Saturday, January 31, 2009

Project #30 - Messenger Bag

Today's entry is a little late because I am away on a Trip to New York and I needed to give myself a little break.

I finished this messenger bag just before leaving. The vinyl was extra thick and therefore extra difficult to stitch, epecially with the front organizer plus the side pockets adding up to more than six layers of vinyl to sew through at one time. I cursed at my machine, pleaded and broke needles until I finally managed to get tbe whole thing sewn. My parents are visitng out of town so I had to suffer through an episode of Ghost Whisperer, my mom's favorite show, and my Dad repeatedly telling me to take a break. (It's my house and I'll take a break when I feel like it!)

Still, it's done and I used it as one of my carry-ons. The straps might be too narrow for long days on my feet, but they are good for short-hauls.

The front of my new bag

This is backpack mode

I'll have more on the construction when I get back.

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posted by Alison 1/31/2009 11:17:00 PM : (0) comments : splink

Thursday, January 29, 2009

Project #29: Tulle Circle Skirt Crinoline

It's Make-A-Skirt Thursday! Today I'm going to use the circle skirt pattern I made on Tuesday to make a crinoline. The picture above is a little scary, but I promise that I'm wearing a slip underneath and the whole thing is meant to be an undergarment.

Tulle was on sale last week, so I bought about 7 yards of black and 7 yards of blue (75 cents a yard! Yay!). I was originally planning on making a crinoline out of just one of the colors, but it's the cheap stuff, so I ended up using all of both so that I wouldn't end up with a sad, limp crinoline.

First I cut my tulle into 45 inch squares (I ended up with a total of 8) and laid them over my circle skirt pattern one by one, and pinned them down. It's winter and there's a lot of static around, so it's best to lay each layer down and resist shifting them around.

After cutting out the donut shape of the skirt, I pinned the middle together and basted to keep all 8 layers lined up. Next, I cut out a piece of elastic that was just a little shorter than my waist measurement.

I sewed the elastic to the skirt, leaving the first two inches free, and stretching the elastic as I sewed.

When I got to the last three inches of elastic I sewed it to the first three inches, right sides together and clipping the excess. I then sewed the remainder to the skirt. All done!

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posted by Alison 1/29/2009 09:53:00 PM : (0) comments : splink

Wednesday, January 28, 2009

Project #28 - Messenger Bag Elements

The messenger bag that I'm planning is my most complicated one yet, so I'm going to cover its construction over multiple days. Today I'll be talking about how I made the outside features of the bag: the front paper organizer, the back strap holders, the side pockets and the front flap.

The outside of this bag is made of some of the toughest vinyl I've ever used. It's thick and scratch-proof, perfect for my hard-wearing habits. The lining will be some Decole canvas that I got from my husband for Christmas.

The front paper organizer is made of three pieces, staggered in height. Each of the front two are lined, though because the lining will be out of sight most of the time I used some ribbed cotton that was less dear than my precious Decole fabric.

After I sewed in my lining and added top stitching I basted the three pieces together so that it would sew in easily as a whole front panel.

The front flap came with a pillow holder.

I used some sturdy but inexpensive muslin to fill in the unseen parts of the pillow case lining. After that I basted my two lining pieces together.

Next, I sewed my lining onto my outside front flap piece, right sides together, and leaving the corners rounded. I clipped the extra seam allowance and turned. Lastly, I added top-stitching.

The side pockets are essentially cargo pockets.

I cut a piece of my vinyl in a T-shape and did the same for my lining, which was a scrap of one of my favorite fabrics.

First, I sewed the lining to the vinyl at the top of the T.

Next, I pinched the corners together for both pieces and stitched, forming a 3-D shape.

I turned them to the correct side and then stitched my 3-D pocket to the bottom half of one of my side gusset pieces.

The back side of the bag is where my straps will connect. This part isn't quite finished, but I made a shoulder yoke so that the weight of the bag would be more evenly distributed over my shoulders.

I started with the yoke by folding a piece of my vinyl in half and drawing two humps with tailor's chalk. I sewed over the line drawing and then trimmed the excess vinyl. Next, I opened the folded crease and turned the yoke.

Finally, I added reinforcement stitches and cut openings for the straps to fit through. Later this week, if I have time, I'll put together the whole strap system so that it makes a little more sense.

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posted by Alison 1/28/2009 11:30:00 PM : (0) comments : splink

Tuesday, January 27, 2009

Project #27 - Circle Skirt Pattern

I've been a slacker about Make-A-Skirt Thursdays, so today will be devoted to preparations to make sure it happens this week. My dress to skirt ratio for the year to date is 5:1, which is dismal considering that one of those clothing items has a dedicated day of the week.

Today's project will focus on my technique for making a circle skirt pattern from scratch. I'll be using it to make multi-layered petticoat on Thursday. For the single pattern piece, I'll be using a piece of fabric from a bolt that I bought for $5 from a going out of business sale. It's a heavier cotton and about 48 inches in width, so it's a good size for a knee-length skirt for someone of my height.

First, I measured out 45 inches so that I would have a square to work from. I folded the piece of fabric into quarters so that I could mark the center with a piece of tailor's chalk. Using a yardstick, I measured out the distance to one of the sides and marked that off. Then, moving in a circle, I rotated my yard stick around the center point and made a 48 inch wide circle.

Following the markings, I cut out my circle. Next, I cut out my center hole. To figure out how big it should be I used the circumference equation, circumference = 2πr. I substituted my waist size for the circumference and solved for r and got about 4 inches. I'll be using elastic to secure my future skirt, so I'll make the opening a bit wider. If I were going to use a zipper, I'd just cut open part of the skirt.

