Wednesday, April 30, 2014

A Two-Sacrament Dress – Simplicity 1814

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This special dress was based on view A of Simplicity 1814. I chose this pattern for the lovely two-piece tulip-like raglan sleeve with tucked neckline detail. It is hard to appreciate the sleeve detail on the envelope and line drawings, but it was a great feature when finished and made the dress look fancier than an average “homemade” dress.


When I finally got down to the business of dismembering and harvesting materials from the wedding dress (what sort of project would it be if it didn’t involve a little destruction?), I stopped for a moment to appreciate one of my favorite parts… a small but important alteration my mom made to my wedding dress. The dress that arrived after the ordering process had one “too pointy” princess seam at the bust. It looked weird. Rather than paying insane sums of money I didn’t have as a college student, my skilled mom dove into the depths of this dress bodice herself and rescued the seam. She took out about 1/2”.  The end result was perfect fit! I was (and still am) very grateful for her talents and care!!


I really had to psych myself up to start cutting out the dress pieces. It was much more of a mental block than the process of cutting up the wedding dress in the first place! I tried not to be petrified of cutting pieces wrongly, but there is always that “I have one shot at this” idea floating around the back of your brain. Turns out I DID cut a couple pieces with the wrong nap (honestly, not terribly noticeable with this fabric), but I had enough to redo them so I did. Phew! If you aspire to repurpose a wedding dress in this manner, I HIGHLY suggest you take a good close look at the fabric of each piece and MARK the nap or fabric direction on the pieces BEFORE you cut. Learn from my mistakes! I sure hope I did.


Based on measurements and the finished garment dimensions on the envelope, I made a muslin of the bodice in a size 4 for my 8 year old petite girl. It fit perfectly, but in order to keep her looking as old as she is, I added 2 inches to the bodice length and cut a size 8 skirt. I did not want this to end up looking like a no-sew tulle tutu so popular in Pinterest these days for all the 2-4 year old flower girls out there. The bodice construction was easier than I expected, once you figure out which direction to fold the tucks. There may be room for debate here, but I folded them all towards the front of the sleeves, as you can see in the pictures below. It looked right to me.  The main fabric was a satin, the reverse side was a nice matte that made up the wedding dress skirt. The chiffon overskirt of the original wedding dress was not usable (and I was going for a fluffier dress anyway), so I picked up some white matte organza for the First Communion dress overskirt. Here you can see the shape of the sleeves much better than anywhere else I looked in the interwebs. Really, really nice detail, and it did not disappoint after sewing. If you are sewing this pattern too, note that the tucks are tacked at the end of the fold. I almost missed this part. I made those tacks invisible, but the pattern doesn’t stipulate that.


I did the zipper differently since I used a “real” organza overskirt instead of simple lapped pieces of tulle like the pattern suggests. I did a deep blind hem on the organza. It took two tries, and I would do that part differently next time (horsehair braid, maybe?). Sewing the skirt pieces to the bodice was an exercise in patience and pinning. The skirt and overskirt are gathered separately, then attached simultaneously to the bodice. The lining skirt was attached to the lining bodice separately in order to fully enclose the zipper. I attached both the overskirt and the skirt to the zipper to avoid an unfinished seam that might ravel. It worked just fine, but it was a bit bulky in a way that no one but me will ever notice. I sewed the bulky seam and then slooooooooowly serged it to remove bulk and finish the edges. That also worked swimmingly.


I envisioned this dress having a flower at the waist. I made some satin flowers from the bits and pieces I didn’t need for the dress itself… the short story here is that you cut flower shapes and then carefully melt and curl the edges over a candle. There is a learning curve (can’t melt it too much, have to make the petals curl the right direction, don’t want to singe it and make it turn brown or black… tricky with white fabric!), but I have had success with this method for years. You can Google a million free tutorials for this if you want to learn more. I used some loose beads from the dress trim to make the mounded flower center. I sewed the flower to a pin back so that I could remove it if the dress ever needs to be dry cleaned (so far, so good). I made a matching flower for her hair but backed it with a circle of crinoline net to be able to bobby pin it into her hair. I hand sewed the beaded trim onto the dress right at the transition from the bodice to the skirt with a pick stitch. There was only one long piece of this from the wedding dress (and a bunch of shorter pieces from the neckline of the wedding dress), but it was more than enough to handle this little waist since it came from the waist of the original dress. It was my first time working with bead trim, and it was easier than I expected. I am particularly proud of the center back where the beading meets… *pats self on back*


I have not yet discovered a lot of nice places in our new house to photograph a dress on a hanger. Even a little one. I will have to work on that one since I have some me-sized dresses queued!


