Happy Friday + Randomness

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Happy Friday! I sketched this illustration while thinking about the poem K wrote below. I have it taped above my sewing table, and she also made that “I lov u” note for me using a stencil book.

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Wondering by K

I wonder about the sky
I wonder how birds can fly
I wonder as I watch the world go bye

I wonder about stars
and the planet mars
I wonder how I last
and the wonders of the past 

 

Isn’t she a wonder? I love that she included that little rhyming aside, “Have a good time with rhyme!”. KCL are her initials, by the way. I know I am repeatedly posting these little notes by K, but I’m just in awe of her developing writing skills.

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Relentlessly, the topic of my chest keeps coming up. As I leaned over to tuck K in the other night:

Mama, I don’t want a perfect view of your boobies. Put them away.

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Have a wonderful, wonderful weekend, friends! On our agenda: lots of snuggling, our weekly brunch at the local cafe, an American Girl Doll birthday bonanza for one of K’s friends.

It’s the final phase
I need to complete my book
Diving into it*

*So I always say that I might be scarce here, but I just like to put it out there to make me feel better in case I do miss a post here and there. If there’s one thing I love more than creating picture books, it’s blogging.

 

Sewing for Me: The Easiest Top

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Picasso and Mondrian would be proud of me for my abundant usage of blue and color-blocking. I’m calling this the easiest top ever because it’s literally four rectangles plus two ties. This top was part of my pre-spring plan, and hey, it’s solidly spring now and I’m finally ratcheting up my sewing mojo to make the plan a reality.

After all that body-hugging business with the Lady Skater dress, I’m back in my comfort zone and frolicking in loose, hospital/maternity garb. Here’s what the top looks like in the book:

tsukute-kitai4Here’s the back of my version:

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Isn’t the fabric lovely? It’s a Nani Iro Muji — and I think it’s a gauze, but it’s not double-gauze. The texture is absolutely luscious. Light and floaty and ethereal. It already came color-blocked, but the white edges were along the selvage so I had to cut the skirt/lower bodice section cross-grain.

It’s pretty hard to mess up four rectangles, and I believe it took me all of one hour from start to finish (no pattern to trace!). The other key factor that made this effortless was that I used the selvage for the sleeve edges and hem. Perfect.

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I get sad every time I see the chicken coop that’s in the background. The former occupants (three hens) became dinner for raccoons, and it just isn’t the same without them clucking around our yard.

Anyway, I already have plans to make this top again with a silk I’ve been hoarding, and I just might be able to share it next week! We shall see…Many thanks to my my capable photography assistant, who couldn’t help but photobomb time and time again. Notice anything different about K?

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Avocado Chocolate Cookies

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I keep a loose sort of blog schedule — every Friday, I list out potential post ideas for the following week and most of the time, I don’t follow the schedule at all because I’m always way too unrealistic and wait to create my post the day before. I’m pretty much a fly-by-the-seat-of-your-pants kind of gal. On rare occasions, I will list the same topic over and over, carrying it through several weeks without making it happen even though it’s completely doable. These avocado chocolate cookies are an example of that.

I’ve been wanting to make these cookies for months. I love avocados. I love cookies. I especially love healthier options for sweets. I have all the ingredients for this recipe at all times (avocados, coconut sugar, egg, cocoa, chocolate chunks, baking soda and water). Seemed like a sure winner, yet I couldn’t muster the energy to make them.

Part of it was because I knew it would be yet another challenging photography project. Here’s what I mean:

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I tried all sorts of things to make them look less cow-pat-esque, but what can I say?

Just as I thought, the recipe was so quick and easy, and within half an hour, I had 18 cookies cooling on my rack. Having had success with avocado chocolate frosting before, I assumed I would adore these. They’re not bad, but some tweaks are in order. I wasn’t sure how much 50grams of chocolate chips would be (I don’t have a scale) so I tossed in a 1/2 cup. Should have added more. Also, my avocados weren’t totally ripe, and this was an issue. There’s a distinct guacamole aftertaste, which, for an avocado aficionado, isn’t such a problem, but it’s definitely weird in a cookie. So super ripe avocados are necessary.

