2019 ~ by Sam

Well, here we are. It’s the 5th of February, and I haven’t updated since the New Year. We’ve been busy…ish.

The end of the year found us scrambling to get a new roof on the house before the rainy season. I know, I know ~ the rainy season? In L.A.? I’m joking, right? But, really, I’m not. Because, honestly, any amount of raining inside your house, is not great. Also, we kept hearing there was actually going to be a Rainy Season this year. Maybe even a RAINY SEASON by L.A. standards, and that, without a rainproof roof, did not sound like a Great Idea.

So, while trying to get lots of other things ~ like Holiday shopping, and decorating, and baking, and gift-wrapping, and packaging and mailing ~ done, we were also trying to do things like get roof estimates, find someone who could take down the solar panels and put them back up again, decide who to hire, work out all of the details and figure out how to finance all of this… And you know, get the kids to school, and still do all of the usual day-to-day stuff, too. So, you know…it was a little bit hectic. You might say. But we did some things, anyway. We didn’t necessarily get everything done in a timely fashion (we might have mailed out “Happy New Year” gifts ~late, very late ~ instead of Christmas gifts), and I definitely didn’t remember to come over here and write about any of it. So, I thought it might be good to come back and do a little bit of a check-in:

I looked at my last entry, and saw this (I’ve added notes about my progress in parentheses):

I will:

Accept that I am a work in progress. (working on it)
Balance the books and pay bills every Monday. (need to do this)
Strive to buy coffee out only 1x/week, and remember my reusable cup when I do. (eh…this needs work, too)
Exercise at least 3-5x/week, and do my PT at least 5x/week. * (um…2-3x/week, so far. But that’s better than none! I’ll keep trying)
Play my banjo every day. (not every day, but not none!)
Accentuate the positive. (um…probably also needs work, but I’m trying)
Focus on forgiveness. (I think I’m doing okay here)
Breathe, drink water & eat real food. ** (Girl Scout Cookies are not imaginary)
Read every day. (YES ~ nailed it!)
List stuff on my etsy shop within 1 week of making it. *** (Haven’t made anything new, but did list a bunch of stuff I had already made!)
Work in the garden at least 1x/week. (Okay, it’s been POURING, but I did work in the garden a little bit when it wasn’t, and I potted a couple of indoor plants)
Try to be more present & attentive. (will always need more work, but I’m doing it…the trying part, I mean)
Sew/knit/crochet or otherwise craft/make something every week. (100% doing this ~ I don’t finish a project every week, so far, but I am always doing something creative)

I will NOT:

Beat myself up if I fail. (still needs a little work)
Give up because I miss a step (week, day, whatever). (yup, got it. It’s hard)
Care what other people think about this list, me, or anything I’ve written here. (uh, huh. Pretty much doing this, most of the time. I still have my moments)

So. Here, in no particular order, are some things I have been doing:

I made some fun cookies with these adorable cookie cutters to send to friends and family. Kids helped with some of the decorating.

I made this set of pillows for my sister & brother-in-law.

I’ve been doing a lot of sewing with my mentee, and I finally started working on this dress. Several years ago, I bought this fabric and pattern. As soon as I got home, I washed the fabric, cut all of the pieces from the dress fabric (but not the lining ~ it will be fully lined), and then put it away and never got around to sewing it. Now, I am finally actually sewing it. Slowly but surely, because I keep getting distracted by other things, but at least I keep working on it.

It doesn’t have wings. My dressform, Mädchen, just wears them, sometimes.

I have been working on finishing a large single crochet blanket I started last year, then set aside. When I ran out one of the yarns I was using for that blanket and had to order it online, because I couldn’t find it in stores, I started working on another, smaller crochet project (probably just a throw), because I found some yarn I loved while looking for the other one.

Blanket #1

Blanket #2

I am still painting the Little Free Library, and trying to get it all ready to open. It’s ridiculous that this is taking so incredibly long. We have books and everything! It’s almost done! I am so excited. But still really slow. (Who knew it would take so long??) I really wanted to have it up and running before the end of last year, but promised not to kick myself if I didn’t get things done. (I’ll wait to post a picture until it’s done.)

I visited The Last Bookstore with Shane and Justice, and the Museum of Tolerance with Kaia.

We all went to the King Tut exhibit at the California Science Center.

I drove Kaia to an animal shelter to drop off 4 pet beds and 20 cat toys she’d made for the animals there.

There are so many other things I am forgetting. No wonder I’m so tired all the time. Now that I see it all in black and white, I can see that I’ve actually been rather busy.

