Thursday, July 27, 2017

Move Over Vineyard Vines, Preppy the Whale is On the Scene

I recently made this Preppy the Whale quilt and while I made each whale, I fell in love with the pattern more and more and couldn't stop thinking about it for a new school bag once the quilt was finished.

The pattern is very simple and precise and I go on and on about it here, if you'd like to know more.  It's such a great pattern.

If you're too busy to go read that link, I basically want the world to be filled with these whales in nothing but preppy, pastel colors.

The whale is very reminiscent of the Vineyard Vines whale and if you google Preppy the Whale, you'll see people's versions of the Vineyard Vines whale from this pattern, in the appropriate colors.

For this past school year, I used a Vineyard Vines bag that k-ster got me and though the bag itself stood up really well, the cute fabric at the top, which really made the bag, rubbed off as the year went on.

See how it is frayed and not reaching the top of the bag anymore?  It did this all the way around.  I've seen other people's that have done the same thing, so I know it's not me doing some weird calisthenics or anything.  It makes me want to stop using the bag.  The rest of it is entirely intact and not even dirty from a year's worth of use.  It's also just about the perfect size.  Since I no longer grade papers and bring home tons of work, I don't need a huge bag.

There are time when a slightly bigger bag would be a good thing, so I went about making my version of a Pretty the Whale bag.

I may  have a thing about denim and pink and when I saw a pile of k-ster's jeans that needed to be recycled or thrown away, it clicked.  I debated a pastel pink (as I said, these whales should be pastels) but found this fuschia screaming at me.  I cut up some of his jeans, serged the strips together and went around a pink whale for each side.

I also got super fancy with  my new machine, the Bernina 350 Cotton and Steel which I might have neglected to mention that I bought in April, and I used a fancy stitch to topstitch the seams down.  It's #22 if you're interested.

I needed the seams to be flat for my wild idea to work, so I hammered them first and then topstitched in pink.  Hammering made a huge difference, especially on those awful bulky seams where all of the denim came together when I assembled the bag.

When I say hammer, I literally I took a hammer and banged those seams flat.  I know some of you are wondering what this fancy sewing term is, but it's actually a hammer and it makes a huge difference.

I made a single pocket on one interior side, close to the top and one toward the bottom with 3 parts.  If I made this bag again, I would definitely make it a little shorter.  It's about 3 inches taller than I really want it to be and that 3 part pocket is kind of low.

I ran out of the fuscia, so I needed something different for the inside.  I also thought I should use something heavier than the quilting cotton that the whale is made of.  I had a remnant of this home dec fabric that worked out perfectly.  I had actually debated using this for the whale itself, but I thought it was too busy.

I have no issue with the interior being a pale pink and the outside having a bright pink.

I also clearly have no issue with my pockets having accent fabric that has nothing to do with the main fabric.

Part of my plan this summer has been to use what I already have in my sewing room as much as possible.  This bag was made with everything I already had, including the fusible backing I put on the exterior fabric to give it stiffness.  I have no idea what it's called.  I bought it in the interfacing area at Joann's and it was the stiffest thing I could find that would give a bag substantial size and heftiness.  It's not padded at all but it's quite stiff and thick and irons on.

Between the denim, the stiff backing and the home dec fabric, I really doubted any machine's ability to get through it all to assemble the bag.  Especially at the corners.  I thought my best bet was to use my new machine since it's so new and hasn't been worn down by years of the crazy sewing I do.  I used a denim needle, broke 2 of them, held my breath and did a lot of hand cranking, but got through it.  And I didn't swear much, if at all.

I did sweat a little, though.

The pattern I used is from the One Hour Basket patterns that I've seen on the interwebs.  The general construction is the same no matter what size you use for your actual bag, so I made up my own measurements and then used the guidelines for seam allowances as detailed in the pattern.  Also, that pattern said to cut 3 inch squares out of the bottom corners of the interior and exterior so it can sit like a basket, but I knew that would be a little large.  I did 2.5 inch squares and it was exactly what I wanted.

Now is where I need your help.  I thought these braided handles would be coolest thing ever.

I had no idea how much they would stretch.  There is no question that I have to replace them.  I currently have them knotted through buttonholes that I made.  I'm sad that these cute knots will have to go as I make different straps.

I thought they were so cute!