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The recipe does state that these taste better cold and after chilling overnight in the fridge, so I’ll test that out tomorrow morn. I just had my second cookie, and you know, they’re growing on me. Guac-cookies they may be and a little odd, but they’re palatable. I like that the batch I made doesn’t use any flour, and coconut sugar is supposed to be a decent sugar alternative, but out of curiosity I might try this recipe next – this one sounds promising! I’m still trying to cut back on sugar, but sometimes chocolate is mandatory, don’t you think?

Giving Back

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My first job out of graduate school landed me in jail. The brisk and humiliating body search. The clang of the barred door. “What have I done?” I thought, numb and disoriented.

I’d committed no crime, at least none that I knew of, and certainly none that would put me in the slammer. Somehow, though, at age 27, face covered with adult-onset acne, I stood toe-to-toe with glaring, orange-clad inmates.

What I had done was find employment with an arts non-profit in the Bay Area. I’d been accepted into Peace Corps, but at the same time, I got a job offer as a director of operations for a theater company that had made a name for itself with innovative collaborations involving the San Francisco County Jail and at-risk youth, and I just couldn’t pass up the offer. The pay was the pits, the benefits laughable. But I’ve always been a dreamer and overly idealistic, and I convinced myself that I could help more in my own country than in Central Asia through the Peace Corps. And truth be told, living in San Francisco was on my bucket list, and I rationalized that I could go dig ditches in third world countries when I retired.

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In retrospect, it was probably the most character-building experience I’ve ever had. Its uniqueness came in multitudes. The non-profit organization was housed in the Center for African and African American Art and Culture (CAAAC as it was known back then, but they’ve since modified their name slightly). The center was in a part of town where people instructed me to never walk alone at night. I was one of three non-black people in the entire building. Clearly, my new employer was hell-bent on diversity, as his other employee was also not of African descent (a Caucasian Yale grad with an amazing knack for grant-writing. A super nice guy, by the way). The vibrant environment resonated with music (including a lot of rap) and dancing and glorious art.

It was also the only workplace in which my boss would show up in a zoot suit. He favored metallic blues and purples, though my personal favorite was the gold one. He wore many hats — sometimes literally — as executive director, theater company head and father figure to masses of displaced children, but most notably, he was a saxophonist and tap dancer. And he performed both simultaneously. In contrast to his wild outfits, he was a reticent and quiet man, pragmatic and kind.

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I actually had two bosses, and the other one was a firecracker who kept me on my toes. She invariably burst into rooms, her red hair glowing, commanding attention with her gravelly voice and dramatic turn of phrases. A stage actress by training, she was fierce and bold and inspiring – a lioness. Legions of young actresses sought her out to train under her. Her life mission was to work directly with female inmates, extracting and crafting their stories, then teaching the women how to perform these stories and to heal themselves.

That in and of itself was pioneering, but what raised the stakes was that the performances were held outside of the prison cells at a public venue. The shows starred the incarcerated women themselves, and some of these women had committed murder. Not a group to be messed with. A large part of my role was to coordinate all aspects of this public performance from booking the venue, working with the Sheriff’s department to ensure maximum security, dealing with city ordinances and endless bureaucratic red tape, and interfacing with the women in the jails.

High stress. Funnily enough, one of the hardest tasks for me was to organize the post-performance gala. We had no budget so this required soliciting for pro-bono help and free food. Basically, I had to beg. I begged one of the moms of the afterschool program I oversaw to cater the event. She looked at me dubiously and asked, “Did you say 200 people? How you gonna pull this off with $100?” Somehow I convinced her, and I went around imploring restaurants, shops and bakeries to donate food. I beseeched stationery stores, florists and party shops to lend us decorations and platters and champagne flutes. My love of Trader Joe’s started then because they provided almost all of the ingredients and beverages for the gala, gratis. I am a woman filled with pride and begging is antithetical to my nature.

In the end, the performance culminated in success. Many tears were shed, excellent reviews written up, and all the rest. But the gala was my pride and joy, a thing of pure beauty. I remember taking all the foodstuffs to the caterer the day before the event. ”Girl,” she said with a look of wonder, “You NICE, but you ain’t a pushover.” Very few words have made me as happy as those. I hold them dear, as a personal motto. The caterer did a phenomenal job with all the TJ supplies, whipping up mini puff pastries, pint-sized crab cakes, crudites, dips and an enormous array of mouth-watering food. She even made a gorgeous cake and the whole set up was fit for an exquisitely tasteful wedding.