So, now, we are just trying to get back into the swing of things. It seems like there is always something else to do. The laundry room is mostly painted, thanks to Shane, and we have settled on a colour for the next project. I am sure, by the time we get that one done, we will have figured out something else that needs work.

I think, at least for now, I am beginning to feel like I’m settling into something like a routine. It’s not the same each day, and it still needs fine-tuning ~ for instance, I have to include more exercise, if I want my foot to hurt less, and I want to include more banjo-playing, and I should include more housekeeping ~ but I am hitting my marks (or at least landing somewhat close to them) more often than I used to, and that feels good. At the end of the day, I feel like I am making progress, and that’s what resolutions are all about, aren’t they? I never expected to just immediately achieve all of those things. I set out to work toward my goals over the course of a year, with the hope of someday achieving them. I’d say I’m doing all right, by my standards.

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The Sweet, Swingy Dress ~ by Sam

There has been a lot going on here at the homestead ~ Kaia is playing in the orchestra pit for her school’s production of Into the Woods, Hallie was just cast as Balthasar in her school’s production of “Romeo & Juliet 3015,” and Justice just found out she has been accepted to Cal State, Northridge (her #1 choice ~ they have an excellent Music Therapy program)!!  There have been plays and rehearsals, Girl Scout Cookie sales, auditions, performances, school projects…not to mention my foot.  Ugh.  Did we have to mention my foot!?!!  More about that late.  Maybe.  Thinking about it makes me grumpy.  Suffice it to say, we have been busy.

Then, suddenly, I was not.  One day, the girls were at school.  I had done some cleaning, some PT, some laundry, some dishes, practiced my banjo, hit the grocery store…and it was, like. noon.  I realized that my kids were all at school until 5:30 or 6pm, due to various rehearsals.  So, there I was ~ and believe me, I did consider practicing banjo for another five hours ~ with all this time on my hands ~ and I remembered (when I removed the pile of outgrown clothes that had been set aside for yard sale and/or donation, and could actually see the sewing machine again) that I had bought some beautiful, super-soft, lightweight knit in a blue print the week before, with plans to make myself a dress in time for the day-after-Valentine’s-Day date Shane and I have planned.  I had even laundered it, so, I decided to spend at least a part of my afternoon sewing.  This time, I remembered to take lots of pics while I worked, so I could put together a detailed tutorial.  This, my friends, is that tutorial.

You will need:
T-shirt that fits the way you want the bodice of your dress to fit
3 yards lightweight knit fabric
1 spool coordinating thread
paper bags or wrapping paper
a pencil
scissors (for paper ~ don;t use your fabric scissors to cut paper)
a good pair of fabric scissors
measuring tape
pins
a sewing machine
A rotary cutter, cutting mat and straightedge, if you have them (not necessary)

For all sewing, you will want to use a zigzag stitch.

If you have not worked with knits before, you might want to practice with a scrap.  I know a lot of people shy away from sewing knits, but I love them.  It is not necessary to hem them, which makes projects super quick and simple, and I love the way they fall.  That said, they can be a little tricky.  You will always want to use a zigzag stitch, which will allow your seams to stretch a little, but keep their shape.  When sewing, never “push” or “pull” your fabric through the machine.  Use your hand to guide the fabric, but let it ease through the machine at a natural pace.  I find it helpful to move at a slower pace while sewing knits.  You might want to practice with a small scrap of the fabric you will be using, if this is the first time you have worked with a knit fabric.  Don’t worry, you can do this.

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Of course, before you can begin to sew, you have to choose your fabric.  If possible, find coupons and/or sales.  I recommend signing up for mailing lists at your favourite sewing/craft shops, if it means you will get coupons.  Also, search online.  I never buy fabric at full price, because there is almost always a deal to be found.  For this project, you need a knit fabric that stretches easily, but retains its shape fairly well.  Choose something that feels as good as it looks.  The one chose is ever-so-soft.  I think it might be a microfiber knit of some kind.  Make sure you choose a fabric you absolutely love, and take a moment to imagine how it will look all over a dress.  Think about what accessories you have that might coordinate.  I will wear mine with black flats or combat boots.  I might add a wide black belt sometimes, or a little cardigan sweater.  The point is, you want to make something you will wear.  Because you are making a circle skirt, you need to get fabric that is fairly wide.  60″ would be prefect, I think, but the one I found was 58.”  Close enough for rock ‘n’ roll.  You can find the width of your fabric on the end of the cardboard core around which it is wrapped.  Here, you will also find information like the fiber content and washing instructions.  Make a note of those (or snap a pic with your phone).  I bought 3 yards of fabric, knowing that I would probably not need that much, and I did have a good bit left over.  I still think 3 yards is the right amount to buy, because you are going to need to be able to fold your fabric over twice to cut your circle skirt, and still have enough left to make the sleeves and bodice.  Take your fabric home and launder it according to the washing instructions you noted.  In my case, this was: “Machine wash cold, gentle cycle.  Tumble dry low.”  You want to launder the fabric before you start cutting so that any shrinkage that is going to occur does so before you cut.  (If your fabric has a high content of a fiber known to shrink, such as cotton, you might want to buy a little extra, just to be sure.)

