In Defense of Halloween, an American Cultural Celebration for Children

Norman Rockwell
When I think of Halloween in the United States, this is what comes to mind: Little kids looking adorable in their superhero, princess, or pirate costumes, families making memories carving funny faces on pumpkins and scooping out the goo, school parties and costume parades and contests for the most original homemade costume. Bobbing for apples, the excitement of troops of little ones out after dark with mom or dad, skipping from house to house for trick-or-treating. The loot sorting afterwards, your sister trading you Milk Duds for your Good and Plenty. Watching It's the Great Pumpkin, Charlie Brown on television a few days prior, practicing cut-and-paste skills in the creation of construction paper bats and spiders, and maybe a harmless spooky story or two. Norman Rockwell captured the spirit of Halloween as a cultural phenomenon of American childhood in several of his iconic covers for The Saturday Evening Post:
Norman Rockwell, Hallowe'en 1925
Norman Rockwell, Hallowe'en 1920
What I love most about the 1920 cover above is the expression of delighted fake fear on the man's face as he pretends to be scared of the little girl in the sheet. Boo!

Let's take a stroll down memory lane and see how our parents and grandparents celebrated Halloween as children:
Halloween circa 1948
Halloween circa 1950
1958 School Halloween Party at the Kansas School for the Deaf
Halloween circa 1960
1960s Halloween
Class picture from a school Halloween party taken in the 1970s
School Halloween Party circa 1975


Carving Pumpkins in 1977
  That last photo is my family carving pumpkins in 1977 according to our annual tradition.  Susan on the left, me in the middle, and Janice the Manice about to climb into the pumpkin on the right.  I'm pretty sure the way this went down is that we drew the faces on the pumpkins with a black magic marker, and Dad cut them out with a knife.  I think I drew elegant eyelashes on my pumpkin one year and was disappointed that Daddy could not execute these details with the carving knife!


Halloween 1977, Rebecca Grace and Susan Nicole
  Here we are in our Halloween costume a few days later, posing next to the Jack-o-Lanterns.  And no, her middle name isn't really Nicole -- that's an inside joke.  :-)  Man, I wish I still had that orange wig; Anders wants to be Ron Weasley for Halloween and I'm still not sure how I'm going to safely turn his sweet blond locks to orange!


Halloween 1979
 That's me (and part of Janice the Manice) in the photo above as witches for Halloween in 1979, yet the scariest thing in the picture is the hot pink lamp thingy hanging in the background.  

Of course, the best Halloween costumes are always the homemade ones.  My mom made my brother an R2-D2 costume one year, and Janice the Manice was Princess Leah in her nightgown with Reebok sneakers on her feet.  I'm pretty sure that flower thing on top of her head was a little silk flower ring that went around a scented candle from our dining room table.

Check out this House of Cards themed group costume that won first price in a Halloween costume contest back in 1980:



Lars's First Halloween, duck costume made by me with the help of Mom & Grammy
 Since the duck costume, I haven't made any more costumes for my kids (not entire costumes, anyway -- I did make some Jedi cloaks a few years back to go with store-bought Star Wars costumes). However, we did have a family Justice League Halloween in 2006, with Anders as Batman, Lars as Spiderman, and I just couldn't resist making an Aquaman costume for Bernie.  I used a Kwik-Sew men's skating costume pattern, with hunter green stretch velvet for the pants and a sequined orange lycra fabric for the top that looked like scales... or disco... depending on your perspective.  I actually justified the purchase of my coverstitch serger in a fit of frustration because I didn't like the way my other hemming options were working on the Aquaman top.  So, all in all, this Aquaman costume cost close to $1,500.  I hope Bernie appreciated it!


Halloween 2006: Anders, Bernie & Lars
 SO...  I've been stomping around the house all week, complaining about Elon Park Elementary School's anti-Halloween policy, and I had originally planned to write an impassioned defense of harmless holiday festivities at school.  Lars's school had something called a "Fall Harvest" party on Thursday, and parents were sent explicit instructions forbidding any party plates, napkins or decorations with so much as a spider or a black cat on them.  What even IS a Fall Harvest party?  If we celebrate the harvest in October, doesn't that make the Thanksgiving party redundant in November?

