Fashion Designers in the Making

My DGD both love sewing American Girl doll clothes.  Doesn’t every American Girl doll need a fine-looking wardrobe?  Besides, with a fabric stash at hand, Mira and Cate don’t need to save their hard-earned dollars only to have them evaporate with a single purchase of doll clothing.

Sewing Together

Sewing Together

Writing this reminds me of my incentive to sew when I was a teen, my parents paid for fabric to make clothes however if I wanted ready-to-wear, I bought it with my hard-earned money.

Back to the story.

Cate’s Creation

Recently, both Mira (age 10) and Caitlin (age 7) had dreams of a “beautiful” American Girl doll dress.  My conversation with Cate went something like this:

Cate:  Grandma, I want to make a REALLY beautiful dress for Kit and McKenna.

Me:  What type of REALLY beautiful dress?

Cate:  One that’s REALLY beautiful and made from your fabric, not from Mira’s and my box of fabric.

Me:  Well, let’s see what we can find.

We made a trip to my sewing room and dug through the bin of “silk and pretties” (Cate knew exactly where that bin was located) and she quickly selected an Asian print, followed by a quick rummage through my lace drawer to make her trim selections.  Most important of all, I asked her to draw a picture of what she wanted.  I wanted Cate to be successful but secretly feared that she wished for something very complex).  Here is “Cate’s Creation”:

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Cate’s Creation

I found the simplest possible 18″ doll dress pattern and soon we were cutting and sewing.  With an amazing command of the sewing machine, Cate zig-zagged all of the edges, sewed the seams, ran the gathering stitches and gathered the skirt.  Here is the REALLY beautiful result:

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So Pretty in Pink

Proud Cate with McKenna

Proud Cate with McKenna

Mira’s Couture

Mira has loved creating fashion for both Kit and McKenna, though she is not the owner of either doll.  This however was the most elaborate to date.  Prior to designing this dress she made an adorable white top hat with black trim for Kit (maybe I can get a photo and add later) and then envisioned the black and white dress to be worn with the top hat.   More experienced with a drawing pencil, Mira provided sufficient detail to challenge both of us.  What a gorgeous design but where would I find this pattern?

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In a box of scrap fabric, we found some white poly crepe and black velvet, and she selected a small embroidery design.  Mira cut out the dress and sewed most of the it except the sleeves and cuff – much of it was independent sewing.  She selected the appropriate sized snaps (no velcro here) and we shared sewing them onto the dress back and cuffs.

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Kit’s Black and White gown

Mira and Kit - so lovely

Mira and Kit – so lovely

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“…..but I won’t sew Barbie Doll Clothes”

As a sewist grandmother, I set my sewing boundaries a long time ago.  “I’ll sew anything you want and will do everything possible to be a wonderful grandmother  but I won’t sew Barbie doll clothes”.

Hmmm.  Maybe I’m not living within the established limits.  Through a series of events, 10-year-old Mira (with my assistance) is now sewing a “Queen Elizabeth” dress for a Barbie doll.  As for me, I got sucked in big time.

First, here’s a little background.

Way back then, using a “World Book Encyclopedia” drawing as a guide.I sewed a “Queen Elizabeth I” doll for a history project.   Admittedly she was special and was one of the few childhood items I’ve kept.  Several months ago I found the doll still in a shoebox, tucked away with other memorabilia.  Like my sister and daughters, Mira and Cate were captivated by her.  Soon after, Mira set off to make her own version.

Circa 1960’s Queen Elizabeth I doll

She searched the internet for images and then drew her preferred dress design. My job was to make it into a doll pattern.  Yup, the doll came from a garage sale and her name was Barbie.  When the dress is completed, I’ll be sure to show you the result.  In the mean time, here’s the design.