Okay.  I think you are ready to get started.

Find a t-shirt that fits the way you want the bodice of your dress to fit.  I happen to have a 3/4-sleeve T that skims my sides, but is not too tight.  I used it before to make a pattern for a shift dress.  It has exactly the fit I wanted.  I wanted the sleeves to fit close to my arms, but not bind, and for the bodice to skim my body, rather than hug it tightly.  You decide.  You can always make adjustments to the fit as you go.  Don’t worry about harming the shirt.  You are just going to use it as a guide, and it will be left intact.

Got it?  Great!  You are ready to make your pattern.  Don’t worry.  It’s really not that difficult.

I like to use cheap wrapping paper to make my patterns.  I can usually find rolls at the 99-cents store, and they store easily.  If you don’t have wrapping paper, you can cut open paper bags, tape together sheets of standard-sized paper, or use butcher paper.  For the skirt, you might have to tape together a couple of pieces of paper, in order for the pattern to fit.  My wrapping paper was wide enough, luckily, but don’t worry if yours is not.  Just tape on an extra piece and proceed.

I already had a circle skirt pattern I had made, so I used that. To make the pattern, I followed this wonderful tutorial (http://www.danamadeit.com/2008/07/tutorial-the-circle-skirt.html), with this adjustment:  DO NOT ADD 2″ TO WAIST MEASUREMENT.  I found that, using a knit, I did not need the extra fabric, since the fabric is very stretchy.  So, follow this tutorial to learn how to draw the skirt pattern, but do not add 2″ to your waist measurement.  For the record, my waist measurement is 25″, so my equation was 25/6.28.  To determine the length of my skirt, I stood in front of a full-length mirror and held one end of a measuring tape right at my natural waist (because that’s about where I wanted the waistline of my dress to sit), and let the other end fall to the floor.  I wanted the skirt to hit at just about the knee, so I decided, based on what I saw in the mirror, that 18.5″ would be the right length.  So, click the link, and draft the pattern for your skirt just like it says, but remember: DO NOT ADD 2″ TO YOUR WAIST MEASUREMENT.  Also, ignore all of the elastic stuff.  You aren’t going to need elastic.

Now, It’s time to draft the pattern for the bodice of your dress.  Turn your shirt inside out, then very carefully tuck the sleeves inside, being sure to keep them nice and flat.  Make sure you match up the shoulder seams, the edge of the armholes, and that the shirt is lying as flat on your table (or floor, if you’re me) as possible.

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Carefully fold the shirt lengthwise, matching the side seams and armholes.  Place your neatly(ish) folded shirt on top of your paper.

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I should have ironed my paper ~ and, probably, my shirt, too ~ but I didn’t.  It turned out okay.  So, it’s up to you.  I am probably supposed to tell you to iron them.

Using your pencil, trace the general shape of your shirt, leaving a 1/4″ seam allowance around the armholes and sides. I just eyeballed this, and it worked out fine.

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You will notice, in the picture, that I folded up the hem of my shirt  by a few inches.  This is because I knew my bodice didn’t need to be as long as my shirt, which hits me at about the top of my hipbones.

Cut out your bodice pattern.  It should look like this:

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Next, you need to create the sleeve pattern.  I quite liked the 3/4-length of my t-shirt sleeve, and I had used the same shirt to make a different style of dress, so I had already created a sleeve pattern.  What I did was this:  While the shirt is still folded, with the arms tucked in, place it on a new piece of paper.  With your pencil, trace the armhole.  Now, carefully un-tuck the sleeve, making sure to keep the the edge of the armhole lined up with the line you just drew.  Now, carefully trace the rest of the sleeve.  (I will try to make another sleeve pattern and take pics of the process soon, so I can add them here.)  When you cut out the pattern, leave a 1/4″ seam allowance at the armhole and around the bottom of the sleeve (the area that will extend from the underarm toward your elbow).  You will place the top of the sleeve on the fold to cut.

Okay.  You now have the three pattern pieces you need.

