Wedding files: DIY satin belt


My wedding dress fit well off the rack, except it really needed some waist definition.


So I bought a spool of 2″ wide polyester satin ribbon from Jo-Ann Fabrics and tied it into a sash.


It pulled in the waist really well! But the trailing ends didn’t quite mesh with this style of dress, or at least my personal taste. It needed something more polished and tailored. So I decided to turn the sash into a belt.


Want to make a satin belt of your own? I didn’t take photos of the process, but if you have basic hand-sewing skills and remember to try on the belt periodically throughout the process, you’ll hopefully find my notes easy enough to follow.

You’ll need:

  • A length of satin ribbon (your waist size plus several inches)
  • A length of medium or heavy weight fusible interfacing
  • A hook and bar, or a few hooks and eyes
  • Thread that matches the ribbon
  • A hand-sewing needle
  • An iron with a steam setting
  • A press cloth (scrap fabric to keep interfacing goo off your iron)

Here’s how:

  1. Choose your length:
    • Hold the ribbon snug around your waist where the belt should sit.
    • Place a pin to mark the point where the end overlaps.
    • Add 4″ past the pin and then trim the ribbon.
  2. Strengthen your belt:
    • Make a mark or place a pin 2″ from one end, and 1″ from the other.
    • Cut a piece of interfacing the length you have marked (you are leaving the ends un-interfaced), and slightly narrower than the ribbon width.
    • Apply the interfacing to the back side of the ribbon between your marks, following the package directions.
  3. Attach the hook:
    • Fold the shorter end in half so that the raw edge meets the interfacing.
    • Fold over again so the raw edge is enclosed.
    • Sew around all four sides of the folded part with a running stitch.
    • Place the hook on the front of the belt toward the very edge, with the hook part pointing toward the rest of the belt.
    • Attach the hook by stitching through all three layers. The stitches on the back will be against your dress, so they won’t be visible.
  4. Attach the bar:
    • Fold the longer end in half so that the raw edge meets the interfacing, and pin in place.
    • Place the bar at the center of the folded part, on the front side of the ribbon.
    • Attach the bar by stitching through both layers of ribbon. The interfaced part is not involved yet.
    • Fold the ribbon over again so the raw edge is enclosed and your stitches are hidden.
    • Sew around all four sides of the folded part with a running stitch.
  5. Try on your new belt!

Final thoughts and tips:

  • Consider adding more length to the bar end, and sewing on two bars an inch apart. This will allow you to loosen the belt after dinner! I actually planned to do this, but mistakenly didn’t account for enough ribbon to cover the hook. You can see in the top photo that my bar had to be attached at least a half inch from the end so the hook didn’t peek out.
  • When you’re ready to wear it, consider basting (attaching with temporary stitches) the belt to your dress at a few key points. The interfacing made my belt a bit grippy on the back, but it still shifted upward quite a bit as I wore it, and I had to keep tugging it into place.
  • If you’d like to cover the overlapping part, consider adding a bow. Tilly and the Buttons has a great bow belt tutorial. You can wear the bow either in front or in back.

DIY Giant Jenga

Today I made my very first solo woodworking project: giant jenga, a backyard toppling tower game! I worked on it all morning and finished just in time to take it to a Super Bowl party.


The first time I played giant jenga was with a friend at Hess Brewery here in San Diego. It was so much fun that I wanted to have a set of my own for backyard parties.


This giant wood block stacking game instructable and giant jenga tutorial made it seem pretty simple to DIY. In fact, it seemed like a perfect project to get familiar with my new circular saw — the first power tool I’ve owned, other than my trusty cordless drill/driver.

First, because I wanted to be super prepared and safe while sawing stuff, I read an in-depth article about how to use a circular saw. Then I went to a free workshop at Home Depot a couple weeks ago to try some power tools under supervision.


The workshop was a bit ramshackle but it helped me feel comfortable enough to try it on my own at home. With Dan looking on, I did a test run on some scrap wood.


It worked! So I went to pick up a carload of 8-foot 2x4s. Yes, they actually all fit in the Prius with the trunk closed. Miracle car. (Six were for the giant jenga, and the other four are for my next project… cornhole, of course!)


I rigged up a work table on the back patio using some metal sawhorses we found in our garage, a scrap of plywood left behind by a handyman, and these awesome quick-grip clamps Dan gave me for my birthday.


I measured and cut the first 10.5″ block. Then I used that block as a marker — cutting off each piece before marking the next, to avoid cumulative measurement errors.


Cutting 54 pieces took less than an hour… I was feeling pretty accomplished.


But sanding them took three times as long. Even with an orbital sander. I used rough 60-grit sandpaper on all the sides and corners. After play-testing the set today, it looks like I’ll need to go over them again with a finer grit.


Side note: Why didn’t I buy a sander years ago?!! It only cost $30 and would have saved me so much time on so many projects! Like the time I refinished a dining table by hand, sanding it down every evening after work for a week.

I’m so proud of this project, simple though it may be. As a finishing touch I might decorate the ends with some colorful paint or stamp the sides with a monogram or label — what do you think? Then they’ll be ready to finish with Minwax wood paste for dampness protection and a bit of luster.

Craigslist treasure: midcentury sewing table

In our last home, my sewing machine sat in the bedroom on an Ikea Expedit desk like this:


It was great to have so much storage right at hand. Unfortunately the new house has no good place for such a large piece, so I decided to search Craigslist for a desk that would fit the spare wall in our new bedroom.

My sewing machine is my grandma’s 1958 Singer Slant-O-Matic 401A. Grandma used it on a card table with a custom-sized hole where the machine’s base nested, making a seamless work surface where it met the table. See how the bottom is kind of unfinished, as though it’s meant to be concealed?