If you google things like "anti halloween schools" and "halloween banned schools" you will find, as I did, that a mostly misinformed minority of parents is being allowed to impose their wishes on the rest of us, and the schools are just trying to avoid controversy so they can focus on education.  I actually found where one woman claimed that having a classroom Halloween party is like forcing all children to fast in observance of Ramadhan.  Excuse me?  Whatever the roots of Halloween may or may not have been in Europe in the 16th century or earlier, it has always been a widespread and completely secular holiday in the United States.  No one is suggesting seances and human sacrifices, and most of the little kids would rather dress up as Disney princesses and superheroes than witches or skeletons anymore.  Give me a break.  If you'd like to argue with me about this, feel free to comment.

Anyway, we're looking forward to celebrating Halloween at our house this year.  Our decorations are up outside, and tomorrow morning we're going in costume to a Charlotte Symphony Lollipops concert to listen to spooky orchestral music, then carving our pumpkins in the afternoon.  Sunday after church, the boys will be doing early trick-or-treating with their Kids In Christ youth group to collect donations for Loaves & Fishes to feed those in the community who are in need.  Then after dinner, as soon as it gets dark, it's trick-or-treat time in the neighborhood!

I hope you and your families all have a wonderful weekend, regardless of how you choose to celebrate -- or not celebrate -- Halloween.

She Likes It! Princess Petunia Models her New "Tooth Fairy" Pettiskirt

Aw, now doesn't that make it all worthwhile?  Janice the Manice sent pictures of Princess Petunia trying on her pettiskirt with her pajamas after bath time.  My sister also sent me a video of the Princess trying to cast a spell on mommy, beating her with the pretty magic wand.  Don't mess with the Tooth Fairy!
 As you can see, my efforts hand-stitching the little ribbon flowers were pretty much a waste -- once the kid started twirling, the chiffon layers shifted and the ribbon flowers got lost in the mass of chiffon.  So next time I'd either have to sew on a LOT more flowers to make sure they are visible, or else move them up higher , maybe to the bottom of the satin waistband tier.
The waistband is a bit too big, too, so Janice cinched it with a hair clip.  If I was there in person, I could open up the waistband through that little elastic cave door and adjust it for her.  It would have been better to test fit the elastic to the princess before completing that step.

ADDED October 17, 2011:  I can't believe I never posted a picture of Princess Petunia wearing this pettiskirt for trick-or-treating last year!  I think she was the Tooth Fairy:

Princess Petunia as The Tooth Fairy, Halloween 2010

Spilling the Dirt on Earthy-Crunchy Laundry Powder

Okay, I'm not your average tree hugger.  You should know that up front.  Oh sure, I care about the environment as much as the next girl.  I saw that Wall-E movie about how humanity might have to evacuate the Earth if we turn it into a giant garbage dump, entirely devoid of life, and I don't want that kind of future for my children or my grandchildren.  While searching the internet for a nice still shot of Earth-as-garbage-dump from the Wall-E film, I was horrified to find images of parts of the world that already look like the Wall-E film, in real life.

Garbage City, a real place outside of Cairo in Egypt, as photographed by Bas Princen
But until fairly recently there has been a separate subculture associated with "going green," the legacy of the hippie tree-huggers or whatever, and I have not been a member of that group.  I would hesitantly venture into the local Earth Fare organic supermarket from time to time, and find an alternate universe populated by women wearing biblical sandals with socks, carrying hemp diaper-clad babies in handmade, hand-dyed slings, and they have all brought their own reusable fabric grocery totes made out of organic fabric that was handwoven by a collective of indigenous lepers somewhere, with all proceeds donated to saving the rainforest...  Okay, I totally made up that part about the lepers, but you get the idea.  I felt very conspicuous at Earth Fare, self-conscious about my leather purse, my frivolous attire, and my ignorance of the complexities of natural foods, vegetarianism, cruelty-free cosmetics, and environmentally-friendly cleaning products. 

