Sunday, July 15, 2012

holly hobby

This is the first maternity leave where I haven't had a big heavy To Do list hanging over my head like the sword of Damocles.  And it feels fine, friends.

My first maternity leave with Cal, you'll remember, was three weeks into my Anesthesia residency.  So I spent much of that five weeks off from work trying to memorize Baby Miller, or at least, you know, sitting at a desk with Baby Miller open in front of me.  That

With Mack, I had the second round edits due on my book--and this was a big edit, since the first round manuscript had the chapters arranged by theme instead of chronologically; it was basically akin to dismantling your entire house and then building it again but with the rooms all in different places, with, uh, new doors and hallways connecting them (that creaking sound is that of a metaphor becoming overly labored)--so that leave was also spent marinating in a stew of low-grade obligation and stress.

But this maternity leave, I think I pretty much cleared the deck.  I'm not even doing those speaking engagements anymore, so there's no more of that "I gotta do my slides, I gotta review my slides, I gotta practice running through my slides" that has catagorized most of last year up until the Spring when I quit traveling.

So I'm doing some sewing is what I'm saying.

Some functional stuff I made for the baby.  That blanket, based on the tutorial here, and that crib sheet, based on the tutorial here.  Both were actually really easy, so fellow novice sewers, have at it, you will be surprised and pleased.

Then I modified the measurements on the fitted mattress sheet tutorial to make a cover for the diaper changing pad here.  This was especially pleasing because I got this piece of red striped cotton fabric from the "scraps" bin at the fabric store for 99 cents.  It was just big enough for the project, which was a happy coincidence.  (Joe also thought it was a coincidence that the cover matched the alphabet print hanging over the changing table, but I disabused him of that notion quickly--THE COLOR COORDINATION WAS PLANNED, DAMMIT.)

Speaking of salvage, my new thing is sewing with knit fabrics from thrift store finds.  Woven fabrics are nice and of course come in gorgeous prints, but in making things for kids, knit fabrics (think T-shirts, stretchy pants, etcetera) are much softer and more comfortable, especially for a baby.  Even for older kids--Cal complained endlessly when he had to wear this button-down shirt for school picture day, but he will wear any T-shirt or polo shirt until it basically disintegrates.  So anyway, I found this soft cotton sweater at the thrift store--not my style, and also not my size, but appealing in its oatmeal and grey stripes.  As you will soon see, I love stripes.  So I hacked off the bottom part and hacked off the sleeves, and made these two new items, respectively.

The internet is full of variations on how to make a dress from a onesie, so I'll just point you to this one here and say that I just sawed off a tube of fabric from the bottom of an adult T-shirt just to make it that much easier.  For comfort I decided to place the skirt part up higher, like an empire waist, so that the inflexible part of the stitching wouldn't be over the baby's stomach, where her width is the widest.

The pants I made out of the sweater sleeves, which was great because I basically had only had to sew the crotch seam and the casing.  (Tutorial for that little project here--but again, the internet is full of similar tutorials and variations therein, just look around.)  The onesies I got from Rock Bottom T-shirts, who I've mentioned before and with whom I have no relationship, but boy do I love them.  (Another plug: I also ordered some polo shirts from them for Mack's school uniforms--they are of surprisingly good quality.)

Using the bottom part of a T-shirt to make a dress was so easy that I just went ahead and made a couple more for the fall.  MORE STRIPES, PLEASE.  (No pants out of the navy and grey striped T-shirt, unfortunately--I would have loved to make them, but unfortunately that T-shirt was short-sleeved.)

And just so you don't think I am totally anti-pink, this last one here, which I'm hoping will fit by around Thanksgiving.

Just an observation--your local Goodwill is where all Gap, Old Navy and Target-branded shirts (your Merona, your Cherokee, your Massimo for Target, what have you) go to die.  It's like the elephant graveyard of soft T-shirts.

Another thing that they have at thrift stores is old sweaters.  Many of them are hideous, but some of them are decent, or, barring that, made of very soft wools or cotton (sometimes even cashmere) that you can rescue and turn into something else.  I found this grey angora turtleneck sweater that I was able to turn into two things for the winter.  (I kind of wish I had taken I picture of the sweater before I started, but this was my first time doing some of this stuff so in the event that it turned out crappy you understand I wanted to hide the evidence.)  First, these pants:

Again, from the sleeves of the sweater.  The angora is really pretty soft, but wool always has the potential to be scratchy so I decided to line the inside of the pants with the remnants of another thrifted T-shirt.  I actually had used that T- shirt to make another pair of soft pants, but I screwed that pair up in that I wasn't playing close attention and ended up sewing half the seams on the outside, half on the inside.  However, all was not lost--I just slipped that whole pair of pants inside the sweater pants, sewed them together and folded up the cuffs, and behold.  Mistake rectified.