To cut your skirt, fold your fabric lengthwise, lining up the selvedges and smoothing out any wrinkles or lumps.  I am going to warn you: this will drive you nuts.  This is one of the more difficult things about working with knit.  It will cling to itself, the bottom layer will secretly wrinkle under the top layer, and it will want to stretch out of shape and refuse to line up for you.  Just relax, do the best you can, try to use a gentle touch and not pull at the fabric, and accept that it will probably not be perfect (I know ~ that is SO. HARD.).  If there is someone around who is willing to help, give it a shot.  I work best alone.

Once you have folded your fabric in half lengthwise, fold it down on itself from the top, just enough to fit your circle skirt pattern on it.  You could figure this out mathematically (my circle skirt equation = about 4″ and my skirt length was 18.5.  18.5 + 4 = 22.5, so I needed to fold it down at least 23″ in order to be able to fit my pattern).  Check out that circle skirt tutorial to see how to fold the fabric and place your pattern.  I tried to get a good pic, but…well, it’s hard to see exactly how it’s folded.

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Pin and carefully cut your circle skirt.  You should be cutting through 4 layers of fabric, and, when you unfurl your freshly cut skirt, it will look like a giant doughnut.

Fold your remaining fabric (the part that is folded in half lengthwise) in half lengthwise again.  Place the center of your bodice pattern (the part that would go down your spine) on the fold you just created.  Pin and carefully cut your bodice pieces (you will be cutting both pieces at once).

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Now place your sleeve pattern so the part that will be on top of your arm is on that same fold, just below the bodice piece, if it will fit there.  If not, undo your last fold, and place the pattern on the remaining (original) fold and cut one sleeve, then move down and cut the other ~ sorry, I was sloppy about this.  It doesn’t really matter which part of the fabric you use, as long as you place the right part of the pattern on the fold.  Pin and cut your sleeves.

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You should now have 5 fabric dress pieces:
2 bodice pieces
2 sleeves
1 circle skirt

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This is all you will need.

Thread your sewing machine.  Pin your bodice pieces at the shoulder, right sides together.

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Stitch along one shoulder, leaving a 1/4″ seam allowance, then the other.

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Open the pieces out flat, like this:

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Now, pin the sleeves into place.  I pinned and sewed one sleeve, then the other, instead of pinning both at once.  It’s hard to explain how to pin in the sleeves, so I took some pictures.  You need to pin the sleeve in to the dress with the right sides of the fabric together, and it is going to look like your armhole curves one way, and your sleeve curves the other way when you first lay down the pieces (before you start pinning).  You might wonder how this will work. Trust me, it does.  Start by lining up the center of of the shoulder curve in the sleeve with the shoulder seam you just sewed in the bodice.

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Now, carefully pin the edge of the sleeve to the edge of the armhole.  I recommend using lots of pins, slowly working the edges together so they line up well.  Work from the center (shoulder seam) out to what will be the underarm area of your dress.  Then work out from the center to the other side.

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It was really hard to get a picture of this.  The picture above shows how it will look when you have pinned from the center to one side.  You want to repeat that process from the center to the other side, too, so the whole curved edge of the sleeve is pinned to the the whole armhole curve.  I hope that makes sense.

Make sure to open the seam allowance so it lays flat.  I took a picture after I sewed in the sleeve of how this should look.  Make sure you pin it this way.

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When your sleeve is pinned in to place, sew all along the pinned edge, leaving a 1/4″ seam allowance.  Repeat this process with the second sleeve.  Clip your curves ~ which means “make a few little cuts perpendicular to the seam you just sewed, but not cutting through it.”  Here’s a pic of how it looked when I did this under the arm, a little later in the process.  I forgot to take a pic of the finished seam after I attached the sleeve:

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Your bodice should be starting to resemble a shirt.  With right sides together, line up and pin all along the sides, under the arm and all the way down the length of the sleeve.

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Now sew one seam all the way along the bottom edge of the sleeve and down the side.  Repeat on the other side.

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You bodice is done.  It should look a lot like the shirt you used to make your bodice pattern.  You should now have these two pieces:

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You are almost done!

At this point, you will want to try on your bodice and decide if it is the right length.  Mine wasn’t.  I am 5’1″ and I have a very short waist.  Since I wanted the waistline of my dress to sit near my natural waist, I decided to shorten the bodice.  Standing in front of a full length mirror, I used pins to mark my waistline,

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then carefully removed the shirt, and used my rotary cutter, cutting mat and straightedge to lop off a few inches.  You could use scissors, but you might want to mark your line using a ruler and some tailor’s chalk.

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Okay.  You are coming in to the homestretch.

With right sides together, pin the bottom edge of your bodice to the top edge of your circle skirt.  The easiest way to do this is start at the center front or back of the bodice (they are identical, so it doesn’t matter which is which, really), and pin the edges together all the way to one side seam on the bodice; then, go back to your starting point and work in the other direction until you get to the other side seam.

