Back to work wardrobe building

When I went back to work after 12 quick weeks of maternity leave (seriously, how do 12 weeks just disappear? Oh yeah, I just can’t remember them because I wasn’t sleeping), I faced quite a challenge from a wardrobe standpoint going back to work though — none of my pants fit. Seriously, not a single pair. After a lot of hard work over the last three months, almost all of my pre-pregnancy clothes fit again, but that certainly wasn’t the case back in November when I first went back to work.

Creative Counselor:  Back to work wardrobe building

Back at it…

To remedy that situation, I spent the last couple weeks of maternity leave focusing my sewing on work staples.  Today I’m sharing what were staples in my office wardrobe those first few months, and still get a decent amount of wear — basic jersey pencil skirts and my Day-to-Night Drape tops.

Creative Counselor: Great work basics -- jersey skirts and Day to Night Drape top

My work uniform — especially those first couple of months back!

There’s nothing earth-shattering about this skirt.  (I made 4 of this skirts, all exactly the same.  I’m showing you one and figured you could use your imagination from there!).  You’ve seen them in every women’s clothing store and from every line for years.  There are a dozen tutorials out there on how to make your own from your own measurements (like here and here and here and here). They’re comfortable and flattering and easy to alter!

Personally, I hate (as in H-A-T-E hate) the find-a-garment-that-fits-well-and-trace-it-for-your-own-pattern approach to sewing clothes.  There are so many lovely indie pattern designers who have already done that hard work for me, and I’m perfectly happy to throw a few bucks their way for a nice, tested, graded pattern! Or of you’re not inclined to drop the dough for an indie pattern and are in the US, just head to your nearest Joann’s or Hancock Fabrics. They pretty much always have one of the Big 4 patterns on sale for $0.99.

Creative Counselor: Great work basics -- jersey skirts and Day to Night Drape top

Great basics. So forgiving for a postpartum body.

In this case, I used a pattern that was already in my stash — the Megan Nielsen Ruched Maternity Skirt.  Adapting this clearly maternity pattern for my non-pregnant body was surprisingly easy.  Rather than using the front pattern piece (which has generous proportions for a growing belly) for the skirt front, I simply cut two of the back pattern piece.  Easy peasy!

I also didn’t need the skirts to sit just under my bust, the way the maternity skirt does.  Instead, I figured out where I wanted the waist of the skirt to sit on my body, identified where the curve of my hips was, and then measured the distance between the two.  I applied that measurement to my pattern piece, and measured up from the curve of the hip on the pattern piece to find where the waist should hit.  Then I added about 1 1/2 inches for an elastic casing, and shortened the pattern piece appropriately.

Creative Counselor: Great work basics -- jersey skirts and Day to Night Drape top

Back view.

The top is the Day-to-Night Drape top by Maria Denmark.  You may have seen Sew Busy Lizzy gush about this top here or Winnie of the Scruffy Badger here.  After making a couple of these tops, it is no longer a mystery to me why sewists with office jobs are dedicated Maria Denmark fans — she is the F-ing queen of business casual patterns!

The Day-to-Night Drape top is a perfect example.  This top is cute, fast, and incredibly useful for an office environment.  It goes with just about anything, looks great layered under a jacket or cardigan (since us office dwellers love to layer — never know that that air conditioner is going to do), and is super comfortable for sitting around in all day.

Creative Counselor: Great work basics -- jersey skirts and Day to Night Drape top

Maria Denmark — can’t beat her for business casual basics!

And a plus for me — the drapey neckline is perfect for nursing!  I’ve made two of these tops so far, both in bamboo jersey, which was perfect for this top.  Bamboo jersey is typically a true medium-weight knit, which makes it really easy to work with, but also tends to have some spandex content, which gives it a super-stretchy four-way stretch.  Four-way stretch may not be strictly necessary for this top, but it sure is nice if you’re planning to pull the neckline down to nurse all the time!

