After I spent three months learning to draft a skirt pattern and then sewing it, I said that my next garment project would be from a commercial pattern. I have bought some fabric and some patterns but haven’t started yet. Instead, I’ve been whipping up a few easy no-pattern projects.
My old nylon laundry bag was coming apart at the seams. I keep this bag inside the laundry hamper and tote it to the laundry room across the courtyard, so it takes a lot of abuse.
I didn’t feel like spending five hard-earned dollars on a replacement, so instead I cut up an old sheet. I find straightforward sewing to be quite relaxing, so it was a satisfying evening. Didn’t even measure. Just hacked at it with the pinking shears and stitched it up.
A couple of Christmases ago, I let the boys pick out fabric (not telling them what it was for) and made them these great Montessori aprons (I got the pattern from Sew Liberated.) Well, Big Brother’s was always a big small and it has become quite unwearable. Time to upsize.
I had to do more measuring here because I could not readily find a pattern for a children’s apron in a larger size. So I measured the proportions of the little one, and the proportions of my adult apron made by Grandma FP, took my best guess, drew up a pattern, and cut up some old muslin to make a sample. It seemed about right. I used freezer paper to draw the pattern and my flexible curve ruler to make the curved sides. I kept the kid-friendly features of the original and just increased the size.
Walmart didn’t have any boy Justice League fabric when I was there, so he had to settle for Avengers. The workmanship isn’t perfect, but I’m pretty happy with it. I lined it in something approximating Hulk green.
Friends, I LOVE sewing things that I can’t buy. Elastic-neck, hook and loop-closure, licensed character aprons are just not a readily available thing. Plus, now BB knows I think he is worth the time.
Besides, everyone should have an apron, because cooking and eating are for everyone.
When I had made the old aprons, BB hacked up some of the leftover fabric and taped it and said he had made “a napkin.” I persuaded him to let me remove the tape and zigzag around the sides so it could be washed. The result was not lovely, but it does function as a napkin. Little Brother wanted one, too.
When I bought the Avengers fabric, they were very clear that they wanted Avengers napkins. So I thought, maybe I will learn to make REAL napkins. Since I was working from scraps, the result is small but usable.
Apparently napkins have something called “mitered corners.” I had a little trouble learning this skill. I used this tutorial and then also this one, but my first two results, though usable, were clearly not “mitered.”
I practiced with a piece of paper–easier to fold–and realized that I was not folding the corners far enough down before folding the sides. Though still imperfect, the third one has rather nicely mitered corners. Now I know this trick in case I ever want to make specialty linens or whatever.
Next, I need to once again mend the edge of my spare bath towel and then get started sewing garments! Stay tuned!
What have you been making lately? How did it come out?
This was one of those months during which I bled money for causes both anticipated (taking the children to an amusement park with the free tickets they got for summer reading) and unanticipated (replacing my laptop). Well, sometimes that happens. I was in the red this month BUT did not have to draw down any emergency savings categories. I covered it all out of normal float and my “spendable savings.” Here’s how it looked:
Library take-home pay: $1456.61
Total income: $2031.61
Rent and included utilities: $1082.77
ATM fees: $6.00
Bike tubes and patch kit: $24.17
Wine and a beer at the bar: $18.86
Kids’ allowances: $27.54
School uniform pants: $129.36 (Ouch! Growing boys! But Costco will refund my money if they rip them.)
Amazon music: $4.30
Coffee shops: $11.07
Movie snacks: $15.46
Using boys’ “free” tickets to amusement park: $96.98 (That’s my ticket, parking, Dippin’ Dots, and lunch.)
Buying things: $307.48 (Including a refurbished laptop for $150, a years’ supply of razor cartridges, some Target things, and $50 of exercise equipment for which I am owed a refund–I got the wrong thing.)
Travel: $39.59 (On family vacation. I spent more like $140 but this is net–I received an advance on future family travel expenses.)