Lastly, I pulled on the pattern piece to check for length. This is about right for spring and summer clothes.

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posted by Alison 1/27/2009 10:36:00 PM : (0) comments : splink

Monday, January 26, 2009

Project #26 - Brussels Sprouts

I survived jury duty today! I knew it would be boring, but man, it's been a while since I've been that out-of-my-mind bored. The ladies behind me were really good at making the best of the situation and made jury selection into their own personal game show. They would watch each juror as they were called to talk to the attorneys at the front of the room and then speculate whether that person would make it to the final jury. There were about 120 of us and there was only selection for two trials, two serious trials, that day.

I spent most of the day doing crossword puzzles and writing out the noun pluralization system for English as a finite state automata until my eyes rolled around in my head. I'd anticipated that there wouldn't be an internet connection, so I opened a bunch of websites that I wanted to debug in advance. However, due to the fact that windows sucks I found that my computer had restarted on its own and all of my preparatory measures were lost. Death to Windows XP.

I also cooked dinner for the first time in a month. Clark cooks about three or four times a week, so I feel pretty guilty for neglecting my spousal duties along with my increased workload. I try to make up for infrequency with creativity. I came up with a new recipe for brussels sprouts (or mini-cabbages as they are known in Japan).

I never really knew how wonderful brussels sprouts could be until I had dinner with my in-laws about five years ago and they served them after they had been soaked in cooking wine and balsamic vinegar. Ever since then, I've been experimenting with different ways to cook brussels sprouts. So far, Clark has liked everything I tried, but he seemed to be especially fond of today's concoction. Either that, or he's a good husband and knows to say something out loud when I make a change.

  • Ingredients:
  • ~1/2 cup Mirin (sweet rice wine seasoning)
  • ~1/2 cup Ponzu Sauce
  • 1/2 pound brussels sprouts

Just cut the ends off of the brussels sprouts and chop them in half. Put them in a pan, preferably one with a lid, and add equal parts of mirin and ponzu until the sprouts are jut covered. Let them sit for a couple of minutes and then place them over a burner at medium heat. Let them cook for a few minutes until the liquid boils, then add the lid. Shake the pan every few minutes to keep stuff from sticking to the bottom. After 10 minutes they'll be soft, but not soggy.

I served them with baked yams, fresh sourdough bread, and really thin skillet steaks marinated in balsamic vinegar, worcestershire sauce, and olive oil. We ate them so quickly that I didn't get a chance to take a picture, so the one above is from the next day when I made some to go with a plate of angel-hair pasta.

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posted by Alison 1/26/2009 09:41:00 PM : (0) comments : splink

Sunday, January 25, 2009

Project #25 - Architecture Dress

I think this is one of my favorite dresses that I've every made. The fit has a little to do with it, I love an A-line skirt, but it's mostly because of the fabric. I love unusual prints, especially if they feature text or diagrams. This one is covered with an architectural plan for a house, and the fact that it is riddled with typos makes it twice as charming.

I picked up the fabric from Momenya-Makino in Shimokitazawa, a neighborhood in western Tokyo. The store itself was really small, but crammed from floor to ceiling with bolts of fabric. The staff was really helpful and helped me grab a bolt of fabric from the bottom of a teetering stack. I actually own this fabric pattern in three different colors, but the black design is definitely more wearable than its hot pink or bright orange counterparts.

The pattern for this dress is 5094 from McCalls. Two meters of fabric wasn't quite enough to do the full length dress, but it was appropriate for the view F, which has a contrast border. I like the fit a lot, but it's fitted so perfectly that it would be uncomfortable if I were to gain more than a few pounds.

I've been trying to plan my handmade wardrobe so that I would still be able to wear most of it after having kids, but this dress might be one piece limited to my pre-baby life. Midriff bands are not kind to changing bodies.

I need to slow down on the dress-making. I've already made 25 and the closets in this house are small. This is the fifth dress I've made just this month, and it's another one that will have to wait until spring for full utilization.

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posted by Alison 1/25/2009 02:05:00 PM : (0) comments : splink

Saturday, January 24, 2009

Project #24 - Secret Lives of Sugar Cubes

I've always liked sugar cubes. I like the fact that the sugar is already precisely measured out into one teaspoon increments and pressed into a precise geometric shape. I like the perfect cube cubes best, much better than the squat, unpredictable rectangular ones. On my last trip to Hiroshima I managed to keep a friend's two year old busy by stacking little towers of wrapped sugar cubes and knocking them over. So, they're both a toy and a sweetener. Were I to keep a sugar bowl, it would be filled with sugar cubes only.

So, today's project honors sugar cubes and their complex inner lives, appropriately enough on a white ceramic sugar bowl.

The mustachioed sugar cube

Sugar cubes gossiping about Splenda

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posted by Alison 1/24/2009 12:24:00 PM : (0) comments : splink

Friday, January 23, 2009

Project #23 - Messenger Bag Sketch

I've been planning on making a deluxe messenger bag for myself for at least two years. I'm going to try and make the real thing this year, but it's best to start with a plan. Over the years, I've made a few dozen messenger bags, but never anything this elaborate.

I'm going to do the straps a lot differently than with my usual messenger bag pattern. Usually, I just have one shoulder strap and its on the side like this:

But this time I want to do straps that can be used as backpack straps, or they can be combined into a shoulder strap. I'm going to add a sturdy flap to connect the straps over the shoulder like this:

This is what the straps will look like when buckled backpack style. The one in the right will have the female part of the connector, and the one on the left will have the male part. When disconnected from the strap holders at the bottom they'll be able to connect together to form the shoulder strap. I'm not quite sure that it will be comfy with the handle in that position, so I'll have to experiment to find the right placement.

