Today was beautiful. Misty, and almost rainy in the morning, then breezy, cool, and sunny all day. I was working at home, and wearing this dress, which I made a few months ago, but haven’t been able to wear.

This dress makes me feel like baking bread, or picking apples. Or roasting pumpkins. Things to look forward to!

The pattern came from a garage sale, and was a little bit too small. So I added a bit of fabric to different spots, experimenting to increase the size.

 The fabric is cheap flannel. There is something satisfying about making a dress for $12, plus time. I am hoping that the flannel will hold up to a little bit of wear though…you pay for what you get!

The front of the dress is gathered, and I added some fabric there to increase the size. I also changed the placket a little, and had to adjust it quite a bit more when I realized that the lines of the pattern weren’t matching up well…something more to worry about with plaids!

The sleeves are long, but need to be worn pushed up past the elbows. Otherwise there is just too much green going on! I never put buttons on the cuffs, and if I push them past my elbows and then pull some extra fabric down they seem to hold up well enough.

The pockets are awfully handy. They are conveniently located on the front of the dress, and can hold quite a number of things. The only problem is that the fabric isn’t too strong, and I am worried about the corners of the pockets tearing. I suppose I should have put some interfacing on the underside of the dress for reinforcement, but I didn’t think of that while I was making the dress.

The back is simple, with a bit of shaping at the neck. I was hesitant about putting that in, but I did anyways, and it seemed to work out all right. Again, I was having a little trouble adjusting the fabric so that the lines matched. I am going to need to be a little more vigilant about that!


another kanga dress

August 17, 2011

Sometimes I am completely surprised by a piece of fabric. When I received the package of kanga fabric from my sister and her mother, there was one piece that I was pretty sure I wouldn’t make something out of…it wasn’t my style, etc, etc. The funny thing is, as I kept on looking at it, and adjusting how it was folded, and washing and drying and ironing it, I was inspired to make a dress that might be one of my favorites. Funny how that works.

When I started thinking about this one, I had an image in my head, with strong borders at both the top and bottom. A loose fit for warm weather, an open neck, and maybe pockets. Simple and comfortable.

I messed up and made the neck to wide, and had to insert strips of fabric to shorten it. The plus side was that the added strips made the neckline more sturdy.

My favorite part might be the border at the bottom. I sewed on an extra layer of fabric, so that it would keep with the heavy feeling of the thick mango border. One of my favorite things to do is hand stitch the hem. It creates a nice finish, and the length of the dress is exactly as it should be!

The sleeves were cuffed by folding back the border and making a little stitch into the layers of fabric to hold them in place. It was a bit makeshift and messy, but in keeping with the simplicity of the dress.


July 13, 2011

My sister in law and her mom sent me the most exciting package the other day full of traditional fabrics from Tanzania and Zanzibar! Thin kanga cotton, perfect for summer dresses/skirts, etc.

This skirt was made from one piece of kanga fabric. Usually they come in two pieces, one for a skirt, and one for a shawl or head scarf. This was one piece, and perfect for a small skirt. I cut the border off of the top, gathered the middle and bottom and reattached the top border piece after I had attached it to some interfacing for sturdiness.

The length was a little bit too long, so I folded it in half, creating a little bit more weight at the hem. The kanga saying is on the back of the skirt, and I still haven’t gotten around to translating it…

This was another dress, copied from a little dress that I had almost worn out. The dress is loose fitting, and perfect for hot weather.

I wasn’t too particular about the hems on this one, and the bottom of the dress is a raw edge, that has to be trimmed every so often. The sleeves were cut on the side edge of the fabric, and so didn’t need to be hemmed either.

The fabric starts out quite stiff, full of starch, and after a few washings it becomes very soft!

My brother found this for me at a garage sale for $30.00. And it works! (Just about perfectly…) It is an old Franklin treadle sewing machine, made by Sears and a knock-off of an old Singer. No electricity is needed to power it, just the up and down of feet pressing on the treadle, which is attached to the machine by a leather cord. I love being able to create power for a machine!

My friend Pat and I took it apart, and cleaned, oiled and put back together all the parts. It came with the worlds cutest oil tin (which I have since filled with machine oil), and a box of supplies (things to make ruffles, bias tape, and other things that Pat knows how to use!) The machine was missing a bobbin shuttle (I have since found a broken one, and still need a new one..) and had a broken belt. Other than that it is fully operational!

We went to the sewing store in Ottumwa and bought a new belt, and need to find a new bobbin shuttle (pictured above, looks like a bit like a bullet) somewhere.

The manual is in a mostly usable condition…which is amazing considering it is about 100 years old. Too bad a mouse got to it…some of the directions are chewed off, but you can mostly figure out what is going on by looking at the pictures and text together.


The bobbin threader might be my favorite part. It pops out and connects with the belt, and carefully rotates back and forth to evenly fill the bobbin.

The oak box is in really good condition. It has four drawers to keep supplies, and the top folds down to put the machine away. My dad is going to find me a lace doily for the top.