What’s more, the last time Mira was at our house, she wasn’t satisfied that the Barbie’s hair had enough curls.  As we parted that day she said, “Ramma (that’s Gma), can you curl Barbie’s hair so it looks prettier”?  Well, how in the world do you curl a Barbie doll’s hair?  Finally it occurred to me that possibly some strips of fabric would work.  After all, Ma Ingalls used rags to curl Laura’s hair.  So one night while watching a movie, I cut strips of fabric and curled the doll’s hair  …. and waited until today to see the outcome.  In case you’re wondering, I rolled the hair ends into the fabric, curled it around and then tied the fabric strips in a knot.  Just writing this makes me crazy.

The Bottom Line

Is there anything we won’t do for our precious granddaughters?  Not only have I crossed the line by sewing Barbie doll clothes but I’m also a Barbie doll cosmetologist!  What next?  Tonight Mira removed the fabric strips/curlers and here’s the result.

Catie’s First PJ’s: No Pattern Required

Here is very proud Caitlin wearing her second sewing project, a pair of PJ’s (the first was a pillowcase – several months ago).  At age 6, she’s pretty amazing with the sewing machine – motivated and already sewing with a plan.  It was her request to “make pajamas that are shorts and with a spaghetti strap top”.  She chose the fabric from my stash.  I cut and Cate could hardly wait to start. She eagerly sewed the seams and finished them with a zig-zag stitch using my vintage Bernina 707 with the speed on “slow”. Cate did all of the sewing except for the ruffles.  Total sewing time was about 2-1/2 hours, with a few interruptions.   Last of all she found some pre-made ribbon roses to embellish her new sleeping attire.  

After wearing the pj’s for the remainder of the day and through the night, Cate reported that they were “perfect”.   

If you’d like to work with your favorite girl to make these pj’s you don’t need to run out to the store for a pattern.  

Pajama Pants (PJ’s) Tutorial:

  1. Measure the child’s hips (22″ for Cate)
  2. Find an existing pair of shorts, pants or leggings.
  3. Turn the pants inside-out and lay the pants on top of the fabric with the center front facing you.
  4. Cut along the edges of the crotch front. 
  5. Cut along the side, adding width to the side to assure that there will be at least 6″ of wearing ease plus 1/2″ seam allowances.  For Cate, 28″ was the total circumference of the pants with the finished width of the front of 13-1/2″ and the back width of 14-1/2″. There’s no need to fuss about the size as loose PJ bottoms are needed for comfort.  
  6. The length is your choice but the inseam should be at least 2″ plus the amount you need for a hem.
  7. Turn the pants so the center back is now facing you.
  8. Repeat steps 4 and 5.
  9. Sew the seams as you would any other pair of pants.  Note:  for the ruffles, I added them after the side seams but before the inseams were sewn.
  10. Add elastic for the waist.
Oh so, easy!

PJ Top or Pillowcase dress

Here is the pillowcase dress pattern I used.  If this one doesn’t work for you, there are many other free pillowcase dress patterns on the web and YouTube has lots of video tutorials as well.  Cate, Mira and I watched one of the videos.  Mira noted that the woman put her fingers “too close” to the sewing machine needle.  I learn so much when teaching Cate and Mira to sew.

As you can imagine, these pj’s have been a hit – suitable for bedtime or playtime.   Give it a try with your favorite child and let me know what you learn.

What to do with Left-Over Fabric

Sewing blogs and sites abound with questions about how to use left-over fabric.  For the past few years I have packed it into large zip-lock bags, labeled it and donated the bags to the local second-hand shop.

Before we moved I saved some bits and pieces for my granddaughters.  Several days ago while at our house they discovered their “stash” and had a limitless amount of fun with what they found.   All they needed were safety pins (like every pin I could find), scissors and their creative energy.  Here is the result:

Lesson to self:  Never underestimate the creativity of a child.