Child care punch card at gym: $15
Vet checkup for Kitty Paragon: $55
Cat food: $15.06 (Minor achievement–I discovered that PetSmart has a subscription service; I don’t have to go to the store any more and they had a 30% off signup discount.)
Total Expenses: $2355.23
Eh, it’s fine. One of the points that the book Your Money or Your Life makes is that there is no “typical” month. I could say, I would have spent so much less this month if I hadn’t had the amusement park, a replacement laptop, and back-to-school clothes. But this is not unusually high spending for me. Another month it might be car insurance or registration renewal or a major bike repair or any number of things.
I had enough money to cover it and I’m not going any deeper into the red month-to-month; my long-term savings are untouched and even growing. So, again, “I still need a full-time job” but there’s no cause for alarm. My monthly income should be higher during the school year anyway as I have more time to work.
Since I’m paid every two weeks, June was a three-paycheck month for me. Which works out nicely, because it was also the month my car insurance payment was due. Since I knew they would coincide, I didn’t worry about saving up to pay my whole car insurance. They will align again in December and I will reevaluate then. Anyway, here’s how it broke down for June.
Library take-home pay: $2546.12
Money that I am not sure why Amazon sent me: $11.05
Trivia income: $70
Travel money: $50
Reconciliation adjustment: $5.95 (my record keeping, it is imperfect)
Total income: $3265.08
Rent and included utilities: $1085.45
Replacement bowl for Cuisinart, secondhand: $21
ATM fees: $2.50 (reimbursable)
Renter’s insurance installment: $33.50
Electric: $17.43 (My AC doesn’t work very well anyway, so I just… sweat)
Car insurance: $451 (6 months of full coverage on my Fit)
Kids allowance and miscellaneous: $50.14
Asthma medicine: $184.01 (Every time a pharmacy clerk rings this up for me, they visibly recoil when they see the price. Fortunately, it lasts three or four months.)
Amazon music: $4.30
Coffee shops: $19.35
Gifts and miscellaneous shopping, including some workout equipment: $91.38
Travel: $150.16 (the rest of my Vegas trip from last month)
Charitable donation: $3.20
Total expenses: $2577.87
Well, I still had a good bit of that third paycheck left over. Under $2600 for the month in which I paid my car insurance seems pretty fabulous, spending-wise.
July is already shaping up to be much spendier–I have been buying more entertainment than usual–but I’m happy with how June turned out! Aside from continuing to improve my wardrobe, I’m saving up for when I can hopefully move and will need some new furniture. (Being as I currently have a combined couch/bed situation, and the goal of moving would be to have my own room, logically I would need to purchase either a bed or a couch.)
In exciting budget and parenting news, Little Brother, who turned 5 in May, no longer sleeps in Pull-Ups! That will help my grocery bill. I have eleventy billion left over, which I have donated to the XFP and his wife for the younger stepbrothers. Having my kids finally totally potty trained makes me very sympathetic to those whose children are not.
So… it’s June 21. And I never totaled up my May spending. I almost didn’t at all, but I’m glad I took the time–while everything gets added up by YNAB, I learn a lot about myself and my habits from typing it all out. So here’s May.
Library take-home pay: $1795.50
Returning things to Costco: $82.97
Subbing take-home pay: $44.05
Interest income: $6.48
Trivia income: $35
Total income: $2540.95
ATM fees (reimbursable): $.50
Rent and included utilities: $1079.02
Home supplies: $83.32 (mostly a vacuum cleaner, plus odds and ends)
Groceries: $212.24 (I was out of town for a few days and also had a gift card)
Parking ticket: $50 (Forgot to read the damn street sweeping sign. This happens to me at least once a summer. I think of it as a sort of urban road maintenance tax.)
Parking: $6 (reimbursable)
Children’s allowance and ice cream: $14.62
Amazon music: $4.30
Coffee shops, burrito runs at work, etc.: $18.52
Clothes for me: $78.47
Fabric and sewing notions: $83.73. Because patterns were on sale and I may have gotten carried away at Joann.