Once the flap is lifted, the folder pockets will be revealed. I'll use those to sort papers. There is also a pillow pocket on the top flap so I can use the bag as a pillow during long trips.

The back wall of the inside will be reinforced with a really thin sheet of particle board, probably one from a clip board, so that I'll be able to turn the backpack over and use it like a desk. There will also be a zipper pocket, a cell phone pocket and a wallet pocket stitched into the lining. I'll also have a strip of velcro so that I can keep important things close at hand and not drifting around my bag.

Next, I'm going to make a pattern and then a working prototype.

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posted by Alison 1/23/2009 10:29:00 PM : (0) comments : splink

Thursday, January 22, 2009

Project #22 - Resistor Barrette

Today we had a trip to see our financial planner, it's a lot like going to the dentist, but with more numbers and morbid thinking. We didn't get back to the house until late and as we pulled up to the curb we realized that we'd left my car back the midway point between our two places of work. Boo.

So, no skirt today. My supplies are in my trunk and I'm worn out from discussing how much money I would need to live off of if Clark were to be eaten by a dinosaur. Instead, I made something simple and with short instructions.

I've made lots of resistor barrettes before. I've sold a few, but I like to horde them for myself. However, like many of my hair accessories, they tend to walk away by themselves, so every once in a while I'll make a new set. The resistors are regular carbon film, so they are inert. The barrettes are from my two-year-old supply from Metalliferous in Manhattan. I cleaned them out of every barrette they had the last time I visited.

The construction is about as easy as it gets. I snipped off the wire leads to the resistors and glued them in a row onto my barrette. Whee!

I love carbon film resistors because they have their own secret language.

posted by Alison 1/22/2009 10:33:00 PM : (0) comments : splink

Wednesday, January 21, 2009

Project #21 - Quickie Laptop Sleeve

I'm using my new mini-laptop to type today's post. It weighs about 2.2 pounds and is a little bigger than a half sheet of paper. This little guy brings the total computer count at work to more than double the staff. I needed something smaller for toting to work and traveling, and this certainly fits the bill.

It's got pretty sturdy case, but I tend to treat my portable computers the same way I treat shoes: I get them banged up and dirty pretty easily. This one will be carried around in a sleeve to prevent some of the wear and tear.


  • 1/3 yard Canvas Cloth
  • 1/3 yard Foam Backed Fabric
  • 1 Button
  • Thread

Use your laptop to estimate how much you'll need to cut out on the foam fabric, taking into account the depth of the laptop. Measure out a rectangle with a length of twice the length of the laptop, plus twice the depth and a little extra to fold over. The width measurement should be the width of the laptop plus twice the depth. Add an inch to the width and an inch to the height to account for seams. Cut out your rectangle and use it to measure a piece of the same size of your canvas cloth.

Fold your foam cloth inside out, leaving a little extra for the fold-over lip on one side. Sew up the sides. Do the same for your canvas, but leave an opening so that you can eventually turn your whole bag to the correct side. Turn the foam piece right side out and tuck the canvas piece inside, right sides together and matching seams. Stitch around the top edge.

Turn the whole thing to the correct side through the canvas opening, stuffing the foam lining into the canvas pouch. Stitch the opening shut. Ordinarily, I would leave this kind of opening on the inside rather than the outside, but the foam fabric tends to shred easily with hand stitching.

Put your laptop inside your new sleeve and measure off where you want your button to be placed. Stitch the button opening and then sew your button into place. Enjoy!

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posted by Alison 1/21/2009 11:30:00 PM : (0) comments : splink

Tuesday, January 20, 2009

Project #20: a Fimo 44th President

When I was a student in Washington DC I went to the 2001 inauguration and found a spot right against the capitol reflecting pool. I stood surrounded by women in fur coats, but I'd never been so cold in my entire life.

I really wish I could have attended the inauguration today, but I was a little relieved to get letters from my congress people saying they didn't have enough tickets. I can't imagine enduring another seven or eight hours of cold or dealing with a crowd that size. The crowd was big 8 years ago, but today's dwarfed it easily by a magnitude of 10.

Instead of dealing with security checkpoints and frozen fingers, I watched the proceedings on TV with my co-workers and waved my American flag, happy to enjoy this occasion with climate control.

To celebrate the day, I made a desk figurine of our new President out of Fimo. This suit is made of sparkle clay; it was the only navy blue that I had. It photographs weirdly, but I like to think it gives the president a little Vegas charm. Also, no tile, of course.

I'd never made a standing figure before and it turned out to be harder than I thought. I thought I would be extra slick and stand President Obama in a glass to keep him upright during baking, but he ended up slumping to the side in the heat. Right after I pulled him out of the oven yanked off his crooked feet while they were still soft. Sorry, Mr. President. I glued them back into position with silicon glue.

It's not a very accurate likeness, but he'll be a passable enough stand-in. I plan on giving him to my husband; he's been extra great lately and might like the company on his desk. Maybe mini-Obama will be able to intervene at tax time.

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posted by Alison 1/20/2009 10:16:00 PM : (0) comments : splink

Monday, January 19, 2009

Project #19 - Robot Cup and Saucer

Clark and I received a whole box of china for free from a liquidating antique store. I think the owners just wanted one less thing to carry away, but I can always find a use for pottery, especially if I'm allowed to smash it or draw on it. However, this time, since I'm a fan of robots and tiny things, I'll be drawing lots of little robots on my ceramic pieces.

All of the drawings were done with a black Porceline pen. I doodle on a spare tile to make sure that the ink flow is even before drawing on my cup and saucer. I also use faint pencil markings to space out the figures evenly. Mistakes can be easily cleaned up with a wet paper towel.

