Top 5 inspirations of 2013

I decided to share some of my inspirations outside of sewing this year. I’m not sure if any of these will found their way into my sewing but all of them have changed me in some way this year.

1. The Gift: Creativity and the Artist in the Modern World, by Lewis Hyde


This book really changed how I thought about creativity, economy and mythology. It’s hard to imagine a book that can say so much on such broad topics, while still being specific and well-researched, but it does. (The book was so good, in fact, that Orson ate some chunks out of the cover.)

2. Fiona Apple’s “The Idler Wheel…”

Photo source:

I’ve been listening to “The Idler Wheel…” non-stop for the entire year (it came out in the spring of 2012). I liked and loved her previous albums but this one is a work of genius (and I don’t say that lightly). Musically and lyrically, it’s sad, funny, bitter and jubilant. Lyrics I didn’t fully grasp from listening will pop into my head at appropriate moments in life.

3. Minimalism

My fabric stash in early 2013

This was my #3 inspiration last year, too, but I mean it in a different way. Last year, stylistic minimalism was on my mind. This year, I started focusing more on de-cluttering, organizing, and focusing on exactly what it is I need to live happily and creatively. Philippa introduced me to some excellent minimalist blogs that I refer to frequently for inspiration. I still tend to attract clutter, and my scrap stash is contained but large, so this will continue to be an area of focus in 2014 for me!

4. Dance

Chouinard Chopin

I’m pretty surprised to find dance on my list of inspirations this year. I danced ballet throughout my childhood and dabbled in modern at college, but could never learn choreography quickly. Nonetheless, I found myself very drawn to dance this year as a spectator. I saw Compagnie Marie Chouinard and Les Ballets Trockaderos live, and watched documentaries (Pina, Ballets Russe, Paris is Burning). I’m probably not going to start up any kind of dance practice, but I’m starting to appreciate the creative language and possibilities of dance.

5. Kiki Smith’s drawings

Kiki Smith Pool of Tears
source: ULAE, Inc.

I had become familiar with Kiki Smith’s sculptural work in college but hadn’t realized how much she worked on paper until I found the book  “Kiki Smith: Prints, Books, and Things” at Powell’s last January. Her work is really visceral, sometimes confrontational, but always compelling to look at. I also learned that she silkscreened her drawings onto fabric and clothing when she was younger.

Back soon with my last Top 5 post: learnings and goals!


Top 5 hits of 2013

My ambitions of photographing a few more projects before writing up my Top 5 hits went out the window when I got horribly sick last Wednesday. I’ve turned the corner, although I’m still only getting out of bed to to steam my face and refill my ginger tea. Now that I’m coherent and just starting to get antsy from all the bed rest, I thought I’d write up my 2013 favorites.

1. The Huge Quilt
What went right: used lots of scraps, highly useful, fit my original vision | scrap quilt

So much sick time in bed has really given me time to appreciate this quilt. Even though its creation involved a lot of repetition, it was worth it.

2. White Mathilde
What went right: second-hand fabric, lots of wear, good fit, fits within my wardrobe | Tilly & the Buttons Mathilde blouse

Adjusting the bust width and dart position as well as removing the back button placket made my second Mathilde even better than the first. I wore it constantly in the early fall, when it was a bit warmer, and look forward to wearing it again in warmer temps. I used  thicker but loosely-woven linen I got at the second-hand fabric store.

3. Pleated python pants
What went right: second-hand fabric, lots of wear, good fit | Burda 7250

After many muslins and a month-long hiatus, I finished my first pair of pants! I wear them constantly. Sure, they have issues – the fabric is fun to look at but kinda nasty, the waistband isn’t pretty on the inside, and I now know that lengthening the front inseam above the knee would make it easier to bend my knees. But the fit is great, I love the style and I freakin made pants.

4. Birthday blues shirt
What went right: lots of wear, good fit, fits within his wardrobe | McCall's 6044

This was the second super-successful man shirt I made this year. I think the Western-style yokes really make this shirt interesting but not flashy – just like my man. It gets worn a lot, even into the fall/winter.

5. Shibori Satsuki
What went right: textile experimentation, repurposed undesirable fabric | Victory Patterns Satsuki

I think this is one of the more beautiful things I’ve made this year, and it was my re-introduction into dyeing cloth. This is pretty much only a summer top, with the shoulder cutouts and wide sleeves, and I’m eager to wear it again.

Honorable Unmentionables: So, Zo scrunds
What went right: used lots of scraps, lots of wear, good fit

Sewing scrunds might have sounded a bit absurd to me a few years ago, but I completely see the practicality now:  they fit wonderfully, they guzzle up knit scraps and they sew up quickly. I think I’ve got enough scraps to make up some more!

