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Why I Sew // KCW

why I sew: Holly

Hello again! It’s Holly from Hamster and the Bee, returning for my last post (*sniff) this season. I’ve really enjoyed writing and  sharing and sewing with all of you! Your beautiful projects and encouraging comments have been such an inspiration to me, and I hope that I’ve been able to return the favor just a little bit. Today I’m here to tell you why I sew.

I think the biggest reason that I love to sew is because I love fabric! I have in the past said that fabric is the true love of my life (shh… don’t tell my husband), and I have had to repeatedly remind myself not to touch the clothes of strangers – that’s just creepy.

I’ve been working and playing with yarn and fabric since I was a kid; I made my first dress when I was 12, I took up weaving and knitting in college, and I earned a master’s degree in textile design with a weaving concentration. Working as a designer was great, but the artist in me still had the urge to create something all mine. In an 800 square foot apartment in Brooklyn, NY, busting out my loom was not an option, but dusting off my sewing machine was, and I was quickly hooked. Sewing allows me to experience fabric even as my career evolves, and is possible no matter how small my studio space may be.

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 1. some graduate thesis work  2. Gradate upholstery fabric, designed in 2011

Another big reason that I sew is because I love learning. I would consider myself a voracious (though selective) learner. I would have stayed in school forever if I could have afforded it, and become a doctor of weaving. I devoured everything I could about textiles during my time there.

Just because I left school does not mean that that curiosity has left: it’s been diversified. I read blog posts about blogging and about marketing (my current job), I read articles and tutorials about sewing techniques, I read parenting books and cookbooks and books about painting and habit formation (can you tell that I almost never read fiction?). I enjoy sewing because I can continue to investigate and learn, and develop my skills at my own pace, in my home, in whichever direction I want. Right now there seems to be an endless amount of knowledge to be gained and skills to be perfected.

15-0224_KCW work_web

1) a few books in my workspace these days  2) the process of figuring it out

I especially love the marriage of technical and creative. Using all that learnin’ I mentioned above and applying it to my own project totally floats my boat. And when it’s combined with creative choices like color and texture and style and shape, well then I’m in heaven! In all my work, I see a consistent commitment to both the creative and technical. That’s my happy place.

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1) charles lining  2) dc pants pocket

Lastly, the reason that I sew for kids, is for the same reason that is probably most consistent among all of us sewers – I want to make something as unique as my child!

I love that one day the bee will have a box of handmade clothes that she can pass down to a little person in her life (or just to paw through and remind her of happy times and of how much her mama loves her), and they will be completely one-of-a-kind.

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1) the bee in her green dress  2) all of the little person clothes sewn in 2014

Again, it’s been a pleasure to be able to spend this winter with you all – thanks so much for having me!

Happy sewing!

kcw: mistakes

mistakes: holly from hamster and the bee

Hi again! Holly from Hamster and the Bee here! I hope everyone had an awesome and productive Kids Clothes Week. There were so many amazing garments, I couldn’t pick a favorite if I wanted to! I find that my most successful projects come when I challenge myself, and walk away with new knowledge. So I’m back today to talk to you about sewing mistakes, challenges and straight up fails. I don’t know what my fellow contributors have to share with you later this week, and my challenges today may be only mildly directly related to sewing. But I think they’re probably familiar to a lot of people and I hope you find them helpful!

I’m going to start with my second biggest struggle, which is choosing the right fabric for the project. Even though I am a textile designer by training (or maybe specifically because of it?) I’ve had an uphill battle with fabric selection. I’ve done a decent job of choosing fabric for clothes for my kid – of course there are items I’ve sewn that she won’t wear (“that’s the wrong pink, mama”) and I’ve upcycled some sheets and garments whose seams ripped shortly after the first wearing due to age – but in general, if I pick something that doesn’t itch and is the right color or pattern, it’s a win. But when it comes to sewing for myself, phew, I’ve made some awful choices!

Part of the problem is that I am so drawn to brightly colored and fun printed fabrics, like the ones you’d chose for your kids, that I choose them for my own clothes…and then I never wear them. The perfect example is this Amy Butler Anna Tunic sewn up in the Rabbits and Racecars print by Heather Ross on cotton/linen canvas, that I made in 2009. For the record, as far as I’m concerned, Heather Ross can do no wrong – her prints are lovely, always. And in general, this thing is cute on it’s own. But it just doesn’t feel like me, it’s ill-fitting and I’m so self-conscious when I wear it (because I’m wearing trucks!) that I just don’t.


