Archive | July 2015

I’m Making a Skirt! Phase 2: Gadget Testing

This post contains Amazon affiliate links, which support the blog at no cost to you. The Joann and Walmart links are non-affiliate links.

I don’t usually like to buy things. I’m a big fan of repairing and making do, which is why my three-year-old wears sandals that are glued together and I still cook in Grandma FP’s spare slow cooker. But I may have gotten a little carried away buying tools for the project I’m working on, making a skirt (using The Essential A-line: Make 17 Flirty Skirts from 1 Basic Pattern, which I checked out from the library). I have been to Joann Fabric and Crafts approximately 97 times and have gotten extremely adapt at downloading their coupons to my phone.

So here’s what I’ve been buying, its cost, and why. (Prices are approximate, as they reflect percent discount coupons and tax.) If you just want to see how much money I spent, skip to the end. Hint: Buying a whole, brand-new skirt would definitely have been cheaper. But way less fun.

1. Blind hem foot ($9.23, Amazon)

This is a nifty little gadget that can obviously be used for blind hems–which I don’t need, because I don’t wear things that fancy–but also for edge stitching, a trick when you stitch as close as possible to a fold (as in making a pleat). It has a fabric guide that keeps you from wandering off to the right, making it easier to stay straight and close to the edge. (As far as wandering to the left, you’re still on your own.)

Edge stitching with regular foot. I'm sure I would have gotten better with practice.

Edge stitching with regular foot. I’m sure I would have gotten better with practice, but see how far away from the fold it is, and uneven.

First try with blind hem foot. Worse than without it!

First try with blind hem foot. Worse than without it!

Third try with blind hem foot. That's more like it!

Third try with blind hem foot. That’s more like it!

Necessity Level: 3 of 5. I could probably have practiced and gotten a pretty straight line eventually, but not as straight as with the blind hem foot.

2. Rotary cutter and small mat ($15.26, Joann)

Even more unusually for me than shopping at all, this was actually an impulse purchase. I wasn’t going to buy one; Grandma FP made beautiful garments using only shears. But… well… I had a 50% off coupon, and I knew I would need one in the future if I wanted to make a bias hem, and I thought it would be fun and handy. So I bought this Fiskers kit with their basic 45 mm cutter and a 6 by 18 inch mat. It’s worth noting that while Walmart has better regular prices on both cutters and mats, they can’t match a 50% off item coupon at Joann.

I’ve been practicing cutting with it; there’s a bit of a learning curve to cutting corners cleanly and to following curves (see freezer paper, below).

Necessity Level: 1 of 5. May save time in the long run, but not needed for this project.

3. Freezer paper for patterns ($6.50, Walmart)

This is awesome! Joann apparently does not carry pattern paper; they (and Walmart) carry Pellon-brand interfacing that is designed for making patterns, at a cost of around $1.50-$3 per yard (depending on sale conditions). It looks handy, since it won’t slide around as much as regular paper, but I thought it was too pricey.

Extensive further research revealed that you can use freezer paper, like what you might find wrapped around an ancient roast at the bottom of Grandma’s chest freezer. Not only is this thin enough to trace through–no tracing wheel needed–but if you iron it, shiny side down, onto your fabric, it sticks in place gently and peels off easily. You can stick the whole pattern on before you even cut it out. I tested it with some leftover muslin, drawing a shape and then cutting it out for extra rotary cutter practice. I hear you can stick it several times before it loses stickiness (and then you could just pin it or weight it down if you didn’t want to make a new pattern).

Necessity Level: 4 of 5. I could have used wrapping paper, but that wasn’t very satisfactory and then I just would have had to buy more wrapping paper eventually anyway.

This is what the pattern looks like in the book

This is what the pattern looks like in the book

Lines clearly visible through the freezer paper so I can trace the lines for my size.

Lines clearly visible through the freezer paper so I can trace the markings for my size.

One piece of my homemade pattern. I used a ruler for the straight lines.

One piece of my homemade pattern. I used a ruler for the straight lines, and you can see I made a false start.

4. Hem gauge ($2.25, Joann, or here on Amazon)

A handy little gadget for measuring hems more quickly and accurately than with measuring tape.

