Daughter Fish

Sewing Small

I’ve been making things again, after a long break, and it feels good.

These garments, clothes for my daughter, have been quick hits of creativity, finished in a few hours, and a great way to recharge my batteries. Sewing small is sometimes the best medicine to get me over the hump on a work project I’ve lost enthusiasm for or when I’m feeling general work/mamma/life burnout.

The past months have been full of big and great transitions in our home, and the first time in a long time that I’ve been able to finish any sewing projects. In December, we moved from our tiny 1 bedroom apartment in Midtown Manhattan to a comparatively ginormous (800 sq/ft!) 2 bedroom in Brooklyn. Despite many of our friends’ raised eyebrows—we’d lived in Brooklyn almost a decade—moving to Hell’s Kitchen, a block off Times Square with it’s oodles of tourists, was great. Living in a tiny apartment with a baby taught me a lot about simplifying. We don’t need a big kitchen, or a lot of clothes, or even lots of toys for our daughter.

What I didn’t love was sharing a room with my baby. Or having absolutely no space to lay out fabric and make beautiful, wearable things. Those restrictions started feeling taxing. I didn’t need a ton of space. But I did need more space. And Hell’s Kitchen, with its crazy rising rents, wasn’t going to give it to us for a price we could pay. So….back to Brooklyn!

And back to sewing.

1. Blue-and-white dress:  Made by Rae Geranium Dress pattern in Lotta Jansdotter quilting cotton picked up at Purl Soho, bodice lined in white linen

2. Me-drafted apron-style pinefore made from a remnant of stretchy denim I had laying around (the poke-y shoulder straps need fixing, the dress is reversible and the buttons are on the side not pictured)

3. Yellow-and-white striped dress: Made by Rae Geranium Dress pattern, again in Lotta Jansdotter quilting cotton picked up at Purl Soho, bodice lined in white linen

I love all three of these dresses. Does my daughter? Not so much. I’ve forced her to wear them a few times. Maybe she’ll be into them in a few weeks. You never know with toddlers.

Besides, I didn’t really sew them for her. I sewed them for me.





Sometimes, living in New York City can feel a little like a dream. Most of the time I’m cloaked in my jaded, hard-won, nothing-impresses-me New Yorker exterior, but every once in a while my inner small-town girl bursts out to say “This is AMAZING! Pinch me!” That’s always the feeling I get when I walk through the Metropolitan Museum of Art. It feels not quite real to have this treasure trove of antiquity and art right up the street (or, in my case, up the street and across a big park). My favorite exhibits, not surprisingly, are those by the Met’s Costume Institute.

When I saw that the institute was staging a new show all about Victorian and Edwardian bereavement garments, I immediately knew I wanted to do a Thread Cult episode about the exhibit. Yesterday, I toured the show—which is beautiful and creepy and perfectly timed for Halloween and Day of the Dead—and I spoke with Jessica Regan, co-curator of the exhibit Death Becomes Her. It’s a fascinating interview, filled with great details about the way the silhouettes of women’s clothing shifted dramatically between 1815 and 1915 and the elaborate (and aspirational) customs surrounding mourning clothing during the period.

Head over to Thread Cult for a listen and to view more pictures from the exhibit (or download the episode on iTunes).

Happy Halloween!

Photo courtesy of the Met’s Costume Institute.


For a couple of years, I’ve been curious about the series of Drape Drape books by Hisako Sato, trolling blogs to see how the pretty draped patterns actually translated on a variety of figures. If you’re not familiar with these books, they’re styled beautifully, with gorgeous (and very skinny) Lolita-like models in all manner of loungy, moody, and pouty poses.  I was definitely not going to tackle these patterns when pregnant, as I feared the gathers and pleats in them would make me look ginormous.

I fell in lust with a few of the patterns in Drape Drape 3 and recently decided to try out the tuck drape shorts (pattern #8). I’ve been behind the curve on the whole harem pants craze (I wasn’t wearing those while pregnant, either!), and this pattern has a little of that Hammer/harem pants look.

