Sunday, March 31, 2013

A General Guide of When to DIY vs. Buy

I think I mentioned before that I started DIY'ing during my first maternity leave ~3 years ago when I had a lot of time on my hands and zero income (personal income, still had family income from husband) flowing in.  I had always been a shopper and being off work for a year meant that if I wanted to fiscally responsible, both for myself and my baby, I needed to just turn it off.  Meanwhile, I'd feel the itch for something new when looking through magazines, watching TV / movies, or just walking down the street and seeing someone wear something cute.  Many times (especially then when it seemed like ruffles were all over the place), I'd notice the designs were generally pretty simple - like a basic tank / shell silhouette with some kind of embellishment.

I had tried "draping" a dress before (Project Runway was on my brain) and it looked awesome on the mannequin, but could not be worn practically (was a strapless knit and did not have any of the required structure to stay up).  Prior to that, I had a short stint of pillow sewing in middle school Home Ec.  I also used to watch my mother when I was growing up.  [An aside: I remember my home-sewn clothes to be very well-made, but unattractive (a mishmash of overly embellished garments featuring ugly prints - my very own "immigrant chic" look) and always 3 sizes bigger so I could grow into it.  To this day, whenever I sew something, Mom asks, "That's too small.  What if you get fatter?"]  So, armed with those experiences and years of Project Runway watching, I felt inspired to tackle making my own versions.  See my first projects here and here.

Hmm, that was probably more wordy than necessary - moving on to a general guide of when to DIY versus buy.

Easiest Items to DIY:
  • Tops
  • Skirts
  • Most dresses
  • Scarves - even knit / crocheted ones
  • Simple jewelry
Simple embellishments to add onto DIY'ed or existing tops (great for beginners!):
  • Ruffles - see ruffled cardigan tutorial here
  • Bows - see bow top tutorial here
  • Petals - see petaled top tutorial here
  • Any kind of trim - pearl strands, rhinestones, rope, fringe, chains, lace (but do watch out from a washability standpoint), see chain cardigan tutorial here
Simple trends to DIY:
  • Peplums - see a pencil skirt + peplum tutorial here and some other projects here and here
  • Colorblocking - see an easy color blocked maxi dress tutorial here and t-shirt dress here
  • Some spiking / studding / beading - see my spiked shoe here
When to Buy:
  • Difficult or time-intensive to make - Blazers / Outerwear, Sweaters
  • Hard to find prints
  • Cheaper than making / Effort for DIY exceeds cost of buying - i.e. Bubble Necklace materials were going to cost me about $10 plus at least an hour or two of making, easier to just spend $20 buying one from eBay
If you have questions about whether something is DIY'able or how to approach a project you're planning, please feel free to leave it in the comments below.  I hope this post was helpful!

Wednesday, March 27, 2013

Sewing 101: Finishing Edges w/ Bias Tape

I use 3 main ways to finish my edges: 1.) use bias tape, 2.) use facing, 3.) just fold over and sew (doesn't work well on arm / neck openings).  Today, I wanted to share how I do #1 using bias tape (can be purchased at any fabric / craft store for approximately $2 or less).

Difficulty: Easy
Time: Fast, ~15 minutes to finish neck and arm openings
Material: 1/4" or 1/2" single fold bias tape in a color close to your garment

Unfold the right edge of your bias tape and align the tape's edge with your fabric's edge.  

Sew right along the groove of the bias tape fold.

Flip over your fabric so that you see the right side like the left picture.  Fold your bias strip under your fabric.

Sew a row of stitching to secure your bias tape under your fabric and encase your raw edges.

Voila!  Raw edges no more!


  • Inexpensive to purchase and easy to use
  • Does not use up any additional fabric


  • Leaves a visible line of stitching on the outside of your garment

I'll cover facings in a future post.  If you have any questions, please feel free to ask in the comments :)

Sunday, March 24, 2013

Yellow Striped Knit Shift DIY

I'm back (and I always want to add "from outer space" because I'm a dork like that) from my quickie, semi-last minute trip to Hong Kong and am happy to be sleeping in my own bed.  I have quite a few HK travelogue posts in the works so be prepared for future food and shopping posts.  P of Phiphi's blog went on vacation around the same time and I was honored to do a guest post for her.  If you're curious, you can find that here.  :)

Now on to our regularly scheduled programming... I know I've been on a bit of a shift dress roll lately (see equestrian here and leopard here), but I can't seem to help myself.  I love the ease of the silhouette, and of course, the meal forgiveness in the tummy area.  I made this one out of a super soft jersey knit and it is so very comfortable.  Almost like a sleep shirt!