The rest of the sweater (meaning the body part) I used to make this little cardigan, and let me just tell you, I AM SO PROUD OF THIS CARDIGAN.  I'd never sewn sleeves before, you see (something about the three-dimensionality of it seemed overwhelming to me) and I'd never drafted my own pattern before (I used a 6 month-sized onesie to approximate the size and dimensions), and while keen observation would undoubtedly reveal the amateur nature of this project, it actually turned out pretty well, and, I hope, very wearable.  (I would have liked buttons ideally, but I haven't figured out how to do that yet, and I didn't want to screw up the sweater with my first attempts.)

I mentioned this was a turtleneck sweater, right?  Well, there wasn't quite enough fabric to make the sleeves long enough, so I used the ribbing from the turtleneck to extend the sleeve length and make cuffs.  YOU'RE GOD DAMN RIGHT I DID.

I also used some of the leftover ribbing from the turtleneck to bind off the collar.  My stitching has its lumpy bits, but it won't be spotted from a trotting horse.  (Remember how Ramona's dad said that about her lamb costume?  I still think about that sometimes.  That and how the older girls colored her nose with mascara.)

And this was what was left of the sweater after I was done.  Every part of the buffalo, baby.

Now you'll have to remember that I only started sewing stuff like, what, a few months ago?  So I'm fairly new at this game.  However, as hobbies go, it's pretty fun.  Someone in the last entry asked me what I thought people would need to get started, and I have a few things that I would suggest.

First: a sewing machine.  I use this one, the Brother CS6000i, because while I didn't want to get the most expensive sewing machine in the universe, I also didn't want to get one that didn't have a good range of functions.  This one is nice because it's computerized (meaning you can change the type of stiches by pushing a few buttons), has a lot of nice convenience features, is really easy to use, and most importantly comes loaded up with basically every accessory that you could possibly need.  So I would recommend it, but it's also the only one I've really ever tried--there are cheaper models out there too, but I can't attest to their user-friendliness.

I'm going to assume you have scissors in your house if you're, you know, a human being, but I would also recommend (because I use it all the time) getting a rotary cutter (basically like a pizza cutter but for fabric and paper) and a cutting mat, unless you want to be like me with gouges all over one end of the table.  Sure, you can use the scissors for cutting too, but for long, straight cuts, the rotary cutter is easier.

You can get thread basically anywhere, and if you're starting out, I wouldn't go nuts--just go to any kind of craft store and get the handful of colors that you need.  But if you're looking for more colors to match your projects, this company called Threadsrus (I keep reading that as "thesaurus" but I think it's supposed to be Threads R Us--whether the R is written backwards is unclear) offers good quality thread at a very reasonable deal.  I am not at the point yet where I am ordering 200 spools of thread, mind you, but I did order a smaller aliquot from them in an assortment of colors, and I've been pretty pleased.

Oh, one last thing.  If you are prone to jabbing yourself with pins while you work (and I don't know how I am so injury-prone when sewing but I am--if I had as many needle sticks at work as I've had at home I would live at employee health permanently) might I recommend these?  They are these little fabric clips that hold your cloth together in lieu of pins in most situations, and they work great.  Don't bother with the small pack, get the big pack of 50, you will definitely not regret it.  They are super useful, and, you know, not so pointy.

Of course there's a ton of other stuff that you can get if you're in the market and have money to burn, but for a start, that's what I would recommend.  Anyway, sewing is fun, cutting up old busted clothes to make new cute clothes is fun, so let's all do it and humiliate our children by forcing them to wear our lumpy, ill-shaped handiwork into school!  It'll be awesome!

Feel free to discuss other sewing recommendations--either for projects or tools--in the comments section, and we will all share in the goodness.  And just so we don't get too far off course into turning this into a total other species of blog, my next entry will be the oft-requested "Day in the Life" post about private practice anesthesiology, or at least my experiences in that realm.  It'll be a real humdinger!

Hope you had a good weekend.


  1. root_doc4:34 PM

    You are so cracking me up! We ( female anesthesiologists) are so damn compulsive! Nice to see you are channeling all that OCD that you use for the OR to the sewing table. Fun to have the creative outlet as well. Good luck with all that is going on, and enjoy the sewing. ( Still think you ought to get a serger.... love mine.)