The straps of my original Vineyard Vines bag are in amazing condition and don't look like they've been used at all.  They are the webbing that all straps should be made of on a bag that's going to be used daily.

Should I cut them off the Vineyard Vines bag and put them on this one?

Should I braid them with the pink so I can keep the cute braid but have the substance of that the webbing will provide?

I think I'm going to stay with the buttonhole for the attachment area because a) they are already there and b) they make a good anchor spot. 

I'd really like your suggestions for what I should do to make functional straps so I can enjoy a little Preppy the Whale every day!

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Tuesday, July 25, 2017

Well Written Patterns Mean Successful Modern Sewing

Last summer was the Chitown Chinos summer where you were treated to unlimited pictures and commentary about the skirts and shorts I made from that pattern.  I simply love both pieces.

Recently, Adrianna from Hey June Handmade put out the new Sandbridge Skirt pattern and I knew right away I wanted to make one.  It's similar to the Chitown skirt but the pockets are different and the back is quite different.  I had some leftover denim fabric I used in these shorts and I thought it would work well for this skirt.

As soon as the pattern was available on her website, I downloaded and printed it and in the sweltering humidity we had last week, I taped it together and cut it out.  I wanted desperately to make my muslin and get moving, but everything slows to a crawl when it's humid, so it took me forever to get going.

I actually made a muslin, and it was a very basic one with no finishing, no pockets, no zipper.  I just wanted to see if it would basically fit without any major adjustments.  I usually try to make wearable muslins but I needed to get down to business so I didn't bother.   My favorite part was that when I measured my hips and my natural waist, the  numbers lined up exactly to a size in her pattern.  So often, the hips are one size and the waist is another an I have to figure out which way I want to go, or if the difference it's enough to be bothered by it.

Note:  this skirt is not meant to fit at the natural waist, but that is a measurement that's in there.

The muslin seemed perfect and then it was predicted that it would pour all day yesterday, so I knew the stars were aligned to get going on this new skirt.  I love a short skirt, but the mini version is meant to be unhemmed.  I like a hem on my denim, so I added an inch, only to use that inch later as a hem.  That was a good idea because hemming the original length would have been pretty short.

This denim is not at all stretchy and that's a good thing.  As I made the muslin out of thin cotton, I noticed right away that this skirt needs a heavy material.  It needs structure.  In most of my Chitowns, I use a thin cotton for all of the inside pieces because I don't want the bulk at the waist.  Something about this pattern really needs that bulk so I only used a thin cotton for the pocket bags and fly shield.

I'm not sure how this would work with anything stretchy and I am pretty sure with a stretch denim, I'd go down a whole size.

This fit is just as I hoped it would be.  It sits right on my hip bones which is how I like all of my pants, shorts and skirts to fit.  The pockets in the front are great.  There's a coin pocket but I chose not to do it because  I can't stand coin pockets because I think they are useless but also because as you can see if you look closely, I lost the pattern piecing Jenga game.  I had juuuuuuust about enough fabric, all going the right way, but I had to either sacrifice the back pockets, use a different fabric for them, or use a different fabric for the front pocket facings.

Random material for the pockets in the back would have been too weird for my taste.  I thought the front pocket facings would be the best choice.

The back has a yoke.  I debated not making this pattern for a while because of that yoke.  Sometimes, it can make a ample booty look even ampler and I'm not a Kardashian, soooooo.....

I finally decided that the pockets would do enough to offset any largeness that the yoke might have accentuated.  I'm okay with them, but after learning how to make welt pockets on the Chitowns, I kind of resent any outside back pockets on skirts and shorts now.

I also feel like these pockets are quite low, though when I look at all of the testers, they hit in the same place.  When I put my hands back there, and I've recently discovered that I do that A LOT, they feel like they go to the right place, I'm just not sure I like the placement.

If I make another one, I think I might try putting the pockets just a little higher.  I'd love to try mixing the Chitown welt pocket into this but....

Here you can see the fabric I used for the pocket facings.  It doesn't bother me anywhere near as much as it would have if I had used the floral here and put the solid on the back pockets.

As with the Chitowns, there is a LOT of topstitching but I really like the details.  I feel like the topstitching makes it look well made but I also think it does a lot of hiding or straightening out any mishaps that might have happened along the way and I think it makes them last longer.  A lot of those pressure points need the reinforcement of the topstitching and bar tacks.