Creative Counselor: Great work basics -- jersey skirts and Day to Night Drape top

Photo bombed! Say hi to Paco.

Pattern: Day-to-Night Drape Top by Maria Denmark

Size: M

Fit: Great. Maria Denmark does a great job fitting knit tops.  The pieces fit great with an appropriate amount of shaping and ease.

Fabric: Bamboo jersey from lowpricefabric.com.  I love this jersey — it’s pretty much my go-to for solid knit fabric.  I also made one in a navy polka dot bamboo jersey from fabric.com.  Sadly, I think they are now sold out.  However, Girl Charlee just started carrying some bamboo jersey — currently all they have is stripes.

Modifications: None.

Pattern Format: PDF pattern — not the best I’ve ever worked with, but certainly not the worst. I didn’t have any problems with this PDF. Everything went together just fine and the pattern lined up well.  There aren’t many pattern pieces (only 2), so this wasn’t too cumbersome.

Pros:

  • Very fast and easy to make.
  • Great for an office environment.
  • Drape top is execellent for nursing.
  • Fit is great.
  • The finished product looks amazingly RTW.

Cons:

  • To me, this style pretty much reeks of business casual.  I love having these in my wardrobe, but it’s not really something I wear other than to work.

Overall grade: A. I think this is such a great office wardrobe staple.  And I’m sure it’s perfectly appropriate for non-office wear too, if that wasn’t so ingrained into my brain.  You can’t beat a fast, easy top that gives a truly RTW look!

$10 + 10 minutes = Summer Dress

Ever find yourself in that situation where you have a short amount of time and don’t want to spend much money, but still want or need to whip up a summer dress for the little one?

Well, a couple of weekends ago, I took J and N with me to the fabric store (yes, I take my kids to the fabric store — they love it!), and N asked me ever-so-sweetly for a new dress.

And the fabric she wanted for her dress?  The pre-shirred Disney princess and Tinkerbell** licensed fabric — of course.  As much as I dislike working with the Disney-licensed fabric (I’m a fabric snob, so sue me), I realized that the fact that it was pre-shirred meant that I could whip up a dress in nothing flat!

Creative Counselor: Have $10 and 10 minutes? You can make a dress!

$10 + 10 minutes = summer girl’s dress!

N is a small little thing, so I picked up 20 inches of each of the fabrics at $0.49 per inch (less than $10 for each fabric), dug some coordinating fold-over elastic out of my stash for straps, and whipped up a couple of summer dresses for her that evening.

Creative Counselor: Have $10 and 10 minutes? You can make a dress!

Straps

I am not kidding when I say that it took me 10 minutes (or less) to make each of these dresses!  Actually, it would have been much less than that if I hadn’t added the elastic straps.  Without those, it is seriously a single seam that I then serged to finish — it probably would have taken me 2 minutes to do that.  But including straps added some time, and they’re pretty much necessary for a kid N’s age.

Creative Counselor: Have $10 and 10 minutes? You can make a dress!

Princesses — must have princesses when you’re 3.

Yes, these are a total cheat project (the hardest part — shirring — is already done for you), with nothing interesting or challenging from a construction standpoint.  Still, N has worn these two dresses almost every day since I made them.  Not a bad use of $10 and 10 minutes!

**I don’t have photos of the TInkerbell dress because N was wearing the day I took project photos.  It is a hot pink pre-shirred fabric (her favorite color) with a Tinkerbell print along the bottom.  I had matching hot-pink FOE in my stash — perfect!

Coffee Date Friday {#16}

TGIF!  Yes, we shouldn’t spend 1/7 of our life dreading Monday, but TGIF just has a better ring to it than TGIM.  Am I right or am I right?

Come join me for a coffee date!