So what have I learned from choosing my favorites from 2013? Unsurprisingly, I like projects that see a lot of use! I feel good when a project uses up scrap fabric or thrifted fabric (or transforms undesirable fabric). Good fit is imperative, as is good fabric choice. Four of my favorite projects this year (the quilt, pants, Satsuki, and scrunds) were outside of my comfort zone, and I was glad of the challenge once I was done.

Top 5 misses of 2013

The Top 5 lists are back!


Head on over to Gillian’s blog to grab an icon and check out her suggested lists and thoughts on why looking back on our projects is a useful exercise. As a navel-gazing type, I needed no convincing to join in again.

I’ve still got some unblogged 2013 projects and hope to share them before I do the hits as some of them are contenders. I’m optimistically assuming I won’t sew up a spectacular failure in between now and New Year’s. So, in chronological order, here are the 5 projects that have not stood the test of time.

1. Sweater Renfrew
What went wrong: fit issues

This picture really says it all. I tried to wear it anyway for 6-7 months, but I now know that I needed to widen the shoulders as well as make them more square. I hated how it lifted off every time I moved my shoulders. It’s been sold to a thrift store, and I hope it’s found a good home with someone who is more slender- and sloped-shouldered than I. Shouldn’t be hard! I recently re-visited the pattern and was able to employ some of the fit knowledge I’ve gathered this year to make the necessary alterations.

2. Natural-blocking tunic
What went wrong:  low-quality fabric, sewing inexperience


I really, really like the concept of this tunic but I always ended up feeling a little sloppy when I wore it. The seam between the top (cut on the bias) and the bottom (on grain) looks a little wavy. The tan linen (yep, THAT tan linen) didn’t wear well throughout the day. I ended up cutting it to a shirt length, which helped, and it went into a dye vat this morning. We’ll see if it survives!

3. Basic black sweater
What went wrong: low-quality fabric

This sweater is still in my closet, but its days are numbered. I made it out of a rayon slub knit that I purchased at Pacific Fabrics when I couldn’t find a sturdier black sweater knit. It attracts lint and generates tons of its own. I wore it to the salon to get my hair cut, and the stylist looked like she didn’t want to touch it when she went to hang it up. I felt some shame, but continued to wear it because it worked so well with my tank tops.

I think this is the worst sort of fail, because I don’t think this garment will be desirable enough to donate or sell when I decide it’s too disgusting to wear. It feels very wasteful! I suppose I should looking for a textile recycle option. I’d really like to re-make it in a nice sweater or linen knit and will make every attempt to vet the quality of the fabric!

4. Wiksten tank hack
What went wrong:  hasty sewing, fit issues

I was still figuring out how low to make the neckline on my Wiksten tanks when I made this variation, and it’s just too low. I chalk this one up mostly to hasty sewing, because I think that’s why I overlooked the neckline. I’m pretty sure this tank has embarrassed me in public. I need to unpick the neck and arm bindings so I can fix it. By the time spring rolls around, I’m hoping to feel motivated as I really like the two-fabric design and the button placket.

5. Isabel-inspired PJ pants
What went wrong: hasty sewing, “meh” design

I think I was just too much in a rush to finish these pants for the Pajama sew-along to do them justice. I was adapting a pattern on the fly (and very quickly). I wish the slant pockets came in further. They’re a little big through the leg and the elastic cuffs hit at an awkward spot. I didn’t even want to wear them to lounge around the house. They were sold this weekend to a thrift store. Still, I’m glad I tried to improvise and I used thrifted fabric.

By my count, the culprit tally is fit issues (2), low-quality fabric (2), hasty sewing (2), sewing inexperience (1) and “meh” design (1). I’m not that concerned about the last two. I think it’s exciting to learn something new by making a mistake, or by dreaming up an idea only to realize it needs tweaking. Fit issues also get easier to tackle with experience. It’s the hasty sewing and bad fabric that I’d like to work on in 2014. I’ve been rushing through less projects this year and I’ve noticed a huge uptick in quality (and I tend to catch fit issues that come up.) The fabric issue isn’t completely in my hands, but I think a mixture of educating myself on the feel, look and structure of good fabric will go a long way – as will trusting my instincts. If I think back to when I purchased the black rayon jersey, I remember my desire to get it sooner drowning out the voices saying the fabric wasn’t quite right.