Necessity Level: 1 of 5. Will save a few minutes, but it’s really just for fun.

Hem measuring made easier. Still one of the most tedious parts of sewing.

Hem measuring made easier. Still one of the most tedious parts of sewing.

5. Thread snips ($6, Joann; couldn’t find this kind online)

Cut thread closer than scissors and should also be good for cutting those tiny little triangles that help you match up pieces.

Necessity Level: 3 of 5 (for this project). There is very prominent top stitching and I don’t think I could have gotten close enough for my satisfaction with my shears.

Practice topstitching, cut with shears.

Practice topstitching, cut with shears.

And cut with snips. I still want to make it look neater at the bottom.

And cut with snips. I still want to make it look neater at the bottom.

6. Water-soluble marking pen ($3.75, Joann; again, couldn’t find online)

Grandma FP always used chalk, but I wanted something a little tidier and more precise for marking where my pleats should be and whatnot. The gadget I got has one end that’s a wipe-clean marker and another side with disappearing ink.

Necessity Level: 2 of 5. May make for slightly more accurate pleats.

7. Invisible zipper foot ($2.50, Joann, or on Amazon here)

Haven’t tested this yet, but supposedly it’s necessary for putting in a zipper that is invisible from the outside.

Necessity Level: 4 of 5. I could probably have found some other way to make it work.

In Conclusion…

Notice that technically, I could have completed this project without buying any of the things on this list, even though the book I’m using listed them all as required tools. The only things that I didn’t already own and without which I would not have been able to complete the directions were dressmaker’s tracing paper and the tracing wheel, for marking darts on the fabric.

Total cost of the items above: $48.84

Plus the tracing paper and pincushion: $56.70

That’s almost $60 on durable supplies alone! That’s not even counting the fabric! Again, though, please note that I could have done this much more cheaply. Instead, I chose to look at it as taking up a hobby. I’m having a ball fiddling around. In my next post, which might be after I get back from vacation in a few weeks, I’ll break down what it will cost per garment if I make several.

Also, hopefully I will eventually have, you know, a finished skirt to show you.

Do you have any making-things hobbies that don’t actually save money? What’s your reasoning?

 

 

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I’m Making a Skirt! Phase 1: Practice

This post contains affiliate links, which in theory would support this blog at no cost to you. But you should check your books out at the library. The links are just there for you to research. Although if you happened to buy something while you were at Amazon, I would get money and that would be nice.

I’ve taken it into my head to make myself a skirt on my sewing machine. I have two primary reasons for this:

  1. My current wardrobe is lacking. If I had to work more than four days in a week, I’d be pushing it to find enough appropriate outfits. This is partly because my work-appropriate wardrobe has been largely composed of pencil skirts, all of which make me appear to be trying only semi-successfully to conceal a second trimester pregnancy. (The baby is 3.)
  2. I hate shopping with a white-hot passion, but I enjoy sewing. Given a choice whether to spend a few hours trying on skirts or a few hours making one, I would choose the latter in a heartbeat. Plus I can’t shop while the children play outside in the yard. Have to bring the little buggers with me and that always ends in tears.
Annual Christmas Cookie Baking Day. On the left, the apron I made after several years of service. Grandma FP made the pink one I'm wearing.

Annual Christmas Cookie Baking Day, featuring my last completed project, an apron I made for a dear friend (left, after many years of service). Grandma FP made the pink one I’m wearing.

Note that “save money” was not on the list. Since I spend almost no money on clothes, it would be impossible for me to actually spend less than I have been spending. And even if I decided to go out and buy, say, 3 skirts, I could probably buy them as cheaply or even more cheaply (if I got lucky at Goodwill) than making them, considering the start-up costs. The first one, with all the “sewing notions” I’ve been snatching up, is costing at least as much as a very, very nice brand-new regular-price skirt. Improving my wardrobe in the way I prefer is the sole goal here.

I am using the book The Essential A-line: Make 17 Flirty Skirts from 1 Basic Pattern, which I checked out from my local library. (It involves using dressmaker’s tracing paper to create your own pattern, so the book’s pattern is not damaged by people using it.) To give you an idea of my skill level going into this project, I am fairly comfortable using a sewing machine for straight hems. I can’t do anything fancy like blind hems, and I have not completed a garment since about 2006 (when I made an apron as a gift). That was also the only garment I ever completed without assistance from Grandma FP, a very talented seamstress who can make all kinds of fancy things.