If we were having coffee this morning, I would tell you that trial prep is great for hours and keeping busy, but boy is it exhausting!  I haven’t had the energy to do much of anything in the evenings after the kids go to bed because my brain is just so fried.  That made it a great time to catch up on the first two episodes of Game of Thrones. And how awesome was that second episode?!?  I won’t spoil it for anyone who hasn’t seen it yet :)

If we were having coffee, I would tell you that I’ve been planning my packing for an upcoming trip to visit family (and for a wedding!) and realized that about 90% of what I am taking with me is handmade!  The only reason it’s not 100% handmade is because I don’t own any handmade shorts or pants.  I guess I’d better fix that this summer!

If we were having coffee, I would tell you that I am really, really looking forward to getting out of town, but also finding the prospect of taking our whole show on the road (or a plane) to be really, really daunting.  I haven’t been out of the KC metro area (other than down to southeast Kansas for work, which doesn’t count) since last July, and I really need to get the heck out of Dodge!  The prospect of having to work on trial prep while I’m gone isn’t particularly attractive either, but at least my work remote access is set up pretty well.

And on that same note, if we were having coffee this morning, I’d tell you that I am now frantically trying to finish up my dress for the wedding before we leave!  Both of the kids’ outfits are finished, but I kind of fizzled out after putting the finishing touches on their clothes.  J and N are both in the wedding, so their outfits obviously took top priority.  However, I don’t think I have a dressy outfit that fits and would allow me to nurse, so I’m really hoping I can get this dress finished!  And besides, it’s gonna be awesome — lace and silk and a yummy color.  Assuming that it all comes together as planned, that is :)

I hope everyone has a beautiful, productive weekend!

If we were having coffee, what would you tell me?

Linking up with Diary of an Addict for Coffee Date Friday.

Zippy little tops

While the rest of the bloggy world was busy oohing and aahing over the new Pattern Anthology collection (which is seriously awesome, BTW, and I plan to join the oohing and aahing after I get a couple made up), and the Perfect Pattern Parcel (again, awesome, and I have one waiting to be blogged!), a new little pattern from See Kate Sew kind of flew under the radar.

(Though Kate just did a sew along for this top, so if you want some hand-holding, check it out!).

Creative Counselor: Zippy Top

The Zippy Top

The Zippy Top, released a few weeks ago, is a very simple little cap-sleeved woven top.  It is available in full or cropped length and only takes 1 to 1.5 yards of woven fabric.  For the full-length top, if you are using a non-directional print (i.e. you can cut it on the cross grain without messing up your print), you could probably just eek out the front and back pieces on a single yard of 44″ wide fabric.  1 yard of 60″ wide fabric is enough even cut on the grain.

(Bullet-point review at the end of this post).

Creative Counselor: Zippy Top

Easy, simple, fast.

This top was perfect for me when it was released.  I really wanted to sit down and sew but just I just wanted to finish something.  I was feeling incredibly unmotivated to wrestle with pleats, buttons, darts, or fitting issues.  I wanted a simple little top that I could make in easy, stash-busting fabrics, and have some instant gratification.

The Zippy Top was my perfect answer!

Creative Counselor: Zippy Top

Zippy #2

This top is very simple, construction is fast, and it’s perfect for using up smaller cuts of woven fabric like voile, seersucker, chambray or even quilting cotton (so long as your quilting cotton isn’t too crisp).

Creative Counselor: Zippy Top

Back View

My first Zippy Top is made from a cut of Japanese cotton by Yuwa that has been in my stash for close to 2 years.  It’s one of the first fabrics that I bought after I starting sewing my own clothes.  I only had 1.5 yards, so it wasn’t enough for a dress or a skirt, and I was having a hard time finding a top pattern that I liked with the very modern print of the fabric.  But it’s amazingly soft and silky (as Japanese cotton tends to be) and it was a shame to leave it languishing in the stash.  It made a perfect Zippy Top!

Creative Counselor: Zippy Top

Yuwa Japanese cotton — sorry I don’t know the line!

I actually made my Zippy Tops without the exposed zipper called for in the pattern.  I didn’t have the right color of zipper for my first top, so I started just sewing it up until the zipper insertion.  I tried slipping over my head without the zipper and discovered that I didn’t actually need the zipper to get it on or off, or really for any functional purpose!  It’s a nice design feature, and I probably will make one or two with a zipper, but it was completely unnecessary for me from a functionality standpoint.