I couldn't even find half of the groceries on my list, and the things I did find seemed outrageously overpriced.  Take laundry detergent, for instance.  I pay $5.99 for a box of Arm & Hammer fragrance-free powdered laundry detergent at the regular grocery store, but there was no Arm & Hammer detergent, or any other recognizable brand, to be found at Earth Fare.  Instead, similarly-sized boxes of laundry powder with brand names I'd never heard of cost as much as $14.99.

Well, in a desperate time crunch, with no laundry soap at home, no clean clothes to wear, and no time to get to a "normal" store to buy laundry detergent any time soon, I broke down and bitterly forked over $14.99 for a box of Biokleen Premium Plus Laundry Powder.  The outside of the box claimed that I would get 54 loads as opposed to the 46 loads I supposedly got from a box of Arm & Hammer.  The box also informed me that it contained no phosphates, no chlorine bleach, and no "fillers."  I have no idea what phosphates and fillers are, and at this point I thought the "no chlorine bleach" part just indicated that this laundry product was safe to use on dark colored loads.  I just hoped this weird stuff would actually get the clothes clean and I wouldn't end up throwing out the whole box.

I got the box home, opened it, and was shocked to find what looked like an instant lemonade mix scoop inside instead of the regular-sized scoop I was used to.  Look at the two side-by-side:
 I was incredibly skeptical about this laundry powder, but after using this product for about a month, I'm a convert.  My clothes are coming out just as clean, and I'm using between 1/4 to 1/5 of the amount of laundry soap that I was using before, so this "expensive" environmentally-friendly laundry product is actually much less expensive than the Arm & Hammer brand, or Tide, or Cheer, or any of the other mainstream detergents.  It turns out that the claim of 46 loads on the Arm & Hammer box is based on small loads, for which you're only supposed to fill the big green scoop to the first line.  Of course they give you the mammoth scoop because they want to encourage people to use more soap so they have to buy more faster.  The Biokleen claim of 54 regular loads or 108 high efficiency (front-loading washer) loads is based on filling their scoop all the way to the top for a full sized load in a conventional washing machine, or halfway up for the HE washing machines. 

I still haven't had a chance to figure out what phosphates are and why they are bad for the environment, or why chlorine bleach has become an enemy of the planet, but I definitely get that when one box lasts four or five times as long, there is less packaging, less waste headed to landfills, and less pollution transporting that product to market.  I would also like to point that, now that I am saving money by switching to environmentally-friendly laundry powder, I have freed up additional grocery funds which can now be allocated towards my favorite guilty Earth Fare splurge: a little $8 block of Ski Queen Gjetost, a caramelized brown Norwegian goat cheese that no one in my family eats except me.  I make little cracker sandwiches with whole grain Wheat Thins when I don't have time for a real lunch.  Mmm...  

   

Tetelestai: It Is Finished! My Pettiskirt UFO is No Longer Unfinished! Wahoo!

If you're just now joining us, you can catch up to speed on this pettiskirt project for my niece, Princess Petunia, by clicking here

Last night before bed, I stitched one of the two skirt layers to the satin waistband tier.  This morning, I pinned the other layer to the satin waistband, right sides together.  I tried to err on the side of too many pins rather than too few, because the chiffon and the satin are both slippery suckers.   Here's the waistband satin rectangle with one layer stitched on to one side, and the other one pinned, ready to take to the machine:

I decided to use my walking foot to attach the chiffon layers to the satin waistband because I thought the regular presser foot might snowplow the ruffled chiffon all out of whack.  If you don't have a walking foot, you might want to stitch this step upside-down, with the chiffon ruffles next to the feed dogs and the satin layer on top.  I've got the raw edges aligned and I'm still using my pink Olfa line for my 1/2" seam allowance.

 At this point in the project, there is a LOT of chiffon fluffed up around the sewing machine.  I was glad I had pinned so thoroughly, but I still had to be careful not to let the satin layer get bunched up or twisted underneath the chiffon.
 There you can see it all nicely lined up to go through the machine.  I picked the red-headed pins because I like any color as long as it's red.  Oh, and also to make sure I could see the little buggers through the turquoise chiffon.  Sometimes they got caught in the holes in the bottom of my walking foot, and I tried to be vigilant about pulling them out as soon as the pins passed behind the presser foot so they wouldn't catch and snag in the mountain of frills behind the machine.

