Monday, January 29, 2018

2017 in Review: Sewing

This is my first year reviewing my sewing projects, because this is the first year I have actually sewn for myself (beyond a couple of items) and have sewn regularly.  (2015 actually doesn't look too shabby.)  Since this is the first time reviewing my sewing, I put together a timeline.  In August of 2013, I decided that I wanted to learn how to sew clothes, and I sewed my very first article of clothing as an adult: A dress for Enna.

2013 (2)
Dress for Enna
Pajama pants for Mr. F.

2014 (3)
Weighted Blanket
Grey and Yellow Dresses for Enna

2015 (26)
Quilt for Finn
Red Riding Hood Cape for Enna
11 pairs of shorts for both kids
Pants and 2 shirts for Finn
First shirt for me
2 pants for Enna
2 dresses for Enna
4 pairs of yoga pants for kids
skirt for me

2016 (17)--moved mid-year
2 shirts for kids
Apron for Enna
Robe for Enna
2 scarves for kids
2 trick-or-treat bags
3 dresses for Enna
2 pairs of pajama pants for Enna
4 pairs of pants for kids

2017 (31)
4 fleece pants for kids
2 scout tees for me
2 cappuccino tunics for me
4 shorts for Finn
2 hiking pants for kids
3 Esme shirts for me
8 pajama bottoms
1 swim shirt
1 swim suit
3 metro T's for me
Apron for me

It took me a couple of years to get my groove, so to speak.  I didn't make anything for me until 2015 at which point I made a shirt and an undocumented skirt.  In 2016, we moved earlier in the year which also hampered any sewing projects.  But 2017 was the year!  Before I made the list, I thought that I predominately sewed for myself, since those projects took proportionately longer what with the billions of muslins that I had to make.  However it turns out that I made 11 items for myself and 20 items for the kids (almost half of those were the pajama bottoms that I batched sewed.)

2017 was a year of learning how to fit shirts.  I made numerous muslins.  I learned that I have a broad back (mostly upper), sloping shoulders, an upper rounded back, burly arms (snort!), and a shorter than average distance between my shoulders and bust.  I also decided that I prefer a darted bodice vs a more relaxed boxy look.  I realized that the biggest factor in learning to make clothes that fit is practice.  Practice, practice, practice.

2017 was a year of sewing with new-to-me fabrics: rayon challis, linen, supplex (nylon-like), wool jersey, and swimsuit fabric.

Looking back, I am super proud of how much I have learned in a fairly short period of time!  Kids clothes are great practice, and I have learned a lot from some really well-written and well-drafted patterns.

Life Lesson: you just have to put in the time.  And the more time you practice, the better you are.

Sewing goals for 2018: Keep on sewing.  Learn how to fit pants.  Make a button-down shirt.  Fill in those clothing holes in my closet.

Wednesday, January 24, 2018

2017 in Review: New Recipes

Photos from original sources linked to below.
I don't talk as much about food as I used to on the blog.  Cooking has become less of an enjoyable hobby and more of a necessary chore.  Not to mention the quantity of food that I have to make and prepare has increased.  However,  I am still obsessed about trying new recipes.  Below are recipes that were new to us in 2017 that I have already made more than once.

Dietary updates: Mr. F. is avoiding some dairy due to some advice from our Naturopath.  This means we still cook with butter and cream (and even some sour cream), but avoiding cheese and yogurt.  This is to help with some seasonal allergies.  Therefore, the most popular meals at our house are one's that can be easily adapted to be dairy free.  We also are trying to increase our greens intake.  Mostly that means that I have started eating sautéed vegetables  or salads for breakfast, but I like to add more to meals too.

Italian Chopped Salad (3): this was extremely popular this summer when I less inclined to cook.  I don't follow the dressing as I find it too strong for my taste.  I had actually forgotten about this salad until looking stuff for this post.  I am inclined to put it on the menu again soon.

The Best Sloppy Joes (2): the first time I made them as is (with the handmade barbecue sauce that I made with reduced sugar).  And it was yummy but still quite sweet.  The second time I swapped tomato sauce for the ketchup which made it less sweet.  However, my kids actually preferred that so yay?  Enna is the one to make a request for this.

Slow Cooker Korean Beef (2): I reduce the soy sauce by half and also the sugar.  The first because of Mr. F.'s need for low sodium food and the second to balance with the salt.  This is good, but not fantastic.  This might be due the fact we have to reduce the salt and sugar so much.  However, it is easy enough and still tasty enough to be included into the recipe files.  I have made it both in the crockpot and pressure cooker.