So I left it out.  Eliminating the zipper makes these tops even more zippy — I sewed these up in about 45 minutes flat, and I am not a particularly fast sewer!

The shape of the tops is a little boxy.  There are no darts for bust or waist shaping, and no separate sleeve piece.  This all contributes to make them very fast, and I don’t particularly mind a slightly boxier shape so long as my fabric has enough drape.  In a stiffer material, this top would look terrible — it would literally look like I was wearing a sack.  But in a fabric with sufficient drape, the natural curves of my body give it enough shape that I really like it for a simple spring/summer top.

Creative Counselor: Zippy Top

Zippy Top — easy to style for work or weekend.

This Yuwa cotton is about as crisp as I would want a fabric for this top.  Any crisper or firmer (like most quilting cottons, unfortunately), and I think the fabric would be too stiff.  This cotton drapes nicely, though, and I think it just works.

The second Zippy Top I made is again from stash fabric — this time a hot pink Swiss dot chambray from Michael Levine (available here).  I’m slightly obsessed with chambray, and this cut has been hanging out in my stash since last summer, again because I couldn’t quite figure out what to do with it.  I originally bought it with N in mind, but since she typically refuses to wear anything I make for her, I decided this lovely fabric would be much more appreciated in my own closet!

This chambray is lightweight and has a nice drape.  It will be a great summer top!  Again, I omitted the zipper since I didn’t need it, and wanted to sew this up fast.  This time I lowered the front neckline just a touch for no reason other than I like my necklines a little lower than the pattern as drafted.  And rather than using the facings included in the pattern, I made bias tape to enclose the neckline seams.

These tops are perfect for me to wear to the office.  They’re really versatile and can go with just about anything, and are great layered under a cardigan or blazer.  They’re also great stash busters and I have a pile of at least 3 more fabrics in mind for more Zippy Tops — that is, when I get a day to sit down and sew them!

Creative Counselor: Zippy Top

Works great under a blazer — I get complimented on this top all the time!

Pattern: Zippy Top by See Kate Sew

Size: M

Fit:  Good.  It fits well across the shoulders, there is enough room for my bust, and I like the length.  The general fit on this woven top is loose and a little boxy, but I really don’t mind that.  If you like tops that are very fitted, this isn’t the top for you.

Fabric:  The gray is a Yuwu cotton purchased from a local fabric shop (that sadly is no longer in business) almost two years ago.  The pink is Swiss dot chambray from Michael Levine.

Modifications: Omitted the zipper on both tops since I didn’t need it for any functional purpose.  I do plan to make one with the zipper, though, and I have plans for a couple of other modifications for this top.  Also, the patterns instructs you to turn the sleeves and hem under 1/4″ twice and then topstitch down.  I just really hate having to press those tiny little turns, so I saved myself the hassle.  Instead of turning under 1/4″ twice, I serged the sleeve openings and hem, pressed them up 1/2″ and topstitched down.  Much easier!  On the pink top, I omitted the included facings in favor of self-made bias tape.

Pattern Format:  PDF pattern.  Not the best physical pattern I’ve ever worked with, but also far from the worst.  I think Kate’s patterns are really good for beginners because they contain a lot of hand-holding.  I don’t need all that hand-holding, so sometimes I get irrationally annoyed by having to flip through 6 pages to get to the pattern instructions (which I mostly ignored anyway).

Pros:

  • Super-quick sew.  This is a very satisfying project if you just want something you can crank out or if you’re short on time.
  • Good stash-busting project for smaller cuts.
  • Good wardrobe builder.  This top is kind of a blank slate.  It would be great for office-appropriate tops in a nice drapey silk or rayon, but is also equally appropriate to wear with jeans.  It would even work in a knit.
  • Zipper is a nice design feature, but not really necessary for function.

