Wednesday, April 23, 2008

Scrap skirt / tee shirt dress tutorial

Sew Mama Sew ( is my favorite sewing blog. They are doing a tutorial contest, so I thought I'd put up my very first how-to. This project is a great way to use up all the little scraps that are left over from previous projects. Hopefully my instructions are clear. If anything is confusing, please drop me a comment and I will try to clarify.

***edited to say that I have no idea why two of my pics are sideways. It is correct in photobucket...***


Lots and lots of fabric scraps. I find pieces that are at least 4 inches from top to bottom are the most useful, but smaller scraps can be sewn into bigger pieces. 100% cotton is my fabric of choice, but this project would work with a variety of fabrics. If you plan to wash your skirt / dress, make sure all fabrics are washable and have been pre-washed.

Elastic for the skirt waistband if making skirt

A Tee-shirt that coordinates with your fabric scraps if making the dress. Basic colors such as black, white, gray or navy coordinate with many colors and are your best bet if you have a wide variety of colors in your scrap pile.

The usual suspects: tape measure, thread (gray goes with pretty much everything), scissors. Additionally, a rotary cutter and accessories could be useful, but are not mandatory.

I use my serger for most of the work for this project because it makes fast work of sewing the scraps neatly together. Of course, it is possible to do the whole thing on the regular sewing machine. If you go this route, I suggest using French seams to keep the underside of the skirt looking neat.

Okay, here we go!

1. Measure the waist of whomever you are sewing for. Multiply by 1.5. This is how long the first tier needs to be. (if sewing for an adult, use hip measurement instead of waist.) For the second tier, multiply the length of the first by 1.5. For the third, multiply the first tier by 2, for the 4th (if you do more than 3) multiply by 2.5 and so on. So, if the first skirt tier is 30 inches, the second will be 45, and the third will be 60. Honestly, I eyeball it and try to make the third tier twice as long as the first and the second somewhere between the first and third.

2. Sort your scraps. You can organize the skirt by color values (so, a tier of blues, a tier of reds, and a tier of yellows), you can alternate colors (a blue/red tier, a black/yellow tier, etc), you can go for a totally random look, the sky is the limit.

3. Cut the scraps into somewhat uniform rectangles. In this case, having a consistent measure from top to bottom is more important that a consistent width. Actually, a variety of widths adds interest and charm to the skirt. If you wind up with some scraps that don't quite make the height measure, you can combine two or three stacked to equal the height of one regular scrap. To figure out how high your scraps need to be, figure out how long you want the skirt and divide by how many tiers you want the skirt to have. For my 3 year old, I generally make 3 tiers that are around 4 inches high each.

Here are my scraps sorted and cut up:


4. Sew the scraps together, lining up the top of each scrap. It doesn't matter so much if the bottom is mis-matched. Do this for each tier of the skirt.


5. If you are using a serger, serge the long ends of each tier. If using a sewing machine, cut the mis-matched side of each tier to make it neat and even.


6. Working with the longest tier first, lengthen the stitch length on your sewing machine to 5 or 6. Sew along the top edge of the longest tier.

7. Gather the bottom tier to match up with the next biggest tier. Pin it in many places, right sides together. Either sew or serge the tiers together.

**Because we are gathering and sewing in a straight line and will sew up the side seam later, it is VERY important to make sure that your tier is the same height on both ends AND to keep the SAME seam allowance while serging or sewing the tiers together. If you vary the seam allowance the tiers may not line up when you sew the side seam.**

8. Working with the newly sewn two tiers of fabric, gather the fabric and sew to the next biggest tier.

9. Repeat the gathering and sewing until all tiers are attached.


10. Sew or serge up the side seam.


11. If making a skirt, go to #12. If making a tee-shirt dress, go to #13

12. turn the top and make a casing for an elastic waistband. Insert elastic, sew elastic ends together, and sew casing shut. Go to #17.

13. If your teeshirt is long, cut it off to the desired length.

14. Gather the top tier of the skirt.

15. Pin the skirt to the tee-shirt. ****Pay attention to where that side seam is! It doesn't have to be on a side, you just want to avoid having it run down the front of the dress!!!****

16. Set the serger or sewing machine to stretch knit. Sew the skirt to the dress, wrong sides together.


17. Hem the skirt / dress.

Here are some variations that I've done in the past:

WG's Easter dress which used long strips for tiers instead of patches:

The 20 minute Valentine's Day skirt (two long strips with patches in the middle)

The Rocket Dress. I used scraps at the bottom to make it longer because WG is a tall drink of water.