Black Beans, Rice, and Kale Bowls (3): The novel thing about this recipe is the marinated kale added to a typical black beans and rice.  I use a bit less lime juice as Mr. F. isn't keen on it.  I also don't make the avocado salsa verde opting instead for guacamole/salsa/or plain avocado instead.  Trying to time avocado ripeness to go with a meal is a crapshoot I find.

Quick Pasta and Chickpeas (2): Mr. F. isn't a fan (he needs more flavor to combat the lack of salt), but the kids tend to like it, and so do I.  I have to double or triple this for our family.  I use the Barilla gluten-free elbows for the pasta.  It works.

Honorable Mentions (made only once in 2017):

Pupusas: Made these again today, so I am sure this will be a keeper.  I make mine with homemade refried beans and cheese.  (Or just beans for Mr. F.)

Bacon, egg, and leak risotto: I loved this, but kids were ambivalent.  Super easy in the pressure cooker.

Chicken Gyro Salad: Made this again last week again, and I am sure will be more popular in the summer.

Update on 2016's Honorable Mentions:

I thought I would follow up on the Honorable Mentions from last year to see if they ended up being repeats, or not.  Of the six listed, three were duds, and three were keepers. See this post for links.

Lime Coconut Chicken: I made this a second time and didn't find it as yummy.  Haven't made it again.  Still on the fence about that one.

Artichoke gratin toasts: Not a favorite of the kids despite me really liking them.  Bummer.  Made these twice only.

White bean, Kale, Pancetta Pot pies: Haven't made these again, and it doesn't really sound interesting to me either.

Roasted Garlic Beef Sandwiches:  This is in regular rotation.  We have taken to blending up the garlic with the leftover broth to make a thicker garlic sauce that then mixes better with the shredded beef.  Very good.

Black Bean Nachos: We have embraced the occasional nacho night.  My family is a fan.  (Except Mr. F. who can't eat cheese.)

Crockpot White Bean Chili: This has become our default chicken chili since it can be dairy free.  (Kids can add cheese/sour cream after.)

Monday, January 22, 2018

2017 in Review: Favorite Books

In 2017 I read 69 books total, 5 of which I didn't finish.  I didn't feel like I was reading more than normal, but I read more this year than in the previous six: 2016 (39), 2015 (59), 2014 (52), 2013 (24),  2012 (52), 2011 (42).  Some of these were books that I read to Finn, which I don't think I included in previous years.

Mid-year, I decided that I didn't want to read books that didn't interest me (i.e. books for book club).  I found that I was just choosing not to read since I wasn't interested in the book I "should" read.  From this point on, I read much more.  The downside however is that 1) my reading is less diverse and 2) I am missing out on books that I might enjoy despite appearances. Have you ever been in this situation?  I like the social and community aspect of book clubs, but I quite dislike spending time on books that I don't enjoy when I know there are so many other books out there that I want to read.  I don't know what the solution is to this dilema.

Favorite Ten Books:

The Invisible Wall: This had been on my reading list for years, however neither the cover, nor the description called to me despite high praise from friends.  This year I listened to it was so good.  The story is told with so much child-like innocence that instead of being depressed by his circumstances, I felt hope for his future.  I feel like his experiences helped with his character instead of giving him adult baggage.

Salt to the Sea: A YA WWII novel.  So well done.  I loved how it told a story I was unfamiliar with despite the many WWII novels I have read.  I listened to this one as well, and the audiobook was just so well done.  The story is told through the perspective of multiple characters and the audiobook have different narrators for the different characters.
A Million Miles in a Thousand Years: This wasn't the best written book.  However, I keep thinking about so many of the ideas in this book: Being intentional with your life, writing down the stories of my life, etc.  I think I will need to re-read parts of this one again because there was a lot to unpack.

Bury Your Dead: Book 6 in the Inspector Gamache series by Louise Penny.  This book was just perfection.  No, you can't read it out of order since it won't make sense, but this was just an amazing ride of emotions.  I was laughing and sobbing.  I listened to these and they were fantastic.  I love the French Canadian accent and now I know how names are pronounced. 