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I wish I could say I had a thriving career as an arts administrator, but I didn’t stay at the organization very long — I lasted about a year. Mostly it was because my heart couldn’t take it, and I was burnt out. I was too young, too naive, too disappointed by the injustice. Yes, the organization and programs helped many people, but it was such a small percentage compared to the constant recidivism, of the endless revolving door of crime, despair, abuse. Mothers addicted to crack would stumble into my office to randomly drop off young malnourished children, barely stringing together a coherent sentence. It broke me seeing and taking care of those kids. I lingered many, many extra hours in the office for them.

I also don’t think I was whole enough myself to withstand the sorrow and distress that my job entailed. At the same time, I was afraid that I would become desensitized, which was something of a commonality in that line of work. Even after I quit, I continued to volunteer for literacy groups and assisted homeless shelters and substance abuse programs, but I knew that these were under the umbrella of “safe” volunteerism, the kind that kept me at arm’s length, away from direct involvement and emotional commingling. I could put in my couple of hours, paint a wall for habitat or tutor a kid once in a blue moon and call it good. The sort of charity work I observed the well-heeled doing when I lived in Los Angeles: the auctions held at four-star hotels, the sunny afternoons spent picking up a few pieces of litter while wearing designer gloves. I’m not saying it’s wrong and I’m not trying to judge, because I think any form of a helping hand is admirable and necessary. In fact, growing up with immigrant parents, my family had very little money and though I didn’t know it at the time, I was a beneficiary of those well-heeled folks on many occasions. And I am grateful.

I guess I just felt like I wasn’t doing enough to be of service after I left the non-profit. Defeated that I couldn’t handle the hard stuff. I’ve been thinking about those days at the theater company a lot lately; I faced adversity and joy and hope and hopelessness and foibles and strengths. Oftentimes all at once. I want to give back again — the dreamer and overly idealistic self is still there and I’ve noticed the void of service acutely these last few years. Sure, I’m trying to juggle family and regaining my health and cobbling together some semblance of work, but I sense that I’m presenting this weird life in which all I do is sew pretty clothes and draw cute pictures and compose dorky haikus and talk endlessly about myself. Can I contribute something worthwhile and do those things? Well, wouldn’t that be grand? I’m not sure how to make it happen yet, but the idea has lodged into my thoughts…

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P.S. If you’re curious about the organization I worked for, it’s still around! Idris and Rhodessa are amazing!

Monday Outfit: Oliver + S Garden Party Dress

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Good morning! Since this new spring pattern from Oliver + S is called “Garden Party Dress“, it seemed necessary to find some kind of floral fabric. I’m trying to challenge myself more these days, so I ventured into my bin labeled “silk and silk-like stuff”. As soon as I saw these bright orange poppies, it was a done deal.

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Back in the days before I was trying to bust my impossible stash and when I used to buy fabric (a trickle of nostalgic tears here), I would take K with me to one particular fabric store. It’s a small shop nestled in our former neighborhood, and there is a big table smack dab in the center of the store with all the catalogs splayed out. K and I had a routine: she would plunk herself down at the table and start paging through the catalogs, looking for kids’ costumes. I would then run around the store to snatch at whatever fabrics caught my eye — I usually had approximately 10 minutes before K would start an epic meltdown.

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But one day, I decided to let K choose fabric. “Whatever you want, honey,” I said magnanimously, and then proceeded to say no to the leopard fur, the shiny (and outrageously expensive) silks, and the garish cartoon-ish prints she inevitably gravitated toward. Finally, at the sale corner, she spotted the poppies and the $5/yard price was acceptable.

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This is actually lining fabric and some kind of cheap-o polyester. As such, it’s sort of plastic-y and sheer, but it looks a lot like silk if you don’t stare at it too long. Using the front bodice from the Garden Party Dress as a base, I quickly assembled a slip because I couldn’t be bothered to attach a lining to the dress. I figured that since I make so many sheer dresses for her, she ought to have something to wear underneath.

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I’m starting to sound like a broken record with how excellent the instructions are, etc., but what was interesting about this dress is that I’ve made one that is extremely similar from a Japanese pattern book before here. Oh, that jacket – I love it so. Anyway, the dress was not a success, and I remember having a bear of a time understanding the instructions and couldn’t get the gathers quite right. K rejected is as itchy and I was very sad to have wasted that beautiful pink linen.