And now I will be happily sewing away during the next power outage. (I will probably make a point of it.)

another dress

February 13, 2011

I am on a sewing roll. It probably won’t be long before I have way more dresses than I know what to do with…like socks, of which I have more than fit in my drawer.

I went to Iowa City, and bought another pattern and fabric for a dress.  This time it is definitely a summer dress. I won’t be able to wear it for a while, but I can keep it tucked away for fairer weather. It is a simple ‘sack’ dress. The pattern call it the ‘socialite dress’ but I don’t buy that…

The front and back both have gathers for the shaping, with a front ‘v’ and a circle in the back. The arm holes are a little tight, and if I were to make the pattern again I would definitely make them bigger.

I found the fabric by holding it up to my lap and imagining looking down on it as a dress. When I held one up that worked, I was set. This is my new technique. Also, to stay away from little prints, which I love, but don’t really work for me…

The best thing about this dress is that it has pockets. Two of them.


January 23, 2011

This is the dress out of the fabric that I purchased at Home Ec. Workshop in Iowa City. It is a linen cotton blend, made in Japan. I fell in love with the print, and the piece of fabric itself. (I had the strip of fabric lying on my floor for several days, trying to decide if I wanted to cut into it or not. I decided to cut.)

The dress is pretty much the same as the last one. The material is quite a bit stiffer and this changes the shape/drape/fit of the dress.

And there are helicopters, polka dots, checks, and stripes. Maybe a bit too much, but I think that I like it anyways.

Once again, I haven’t hemmed the sleeves. They seem to roll up nicely, and I like the idea of leaving something unfinished!

Now I need a new sewing pattern to try out! Or maybe I need to find some old dresses, and make my own patterns.

I started this sweater in the summer. It was almost finished, and then I was worried that it was too short, and that I would never wear it. It ended up in a ziplock bag until yesterday, when I needed a short sweater.

I have recently gotten back into sewing, and found a pattern for and made a little green dress. The bodice (I think that’s what it is called) is short, and when I tried a normal length sweater over it, the skirt rumpled up kind of funny. I dug into the knitting pile in my spare room this morning, found the unfinished orange sweater, tried it on, and it worked just about perfectly! The sweater sleeves are a little bit tight over my arms and the corduroy sleeves, but I think that I can manage, and maybe the wool will stretch a little.

The sweater is knit with Malabrigo lace weight yarn. I ended up using a little over two skeins of yarn, so have a bit left for another project…I knit the sweater on size six needles, starting at the top and knitting down. I added seed stitch at the bottom, sleeve edges, and around the front, instead of ribbing and stockinette. When I picked up stitches around the front, I think that I picked up a few too many at the bottom. The border extends down, making little points. I am actually growing used to them though. The seed stitch (on size two needles) was taking so long, and I didn’t feel like ripping it out, so I kept it.

The good thing about using such thin yarn is that you get a more delicate sweater, and it costs less. The three skeins of yarn cost about $8.20 each, so the total sweater cost was around $25.00. Not too bad if you ask me!

The dress was from a pattern that I picked up in Iowa City. I also purchased some pretty fabric to go with the pattern, but as of yet am unable to cut it. (I have a hard time cutting into new pieces of fabric.) I had some fine whale green corduroy (already washed and dried) sitting around, and used it to make a prototype.

I cut and laid out all the pattern pieces, and marked them with my new white fabric pen. Then I managed to sew everything together, mostly correctly. Only ripped a few times…

The front is made up of two pieces, with plackets on the back side (shown above). It is a simple, effective design. No buttons or other fixtures used! The back is one piece, and I very slightly gathered the sleeves and sewed them in once the front and back were attached at the shoulders. Then the skirt front and back. With reverse box pleats. Two in the front and one in the back (below).

When I tried the dress on to show my mom, we decided that we liked it longer, and she had the thought to run a band around the bottom to add a few inches. I tried this and liked it. The material is going in the opposite direction, and it creates a nice edge effect.

That’s about it. A quick and easy sewing project. I am happy with the fit, and am planning on making another one with my new fabric…maybe over the weekend. I had forgotten how fun sewing can be. And it goes very quickly, which is quite satisfying!!

bright and fluffy down

January 22, 2010

I have had an old (turns out really old) down comforter floating around my house for a while. I use it when it gets really cold, as one of the many layers on my bed. It is white, has no cover, and is a little funny looking, with rubberbands tying up holes here and there. I guess that it hasn’t really been my favorite blanket to use. Swati brought me some beautiful batik fabric from Cambodia (originally frim Indonesia) this fall, and I spread the piece out on my bed a few weeks ago, and it was a nice bright change for the room. I asked for a second piece of fabric from Swati, and sewed them together to make a nice little reversible coverlet for the comforter.