Here's what it looked like with both skirt layers attached, finally all one piece:
My pattern instructions told me to put the elastic casing in next, before sewing the side seam, but I decided not to do it that way because wanted the side seam allowance to be inside the two skirt layers instead of up against the princess's skin.  After all, princesses are very sensitive...  Since I have had only a few previous experiences sewing with elastic and none of them went very well, I hunted around through a couple of online tutorials to figure out how to proceed.  After watching the Martha Stewart Pettiskirt Tutorial video three times, and reading her written instructions a few more times, I finally figured out what the heck they were telling me to do.  By the way, I do not suggest that you make the whole skirt the way the Martha directions tell you to do it.  It's backwards of the way my pattern and every other tutorial say to do it, and I'm suspicious that the woman in the video (who sells pettiskirts commercially and claims to have invented them) may be intentionally obfuscating in order to sell more of her readymade skirts.  Sewing the skirt from the top down instead of from the bottom up would be a nightmare, trying to attach miles and miles of frill to the hem of a skirt that's already gathered up instead of to a flat layer!  But I digress...

You can see in the photo how I've marked with tailor's chalk the 1 1/2" space just below the fold that I am going to leave OPEN in the side seam, so I have someplace to thread the elastic through.

 Okay, side seam sewn, skirt flipped down wrong sides together, and we're ready to sew that elastic casing!

 In this photo you can see the little 1 1/2" hole in the side seam where I'm going to thread my elastic into the casing. 

Now, if you have never sewn an elastic casing before, you might think that it would be a good idea to stitch 1" down from the folded edge of fabric to sew a casing for 1" wide elastic.  You would be wrong, and you would be sorry (I did that once on a pair of pajamas for one of my sons).  This is like sewing rod pocket curtains, and you have to sew the tunnel wider than the elastic (or curtain rod) you will be driving through the tunnel or else you are going to get stuck. 

It turns out that the distance from my needle in center position is exactly 1 1/4" from the edge of the stitch plate, so I was able to use that as my guide as I stitched the casing; no pink tape required.
I pinned along the fold line of my slippery satin fabric before attempting to stitch the casing and again, I'm glad I did, because it was slipping and sliding all over the place.  Sewers' words of wisdom: At the end of your project, you'll regret the seams you didn't pin more than the ones you did!
 I raised my machine bed up so I could use the free arm for this part, although the skirt is SO hugely puffy and bulky that it was still tricky to control.

...and there you have it!  The elastic casing has been sewn, and you can see the little cave entrance that I left open for inserting my elastic.

At about this point in the process, I couldn't help myself -- I had to "try on" the pettiskirt and take a twirling break. I knew it wasn't going to fit me once I fit the waistband to the size of a 2-year-old...





 I used 1" wide "non-rolling" elastic for my skirt, and I hooked a big safety pin to the end to help me feed it through the elastic tunnel (known as a casing to serious seamstresses). 
You probably already knew about the safety pin trick, but I think my binder clip idea might just be an original innovation.  Scratch that -- I'm sure somebody has thought of this before.  Anyway, I used a small binder clip from Staples to keep the tail end of the elastic from getting accidentally pulled into the tunnel.

I overlapped the ends by an inch and used the triple straight stitch on my Bernina to sew a square with an "X" where the elastic overlapped.  I also stitched down vertically through the waistband with my triple straight stitch at the front and back of the skirt to make sure the elastic can't get all twisted up when the skirt is worn and washed and washed and worn again.  I loathe twisted elastic!

The next and last step in my pettiskirt pattern tells me to tie a bow and then hand-tack it to the skirt, but that doesn't sound very secure to me. Instead, I cut a 36" piece of satin faced ribbon, cutting the ends on a 45 degree angle with micro-serrated shears to minimize fraying.  I made a little pleat at the center and then used my trusty triple straight stitch to secure that ribbon firmly to the waistband of the skirt.  Then I tied my bow, and tacked through the knot part to secure the bow to the skirt so it can't come untied.