I was a intimidated, at first, by the instructions, as they’re pretty minimal, but once I got into sewing I actually felt the illustrations and text was clearer than a lot of patterns with tons of text. I whipped the pants up in half a Sunday, a feat that required the stars aligning (= my husband hung out and entertained the babers).

I wasn’t sure at first, but now I love these shorts. They’re comfy like a skirt (they even look like a skirt at certain angles), and I can dress them up or down. They’re so much better than a skirt, for me, though, because I can get down on the ground and play with my daughter without risk of exposing myself.

It took a little experimenting to figure out what to wear with these. The models in Sato’s book are so rail thin that styling the pants with a billowy shirt works. But I’ve got curves and just look frumpy wearing anything that covers the top of these shorts. After trying a few combinations, I landed on a really cool cowl-neck shirt that I bought a few years ago from a designer in Williamsburg, Brooklyn. I’m blanking on her name right now, but I think she’s a genius just for the shirt, which has hooks all along the sides, and can also be worn into a mini skirt. I love clothes that do double duty, and truth be told, I’ve copied the deep cowl from this shirt for a number of me-made dresses and shirts.

If you’re planning on making these shorts, or anything from Sato’s books, definitely check your measurements. I’m usually a size 4 or 6 in a lot of US patterns, but come out as an XL in Sato’s book. I did find the outcome of the pattern totally accurate to her measurements. I’m excited to tackle some more of her patterns.

In other news, I posted a Thread Cult episode with textile designer and illustrator Heather Ross last week. She just published a beautiful memoir about growing up in rural Vermont. And I’ve also been busy the past couple weeks testing a bunch of sewing machines for a review I’m writing for The Sweethome. I enlisted the help of Oonaballoona and Ginger Makes to help me test. Looking forward to publishing that soon. The review is on machines for beginners, but I’d happily sew on the machine we chose, which I did this past Sunday, in view of some Mother’s Day peonies.


I’m a sucker for hand-made quilts, which is why my attention perked up a few months ago when I found out the New York Historical Society planned to do a show on Civil-War era quilts. I’ve been wanting to expand Thread Cult into more textile-driven stories, and this show seemed an obvious good fit. Little did I know just how interesting, from a textile perspective, it would be. Did you know, for example, that cotton and the economics of cotton production were one of the biggest drivers of the war? Or that women all over the country made quilts to raise millions of dollars for the war? Or that these same women, galvanized by their wartime work, went on to push for women’s suffrage? Heavy stuff, and all told in tiny stitches and colorful fabrics in Homefront & Battlefield: Quilts & Context in the Civil War. You can head over to Thread Cult for my interview with two curators of the show, Lynne Bassett and Margi Hofer.

Here’s a peek  at some of the beautiful examples of the show, which next travels to the Shelburne Museum, in Shelburne, VT, and the Nebraska State Historical Society, in Lincoln, NE:

Images c/o the New York Historical Society.


Since my baby was born, my husband and I have been playing a delicate little dance of lets-split-our-free-time. He, being an artist, needs time in his studio. As a writer, sewing fiend, and a person generally used to lots of time alone, I also need time in my studio. Problem is, I don’t really have a studio. I work out of our 450-square-foot apartment, which has become increasingly compact feeling since we’ve welcomed baby fish. Of course, I’m not really complaining. Every parent has to balance all the adjustments that come with babies, and overall I’d say we have it pretty easy. But about 2 months ago (8 months postpartum) a little voice went off in my head—”hey, lady!” it said, “you need to be taking some time for you!” Lacking my own little work space during the weekends, when baby and hubby are home, I’ve started retreating to other private/public corners of the city for a few hours here and there. One of my favorites is the main public library off of Bryant Park, where, a couple Saturdays ago, I spent some time ogling Madame Grès: Spinx of Fashion in the art library.