Mira’s Nightgown and Cate’s Quilt

Nightgown (formerly a PJ top)

Several weeks ago I blogged about my adorable granddaughter Mira’s desire to make a pajama top.  At the time we made it, she said she wanted to add a skirt, so I shouldn’t have been surprised that during our sewing date last week, she wanted to fulfill her fashion dream.  After she drew a picture of what she was envisioning, we set forth on adding a skirt to the pj top.  She could see what I couldn’t – a nightgown (that would likely double as a princess dress).

As Mira is still new to machine sewing, I was unsure about the complexity or time it would take to gather the skirt, so I pleated the skirt fabric and she sewed it to the top.  After hemming the skirt and adding a casing at the waist, Mira fed a piece of ribbon through the casing.  That night she slept well in her new nightgown.

Patiently waiting for her turn…..

In the same post, I wrote that Catie, age 6, was quite satisfied to sit on my lap while sewing.  That may have been true in November, but in the ensuing month, Catie grew up.  She waited for her turn to use the sewing machine and this time she was ready to sew on her own.  Our conversation went something like this:

Cate:  “Ramma (her pet name for Grandma), can I sit on the chair by myself and you can sit next to me?”

Me: “OK, that will work but I’ll need to be very close to you”.

Cate:  “Can I put my foot on the pedal all by myself?”

Me:  “OK” (while I checked to make sure the machine speed was on low).

We then sewed a few squares onto her quilt.

Cate: “I think I’m ready to use the thread cutter like Mira does”.

Using the thread cutter

Cate:   “Ramma, you don’t need to put your hands on the fabric, I can do it myself”.   Then, “Ramma, I can do it myself”! (forcefully)

While I wanted Cate to be able to go solo, I was keenly aware that she’d be safest with some assistance.

She quickly sewed a dozen or more squares and then said, “Now what can we sew?”  We found enough quilting cotton to make a pillowcase.  Her sister soon followed with the same project and then Catie started her second quilt.

Second quilt (Mira in background with pillowcase)

What a busy yet fun afternoon we had.  I am still shocked that at age 6, Cate can use a sewing machine with minimal supervision.  I’ve read that six-year-old’s sew with a machine but honestly I didn’t believe it.  Now I do.

What suggestions do you have for their next projects?

Mira’s Sewing Lessons: Pajama Top

About a year ago, I blogged about teaching Mira to sew her first pair of pajama pants.   Unfortunately because we live hours from each other and because visits are filled with other fun activities, we have little time for sewing.  However on our last visit we had a “sewing date”.  Her choice was to make a pajama top to match the beloved but now “high-water’ pants she made last year.  She designed the top, using a complimentary flannel print for the sleeves.

So proud in her new pj top

Hmmm. So how could I help Mira sew a pj top with no buttons and yet so she could pull it over her head?  With not many patterns to chose from, I bought a raglan knit pj top.  By cutting it several sizes larger than her size, cutting out the neckline to fit over her head and by placing a small amount of elastic at the neckline we were set to sew.  As far as the fabric type, pre-washed flannel is great for a project such as this because the fabric is easy to sew and it doesn’t ravel easily so there’s no overcasting.

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Me:  “What’s the first safety rule for sewing?”

Mira:  “Never put your fingers near the needle.”

She passed the test and we were ready to sew.

Little did I know that Mira was envisioning a hood on the pj top.  So when the sleeve and side seams were done, Mira said, “Now, let’s add a hood”.  (Guess I’ve made sewing look way too easy).  Her bathrobe has a hood, so I traced the pattern and we had a hooded pj top.

What a proud girl she was, every step of the way.  Sewing (and trying on) time took about one hour.

Meanwhile…..

Catie did art projects with her grandpa while eagerly awaiting her turn at the sewing machine.  At age 6, she’s not quite ready to sew independently, so we came up with a plan to sew quilt pieces.  It worked beautifully.

Cate sat on my lap and when needed at the beginning and end of stitching a square, she toggled to reverse the stitch.  It was perfect for her – she was involved and still safe.  Meanwhile, her foot stayed right on top of mine.

