Sunday, October 5, 2014

Black and red wedding napkins

Some friends from grad school got married, and I made these napkins for them. I made two each of four different patterns, unified by having black backgrounds and red in the design. I used red thread for the stitching. Jon and I had a lot of fun picking out the patterns we were going to use. We ended up with the skulls & roses print I already had from making this apron and bag for the bride (well before she was a bride), "love" printed fabric, some owls, and some little aliens. I think the patterns capture how fun the bride and groom are, and I was especially happy with the owls because they had some owl themed stuff at their wedding.

To make the napkins, I used the "casual" mitered corner napkin tutorial here. I didn't get the mitering perfect, but I was happy with them overall. I think I started with 18 inch squares and lost a little over an inch to hemming, so they ended up about 16 1/2 inches finished.

Tuesday, April 30, 2013

PJ Pants for the Whole Family

These are my 2nd and 3rd entries to the pattern stash contest. Jon needed new PJ pants, and we had an old green flannel sheet set that had been retired, so I made him a pair of pants.The first pair I made ended up too big for him, so I took them instead. (Although we are basically the same height and weight, Jon and I are a study in sexual dimorphism. But that's for another day.)

Tonight I finally got around to making the second pair, this time using a unisex pattern. He likes them!

Saturday, March 23, 2013

Bicycle skirt

Pattern Stash Contest  I joined a while ago, but I haven't really done anything there yet. Yesterday I randomly went to the page and checked out the contests. One of them is a pattern stash contest, in other words, perfect inspiration for me. I haven't done much sewing lately, and most of it has just been mending or minor refashions, so making a new skirt from scratch last night was a real treat.
 This is Simplicity #4036, a simple A-line skirt pattern. I think I bought it in grad school, but I'm not sure. It's been sitting around for a while. I got the bicycle flannel and this purple cotton-poly blend (I think) years ago in the remnants pile at Joann's. I knew I wanted to make a skirt out of it, but I also knew that I didn't have enough of it for a whole skirt, so it languished for a while. I knew I wanted to piece it together with the purple fabric somehow, but I was hemming and hawing over how.

I think it would have been cool to have more elaborate piecing going on, maybe with the front and back made up of panels of both bicycle fabric and purple fabric, but because the bicycle fabric is directional, the layout didn't work very well for that. So I decided to do the simplest piecing imaginable, just making the front in one and the back in the other, with the panel fabrics switched. I wasn't sure I would like it, but I really do. I also set in an exposed zipper rather than an invisible zipper because I didn't have an invisible zipper of the right length, and it just seemed fun.

The fit is kind of big because I made a 16 instead of 14. Next time I'll probably make the 14, but I like that this one is roomy and cozy, and the extra space will make it more bike friendly. Now if only the weather would agree with my skirt that it's time to bike! It was 20 degrees on the first day of spring. (That's Fahrenheit.)

You can read my review at

Sunday, November 11, 2012

I am your sunshine?

Mia nominated me for a "Sunshine" blog award. I am not really into these memes usually, but I really liked the questions she asked, so I answered them. But I am not going to nominate anyone else. The buck stops here! (But thanks, Mia, I had fun thinking about these. I'm trying to do "NaNoWriMo," but with a few short stories rather than a novel, and all writing exercises are helpful.)

The "rules:"(which I am breaking, since I'm not doing 4 or 5)
1. Include the award logo in a post and/or on your blog sidebar.
2. Link to the blogger who nominated you.3. Answer 10 questions about yourself.4. Nominate 10 other fabulous bloggers and ask them 10 questions.5. Link to your nominees in your post and let them know about the reward.

1. Are you left- or right-handed? (Or ambidextrous?)

I am right-handed but left-eye dominant, and I naturally stand on my left foot if called upon to stand on one foot. I figured out the eye thing the first time I shot a gun (it is not a regular occurrence , and I couldn't aim for crap because I was holding it on my right side and trying to use my left eye to aim. If I were to become a marksperson, I would start shooting left-handed.