It was suggested that we use rivets and a jeans button but I'm not ready for that step.  Like coin pockets, rivets really bug me.  And I'm petrified of the jeans button because I often have to move a button and those can't be moved once they are installed.

Now for some details.

 I think this curve on the pocket and the topstitching I did on it might be my favorite part.

I put belt loops on this, though I haven't put belt loops on any Chitowns since the first one.  I'm not sure if I'd do it next time.  I'll never wear a belt with it and it just adds bulk when I wear a shirt over it.

You can see when I made the bar tack on the pocket I had a little issue but I think I figured it out by the time I did the belt loops.

The directions for the zipper were great until it started talking about removing zipper teeth and putting the stops back in.  I think I would just situate the zipper lower from the start next time so there wouldn't be any  need to remove teeth.  I didn't put the stops back in but I think the fabric is there to stop anything from falling off.  This was the only part of the pattern that I didn't like.  Probably because I didn't understand the purpose of not placing the zipper low enough so this step wasn't necessary.

I chose to use some bias tape that I bought at the thrift store for pennies.  It's very narrow and was a total beyotch to get on there, so I would definitely go wider next time.  The pink fabric for the pocket bags and fly shield make me happy and they go with the topstitching which is actually pink but not clear in any of the pictures.
Oh this?  This the other example of my failure at pattern piecing Jenga.  The back waistband is meant to be on the fold and you need two of them.  I did one on the fold and one not and then realized my error.  I had ZERO fabric left to play with and I knew I needed the heavy denim, so I flatlocked the pieces together and hoped for the best.  I think all will be well.  Only I will see it.  Right???

Incidentally, this was the only major mishap during this entire experience.  SHOCKING.

For this project, I used both of my sewing machines.  What a luxury to have one set up for construction and one just for the topstitching.  No rethreading.  It was a delight.

People say that when you're working with denim and the layers start to get too thick for their machines, they hammer them down.  I really should have hammered the belt loops.  Getting those bartacks done on the belt loops was really hard because it was so thick.  Even with my new Bernina 350.

This pattern is so well written, anyone could follow along.  There are pictures and very clear instructions.  People who fear clothing sewing because they "can't read a pattern" should try reading these modern patterns.  Unlike the paper patterns we buy at the fabric store, the details and explanations in these digital patterns are amazing.

Plus, you can always try to contact the designer.  Adriana got right back to me when I had a question about the waistband.  Try doing that with the paper patterns!

Thursday, July 13, 2017

A Technological Delight

Looking through my recent blog posts, I discovered that this past year was the year I blogged the least.  I also discovered that exactly one year ago today, I posted about my new job.   I was surprised to read it today and see that what I predicted the job would be a year ago turned out to be exactly what it is.

In case this is your first day on my blog, after 20 years teaching French, I left the classroom in June 2016 to take a position in the technology department.  The title is ridiculously long, so suffice it to say I'm the assistant director of technology.  I run around our district helping teachers integrate technology into their everyday lives and I spend a lot of time putting out fires, wiping away tears and coaxing people into the 21st century.

I knew before I took the job that we have some serious techno phobes in the classroom but it is staggering how much people resent, fear or just don't care about technology.  And I really do understand both arguments:  we need to prepare kids to be self sufficient in a heavily tech centered world but we also need to let them play, be kids and keep their eyes off of screens that seem to be everywhere we look.  There's a fine balance that I try to help everyone figure out, while I try to figure out that balance for myself!

The more time I spend with teachers, the more I am fascinated by how teachers learn what they need to know to function with students, but how they get there is mind boggling.  Here are some examples that make my hair curl and will hopefully make you laugh because you either know someone like this or you are that person!:

Scene 1:
Me:  What broswer are you using when your gradebook unexpectedly quits and you can't get in?
Teacher:  Oh, I don't use a browser.
Me:  Yes you do, it's how you check your email.
Teacher:  No, I just click that thing on my desktop and it goes to my email.
Me:   (very deep sigh, long exhale)  When you click on that "thing on the desktop"  is it a lower case e or a fox running around a globe?