This problem isn’t always limited to the wrong pattern or color. Most of the time I struggle with choosing a fabric with the appropriate weight, drape or body. I made this dress in 2012 (affectionately named Charles), and while it was generally a success and I wear it fairly frequently, the fabric choice was not right. It’s an organic cotton canvas, and shortly after ironing, it just falls flat. The fabric is far too heavy and casual (better suited for a bag than a dress) and it doesn’t have the body that I had envisioned for this garment.


So while I am still struggling with fabric selections, I have improved. Here’s how:

a)    I’ve narrowed down my color and print pattern options when selecting fabric. I started seriously thinking about what ready-made clothing I buy, and what colors are already hanging in my closet when I’m shopping for fabric. It seems that I wear green, blue and grey most often, which led to sewing myself A LOT of grey clothes. But you know what? I wear them. Often.

b)   I followed the Wardrobe Architect series on Coletterie. I only managed to complete a few of the exercises in the beginning of the series, but it really spoke to my decision making process (I buy pretty fabric, not useful fabric!), and got me thinking a lot about which fabrics I actually like to wear, what style of clothing I like, and what silhouettes work well for me. This has helped me not only chose appropriate fabrics for my garments, but appropriate patterns as well.

c)     Practice, by sewing more and more for myself, and pushing myself to make something wearable above all.

All of these tips can apply to sewing for kids too. What do they love that is already in their closet? What colors are their favorite clothes? What style or fit do they like the most? You can use the answers to these questions to inform your pattern and fabric choices, and then practice by sewing for them as often as you can.

So once I’ve chosen the right fabric and sewn a great garment, I run into my number one biggest challenge – taking photographs.

I know that this isn’t exactly a “sewing mistake”, but photography is what enables us to share our work with this amazing community! Obviously we all have different standards and priorities, but certain things are needed in order to share your work, and for me that’s well-lit and focused images. Let’s set aside the amount of work it takes just getting the kids into the clothes and convincing them to stand still, where you want, for as long as you need (everyone’s using bribes, right? Please say yes.) You still have to find a location with good lighting and the right background, you need to adjust the white balance, shutter speed and what-not, plus download the pictures and edit them. Forget about including props. I mean, seriously?! This is an incredible task.


 lottie sweater 

Good photography is the number one reason why I have not participated in every Kids Clothes Week season in the past, or why I blog so sporadically. I live in a rental house in rural Maine, with oddly placed windows and even more oddly colored walls (that we aren’t allowed to paint). Living someplace so far north (read: cold) makes it really hard to take photos outside for many months of the year, unless I’m going to start sewing winter coats all the time, and the low winter sun makes the indoors especially challenging during those months.


 see that ironing board? that’s the one space in my home that is suitable for taking photographs. (and that blue tape on the floor is a house-wide board game!)

Through trial and error, I have found one spot with a normal colored wall and just enough space and somewhat decent lighting that consistently works for photos in my home. And by consistently, I mean that on a sunny day in the winter, between 3:00 and 4:00 PM, I can take a few pictures. Sometimes, an overcast day between 12:00 and 12:30 works. Sometimes.

I’ve started a Pinterest board, just for photography, where I save all the tips and tricks that I inevitably end up googling at the end of a bad shoot. I’m lucky enough to have Adobe experience, and have made Lightroom and Photoshop my best friend. And I practice a lot – I probably end up using 1/10 of the photos that I take.

I aspire to gorgeous, backlit photos of my child in a field of wildflowers, donning her spanking new dresses. But for now, I’m really pleased with the quality of the photographs I’m currently taking, after three years of practice. I’ve accepted an off-white background as part of my look, and I’m happy that our shoots are less painful now that I’ve got a tried and trusted location and a time of day that works. I haven’t yet made the same strides in photographing myself in the clothes I’ve sewn, but I’m working on it!

I hope that you found some of this information helpful, or at the very least you feel less alone if you’ve had some similar stumbling blocks. It’s hard to talk about failures, or admit to things you’re not great at – I’m sweating a bit over here! But this is such an amazing, supportive community and I’m super happy to think that I might have helped just one person to feel great about their work!

