Tag Archive | hand sewing

A stitch in time

“A stitch in time saves nine.”

I never understood this proverb when I was a kid. I think it was the “in time” bit that threw me. I was thinking of it in “A Wrinkle in Time” kind of context. Which then leads to all kinds of questions: Why are we stitching time? What happened to it? Saves nine whats? I don’t know when I finally figured out what it really meant — that a small repair made early would save time and work later. But now I get to live it. With the ability to sew comes the responsibility of repairs. Often, little rips and tears need to be addressed by hand and, as most of you know by now, I hate hand sewing. It’s tedious enough as it is, but then to do something uninteresting like sewing up a hole? Ugh.


Granota came to me yesterday with a tear in her winter nightgown that I had made a few months ago. She has a habit of sitting with her legs pulled up under it and then anchoring her toes into the fabric. Eventually, her toes weakened the fabric and drilled holes right through it. Lucky for me, this was a fix I could do on machine. I didn’t have any more of the penguin flannel left that I had used to make the nightgown, but I did find a scrap of plain blue flannel. I sewed it to the inside of the nightgown, covering the weak area of the fabric. On the outside, I zigzag stitched the tears closed so that they won’t rip any further. With damage like that, there’s not really any way to make it pretty.

Other items in my repair pile include three small stuffed animals: an elephant needs its tail sewn back on; a whale has a hole in its side; and the triceratops, well, I don’t know what it’s there for, but the kids brought it down. I’ve noticed a seam separating in my own flannel pajama pants that I made several years ago, not to mention the elastic seems to have lost its stretch. And speaking of elastic, do you remember that peasant top I made last spring? I made the elastic too tight in the sleeves and hate to wear it; it’s been in the pile for months. Now that the weather is warming up to where it’s actually conceivable to wear that shirt again, I need to address the elastic issue there, too. Rana’s coat is missing buttons. I could probably spend a whole day making all these little two minute fixes. I guess I should get to it before those solitary stitches increase to nine.

I may be worthless, but my girls are productive

Yeah, yeah, yeah. I still haven’t made anything. I’ve been doing some more drawing, practicing my crayon skills. I’ll post on that another time. But for today, an actual finished project completed by Granota!

The other day, she came to me asking to “sew little squares.” A quick rummage through my scrap fabric yielded a nice assortment for 6 little squares. Ok, techinically they’re rectangles. She can’t thread a needle by herself yet and she needs me to anchor the first two stitches, but after that, she’s good to go. She spent all yesterday afternoon happily sewing away while watching Curious George.


First, she sewed the squares in pairs, then she laid out her little strips in an arrangement that she found pleasing. She’s a diligent little worker. Her stitching is a little large and uneven, but I was really impressed at how much she has improved since last spring — and she hasn’t even had any practice! I guess an extra year gave her a steadier hand and more disciplined approach.


With all of her colored squares together, she heaved a sigh and said, “This isn’t turning out how I expected.” I realized she had been looking at the wrong side all this time, not understanding that it was the other side that would show. I flattened out her little quilt and showed her the right side and she was much more pleased. Then I cut out a large rectangle of white for backing and explained how she was going to sew around, but leave a hole at the end so we could turn it right side out. She followed instructions well and thought it was funny when it came time to reach her little arm inside and pull it all out through the hole. A little pressing, a little whipstitch over the opening and she’s now the proud owner of a tiny quilt for her stuffed animals.


And I’m very proud of her! She had such a good time doing it, that today she has been working on a new little blanket for Rana. What a sweetie.

I mentioned that both of my girls were productive — I’ve been helping Rana sew up a little dress for her favorite stuffed bunny. Rather than do it all myself, I’ve been teaching her how to read a pattern, lay out the fabric, cut it, etc. I know she won’t retain all of that information this first time around, but I wanted to at least plant the seed! I’ll post her little dress when we’re done.

Passing the baton

In high school, I ran track for one year. My dad had told me that I needed to try out for one sport. If I liked it, great; if not, all I had to do was finish the season. Given that girls’ sports at my high school were volleyball (too much pain), soccer (too many potheads) and golf (too much skill and equipment), the default choice was track. Good thing I liked to run. I wasn’t blazingly fast, but I could usually manage not to embarrass myself during a race. There were a couple exceptions; I still owe Erratic Elle for the 400 m that she had to run for me when I didn’t hear my name called. (Sorry!) My favorite race was the 400 m relay. My teammates and I practiced a lot on our baton hand-off, making sure we got it nice and smooth. I haven’t run since college, but I’m passing a new kind of baton these days.

My girls have always been fascinated by all my crafty pursuits and have always desperately wanted to join in. We’ve had a few failed attempts at crochet and the knitting looms. The eagerness is there, but the dexterity hasn’t caught up yet. I feel bad for them when they want so badly to be able to do the things that I do. Last weekend, they were pestering me to “do a craft” with them. Currently, their idea of “doing a craft” is to cut up a lot of paper and then glue and tape it all into interesting arrangements. I can handle only so much confetti before reaching my boiling point and I declare a moratorium on all “crafts” in a fit of neat-freak fury. So this time I decided to try something new with them.