Gifts: $73.81 (There was a birthday)
Miscellaneous shopping and spending, including a haircut and some ebooks: $108.50
Travel: $325.87 (for Vegas trip; there was another hundred-ish in June)
Cat food: $24.75
Total Expenses: $2352.65
Well, if you’ve ever read one of my spending reports before, you know it always starts out, “I need a full-time job.” But somehow I keep managing. I enjoy some luxuries, even, thanks to careful money management and the generosity of family and good friends. (I got my eyebrows professionally waxed, for instance. That Vegas trip? Heavily subsidized. Thanks, Mom! And I received some lovely gift cards as a Mother’s Day present, which I spent on things like non-pre-owned sheets for my bed, new cutting boards, and Frappucinos.)
Goal: Secure more hours before October so I can comfortably afford a second bedroom.
How was your May?
After I finally, at very long last, finished my skirt project, I was kind of on a roll and tackled a few other jobs.
First I patched a pair of jeans. See, sometimes you want old jeans, right? But my jeans wear out at the inside thigh, which makes them go instantly from “presentable” to “might expose flesh” overnight. So if I want to have serviceable old jeans, I have to patch this area.
I have iron-on patches, but they’re kind of stiff. Instead, I like to cut up an even older pair of jeans and use that. Big Brother had these wide-legged 4T jeans that passed the point of repairability, so I used those. I cut a piece using pinking shears and sewed it down, using a zigzag stitch over the most vulnerable area. Before I owned pinking shears, I used a zigzag stitch to attach the patches, which is serviceable but makes a more noticeable repair (as the stitches can more easily be seen from the outside than a straight stitch.) You can really only see it from the outside at all because I accidentally caught a tiny bit of fabric as I was sewing.
Next, I had a pair to hem. Now, I know cuffing jeans is in fashion this year, but I’m so short that I would have way too bulky a cuff unless I hem (being as I could not find Short in my size). I consider the ideal leg width for skinny jeans to be “exactly as wide as my sewing machine in free-arm mode.”
I tried a new method. In the past, I have simply cut some off and double-hemmed using dark blue thread, but this is a pain and I don’t like the way it look as it wears.
So instead I used this tutorial for preserving the original hem. I hear that the flap of fabric created on the inside can be annoying, so I chose to stitch it down across the front and not just at the sides. These stitches are technically visible from the outside, but you can’t really see them.
I like the way it looks… but I accidentally left them too long, so I still have to cuff them. Oops!
Real quick, I mended the side of an old bath towel. It is otherwise perfectly serviceable, and you can’t have too many bath towels. I cut off the frayed strings. Part of the edge was still in place, so I zigzagged stitched it back down. This being an old bath towel, I didn’t worry about buying special matching thread!
For my piece de resistance, I had an impulse to turn an old jersey sheet into a bathing suit cover-up. This is more a cutting project than a sewing one. I used this tutorial, which claims to be twenty-minute project. It took me a couple of hours. I kept having to cut and cut and cut more. Then of course I probably cut too much. The only sewing was attaching the braided straps. I was afraid that they would not fit under my presser foot, but it worked just fine. I made a little box to hold each strap in place.
I think it kind of looks like I made it from a sheet. But it will serve for getting the kids to and from the pool at our apartment complex, at least!
Now I have put away my sewing machine for a while with firm intentions to work on my scrapbook, although I did promise Big Brother a new apron soon.
What are you making lately? How’s it coming out?
This post contains affiliate links for research purposes. I got my books from the library.
If you’ve been following along, you know that first I made skirts from library book patterns (here’s the first and the second). Then I tried making a gathered rectangular skirt, which does not require a pattern. The waistband came out pretty well, but the result was unflattering.
Then I took it into my head to learn pattern drafting.
Friends, I am not sure what I was thinking. Man, that was hard.