Grandma’s sewing table is across the country in my parents’ basement, though, so at first I assumed I’d just get a regular desk. But one of the first Craigslist results was an “awesome mid century sewing table that has been converted to a desk.” I emailed the seller to ask if the sewing machine hole was still operable. She said yes! I traced the base of my machine onto paper and brought the template with me to the seller’s house. (Bringing the whole thing would’ve been a hassle — it’s made of at least 25 lbs of solid metal.)

It was perfect. I brought it straight home. The drawers were full of old straight pins and lint, and the finish was a bit murky… but after some determined scrubbing with diluted apple cider vinegar, it’s clean and fresh.


Turns out this table was originally made for a 1950s Singer, and the hole fits my machine exactly.


There are two hinges on the back of the hole. They’re intended to fasten to the base of the machine, so that you can pivot it toward you into the table to conceal it with an extra piece of wood when you’re not sewing (so cool!!).


[Incidentally, this photo was taken before the rest, and before I’d scrubbed it with vinegar. See the dull finish on top and the white marring on the right leg and drawer front? All better now!]

The hinge pegs fit into the holes on my machine, but I haven’t yet figured out how to secure them so they don’t slip out when you tilt the machine. Here’s a photo I found of how it’s supposed to work.


If anyone reading this happens to know how to make the hinges work, please leave a comment! I will probably have to buy hardware like one of these, which seem to be easily available on ebay.


But in the meantime, I’m more than happy to leave the machine on display.

Next quest: a chair that complements the desk, preferably without arms so it can tuck under the desk.

Sewing and Body Image


I’m not the first to write about this, but for me, learning to sew clothing has had both a magnifying effect and a calming effect on body image.

Sewing requires attention to the exact measurements of the body, and how those differ from the average pattern. So I’m much more aware than before of my body’s specific quirks. But somehow in my mind, the process has cast these measurements in a neutral light as variations, rather than negative problems.

Shopping: “Dresses are hard to find because my bottom half is too big compared to my top half. Pants always gape at the back waist because my hips are shaped weird. Shirts are always too short, yet too baggy under the arms.”


Sewing: “The pattern is only a starting point. I’ll alter it to bridge between the two different sizes of my top and bottom half. Take out a wedge in the middle back to make the waist lie flat. Spread the pattern a few inches to lengthen the hem. Do a small bust adjustment to geometrically remove excess volume without changing garment shape.”


See the difference? The shopping thoughts were focused on criticism. The sewing thoughts now are focused on solving the differences between pattern and body.

Human bodies come in multiple categories, with thousands of variations in each. But clothing companies design only to one or two “ideal” shapes. So it’s no wonder that I would have so many fit issues off the rack. Sewing causes me to look at body shape in an objective light. Rather than the frustration of trying to find premade clothes that happen to fit my shape, I get to call the shots with the fabric.

P.S. There’s a downside. Now I know too much about fit and won’t settle for less anymore while shopping. But I’m reeeeally slow at sewing and nowhere near good enough yet to replace a substantial chunk of my wardrobe. What to do…

Sewing Success: Buttonholes

Guys, I did it! I conquered buttonholes! Here is my first usable attempt compared to a final draft (you can tell a lot of practice happened in between).


I’ve been sewing since I was quite young, maybe 5. Mom started me on plastic canvas needlepoint and soon enough I was attempting cross-stitch patterns. I don’t remember when I started on the sewing machine, but I do remember refashioning cutoff jean legs into pants for my American Girl doll around age 8 or 10. And I made blackout curtains for my bedroom in junior high. But I never did much apparel sewing until last year.

All this is to say that after more than two decades of experience with thread and fabric, I am finally capable of making buttonholes. Hooray!

Turns out it’s not that hard, by the way. It just took a while, with help from some awesome sewing blogs, to decipher the instructions from my grandma’s 1950s Singer. Soon I plan to do a whole post on that amazing machine.

For now, I’ll leave you with a sneak peek of the garment that received the buttonholes:


It’s a chambray shirt dress! I’ll share final photos once I work out a few fit issues with the skirt. Fitting is the hardest part for me.

Baby gift: dress, bloomers, headband


One of my closest friends had a beautiful baby girl last month! When she announced her pregnancy I knew I wanted to make a gift by hand for an extra special treat. This dress has been done since October but I didn’t want to reveal it until after the baby was born.


I chose New Look 6168, but decided to omit the applique and add a full lining. The dress fabric is a zigzag print cotton and the lining is a dotted red cotton, both from the Jo-Ann Fabrics kids section.


It’s a sleeveless A-line dress with an invisible zip closure and matching diaper cover. I made it in size Medium, which I’m guessing means about 6-9 months, so the baby can wear it this summer. If it fits her sooner though, I bet it’d be cute over a long-sleeve onesie and tights.


The finishing touches turned out really well. I learned a new clean finish bodice lining technique and used matching red bias binding to finish the hem. Hopefully these details not only look nice, but also help keep the dress in good shape for many years.


The final part of the gift was based on this pleated headband tutorial. It took only a few minutes to make and I had the buttons and elastic already on hand. I totally guessed about the size, so hopefully it’ll fit!

Congratulations to my friend and her husband, and best wishes for the new parent adjustment period. Can’t wait to see pictures of baby girl all dressed up!

Blanket in progress


After the questionable success of my first crochet project, I wanted to try something that didn’t require fitting. I was tempted by a truly lovely photo of this ripple blanket pattern floating around the internet. So I looked up a few tutorials and youtube videos for double crochet, practiced increasing/decreasing on some scrap yarn, and then got to work. It’s going to be a baby blanket — I don’t know yet who will receive it but as I said, there are babies everywhere these days!