Time:  1 hr - 2nd time using this pattern so I knew what I need to nip and tuck
Pattern:  Butterick 3383.  Lengthened to knee length.  Needed to slim sleeves and body.  Narrowed neckline by 2" (see how here).
Difficulty: Easy - used serger to sew everything except the facing and hems

Striped Knit Shift DIY
Rope Necklace DIY
Coach Station (gifted by the lovely Jean)
Frye Sandals
Michael Kors Tortoiseshell Watch (better view here)

Do you have a favorite dress silhouette?  Please share :)

Wednesday, March 20, 2013

Nautical Inspirations & Reviews from Bloomies

After lunch with the girls, I headed to Palo Alto to do a little shopping.  I've shopped Bloomingdales online, but had never been to a brick & mortar.  I stopped in to check out their selection in person and oohed / ahhed at all the purses I had only seen virtually (I'm a bit of bumpkin).  They also had a bunch of cute items to try :)

Aqua High Low Dress - Stripe Tube, S, here
So of course I would be drawn to the stripes :)  The dress is very cute and strapless held up by elastic at the top.  Word to the wise, the elastic piece is very tight to prevent wardrobe malfunctions and gave me some unsightly underarm flab.  This added to the $98 price makes it a great candidate for DIY.

Aqua Jacket - Spike Trim, Tweed, XS, (here)
You can't really tell in this picture, but there are small silver spikes trimming the edges and pockets.  SO (hmm, pretty / cute doesn't seem to be appropriate here) eye-catching!  The jacket fit pretty well and the sleeves were at a perfect length for me, but I didn't like that it didn't have any closures.  I really appreciate the option of wearing cardigans / jackets / blazers opened or closed so this was a "no" for me.  I have a good deal of spikes at  home so I might play around with trimming an existing jacket.

Aqua Tank - Stripe Block Peplum Ponte, XS (here)
I've peplum-ed just about everything except stripes so wanted to see how it'd look.  The construction of this particular piece was very nicely done.  The princess seams plus the angled side stripes provide great fit along with figure flattery.

Lauren Ralph Lauren Color Blocked Boat Neck Dress (here)
Love the navy + green combo here!  I didn't try this on, but I imagine the darker side panels would make anyone appear more trim.  On the list of future projects for sure!

So I'm still being cheap on shopping (I didn't purchase any clothing in Feb - rare for me - my inner glutton is gleefully pummeling my inner shopper), but I did come out with some new inspirations for future projects!

Do you ever "shop" without buying?

Sunday, March 17, 2013

J. Crew Fitting Room Reviews

I've been fascinated by pictures of bejeweled garments at J. Crew and went to the store to get a better look.

Tilda Oxford Rhinestone Top, 0, here
I wanted to love this shirt.  The jeweled neck and little ruffles are quite pretty.  I wish they had continued with the feminine details with a more tailored fit in the chest and torso.  
Box Pleated Crepe Skirt, 0, here
I rather adore this skirt.  I'm all for the pleats, the shape, and the pockets!  I wish it were longer!  This length makes me a little self-conscious about sitting / bending over to grab something.  I'm officially putting this on my "to DIY" list.
Verdict: No to both

Reverse Jacquard Stripe Popover, XS, here
Stripes!  Very cute, I loved the different texture of the tan stripes.  Made it a bit of jazzed up striped tee.  Fits wells in arms and shoulders, is a little relaxed through the chest and torso.  (I should note that my chest is finally going back to its pre-pregnancy flatness so everything will be looser in that area from here on out.)
Verdict:  Though the textural element was cute, it wasn't enough to make me pull the trigger given the many striped tees in my closet