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This time, the fit is fantastic and K was eager to try on the dress. Huzzah. She even chose the button for the back, and I approve of her choice wholeheartedly. This here is a size 7, and I used far less than the 2 1/4 yards of fabric required. So effectively, this dress cost less than $10 if you don’t count labor. We won’t think about the labor, though making it hardly felt like work. And maybe it’s just me, but I think it’s boutique-worthy and looks pretty expensive. K wore the dress to a birthday party that was held at one of those ceramic painting places in the local mall – as we walked through the fancy, enormous mall, I was surprised by how many people stopped to compliment K on the dress.

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Another awesome pattern from Oliver + S! So fun to sew up and this one came together even faster than the hide-and-seek dress since I didn’t attempt any piecing together. I’m so grateful whenever I get the chance to try out these amazing patterns. Left to my own devices, I wouldn’t branch out from my Japanese sewing books, and how sad would it be to miss out on all these fabulous indie patterns? Thank you, Liesl!

Side note: K is reading Lemony Snicket’s Series of Unfortunate Events right now and is completely immersed. She refused to put down the book, but obediently followed my instructions to turn, give me a side profile, sit, etc. The girl is a professional.

Happy Friday + Randomness

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Happy Friday! Last week, I found a note K had written, crumpled and forgotten in a corner. I love it to pieces and its sweetness bowls me over. It inspired me to digitally paint a bluejay, but I think her rendition is about a jillion times better:

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*That last line is “I can hear my neighbor playing music” – gah, it kills me.

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Have a spectacular weekend, friends! Yesterday was the first day of spring. Can you believe it?

O cherry blossoms
flittering amid the winds
a carpet of pink

Sewing for Me: PPP // Lady Skater Dress

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I don’t mean to assault you with images of myself this week, but I was very excited about finishing this dress and wanted to share. I’ve seen various versions around the web, and had been admiring the pattern from afar, so you can imagine how thrilled I was to be invited to participate in the Perfect Pattern Parcel Tour. I had always planned on sewing both the Summer Concert Tee and the Lady Skater dress by Kitchy Koo for the tour, but time got away from me, and I couldn’t get it done by my scheduled date.

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But I had a good window of time to complete the dress yesterday, and I am so proud of the neckline. So proud. This was the first time I used this method of leaving one shoulder open to attach the neckband (attaching it flat vs. in the round), and I love it. K saw me in the dress and cried out, “Mommy! It’s beautiful!! I want one, you need to make me one NOW.” And then she reflected for a moment and said, “But I have to grow some breasts first. That dress looks really good with breasts.”

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Feelin’ a little self-conscious, I must say. You all know that I don’t wear a lot of fitted clothes, and though I may have boobs, I don’t have a waist so these types of garments tend to accentuate my barrel-like torso. But the dress is very comfy — I wore it all day and felt great in it.

Another reason I couldn’t get it done in time is because I erroneously cut out only one skirt piece instead of two and ran out of the navy print knit. This meant I had to go scavenging in my cavernous bins to find fabric that would match, and this solid navy was all I could find. It almost helps to create the illusion of a waist, so that was a boon. What I didn’t realize was that was this knit stretches to infinity and after I took these photos and wore it all day, the skirt was a veritable maxi. I’ve chopped about four inches since, and it’s much less “country western/yee-haw” as M opined.

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You can see the skirt’s downward descent above…

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The dress is easy-peasy to sew and again, the neckline! It’s the most professional finishing I’ve ever done. I’m loving the 3/4 length sleeves and I should mention that I decided to cut one size smaller than my closest measurements, and that worked out really really well.

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The one thing I would change is the fabric density next time. I got the rayon/jersey knit on top from here a long time ago, and the bottom knit was a small amount leftover from my summer maxi dress. Both knits I used are a little too thin and my “body shaper” undergarment had to save the day because the rolls were just too, too enhanced. In fact, it looked like I had rolls on top of rolls, and oddly, the rolls were prominent in sections where I don’t actually have them. So for my next Lady Skater, I’m choosing a thick, thick knit with excellent recovery. Alright, that’s enough photos of me for a good while, methinks.