2. What was the last thing you drew or doodled?

Since I'm a mathematician, I doodle all the time. Mostly I draw genus 2 surfaces. (I study surfaces of genus greater than or equal to 2, and apparently I'm a lazy doodler, so I just make two holes, even though the surfaces could have 800 holes, or seventy billion.) I've been drawing a lot of triangles, too, and I have some ideas for cool pants and dresses that I have been doodling. But most likely a genus  2 surface is my most recent doodle.

3. What’s the best present you ever received?

This was a toughie. I have a great family and awesome friends who really know me and find things that are perfect for me. My grandparents got me a sewing machine when I was in middle school, and obviously I've enjoyed that for over a decade now. I really like presents that are activities to do together. I think spending quality time with someone is really important for sustaining a relationship, whether romantic or not. Jon got me tickets to a Chicago symphony concert that I really wanted to go to last year (and that wasn't really up his alley), and I really enjoyed that. I've gotten tons of wonderful, really meaningful presents, but those are just two that come to mind as especially nice.

4. What’s the best present you ever gave?

Jon went to take a temporary job in France three weeks after we got married, and I made a book for him before he left called "Jon's Evelyn Book." It has pictures of me and us together. Every year for our anniversary, I make him another Jon's Evelyn Book, filled with pictures from the past year (or old ones I've dug up and think he'll like). 
5. What words do you have difficulty spelling no matter how many times you look them up?
I have always been a good speller, but mountain was a hard work for me for a long time. Occasion too. I know how to do it now, but it took me years. I am currently working on infinitesimal. I think it should have a double s, but I am wrong.
6. When you’re putting on shoes and socks, do you do sock-shoe-sock-shoe or sock-sock-shoe-shoe?
Hrm, I think I do sock-sock-shoe-shoe. Just yesterday I was thinking about how socks and shoes are a good example for understanding commuting and non-commuting. Commutative actions don't care what order you do them in, like putting on your left and right socks. It doesn't matter what order you put them on in. Non-commutative actions do care: putting on shoes first and then socks is not the same as putting on socks and shoes.

7. Did your parents make things up about the world when you were a kid? What’s the best/worst thing they told you? (My dad told me there was whale blubber in ice cream. I told everyone.)
I honestly don't remember. They probably tried to give me as much accurate information as possible, especially when it came to scientific facts about the world. They're boring that way. This isn't quite the same, but I do remember my dad trying to tell me about higher-dimensional space. (So like fourth dimension and beyond.) I insisted that he was being ridiculous and obviously the world was just three dimensions, so we couldn't even say anything about four-dimensional space or higher. Then he told me that there might be situations where there were more than three inputs in a problem, and (alert: this is my interpretation now of what he was probably trying to say then) the way you can think about modeling those inputs would be a graph in four or more dimensions. It made me think, but I stubbornly held my ground for that argument. I couldn't let him know I thought he might have a point. 

8. What’s your favorite punctuation mark?
The semicolon. Kurt Vonnegut, one of my favorite authors, didn't like it (something about a transvestite hermaphrodite; I don't have a problem with transvestite hermaphrodites, although I have never met any), but I think it's grand. It's a nice understated way to connect two ideas without having to decide between "and," "but," "because," or other conjunctions. I think that lets you have a little more creativity.

9. What’s your favorite single-use kitchen implement (or other single-use household implement, if you don’t spend much time in the kitchen)?
We try not to have too many unitaskers, but a pastry cutter is one. I don't use it a ton, but there's really nothing else that can help you incorporate solid fats into pastry dough as effectively. Cheese graters are good, too. And my tea maker. And when we move and have more room in our kitchen, we want to get one of those seltzer makers you sometimes see in Sky Mall catalogs.

10. What’s your favorite “unsolved event,” mysterious creature/person, or otherwise creepy weird thing that hasn’t been figured out by modern man? (I find the Dyatlov Pass incident fascinating.)
I recently learned about these things called "fairy circles"in Namibia. They are these circles where grass doesn't grow, but eventually (over the course of a few decades) the circles are revegetated. Scientists recently documented the whole life cycle of these circles, but various hypotheses about why they occur have been discredited. The hypotheses include fungi or other diseases, ants or termites, and natural gas deposits beneath the surface. I'm also curious about who poisoned Victor Yushchenko and who poisoned some tourists in Thailand. (The tourist story is very sad.)