Cons:

  • The 1/4″ hems are kind of a pain if you don’t have a rolled hem foot (like me).
  • The shape of the top is pretty boxy.  I don’t mind that, but I know many people like more shape to their tops.
  • The instructions for the exposed zipper do not encase the zipper between the back bodice and back facing.  I will probably modify this when I make a zipper top because I don’t see why the zipper wouldn’t be enclosed in a top like this.  I think it would look and feel much more polished.

Overall grade:  B. This is a quick, satisfying sew, and exactly what I needed right now.  It will be a great spring wardrobe builder.  The shape is very simple, though, I don’t particularly care for some of the techniques included in the pattern, and the shape won’t appeal to those who like their tops more fitted.

** And in case anyone is wondering, I didn’t get squat for writing this review.  I bought and paid for my pattern very late one night (or early one morning) when I was up feeding Baby J at 3 am, and I paid for all of my fabric.  If I hated the pattern, I’d tell you, but I don’t!

Me-Made May 2014

It’s almost here — Me-Made May 2014!

Me-Made May 2014

Since Blogger hates me and my comments, I have not yet been able to officially make my 2014 pledge.  (Seriously, if you have a Blogger blog and wonder why I never comment, it’s probably because Blogger and I don’t get along.  Like, at all.  It almost never lets me comment on a blog and if I somehow manage to get past all its roadblocks, half the time it eats my comment rather than posting it.  Blogger is just a b*&$%).

But, I wanted to get my pledge out there before May hits, and hopefully I’ll be able to play nice with Zoe’s blog before long and make it official.  In the meantime, here it is:

“I, Katie of the Creative Counselor (www.creativecounselor.wordpress.com), sign up as a participant of Me-Made-May ’14. I endeavour to wear almost all handmade clothing with no more than one RTW item each day (with the exception of the week of May 5 when I am in trial — I don’t own a handmade suit and don’t have time to make any) for the duration of May 2014.”

Is anyone else signing up?  I’d love to hear your pledges!

Coffee Date {#15}

Happy Monday everyone!  Or, as my bootcamp instructor always says, “TGIM!  We shouldn’t spend 1/7 of our life dreading Mondays!”  Sorry I missed our Friday coffee date, but I’m soooo glad we were able to get together today instead.

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If we were having coffee this afternoon, I’d tell you that work is busy and is only going to get busier over the next few weeks.  In one of my cases, we got an order about a week and a half ago that the case is actually going to trial the week of May 5.  That has set off a flurry of frantic trial prep as we work on pre-trial filings.  I filed evidentiary motions on Friday, deposition designations (i.e. parts of depositions that are going to be read at trial) are due today, jury instructions next week, etc.  And that doesn’t include developing trial themes, planning out direct and cross examinations, opening statement, closing argument, etc.  It’s going to be a busy few weeks!

If we were having coffee, I’d tell you that my parents visited this past weekend and my dad and Albert finally built the kids’ playhouse that has been sitting in our shed for longer than I care to mention!  J and N are thrilled with it.  Especially N — she’s such a domestic little thing.

Creative Counselor: Coffee Date 15

We had a beautiful day on Saturday, so my mom and I took the kids over to Kauffman Memorial Gardens here in Kansas City to look at the fountains and the flowers.

Creative Counselor: Coffee Date 15

Creative Counselor: Coffee Date 15

And yes, that is J with my camera up there.  He loves taking pictures with it, and actually isn’t half bad.  Who knows, maybe this will be his thing.

If we were having coffee, I would tell you that I pre-ordered the new Colette knits reference book and new patterns.  They arrived on Saturday, even though the patterns don’t officially release until tomorrow — yay for preorders!  Frankly, I was surprised to see them show up so far in advance of the release date, but whatevs.  I certainly wasn’t going to argue!

Creative Counselor: Coffee Date 15

If we were having coffee, I would tell you that I’m in denial that tomorrow is tax day.  My federal tax liability more than tripled when I became a partner (and no, the salary did not go up enough to compensate), so in my opinion, April 15, June 15, September 15, and January 15 are pretty much the worst days of the year.