This project makes me so happy… I just relish the fact that the dress I wore on my wedding day – when I became the June bride and when my husband an I couldn’t even imagine such a lovely little person in our life - has become a special dress for her too. Her older sister wore a simple but elegant silk dress for her First Communion, and the part of me that wants to feel guilty for not making that dress is quieted by the fact that my older daughter does not like “being fancy”, and her sister often gets hand-me-downs. Two successful First Holy Communions, two very different dresses, two girls whose beautiful souls will never ever be the same. God has been good to us.

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Friday, April 18, 2014

Easter Preparations

I have been plugging away like a mad woman at my Easter and First Communion party planning. Party of 35 or so. Sewing, baking, cleaning, home improving. And so it goes…
I have made what I can ahead of time, including some very cute Easter egg cookies using my favorite recipes (found here). I used my newfound color puddle technique from the baby shower cookies and made some chevron/zigzag cookies along with the ever-fun polka dots. Amazing what a toothpick can do, no?
Of course I had to make some REAL Easter cookies too, since we are actually celebrating the fact that our eternal souls have been redeemed by amazing grace, and not, in fact, egg-laying rabbits:
After whining recently about things I have NOT done, I am very happy to report that much progress has been made on many a house project.

  • I am glad to report that we have installed 6 of the 7 necessary wood floor transitions! While I was at it, I planed down the top of the master bathroom door… and now the door closes ALL THE WAY. Privacy: worth the hype. And I also (finally) installed the missing trim and painted both bay windows! And made an Easter sign from scrapbook paper because I just couldn’t help it.
  • The design wall for my sewing room (currently in guest room mode) is up and fabulous! DIY coming soon.
  • I hung up a LOT of artwork. My choices were either move the boxes of artwork downstairs (and have to eventually move them back up), or open them and find homes for the contents. I took the easy, feel-good path.
  • The half bath is closer to being completely done with some help from Target brackets and Home Goods crates (and a wicker fish basket I had around). Finally, storage that works for me. My man needs to swap out the faucet and fan, but we’re just trying to survive to Easter, so he can deal with that some other day! In the meantime, I can’t hide the ridiculous mount of noise that the fan makes, but I did paint the cover white to mediate the dated-ness of it.
  • The First Communion dress project has been a big fat Catholic success. As I mentioned, I chopped up my wedding dress and converted it into a new dress for my second daughter to wear for her big day. I am so proud of her, and so glad to pass along this important garment. Here is a teaser from our little “hair testing” photo shoot. I’ll share more about this soon. With real pictures :)
And I am still working determinedly at baking and cleaning for Sunday’s festivities. I am tired… not gonna lie. But I am loving all the motivation of hosting a large gathering, and I would bore you to tears with all the little things that are being done to make this house a home. Happy details for me, and I know that, while I will not be able to move on Sunday night when it’s all over, I will wake up happy on Monday morning knowing that I can take a well-deserved vacation from home improvement and enjoy a Spring break at home with my kids. Hopefully in some sunshine.
I am looking forward to celebrating Easter, and I hope you are too! Many blessings to you and yours for a wonderful weekend of rejoicing! Happy (early) Easter!!

Thursday, April 3, 2014

An Acute Case of Project Inertia

I have been treading water lately in so many areas of my life… home projects, personal projects, blogging, cooking, planning and living. Now, I am no psychoanalyst, but I feel it *just might* be related to the big move from which we are not yet fully recovered (and I have also been trying to cut back on caffeine and sugar… two of my very best cheerleaders!). I am overwhelmed by the amount of work left to do to get the new house to where I feel really comfortable in it and proud of it when we have company. There are still so many boxes that need to be unpacked, tons of unpacked boxes that need to be Craigslisted, and a hearty number of home improvement projects that I have started but not actually finished for a variety of reasons. Not to complain here… I am VERY HAPPY with all the work we accomplished in a very short amount of time… but the honest truth is that I have been in a depressed funk for about 3 months now. Only now - now that we have seen some sun and teeny tiny bit of warm weather – am I feeling ready to tackle some major projects again. But there is a lingering inertia that is holding me back, and I am hoping that by sharing it with you I will feel empowered to move forward. Let’s see how it goes…

Here are some of the unfinished projects filling my brainspace, in no particular order:

  • Finish and install some transition pieces I have for the hardwood floors throughout the house. We refinished 6 rooms of floors waaay back in December, and I am ready for this to be done. I think I could bang it out in two days (one for applying 3-4 coats of water-based polyurethane, and one for installing them). But I also need to paint the living room window in the photo below, and its friend in the dining room. Sadly, it needs some new trim and (really) a replacement picture window too, so it gets complicated. The wallet says no, so I’m feeling mentally stuck. Do the work now and have to redo it later? How far out is later?