Nanny Piggins: We started reading this series to Finn.  Oh my goodness.  It is so hilariously over the top and ridiculous.  I absolutely love this book--A circus pig turned nanny.  I was laughing out loud while reading this book to my son.  Mr. F. and I needed to fill each other on what happened because we didn't want to miss out on the days we didn't read.  (We take turns putting kids to bed.)

Today Will Be Different: I really identify with the women in Maria Semples novels--the midlife crisis that happens after you have survived infanthood and your children are in school.  The whole, "now what?" scenario. Listened to the audio and it was good.

Six of Crows/Crooked Kingdom: Fantasy with the thrill of a heist.  What more could you want?  These two novels are a bit darker than the Geisha series.  However, I really enjoyed them.  Again, I listened to these.  It is another cast ensemble which was excellent.  It is the kind of book that you want to keep cleaning so that you can listen.

Blackout/All Clear: Just consider these two one book.  One massive book.  Luckily, I read this on my kindle which was good since I wasn't intimidated by the size.  This is an amazing time travel historical fiction story.  I really felt like I was there in WWII London.  I will be checking out more from this author. 

The Summer Before the War: This is just the perfect book for my wheel house.  I just really enjoyed this historical fiction. 

The Incorrigible Children of Ashton Place: This is another family favorite.  We listened to all the books in the series that are out currently.  (The last one comes out later 2018).  I read the first book in this series a few years ago and like it, but didn't love it.  However, I listened to the audiobooks and fell in love.  This is such a fun series.  The audio version does all the humor justice (something I didn't appreciate to its fullest extent reading it.)  I listened to all of them, then Mr. F. listened to all of them, and finally Finn listened to all of them.  We now have inside jokes that we can refer to based on these books.  So fun.

Honorable Mentions

I also really enjoyed the following despite not fitting into my top 10.

A Night Divided
The Dry
Far, Far Away
Shades of Grey
The Westing Game

You can see my favorite books from previous years here: 2016, 2015, 2014, 2013, 2012, 2011

Sunday, January 14, 2018

Sewing: Swimwear for Kids

Here it is.  The last make of 2017 and the final post I wanted to write before I start all my 2017 reviews. 

Enna has long requested a "swimsuit that matches" --one with no sleeves and one piece.  Or at least a tankini that has matching tops and bottoms.  This is impossible to buy since she fits in 2T bottoms but has the length of a 4-5 year old.  In the past, I have purchased a swim suit and only used the bottoms or bought swim shorts and then purchased a rash guard separately to wear on top.  You can sort of see the setup below.

After a number of requests, I decided to try my hand at making a swimsuit.  I had her pick out a fabric she liked from The Fabric Fairy.  She surprised me by picking out the black fabric with moons, hearts, and stars.  Finn also needed a new rashguard (he doesn't like not wearing a shirt) and so he picked out some colors for me to make him a top.

For Finns shirt, I just used the Oliver & S school bus t-shirt pattern since I already had it.  I cut out a size 5 and added length to be an 8.  I didn't, however, take into account his shoulders which are as broad as an 8 year old.  Also, the neckline is quite small.  He has a *very* hard time getting it over his head. Next time I make this (either as a rashguard or a regular shirt), I will add to the shoulders and increase the neck opening.  I also might make the sleeves longer.  Despite these faults, I feel like this fits and works better than the rashguards we have previously purchased.  Those shirts are quite wide on him and really flap about in the pool.  He mentioned that he was able to swim better in this one.

Enna wanted a 1-piece swimsuit.  I, however, do not want to help my daughter go to the bathroom while she is wearing a wet 1-piece.  Instead I made a tankini.  For the top, I made Jalie 3023.  I asked around the internet and heard that Jalie makes top-notch swimsuit patterns.  The size range is super impressive ranging from toddlers to grown women.  I will be able to make myself a swimsuit using this pattern if I so choose.  For the bottoms, I wanted something with more coverage than a normal swim bottom.  I used 3247: low-rise gym shorts.  I think they work great.  I might in future pairs increase the rise a touch but so far, it hasn't been a problem as is.  To figure out the size for the top, I used the instructions for a 1-piece.  I picked the size for her hips/waist/chest and added the length to the top that I needed based on her length measurement.  For the bottoms, I used the width that corresponded to her measurement but added a bit in length.

I had never made a Jalie pattern before, so I was a bit disoriented as I figured out how the patterns were laid out and where the instructions were written (as they are written in both English and French).  However, once I started sewing, I had no problems figuring out what I needed to do.  Also, they have some helpful links to tutorials either they have created or links to other's tutorials for their patterns. 