After the ink has set for a few minutes, I follow the instructions on the pen and place the pieces in the oven at 300 degrees for 35 minutes. After that, they are ready to use and dishwasher safe.

I've made something similar before and sold them in my etsy shop. I was genuinely sad to depart with something so cute that I decided to make my own set.

Here are a few more detail photos:

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posted by Alison 1/19/2009 10:56:00 PM : (6) comments : splink

Sunday, January 18, 2009

Project #18 - Flash Random Color Generator

I'm still at work, so I'm going to post something that I'm working on as part of a larger project. I need more practice with ActionScript 3.0, so I guess this is part of my professional development, too. Today's flash is simple a random color generator. I'm going to incorporate this into a game involving color matching,

Also, go Steelers! I missed the game, but I could tell who won by the sound of the celebratory fireworks.

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posted by Alison 1/18/2009 11:23:00 PM : (0) comments : splink

Saturday, January 17, 2009

Project #17 - Ruler Fabric Sundress

This is the third dress that I've made this year that will have to wait until Spring to leave the house. Stupid winter.

I pulled this blue ruler fabric out of my stash after reading about some similar fabric on Dress A Day. I knew exactly how I was going to sew this dress as soon as I matched my fabric to a pattern. The last thing I wanted my ruler fabric to do was to broadcast how wide I am or how big my boobs are in the imperial system. So, I positioned my pattern pieces to keep the pattern running vertical, or at an angle, really anything but horizontal. I even broke the front bodice into two pieces and sewed it chevron style pointing to my face, because that's where people should be looking anyway.

This pattern is another New Look, NL6676, and not surprisingly it look a load of fitting adjustments. I never understood New Look's crazy ease calculations. Why would anyone want a bust line with four extra inches of fabric? One inch would have been plenty to keep the fit comfortable and not leave the wearer swimming in fabric.

Plus, while the bust was too big, the fanny was the right size, so I know it's not a direct up or down sizing issue. Using the same size for another pattern company would have left me with a garment that fit my whole body. These seem to be sized for people with major implants. Arg. I should know better.

The worst part is that I know I'm going to make this pattern again. I meant my ruler dress to be a wearable muslin so that I could proof the pattern for some of my precious Japanese fabric. I guess it's good that I'll at least have a better idea of the pitfalls the second time around. Sadly, I haven't found a better sundress pattern as far as using the tiny amount of fabric (less than 1.5 yards) that this one does.

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posted by Alison 1/17/2009 10:45:00 PM : (0) comments : splink

Friday, January 16, 2009

Project #16 - Adding an On-Seam Pocket

This is a follow-up on yesterday's post. I raced through my skirt and forgot to add a pocket. I don't like carrying around purses, so I like to have a spot for my keys, wallet and cell phone on my person, hence, my need for pockets.

First, I used tailor's chalk to trace out a pocket. I like to make mine deep. I cut out a total of four, two for each side. I like to use matching fabric so that it's not noticeable if the pocket gaps a little bit when full.

Use a seam ripper to create an opening on the seam where you want your pocket. Make it as wide as your pocket piece, plus an inch on either side.

Right sides together, sew one pocket piece to one side of the pocket opening. Do the same with the other side of pocket opening and a mirror image pocket piece. Turn to the inside.

Turn your skirt inside-out. Match up the edges of your pocket and sew them together. Sew up the 1 inch openings above and below the pocket in the seam line. Turn your skirt right-side-out. You're done!

It will be a little more difficult to add a pocket to the zipper side. This skirt will be one-pocketed until I figure it out and rehearse a couple of times. I'll carry my cell phone in my bra until then.

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posted by Alison 1/16/2009 10:23:00 PM : (0) comments : splink

Thursday, January 15, 2009

Project #15 - Blue Corduroy Skirt

It's Make-A-Skirt Thursday! I got home late, so I threw together a corduroy version of one of my favorite skirt patterns. I totally forgot that I meant to add pockets until I'd already finished tacking down the inner yoke lining. I guess tomorrow's project will be to go back and add them.

The picture is terrible, and the skirt needs to be ironed, but I am tired and I really want to lay down. I hate looking at multiple horrible pictures in photoshop and having to pick the least crappy one. I went with the one where my skirt looks like Big Foot.

Here is a review of my favorite skirt pattern that I wrote last spring.

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posted by Alison 1/15/2009 11:11:00 PM : (0) comments : splink

Wednesday, January 14, 2009

Project #14 - Eraser Stamps

My co-worker has a son who hates mustard so much that it has become a curse word in her house. If something goes really badly, he says "Mustard!", like it's his own private curse word. If I were to have a word like that, it would probably be 'squirrel!'. They're always stealing my garlic plants and digging up my delicate early spring plantings looking for nuts they forgot about. They've destroyed all of my melon seedlings one-by-one, and all my rare cucumber seedlings. I check on them everyday and at least half a dozen times every spring I'll see them mangled with a little hole and a peanut shell sitting at the scene of the crime. My neighbor, however, loves squirrels and is the source of the peanut menace. My owl statue and occasional squirts from the hose don't deter them in the least.

I'm going to make my own squirrel stamp today and use it at work as an indicator of shenanigans. I'll use it to mark old scripts and other print-outs that would wreak havoc if taken as the latest version. And if I still make the same mistakes I'll yell 'Squirrel!' and not the f-word, which I have become more and more accustomed to using. I can also use it to mark old things in the fridge. Yes, this two week old pasta salad is squirrel, indeed.

I have a little bag of Mujirushi erasers that has lost its utility now that I rarely use pencils. One of these will become my stamp body. I'll also be using a carver that would be typically used on lino or wood blocks.

First, I took a regular pen and drew a picture of my squirrel on the eraser.