I pulled three small scraps of fabric from my scrap bag, threaded three needles in bright red thread for easy viewing and sat down on the couch with my girls to teach them how to sew. There’s no way I’m letting them near my sewing machine just yet and I figure everyone should have at least some rudimentary hand-sewing skills first. Kind of like learning how to do multiplication in your head before relying on a calculator. I can’t say that our first little sewing session was all sunshine and roses. All three of us got frustrated at one point or another, but for the most part, the girls were enjoying it. They didn’t follow my admonishments to make small stitches and Granota had a tendency to get her thread tangled into fabulously complicated loops, but progress was made.

Granota concentrating hard

The next day, they wanted to do more sewing. Rana wasn’t content with just practicing rows of stitching on a scrap of fabric, though. She wanted to make something. Can’t say that I blame her. I cut a large scrap into four squares and she sewed them together into a sort of quilt for her stuffed bunny. Granota began sewing two squares together, but lost interest after around the third time she tangled her thread. It looks like 6 is about the right age for this kind of thing.

Rana working on her little quilt (and wearing her Easter sunbonnet that I made her).

Still, it gave me a sense of satisfaction watching my girls diligently stitching away at their little squares of fabric and loving it. It will be fun to see their skills develop in the years to come. And nobody will be out of breath or have sore legs afterwards.

Rana's running stitches. Not bad for her second time ever!


To go along with the Smock-a-rama! In that post, I showed my first attempt at smocking on Rana’s nightgown. Granota needed a new nightgown just as badly, so I started on hers immediately after I finished Rana’s. The actual smocking portion of the show has been done for quite awhile, but I finally got around to sewing the nightgown together today.

I did better on the smocking this time around. Even though I still couldn’t get the fabric to pleat correctly (that’s going to take more practice, apparently), I did make sure to keep my stitches evenly spaced so that it wouldn’t spread out so much like it did on Rana’s.

Ladybugs and a daisy

I learned a new embroidery stitch to do this. The ladybugs and daisy petals are made of bullion knots, which I had never tried before.

One happy little girl

Granota was thrilled to death to get to wear her new nightgown for “naptime.” She looks much more comfortable than she did in her old nightgown. Rana is slightly jealous of the ladybugs and has requested that I put a bee on her nightgown now. We’ll see if I ever get around to that.



Last year, I bought a book with cute clothes for kids, each with some kind of smocking. I’ve flipped through it several times, admiring the clothes, but had never really paid much attention to the instructions. I figured I’d read all that once I was ready to do some smocking. This past week I finally got around to it (have you noticed a theme here on my projects? It seems like that year buffer in between an interest in a new craft and the actual execution of it is my modus operandi).

Despite all the gorgeous projects included in the book, I had something else in mind. Both of my girls needed new summer nightgowns with certain criteria to fulfill:

  • Very long
  • Roomy enough to pull their legs up underneath
  • Pretty

Smocking seemed to fit the bill to give them that roominess that they wanted, with the added bonus of also being pretty. Awhile back, I had bought a twin-sized gingham sheet in an indeterminate shade of red. Or pink. Salmon? Originally, I was going to make a dress out of it for Rana , but for some reason she deemed it “too boyish.” I debated for a couple weeks whether to buy different fabric for their nightgowns or just use the sheet. In the end, frugality won out. Plus, 1/4 inch gingham is ideal for a smocking project and makes for a minimum of work for me (also a theme here. Apparently I’m a lazy procrastinator). See, for all of you uninitiated in the ways of smocking, the first step requires marking lines of dots onto the fabric. Lots of dots. Teeny tiny dots spaced 1/4 inch apart. They do make iron-on transfer paper with these little dots, but I don’t have any and I hear that stores still prefer money rather than wampum or beaver pelts or cake (running low on the first two, but I can bake a cake! Now I have an interesting image of me on the street corner with a sign, “Will bake for fabric.”) So you can see just how good this sheet was looking to me now, regardless of Rana’s opinion. In lieu of tiny dots, the corners of my gingham checks would serve the same purpose.

I settled down with my pretty book and realized after a few minutes that the authors make the assumption that anyone purchasing their book already has a rudimentary knowledge of smocking. Well… I didn’t. Internet to the rescue! I found this lady’s blog and she very helpfully detailed every step needed to get me started.

The first step is putting in the pleating threads.

Row, row, rows of thread

For some reason, this took me a long time, as in, several days. It’s really not hard; I must have gotten interrupted a lot, which is not unusual with a 5, 3, and 1 year old. I’ve already completed this step on Granota’s nightgown and it only took me a couple of hours last night. Maybe I’m just that much better now.