Monday, April 21, 2008

opera rules

This past weekend was Knoxville's annual Rossini Festival. There were two different operas performed and an Italian street fair. Probably other festivities as well. Knoxville Symphony partners with Knoxville Opera Company, so I played two performances of Tosca. You would think that during the Rossini Festival we'd play a Rossini opera, right? (or I would, at least) Puccini wrote Tosca and Verdi wrote La Traviata, which was the other opera performed.

Usually I have enough down time during an opera to piece together the plot from reading bits and pieces of the translation that is projected above the stage. In Tosca, though, I rarely was able to put the viola down. It is one of the rare pieces of music where the violas have more juicy bits to play then the 1st violins. I looked up a synopsis on the internet and realized that tragic operas all follow the same basic rules:

1. True love is not allowed. If you follow your heart, you WILL pay.

2. Opera characters have terrible eyesight. Women masquerading as men, men changing their names to escape whoever.... As an audience, we have just met these people. WE recognize them when they are disguise and we're sitting far away. It's a wonder they are able to negotiate the stage when they can't recognize a disguised lover who is two feet away from them.

3. It's not over until EVERYONE is dead. There is NO happy ever after in tragic opera.

4. Death is never swift

Earlier this season I had the pleasure of playing Verdi's La Forza Del Destino. (also with KOC) The basic plot is as follows:

Don Alvaro and Leonora are in love, but it's forbidden. (Rule #1) Leonora's father enters to see them about to run away together. D.A. surrenders to father, drops his gun on the floor. It goes off and kills Leonora's father. (one down) D.A. and Leonora run away separately. D.A. changes his name and Leonora masquerades as a man. (rule #2) They both join the army. Leonora fears that it will be discovered that she is a woman, so she goes to a monastery and pleads with them to take her in since her brother has vowed to kill her because she (and D.A.) killed Dad. The monks take her in but make her live in a cave in solitude.

Meanwhile, D.A. (who now goes by a different name) has become fast friends with Leonora's brother who doesn't recognized him because he changed his name. (Rule# 2) D.A. is wounded in battle and thinks he is going to die, so he asks brother to get rid of a box without looking in it. Of course brother looks, he sees a picture of Leonora and figures out who D.A. REALLY is. D.A. is miraculously saved in surgery only to find himself in a sword duel with Leonora's brother. He escapes, changes his name again (rule #2) and joins the same monastery where Leonora is hanging out in a cave. Leonora's brother tracks him down and forces him to duel. D.A. kills him. (two down) Hearing D.A's voice, Leonora comes out of her cave. Realizing what has happened, she leans over her dying brother who, in his last effort, stabs her in the heart. (three down) She goes on to sing a looooooong aria before dying. D.A. then throws himself over a cliff. (four down) And, CURTAIN.

Beautiful music but what a depressing way to spend an afternoon! I'll take comic operas full of man-birds, dragons and men dressing as women / women dressing as men any day.....

By the way, if you do attend an opera (and, despite my personal dislike of the plots of tragic operas, it IS a really fun thing to do. Just think of it as a soap opera in Italian.) try to get seats where you can see into the orchestra pit. All sorts of crazy things are going on. Friday night our giant set of orchestra chimes started to pitch over. A bass player caught them, boosted them back up and they started pitching the other way. Turns out that they were off of a caster. So our panicked percussion section was madly trying to steady the chimes as quietly as they could while still counting rests.

Monday, April 14, 2008

National Library Week

This is National Library Week. Have you kissed your librarian today? I have, but, then, I kiss him every day. : )

Sunday, April 13, 2008


It is a bit of an understatement that I am not a morning person. If you think about it, this makes perfect sense. My work schedule regularly requires me to be "on" until 10 or 10:30 at night. Throw in the post-concert high and I don't get to bed until around midnight. Hey, that's better than a lot of my colleagues who stay up until 2 or 3 am! Many musician's kids keep musician hours, aka late to bed and late to rise. WG is not one of them. Tim and I value our couple time (and WG has a tendency to really wear us out) so she is in bed every night by 7 or 7:30. She gets up at around 7:30am.

The hardest thing about this for me is what the heck to give the child for breakfast. In the good old days of gluten, things were much easier. (Think about traditional breakfast fare. With the exception of eggs and meat, it ALL has lots and lots of gluten.) As I mentioned, WG is NOT picky. She LOVES instant oatmeal and bananas and would happily eat them every single day. Oats don't have gluten per se, but it is very difficult to find a source that hasn't been contaminated by some grain that DOES have gluten. Our neighbor, who is also gluten sensitive, can eat regular oatmeal every day and not have problems. We re-introduced oatmeal into WG's diet a few months back and it was disastrous. All of her symptoms came back full-force.