Next, I carved out all of the spots without marker. I like to leave a little bit behind, however, to add texture to the finished image. The top of the eraser is only 1.5 cm on each side, so I went slow and used small strokes.

I did a few test stamps and carved off extra bits to get a clearer image. Finally, after a few rounds I had the image I wanted.

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posted by Alison 1/14/2009 10:28:00 PM : (0) comments : splink

Tuesday, January 13, 2009

Project #13 - Capacitor Bugs

I have a lot of electronic parts sitting around my house, mostly as a result of several Radio Shacks closing in our area. I ended up getting a big discount on leftovers from the parts drawer(about 90% off, the first time I ever got a real deal at good ol' RS). I brought all of it home and spread it out on the floor. I knew what to do with all of the LEDs, switches, battery holders and resistors. However, I wasn't sure what to do with the capacitors. The one time I built something complicated enough to necessitate a capacitor I ended up shocking myself accidentally. So, I wasn't ready for capacitors as an electrical component, but I did think that they were pretty. Plus, they're perfectly safe if they aren't charged.

My capacitors became a crafting item and I've been using them ever since, probably the same way a magpie would. "Hmm...don't know what this is, but it's shiny. I'll just glue it to my nest."

There are a bunch of different kinds of capacitors and today's bugs are made of mylar capacitors (the square ones that that are the shape of chiclet gum), electrolytic capacitors (the drum shaped ones), and ceramic capacitors (the orange, disc shaped ones). I used those pieces to form the head/antenna, thorax/legs, and abdomen of each bug.

The legs were the trickiest part and I used a binder clip to hold the three thorax pieces together while they dried.

After that, I added a head to one end and the abdomen, always an electrolytic capacitor, to the other. After everything dried, I bent the legs to help the bug stand on its own.

I'm going to keep one on my desk for some anti-bug voodoo. Out of the three computers in the house only the one in my room is working right now. Arg.

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posted by Alison 1/13/2009 11:23:00 PM : (0) comments : splink

Monday, January 12, 2009

Project #12 - Locket Hair Pins

My hair has grown very long and I wear it in a bun most of the time. I almost never have my hair down when I leave the house and certainly not while I eat. So I always have hair loops or hairpins at hand to keep it out of my way. I wore my hair the same way when I was a tour guide in DC. A ponytail would be a mess after just one walking tour, but a cinnamon bun on the back of my head would stay perfect for an entire shift.

I keep losing my hairpins so I make more every few months. I usually use 3 inch jumbo bobby pins and add something pretty. I've shown something similar before on this blog with the set of hair accessories that I made for my wedding reception.

I put together this set to look a little old-timey so that they will coordinate with the vintage-style dresses that I usually wear when it's not winter. The round things are tiny, 1 centimeter in diameter lockets; they are real, functioning ones that you can keep a picture inside. Mine will carry pictures of my grandmothers, I even know what pictures I'm going to use, but I'll need to borrow them from my mom, scan and shrink them.

The construction for this project is pretty easy and will take you about 10 minutes with luck. Just take a length of wire, I usually start with one about 8 inches long, and wind it first around the leaf piece and securing it in place. Next, twist a length of wire to form the stem locket 'flower'. To keep the locket in place, wind the wire around a second time. I usually do a pretty messy job, but through a little experimenting you'll probably do a lot better.

The locket and metal leaves came from one of my favorite online craft supply shops, the Canadian papier valise. There is a lot of stuff to wade through, but there are a lot of curiosities that I've never seen anywhere else. You'll have to pay in Canadian dollars, but the rates are much better now than when I did my purchasing a year ago.

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posted by Alison 1/12/2009 11:19:00 PM : (0) comments : splink

Sunday, January 11, 2009

Project #11 - Index Card Notebook

I love notebooks of all kinds and I've got dozens squirreled away, just in case. They're like toilet paper: no matter how much you buy it will all eventually get used. I have a notebook to go with almost all of my major life events. I had a real estate notebook for house hunting, and a wedding notebook full of guest lists and cost estimates for when I got married. I'm not sure what today's notebook will be for yet, but it's a good size for carrying around.

  • Ingredients:
  • 6" by 9" blank index cards
  • binder clips
  • thread
  • needle
  • something sharp for poking
  • 2 inch wide tape
  • pretty tape (optional)
I like the weight and standard sizes of index cards. I've tried to size my own paper, but without the right equipment I never get it right. Though if index cards aren't right for your project, Kinko's will size your paper for about a dollar a cut.

First, I lined up my index cards and cliped them with my binder clips to keep them in order. The cards are held together by a line of stitches, so I marked off where each perforation would be, placing them about 1 centimeter apart along a straight line.

Next, I used an old sewing machine needle, tapping it with a little hammer to make a hole in advance of adding the stitching. My notebook is about 12 cards thick, so the sewing needle wouldn't be able to go through on its own. I laid two lines of stitching, doubling back for extra hold.

After that, I covered my stitches with a piece of brightly colored tape and then added two more decorative pieces of washi tape that I picked up from Loft in Nagoya. Lastly, I cut the overhanging tape to make it even with the edges of the notebook.

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posted by Alison 1/11/2009 11:02:00 PM : (0) comments : splink

Saturday, January 10, 2009

Project #10 - Knit Leafy Dress

I had every intention of going to work today, but I almost lost control of my car due to the freezing rain while running an errand. So, I went straight home, wrote a few PHP scripts, and put off the bulk of my workday until tomorrow. I spent the rest of my afternoon watching a documentary and sewing a dress for when it finally gets warm.

I cut out this pattern almost five months ago. I love a good knit dress, but I was a little put off by one with so many pattern pieces. My favorite knit patterns usually have only two and can be sewn together in less than an hour. This one had five and the directions looked especially sadistic.