First, I made a straight skirt sloper just from taking my measurements and drawing things on freezer paper. I was very pleased with myself. Then I slashed and spread the pattern and raised the waistband to make a high-waist flared skirt sloper. So far, so good. Although it took me a couple of tries to get the fit right, so by this point I had been fiddling with the project for some weeks.
Now I was ready to move on to the actual sewing. The book I was using, Skirt-a-Day Sewing*, gives very specific directions for making specific designs rather than expecting the reader to do so. To make the pattern for the design I chose, there was yet more slashing and spreading involved to turn the darts into pleats.
*I think it’s important to note that this refers to having a different skirt for every day of the month, NOT the length of time they take to make!
A major weakness of the book is that it does not give instructions with this pattern for truing the waistline or the hem after all that slashing and spreading. Not sure it came out right.
Instead of a zipper, this skirt uses button-down tabs. When you unbutton, you can open the tabs and step in and out. There’s also a hidden snap holding the tab in place. It only took me 8 tries to make a passable four-step buttonhole.
I was worried about lining up the button and buttonhole and the two parts of the snap, but this seemed at least moderately forgiving. I did not have trouble. And I got to use the sew-in snaps that my grandmother gave me circa ten years ago (when my mom gave me a sewing machine for Christmas and grandma gave me a stocked sewing basket) and have not yet had a use for. Rather satisfying.
As always, there were some hiccups. For one thing, my machine is getting wonky. Sometimes it makes a giant knot instead of sewing. Oiling it approximately every 28 minutes helps, but is tedious. When it happens in an important place, like the right side of the hem (I am lazy and always hem with straight stitch), I pick it out and start over. When it happens in an inconspicuous place, I pretend I don’t notice.
Another hiccup was my decision to add pockets. All skirts and dresses should have pockets, no? I traced a pocket shape from another book, Love at First Stitch: Demystifying Dressmaking. But those pockets were designed for a rectangular skirt, and this has curved side seams. They hung weird at first. But a little ironing seemed to put them right.
Honestly, I’m still not sure about the skirt. I’m in love with the basic premise of a full skirt made of polka dots. Very 50s-ish and the silhouette is flattering. But possibly I will find the pleats waaaay too fiddly and always be adjusting them. The ones in the back I actually sewed down because I found that I did not need to open them to get the skirt on, but I think I made them too tight. I might need to move the front buttons and re-press the pleats closer to the middle.
My next two sewing projects are no-pattern easy things: Hemming jeans and making an awesome new boy apron for Big Brother. But I bow to conventional wisdom. The next time I make something for myself, I will take the easy road and buy a clearance pattern, even though I will lose the bragging rights. (“Thanks! I made it! From a library book!”) I think I need more time to develop my skills without the pressure of pattern drafting.
What are you making lately? How’s it coming out?
Well, I had some nasty surprises in April. Here’s how it breaks down.
Library take-home pay: $1462.92 (Why so low? I upped my HSA contributions, and the boys’ spring break hurt my earnings)
Costco return: $10.76
Substitute teaching take-home pay: $44.06
Total Income: $2266.69
Rent plus included utilities: $1085.31
Home supplies: $10
Speeding ticket: $305 (So frustrated with self! I was driving an unfamiliar road and didn’t see the school zone sign)
Auto maintenance: $153.31 (When I went to have my summer tires put back on, one of them turned out to be broken and had to be replaced. It was new enough they said I could just do the one.)
Parking (reimbursable): $11
Kids, misc. (allowance, field trips, ice cream): $27.62
Kids, clothes and shoes: $82.10 (2 pairs new sneakers, 1 pair Batman PJs with cape)
Restaurants: $101.70 (Yowza! My boyfriend had a birthday and a cousin visited from out of town in the same month.)
Coffee shops and snacks: $22.88 (I promise there were a lot of times I wanted it and didn’t get it.)
Tickets to special Viking exhibit at museum: $20.85
Work clothes and shoes for me: $271.40 (Because if I want to be taken seriously, probably should not wear hiking shoes to work, right?)