  • Mount the DIY design board on the wall in my new sewing room (full details to come sometime soon… I love this room!). I took this room back from chaos and planned out my long-fantasized-about sewing area about 6 weeks ago. I purged and organized and consolidated and donated and made/installed some new things to make it a small but multifunctional space. I have the design board made, but it is big and bulky and I probably need to enlist my handsome husband to help me. I have already started pinning stuff on it so that is a small complication, but it needs to happen. I need the space (did I mention the room is 10’x10’? It is currently taking up 4% of my floor space). I also need to put up a repurposed metal shelf to hold my magnetic canisters of sewing supplies. Both of those would fit into an hour if I had the supplies. The picture below doesn’t show you much, but it is my happy place. Enjoy the nerdy sketch I made whilst plotting my haven.


  • Find or make a couple shelves for behind the toilet in my newly-reclaimed bathroom (the half bath), find new pocket door hardware that can fit this door, and update the grout with a coat of colorant to refresh it. I got really angsty about the cave-like windowless beige-y sponge painted room last Monday and, in a bout of hormone-fueled motivation, I started ripping down the wallpaper border in my pajamas without a real plan in mind. Now, 12 days later, it is a new room (painted walls, painted vanity, new light fixture, new potty-training-friendly toilet seat, new towel/TP holders, hung up some artwork). I am also waiting for my handsome husband to install a new faucet (the old one looks like it should be operated with your feet, see pictures below) and exhaust fan (sounds like an airplane taking off when you turn it on). He had already updated the outlet plugs and light switch to bring them up to code (and look better!). This progress is a huge morale boost, but I really want it to be done and MOVE ON with my life.

Half bath before, and still in progress:

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  • Finish a First Holy Communion dress for my daughter… by Easter. Our parish does first communions on Easter Sunday, so I’m running low on time here. To make matters more complex, I am using my wedding dress for the bulk of the materials in this dress. I have been amazed at how emotionally un-attached I am to the dress itself. I had no qualms cutting it up. But now I need to cut it into the new dress pieces and it’s like trying to start a sketch on a blank piece of paper. Fear that it won’t turn out, and I only have one shot at it. I have made a muslin of the bodice and altered it for extra length (my petite girl is growing taller but not wider, it seems!). Tonight (last night, since I am pre-writing this) I really need to buckle down and cut out the pieces. I am starting with Simplicity 1814 - I am basing this dress on view A since I like the sleeve details, but the dress will be longer in the bodice and the skirt, and will (hopefully) have a deep-hemmed organza overskirt in place of the multiple layers of tulle. I haven’t decided about other embellishments yet (belt/sash? flowers? beading?), nor have I finalized the tiara/crown/veil/glove questions either. It’s crunch time.


  • Make window treatments for the whole house. Yep… I have a lot of work to do here. Fortunately, I have most of the fabric (gorgeous silk thrifted curtain panels) and all of the hardware to make oodles and oodles of roman shades (we have baseboard heaters, so it was either highwater curtains or some sort of shades… easy choice). I am looking forward to this but it is not scheduled to happen until after I finish the first communion dress, fix and paint all the hallways and entry, and have a plan for the Easter party we are hosting. Which is now 2 weeks away. So… this one gets relegated to the bottom of the list, though hopefully I can git-r-done before the light starts affecting everyone’s sleep. We’re currently using post-move hardware store boxes in some windows, and nothing says “well-to-do” like a flattened “ortho weed-b-gone” box in a front window. Priorities, people.

So there you go… a portion of the stuff weighing me down right now. It feels good to have laid it out there. I don’t usually rest on the laurels of my past successes –to my mental detriment, sometimes - so I am also going to show you a few things I have been working on lately, other than the house stuff mentioned above.

  • I made a baby dress and diaper cover for a dear friend having her 4th munchkin this Spring. I wanted it to be “vintage modern”, and I love how it turned out. The fabric was a pre-embroidered linen and I added some vintage lace trim for the neckline and hem. AND, even though no one will ever notice, the inside is perfectly finished too. There was hand sewing involved. Secret pleasures of sewists. I took this photo with the dress pinned to my design board (and now you want one too, right?! DIY post planned!).


  • I have baking some amazing bread for the past couple months in my new kitchen. This is the olive oil dough recipe from “Artisan Bread in 5 Minutes a Day”. Not exactly helping my figure (or helping it too much?), but it keeps the people happy here. And that feels good.


  • Yogurt. Another figure feeder. But I have been making gallon-sized batches of mildly sweetened whole milk vanilla yogurt every few weeks (in my electric roaster, recipe post coming soon) and I have been enjoying it thoroughly. Easy, kid-friendly, healthy, cheap! A win all around. So good with homemade strawberry jam, which I just finished. Is it strawberry season in Michigan yet? I. CANNOT. WAIT.


  • And I have been unpacking and finding homes for lots of things. It’s not really notable, but it takes time and it is definitely something I have been doing in addition to feeding, clothing, and nurturing the people who call me mom. Also not notable but another very important part of my existence. Life must be lived, whether or not we are ready to do that. At this point, after the insane winter foisted upon our geographic area, plain survival feels like a real win too.

My life. But now I need to go and get down to business with that First Communion dress… time’s a wastin’!