Ta da!
Hee hee hee!  How cute is THAT?!  I just have a handful of hot pink ribbon carnations that I want to stitch on by hand, and I can do that this evening while my boys are at choir rehearsal.

Update: Okay, here it is with the little flowers, really and completely, totally finished:
As I finished stitching the little flowers on by hand last night, my husband made helpful comments such as "What are those pink things supposed to be?  They look like wads of gum.  No, spit balls -- they look like pink spit balls."  Well, Lover Dear, they are supposed to be my own personal touch, and I sewed them on very securely so they could not come off and become choking hazards, so they have to stay, even if they look like used-up Bubblicious to you.  If I was not running out of time (Princess Petunia might be wearing this for Halloween), I might have used some of my leftover chiffon strips to make larger fabric rosettes to combine with my little ribbon flowers.  In fact, if you have lived this project vicariously through my posts and you think making a skirt from scratch is beyond what your sanity can handle, you could always purchase a plain pettiskirt from someplace like Chasing Fireflies and then embellish it with ribbons and little flowers or sequins or whatever from MJ Trimmings to make it your own.  If you do, send me a picture -- I'd love to see it!

Update December 26, 2010: It's only the day after Christmas, but I've just had an Epiphany!  If I ever make another pettiskirt, I'm going to use the adjustable buttonhole elastic, which you can find here.  There's a tutorial here on how to adapt readymade jeans by adding the buttonhole elastic. 

Quick! Please Buy This Fabric Before My Willpower Crumbles!

NO, I'm not done with my pettiskirt for Princess Petunia yet, and NO I probably don't have time to get back into my sewing room at all this week.  I have tons of beautiful fabrics hoarded and stashed away in my studio, including many that I've had for at least three years, and if I order any more fabric before I sew up some of what I've got, I'm going to have to smuggle it into the house while my husband is in the bathroom.

But it's in the 80s today in Charlotte and there are mums for sale outside the grocery store, next to pumkins that would be better off out of direct sunlight.  That mean's it's Fall, and time to be tempted by the beautiful sweater knit fabrics for sale at Emma One Sock.  I know I should unsubscribe to this newsletter and just walk away from the computer, and some days I'm strong enough to just click "delete" instead of clicking through to see all the new fabric goodies that Linda has added to her online store.  Today, I was weak, and I'm sorely tempted to shop. 

I love the colors, the texture, and the subtle metallic shimmer.  You can get this fabric here if I haven't bought all of it already. 

Surely I need a top in this fabric to wear with my favorite jeans?  You can find this fabric here
This lightweight, drapey knit would be fun for scrunchy turtleneck or cowl necked top.  You can get it here.  It comes in a blue colorway as well, but I like this one because it reminds me of those craft projects where you melt together all of your leftover crayon stumps to get multicolor crayons. 

What's really a sin is that all I want to make with these fabrics is simple long-sleeve T-shirt type tops.  We're talking about unlined garments with only four pieces to cut out, that I should be able to whip up in a couple of hours on my fancy but underused serger. 

Okay, you're all my witnesses:  I hereby solemnly swear that, when I finish the pettiskirt (not if, but when), the next thing I'm going to tackle will be a knit top utilizing fabric from my stash.  So I can buy more fabric.  :-)

New, All-Natural Protein Source in Similac Baby Formula: Beetles And Beetle Larvae

I got a very mysterious padded envelope in yesterday's mail.  Inside, nothing but a letter notifying me about a product recall for Similac infant formula.  Normally I would have thrown this out without even reading it, since there are no babies in our household and we never fed the boys formula, anyway.  But the padded envelope made me curious -- they really wanted to make sure I saw this letter.

Lo and behold, Similac is recalling baby formula because they discovered that powdered formula from one of their plants was tainted with beetle parts and beetle larvae. Excuse me?! EWWW!! I would be freaking out right now if I had fed my babies beetle larvae! Let's get a visual on that, shall we? This is beetle larvae.  Yummy!