Sunday, October 28, 2012

Easy wrap dress

I just noticed that I wrote this post back in May and never posted it! Now that it's starting to get cold here, seeing this is a nice reminder of what it's like to be warm when you're outside.

This is Vogue 8646, a "very easy Vogue" wrap dress. I made it out of an old bedsheet. When I unpacked our belongings after we moved to Chicago, I realized that we had several sheet sets that either didn't fit our current bed (Jon's old extra long twins from college) or were clearly inferior to other sheet sets and thus never got used, so they went into the sewing stash. Even though I have a ton of non-sheet fabric in my stash as well, using the old sheets is a low-stakes way to test out a pattern. Basically this is a nice wearable muslin that was free to make, and I plan on making a lot more bedsheet muslins.

For this one, I used a lightweight cotton-poly blend light green checked sheet. The pattern only had four pieces, and it was really easy to lay out. (The grid pattern of the fabric made it easy to line up the pattern pieces with the grainline.) I like what a full skirt it has, and I liked that the pattern had you do finishing a little bit at a time rather than getting to the end and having a million hems to make. For the armhole and neck/front opening, it had you do a single fold bias tape finish. I had never used this technique before, and the instructions were a little unclear, but I found a good tutorial on the Burda style blog. I did the single fold bias finish for the first time, and I was a bit underwhelmed. I guess it's a faster alternative to using facings because you don't have to cut the facing out, but I felt like it wasn't as good on the tight curves on the armhole. I was pretty happy with how it worked for the neckline. I might try omitting the seam allowance and doing a double fold bias tape finish next time, or making armhole facings and doing the single fold bias tape finish on the neckline. I made my own bias tape out of the same fabric. That was fun. I might post about that later.
I found the bodice a little too roomy, especially where I graded up a couple sizes for the waist. Next time, I will cut a smaller size and make it a straight size, even though my bust, waist, and hips are all different sizes. I will also use a snap instead of ribbons for the inside fastener. I think it is too hard to keep the ribbons from looking lumpy on the outside, and I'm not sure I see any benefit to them.

All in all, I really like this dress. It's a little translucent because I used a lightweight sheet, so I have to be careful with underwear color, but it's breezy and flattering on me. (With a smaller bodice it will be even more flattering.) I think the cut, especially the full skirt, is classic without looking vintage/costumey. (Not that there's anything wrong with looking vintage/costumey, but it's not always what I want.) I plan on making this dress again. I think all sorts of summery prints would look great in this pattern, and I bet I could make some nice fall/spring dresses by adding sleeves and using heavier materials.
I made this in late March or early April, but the first time I wore it was when I went to Houston for my graduation weekend. (Yes, you may call me Dr. Evelyn now.) I wore this on Friday, which was the day of the hooding ceremony, with my sea glass necklace. The necklace has the added bonus of holding down the flappy bodice a bit to help avoid wardrobe malfunctions. The hooding ceremony is an event for Ph.D. graduates so their families will get to sit through an extra boring ceremony on graduation weekend. It was actually pretty nice, and I was glad to have something lightweight but special to wear under my 100% polyester portable sweat lodge doctoral regalia.

Thursday, October 25, 2012

64th anniversary tablecloth II: practice

And now, the exciting conclusion of the tablecloth saga!

I should just say that this project was harder than I thought it would be. In theory, there's no difference between theory and practice. But in practice, there is. One lesson I learned was that the lumps and bumps of the human body are a lot more forgiving than a flat tabletop. Who knew?

My grandparents' anniversary was September 5, the day before my birthday. (I was a 35th anniversary present, a day late.) It's not really fall weather in Dallas, but my grandmother likes fall colors, and their house color scheme is fall-ish, so I went with some orange eyelet I had lying around and brown and cream polyester for the tablecloth. After some sketching, I decided that the color scheme, working in from the largest square, should be orange-white-brown-white-orange-white-brown-white.