What are your biggest sewing mistakes or challenges? Share in the comments and let’s help each other out!

upcycle after: leggings & pants

upcycle after: leggings and pants

Hello! Holly from Hamster and the Bee back again today, ready to share with you some amazing examples of upcycled leggings and pants, and to provide you with patterns and tutorials to get you started.

This is a fun topic for me because my kid (the bee) will NOT wear pants. Like, ever. She will however wear leggings. Every. Day. I have sewn about a dozen pairs of leggings for her at this point, she wears a pair to bed every night, and when the warmer weather rolls around, we will argue about them being seasonally inappropriate. So while I get to (I hope!) provide some inspiration for everyone, I also get to live vicariously through the rest of you, dreaming about fun pants that I will never get to make. *sigh*

Let’s start with leggings. (I know I’ll definitely be sewing some this season!) If you’ve never sewn leggings before, they are sooo easy. I especially love those that use only one pattern piece. (One piece! How often do you get to sew something that simple?!) Oliver + S Playtime Leggings are one of my favorites. If you find a big t-shirt that has lots of stretch then you can lay the pattern piece right down on the center of the tee and get cutting! Another favorite (with more than one pattern piece) is the Fancy Pants Leggings pattern by Titchy Threads – these are fun because of the little bum panel that can be cut from contrasting fabric.

Leggings can require quite a large t-shirt (or something big and stretchy) – or so I thought, until I found a ton of great tutorials utilizing the sleeves of long sleeve t-shirts (or sweatshirts or sweaters!) as the legs of leggings. Brilliant! You can utilize the existing cuff as the hem, which saves lots of time. Many of the tutorials for leggings I found are based on tracing an existing pair that you have and using that as the pattern, which is great because you already know that they fit. leggings2_web

1. sweater into leggings by make it & love it  2. upcycled fancy pants leggings by max california  3. upcycled sweatshirt pants by celina bailey (while not technically leggings, they are pretty similar. and rad. you can find a tutorial on petit a petit & family.

(Side note: I went down a serious swants and meggings rabbit-hole, you guys. Did you know about these? I’m about 2 years late on this “trend”, but it was well worth reading about for the giggles alone. Just the word swants is hilarious!)

So leggings are great but what about pants, you say? I found lots of great projects, patterns or tutorials using upcycled fabric for pants (or patterns that I think would work great made out of upcycled fabric). There are lots of fabric options for pants, like t-shirts, sweatshirts, adult size pants, linens… just keep in mind that they need to be large enough to fit your pattern pieces. pants-boys_web

1. coastal cargos by boy,oh boy,oh boy  2. upcycled oliver + s sailboat pants by sberseth via flickr  3. drop inseam sweatpants by lily pad montana


1. seraphic pants by girl like the sea  2. upcycled parsley pants by made by rae  3. upcycled green t-shirt pants by juanita via flickr

One solution to working with smaller, upcycled source fabric is the ever-lasting color blocking trend (that is so well suited to kids clothes)! You can use color blocking (or pattern blocking) as a tool to create your garment out of several fabric sources, either by cutting different pattern pieces from different fabrics, or creating stripes or sections of color by cutting single pattern pieces apart and adding seam allowances to your new pieces. Jessica from A Little Gray has a great tutorial on color blocking with the Kid Pants pattern by Dana Made It (circa KCW 2012!). Color blocking can be applied to both pants and leggings with super-fun results! color-block_web

1. color blocked small fry skinny jeans by sewing like mad  2. color blocked fancy pants leggings by girl like the sea  3. too short pants to color blocked pants by delia creates

And lastly, just for fun, here is a selection of a few more things-that-go-on-your-legs, made from upcycled fabric! legs_web

1. upcycled leg warmers by hope and honey  2. baby tights tutorial by made by rae  3.  tiny tights to knee highs by ruffles and stuff

I’ve got a pinterest board going for this season of KCW, with lots of upcycled t-shirt projects, pants patterns and tutorials, and great inspiration! Plus, a few non-kid upcycling projects, just for fun.

And, if you’re into using up every single scrap of fabric, you can save all the little pieces left over from cutting out your projects, and use them to stuff a poof. It’ll take awhile to save up enough scraps, but nothing will go to waste!

Happy sewing friends!