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You now have the whole front (or back) of the bodice pinned to about half of your skirt’s waistline.  Flip the other half of your skirt over the other side of the bodice.  So, your bodice is now upside-down inside your skirt.  Continue pinning the other side of your bodice to the other side of your skirt.

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It is important to note that your skirt’s top edge and your bodice’s bottom edge might not be exactly the same size.  That’s okay.  Just let the larger piece gather a little bit to fit.  You might have to go back and adjust some of your pins, so the gathers are kind of evenly distributed about the waist, instead of being all gathered in one area.

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You can see in the above photo that mine was not perfect.  That’s going to be okay.  This is the trickiest part, and you might get frustrated here, but just remind yourself that your are almost done, relax, and know that you almost have a new dress.

Now, you just have to stitch your bodice to your skirt.  I stitched all the way around the waistline once, and then I ran a second seam right next to the first, to reinforce it.

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That’s it.  You’re done.

*** And this is where I say: If you are hemming your edges, you are not quite done.  You will need to fold, pin and stitch the edges of your neckline, sleeves and skirt ***

Here is the very first picture I took of myself wearing my dress.

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I will be wearing it out to dinner on the 15th, so I will be sure to get a couple of better picture then, and add them below.

Try on your new dress.
photo 2-5
Revel in your amazing pattern-drafting and dressmaking prowess.
photo 1-5
Twirl.
photo 4

T-shirt to Dress Re-Fashion – by Sam

A few days ago, I saw a tutorial online for a cute maxi-dress made out of 4 t-shirts. I fell in love with the idea. A few days later, I happened upon a t-shirt sale at Walgreens ~ 4 for $10. I only found 3 colours I liked, so I got them for $3 apiece, which wasn’t quite as good a deal, I thought, as I could have gotten. Then, I remembered that I had recently picked up a t-shirt at the 99-cents store. So, in the end, I got my 4 t-shirts for $10, anyway.

I thought about using the tutorial, but, you know, I am kind of lazy, and that would have involved actually reading and paying attention to directions. So, instead I just lay out the shirts on my bed, like this:

photo 1

Then, to be sure it would fit me, I threw a dress of which I like the general shape on top, and sort of cut around it, using the line of the dress’ skirt as a guideline, and gradually tapering it to roughly meet the sides of the top t-shirt (the one that would form the bodice of the dress.

I sewed the three panels of the skirt front together, with right sides together. Then, I did the same with the skirt back. Next, I pinned the skirt back to the skirt front, right sides together, and stitched up the sides.

I cut the top t-shirt at about my natural waist. Then, right sides together, I stitched the top of the skirt to the bottom of the bodice.

That’s it.

Done.

photo 2

I love it!

It’s curtains for you, Cat! ~ by Sam

We have cats.  Three cats, to be precise.  We didn’t mean to have three cats, but they found us, , and now we are their pet people.  If you don’t have cats, this probably sounds insane to you, but, trust me, we are their pets, and not the other way around.

With cats, come litterboxes.  Ours have always shared one, and, in that regard, we are lucky.  If they each insisted on having a private litterbox, there would be litterboxes all over the house.  Luckily, we are able to confine it to a single, small space.  Now, the problem is no one really wants to hang out around a litterbox, so it’s nice to be able to hide it away somewhere.  A littlerbox being what it is, the bathroom seems like a logical place for it, but we have always had small bathrooms, so we have had to be creative.  There’s not a lot of free floor space in our bathroom, so we got creative and sacrificed the cabinet under the sink.  At first, we just removed the doors, and tried to hang a curtain there, but that wasn’t working so well.  There was litter all over the floor in front of the sink all the time, even though we swept it up all the time.  So, we decided to put the doors on again, and Shane cut a hole out on the side of the cabinet.  He even went to the trouble to echo the shape of the detail on the cabinet doors.  It gave the cats easy access and confined litter spillover to a smaller area off to the side.  That was…okay.  I mean, it was a great improvement over having the litterbox just sitting out in the middle of the room.  However, with litterboxes come…well…odors.  We all try to be pretty good about keeping it scooped and changing the litter regularly, but, you know, it’s a litterbox.  Having it tucked away helps minimize the odor, but I had really aways planned to hang a curtain over the opening, not only to contain the inevitable stench, but to hide it away from view and to give them a little more privacy, too.  (Cats actually do like their privacy.)  In fact, we already had a curtain.  The last house had a convenient little cubby that was perfect for the littlerbox and supplies (liners, scoop, litter, etc.), and I had made a little curtain to hang across it.  That space was one of the few perfect things about that tiny house, in fact.