Jeweled Sweatshirt, XS, here
Beading galore!  As stunning as this is, I can imagine losing bits and pieces until every beautifully designed cluster looked haphazard and sparse.  Darn practicality.  Fits well all over, but feels a little tight at the hem.  I have a feeling I'd have to keep tugging at it to prevent it from riding up and exposing my stomach.  I'd be interested to see how this fit in one size up.
Verdict: No for me, being clumsy and having kids means these jeweled bits wouldn't last long

Crystal Necklace sweater, XS, here
See also on Gigi
I'm still in love with green + navy together and thought the embellished neck of this sweater was just beautiful (and I'd be a little less worried of jewels falling off if they're in one area).  The torso / chest area of this was a little roomier than expected.  I would size down in this.
Verdict:  Would consider on sale in XXS

Schoolboy Blazer in Mixed Stripe, 00, here
The thing I love about J. Crew is that I can expect, with a relative degree of consistency, for certain styles like this Schoolboy Blazer to fit in a certain size.  This particular version seems to run smaller with both the sleeves / torso being tighter.  I would recommend sizing up.  I'm very drawn to the contrasting stripes, but I have similar garments so did not purchase this one.
Verdict: No

Contrast Knit Blazer, 0, here
I didn't know this about myself, but maybe single-buttoned blazers are not my friend.  Comparing this blazer with the Schoolboy above, I look very "poofy".  As I'd rather not artificially inflate myself, this goes firmly in the "no" pile, though I do rather like the contrasting elements.  Argh, I wish I were proficient enough at sewing to make blazers!
Verdict: No, lovely design, but not flattering to my body type

No purchases for me which seems to be my habit as of late, but did come out with an item to DIY :)

Wednesday, March 13, 2013

Anchors Aweigh: J. Crew vs. Factory + Fitting Rm Reviews

On my day off, I take my son to preschool and usually run errands until it's time to pick him up again.  This particular day was errand-less, so I stopped by the outlet mall to kill some time :)

Left: Factory Printed Scoopneck Button Blouse, XXS (link)
Right: Scoopneck Blouse in Anchors Aweigh from last year, Sz 0 
The biggest difference between the 2 is material.  Factory version is 100% polyester and original is 100% silk.  I'm not sure if it was the lighting, but it seemed like the print on the original was brighter and stood out more.  The Factory version is currently priced at $78 - almost half of the original $135 retail (though it eventually got marked down to around $48).  If you missed out on last year's, this is a fantastic dupe, but I'd probably wait until it goes on further sale.

As far as fit goes, the XXS fits just a smidge larger than the 0 in the torso and sleeves.

Tag info and close-up of print

Factory Charley Sweater in Scattered Anchors, XS, (here)
Need a larger anchor print?  Well, look no farther!  I love Charley sweaters.  They are always so soft, never itchy, and fit so well.  This one was no exception.  I think the print may be a tad too big for me, but it is still awfully cute.

Factory Stripe Knit Blazer, S, (here)
I tried this one more for color reference than fit as my white knit blazer from earlier this year fits wells as XXS.  The S actually wasn't so much bigger in the torso, it was just cut for a much larger bust (which I do not have) and had longer, looser sleeves.  Will be keeping an eye on this during their upcoming sales.

 LOFT Navy Polka Dot Button Down, Ann Taylor Ponte Top, LOFT necklace, trusty Coach Station Bag from the lovely Jean, A&F jeans

Where are you with anchors this year?  Still a big fan?  I'm a fan, but I'm less "gimme gimme" about it :)

Sunday, March 10, 2013

Sewing 101: Fabric Selection

This is my personal way of thinking of fabrics and fabric selection.  It is by no means an end all be all, just a compilation of what I've learned and currently adhere to :)

Fabric Shopping:
I am a fabric molester.  When I visit a fabric store, I touch every single bolt that looks interesting and from there, I decide on whether it's suitable for me.  When feeling, I'm looking for:
  • Stretch
  • Thickness
  • Structure
  • Opacity 
  • Skin feel - will stay away from itchy or rough
  • Weave (if applicable)
  • Overall quality
The feel of these help determine what the fabric is appropriate for.

