Saturday, August 15, 2015

Dressmaking: getting started + my setup.

My start

I bought a sewing machine a few years ago when I quit my tech job and had what seemed to be the mid-20s equivalent of a midlife crisis. I made a little sewing supplies pouch that I no longer use and one seat cushion (yep, I gave up before the second), and my sewing skills were basically "Can thread the machine and sew in a straight line".

This fortunately left me in a great place to get started this time around - I already had the machine and knew how to do the basics on it, and the dressmaking book I bought picked up from there. There is a lot more to learn beyond just using the machine - washing/drying/ironing/cutting the fabric, seam allowances and finishing your seam edges, using patterns and making adjustments, and specific techniques like darts, ruffles, and inserting zippers.

So, I bought Love at First Stitch, after seeing some of her patterns around the internet and loving every single one of them. (Once I finish the book, I'm planning to treat myself to the Françoise dress and Arielle skirt - I'm obsessed with the mod silhouettes.)

My setup

If I didn't already have a sewing machine, I would swear I don't have room for one. My house is pretty cramped, especially as far as storage space goes, and I definitely do not have room for such luxuries as a dedicated sewing table. I've seen smaller apartments for sure, but I also feel a bit of envy rise up when I hear follow seamstresses talk about the lack of space on their sewing tables or even (gasp) craft rooms.

All this is to say - don't less space be the limiter if this is something you'd like to do. Here are a few pictures of how I make it work in my place, mess (+ Tumbles) and all:

Fortunately I have a pretty big table - bigger than I comfortably have room for, but I loved it too much to get rid of it when I moved to a smaller place. I can clear off most of the table and use it for my sewing machine + cutting fabric.

Another view of the table - it's basically in the kitchen. If I use an ironing board, it actually takes up part of the kitchen and I have to move my dish rack to plug the iron in. I've since moved on to a blanket on the floor/coffee table (photos of that below). Also - hello Tumbles butt.

This is certainly not recommended. Just... don't use the sink at the same time, I guess.

I have a (small) room for all of my storage needs, in lieu of closets. It's kind of nice except that it's too small and crowded to easily get to most things. My sewing machine lives in an IKEA shelf behind my clothing rack (my laundry basket is usually in that nice empty space in front, totally blocking it). It's an ok storage spot but definitely a pain to get in and out, particularly since I frequently switch between wanting to use my kitchen table for sewing and not-sewing.

Typical setup these days - sewing on the table, ironing on the coffee table just behind it. Usually lots of fabric and supplies piled up on the couch in between.

My IKEA coffee table with a folded blanket becomes an ironing board. I wouldn't try this on a nicer wood table, but so far this one has survived. 

Sometimes when I want more room than my coffee table allows, I'll use the same blanket on the floor for ironing or cutting. This adds the extra challenge of making sure Tumbles doesn't eat any pins....

Since I'm being honest about my mess here: this poor chair, which has become almost eternal storage these days (a shame, as it's a comfy one). You can see my new, big cutting mat shoved between the chair and the wall. Not the best place for it, as it's not totally flush and gets a bit out of whack. I need to find a better spot.

And to add to the storage drama, I recently got a serger! I really don't know where I'm going to store it, and it has lived on my kitchen table for the last week and a half. (Note: you really don't need one of these to get started, and my book doesn't even mention one, but it's so delightful once you reach the "obsession" stage of your sewing hobby!)

There you go! Next I'll put together a few posts about the things I've made so far and how the learning process has gone. Thanks for reading!

Because I definitely needed another hobby

Things I have considered hobbies over the last 5 years or so: crochet, knitting, cooking + baking, party hosting (??), ballet, yoga, raising a puppy (maybe I'm stretching things here)... As well as the more aspirational "I'll get around to it soon" hobbies of photography, embroidery, decorating my home, and gardening. I keep telling myself I need to cut things out, not add more. And yet, here we are - I busted out the old sewing machine and bought myself a dressmaking book and I'm in deep.

First things first - up until 4 months ago, this little sewing pouch was the fanciest thing I had made with my sewing machine. And it was fine! There are lots of things going on there. But all things considered, I wasn't a pro seamstress. And yet, somehow now I find myself making tailored dresses (ok, just one so far) and skirts with gathers and invisible zippers. I feel like I don't even know myself!

But it also feels so magical, to be able to find a pattern that I love, and pick out just the right fabric out of all the options in town and online... And then! make that pattern so it fits my particular body exactly how I want it to. It's mind blowing and amazing, and in the end I have something that started as a couple yards of fabric and is now an outfit I can wear to work and look put together in.

So now I find myself planning my weekends around having time at home to work on whatever skirt or dress I'm making next; contemplating different fabric + pattern combos when my mind wanders off during the day; squeezing in time between dinner cleanup and bed to get just a little further on my current project. I'm obsessed.

I'm planning to share a few posts about how I got started, what my set up looks like (I promise you, it leaves a lot to be desired, but it gets the job done), and showing off what I've made so far, because I'm kinda shamelessly proud. Sewing (at least for me) was pretty intimidating, compared to a lot of my previous hobbies - machinery! so many different steps! - but it totally gets more fun and relaxing with time, and I hope I can help anyone on the fence about it work up the guts to give it a shot. Stay tuned!

Sunday, August 2, 2015


Summer is always a weird time for me. It's when most people seem to plan vacations and outdoor activities and enjoy the hot weather as much as possible, but I always cower inside and wait for the sweet embrace of fall.