This left us back at square one for breakfast. There is exactly one "normal" cereal that is GF: Cocoa Pebbles. All the rest have malt, which is made from barley, which has gluten. GF cereals are okay, but the kid-friendly ones are still full of sugar and not much else. And with the expense it kills me to buy a box of nutritious GF cereal only to throw most of it away because it goes uneaten. I do like to bake (which is a very good thing since I have to make all the baked goods we eat!) but I have a hard time keeping up supply with demand on busy work weeks. WG will eat the occasional egg. I expect she would also like a rice porridge but that is something that is too complicated for sleepy me to put together in the morning. Breakfast lately has been some dry Gorilla Munch (basically GF Kix), a glass of milk and a piece of fruit.

When I was shopping for GF flour I discovered that Bob's Red Mill now offers GF oats. So today I made a big batch of my dad's granola. I, unlike WG, was a picky eater as a child. My dad's granola was the only breakfast cereal I'd eat for years. I had to tweak it quite a bit because his original recipe calls for cream of wheat, wheat germ, and wheat bran. I just added extra of the other stuff. Even with the extra cost of the GF ingredients, I casually calculate that the HUGE batch (it fills the pan that we roast the Thanksgiving turkey in) only cost around $10. GF granola runs roughly $5-6 for 2 or 3 cups. And I *know* that it is more nutritious than Gorilla Munch.

WG was so excited about the granola she tried it fresh from the oven. Then she asked for more. The granola is officially a hit.

Wednesday, April 9, 2008

dangerous ballerina

WG really likes dressing as a ballerina. A few days ago she dressed up, was dancing around and suddenly ran off. She returned wearing her bike helmet and proclaimed, "Ballerinas need helmets!" We did not correct her.

Photobucket Photobucket

Favorite foods

WG is a tremendous eater.

I don't think that we can take very much credit for this. As primary hunter-gatherer / household chef, I do my best to limit the influx of junk and provide an interesting varied menu. Still, I would say her (current) status as an eager adventurous eater is 5% our doing and 95% the grace of God. WG has always had tummy troubles. Looking back at that time I am amazed at how well she did. Her chronic vomiting started while she was still getting the hang of eating solids, yet she never rejected food. We were pretty low-key about the whole thing around her, which I'm sure helped, but still, I know children who have experienced less and wound up with feeding tubes. It's just another mystery that I don't even pretend to understand.

Right now, WG's favorite foods (to eat, NOT to play with...) are baby corn, brown rice, red bell pepper slices, pepper jack cheese, olives, and bananas. Her favorite restaurant (one of very few "safe" gluten-free places we've found) is Thai food. She even knows what to order. Of course, she loves cookies and sweets, but if you make her choose between a snack of a cookie and a snack of olives, she'll probably go for the olives. I am enjoying this while it lasts!

Tuesday, April 8, 2008

Squash the fourth

The halloween pumpkin (which was in the Christmas pictures with WG under the tree) "ran away" sometime in January. In reality, it froze, then thawed, and was disturbingly squishy so Tim disposed of it. We have been squash free since then until yesterday. WG came grocery shopping with me. For a treat, I had told her before going into the store that she could pick out a new vegetable to try. Of course I meant to eat, but silly me, I didn't make that clear. We walked into the store and right at the front of the produce section was a big beautiful display of squash. There were butternuts and crooknecks and acorns and spaghetti squash. WG was in heaven. She picked out a small orange acorn squash. I told her that if we bought it then we'd have to eat it. She just smiled and nodded. So we got that one and another larger acorn squash.

I should have figured out that there would be trouble when she wouldn't put the squash in the cart, prefering to cradle it in her arms while we went through the rest of the store. We got home and WG snatched her "new baby pumpkin" out of the bag and took it into the living room to play. She stopped long enough to peel off and give me the sticker that had cooking directions on it. I started reading the cooking directions out loud:
(me)"Preheat oven to 350. Cut squash in half and take out the seeds"
(me)"place cut side down in a buttered pan..."
(me)"cook until tender"
(tim)"Oh! You got squash?! I love squash! I'm going to eat that squash with butter and brown sugar!"
a few minutes later
(WG)"Mom, can you sew my squash a dragon costume? He wants to dress up."

We did not eat the squash. In fact, she took it to bed with her last night. She has named it Gordon. (Aw, I think it's her first pun....) Today WG and Gordon have watched Dora the Explorer (Gordon's request), done puzzles, eaten lunch...... It could be worse, I guess. A good friend pointed out that WG could be obsessed with zuchini. Acorn squash last longer before getting soft, at least.

Sunday, April 6, 2008

Post, the first

After looking at this beautiful blank blog for a few days wondering how to open it with a bang, I've decided to just get it over with and write something. Anything. I have several beautiful blank journals that have been gathering dust for years because I like the look of the blank pages. Getting started, marring the surface with ink, paralyzes me for some reason. A bit odd because I tend to jump right in to other things....