Taking a look back at last year’s misses, I had 4 instances of unsuitable fabric (too thick, too thin, no drape, etc.) and 2 instances of hasty sewing. I do feel like my fabric choices have improved immensely, so it’s nice to not have that problem pop up this year! And while I have the same number of hastily-sewn projects, I sewed a lot more projects this year – most of them, without rushing.

Are you reflecting on your year in sewing?

Top 5 Goals for 2013

Nathan and me and The Dress

Happy New Year! Nathan and I spent NYE celebrating at our good friends’ house party with an amazing view of the Seattle fireworks. I’m happy to report that the Wedding Guest Dress winterized quite nicely, like many of you said it would! I was feeling brave and wore it with sweater tights and boots. I was warm enough to walk a mile to our place since the buses were advancing at 1 block/10 minutes! Today we woke up early and headed to my parents’ place for my favorite holiday event, a traditional Japanese feast with my extended family and good friends. If yesterday and today hadn’t been so satisfying and fun, I’d be feeling more tragic about the prospect of returning to work tomorrow.

All right, let’s talk goals for 2013.

I have a funny relationship with goals; I start failing as soon as I put them in writing. My goal could be to continue a good habit that I’ve already cultivated and as soon as I write it down, I’ll stop cold. I’ve gotten a little better in a past couple of years, probably because I’m learning to set more realistic goals. With that rather large caveat, there are some things I’m interested in exploring this year!

  1. Making a sloper
  2. Textile experiments: learning more about applique and embroidery as well as putting my knowledge of shibori and maybe silk screening into practice
  3. Designing and printing my own fabric for a project
  4. Using up my fabric scraps in fun ways (suggestions appreciated!)
  5. Taking better photos (I’m enlisting my sis for help on this one)
(I’m also knocking around ideas for fun sewing projects, like a sailor dress, a kimono jacket and some others, but didn’t want to put those down as goals since one of the things I enjoy about sewing is making what I want when I want, dammit!)
So that brings is to the end of 2012 Top 5 lists! I enjoyed this activity immensely, thanks again to Gillian for the wonderful idea!
So long, 2012

Top 5 Inspirations of 2012

When I first signed up for Gillian’s Top 5 of 2012 lists, I actually mis-read the prompt for the Inspirations list. It sounds too hard to pick my favorite sewing blogs (there are so very many), so I’d like to share my top 5 style inspirations of the year! You might see them start to crop up in my 2013 projects.

1. Volume
I mentioned this in my Top 5 Reflections post, but I’ve been really intrigued by volume lately! And I’m excited to see Vogue and the Project Runway/McCall’s line incorporating volume into their more fashion-forward patterns.

2. Surface design/print design
It’s always tempting for me to choose a solid fabric, but prints and textures done well have been catching my eye more and more.

3. Minimalism
I’m starting to see 90s minimalist fashion come back, and I’m really excited! Maybe it’s because I spent most of my teen years in the 90s. Luxirare had an amazing blog post on Carolyn Bessette Kennedy’s style, and I was inspired by her classic modern look. I don’t remember the 90s looking that good!

4. Basics and tomboy style
I love dresses, but if I’m being honest with myself, I’m most often found in pants and a shirt. I think a flattering, durable basic is as valuable as a once-a-year dress, if not more so.

5. Classic American

I’ve had an on-going love affair with cowboy boots, button-down shirts and more recently, Alabama Chanin’s amazing hand-stitched pieces. There’s just something about pieces with a history behind their construction and design that speaks to me.

Annnnd I wanted to say a big thank-you to all the bloggers that I connected with this year. Doing Me-Made-May was extra fun this time around and I met a lot of great sewers and makers. Kirsty, GillianGingerZoe, Liza Jane, Solvi, Andrea, Meg and futurenakano and many more, I really enjoyed getting to know you through your blogs and thoughtful/helpful/interesting comments this year. You made sewing in 2012 that much more fun!

Top 5 Reflections on 2012

I’m continuing the Top 5 list awesomeness with my reflections on sewing in 2012!

1. You guys have helped me a lot
Wow. Anytime I need to learn a new technique, deal with bad pattern instructions or make an adjustment to suit my body type, one of you fantastic bloggers has already written a tutorial on what I need to know. What generosity! What a good use of the internet!

Also, I’m grateful for your encouragement and the inspiration you provide. I love seeing what you’ve made and sharing what I’ve made. Finishing my Minoru and being able to share it with a community that appreciates how much of an accomplishment it was for me was a high point in 2012!