For example:
  • Stretchy + thick + semi-structured = comfortable dresses with a sculptural element
  • Thin + see-through + lightweight = dress / top with some kind of flow to highlight the fabric
  • Non-stretch + thick + coarse/rigid = pleated skirts since it holds structure and shape so beautifully
Knit dress with structured sleeves
Bow neck chiffon top
Pleated full skirt with stiff cotton

Non-conventional Fabrics:  Don't shy away from drapery / bedding / etc - I've found the prettiest prints there!  For drapery, make sure it is machine washable.  Some fabrics only allow spot treatment.

Drapery fabric made into map peplum skirt and sailboat dress
Bedding made into shift dress

Best Fabric for Beginners: Cotton - easy to cut, straight-forward, sews well, relatively inexpensive.  You can purchase 44-45" wide cotton at any fabric store for roughly $3 a yard

"Difficult" Fabrics:
  • Chiffons - can be difficult to cut.  I generally sew this while holding it semi-taut.  It's worked for me, though I'm not sure that's the correct way to do it.
  • Silkies - can sometimes slip during sewing.  I use the same semi-taut sewing style as with chiffons and make sure to guide it while sewing.
  • Satins & Shinies - can pucker easily and show mistakes.  
  • Jerseys - can be difficult on regular machines because you need to adjust your stitching to account for the stretch.  Otherwise, your stitches will pop.  To rectify, use a twin needle or zigzag stitch.  Very easy on serger where the stitches have built in stretch.
Structure vs. Drape:
I once tried to make a drape-y shell out of satin.  This was a horrible idea.  The satin had so much structure that the shell wound up looking like a tent.  Belting / tucking made it worse because the gathered areas wound up looking like it had very poofy wrinkles.  Lesson learned - don't try to "drape" a structured fabric.  Structuring a drape-y fabric (think knits) is doable, but don't expect it to hold any rigid shapes.

How much to buy?
The most accurate way to determine how much you need is to go by your sewing pattern.  The back of the envelope will always tell you the amount of fabric / notions are needed to create the garment.  If you're buying without a specific style / pattern in mind, here are some basic amounts and what you can create with it:
  • 1 yard = suitable for sleeveless tops and some skirts (think A-line)
  • 1.5 yards = short or 3/4 sleeved tops, pencil skirts (I always purchase extra yardage for pencil skirts in case of mess-ups)
  • 2 yards = knee length fit & flare dresses / sheaths / shifts (buy a little extra if going for a long-sleeved garment, sleeves take up much more fabric than you'd think - as do pockets!), cropped jackets, full pleated skirts
  • 2.5 - 3 yards = floor length maxi dresses, knee-length coats, boyfriend blazers
  • 4+ yards = Ball gowns, entire outfits (dress + jacket)
Collecting Fabrics:
I am also a fabric hoarder.  I used to buy anything and everything that looked interesting to me.  For the most part, fabric is considerably less expensive than clothing so it's also easy to get carried away with buying.  As a result, I have a giant bookcase and several storage bins jam-packed with fabrics.  While useful if there should ever be a fabric apocalypse, it's not very practical, hogs way too much space, and I wind up with a bunch of what-if fabrics that could possibly be suitable for something at some point, but not right now.  

My current approach when buying is to always think of at least one or two projects I could see myself actually doing with the fabric.

I hope this was helpful!  Questions?  Please feel free to leave them in the comments :)

Wednesday, March 6, 2013

Food: "Japan" in SF

Japanese food is heavenly and the offerings in the Bay are nothing short of amazing.  Coming from the midwest, "Japanese food" meant grocery store sushi with really "fishy" tasting fish.  Out here, my entire family has embraced Japanese cuisine and eat it at least 1-2 times a week.

Notable Rolls:
Lemon Salmon @ Amakara
Meet its cousin Lime Scallop in a previous post.  Such a beautifully presented piece of food!  Didn't pack as big of a citrus punch as the Lime Scallop, but this was quite tasty.  This place is one of my East Bay faves (though I did have "meh" amaebi once) - the veggies in particular are always insanely fresh and give such nice dimensionality to their rolls.