I've been trying a lot of new things this summer, most of them perfectly aligned with my homebody tendencies (hooray). So far I'm feeling a lot more level and content, which is fantastic. Here's what I've been up to lately:

Meditation. People have suggested this to me for years to deal with my anxiety and insomnia, and I always had a mental block against starting. "It'll be such a slog to get started! My mind doesn't turn off, I'll just get frustrated. It'll be ages before I see benefits!" But - I got this app at the recommendation of a friend and tried out the free 10 day starter pack - and I'm hooked. I seriously had better sleep starting immediately, and I've had a much easier time than I expected with clearing my mind during parts of it. I just signed up for a whole year (as with exercise, I see myself doing much better with a guided approach). I'm hoping to really keep this up!!

Yoga. I forget whether I every really talked about ballet on here, but a year ago I was doing it three times a week and taking my first ever pointe class. I adored it. But a gradual knee injury due to ballet + tons of hilly SF walking, combined with raising baby Tumbles, meant I had to stop for awhile. In the last few months, I've started doing yoga - it's easier on my knees and doesn't involve rushing Tumbles home from work like ballet did. I really enjoy the achievements, working my way up to handstands and building my strength and flexibility. As a bonus, most of the classes I take are at 7am, and that is finally starting to get a little easier. I'm a reluctant morning person when my alarm goes off, but I feel so good when I make it happen!

Sewing. I bought a sewing machine 4 years ago but didn't do much with it. Recently I've been getting frustrated with my wardrobe - it doesn't feel very me, but I also have trouble finding exactly what I want in stores. So, a few months ago I came across this dressmaking book and took the leap, and it has become a serious hobby since then. I'm hoping to write up a few posts about how that process is going. I've added 3 skirts and a dress to my closet since May, and I'm excited to make more.

Avoiding the internet. Several weeks ago I logged out of twitter and stopped checking facebook, and honestly it changed my day to day life a lot. I've since logged back in but only rarely check. There is only so much terrible tech/world news I can take in, and for the most part I've realized I'm happier not knowing. My one frustration is feeling like I don't know as much about what's going on in my friends' lives, but I have yet to find a way to use social media for that without also getting all of the exhausting, depressing content, too. I do, however, still use instagram - it's my happy place on social media. And as a bonus, when I don't spend my workdays/evenings at home/weekends reading a never-ending stream of tweets, I am able to get so much more done!

And the photos:

Tumbles turned 1! I threw a little (but still over the top) birthday party and it was cute as heck, if I do say so myself.

(thank you, Haley, for the perfect card!)

Work feeds me real well:

I'm trying to grow some little plants again (I have killed pretty much everything I've grown in the past, including cacti and succulents). So far it's going ok?


Whoops, I totally forgot about blogging until a friend let me know she still reads it (!!!!), and I'm going to try to get back into it a bit. Here's a summary of spring.


I lost my job back in February (somewhat surprising but honestly not all that bad). March was spent reveling in unemployment, enjoying my newfound free time with Tumbles and hobbies. Tumbles got spayed, which kept me more tied down than I expected for a few weeks.


April was job search month, with lots of worry and anxiety that I put off dealing with during March. Fortunately by the end of the month, I had something lined up and was able to relax a bit! April was also the month I took the best picture of Tumbles that will ever exist. And I took her on a lovely sunset walk around Lands End and Ocean Beach one evening, since I knew I was starting work soon and would have much less free time to spend with her.


I started a new job at the beginning of the month, so things got really busy. It was a good month, but a slow one for photos.


Sunday, May 31, 2015

Necklace display DIY

Confession: I've lived in my current place for almost 14 months, and all but my favorite necklaces were still tangled up in a bag from the move. Oops. The before situation:


I saw this similar project last year and kept wanting to do it but getting caught up in the details and the tyranny of choice of the hardware store... until I finally remembered some cheap wooden spice racks from IKEA that I got to give my bathroom some storage and realized one of those would be perfect.

The result:

I did this whole thing in an hour or so, although I'm hoping to go back and paint it and of course that will take a bit more time.


IKEA BEKVÄM spice rack (here)
Tape measure or ruler + pen
Hammer + small nail
Small screw hooks (I got these - they took almost a month to come, but SO CHEAP)
Wall mounting screws, optionally drywall anchors and/or a stud finder

  1. Assemble your spice rack according to the directions. It's pretty quick and straightforward!
  2. Measure out where you want your hooks to be and mark with a pen. I did every 1/2 inch, staggering upper and lower rows (so I measured on the 1" marks for the lower row and on the 1/2" marks for the upper row).
  3. There are probably better ways to do screws (power drill??) but I've always found it easiest to tap a small nail in just a bit and pull it out, then screw into the hole. If you want to go this route, work your way down the rows with your hammer and nail. No need to go in deeper than 1/8-1/4" per hole.
  4. This is the most tedious part. Starting at one end, put a hook in each hole and screw it in by hand until most or all of the screw's thread is hidden and the hook is facing up. I found it easier to use pliers for the last rotation or so of each one.
  5. Hang it up! I used a stud finder and screws (along with my hammer and nail method) and it seems secure. That said, I am no expert at hanging things*, so please do your research and do what you feel safest with! Once your screws are in, the spice race goes over them and kind of snaps down into place.

* As evidenced by my full vanity setup (shelf, mirror, necklaces) being mounted almost entirely into drywall without anchors (occasionally I've used a stud!). I've only ever had terrible luck with drywall anchors - they just leave a giant gaping hole in the wall and fall through and it's a huge mess. But nothing has fallen off of my wall yet so there are worse solutions, I suppose?