If we were having coffee, what would you tell me?

Coffee Date Friday {#14}

Sorry I missed our Coffee Date last week!  Well, I guess I didn’t really miss it — I was emerging from the fog, remember?

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If we were having coffee today, I would tell you that I’ve been thinking a lot lately about those trendy buzzwords — introversion and extroversion.  I think Albert and I would each define ourselves as “introverts” to varying degrees.  We both can be outgoing and like social contact (me probably more than him — hence the blogging and my desire to talk things out to an extent that he finds annoying), but we also both crave our quiet alone time (for me, it’s my sewing time).  It is becoming abundantly clear, however, that J is a truly extroverted child.  Not in the sense of being the loudest, most gregarious, boisterous kid in the room (though sometimes that is true), but in the sense that he craves company and needs to be around other people to relax.

I’m not talking about the phenomenon of a generation that constantly needs to be entertained — we have not spent his whole life entertaining him.  This really goes deeper, down to the very essence of how he processes his feelings and perceives the world.  Being alone scares him, it stresses him out and makes him really anxious.  In the same way that a truly introverted person gets stressed out being in a noisy room full of boisterous people.  J wants to be around other people all the time. Even if he’s doing a quiet, “alone” activity like reading a book or playing a game, he wants to do it while sitting next to someone.  If I’m going to spend some time sewing during a weekend afternoon, he sits next to me at my sewing table and plays a game.  He expresses his emotion outwardly, rarely, if ever, keeping things bottled up.  I’m gathering that this is completely normal for an extroverted child, but to the more introverted, like me and Albert, he can appear to be whiny or acting out inappropriately.

We’re slowly learning how to deal with J’s personality that is so different from our own.  This past week, I’ve been working with him on slowly getting used to doing small tasks by himself.  Little things like going to the bathroom alone, running upstairs by himself to grab a pair of socks, or going into the basement alone to set up whatever game or toys he wants to play with before we make it downstairs.  But I’ll admit, it’s challenging.  Can anyone out there relate?

If we were having coffee, I would tell you that I am very happy to have my husband back home after his weeklong golfing trip with his college buddies.  They spent most of the last week in Myrtle Beach, South Carolina, hanging out and golfing.  Obaachan (my mother-in-law) and I manned the kids while he was gone, and we had a nice week with more “Mommy-time” than they would typically have during the work week.  We had a beautiful, slightly windy weekend and spent lots and lots of time outside flying kites!

Creative Counselor: Coffee Date

J flying his kite.

Creative Counselor: Coffee Date

N, my little goofball.

Creative Counselor: Coffee Date

Me and my Baby J.

And please don’t ask when I’m going to get my “me time” vacation.  I’m still breastfeeding Baby J, so until he’s weaned (likely in the fall), I’m pretty much tethered to the kids.  Not my ideal situation, but a reality of being “mommy” that I accepted a long time ago.

On a lighter note, if we were having coffee this morning, I would tell you that I am LOVING the new spring collection from Republique du Chiffon!  I’ve seen this French pattern company pop up a few places in blogland recently (most notably, Kelly’s awesome Gerard coat!), and the simple, effortlessly chic vibe really appeals to me.  I love the loose silhouettes in this new collection — easy gathered dresses, elegant shifts, interesting but relaxed basics.  THIS is the style that I want to create for myself!  And so I bought four of the new patterns.  I know, I know, I have more patterns than I will ever be able to make, but I just couldn’t resist!  I’m thinking the Monique dress, a loose shift with cutouts on the sleeves, may be perfect for my brother’s Florida wedding this fall!

Oh, and I would also tell you how excited I was for the start of BASEBALL SEASON earlier this week!  I’m not a huge sports person, but to me, the Royals on television in the evening means summer.

If we were having coffee, what would you tell me?

Linking up with Diary of an Addict for Coffee Date Friday.