  2. That's some mad and crazy sewing you're up to, Michelle. I can't wait to see those outfits actually on one of your children. I remember I couldn't sit still and just tend baby during my maternity leave either, and ended up getting a bunch of work done on my dissertation, which sounds like craziness, but really was quite the opposite (i.e. craziness PREVENTION).

    Questions -- Sorry to pry, I'm mostly just interested for my future family plans. What are you doing with your other kids right now? Are they in school / being tended by the babysitter? Is it just you and the new kiddo in the house most of the day? How many weeks are you taking off? Is Nina going to daycare when you're done, or are you doing full time babysitter?

  3. I just completed a t shirt quilt for my 6 year old. it is a super easy project and my kiddo loves the results. It's nice because you can cut around the stains or not and you can keep loving all of the t shirts that have become to small/stained/ripped. (may also be fun to stencil new designs on thrift store finds.) Happy sewing!

  4. Anonymous5:18 PM

    Are you going to return to your book tour/public speaking when Nina is older?

  5. Anonymous6:53 PM

    It all seems to be so natural and effortless, I think in another life you must have been a clothing designer/seamstress. I love your creative approach and when I got to the Goodwill part, I was smiling from ear to ear - use it up, wear it out, make it do! And, as a added bonus, this kind of resourcefulness and creativity sets a wonderful example for your children.

  6. This comment has been removed by the author.

  7. I'm envious of your cheap-enough thrift stores. Prices in my area are weirdly 2-3x higher than in the rest of the country, so much of my clothing recycling comes from trash-picking.

    If you want a little something for the boys, a drawstring bag (to replace a bag that a particular toy came in) with a mesh panel in front (salvaged from a busted play tent) was stupidly easy, and a real hit with mine, as were buying half-size pillows and personalizing the pillow cases.

    I've also been meaning to do kites from rip-stop nylon and the cute little zippered pencil cases you see around.

  8. (oops, sorry about the duplicate comment; network hiccup at my end)

  9. Anonymous1:45 AM

    First visit here, but not my last. This grandmother-in-waiting (mid-August) is going to be sewing crib sheets tomorrow! Thank you for the tut-link. It looks like the perfect reason to use my new serger - Brother 1034D, cheap at Amazon and so darned easy to use. If I love it, I'll someday invest in a BabyLock Jet-Air, but if it becomes a big paperweight, I'm only out $200. Your recycling skills are wonderful. I'm a NICU/PICU nurse (just moved, so currently on extended vacation), so I love the medical stuff. It almost makes me want to go back to work. Almost...

  10. I remember you had mentioned that you enjoy chevrons so here is a chevron quilt you may like to make some day....

  11. HAHA I've definitely had tons of "needlesticks" when sewing

  12. Anonymous8:12 AM

    Other stuff I use regularly for sewing are a yard stick, a pin cushion and sewing shears (Gingher is good, super sharp)...and a fabric marking pencil.

    I did 16 pillow cases for my daughter's soccer team so I am now an expert on those! Those lead to bigger and better things so who knows, you may be sewing a suit for Joe by year's end...LOL!

  13. Cheryl10:00 AM

    Huh. I also still think about Ramona's sheep costume and the older girls putting mascara on her nose. I wonder why that sticks out to both of us.

  14. Anonymous10:07 AM

    I just ordered that sewing machine this weekend, it seemed good enough for my skill levels.

    For that cardigan, why not use a toggle button? It doesn't require any holes to be cut, you just can make the loop and sew that on and put the button on the other side. Any large button would work to hold the loop.

  15. Those clothes are cutter than buttons!!

    Speaking of buttons, sew in snaps for the sweater if you feel it needs closure, and then you can just sew decorative buttons on one side (like I did for this sweater I knitted for my nephew)

  16. I was dying with laughter on your commentary with making the baby cardigan. Nice work and great story telling :)

  17. Anonymous6:52 PM

    Buttons & button holes are really easy...especially if your machine is all automated (I didn't follow the link, but if yours includes many different stitches, you should be set for an easy buttonholer) My only advice is just to run it on a scrap first because I can never remember which direction my buttonholer goes in (it sounds like it would be something simple, but yeah, I have to do the same thing for zig zag as well...I've been surprised a few times and I LOATHE the seam ripper ;))

    I can also make a recommendation for thread-- (disclaimer: I am not affiliated with nor will reap a benefit in any way from mentioning this company) It is crazy cheap (and they have sales & coupons too!!) for a ton of thread on a spool and it is a good quality thread (both my friend & I who sew professionally use it often and have yet to have a problem). Makes it that much harder when I run out of a color & have to go to Joanne's to buy an emergency replacement--I feel like I'm way overpaying at $3/spool anymore :P

    You've given me renewed hope that my local Goodwill might have some awesome-ness hiding in the knits section

  18. Anonymous6:58 PM

    Just checked out your recent tumblr postings. Congrats on your newest cordless model!