 

Sewing for Me: Perfect Pattern Parcel 1 // Summer Concert Tee

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There’s a reason that the Summer Concert Tee has been in the spotlight of the Perfect Pattern Parcel tour going on right now. Have you heard of PPP? It’s an innovative collaboration with multiple prongs, e.g. a name-your-price bundle, a charitable educational cause and a rally for indie designers. I’m a huge supporter of indie designers and educational causes, and I like the unique approach to pricing.

I chose the concert tee because it’s a quick sew, to be sure, but it also has the key elements I look for in a garment: comfort, style, and versatility. And that’s a plastic spider ring left over from Halloween by my feet. K “styled” the shoot.

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At first glance, the dark olive knit I used probably looks as plain jane as can be. But no, it’s burnout knit! Do you remember the burnout knit trend back in circa 2007? The only reason I remember this is because I had an illustration client back then that paid me in trade. Since the client owned a boutique, she would send me of-the-moment clothes in exchange for postcard illustrations. I received a burnout tee that I absolutely loved and wore to death.

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I received this fabric from my mom, and I really had no plans to use it. It’s super see-through and thin and the edges curl like crazy, and all in all, it spelled h-e-a-d-a-c-h-e. Yet, when Rachael invited me to participate in the tour, I couldn’t stop thinking about this burnout knit (jersey?) for the tee.

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I’m not one to ignore siren calls from fabric, and I’m glad I used this finicky one. It drapes fabulously and the sewing was shockingly smooth. A few words from having sewn this pattern: I LOVE the style. It’s the kind I would shell out good hard cash for with its generous silhouette and flattering cut. The sizing, I discovered, is also extremely generous. This is an extra small I made, and I’ve never worn extra small in my life. It made me feel petite and dainty instead of like a sumo wrestler, which was an unexpected bonus. The instructions were clear and straightforward, but I did have a beef about the 1/4 inch seam allowance. With the challenging knit I was using, there was ample opportunity for disaster, so I fudged a bit and used a 3/8 seam allowance. Plenty of room in spite of that, as you can see.

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I definitely recommend this pattern! I really like the asymmetrical hem, and lower neckline (I find that most necklines are too high for me). I considered adding some length to the front to accommodate my alien-esque long torso, but I opted to stick true to the pattern. I did leave the hem and sleeve edges raw because (a) I was feeling a little lazy and (b) I don’t mind how it looks and (c) I was afraid I would jinx my good sewing karma because I always mess up knit sleeve edges and hems. A wise, wise move if I do say so myself!

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And that’s not all! I’m working on another goodie from the Perfect Pattern Parcel and here’s a sneak peek…

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So. Onto the really good stuff. This is a cool project on so many levels, and there are prizes! The parcel comes with five top-notch patterns, and as mentioned before, you set your own price.

Additionally, there are over $200 worth of gift certificates available and you can enter the giveaway here. Make haste, friends, make haste.
Parcel 1 Collage

 

Perfect Pattern Parcel

 

And make sure to check the other lovely creations here:
One Little Minute
SeamstressErin Designs
One Girl Circus
casa crafty
the quirky peach
Kadiddlehopper
Sew Caroline
Groovybabyandmama
Fishsticks Designs
the Brodrick blog
verypurpleperson
sew a straight line
Adventures in Dressmaking
true bias
Idle Fancy
La Pantigana
Crafterhours
Boy, Oh Boy, Oh Boy Crafts
Max California
YoSaMi
la inglesita
Diary of a Chainstitcher
four square walls
Lauren Dahl
Sewbon
mingo & grace
Dandelion Drift
VeryShannon
Sanae Ishida
buzzmills
Sew Jereli
Figgy’s
Froo & Boo
a happy stitch
Disaster in a Dress
Things for Boys
mama says sew
sew Amy sew
Sew Busy Lizzy
Made With Moxie
imagine gnats

Brown Butter Butternut Squash Bread

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For a long time, butternut squashes intimidated me. The size, the shape, the armor of seemingly impenetrable skin. Inspired by lovely Lucinda’s suggestion in one of the comments, however, I tentatively bought a medium-sized butternut, hacked it in quarters, scooped out the seeds, sprinkled salt and pepper, and stuck it in the oven for about an hour. I admit I was a little spent after cutting the thing. It’s time to get our knives sharpened, it seems.