I am not making this up.  Apparently, Similac samples that were mass mailed to our address (and thrown out by me) were among the tainted formula products.  If you or anyone you know is formula feeding a baby, please read this article and visit the manufacturer's web site to check the lot numbers of your formula containers and for information on how to get beetle-free Similac or a refund on your tainted formula. 

I wonder what kind of beetle got into the formula?  All they say is that it's a "common small beetle."  So, what -- like the Japanese beetles that attack my crape myrtle trees every summer?

Okay, I know that breast vs. bottle is a personal decision, and I know breastfeeding doesn't work for everyone.  But the only way beetles or beetle larvae could get into breastmilk would be if the mom deliberately ate bugs.  I'm just saying...  I think this is as good a time as any to unveil:

Rebecca's Top Ten Reasons Why Breast Is Best:

10. Breastfeeding mothers burn an extra 600 calories a day just by relaxing and cuddling with their babies.  That's the equivalent of 2 hours of aerobic exercise per day.  There's no easier way to lose that extra pregnancy weight.

9. Breastfeeding mothers never have to go home because they ran out of formula and it's time to feed the baby.

8. Formula feeding a baby for the first year of life costs an estimated $1500-$2000, not including the cost of bottles, nipples, sterilizing equipment, etc.  That means breastfeeding moms get to spend an extra $2000 on cute little baby outfits, decorating the nursery, manicures, or whatever else makes them feel as special as they are.


6. Breastfed babies don't get sick as often as formula fed babies because their mothers' antibodies pass directly into the breastmilk, helping the babies fight off the exact germs they are exposed to in real time. 

5. Breastmilk is always ready to go, at the perfect temperature, and requires no preparation.  No fumbling around a dark kitchen at 3 AM, spilling powdered formula all over the counter, accidentally overheating the formula and burning the baby.

4. Spitup and baby poop from formula fed babies stains those cute little outfits, but breastmilk poop and spitup comes right out in the wash every time.

3. Once you and your baby get the hang of it, breastfeeding is really, really EASY, and you don't need to have your boobs out on public display, either.  You can feed your baby in church or in a crowded concert hall, and if you choose your outfit carefully, no one will even know.  You can practically feed your baby in your sleep.  All the other new parents may be exhausted and bleary-eyed, complaining about how little sleep they are getting, and you will be all bright-eyed and cheerful, wondering what all the fuss is about.

2. Breastfeeding is better for the environment.  Formula feeding all of the babies in the United States for one year requires 86,000 tons of tin to produce 550 million cans, plus the paper for the labels, the energy wasted in production, and the pollution created transporting all of that formula to market.

1. But the number one reason why breast is best has to be that there's NO BEETLE LARVAE IN BREASTMILK!


If you are pregnant now and hoping to breastfeed your baby, I highly recommend that you read The Womanly Art of Breastfeeding from the La Leche League before your baby is born.  Most hospital nurses don't know enough about breastfeeding to help you if you have trouble getting the baby latched on correctly in the beginning, and getting off to a good start is really important (nursing a baby isn't supposed to hurt, so if you are experiencing a lot of soreness you should get help from a lactation consultant or from a friend who has been there and done that before).  Get yourself a little support network of moms you know who are breastfeeding successfully or who have breastfed successfully in the past.  If you don't know anyone else who is breastfeeding, you can contact your local La Leche League group to connect with other breastfeeding moms near you.

No, It's Not Done Yet... But the Pettiskirt Nears Completion!

Good morning and Happy Fall, everyone!  You probably know I've been working (off and on, with way more "off" than "on") on a pettiskirt for my niece, Princess Petunia.  For a normal person, this is probably a weekend project.  I'm not normal -- I started mine in July, was determined to finish it in time for my parents to take it up to the Princess last week when they went up to New Jersey...  and it's not done yet.  If you need to catch up, you can read the earlier posts here.