 What a fun time we had.  To be continued….

Mira’s Special Creation

On several occasions in the past year, I have blogged about by GD Mira’s progress in learning to sew.  She has been very eager to learn to sew however because we see each other infrequently, there are months between lessons.  (When we move from Philly to Wisconsin this will change).

On our last visit to Wisconsin and after not being together for about 3 months, Mira couldn’t wait for her lesson.  On a phone call before our visit she asked if we could have some special time together: “I have something special to show you”.  I wasn’t sure of what was up but now I know that she was excited about her “creation”.

Once again this turned out to be a lesson for me.  I didn’t understand that she wanted to “create” and I was thinking that she wanted to sew.  Now I understand these to be distinctly separate goals.  I came to the after-school lesson with a piece of pre-smocked sun-dress fabric, thinking this would be a quick win.  She could sew up the side seam and add ribbon for the straps.  Quick and easy and she would have a sense of accomplishment.  Wrong I was.

About a year ago, Mira received a Fashion Design Kit, which includes a small dress form.  For a long time she didn’t play with it but prior to our lesson she draped the dress form with several pieces of fabric.  She had ever so carefully pinned her design onto the dress form (sorry, I forgot to photograph) and some of the pieces were already hand-stitched.  In the following photo you can see where she hand-stitched a small collar and as well as the back seam on the leopard fabric for the jacket.  

Together we discussed options and decided on a plan to convert her idea into an outfit for her Barbie Doll.  Mira used the machine to sew the jacket to the skirt, dictating that the length of the skirt had to be “just right”.  Somehow I needed to construct sleeves, which were a part of her intended creation.  Together we pulled it off, and then she sewed a red ribbon onto the outfit – the perfect alternative to sewing on snaps; or worse, a buttonhole and button.  Last of all Mira sewed several sequins on the top to make it ever so special.

And here is the proud girl with her creation. 

For many reasons, I can’t wait to live nearer to our GD; having more time to teach Mira to sew is at the top of the list.  She really enjoys it and already understands that it’s a creative outlet.

Note:  If you’re thinking of purchasing a Fashion Design kit, please be aware that the model/dress form is quite a bit larger than a Barbie doll.  This was a little bit frustrating but in the end we were able to use a real Barbie to assure that the dress would fit properly.

Mira’s First PJ Pants

Previously I’ve blogged about the pleasure I get from having granddaughters who have an intense interest in all things  sewing.  When we visited over the Christmas holidays, I took with me some pre-washed flannel and a pants pattern with the hope that if asked, Mira would want to sew her first piece of clothing. When I made the offer to spend some special time sewing with Ramma (grandma – that’s me), she wanted to begin immediately.

Mira could hardly wait for me to cut the pieces and to pull out the sewing machine.  Following a safety review (hold your hands at each the side of the needle, never put your fingers under the needle, etc) she immediately began to sew the pieces together.  For each joining, I stood by her side but she guided the fabric and back-tacked at the beginning and end of each seam.  After each seam, amazed by her accomplishment, she ran upstairs to show her grandfather (fondly known as Racka) the progress.

Within an hour she had completed the pants including making the casing and pulling the elastic through with a large safety-pin. In fact drawing the elastic was quite fascinating for Mira’s 8 year-old inquisitive mind.

By this time her energy was waning so I quickly hemmed the legs.  Rightfully so, Mira was extremely proud of her completed project.  She put them on and ran to show her grandfather; later that day she was equally as thrilled to show her parents.

 

Mira took the completed pj’s to show her teacher the next day; she wore them as day clothing for several days and took them with her when visiting family and friends.  This weekend we visited again and the glow hasn’t worn off – yesterday she took the pj pants to a Superbowl Party so she could show them one of her aunts.

Nor has my glow worn off!