Fifty-some minutes later, gourd-shaped hulls filled with golden, steaming, sumptuously sweetened, anti-inflammatory pulp emerged (did you know that winter squashes have all sorts of health benefits?).

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My aim was to make soup, and I did. Tossed in with vegetable stock, an array of hearty cruciferous and root veggies and white beans, the pureed butternut squash soup was delicious. I had a lot left over that I didn’t use in the soup, though, and wasn’t sure what to do with gobs of roasted butternut.

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Enter Brown Butter Butternut Squash Bread – an unwieldy dish to say, but oh-so-melt-in-your-mouth-good when consumed. I paced myself and had only one small slice, but this loaf disappeared in a matter of minutes. To reduce the sugar high, I skipped the glaze, and I for one felt no loss. It’s one of those comforting sweet baked goods in the banana and pumpkin bread family, but even better. I think it’s the browned butter that makes the difference, adding depth to the taste.

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I’ve had requests to make the loaf again, and now that I’ve conquered my winter squash fears, I’m ready. Bring it, butternut.

Monday Outfit: Oliver + S Hide-and-Seek Dress

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Happy St. Patty’s Day! There is a marked dearth of green in the images I have to share with you today, but we’ll let that slide. You’ve heard the buzz, right? Oliver + S has several darling new spring patterns out, and I was lucky enough to be included in the sewing fun. There have been some amazing outfits popping up, and on this celebratory Monday, I’m adding my own spin to the Hide-and-Seek dress.

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One of my all-time favorite tops that I made was this stripey pullover, and for a long time I’ve been wanting to do the same sort of multi-directional stripes with this pink and chambray blue fabric. I purchased a couple of yards of this wonderfully soft and drapey _______ (fill in the blank, since as usual, I have no idea what type of fabric this is) from here about a generation ago, and I’ve been pondering various patterns for it for months.

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As soon as I saw the Hide-and-Seek dress, I knew I’d found the one. It had everything I wanted: various panels and yokes and cuffs, generous ease to showcase the bold stripes, the notch to accent the “V” I created by sewing the fabric together on the bias. I cut the size 7 and the fit is perfect.

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Now, Oliver + S patterns are a commitment. As someone used to pumping out super quick Japanese patterns, I’m always initially taken aback by what seems to be innumerable steps. I’m also not used to understanding every single word of the instructions, and this too throws me for a loop for some reason. As much as it’s pretty much superfluous to mention how excellent Liesl’s construction guides are, it bears repeating. All the little steps add up to a pain-free sewing experience with so many lessons thrown in, I sit back at the end of it awestruck by the professional quality of the finished item. And all Oliver + S patterns are like that – to date, people still won’t believe me when I tell them I made the After-school pants.

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The only snafu I ran into was when I accidentally lost my balance while serging (does this ever happen to you?), causing my hand to move the fabric in the wrong direction, and I overlocked a portion of the side panel onto the seam. It’s the section just above her right ribcage and I was horrified. Fortunately, the serger didn’t cut through the fabric and I was able to rip the stitches out. If you looked hard and long, you would be able to see a bit of raggedy-ness in that corner, but no major harm done. The fabric looks pulled just under the left welt pocket, but it’s really not that bad in real life.

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K is crazy about this dress. When I tied off the knot for the last button, she came into my room and screamed (literally screamed) “I LOVE THAT DRESS!!!! I’VE BEEN WANTING ONE EXACTLY LIKE THAT!” After I regained my hearing, I explained that I still had a little more to do. See the little pointy edges created by the chevron/”v” effect? They bugged me. Weird things like that get to me, so I decided to add a few sashiko stitches to soften the angular effect a tad. So glad I did.

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Because this fabric is quite sheer, I quickly assembled an underskirt. I meant for it to be hidden, but K adored the way it looked tiered, so tiered it was. I’m quite smitten with the look too. I used this same fabric for the yoke facings, and it’s some kind of cotton lawn I got from here. How is it that I always remember where I got the fabric, but can’t remember anything else?

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Anyway, this one is a thorough winner!! I love this pattern and hope to make another one again. But before that happens, I was generously bestowed this pattern and this one as well, so these will be sewn up in the next couple of weeks, so stay tuned!

Oh, and here’s the obligatory addition of green for luck.

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