I have to say, it amazes me when I check my blog stats and see that day after day, my most popular posts continue to be the ones about this pettiskirt project.  It's so cool to think that there's an army of moms, grandmas, aunts, and entrepreneurs out there, most of us working solo in our own little sewing room, but so many of us scattered all over the world, all working on the same project.  Buried in heaps of chiffon, incredulous that SO MUCH FABRIC could possibly be required for such a TINY LITTLE PRINCESS...  I received an email from a reader in Australia yesterday asking about this project, and it got me re-energized to dive back in yesterday afternoon while the hotdish was in the oven.  Thank you, Marg!

The first thing I did yesterday was to overcast the edges of the satin fabric I'm using for the top tier, because SOMEDAY when this skirt is finished it's going to get lots of wear, and I don't want it fraying all to bits.  It took me 20 minutes to figure out what stitch I had the serger set up for last time I used it, and then I settled on just a two-thread overlock (because I'm lazy and had limited time, and just wanted to get on with it).  I tried to just barely skim off the edges of the fabric; the rectangle was 7 1/2" x 54" before overcasting, and about 7 1/4" x 53 3/4" when I finished.

This top tier of the skirt is going to get folded in half lengthwise with an elastic casing in the middle, so I decided to lightly press that center fold line in even though the directions didn't tell me to.  I'm nervous about getting a warm iron near the chiffon ruffles, so this way I won't have to press anything once the chiffon tiers are attached to the satin.

So far, I had attached the frill to the hem edge of the bottom tier of the skirt, ruffled up the bottom tier and attached it to the middle tier, so all the chiffon pieces were connected in a L-O-N-G frilly piece.  My instructions from Kari Me Away directed me to find the middle of this big, long piece and cut it into two pieces next, once for the top layer of the skirt and one for the bottom layer.  Then I had to gather up each of the chiffon layers and attach it to one of the long sides of my satin rectangle.  My pattern advised against trying to gather and attach this layer in one step, since you want to gather the chiffon stuff down to fit the satin tier exactly.  The pattern gives instructions for conventional thread-pulling, serger gathering, and ruffler foot gathering.  Feeling brash and dangerous, I whipped out my handy calculator, determined that I needed to gather my chiffon to more than 5x fullness in order for it to be too small to fit, so I cranked the little screw on the ruffler foot clockwise an indeterminate amount and gathered up my first tier. 
You can see in the photo, I'm just gathering a single layer of chiffon in this step, and I tried to keep the edge of the fabric just inside my hot pink 1/2" seam allowance line.  I'm going to stitch this to the satin piece separately with a half inch seam allowance and I wanted my initial ruffling stitches to be hidden in that seam allowance.  Not that anyone will be able to tell when it's all bunched up around the Princess's little Buddha belly, but I'll know...

Surprise, surprise -- when I carefully measure test strips of fabric to determine how much fullness I'm gathering in, I screw up and have yards and yards of fabric left over.  When I throw caution to the wind, skip the test-and-adjust step and just crank the screw until the gathers look about right, I end up gathering the piece down to almost exactly the size it needs to be, with just a wee bit of slack.  I thought I was going to have to ease a considerable amount of excess fullness in as I pinned the chiffon layer to the satin, but this was a piece of cake.

HOW CUTE IS THAT?!  You're looking at one of the two skirt tiers, pinned right-sides-together to one long edge of the top satin tier.  The finished skirt is going to be twice as fluffy.  This is starting to look like something, finally!

I think I'm going to add a few more pins before I sew that on, then I'll sew the other tier to the other side of the satin piece the same way.  After that, my pattern instructions tell me to put a casing for the elastic in the center of the satin piece (hence my lightly pressed crease line), and THEN sew a seam through all the layers to make the skirt into a tube.  Doing it that way would put a seam allowance on the inside of the skirt, though, next to the Princess's tender skin.  So...  I'm planning to sew the side seam first, then fold the skirt down to make the elastic casing (so the seam allowance is hidden between the two layers of the skirt).  I think that will look neater.

But none of this will be happening today, because my cleaning service will be here any minute and I have stacks of fabric samples piled all over the living room where I was working last night...  Because the piles of paperwork all over the desk AND floor of my office prevented me from working in there...  *SIGH*
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