Some things from Target: $20.12
Cat litter: $14
Total Expenses: $2577.83
Income minus expenses: -$311.14
Eh, I can live with it. By now, I’ve gotten used to my low-income, low-expenses balancing act tipping sometimes into the black and sometimes the red. It’s more often black, so I’ll live. I had enough money to cover the shortage without dipping into my emergency fund. And I still have money set aside for various projects (like an upcoming trip and taking the cat to the vet).
Possibly, however, I sobbed when I got the speeding ticket. There is a definite mismatch between how long it takes me to save $305 and how long it took me to lose it! At least I had the money. I blew my nose, mailed a check, and lived to fight another day.
Library take-home pay: $1771.47
Trivia income: $35
Refund from Children’s Hospital: $466.72
Colorado tax refund: $481
Shopping return: $74.27
Total income: $3617.48
ATM fees: $2.50 (reimbursable)
Household items: $20.81
Renter’s insurance (quarterly): $33.50
XCel (electric): $18.47
Oil change plus car wash: $82.44 (Evidently my car runs on synthetic oil and this is very expensive)
Miscellaneous kids (allowances plus a field trip): $40
Occasional after-school care: $68
Adult health spending: $189.44 (asthma medicine–OUCH)
Coffee and donuts: $42.36
Adult clothes and sewing notions for making adult clothes: $124.20
Haircut, hiking poles, something from Target, and other miscellany: $147.59
Child care punch card at the gym: $15
Cat supplies: $27.45
Total spending: $2363.10
This was another windfall month, and I both bolstered some savings/spending categories (setting aside money to refresh work wardrobe, for instance) and set aside some money for investing. I would like to point out that my spending, though not particularly restrained, was under my “regular” income.
Groceries continue to get away from me. I drank only one bottle of wine all month but apparently spent an unreasonable amount of money on coffee and donuts.
My paychecks have dipped a little because I have more money going into my HSA, which I am trying to grow as an investment vehicle but which doubles as an emergency fund.
So, not an exciting month, but everything on track. I still need a better-paying job. While I see places I can trim a little, let’s be honest: My spending is killer low. The income side is where the improvement is needed. Especially as I would like to be less dependent on support from the XFP.
How was your March?
I’m much too cheap to buy patterns, even on clearance. I have made a couple of skirts using patterns from library books–they are printed on thick book-type paper, as opposed to the thinner sort of pattern paper, and one traces them. (Freezer paper is excellent for this purpose.) My first foray into making a skirt without a pattern ended badly–the muslin was wildly unflattering.
Nevertheless, I persisted. I wasn’t that happy with the skirts I had made from patterns. They are fully lined with no waistband, and the lining never even came close to lining up with the outside. They also don’t really have enough volume to accommodate pockets. (I used The Essential A-line: Make 17 Flirty Skirts from 1 Basic Pattern, and I still think it can be a good starting place. I wear the skirts regularly, I just think I can do better.)
For my next project, I chose the book Skirt-a-Day Sewing, which I had rejected before as being too difficult. I think I’m ready now. This one offers 28 different skirt designs and walks the reader through how to take measurements, draft a basic pattern, and then alter it for each specific design. So the final result is prescribed and the instructions are very specific… but there is no pattern to cut out or trace.
Another one that I looked at is How to Make Sewing Patterns. This was a little too much like drinking from a fire hose for my current needs. The many complicated measurements that it prescribes probably won’t improve my results until my skills catch up–at which point I might find it very helpful. And it offers only a little design guidance.
Guys, I’m having a lot of fun! All the measuring and drawing has been an enjoyable challenge and has really improved my understanding of garment construction.
So far, I have gotten as far as making a basic sloper–basically a fitting shell. Next, the book suggests making a second sloper that is specific to the basic type of skirt (flared, in this case). Since flaring the skirt involves “slashing and spreading” the pattern I made from my measurements, I think that’s worth the four dollars of muslin. (Maybe gingham would have been better but I couldn’t bring myself to pay seven dollars for two yards’ worth.)