2. Slow is just fine
I’m a plodder. Through most of 2012, I consistently had a project or two in flight, but I couldn’t join Sew Weekly any time soon! I admire bloggers who produce beautiful garments once a week, and eagerly read their blogs. But this year I’ve come to terms with the fact that I’m on the slow track, especially since starting school this fall. I’ve learned that I make things that are more likely to see use if I just slow the eff down and address problems as they arise. Easier said than done, but I feel like this year saw me sewing more slowly and cautiously than in previous years.

3. I’m ready for different fabrics (and some thoughts on new vs. thrifted fabric)
For me, sewing is an arena for me to experiment with sustainability! I began sewing almost exclusively on thrifted sheets and quilting cotton. While I still think that this is a fabulous source of fabric for woven cotton and a really good low-stakes way to learn to sew, I’ve gotten the urge to expand my repertoire to other fabrics. I dabbled a bit in silk and knit fabric as well as thicker cottons like canvas and twill this year, with pretty good results.

crab&bee Alabama Chanin camisole
Alabama Chanin camisole in progress
I know that creating textiles is a water- and chemical-intensive process, but I also think that sewing my own clothing (even with new fabric) is preferable to buying RTW for a lot of reasons; my construction is sturdier and lasts longer, I’ve cut out some of the waste associated with retail (packaging, transport, etc), and ideally I end up with a garment I love that fits me well. As someone who needs to create, it’s a way to direct that energy towards something useful.

I think 2013 will see me using a mix of new fabric for special projects (and perhaps researching more sustainable fabric?), looking for better sources of thrifted fabric and attempting more refashioning, as well as putting my scraps to good use. As a side note, I’ve been really inspired by Alabama Chanin lately! I received Alabama Chanin Studio Style for Christmas from Nathan’s parents and have begun a project using thrifted men’s t-shirts.

I ❤ ease

4. My style is changing
I shared some of my creations from my pre-Crab&Bee days here. What was most astounding to me is how my style has evolved in two short years! Not so long ago, I preferred tighter, shorter, more feminine clothing. I think two things are at play here: I’m learning how to make a garment flattering without merely being tight, and sewing has permitted me to experiment with a lot of silhouettes I might not have otherwise played with.

On second thought, I can’t really tell how much of this is me and how much of it is fashion. I do know that I won’t be able to go back to short and tight clothes now that I’ve experienced the kind of comfort that 2+ inches of ease with a reasonable hem can offer! Prude alert!

5. I need the right mix of challenging and fast projects
My Minoru brought me into the uncharted territory of making a jacket (with a lining to boot!). After that, all I wanted to make were knit shirts and dresses and makeup bags. When I’d completed a few of those fast projects, I was ready to try something new-ish. That balance was really nice, and made me think; since sewing is something I do for fun, the project I’m working on should be appealing to me! Sometimes that will mean tackling a challenge, and sometimes that will mean something easy.

Next up: top 5 inspirations from 2012!

Top 5 Hits of 2012

Hi there! Last night as I was drifting off to sleep, I realized that I don’t really have much/any time to wrap up my Top 5 lists before the end of the year! Somehow I always imagine that there is two weeks between Christmas and New Year’s instead of one (maybe because they’re so packed with activity). So with that in mind, I’m going to forge ahead with my Hits without the inclusion of my newer projects. Luckily, I’ve made at least five very useful and delightful projects this year; here they are in roughly chronological order!

1. The Persimmon Shirt

This shirt is every bit as bright as the photograph, and it cheers me up every time I put it on. It walks the narrow line between success and failure because I unknowingly made it from very low-quality, fragile voile. This means I only hand-wash it, but I still consider it a favorite from 2012!

Pattern: McCall’s 6436
Fabric: cotton voile

2. The Grown-Up Flower Girl Dress

My life-long dream of being a flower girl was fulfilled this February thanks to my very indulgent uncle and now-aunt who got married after 20 years together. I waffled between making matching dresses for my sister and me and decided at the last minute to go for it. I made a muslin for myself, finished my dress, then made some guesses about my sister’s dress based on how mine fit her.

Even though I haven’t had the occasion to wear this dress again (where does one wear a loud hot orange Amy Butler floral?), I’m so proud of the fit and construction.


As a bonus, I also made my husband’s shirt that he wore to the wedding. We’re looking practically model-esque thanks to my sister’s superior photography skills!

Patterns: Butterick 5639 (dress),  McCall’s 6044 (shirt)
Fabric: Amy Butler quilting cotton (dress), thrifted cotton gingham (shirt)

3. The Red Bustier

Here’s another exercise in good fitting. I made several rounds of adjustments to a muslin before making this bustier top and really saw a lot of gains from it. This top layers really well and has been a versatile piece for both work and other occasions. The fabric was first thrifted by my friend Elizabeth, then re-gifted to me when she made a big move to California.