Anyway, I had the curtain, made from a cute piece of cat-themed fabric I had found in a remnant bin, I had the litterbox tucked away where it belongs, all I needed was a curtain rod and a little time to install it and hem the curtain to the appropriate size.  This morning, I did it.

Here’s how it has looked since Shane cut the doorway:

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(You can see that I didn’t think to take a picture until I had already started to install the curtain rod.)

Here’s how it looks now:

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And here is a detail shot of the fabric:Image

 

Someday, I would like to add a small shelf right above the curtain rod.  I think it would help us organize and de-clutter our counter space (remember, we lost all that under sink storage when we sacrificed it in order to give the litterbox a place of its own), and I am hopeful that it might actually help contain some of that inevitable odor, as well.  For now, this will work.

 

The Plot Thickens…

Okay.  Well.  Maybe not.  I really just needed a title, and I couldn’t think of what to call this entry.  

I thought it would be a good idea to update you on the progress we have been making on that list I shared in “The Master Plan” entry.  I am finding, as we go through this process, that while setting goals for each months has helped to keep me motivated, it isn’t really all that simple.  despite my best efforts, I have not completely conquered our paper mess, so I will continue to work toward that goal, even as I move on to the next project.  I will say that devoting a month to that one task definitely helped jumpstart the process, and I have made a lot of headway.

As promised, I spent much of January sorting through all of our tons of paper mess.  I am happy to say the girls followed my lead, at least to a certain extent.  For my part, I was able get rid of one mail sorter (I had 3, for some reason, and was using all of them…and STILL keeping bills piled in a stack on the hearth).  

I am now using the one that is mounted near the door to keep track of bills and outgoing mail, address book, a notepad for writing notes to teachers, grocery lists, etc., and a couple of pens.  When pick up the mail, I immediately toss out all of the junk.  Then, I open the bills, remove the actual bill and return envelope, and discard all of the extraneous stuff that comes with it.  I put the bill inside the return envelope, stick on a little flag with the due date written on it (lefthand corner if it’s due at the beginning of the month, middle if it’s due toward the middle, right if it’s due toward the end), and put them in the sorter with that end up, so I can always see exactly what is due and when.  

For the time being, the other sorter is where I am keeping checkbooks, pens, stamps, envelopes, and return address labels, but I am really not sure I need it at all.  It has two large slots for files, and I am thinking of using them as sort of in and out boxes for the kids.  So, if they have a form for me to sign, they put it in the “in” slot; then, I sign it, and put it in their file in the “out” slot.  I think I will give this system a shot and see how it goes.  If it turn out that I can stash all of the small stuff in the desk and free up some more space around the house, I will probably let this sorter go.  Simpler is better, after all.  

I was also able to get all of the files in our storage bench organized.  This is where I keep stuff I need to have handy ~ home warranty and insurance info, auto insurance, business cards, etc.  While going through all of those files, I found several documents we will need for our taxes this year, so that was one of the great benefits of actually getting organized.  In addition, I organized all of the paper we use for printing, art and other projects, and Shane helped me move the printer out of our bedroom, which was a remarkably silly place for it (imagine that your 11th-grader is pulling an all-nighter and suddenly starts printing her 26 page paper at 3:47 a.m. See?  Not fun.), and relocate it atop the newly organized craft cupboard/shelf thing next to the kids’ computer desk.  It makes much more sense there.  And wakes fewer grumpy parents.

Today, i hope to get out to the garage and go through some old files in the filing cabinet out there.  I know I have a lot of files that are just paperwork from a job I had well before Kaia was born.  They are just taking up space, and can be sent off for recycling.  

But, see, it’s the 6th of February, and February was designated for closet organization.  So, we’re a little off track.  Sorta.  We have actually started on the closet thing.  Shane and I went to the hardware store and looked at options available to work with there, and I have been spending a lot of time reading up on closet organization strategies.  We have (I think) settled on a design plan.  Now, we just need to take measurements and get to work.  

I did devote a little time int he past couple of weeks to a project that I think will make our lives less stressful, and it makes our home look a little nicer, too.  Since we were using the two square ottomans (topped with trays) as coffee tables in the “party room” (that’s what we call the great big den/dining room/bar at the back of our house), we were all constantly stressed out about spilling and making a mess on the new furniture.  (Okay.  Shane and I were more stressed out about it than the kids.)  So, I decided to make washable slipcovers.  I found the fabric at fabric.com, and they turned out rather nicely.  I am planning to make one for the rectangular ottoman that is doing settee duty in the reading corner, so I will try to remember to take pics and post a tutorial when I do.  It was really quite easy.  Anyway, I am thinking, if I cut a waterproof mattress pad to fit on top of each ottoman, and place those under each slipcover, we will have a pretty spill-proof surface.  If not, at least the covers are washable, and they look cute.  