Scene 2:
Teacher:  (furious email to me in all caps)  I can't get into my gradebook, no matter what I do.  Can you tell me my password?  I don't know why YOU PEOPLE make us do these grades on line.
Me:  I can't see your password, but I can give you some hints and ask the director to help  if that doesn't work.  Your password is usually the same as your gmail password but you must have a capital letter.  Most people use the first letter of their password as the capital.
Teacher:  Ok, I'll try in the 4.3 minutes I have before my next class.

later that day

Teacher:  No, I've tried every password I have and I've tried a capital at the beginning of each and they won't work.
Me:  Well, I can't reset your password but let's see what the director can find out.


Me:  Can I call you so we can talk about your password?
Teacher:  Yes, when it rains bananas at midnight, I should be available.
Me:  I can't send your password via email, so I'll try calling.

three days later 

Me:  Hi, so it turns out, your password is actually the opposite of what most people have.  You have a lowercase for the first letter and the rest is in all caps.
Teacher:  Well who the hell did that?? I wouldn't do that!
Me:  You had CAPS LOCK on when you set your password.
Teacher:  No, that's not possible.  I NEVER do that.
Me:  Yep, that's the only answer.

Scene 3:
Me in the classroom because a teacher has described something that I have to see in person to believe:  Ok, so do what you normally do when you get that weird message you talked about.
Teacher:  Yes, so I click here and then I do this and then I click here and then I open this, and then I scroll down and click this one and then I open it and when I type in this grade, I get this message.
Me:  Did you know that you can save yourself about 4 steps by just clicking here?
Teacher:  Oh, well, it's easier for me to do what I just showed you.

Scene 4:
Me in the classroom of a teacher who needs me to show her something in person because all of the pictures I've sent with the big red circles on the one thing she needs to click make no sense:  So, when you get to that screen, see that little arrow on the top right?  No, not that one, that one there.  No, below that.  No, right where my finger is pointing.  Not that one.  Right here under my finger. (she Xs out of her browser)  Oh, well, now I know you didn't mean to close it, no, it's ok, really, now open that whole thing back up and again and I'll show you again.  When do you have kids coming? Oh, 20 minutes?  Ok, open it up, click here...  (20 minutes later...)  Yes, THAT ARROW RIGHT THERE WHERE MY FINGER IS.

Scene 5:
Teacher in the classroom where I was just dropping something off and trying to run away:  While you're here, can I show you something weird that I can't really explain over email?
Me:  Sure.

20 minutes later I've been shown 5 things that are dreadfully wrong with this world and I've heard a dissertation about the horrors of using technology in the classroom and why do we in the technology office make everyone do these things that they don't want to do?

Scene 6:
Me in a classroom to show students how to save to google drive from their ipads:  Ok, great, does your SMARTBOARD work?
I hadn't even noticed that there is a cart blocking the board and a row of desks blocking the cart so the board isn't even accessible.
Teacher:  Oh, I don't know.
Me:  (I just died a little.)  Well, let's turn it on and see what happens.  BINGO, it works! 

I turn around to look at the class and trip over a desk that I didn't know was there.  This room is so filled with stuff and with kids, I may not make it out alive.   I show them how to do something and hands go up.  15 minutes later, I've navigated to the first child whose hand was up needing help.  I look at the teacher as I trip my way to the next student.

Teacher:  Oh, next year I'm going to be so organized!

The above scenarios are all real and happen all the time.  Especially the "I don't use a browser" one. 

This job is fun and sometimes funny because of things like this.  There are days when I'm sure if I had to speak to a person face to face I'd have to shake them to death, but email is often the best and quickest solution for everyone involved. 

The hardest part of my year was when the gradebook program had a major disaster and I put out fires for a month, with no solution in sight and the company acting like were the only school district suffering from what was clearly their issue.  And even that wasn't really such a big deal.

I schedule most of my days the way I want, with some meetings that aren't flexible, once in a while.  I can usually dash out to a school to help someone on the spot and some days, I know ahead of time what I need to do so I can make the rounds in an orderly fashion.  I spend a lot of time exploring apps so I know what they do and there are many things that I know I need to figure out but I could only do so many things the first year. 

I got to teach a graduate course, which was a new experience and probably worthy of its own post.  Teachers are not easy to teach because they are so busy doing other things instead of listening!

My extra days were all in before June 30th, so I was able to finish when the teachers finish and take some time off this summer.  I will go back in August for some things I have to do, but I will still be on pseudo vacation for most of August.  Without having to think about how I want to arrange my classroom and how many classes I will have and which families are still going to be up my butt all year.