When I left off the last post, I had just started cutting the fabric. I was a little worried about having enough of brown and orange, so I figured out a super clever strategy: the smaller squares covered up a lot of the larger ones, so I poached fabric from the larger squares to make the smaller ones of the same color. For the white ones, I cut the two larger squares out separately and then cut the 3rd largest out of the fourth largest.

I also figured out a super-clever way to cut a small square out of the center of a large square: fold the large square in half to get a double-layer isosceles right triangle. Then fold again to get a four-layer isosceles right triangle. Then, keeping measuring tape parallel with side of outer square, move it in until you hit the side length of the small square. (In the schematic on the left, I start with the full square and fold it up into the small triangle. The dotted line in the last triangle is the side of the smallest square.)

Unfortunately, I once again underestimated the difference between theory and practice. It's very hard to get all the layers perfectly flat, and some of the squares I ended up cutting out weren't very square. The large orange one worked out OK, but I had to re-cut some others out of the remaining fabric, which didn't end up being an issue. Oh well, it was a nice idea.

I also messed up the largest white square. I don't know how, but it ended up with sides that were two inches too small. I didn't have a square of fabric large enough any more, so I ended up cutting out four right triangles, the only part visible in each layer, instead of one square.
This is the orange piece with a square cut out of the middle. That white layer is the one I had to make by cutting out triangles instead of a square because I miscalculated the first time.

The construction was pretty straightforward. I started from the innermost square and worked my way out. Instead of doing some sort of turn-under on the sides of each square, I topstitched using a wide but short (many stitches per inch) zigzag stitch. A wide, short zigzag stitch can cover a multitude of sins! I was nervous about the (lack of) square-ness of the squares, and the wide stitch gave me enough wiggle room to make less than straight sides look straight. (If you'll recall from the last post, I had computed the side lengths to the nearest thousandth, and here I was using a quarter-inch wide zigzag stitch-ha!) For each layer, I chose the color that was not represented by the two adjoining squares.

I had some trouble getting the fabric to lie flat. I had to pin a lot more densely than usual, and I also basted the layers. (I'm lazy, and I don't usually baste when I'm sewing.) In the end, I didn't completely get it to lie flat, but it was pretty good.

I went to Dallas for a week in September to be with my mom when she had surgery, so I decided to deliver the tablecloth in person then. Of course, I procrastinated and was trying to finish it the night before I left. Of course, I ran out of orange thread because the zigzags were so thread-intensive, so I had to run to the fabric store the next morning to pick up more. I had time to finish all the zigzags, but I didn't have a chance to do some of the finishing.

The upside to my procrastination was that I got to use my mom's beautiful 1950s-era Singer sewing machine to finish it off. (We think it belonged to a grandmother/great-grandmother/great-aunt, but Mom can't remember exactly how it got passed down to her.) Before I had a machine of my own, I used this one, and now that I am more experienced, I have a better appreciation for what a great machine it is. I had to get her to help me remember how to thread it and insert the bobbin, but once I had it all set up, it was a dream. I don't know how to describe it exactly. It's just a smooth ride. Is there a certain car that's supposed to have a really smooth ride? A Porsche or something? I've never driven a Porsche (or whatever the canonical smooth ride car is), but if I had, I would compare using this machine to driving a Porsche. I love my machine, and it can do zigzags and buttonholes better than Mom's, which requires special attachments, but I wouldn't mind having a machine like hers for straight stitching someday.

Since I had a big hole in the back of the piece from my weird inner square cutting, I used a big piece of leftover white fabric to make a backing for the piece. Here it is before I covered the hole. (I didn't take a picture after. Oops.)

My mom sent me some pictures of the finished tablecloth on my grandparents' table, one of which is posted at the top of this post. I hope they like it. I love and admire them so much, and I hope that our marriage can be as long and as loving as theirs. I often have trouble finding good gifts for them, so I was glad to get to make them something special and creative.