I spent a total of $46.08 on fabric and trim for the two covers, and I have enough fabric left over to make covers for a few throw pillows, too.  I didn’t think that was terrible for custom-made covers.  

This is the first one I made (note the aforementioned pile on the hearth)
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And this is the second:

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That’s all for now.  I need to go throw in some laundry, and maybe bake some muffins or something.  It’s a drizzly day here, and I could get more bang for my buck by letting the oven heat the house while I make a nice snack for the kids.  

Doing It Myself ~ by Sam

Are you sick of hearing from me yet?  

What can I say?  It’s feast or famine around here. 

Today, I have two photos on which you may feast your eyes. I want to show you both, so you can see that sometimes my efforts produce exactly the result I had planned, and, sometimes, they really don’t.  For me, that’s part of the fun of trying to do it myself.  If it works out ~ wahoo!  If not…um…well, okay.  We can probably fix that.

The first photo I have for you today is evidence that pulling out a cute piece of fabric and a skirt that fits you to use as a guide can sometimes result in a cheap and perfectly adorable skirt.  This was my first attempt at just kind of winging a more tailored skirt with a zipper (as opposed to a simple gathered skirt, or my favourite, a circle skirt).  I wish I had taken photos as I was working, so I could post a proper tutorial.  Because this one turned out so well, I will be making more, so I promise to come back and post a step-by-step for this.  Basically, I used a skirt I owned as a pattern, cut two pieces (front and back) stitched all the way up one side and part way up the other, attached a waistband, installed a zipped, and hemmed the thing, finishing with a cute decorative stitch.  It really was easy.  And it turned out like this:
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Not bad, eh?  

This second photo is evidence that, sometimes, when you bleach your own hair at home, you turn out looking like Ponyboy Curtis when he was hiding out at that church in Windrixville.  

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Boy howdy.  

Maybe tomorrow, when I have on a lick of makeup, and it’s had time to settle down and get used to living on my head like that…or maybe I will tone it.  I used Clairol Nice n’ Easy Born Blond Maxi, because my roots were dark, so I needed a bleach that was really going to lift a lot of colour.  I followed the directions, applying it to the roots and leaving until they were almost as light as the previously bleached hair, then applying all over and letting it sit until I thought it was light enough.  I think I could have left it a tad longer, but not a second less, because I tried that, and it was super-brassy.  Not a good look.  Worst case scenario, now that it is so light, I can dye it any colour I wish.  It’s not that bad, really.  I think.  We’ll see.  Most likely, I will just throw on a little lipgloss and “stay gold.”  For now, anyway.  

Sew What?! ~ by Sam

I know, I know, it has been ages since I bothered to write anything here.  To be honest, things have been crazy, and we haven’t been keeping up with much of anything other than our day-to-day obligations.  I have managed to get everyone to where she needed to be, when she needed to be there, so that’s good.  We had guests for Thanksgiving, which was also good, and we have attended two Hannukah parties, one potluck, one play and a couple of concerts.  As I said, the joint is jumpin’!

Financially, we are doing okay.  I have not been so strict about the budget, because there were things like Thanksgiving, lots of rehearsals, late nights, carry-out a few times… Nevertheless, Shane is working several jobs (which has served to make things even crazier, but sure pays the bills, so ~ thank you, honey!!), so we have managed to keep on top of everything in the bill=paying department.  In fact, we are close to paying off a big chunk of the debt we ran up while buying the house, which, given the fact that we only did that a year ago, is pretty awesome.  We are also on the verge of securing health insurance, which will certainly be a boon, in the long run, given that some of us have chronic health problems that need to be managed.  So, on that front, we’re doing okay.  I decided that, after the first of the year (I want to get through the holidays), I will do a spot-check on our spending.  I’ll keep grocery receipts for a month and see how much we are actually spending, and whether we need to make some changes, track our water & power and gas bills, things like that.  I will check in, and let you all know how we’re doing.