Also, I didn't think that Enna's fabric was directional, so I didn't pay attention to how I cut out the pieces.  Doh.  Oh well.  I figure that no one else will be checking her suit out as closely as I am and notice it.

They pattern doesn't say to cross the straps.  However, I read other blog posts on this pattern and depending on the fabric and how it behaves when wet, the straps can loosen up and get baggy.  I preemptively took care of this by making them cross in the back. 

By the time I sewed Enna's swimsuit, I had received my Christmas present: a new serger!  The main seams I sewed on the serger and then sewed the yolk, straps, waistband, and hems on my sewing machine.  It was so delightful and easy that I was sad that I didn't have it when I was sewing Finn's top.  It would have been so much easier/nicer.

I was surprised how quickly all the swimwear came together, especially for this swimwear novice.  I think I will be making future more suits in the future. 

Wednesday, January 3, 2018

Sewing: Liesl & Co Metro T

Let's face it, I basically wear t-shirts and jeans.  Mostly because that is what feels comfortable.  I believe much of that is due to ready-to-wear woven shirts not fitting me well in my back, and not being long enough in the arms--something I hope to remedy by making my own shirts.  However, I wasn't feeling that great in my knit shirts either.  Again, I wanted them longer in the arms.  Also, I felt like they accented my flabby bits a bit too much.  I wanted them to skim, not to encase like sausage.  However, larger sizes were just....large.  Therein lies the beauty of making your own clothes: you can give yourself more room just where you need it.

There are a lot of basic t-shirt patterns out there, and everyone seems to have a favorite.  I figured I was going to have to make adjustments regardless, so I went with the Family t-shirt pack from Liesl and Co.  The benefit was that I now have basic t-shirt patterns for the whole family.  Additionally, I just love Liesl's style, both for her women's patterns as well as her children's patterns.  At this point, I am really familiar with her instructions and find them to be among the best. 

I started out making a muslin using this 100% poly knit that I ordered cheaply from  It had the minimal amount of stretch required by the pattern.  I also used the book Knits for Real People for fitting advice. The authors advise for fitting the pattern pieces so that they come to your center front and back despite using knit fabric unless it is a wrap top or one with negative ease.  They have found that this ends up with a more flattering fit.  With that in mind, I made the following adjustments:

  • I chose a size medium and graded to large at hips based on measurements
  • 1 5/8" full broad back adjustment
  • 3/8" sloping shoulder adjustment
  • 4/8" upper rounded back adjustment
  • 1" horizontal wedge taking out in upper bust and back.
  • 1" added in length to body
  • 2" added in length to sleeve
  • 1 1/2" full arm adjustment

Those adjustments brought me to this version in an art gallery cotton/lycra knit:

However, I was still annoyed by those armscye wrinkles.  I posted on a sewing forum and the consensus was that I needed 1) to broaden the shoulder piece so that it was actually at my shoulder but to also 2) lower the armscye.

I did that, but still had some extra fabric around the bust.  I decided to see if I could pinch it out into a dart.  I did successfully, behold, you get this version again in cotton/lycra:

I then transferred the bust dart (which is in kind of a weird location by the armscye) and added it to my pattern piece.  From that updated pattern, I made the last version in a slub wool jersey:

Are these perfect?  No.  However, I feel that 1) they are more flattering than the shirts I can buy and 2) they are more comfortable because they are wide enough and long enough.  I plan on using this pattern as a basic block to make turtle-neck and cowl-neck tops.  For those, I will play around with rotating the dart to a different location.  After taking so much effort a basic t-shirt, I am more interested in seeing how I can adapt this one, than trying to refit another pattern that is basically the same shape. 

And of course, we had some silly outtakes:

The pose on the left is a "yoga" pose that my daughter does in preschool where they do a modified tree pose and hold their hands like they are sipping hot cocoa.  

Monday, January 1, 2018

Christmas 2017

I have some 2017 review posts to write: books, recipes, sewing, and the like.  But I have a few things from 2017 that I want to post.

My goals this year were to 1) have presents planned by Black Friday so that 2) I could take advantage of any deals and 3) get my shopping done early.  This more or less happened, and it was so nice to spend most of December doing fun, non-crucial things.  Yes, I stressed out the week before Christmas because there were a number of food-related items that needed to be made (as usual), but for the most part, I could relax and have fun making the handmade Christmas cards and ornaments, going to local events, and spending time with the family without having the dread of shopping hanging over me.  I would have to say that this is the most contented and relaxed I have felt at Christmas time.  