Chili Spider Salmon @ Amakara
More beauty on a plate

Top: "Hot Dog" (I've forgotten what this is, but there's no actual hot dog, there was something fried in the middle and yummy though, lol), Negi Hama (scallion + yellowtail), "Chili Dog" (spicy tuna)
Bottom: Baby Lobster, Butter Fish, Amaebi (sweet shrimp)
@ Sushi Sam's w/ the lovely Ping & Karen 
(will need to take people pics next time! I blame the giant pimple in the middle of my forehead)
Very fresh fish and interesting combinations (loved the Baby Lobster nigiri with the creamy sauce plus almond slivers), wish they had also provided the shrimp heads though.  Those are my husband's favorite.

Amaebi + fried heads @ Nama Sushi
No offense to SS above, but this is the proper way to do Amaebi - heads and all.

Asparagus Beef Wrap @ Amakara
Wonderful grilled flavor & savory sauce with the perfect amount of zing.  The salad atop is a nice touch.

Hamachi Carpaccio @ Amakara
Cilantro + tomato + jalapeño + olive oil = wonderfully vibrant bite of food


Deep Fried Chicken Ramen @ Katana-ya
I loved this concept, but the chicken was a little soggy and I felt like the broth needed some more oomph.  Maybe a bad day?

Ramen in Spicy Garlic Pork Broth @ Ramen Dojo
I had a cold on this particular day which wiped out my taste buds (boo), but my husband loved it.  Has 4 stars and 1687 reviews on Yelp.  Will come back to try again!


Green Tea Tiramisu @ Sushi Sam's
SO tasty and creamy!  I originally saw Jess IG this and had to try it myself.  If you are a green tea fan, you'd like this :)

Green Tea Creme Brûlée @ Gochi Fusion Tapas
Delightfully crisp caramelized sugar layer with with yummy green tea goodness underneath

Gotta sneak in kiddo pics from time to time :)

Is it sad that I really love food displays?  So appetizing!  Will need to come back on a day when our bellies aren't stuffed full.

$1.50 Oil Blotting Paper (200 in pack) @ Daiso
By midday, I desperately need something to fix my oily forehead.  I used to use the $5 for 50 Clean & Clear sheets, but I am switching to these - great deal!

Daiso is a little like a Japanese version of Dollar Tree except that most everything is $1.50.  They have oodles and oodles of "stuff" - hair accessories / household items / stationary / snacks / etc.  Each store (we've been to 4 so far) seems to have a slightly different selection.  I think Daly City's is the largest in the area.  A great place to find some good bargains for cute items.

$14 Shiseido Shining Shampoo (pack of 2) @ Ichiban Kan
I had previously only heard of Shiseido cosmetics so was intrigued by their haircare line.  This shampoo seems to magically leave my hair soft & manageable without the use of conditioner.  Also smells great and leaves a little more shine.

Our "Japan" finds in SF are far from over as there's so much more to explore.  If you have any recommendations, I'd love to hear them!  :)

Sunday, March 3, 2013

Equestrian Print Shift Dress DIY & Giveaway Winner

I found this beautiful print at SF store Fabrix and fell in love with the hunter green color with equestrian accents.  And I wasn't the only one!  Jean also fell in love with it and whipped up a gorgeous DIY skirt here.

Equestrian Shift Dress DIY
Coach Station (gifted by generous Jean)
Frye Sandals
Banana Republic Gold Chain
Michael Kors Tortoiseshell Watch (better view here)

Detailed view originally shared on Instagram

Time:  2 hrs - had to keep nipping and tucking for proper sizing
Pattern:  Butterick 3383.  Lengthened to knee length.  Needed to slim sleeves and body.  Narrowed neckline by 2" (see how here).
Difficulty: Easy (except the sleeves which I always have issues with)

So who won the Scarf Giveaway?  Congratulations to Jennifer P!  Please send me an email, sewpetitegal at, and let me know which scarf you'd like and your address.  Thanks to everyone for entering and for your valuable feedback!

Hope everyone had a wonderful weekend!  I got to hang out with Ping and Karen for some yummy sushi and green tea tiramisu (post upcoming) :)


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