow. But you'll want to see what it is, anyway. See you tomorrow!

Friday, July 23, 2010

If I were going to re-name my blog,

which I'm not, I would name it something along the lines of I'm on the Crazy Bus. Or Our Crazy Bus. Or some other Crazy Bus name that isn't being used by a blogger. I'd use it just so I could use one of these pictures in my header:

They're pictures I took on the boardwalk in New Jersey last week, and I love them. Plus, the whole "Crazy Bus" theme has so much going for us here. Our house is certainly a little nuts, what with two kids and two barky dogs and one bird that chirps all day long but hates people. Sometimes I feel like I drive the crazy bus.

J asks me frequently during the school year if/when he can ride the bus (my standard response: never. Your dad works close to your school, and he has the same hours, and you'd have a really long bus ride if you rode the bus, and I think school problems can start on the bus...). My own bus rides when I was in school were pretty nice. Our bus driver, Jerry, would play music all the that, in retrospect, was probably not totally appropriate for a bus filled with elementary-school kids. Lyrics like

Could have been the whiskey,
Might have been the gin.
Could have been the three or four six packs,
I don't know,
But look at the mess I'm in!
My head's a like a football.
I think I'm gonna die!
Tell me, me oh me oh my,
Wasn't that a party!

So, yeah, J won't be riding the bus anytime soon. We'll just keep on truckin' in our own crazy bus right here. Minus the three or four six packs.

Thursday, July 22, 2010

Little Tiny Chemise

I made this chemise from Carefree Clothes for Girls. It's part of a sew along project I'm participating in (did I just end a sentence with a preposition? Yes, I did).

I wrote about it over on Wardrobe Refashion.

I'm also looking for ideas regarding a sew along I'd like to host starting this fall. I have some ideas regarding what to do, but I'm always on the lookout for others as well. Any suggestions for how to keep my sewing mojo once school starts again in the fall would be appreciated!