Pattern: McCall’s 6325
Fabric: thifted quilting cotton

4. The Wedding Guest Dress

I’m so very proud of this dress. Somehow I managed to sew slowly and carefully but complete it in a matter of days before a wedding (with a muslin!) It was my first time sewing a big project using silk and definitely the most expensive fabric I’ve ever sprung for.

Pattern: Vogue 1228
Fabric: silk habotai

5. The Long-Awaited Minoru

Months in the making, my Sewaholic Minoru has quickly become one of the most-worn pieces in my wardrobe. I expect that will be even more true when the weather warms up a bit. I won’t go on too much about this piece since it’s blog debut was fairly recent, but it definitely makes the Top 5.

Pattern: Sewaholic Minoru
Fabric: Cotton twill with cotton lining

There you have it! The Top 5 Crab&Bee creations of 2012. (PS I had no idea I was such a McCall’s fan! The first three items on this list all involve a McCall’s pattern).

Top 5 Misses of 2012

Hello there! I hope you had a wonderful holiday! Mine was packed with tons of family events and I hosted Christmas for the first time. I feel like such an ADULT. I also got some really lovely sewing goodies which will definitely be popping up on the blog.

Since I’m still wrassling with photographing some of my successful recent makes, I thought I’d start out Gillian’s Top 5 lists with the projects that just didn’t come together as hoped.

Let’s start with the worst and work our way up to the salvageable, shall we?

1. The “Business in the front, tragedy in the back” skirt


This skirt was a riff on my favorite pattern, Simplicity 2451. I used some thrifted poly-cotton sheet material, so at least the fabric loss wasn’t unbearable. I had a vision of a floaty red gathered skirt with a mullet hem. The mullet hem came true, but I didn’t realize that I’d be able to see my inelegant center back seam. I also should have put in more gathers. This is a good example of what happens when I really want to make something but don’t want to put the work in to think it through!

Pattern: Simplicity 2451
Fabric: Thrifted poly-cotton blend

2. The Kelly skirt shelf-butt situation

Miss Navy Kelly Blue

While I attempted to correct what I’ve deemed “shelf-butt” by spacing the back pleats differently than the Kelly skirt pattern, here is photographic proof that I didn’t quite resolve it. I also should have picked a thicker fabric than Kona cotton, because there appears to be some awkward squelching below the waistband.

Pattern: Megan Nielsen “Kelly” skirt
Fabric: Kona cotton

3. Extreme wrinkles dress

Top 5 Misses of 2012

This dress doesn’t look *quite* as bad as it does in this picture, but the wrinkles are still pretty intense. The super-thick belt doesn’t do it any favors, either. I think, unlike the first two garments on this list, that this dress can be saved by a draw-string waist, a good iron and a better photograph.

Pattern: Vogue 1236 DKNY
Fabric: tie-dyed cotton

4. Citrus slice top

Top 5 Misses of 2012

This project is also salvageable. I haven’t been wearing it because I raced through the difficult bottom hem and it just looks so sloppy. I had thread that matched the darker orange thread but not the lighter. I’m definitely going to re-do this in 2013. Other than that, I love this pattern. The lines are awesome and it fits me perfectly. In fact, I’d love to do another one in a different fabric. Maybe a double-gauze?

Pattern: Vogue 1247 (Rachel Comey)
Fabric: Cotton lawn with cotton gauze

5. The super-thick dress

Top 5 Misses of 2012

Now, I’ve made this dress quite a few times. I love the pattern. But, I decided to make this one in a super thick cotton twill. Not only that, but it’s self-lined so it’s super thick. As I’m writing this, I’m considering the viability of taking the lining out and re-doing it with a lighter fabric to make it more wearable. I like the look, I really like the contrasting sleeves, but I just never reach for it… to be continued, perhaps.

Pattern: Simplicity 2281
Fabric: Cotton twill and denim

So there they are; the very public skeletons in my closet. Four out of five fell victim to poor fabric choice, two fell victim to haste, with one falling victim to both. Aside from the red skirt, I felt fairly positive about these projects when I finished them, but time proved them to be lackluster. In fact, until I started writing this post, I hadn’t realized how dissatisfied I was with some of them.

What have I learned from this list-making exercise? I feel like I’m always learning one lesson over and over; slow down when I’m sewing. Perhaps a new facet of this lesson is to slow down while I’m selecting a fabric. And when I start with fabric, don’t force it to fit a pattern.

Next up: Top 5 favorites of 2012!