In the meantime, I wanted to post about one thing we have been doing recently that might not always save us money (I am sure it does, sometimes), but sure makes I feel pretty good about ourselves.  The girls and I have been doing a lot of sewing.  Well, I have been doing a lot of sewing.  They have each recently made themselves something, and I hope they will keep sewing, because they each did an excellent job.  Justice and Hallie each made one of those 20-minute dresses I love so much.  They always take me more than 20 minutes to complete, but they use only about a yard of fabric, some thread and elastic for the waistband, and they look simply fabulous.  If you are able to get your fabric on sale, these can be very inexpensive.  Justice’s fabric was on sale for $5.99/yd, I believe, and, even at its full price of $14.99, Hallie’s was not unreasonably priced, considering that she got an entire (and quite adorable) dress for that.  Kaia made herself a butterfly top, which took less than a yard of fabric, so it was not very expensive, either.  Now, I made an outfit (skirt and top).  I used a pattern I had purchased at Walmart quite some time ago, but never gotten around to using.  I don’t often shop at Walmart, but I happened to be there, and they had this great pattern for two dollars.  It was too hard to resist.  So, I left it lying around for ages, until I found a very pretty fabric I liked, and happened to have a 50% off coupon.  I bought about 3 yards of fabric, but at $5/yd, that was still pretty reasonable for an entire outfit.  Granted, I needed thread and elastic, too, but I think it still works out to be pretty cheap.

But see, here’s the thing: you have to buy your fabric on sale, if you want sewing to save you much money.  You have a few choices here.  I shop at Joann Fabric and Crafts, because it is nearby, but I suspect other fabric stores (chains, at least) operate the same way.  Shop sales, check sale tables and remnant bins.  You can find some great stuff there, at discount prices.  Sign up for a mailing list and/or smartphone app that will send you coupons.  Go online and print coupons from the store’s website.  I hardly ever walk in to a fabric store without a coupon in hand, and what’s on sale sort of dictates what projects I will be doing next.

Also, I find that sewing without a pattern saves me money, because patterns have gotten very expensive.  That said, I am limited as to what I can accomplish without a pattern, but can turn out a couple of styles of skirts and tops, a pair of pajama pants of leggings and a couple different dress styles without a pattern, using tutorials I have found online.  My advice here is to search for tutorials about how to sew styles that appeal to you, and that you will wear.  I tend to use key works like “simple,” “easy” and “DIY” in my searches, and I have found some really great ones.  Once you have found a few tutorials for sewing a style you like, read (and/or watch) each one through a few times, to determine which one makes the most sense to you, seems to turn out the best product and/or seems to be easiest to follow.  Read reviews.  Have others attempted to follow the tutorial and done so successfully?  Once you find one you like, follow all of the instructions, making sure you also follow any helpful hints you found in the comments.  I have found that, once I got used to the idea of sewing without a pattern, I quite like it, but it’s not everyone’s cup of tea.  If using a pattern is easier for you, absolutely do that (but try to buy them when you have a good coupon).

The girls and I all wore our latest creations to our friends’ Hannukah party last night, so Shane took some pictures, but it is early, we got in late, and he is still asleep, so, for now, I will just post the pic I have of the outfit I made.  I used a lightweight slub knit, and I absolutely love it.  debating going back and making the coordinating scarf…or I could use the excess fabric to make leggings for Kaia, which she always needs.

Here’s my outfit:
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The pattern I use was New Look A6108.

A note about New Look patterns: I find their measurements are off by 1-3 sizes.  Yes, that is quite a wide window.  In the end, I measured the actual pattern pieces, instead of trusting the measurements listed on the envelope.  When I measured myself. it looked like, according to their chart, I would fall somewhere between a 6 and a 10, which is also a pretty wide window.  I thought about making a size 6 top and size 10 skirt, but decided to measure the pattern pieces first, just to be sure, since the sizes seemed way off base (I wear a size 0-2, most of the time).  In the end, I cut just outside the lines for a size 4, and I wished I had cut right on them, because it was still a little roomy, and I had to make some minute adjustments.  That notwithstanding, having worked with New Look patterns and encountered this problem before, I planned for it, double checked, and arrived at the right size (sorta), and I actually quite like their patterns.  Their styles jive with my own sense of style, and I find them easy to follow.  The size thing might seem like a big problem, but, as long as you are aware of it, I think it’s just a little bump in the road.

Okay.  That’s it for now (until I am able to come back and add pics of the girls dresses…or make them do that themselves).  I will leave you with this handy, frugal and earth-friendly tip:

Like soft towels, clothes, sheets, etc., but hate spending money on commercial fabric softeners which contain all kinds of added perfumes and other scary chemicals?  White vinegar to the rescue!  I can buy a huge jug at Smart & Final for about three bucks, and it really is good for everything.  For fabric softening, add to your machine, just as you would add commercial softener.  The vinegar odor dissipates by the time the garment is dry, and, in addition to softening your fabrics, vinegar inhibits mold and bacteria growth, leaves clothes fresh (but not perfumey) and might even help inhibit mold growth inside your washing machine.  Works well, is environmentally friendly, and costs pennies.  Sounds like a winner to me.