I'm not too happy with the way the dress sewed together. The collar is much thicker than what is in the pattern picture and the sleeves stick out oddly. I'm also not satisfied with the underbust seam. The interfacing required by the pattern causes the line to look awkward.

I'm starting the think that it's not me, but the pattern company. I've never made a New Look pattern without having the pieces line up weirdly, or the item will turn out two sizes too big. I'll have to keep that in mind for the future the next time I'm tempted by an attractive pattern cover.

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posted by Alison 1/10/2009 06:42:00 PM : (0) comments : splink

Friday, January 09, 2009

Project #9 - Amber Necklace

I'm very partial to amber as a I have a hard time calling it a stone when it's so different than anything else I have in my gemstone bead collection. It's warm to the touch and feels very light. I like the color and the glow; I think it's the kind of thing that works well with my skin tone.

The petticoat for my new green dress won't be done in time for the party tomorrow, so I'm going to wear my duller gray dress and try to achieve satisfaction through accessories. I made a shrug for this outfit from Butterick 4731, this one in black and white and fully reversible. I'll also be making an adjustable amber necklace to add a little color. I can never decide what length of necklace works for me, so having an adjustable piece is critical.


  • Amber beads
  • Cord for stranding
  • Ribbon
  • Wire or Jump-Rings
First, I placed my beads on my cord. I cheated a little here and used a strand that I had already strung by size and tied off. I can only plead a busy work schedule as a reason for taking shortcuts. I twisted my loop on itself to form an extra thick strand of amber.

Next, I made my wire rings by winding my wire around a glue stuck, making a short spring about 1 inch in diameter. Next I wound the wire through my amber strand just like how one would place a key on a key ring. Then I wound the ends of the wire around the loops to form a ring. I tucked in the pointy ends so that they wouldn't poke me or snag.

Finally, I cut about 12 inches of black ribbon with pinking shears to keep it from unraveling. I put my I pulled the ribbon through the rings and tied a bow after placing the whole contraption around my neck. I can tie it high for a choker effect or a little lower like a regular necklace.

I'm not sure if this piece is too much for me; it just looks so big. However, I tried it with the amber strand unwound into one layer and that seemed too anemic. Luckily, I still have a day to make something else. Making two pieces would be appropriate; I already made two dresses for one party, so why not two necklaces?


posted by Alison 1/09/2009 11:28:00 PM : (0) comments : splink

Thursday, January 08, 2009

Project #8 - Decoupaged Tin

Today's project was a little out of my routine. Usually, I make a skirt every Thursday while Clark and a friend go out for pizza and beer. Today was another late work day, so I had to do something that would take 20 minutes instead of two hours. I really like my skirts with pockets, so it's better to wait until the pressure is off to cut corners in order to get to some sleep, because, well, pockets are the first thing to go in a time crunch. I hope I can return to my usual "Make-a-Skirt Thursday" next week, but today's project was fun.

I have a little collection of Japanese washi paper purchased from a shop in Asakusa just a stone's throw from the Kaminarimon Gate*. The Tobu line connecting to Tochigi prefecture used to terminate in Asakusa (it now goes all the way to Shinjuku), so I was a frequent visitor while Clark lived in Imaichi city.

I've decoupaged a lot of things with my little bundle of paper, and because I only take little bits each time I still have at least a quarter of each sheet left. Today's project will only take a little bit more to cover the top cover of an Altoid-sized tin.


  • Tin
  • Mod Podge Glue (I'm partial to the glossy kind)
  • Pretty Paper cut into bits
  • Sponge Brush or paint brush
  • X-acto Knife (Optional)

First, remove the lid from the bottom of the tin. This will keep the bottom half from getting gummy from the glue. I like to put thin pieces of paper around the edges of the tin first and then fill in the top. Just load your sponge brush or paint brush up with glue and cover an area and then place your piece of paper. I usually sponge on top of whatever I've just laid down, especially around the edges because this both seals the paper and makes it more flexible for bending and creasing into place.

After I've covered my tin top, I'll go back and sponge on a few coats over the top of my paper to keep it in place, smooth down the differences in the layers, and add some gloss. This tin has two coats, but I might add a third before I go to bed.

I really like how colors stand out and with a few glossy coats of Mod Podge. I even used the same stuff to seal a wooden game board when time constrains ruled out lacquer. It even adds moderate water-proofing to paper projects. So, yay for Mod Podge; I use it by the bucket-full.

*As an aside, I kind of hate saying Kaminarimon Gate, because of the redundancy of saying 'mon' and 'gate', which mean the same thing. It's like the "3-cheese queso" at Qdoba. I wish we could say 'Kaminari Gate' in English, but probably no one would know what I was talking about. It kills me little inside.

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posted by Alison 1/08/2009 10:50:00 PM : (0) comments : splink

Wednesday, January 07, 2009

Project #7 - Website Template

Today's project is a brand new template for this website. Combing through the dead links on my sidebar, it's kind of embarrassing how much I let basic site maintenance go to seed. It's been almost three years since I made any sort of update to my template, and the basic design dates back to when I was living in DC -- almost 5 years ago. Yikes.

Above: One of many iterations

This new template has actually been a few months in the making because my light sources are no match for good daylight. It took quite a while for there to be a day where I would be home while it was still light out and it wasn't stormy and dim. December in Pittsburgh is rough. I even took my poster board covered with items outside one snowy day to take advantage of some rare light. I hadn't glued any of my items down (I intended to use them all later at some point), and after just a few seconds a gust blew most of my stuff into the snow. It is the crafting equivalent of a tree eating your kite.