    E in MN

  19. Anonymous1:14 PM

    I'm thinking there is nothing you can't do..That picture of Nina on Tumblr in that little dress is so cute. I love that you get things from the thrift stores and goodwill. When I visit ours I can never seem to find anything but we are a small town in NW Ohio so the pickins are slim. I did luck out a little though when I went to my sons and saw a huge pile of t shirts that my 21 year old grandson was going to take to Goodwill. They are now in a bag in my closet and hopefully they will become something rather than just be a permanent bag in my closet.

  20. Anonymous3:28 PM

    So I've been following your blog for almost 8 years now. Being an Asian American and born to immigrant parents, a subject that I would love to read about is your experience growing up as an Asian American. It seems as though you were raised much more "Americanized" than I was. What is your take, (if any), on this subject? Did you ever wished your parents instilled more of your Chinese background while growing up?, ie, made you read and write Chinese, etc. I grew up that way, but I don't know exactly what I want to do with my future kids. It seems that no matter how hard you try, once you've reached the 4th or 5th generation, the homeland culture would be lost and one would be lucky if any of those kids by that time can even speak the language. I mean, I am definitely happy to be in America and I've been blessed with a lot of opportunities that never would have happened otherwise, but a part of me still finds it sad that all throughout America, there is sort of a dying of cultures. Many people from all over are assimilating to American values and customs and losing their own. I don't know if that's a bad thing or a good thing, but it's just interesting to think about.

  21. It might be a good time to update this page now that you have a gorgeous new addition:

  22. Anonymous9:15 PM

    Is it cheaper to make your own stuff v. buy used stuff for the kids?

  23. OMG! You are very creative, doctor! These are very cute clothes for the baby. Your design will be my inspiration for my next outfit. I love to wear this kind of style.Hoping to create cute clothes. Thanks!

  24. Anonymous5:29 PM

    Ok. Totally totally off subject... I just started watching episodes of Dexter. Michael C Hall is a dead ringer for Joe! Julia

  25. If I haven’t already, I’d like to introduce you to…

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  26. Wow--I'm very impressed by your resourcefulness. Very cool!

  27. Anonymous5:38 PM

    are the boys home for the summer?

  28. Something that is a great project and much easier than it looks is to make a quilted lining for a jacket. You basically just draw a grid on your fabric and sew lines. Looks best if you do it on the diagonal. I made my daughter a cute soft corduroy jacket with a cotton print quilted lining when she was about 4 and she wore it constantly. I will try to find a pattern but since you have already made the sweater jacket you are halfway there. So much fun making little clothes.

  29. So impressive! Have you ordered those custom labels for yourself yet? Surely you must have.

  30. I love your sewing projects.

  31. It is important to choose clothing that kids may feel so comfortable because kid's are more sensitive than adults. This tutorials is not just comfortable it also has a trendy styles.

  32. Anonymous1:53 PM

    Maternity leave suggestion for you: watch Project Runway Season 10 and then, yes, get yourself in gear to apply for the next season. . .

    . . . hope you return soon!

  33. Anonymous8:18 PM

    Michelle, where are yoouuuu? hope everything is okay. I miss your sarcasm. Love, Kate Skye (my super secret spy handle on facebook).

  34. Anonymous12:41 PM

    Michelle, hope you are doing well.

  35. I may be enabling your addiction, but I saw this post over at Drab to Fab and thought of you. :o)

  36. Anonymous8:39 AM

    Hey Michelle- how long did you take for maternity leave? Just wondering what other people do... I took 8 weeks which I didn't think was long enough for me, but I didn't want to have to make up any more time for my fellowship.

  37. Anonymous10:30 PM

    arghhh please post!!! a new baby is not an excuse! (ok yes it is, but still. I'm mighty sad when my favorite blog stops updating regularly)

  38. Anonymous4:38 AM

    Sure hope all is OK with everyone in your family. Its been awhile since you updated...I suppose you are just very busy right now but miss reading your blog..:)

  39. Michelle!!! Please give us some updates of Nina and the family. And hope everything is okay and you're not super busy being supermom.

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