Once all those threads are in, the next step is to pull them and make the fabric pleat up.

Pleated... or is it?

At first glance, this looks ok. The fabric is all bunched up, right? Except, that it’s not supposed to be bunched up. It’s supposed to be pleated. Nice, even pleats that stick up on the right side. But the right side looks just like the back.

Not the desired effect

It was almost right! I was so close! Close enough not to realize – newbie that I am – that it really wasn’t close enough. I ignorantly carried on with the actual smocking. I used the book for this — one of the patterns seemed simple enough for me to do on this Inaugural Voyage into the Realm of Smocking.

Looks pretty good so far, aside from the fact that the picture quality looks like it was taken twenty years ago. Grainy!

That top line of dark pink stitching is supposed to be the stabilizing line. You’ll see in a minute how well that worked out. It was at about this point in the green stitching that I realized how horrible my “pleating” was. I could never tell which bump to stitch in, so I just guessed. And you’ll see how well that one worked, too.

Once I got in all my decorative stitches, I cut loose the black pleating threads and instantly knew that we had a problem. Instead of staying nicely pleated bunched up, the fabric exploded. Oh, did I mention that when you smock a garment, you have to cut the fabric three times the width of the finished piece? Without proper smocking holding it into place, this nightgown was going to be much, much roomier than any of us had expected. Rana and Granota could have worn it together!


Note the decided lack of pleats or bunching. My nice green zigzag stitches are all distorted and the dark pink may as well not have even been there for all the good it did. Rana tried it on and the front dipped down halfway to her belly. In a horrified stage whisper, she hissed at me, “People are gonna see my boobs!” I did some emergency smocking (with her still in it, much to her annoyance) to pull in some of the slack so that she could wear it to bed last night. We never did get it quite high enough, but we were both tired, so agreed that it was good enough for sleeping and sent her to bed. I think what I’m going to have to do is put in a permanent pleating thread on the inside to hold it all together.

Finished nightgown, still in need of more smocking

This is what crafting fearlessly is all about! I wouldn’t call this a complete failure because, in the end, I did produce a wearable garment with interesting decoration, even if it wasn’t quite what it “should” have been. And besides that, I learned a lot just from the experience. As I mentioned above, I’ve put in the pleating threads on Granota’s nightgown, so I am going to take extra special care in making sure that the pleats turn out right this time. And once those are right, the rest of it should just follow! If not, then I guess we’ll get another installment of Things JenGren Learned While Attempting to Smock.

The unglamorous side of crafting

When my daughter, Granota, was nearly 2 years old, I made curtains for her room in a cute polka dot cotton lined with blackout fabric. But, there was one fatal flaw. To my eyes, they looked like curtains, but to a little girl, they looked like a jungle gym. We caught her one day in a leap from her bed into a full-on Tarzan swing, polka dot curtains clutched firmly in her chubby little hands. A few strands of thread were no match for our little swinging monkey, and the curtain ripped away from several of the rings. Too disgusted to take them down, I told myself, “She’ll just do it again anyways” and used that excuse to justify leaving the curtains in this sad state for a year and a half.

Finally, after being woken up at 6:30 too many times, I decided that today was the day to repair the curtains. I have a basket full of different items that need a repair of some sort or another, and usually, they take me less than twenty minutes to do. But it’s not exciting, it’s not glamorous, and I have lots of other ways I’d rather spend those twenty minutes. Really, I should just sit down and fix things as they get ripped or lose a button instead of throwing them into Sewing Purgatory. Maybe someday I’ll have enough willpower to do that.

    Hand-sewing is not particularly enjoyable for me. It is one of those necessary evils as far as I’m concerned. I will probably never make a couture gown (I won’t rule it out completely, but just don’t be astonished that you don’t hear my name mentioned alongside Chanel or Givenchy). I’m hoping someday to get good at embroidery; being such an ancient and delicate craft is appealing to me.  Right now, I’m putting it off until I find something worthy of embroidering. I have some ideas and, who knows, I might even get around to them before the end of the year.

When I took the curtains down, I saw that the thread had held strong around the rings, but the fabric had ripped out, which meant I had to darn it first before I could reattach the rings. Yay, more hand sewing. I missed lunch for this, but I had to get it done before Granota’s nap. “Nap” being mostly a figment of my imagination and wishful thinking.

Well, I didn’t finish before naptime and Granota squealed with delight when she saw the wide-open view she had through her window, minus one curtain. What is this fantastic vista that she was so excited about? The roof of our neighbor’s duplex. But hey, it was unobstructed. She may grow up to write real estate ads.

The curtains are back up now and Granota promises that she knows better than to pretend they are jungle vines (She also wanted everyone to take special note of her kitty cat calendar. Which is turned to January). So there’s one thing off my to-fix list and my sense of accomplishment shot right up there to… ambivalent.