If you are not comfortable with a sewing machine, you might want to start with a lower-level book like Stitch by Stitch: Learning to Sew, One Project at a Time. The Essential A-Line assumes that you are comfortable with general sewing terms like presser foot and seam allowance.

My wrapping-paper pattern, pinned and ready for cutting.

My wrapping-paper pattern, pinned and ready for cutting.

Anyway, the book suggests making a practice skirt, which I have completed. First, I had to make a pattern. I had forgotten to think about buying pattern paper, so I used wrapping paper. It took me a couple of tries to get the idea right, but it worked. For the record, wrapping paper is not ideal for the purpose because it is slippery enough that the tracing paper can smudge, and it is thin enough that it doesn’t take kindly to the tracing wheel.

Pleats under construction. Next time I will know not to  start right at the top--it made the ugly knot you see up top.

Pleats under construction. Next time I will know not to start right at the top–it made the ugly knot you see up top.

I wanted to practice making pleats, so I followed the directions for the “sailor” skirt. And I’m glad I did, because there’s a mathematical error in the directions and the practice skirt came out too big. Now that I see the problem, I’ll correct for it. I had to read the directions approximately 97 times and refer to them at each stage, flipping back and forth between the general directions and the ones for the specific skirt. Eventually, though, I had an unfinished skirt shell-thing to try on, featuring with nice sharp pleats. The darts, however, were uneven, so I will mark them more carefully next time, and my edge stitching was crooked because I had not yet acquired a blind hem foot (more on that next time).

Finished practice skirt.

Finished practice skirt.

I already owned some basics like straight pins, thread, decent scissors, and other geegaws, but I needed fabric and some odds and ends just to get started. I began by buying the minimum (except for the pin cushion), just to make sure the whole project was going to work. These are the supplies I purchased in the practice stage, all from Joann Fabric and Crafts. Make sure to check for coupons as they generally have excellent ones; the prices below reflect a 20% discount that I downloaded on my phone.

I believe it's actually required by law that you purchase a tomato-shaped pincushion before beginning serious sewing projects.

I believe it’s actually required by law that you obtain a tomato-shaped pincushion before beginning serious sewing projects.

  • Muslin for practice skirt: $2.16
  • Pin cushion: $2.16
  • Tracing wheel: $2.16
  • Dressmaker’s tracing paper: $3.54

Total cost: $10.02

Consumable supplies: $2.16

Durable supplies: $7.86

Stay tuned for the next installment, when I go a little crazy buying gadgets and the cost mounts.

Do you ever make things that you could buy just as cheaply? What’s your reasoning?

Lifestyle Inflation and Coffee Beans

Mr. FP found this Contigo mug abandoned in his classroom and now it goes everywhere with me. Work, the grocery store, library story time, etc.

Mr. FP found this Contigo mug abandoned in his classroom and now it goes everywhere with me. Work, the grocery store, library story time, etc.

I love coffee a lot, as perhaps I have mentioned. Never drank it at all until I was over 30. When Big Brother was a baby, I was doing an online graduate degree and the only time I had to do my homework was when he was napping–so right after lunch. Ever tried to concentrate on homework right after lunch? Enter the most wonderful bean.

Despite my affection for the stuff, I don’t grind my own coffee beans. I buy ground coffee (Seattle’s Best, #4) at the grocery store. I was joking about the “horror” of this with  the awesome Mrs. Frugalwoods, who is in the midst of an experiment to determine whether Costco beans, at five-something a pound, are a sufficient replacement for their fancypants ten-something a pound beans, which I can only assume are roasted by unicorns. She joked back, “I’ll buy you a coffee grinder.”

Chickpeas thawing for hummus-making, a common sight in my kitchen.

Chickpeas thawing for hummus-making, a common sight in my kitchen.