 

Teaching Mira to Sew: Chapter 2

A Hand Crank Machine isn’t the Answer

Teaching a child to sew isn’t something I have expertise in, so my efforts with GD Mira are somewhat of an experiment.  Like many experiments or sewing projects there are successes and failures.

Several months ago I proudly blogged about 8-year-old Mira’s first attempt at machine sewing with her mother’s sewing machine.  Sewing lesson #2 was several weeks ago, which from my perspective wasn’t as successful.  Her viewpoint may have been different as the quilt she’s making is now 16 squares and she continues to be quite proud of her accomplishment.

Proud as Punch

Here’s the story.  Several months ago I bought a Singer Spartan vintage sewing machine for $9.95 with the hope of replacing the motor with a hand crank.  Through a series of unrelated events, this too heavy to be mailed machine was transported from Philly to Mira’s house in Wisconsin.  Prior to our visit several weeks ago I ordered a hand crank for the machine (this little attachment was surprisingly heavy for the size of the wheel – I guess maybe that’s the point).

In case you’re wondering if it’s difficult to convert to a hand crank, it took our technically inclined SIL Stephen about 5 minutes to remove the motor and install the crank.

My thinking behind this was that it would be easy for Mira to use a hand crank machine independently – much like a child’s sewing machine. Additionally I thought possibly the hand-crank machine would make it possible for Caitlin to sew as well – after all if big sister does it, so will Caitlin.  It turned out that I was a little off-base on this thought process.

The hand crank was actually difficult for her to maneuver; needing to turn the crank with one hand and guide the fabric with the other was difficult.  Maybe the tension wasn’t set correctly or the needle was too large but at times, the needle didn’t go through the fabric easily which made it even tougher for Mira.  She felt much more competent when she used the electric machine, which she could do without my assistance.

On the other hand, this was a great solution for Caitlin, who now has 4 pieces sewn together.  She loved turning the crank while I held the fabric.

In this case, higher tech was better.  Next time I’ll pull out the electric machine for Mira and will tag-team with Caitlin to use the hand-crank.  This experiment didn’t work as I anticipated but then how would I know if I hadn’t given it a try?

When are Children Ready for Machine Sewing?

Teaching Mira to Sew

Many of us can remember our childhood sewing experiences.  For me, my first recollection was sewing cotton strips that my mother would later have woven into rag rugs.  From her cotton sewing scraps, my mother tore strips of cotton about 1″ wide and the length of the left over fabric.  Bags of these strips would need to be sewn together in a straight forward and back pattern and the long strips were then rolled into a ball.  What fun for a kid who wanted to start to sew.  I’m not sure but I was probably about 9 or 10 years old.  I tried to find a few references to cotton rag rugs but even on the web they were pretty hard to find.

Because Mira, who is now 8, has such an intense interest in all things fabric and sewing, I was eager to give her the opportunity to try sewing with a machine.  In May when we visited I had the perfect opportunity because I had already set up her mother’s sewing machine, which is my old Bernina 830.

When Mira and I were the only ones awake early in the morning, still in our pj’s, I asked her if she would like to learn to sew on a machine.  She was delighted with the opportunity.

1. Our choice was to make a quilt, so Mira pulled out her stash of fabrics, which consists of a fairly large bag with an assortment of small scraps.

2. She cut a few 4″ squares from a variety of pretty fabrics.

3. We started with a safety lesson such as “never put your fingers under the needle, but instead, lay your hands flat on top of the fabric with one on the right and one on the left of the needle”. From this photo, you can see that she took the lesson seriously.

5.  One by one she sewed the pieces and cut the threads.

6. And soon she had 8 pieces sewn together.

7. What a proud seamster.

8.  Mira wanted to continue but I ran short on time.  Next time I visit we will add more pieces to the quilt.

Based on an N of one, I say that a 7 or 8 year old is definitely ready for machine sewing.

What a great gift for a young child – a sense of accomplishment.  After all, what is more important than mastering a new skill?