The comforter it turns out was a wedding present from my grandparents to my parents, and has somehow managed to last a long time! According to my mom, the reason that it is now kind of small and downless is that it kept on being divided, as there were more various children and beds to cover. This might be the last of the Swiss down…

All I did to make the cover was to sew the two rectangles of fabric together. That is it. It took about 30 minutes to sew and adjust and sew, to complete the project. To keep the comforter from moving around all over the place I sewed ties onto the comforter and the cover, on all 4 corners.I attached the 4 corners before I stuffed the comforter into the opening at the top.

The finished product isn’t particularly big, and has lumps here and there, but it is bright and cozy, and makes me happy. A quick fix for a sunless day (or week…).

making moccasins

October 17, 2009


I have a pair of moccasins that I found on sale a few years ago. They are short boots with a zipper on the side and thin soles. I have ended up wearing them so much that there are tons of holes on the bottoms, and little rocks are constantly rolling around my toes. I decided that I needed a new pair and did some asking around, and found that the prices for hand made shoes seemed a little high. So I ended up making some. Several friends and I ordered an elk hide online, and I looked online, in books, and at several pairs of moccasins to come up with these shoes. A great reference was Back to Basics: A complete Guide to Traditional Skills, Third Edition, by Abigail Gehring. If you do want to make a pair, let me know and I would be happy to answer any questions that might come up.


elk hide (Elk hides can be found online, and one hide should be enough for several pairs of shoes. It is handy to have the whole hide so that you can use the thicker parts for soles, and thinner parts for the tops and backs of the shoes.)

waxed linen thread (can be purchased at knitting stores or specialty stores. I have mine from a family vacation 14 yrs ago to Door County, WI. A spool will last a long time..)

leather punch, or sewing awl. (I used a leather punch, but would like to try the awl for my next pair)

sharp scissors



Neatsfoot Oil (purchased at farm supplies store)

jars and sticks for mixing

a large brown paper bag

Make a paper bag shoe

Make a prototype with the brown paper bag. Trace foot onto piece of paper and then measure 1″ evenly around and cut out. Measure top of foot from widest parts and add 1/4″. The top part should be a little wider at the instep, narrower at the toes, and as long as you want it to go up your leg. It can be short if you are making shoes rather than boots. Punch holes and sew the parts together, taking care not to rip the paper. Try on and see if it fits (the fit should be snug as leather does tend to stretch) If the shoe doesn’t fit, take it apart and make the necessary adjustments.

Take the shoe prototype apart and trace the shapes onto leather. Cut out leather pieces, taking care to make a left and right bottom piece. I made the top pieces pretty much the same size and it seemed to work out well.

Pieces to cut out

Top (2) the widest part, in the middle, is about 1/4″ inch wider than your across instep measurement.


Sole (2) Traced 1″ around your foot.


Back (quantity 2) Wide enough to wrap around your ankle and meet the top piece. The pieces should overlap, with the top piece overlapping the back piece by about an inch.toppieces

Straps (quantity 4) Straps need to be long enough to wrap around your moccasin several times and tie. They will stretch out with use. I made mine by cutting up scrap pieces back and forth, to create long strips.

Mark holes onto leather

The holes should be closer together on the top and back, and further apart on the sole. This causes the sole to gather around the tops of the shoes. I used the following proportions. The holes on the top and back should be 3/8” apart, and 1/4″ in from the edge, and the holes on the sole should be ¼” apart, and 1/4″ in from the edge. To make the measuring easier, use a piece of cardboard with the measurements marked on with a sharpie.



Start sewing from the toe and heel of the moccasin and work your way around to the sides.


** Note: How to sew the seams. **

The sewing technique is one that I found on an existing pair of shoes. Align the materials so that the sole is on the outside of the top piece. Insert needle into wrong side of top piece, leaving a long tail, and send it through both pieces of leather. Bring needle up and around the outside of the sole piece and back down into the top piece, same hole, and pull thread tight (not super tight, but nicely firm). Then, on underside of work, move to next hole and repeat. Continue in this manner until you have reached about 6 stitches before then end of top piece.moccasinstrap

Make sure to position the strap so that it is directed towards the toe of the shoe. That way it will wrap around front, and to the back, and around again..


Sewing the straps into the main seam.


Finish the whole moccasin bottom with Neatsfoot Oil. Apply a good amount of Neatsfoot Oil with a cloth, rubbing it in as you go. Then apply beeswax mixture (recipe follows). Make sure to wear gloves with this step, and work in a well ventilated area! I applied the beeswax more thickly to the soles, but also added some to the sides as well. The beeswax helps with waterproofing, as well as protecting the leather!

Beeswax mixture

You can warm up the beeswax in a little pan, but be careful to have it far away from the turpentine (which is highly flammable)! Pour it in a jar, let it cool a bit, and add a little turpentine, bit by bit, as the beeswax cools. The turpentine keeps the beeswax spreadable as it cools. I keep mine in a little glass jar with a lid, and stir it with a stick whenever I need to apply a coat.

I have applied it three times so far to the bottoms of my shoes, and it is building up a nice and sturdy finish. Keep applying finish as it tends to wear off, especially when shoes are worn on cement or other rough surfaces.