The exchange got me thinking about why I don’t grind my own beans, and it’s only partly about buying a grinder. It’s more about taking on another chore. See, on one recent morning, I was straining cold-brew coffee a little at a time, boiling water to make pasta for pasta salad, heating milk in the microwave to make yogurt, pre-rinsing the bodily-fluids laundry, and feeding the children breakfast, all simultaneously. And I had to be at work by 11. Do I really want to add “grind beans” to my to-do list?

“Lifestyle inflation” is a term usually used for things that cost money, like buying a nicer car when you get a raise or moving to a bigger house when your second child is born. But I find I also need to be conscious of revenue-neutral or even money-saving kinds of “lifestyle inflation”–chores that benefit the environment or have taste, health, or other intangible benefits but take up my finite time.

I want to do, well, everything. But every new chore I take on means just a smidge less time for everything else.

Grandma FP gave me her spare slow cooker several years back and it is still my workhorse. I often run it several days in a row.

Grandma FP gave me her spare slow cooker several years back and it is still my workhorse. I often run it several days in a row.

Freshly ground coffee beans probably are better, and after the initial cost of the grinder, I would not be spending more money on an ongoing basis. But I would be committing to a new chore, when my life is already pretty full. A person can do anything, but not everything. There are plenty of things, besides bean grinding, that I think would be good to do that I just don’t:

  • Using cloth trainers at night for Little Brother. I got tired of the smell and the laundry and the rinsing-in-the-toilet (PLEASE let this be over soon) and now he sleeps in (gasp!) disposable pull-on training pants
  • Making bread. I can buy it for $1 a loaf at the bakery outlet
  • Line-drying the family clothes
  • Taking the bus to work instead of owning a car
  • Gardening
  • Shopping for local produce/meat/dairy instead of just buying what’s on sale at Sprouts
  • Changing our oil/doing basic car maintenance
  • Making chocolate syrup for Mr. FP
  • Making more snacks from scratch instead of serving Goldfish crackers from Costco
  • Making seltzer

Etc.

What tasks I take on is based on a constantly shifting assessment of my time, our family’s needs, and my personal priorities and preferences. (I don’t particularly like trying to grow plants, but I do like sewing, for instance.) Over the next few list, things from the top list might get dropped and things from the bottom will probably be added. But the coffee tastes good to me, so for now, I’m filing it under “Ain’t broke. Don’t fix.”

Do you hold the line on chore inflation? How do you decide where to focus your energies? Do you have a list like mine of things you kind of wish you did, but don’t have the time and energy for?

July 2015 Net Worth Check

So… I am two months plus behind on this. Haven’t done it since January. Oops!

Obviously our situation has changed since we bought a house–not so much as far as our actual net worth, as where it is distributed. In other news, we have switched from Mint to Personal Capital. I just found Mint very clunky and awkward to use, and kept hearing good things about PC… we’ll see.

ASSETS

Cash: $3840.75 (includes our emergency reserve of about $2K)

Investments: $53,389.03 (This used to be more, but we spent my Roth IRA on a giant pile of bricks). New in this category: Mr. FP’s traditional IRA. We will owe taxes on the capital gains that were part of my IRA balance when we cashed it out, so decided to do a traditional IRA to help offset that.

  • My rollover IRA: $18,222.11
  • Mr. FP’s traditional IRA: $2,944.28 (He is rather depressed that this has already gone down–he just opened it with $3K a couple of weeks ago!)
  • Mr. FP’s old 403(b): $32,221.88

Property: $308,000 (assuming that the value of our house is exactly what we paid for it). We do not count our cars in this category.

Total assets: $365,229.78

LIABILITIES

Credit Cards: $2873.70

Mortgage: $293,278.43

Total liabilities: $296,152.13

TOTAL NET WORTH: $69077.65

Since January, that’s a change of $883. Hard to believe it has stayed so steady! On the other hand, at least it hasn’t gone down. The market has not been great and we have been seriously hemorrhaging money on things for the house. Normally we don’t run around buying used pianos and photo prints and whatnot.

When I started this blog in January 2015, I was surprised to find that our net worth was over $50K–it was at that time $51,681.47. That’s an increase over the last year and a half of $17, 396.18, or 33.7%.

Let’s call that “good, with room for improvement.” The next big question: When will we add that fifth zero?

How’s your net worth growing? How do you track it?