Like many people who like dresses and draping and art, I’m in awe of the fantastic pleated gowns Madame Grès made from the 1930′s through ’80′s. They’re very Grecian, but also very modern looking—even the ones that are 80 years old. I’ve been collecting a little inspiration board of her pieces on Pinterest, but the Spinx of Fashion includes some great examples I hadn’t seen before. The coolest thing about her gowns is that they’re mostly made of uncut yards of fabric (usually silk or wool jersey), and the pleats are what give them shape. I’ve been fascinated by clothes made from geometric patterns lately (as with my recent caftan, and older future dress). Working with geometric pattern pieces is much easier for me since, at this point, I’ve only got the space on our Ikea island to cut and sew.  When I realized that Grès’s amazing sculptural dresses are essentially made from big rectangles, I decided I needed to try something similar.

For this practice run, I used a cheap jersey knit from Chic Fabrics. Basically, I simply cut a hole in the center of 2 yards of jersey, exactly the same as I did for my prior caftan. And then I went to town pleating the fabric. The pleating reduced the 60-inch wide fabric to about 20 inches (so 30 inches on each side down to 10 inches).

I used the shoulder line as the starting point for pleats down the front and back.

I’m not totally convinced the back is working. I like the gathers, but there’s some weird puckering in the fabric down the center.

The dress has only ties for closures. I made them out of thin reuleaux, which was a technique that Claire McCardell (another favorite) often used in her dresses. The cool/weird thing I added was another detail Grès used in some of her dresses. Instead of leaving the dress loose at the hem, I sewed the front and back together at the hemline, leaving slits for my lets to go through. I’m not sure if I should be calling this a dress, jumpsuit, or romper.

The plus side of this design is that I can crawl all over the floor at home with baby and not worry about exposing myself in an unladylike manner. I imagine this will come in handy over the summer at the park. The downside, which I didn’t realize until wearing the dress for a few hours is that, well, it’s real hard to go to the bathroom. Let’s just say I’ve had to get creative.

One of Madame Grès’s looped leg designs, from Spinx of Fashion

Another of Madame Grès looped leg designs.

And my inspiration for the realeaux ties, from a Claire McCardell designs, from Secrets of the Couturiers

I want to try this design again with better fabric (maybe silk jersey) and make more precise pleats. And with the next one, hopefully I can come up with a better strategy for taking her on and off!

In other news, if you don’t get Thread Cult updates via iTunes or the Thread Cult website, I’ve posted two great interviews over the past weeks. One with the historical costumer, Lauren Stowell (aka American Duchess), and with the amazing couture expert Claire Shaeffer.


I opened my mailbox this afternoon to a nice surprise. The April/May issue of Threads gives a lovely shout out to Thread Cult. Hello page 82! Actually, I knew the podcast was getting a mention in the magazine, but it was still nice to see it so early (for the shortest month, February sure seems to be dragging on this year!). As it happens, the cover story of this issue is all about sewing shear fabrics, so I’ll have to review this article for my techniques on that silk chiffon caftan I just finished.

Today, I also just posted the newest Thread Cult episode with the most lovely Susan Khalje (who also happens to be a contributor to Threads). Susan is my first repeat guest on the show and I was really excited to catch up with her. She’s so great to talk with and has so much great advice on sewing and appreciating beauty. I really like how she’s always ready to laugh and get into the nitty gritty about techniques. Her new couture cocktail dress class is about to launch. I can’t wait to take it!



For a while I’ve been a little obsessed with geometry. Specifically, how triangles, squares, and circles translate into  wearable (and pretty!) garments. Simplicity is playing its part. The hobbies in my life have, inevitably, required some streamlining since becoming a mother. And living in a one-bedroom Manhattan apartment certainly limits the area I have to lay out patterns, cut, and even set up my machine for long periods of time. But beyond all that, clothes made from geometric pattern pieces are just really cool. In many cases, they reduce waste, since you don’t end up with a lot of little scraps, and they can, in many instances, be sewn pretty easily. My first taste of this was with my future dress, which is basically just four large triangles sewn together and hung on the bias.