In addition to our normal traditions, I had time to put together a slide show of "Christmas Pasts."  This is a tradition borrowed from my sister and brother-in-law.  Every Christmas Eve, they watch a slide show of Christmas pictures starting with the grandparents as children and ending with the previous year's Christmas.  The kids laugh over seeing their father as a teenager dressed in a woman's house coat and the hairstyles their uncles sported in the 80's.  Ours slide show isn't as extensive.  I have a few pictures of my childhood Christmases, but the majority of the pictures are from the last 7 years.  The kids loved seeing themselves as babies and toddlers.  As I already sort through our photos and put the best ones on Flickr, it was relatively easy to assemble them together.  This is a fun tradition that I want to continue.   

It snowed Christmas Eve, and the children woke up to a white Christmas.  It was truly magical.  The children were more interested in playing in the snow than with their new toys, which is as it should be.  I really couldn't have asked for a more ideal Christmas. 

More photos of December and Christmas activities can be found here.

Sunday, December 17, 2017

Sewing: The Esme Top and why I am never going to make it big with these posts.

One of the first shirts that I sewed for myself was the scout woven t-shirt by Grainline.  I had seen a number of scouts on the internet, and it looked like a good basic shape that could be adapted or hacked in a myriad of ways.  Unfortunately, it is not a super flattering shape for me, as it felt very sack-like.  I learned that I preferred the look of a darted shirt.

Enter the Esme top by Lotta Jansdotter from her her book, Everyday Style.  It is a basic shirt, similar to the Scout tee, but has bust darts.  The neckline also has a facing which I kept in the versions that I made, but could easily be swapped out with a bias bound neckline. 

I thought the shirt fit pretty well initially with my standard adjustments.  However, I look at my notes and I could see how the list of adjustments I made might still be intimidating to someone not used to making adjustments.

The adjustments I made:

  • 3/4" upper broad back adjustment
  • 1/2" slopping shoulder adjustment
  • 3/8" rounded upper back adjustment
  • 3/8" forward shoulder adjustment.  (this was a first one for me, but it was so obvious this pattern needed it.)
  • Scooped out front arm scythe and added 1/4" to back arm scythe
  • 1 1/4" inched added in length
  • Full arm adjustment (of unsure amount since I can't find my pattern piece) for my burly arms. *eye roll*
  • Lengthened sleeve

I really enjoy making really basic patterns that I can make 2-3 versions of.  The first one, I kept basic.  I made it out of Robert Kaufman houndstooth flannel. 

The second one, I added a notched neckline.  (The pattern has a notched neckline for the kaftan version.  However, that notch is a lot lower than I wanted.  I just figured out where I wanted it to hit, and made the notch shorter.)  The fabric is an Allison Glass double gauze that is pretty dreamy. 

The third one, I experimented with some color blocking.  The top piece of the front is a indigo herringbone and the bottom is a chambray.  I like the subtle difference. I was going to to hem using bias binding.  Perhaps even doing an external facing at the bottom, but the herringbone fabric was really quite shifty and wasn't behaving nicely.  I decided just to do a small hem for both the bottom and the sleeves.

You guys, I am so bad at this fashion/sewing blog thing.  First, I just grabbed these shirts from the closet without ironing.  As a result, they look a bit crumpled and sad.  But honestly, that is how I roll most of the time: crumpled and sad.  Also, I have absolutely no space to take pictures in my house, and outside is too cold or rainy.  I opted for in front of our Christmas tree.  And because of the wide-angled lens, I look like a large human in a hobbit house.  (Although our tree isn't super large either.)  Next, I had to cut of my face from a lot of these because I look demented. And to top it off, I was being photo-bombed by my children.  Because I mistakenly thought I could take these pictures while they were home.  So, there ended up being a lot of these, because they wanted funny, interesting pictures:

Which is probably more reflective of how things are around here. 

Anyway, I am pleased to have some long-sleeved woven shirts that fit me.  The pattern is also great, despite my less that professional examples shown here.  I borrowed the book from my library.  I might play around with adding a pleat to the center, ala the Collette Sorbetto.  I have some short-sleeve versions planned too.  I would like a rayon version with a bias bound neckline and perhaps a ruffled sleeve(?) for a more dressed up blouse.   Lots of options for a pretty basic shape. 


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