Anyway, I think I took over a hundred pictures of different arrangements and this horseshoe shape was the one I liked best. I have a habit of over-thinking and over-experimenting; it can get quite grim and turn from something fun into something that I must joylessly conquer. The winner came from an earlier batch, pre-snow drift and pre-grimness. In fact, I think my snow incident made this into something I needed to do perfectly in order to, I don't know, defeat nature. This all sounds crazy when I write it out, but my husband is a little to familiar with my battles with abstract, indifferent elements. I declare victory every time.

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posted by Alison 1/07/2009 11:49:00 PM : (0) comments : splink

Tuesday, January 06, 2009

Project #6 - Mini Cupcakes with Marzipan Birds and a Marzipan Laptop

I've been working extra long hours (Startups! Arg!), but I always seem to have just enough energy to make something when I get home. It's the best therapy for me. Going to the gym or sitting around watching a movie would wipe me out, but sewing and baking always make me feel so much...lighter when I'm done, even after I clean up after myself, which doesn't always happen right away.

Today I came straight home and baked a batch of mini-cupcakes. We're hosting this week's Dinner of Champions and I wanted to have something done in advance. Mini cupcakes are the best because it's a lot less guilt-inducing to have one rather than a whole fist-sized cupcake. Personally, I try never to have guilt over eating cake, but my husband is always watching his weight and limiting desserts.

I adapted the cooking time and temperature from a recipe for regular cupcakes. My first attempt turned out to be correctly guessed and 30 minutes at 375 degrees yielded fluffy, delicate cakes.

The dark chocolate icing is from my own personal buttercream recipe:

  • One part powdered sugar
  • Two parts cocoa powder
  • Two parts softened butter
  • ~One tablespoon milk
I usually make as much as I need at the time. I add enough milk to make it a tiny little bit too runny and then put it in the fridge for a few minutes. This usually yields the perfect texture.

The best part of these cupcakes are the Marzipan decorations. Since my friend, she of the birthday and the kitty figurine, will be coming over I thought dessert could use an extra-festive touch. Her favorite color is blue, so she gets blue birds. I bought the marzipan in pre-made block form and added food coloring. The color of the birds' beaks and the laptop screen is the original color of the marzipan.

I'm pretty indifferent to the taste of Marzipan, but I love how easy it is to use. It has the texture of playdough and it will dry out and hold its shape in a similar way, making it a snap for all kinds of decorations. I looked everywhere for marzipan for my wedding cake a year and a half ago, but all of the blocks I found were dried out and unusable. This batch came from Cost-Plus World Market's fancy foods section. When I saw how soft it was I automatically bought three bars.

I didn't quite have enough of the little bit I mixed up to make a fourth bird, so I made a little blue laptop, further evidence that I'm spending too much time at work.

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posted by Alison 1/06/2009 10:31:00 PM : (0) comments : splink

Monday, January 05, 2009

Project #5 - Polymer Clay Kitty

Today was one of my best friend's birthday and I completely forgot until I asked her boyfriend/my coworker what his plans were this evening. And of course, they were to take her out to dinner. So, I had a day to scramble for an appropriate gift. All of hers are thoughtful, purchased months in advance and include a thoughtful note. I can't compete with that.

So, instead, I summoned my crafty powers to make her a tiny replica of her cat, Oliver. This is a cat that tries to drink out of houseguests' water glasses and always manages to get his claws stuck in any sweater that enters but house. Still, I must put my feelings aside because my friend really loves her kitty and she might (hopefully!) enjoy a tiny version of his likeness.

I made two of these guys out of Fimo. I tried to color in the eyes of the first and ended up accidentally knocking off its head. I made a second one and left the eyes alone. To salvage my earlier efforts, I glued the kitty's head back on and added eye lashes. Now mini-Oliver has a or it's mini-Oliver in drag. Choose whichever narrative suits you.

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posted by Alison 1/05/2009 11:32:00 PM : (0) comments : splink

Sunday, January 04, 2009

Project #4 - Retro Cocktail Dress

I only had one weekend day left until my cocktail party, so today would have to be the day if I wanted try to replace yesterday's dress. I chose to make Butterick 4792 mostly because it had only 3 pattern pieces and I figured that I could put it together quickly. I should have looked at everything more carefully because it turned out that I would need two of the pieces out four times each.

I shortened the skirt by about 5 inches to get the whole thing to fit onto 3 yards of emerald green dupioni silk. I shorten and lengthen a lot of skirts, so I have a handy little compass-y contraption made of two colored pencils in my sewing box at all times. I just adjust the rubber band to lengthen or shorten how far from the hem I can trace.

I'm not quite done with this one; I need to shorten the underskirt and hem the whole thing. I did spend a lot of time trying to figure out how to unwind the tavern puzzle top every time I sewed a new seam, but I managed to get it to this state after about 6 hours of sewing.

I'm wearing a bra in the picture, one with straps. I used a elastic hair loop to bring my straps in front together so that they wouldn't ruin the neckline of the dress. It's still comfortable and a lot cheaper than the $19.95 the folks on TV are charging for a Strap Perfect, though this solution doesn't come with free boob tape.

I'm also wearing my big pink crinoline for my project picture. It's been getting lots of use lately with my recent run on 50's era reprint patterns, but it's got a bit too much length and volume for this dress. I would likely have to make another by this coming weekend, which might be a deal breaker with all of the overtime I'll be doing this week. I kind of want to save this one for springtime when it will finally be warm enough for me to wear it outside without a jacket.