Jon LOVES the design. He's supportive about my sewing, but he's not usually very effusive, and he doesn't often bring a design up later. I might be able to make a present for him along these lines, although I'll probably go smaller/fewer layers. Wrangling eight was a bit overwhelming.

Sunday, October 21, 2012

64th anniversary tablecloth I: theory

In my last post (two months ago!), I asked for ideas for a tablecloth that would feature 8 squares for my grandparents' 64th (8 sqared-th) anniversary. A twitter friend pointed me to Wooly Thoughts, a site with the tag line "in pursuit of crafty mathematics," and I ended up really liking this design. My version has 8 squares in it, of course. I used more math than I'm usually aware of using when I sew, and it was really fun. In this post, I'll talk about some of the math I used. In the next post, I'll talk about the actual construction of the tablecloth.

The mathematics behind the square pattern is a curve of pursuit, at least as I understand it. I haven't done the computations myself, but I think that the "spiral" (it's piecewise straight, but the mind easily makes it into a curved spiral) traced out by the corners of the squares represents the path four dogs (or mice) would take if they were all mutually chasing each other at constant speed. Pretty cool, huh? The way I thought of constructing it was just rotating a smaller square until its corners hit the sides of the next larger square.

I decided that I wanted a constant ratio of sizes of squares, and I thought that it would be cool if the innermost square were parallel with the outermost. I did a simple high school geometry proof to make sure that the angle of successive squares was additive.

The left picture is a schematic of a few of the squares. The right is a blow-up of the way the angles in question are situated. The variable x represents the amount of rotation at each layer. The variable y represents the total rotation after two layers. I used the fact that the sum of angles of a Euclidean triangle is 180 degrees and that vertical angles are congruent to conclude that y=2x, which means that rotation is additive. (OK, technically I showed that the rotation would be additive if the rotation is by the same amount each time, but if x were replaced with z for a different amount of rotation, we would find that y=x+z.)

There might be an easier way to see that rotation would be additive in this case. It's obvious that it is additive if the vertices of both angles x are in the same place, so if the squares all had a corner in common. But I was worried that maybe something weird would happen when you slid the second angle along the side of the first triangle. This proof told me that nothing weird would happen. I have learned that my intuition is often wrong in math, so it was nice to have a proof so I knew for sure.

Since 13x7=91, which is close to 90, I decided that each square should be rotated by about 13 degrees to get the sides of the last square to be parallel with the first. I wanted the tablecloth to have a diagonal length of 60 inches because my vision was for it to be rotated and put on their table diagonally, and based on their table size, I thought 60 inches was a good length.

I couldn't actually find our calculator. (Update: I found it recently when I accidentally knocked it off the back of the work desk. But the batteries are dead anyway.) Instead, I used the google as a calculator to figure out what the side length of the largest square should be to give diagonal length 60. (Answer: 60/sqrt(2), about 42.4 inches, conveniently about the same as the width of the orange fabric I was using.)
 Then I set up an equation to figure out the ratio between successive square side lengths. In the picture to the left, I assume the total side length of the largest square is 1 and figure out where the second square touches the first using the equation I wrote at the bottom. To figure out the side length of the smaller square, I used the Pythagorean theorem with the x and 1-x to get the hypotenuse of that triangle, which is the side length of the second square. After getting a decimal approximation of that side length, I computed all the square side lengths to three significant figures. That should have been my first clue that I was greatly underestimating the difference between theory and practice: my tape measure goes down to 16ths of an inch, and my cutting is considerably less accurate than my tape measure.

Here is a sketch of my plan on poster board.

Even with the relatively good precision of pencil and paper, the innermost square didn't line up very well with the outermost square. But it looked cool anyway.

Unfettered by banal practicalities such as the realistic amount of precision I could hope for when cutting the fabric, I double-checked my numbers and went off to cut the fabric.

Tune in tomorrow (or whenever I get around to posting again) to read about the differences between theory and practice that I encountered during this project! (Compelling cliffhanger, or most compelling cliffhanger?)