All that’s a long introduction to this caftan, made of one rectangle of fabric with a hole cut in the middle. My sister and brother-in-law are going to Hawaii for a well-deserved vacation, and I wanted to make her something special for the beach. This sent me on a bit of a scavenger’s hunt across the internet looking for patterns and tutorials, and after considering a few I finally landed on this great and simple tutorial, based on these lovely caftans made by Two.

I chose a silk chiffon from Mood, which has a delicious, light-as-air quality, and hand-rolled all of the hems, edges, and neckline. I like the look of hand-rolled hems, and doing them is a bit meditative. Hand stitching was also a great way to sew while planting myself on the couch, patrolling Little Fish’s path of destruction from toy basket to kitchen shelf to recycling bin. In the past weeks, I’ve given up on trying to keep her from getting into things, and just set up the areas she can reach with things she can pull apart and play with. Simplification. Keeps a mother sane.

As I mention up top, Choo Cha Handmade has a nice tutorial for cutting out the neck area and gathering the neckline and I also like how she tapers her caftan toward the hem. Here’s how I did it…


Something I’ve noticed since becoming a mother is that I’m generally dressing Baby better than myself. Take this wool kimono jacket I made last fall, when Baby was 3 months, but that she can still fit into at 8 months (albeit, now as a three-quarter length jacket). I’ve needed a nice little black jacket, literally, for years, but have a) never anted up to buy one or b) spent the time to make one myself.


Maybe dressing Baby is a bit of an aspirational pursuit.

I used the pattern from this awesome Molly’s Sketchbook: Felted Wool Baby Jacket tutorial on the Purl Bee. I have a crush on all of Molly’s Sketchbook projects. They’re consistently cute, but elegant, and she uses the nicest fabrics.

When I finished it, I realized it was very much a little version of a Ladies Who Lunch jacket. Something to wear to The Carlyle (or so I imagine!). As it is, we’re sticking to banana mash and sippy cups, Chez Fish.

I used a slightly stretchy wool, and lined it with a beautiful Italian cotton voile from Mood printed with little bee-type bugs.

I never got around to adding a closure, which, in the end, has been to my advantage, since it now fits baby like a little cardigan. It’s been shockingly resilient to months of rolling, dragging, and crawling.

Maybe, by next fall, I’ll get around to making my own little black jacket…or, more likely, I’ll make Baby another.


On an early morning this week, I caught up with Nora Abousteit, the lovely founder and CEO of Kollabora, and one of the founders of Nora really has a wonderful vision for modernizing the sewing and craft worlds, bringing the best of old-school media into the Internet age.

It was great to chat with her over tea at her apartment downtown. I was especially intrigued to learn that Nora plans to launch a video component of Kollabora, where makers can sell their own DIY tutorials. Head on over to the Thread Cult site for a listen! Or subscribe in iTunes!


Although I haven’t posted many makes here over the past year, I have actually been sewing. Tiny things. Baby things. My interview with Liesl Gibson for last week’s Thread Cult inspired me to make an Oliver + S pattern, the Firefly— an adorable, kimono-style jacket with fluttery sleeves.

Boy, is it hard taking pictures of this little fish. She tempts gravity by the second.

I like sewing baby clothes for a few reasons. Mainly, they’re adorable (!). But I also like that I can finish a project relatively quickly–key for a mama — and I can do a lot of hand details, like blind stitching, on the couch. I also feel fully entitled to splurge on nice fabric, like this pink-and-gray Liberty print. At $36 a yard, I probably would never buy it for myself. However, I’ve already gotten a baby tunic and this jacket from one yard, with extra leftover.

I used a deep rose corduroy on the reverse side, made ribbon button loops from the Liberty fabric, and used some vintage rose buttons I found in a bag of buttons left to me by my grandmother.

I think Baby Fish will be able to wear it through early summer. Right around the time the real fireflies–or lightening bugs, as they call them out here–make their appearance.