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posted by Alison 1/04/2009 08:26:00 PM : (0) comments : splink

Saturday, January 03, 2009

Project #3 - Silk Cocktail Dress

I have a special occasion in one week, a party that will require a formal cocktail length dress. Which (yay!) means that I need to make another dress. I've made only one other dress out of silk before, but I like the squeaky sound that my sewing needle makes when it sews silk dupioni.

I'd been waiting for Vogue patterns to go one sale forever because they are freakin' expensive even with the usual discount. $15? Hell no. I'd even flip through the online catalog at work and get all antsy because I wanted my pattern now. When they went on sale on the 1st of January I marched down to the fabric store on a mission for Vogue 8494...aaand they only had one copy in the cabinet, not in my size, of course. I pouted for a little bit and then I remembered that some evil customers will squirrel away the best ones in another drawer until the sale starts. I flipped through a few of the cabinets and I magically found just what I was looking for, and in my size, too. Yoink!

I put this dress together in about four hours, mostly while watching Jaws. After I sewed the outside dress together I took it into the kitchen to show my husband and in the dim light I realized that my iridescent, purple-gray fabric took on the exact color and shininess as a trash bag. Which sucks because: 1) This is actually really nice fabric in the daylight. 2) It will be nighttime and dim (but not dim enough) at the party. And 3) it would have been way cooler if I had decided to use actual trash bags for the dress 'cause everyone would have been like "Trash bags?! No way!" and I would have been like "Yes way!!!1" Plus, trash bags, unlike this fabric, cost about 10 cents a yard. Rats.

Anyway, I'm not sure I'm in love with the silhouette. The dress in the pattern picture has a skirt that's a little more full. I'm going to iron the hell out of this dress to see if I can get the bottom half looking a little less like a paper-mâché tube. I still have six days to replace this with something better, but I'm probably over-thinking this cocktail party outfit. If I have two Salty Dogs as soon as I arrive, I will probably stop caring so much.

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posted by Alison 1/03/2009 11:56:00 PM : (0) comments : splink

Friday, January 02, 2009

Project #2 - Robot Apron

I have a fondness for aprons that leads me to collect them like stamps. They're often colorful, they keep messes off of clothes and they add extra pockets. I'm sitting here picking little stray threads off of my skirt as I type this. An apron worn during sewing would have saved me the trouble.

I would really like to wear aprons more often and I sometimes fantasize about starting a new trend. However, I already look like an anachronism much of the time with my poofy-poofy skirts, so the addition of an apron just calls extra attention. On the occasions that I forget I am wearing an apron and leave my house I get extra funny looks and occasionally if I'm in a restaurant I'll get asked for the check.

Still, I should grow a backbone and wear this apron everywhere. First, robots are the best. Secondly, I like the silhouette. Thirdly, it's cotton canvas and a little more sturdy than my vintage church rummage sale aprons which have gone transparent from decades of washings.

I originally bought this pattern (McCall's 5825) because of the picture. I admit that I sometimes buy patterns based on the fabric or extraneous clothing featured in the cover picture. I saw this one and really wanted the black Amelia Bedelia style black dress. Who wants to dress up like an old-fashioned maid, but without the sexual overtones. Me! Me!

I can't find this pattern anywhere online, but I found it by rummaging through the pattern cabinet at the fabric store. I also found lots of forgotten patterns that were hidden by customers in empty drawers. I'm on to all of you cheeky monkeys.

The fabric was a lucky buy at the Kichijoji Yuzawaya in Tokyo. I found a discounted bolt with just one meter left on it and got the whole thing for about 400 yen less than usual. The pattern says that 1.5 years is required to make one of the full length aprons, but I was able to squeeze everything onto one yard. Oh pattern, how you lie to me.

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posted by Alison 1/02/2009 11:48:00 PM : (0) comments : splink

Thursday, January 01, 2009

Project #1 - 10 Minute Headband

I squandered most of this holiday watching movies and cutting out patterns, but never quite mustering up the energy to actually sew any of them together. So today's project will be quick and simple. It will be a headband - one that can be made in less than 10 minutes.

Ingredients: 5 inches of elastic
~21 inches of ribbon

I first snipped the ends of my ribbon with pinking shears to keep it from getting too frayed.

The idea is to make a narrow hem with one end your ribbon and trap the elastic inside. I turned my ribbon down once, inserted the elastic and turned it down again. Holding it in place, I sewed a narrow zig-zag. My feed dogs don't react well to things this small, so I guided the ribbon through with a pair of scissors.

I sewed another line of zig-zag to reinforce and to get the elastic to lay well.

Next, I wound the ribbon and elastic around my head to measure for the best fit. I ended up chopping off about 2 inches of ribbon.

Finally, I sewed the other in the same manner as described above.

Now I can declare my love of robots without having to talk about them and show people on the bus pictures of my favorite robots.

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posted by Alison 1/01/2009 11:35:00 PM : (0) comments : splink

New Year, New Resolution

Last year, I made a resolution not to buy any clothes that I could make myself. Therefore, instead of buying any new skirts, dresses, or button-up shirts, I cut my own out and stitched them together while sitting on the floor and watching trashy TV. The idea was to improve my sewing and tailoring skills while saving money. Though I started out slowly, I ended the year with about 40 new pieces of clothing, including 19 new dresses, and the 20th is cut out and sitting next to the suitcases that I haven't unpacked from Christmas yet.

So I would call 2008's resolution a success and I have been tempted to try something else to engage another skill that needs work. So, this year I'm going to try to write more, and focus on writing about what I know best: making things. I'll try to make something new every day, and if I need a break I'll write about things that I've made in the past. Still, the goal is to write a lot and try not to take too long doing it. I'm a slow writer and I need the practice at getting my thoughts together quickly.

Cheers to the new year!


posted by Alison 1/01/2009 11:03:00 PM : (0) comments : splink

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