I could have gotten away without buying anything, and at first I did. Some people say you can draw the curved hip portion of a side seam using a dinner plate, but I tried that and it wasn’t even close to the right shape. Which makes sense, because hips are not actually circular. So for a while, I used a downloaded hip curve ruler, which I pasted to a Cheerios box for stiffening and cut out. That worked OK. But I decided to go ahead and buy a flexible curve ruler (about $10, bought with Amazon reward points).
Skirt-A-Day prescribed a hip curve, but I thought the flexible curve, recommended in Make Sewing Patterns, would be more versatile. I guess time will tell.
Onward with the second sloper!
What are you making lately? How are the results?
If you’ve read, well, anything I’ve posted since last summer, you probably know that I live a little close to the bone by the middle-class standards I’m used to.
My regular monthly income is generally adequate to my regular monthly expenses and even most of my irregular expenses. It does not, however, leave much over for savings.
That’s where my windfall strategy comes in. I get two main kinds of windfalls: the Earned Income Tax Credit and three-paycheck months. The EITC is a doozy, and it came at a perfect time for me (February).
See, in January I was totally tapped out. I had taken money I didn’t really have yet, plus all the money I did have (Christmas money, December’s third paycheck, everything I could cadge from my HSA) and used it to pay off the divorce lawyer I had consulted. Nothing left, period, and with my monthly earnings so low, reaching a comfortable savings cushion felt very far away indeed. Then I found out the size of my tax refund.
Side note: I’m not sure “refund” is really an adequate word because it is money I did not pay. The EITC is really other people’s money, which makes it more like welfare. I am grateful to receive it, and look forward to paying my share in the future.
I did buy a few things, but my February income turned out to be totally adequate to cover my purchases, leaving my entire EITC available to create savings.
Step one was to budget for March. I have not been following the general financial principal that you should live off last month’s money. I have been living off the money I was earning in the present month, leaving me in the red until I received my support check and last paycheck. Not a pleasant feeling.
So first, I budgeted for March, generously–March’s rent, groceries, everything, and with some left over because I know I probably forgot some things. I was realistic but moderately ambitious; I said I would keep groceries under $300, for instance. I will see how much money I earn in March and that’s what I will budget to cover April.
That took a good chunk of it, but there was plenty left. So I earmarked about 1 months’ expenses as an emergency fund. This is my liquid emergency fund, the money I would use if my car broke down, for instance. More of a rainy-day fund, if you will.
There was still some left over. I earmarked $500 for travel, aspirationally. Some day, I’m going to Paris. Because February was a good month for me, I STILL had some left over, which I earmarked as “investment holding.” I used to have a Roth IRA. It all went into the house we bought in 2015.* I would like to open one again as soon as I have enough money ($3000) to buy into the Vanguard Total Stock Market Index.
*The house where my ex-husband lives with his new wife and stepchildren and my name on the mortgage. This is a sore point.
That will leave me with three potential sources of emergency money, in the order that I would most likely tap them:
- Cash (in my Ally savings account);
- HSA (for medical, sure, but since I pay for things like my $185 asthma medicine out of pocket normally, I could submit those receipts later if I was in a bind for some other reason);
- Roth IRA–you can withdraw the contributions at any time, so again, if I was in a bind I could do so, unless the market had tanked quite spectacularly.
With my savings pretty well covered, I felt comfortable increasing my HSA contribution for the year to $4000, which will put me well over the investment threshold (right now that money is not earning interest, but I’ll have some options once it tops $2100).
I feel good about where I am, savings-wise. It’s not exactly putting me on the fast track to retirement, but it’s adequate for my current standard of living. Which could use a little increase, to be frank, and feeling a little more secure in my savings makes me feel like I can afford, for instance, new mixing bowls, when the old ones start moving past “gross” and into “health code violation.”
How did your tax season shake out? If you got a refund, what did you do with it?