In another post, I will talk about what it was like to be out of the classroom after being in one for so long.

Sunday, July 9, 2017

Preppy the Whale

I would hardly say that I lean toward preppy clothing choices, but the resurgence of pastels in clothing thanks to Vineyard Vines is not something I'm disappointed to see.  While I remember someone giving me no end of grief in 8th grade because I liked pastels (I think she was goth before there was goth and I just didn't know it) I do enjoy pale pinks, greens and blues.

I came upon the Preppy the Whale picture and immediately imagined it in pastels.  And as I searched instagram for pictures, I saw that I was not alone.  Many pictures are of a pink whale held near a Vineyard Vines sign, with the navy and white stripes that are symbolic of the brand.

K-ster's cousin had a baby a few months ago and I thought this would be the perfect pattern and style for them.  The father is from Bermuda, so I of course imagine that all he wears is pastels (don't judge me) and since she is from the Cape, the whales are a nice reminder of home.

The pattern is from Elizabeth Hartman and it's worth a look at her site even if whales aren't your thing.  My favorite part of this pattern is that is isn't paper pieced.  It's so precise that even a not so precise quilter like myself got fantastic points out of it that actually matched.  I even got almost every point on the tails, which is magical for me.  I usually lose points on triangles once I put blocks together.

If her other patterns are as precise as this one, I would highly recommend you try them.

The actual pattern suggests a layout of the finished whales that scrambled my brain, so I added my own sashing around each whale.  This made the blocks approximately 9x13. with 3 inch wide sashes.  I say approximately because it depends on how you put the sashing on each block.

I didn't know how many whales I would make because it was kind of a figure it out as I went thing because adding my own sashing meant measurements that weren't predetermined.  I knew I wanted to go with the pastel on navy idea, and I stuck with just blues and greens.

The whales take VERY little fabric and this entire quilt was made without buying any fabric.  I had to scrimp with the navy on the last couple of blocks but that was because of poor planning.

I originally though 2 columns of 5 would be enough but it really wasn't.  I added another column of 5 and then thought 1 more row would make the right size.  Because I can't count when I'm near my sewing machines, I ended up making 4 more whales instead of 3.

I know I want to make myself a new school bag with this whale on it, but my extra whale was blue and I don't really want a blue one.  I've seen quilt backs that have pieces sewn into them, but given the haphazard way I pin baste and quilt my quilts, I figured if I tried to center the whale on the back, I'd end up with it in a corner, twisted and crooked.

Surprise, surprise, it remained where I put it and when I look at the quilting, it's not bad.  Nothing folded and nothing is too skewed.

Trying to do the math to figure out how to get a strip in there with the whale in the middle took some finagling but I'm really happy with that.

I thought I'd use my new Bernina Cotton and Steel 350 to do all of the quilting but I didn't realize it didn't come with any feet I can use for free motion quilting and my feet for my old Bernina 1001 won't work on it.  I really want to try something new with free motion quilting and the wavy stitch that I use most of the time when I quilt, so I pulled out my old machine and set it to work.

I free motion quilted the whales in a pale green and I did my famous wavy stitch on the navy, with navy.

It made for a lot of starting and stopping but I think I'm over my fear of not knowing how to stop and start the thread.   I really like the effect.  Next time, I would not quilt in between the tail and the body because it's a little weird looking, but I did it consistently so I might have gotten away with it this time.  The green here is my favorite in the whole quilt.

For the border, I used the same fabrics I used for the whales, cut at random lengths.  The backing was a great fabric because it's busy, so if there are quilting mishaps, only the most savvy quilter will see them.  The binding is a fabric I didn't use in the quilt because I found it in my mother's stash after everything was done.  I really like the color and I think it ties it all together.

I'm fairly new to free motion quilting and I've always been so afraid to do it because of the fabric rippling or folding on the back.  Maybe because I use a million basting pins, or maybe because I don't think about it too hard, or maybe it's just luck, but it seems to be working lately.  It's a lot easier than wrestling a whole quilt through my machine, as you can see here.

I was so pleased with how this quilted and how quickly it went, I've already laid out and basted a quilt top I made a while back that I've been dreading quilting.  It's red and white, so what I will use for thread and how I will go about it is my current fascination.

Linking here: