from dress to bike-friendly tunic

design, eco-craft, fashion, sewing

In the spring, summer and fall I am lucky enough to live in a town where I can go most of the places I need to go on a bike. I have skorts and some skirts or dresses that I can wear on my bike without worrying about my skirt getting tangled in the spokes of the rear wheel or in the chain but most of the time I like to ride with capris or Bermuda shorts. I don’t have any chain worries with either of these and I don’t have to worry about the Marilyn Monroe look when that Chicago wind finds it’s way up my skirt while crossing a busy street.

As an aside, don’t you love all of those women’s style dictators on TV who do these makeovers of women in shorts or jeans and put them in cocktail dresses and stiletto heels instead as if the woman being made-over could just wear the cocktail dress down the slide at the park or to be the line judge at the soccer game? I don’t have many occasions to wear cocktail dresses. I need the look that can go from studio to client meeting to grocery store to sports camp pick-up to salsa dancing class. Suggesting that we can just wear cocktail dresses has a “let them eat cake” ring to them if you ask me. Not that you did but…

Anyway, I’ve been on the lookout for a black and white tunic because I love the timeless, graphic look of black and white in the summer. Not having much luck I decided to see if I could convert a dress to a tunic and BINGO –there was the perfect candidate for $3.99 at the local Goodwill.

I will also add that we are lucky to have Jane, a student intern at FunQuilts this summer, who happens to be a fashion design/graphic design double major. Jane agreed to give me a second opinion on the right length for the tunic and help me figure out how to detail the all-important side vents. The original vents for the dress were almost 5″ long because the dress itself is supposed to hit mid-calf.

The only complication was that the zipper runs down the side of the dress so I couldn’t make the vents as long as I wanted but in the end they’re fine. Neither Jane nor I liked the top-stitching at the hem of the original dress so we agreed that I’d need to hand-stitch the hem.

First Jane and I figured that the tunic should be just a little below the crotch, not much more because I’m petite and don’t have any leg length to spare. I then measured up the side seam allowances and figured how much length I could get for the vents given the side zipper. I marked the point on both sides and made a stabilizing bar tack with the sewing machine across the seams at that point.

I rolled over the raw edges and hand sewed the edges of the vents and the hem. [Note: I told Bill, who took the picture above, that he was not allowed to use the wide-angle lens to photograph my hips.]

I love the length of this tunic and that it gives me a shirt that’s dressier than a t-shirt but still bike friendly. I’m heading back to Goodwill to see if there are more dresses that could be converted in the same way. Maybe I’ll convert a cocktail dress!

travel clothes for kids

design, experiences, fabric, family, fashion, just a thought, sewing

It was right around this time in 1973 when my family began preparing for our first family trip to Europe. My mother and step-father traveled to Europe without us every year and stayed in budget hotels in various countries. I was just finishing up 6th grade and my sister 7th so it was decided that we were finally old enough to join them for The Grand Tour. We were to spend nearly a month in Europe visiting England, France, Holland and Italy. My mother extolled the virtues of traveling lightly and taking as few clothes as possible. She gave us detailed tutorials about washing out our clothes in the sink with Woolite before bedtime so they’d be clean the next morning. Conveniently for us it was the early 70s so finding quick-drying synthetic clothes was a cinch. I didn’t give it much thought until we got there.

Back in those days, luggage was heavy and designed for bellboys not jet-lagged 12-year olds. Backpacks were only for hikers or boy scouts and suitcases had no wheels. Although I had only packed two pairs of shoes, socks, underwear, one dress, one skirt, one pair of pants and two shirts for a month, it was still a surprising amount to carry through train stations and up flights of stairs at the pensione in Rome when the elevator was broken. Suddenly I understood my step-father’s motto of “You bring it, you carry it.”

I quickly mastered the sink-wash-towel-roll-up technique perfected by my mom and decided that it was genius. I quickly noticed which things were dry by the next morning and which required part of a second day. Since we were traveling from hotel to hotel I learned to strategize about wearing the slow-drying things on the first day so they could be washed and still be dry before we checked out of a given hotel.

Since that first trip to Europe I have never traveled with a pair of jeans (too slow-drying and stiff without a dryer) and have a special set of clothes that I buy on the basis of “could I wash that out in a sink and if so how long would it take to dry?” Our family travels so lightly that we rarely check a bag unless it’s full of quilts for business. I kind of obsess over how little I can take but still look good and be able to dress for a variety of occasions.

So when we took our daughter to Japan at age 4, I started to notice that there are no kids’ wash-and-wear travel clothes for anything other than hiking. Nothing I could dress her in to see the gardens in Kyoto or to meet my dear ikebana sensei. So I bought some synthetic t-shirts, microfiber tights and started making quick-dry travel clothes for our daughter. I found two-microfiber fabrics that worked with the shirts and fleece jacket she had. I sewed a skirt and a pair of pants with simple elastic waists that passed the overnight-dry test. The following year, I washed out those clothes in sinks in London and New York.

Before we headed to France two weeks ago to visit Bill’s sister in Normandy and later to Paris, I was once again sewing travel clothes for our daughter. I had to pack for both farm work and sightseeing around Normandy and in Paris. And who wants to look frumpy in Paris for crying out loud? There was also the added pressure of meeting my sister-in-law’s mother-in-law, a formal French woman in her 80s referred to simply as “Madame.” That had “dressy” written all over it.

I originally had planned to make a skirt and a jacket out of quick dry fabrics but when I began looking for fabric, I couldn’t find many fabrics that were right for the pattern I had in mind. The other issue is that our daughter, no surprise, loves prints so much that she is visually disappointed when she has to wear clothes made with solid fabrics. She puts Oilily to shame. The only exception are her hiking pants with the leg sections that zip off transforming the pants to shorts. They would be perfect for collecting eggs from hens and riding on the tractors with her four boy cousins but not for meeting Madame.

For more city and sightseeing clothes, she prefers at least two prints per outfit, which is challenging combination to find. I found a good knit that I thought she’d like for the skirt. The black print would hide stains yet be cheery. Then I made a huge sacrifice to my obsessive tendencies and got a super lightweight pinwale corduroy/spandex blend that isn’t quick-dry but could dry without becoming stiff. I figured that the jacket would be worn less than her shirts and skirts. And the print and weight of the fabric was so perfect with the skirt. At Target I found a poly-cotton white t-shirt and a couple of floral quick-dry shirts for her at REI, both of which dried overnight.

In the end, the predicted 60-degree temps turned to 75-80 degree temps so she needed the jacket less than I expected but the skirt got well used and dried in a flash.

I used a Burda Kids pattern #9547. Although I loved the pattern, I thought the sizing was really confusing. I took her chest measurement and went to the next size up hoping that she’d have enough room to grow into it. Even going to the next size up I found the pattern was sized so small that I ended up using a 1/4″ seam allowance instead of the recommended 5/8″ just to give her a little more room. I kept the other sizes though and will make  two sizes up next time I sew this pattern. I also swapped out, at our daughter’s request, a lavender zipper for the buttons.

I’d love to hear what other parents do about travel clothes for kids. My friends all say that they only go to places with washing machines and dryers but that’s harder to find in big cities and in other countries.

So send me your kids’ travel clothes strategies please!

making girls’ pants with a mission

design, family, fashion, sewing

Back several years ago when I was a contributor to Whipup, I wrote a post about how frustrating it was as a mom that clothing manufacturers don’t make pants for girls that are as warm as those they make for boys. Many retailers and manufacturers offer flannel-lined pants for boys but you’ll have a hard time finding flannel-lined pants for girls. Even retailers like REI that sell clothes for outdoorsy types don’t offer pants for girls and women other than those for skiing.

There are fleece pants that are fine inside but the wind goes right through them. I bought a pair of lined girls’ pants at Hanna Andersson but they are lightweight cotton lined with jersey so they are still not warm enough for really cold days at recess or walking around town in the winter. Given that we live in Chicago I wanted a pair of pants that my daughter can wear to school or ice skating or just playing outside with her friends in cold weather without pulling on a head-to-toe snowsuit.

Back in the 70s when I was in school, I remember that girls weren’t even allowed to wear pants to school unless it was snowing. So I guess I shouldn’t be surprised but I still worry about the message it sends to our daughters. To me the message is, “You don’t need to be warm because you won’t be outside in cold weather” or “Looking cute is more important than being warm.” The message that I want to send to my daughter is, “Be prepared for any weather” and “Never let not having the right clothing hold you back from doing what you want to do and having fun, regardless of the weather.”

So when our daughter was three I made her a pair of reversible flannel pants, that she immediately dubbed her “fancy pants.” I made them from a commercial pattern for a pair of simple elastic pants. In addition to cutting the fabric for the outside of the pants, I cut pieces the same size for the flannel lining and just slipped them inside the pants before I topstitched the waist and the hems of the legs. Our daughter wore the first pair I made that winter more than any other article of clothing she owned. Year after year she would start asking me in October if I would make her another pair of “fancy pants” because she had outgrown the last pair.

A few years ago I switched from making the pants with reversible flannel to using colored denim on the outside for added durability. Last year I found jumbo pink rickrack to run down the sides of the legs and chose a pattern that included a simple zippered pocket for the inevitable tissue collection that goes along with playing outside in cold temperatures. I was really excited to find the perfect pink zipper that matched that rickrack!

What I really want to do next is make a pair for myself.