Romping around

I don’t have a huge collection of baby patterns, which is to say that I still have more baby patterns than anyone who wasn’t planning on having any more babies in her life has any business having.

The problem with baby patterns, and kid patterns in general, is you have a pretty limited window of time in which to make use of them, before they’re outgrown.

Tris looks like she’s taking a bow.

So I find myself, since I DO have babies to sew for, making a mental list of the patterns I don’t want to miss out on. Fortunately it’s not a long list.

This six-month sized Simplicity pattern is indisputably at the top of that list.

At a guess, it’s 1950s? The pattern pieces are unprinted, and several of the dress pieces are represented only by newsprint tracings of the original pieces (at least they’re there, though).

I don’t have a HUGE amount of experience with unprinted patterns. Actually I’m pretty sure the only other one I’ve ever actually finished was this shirt back in 2012. There are resources out there that will tell you what the mysterious punched holes mean, but I mainly relied on a general familiarity with how patterns work and referring to the instructions. Because I like to make things hard on myself.

I’ve never made rompers before, so I did find myself referring to the instructions quite a bit. They’re sparse, but I found them basically perfect, and I even largely followed them. Up to and including hand-stitching the inside of the front bibs. I considered using snaps instead of the suggested buttons on the straps (they’re out of sight inside the back portion of the pants), but I all the sew-on snaps I could find were either teeny tiny or way too big.

They are, um, a little roomy. The elastic along the back of the pants are too loose (and I made it a couple of inches shorter than directed), and unfortunately given the construction it’s pretty hard to adjust this. I did add extra buttonholes in the straps, so they’re at a shortened length now but I can switch to the full length if they get too short before the end of the summer.

I wish I could shorten this elastic more easily.

I’ve got some vintage appliqués I’d like to stitch to the front of the bibs, if I get a chance. And I’ve got the dress view cut out…

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Butt ruffles galore!

Once I had the little dresses made, it become imperative that I make up some little ruffly diaper covers. While the dress was easy enough to draft without a pattern, I figured the diaper covers would benefit from starting with one, for speed if nothing else.

I don’t have a huge selection of baby sewing patterns—they really weren’t on my radar during my “collecting” phase since I was fully expecting the next babies in my life to be grandchildren. But Simplicity 8761, from 1970, had an excellent, ruffly candidate, and happens to be in the six month size range I’m looking for at the moment. And it was a diaper-style cut rather than a bloomer-style cut, which is what I wanted.

While I used the pattern piece for view 3, I went off road for pretty much everything else. The pattern called for gathered lace (to be hand-stitched down???)… I opted for bias tape, gathered with the ruffler foot on my Featherweight. The pattern called for a double layer of fabric to make finishing the curved leg edges; I trimmed away excess seam allowance and used more bias tape to make the elastic casings around the legs. Most of all, the pattern called for a diaper style opening, with snaps along the front hip seams. I liked the position of the seams but didn’t see the point in snaps, so I trimmed that section down and just made French seams.

Predictably, they’re cut for covering cloth diapers, so they’re pretty roomy on my disposable-clad girls; the next pair (because how could there not be more?) I will maybe lower the rise by about an inch.

I love the curved triple line of trim, though of course I couldn’t find my transfer paper to make it easier to mark the lines. I wound up using two strips of raw-edged bias cut 2.5cm wide, and the bottom strip cut 3cm wide. I like the subtle difference, though it was mostly because I was testing which width I wanted to use.

Also I did NOT hand-stitch the trim down as per the original pattern instruction.

The pattern called for only 12” of elastic at the waist, which works fine for River but confused me because it seemed really little (especially considering they suggest 10” at each leg). Then I realized the elastic in the original pattern only goes across the back portion of the diaper, not all the way around the waist. Oops. Fortunately scrawny little River fits it fine, and I made the elastic in the second one a little looser for Tris.

The diaper covers definitely took longer to sew than the little dresses, but I kinda think they’re even cuter. Though matching headbands may be required?

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Tiny twin dresses

I guess it was bound to happen sooner or later.

I’m not the biggest fan of dresses on babies who can’t walk yet (they tend to bunch annoyingly and are hard to crawl in), but I’m also susceptible to the extreme cuteness of them. Anyway, after attempting and failing to find a pair of sundresses in the same size at our freshly-reopened local shops, I was seized by a wild impulse to put together some really quick, pillow-case-style sundresses for the twins.

Google quickly provided me with a tutorial, although I kinda had my own plans for how I wanted to construct them, with gathers fixed in a binding rather than a casing, so I was mostly just looking for measurements to start from.

The fabric is a red and white striped cotton border embroidery I had pulled out last summer (which tells you how much of a disaster my sewing room is these days) with a vague notion of making matching dresses for all my girls… (I had originally bought it on clearance with plans for an 1880s cotton summer dress, so I have a bazillion mètres of it)

The original pillowcase style would’ve been faster, but for whatever reason I wanted to use delicate bias bindings for the dresses. I also trimmed down and curved the front neckline a bit.

The tutorial I linked called for using the full width of a quilting cotton fabric, but since I was using the border embroidery I had no such constraints, so I cut each of the dresses with a hem of 30”. I opted for a single French seam at the CB instead of side seams, cut the armscyes from the folded edges according to the tutorial (minus the amount for the casing that I didn’t add)

Possibly I should’ve lined the dresses, as the holes in the border embroidery go pretty high on an eensy baby, but I didn’t. I’m hoping to make up matching diaper covers instead… we’ll see how that goes.

On the second dress I did the gathering a bit narrower and I like it better (especially on River, who is skinnier) but not enough to unpick the binding on the first one.

They’re a little large, but then babies tend to get bigger over time, even these shrimpy ones, so I don’t think that’ll be a problem. Maybe I should’ve used more than 30” of hem per dress, for a fuller shape, but on the other hand I didn’t want a whole lot more gathering on the tops. I think really the shape in my head would require an angled, A-line pattern piece, but that doesn’t work so well with the border embroidery. Anyway, I’m pretty satisfied. Now if I can just make those diaper covers happen…

See what I mean about bunching?

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Blackwood the Third

I’ve been napping the twins in the basement since it’s gotten hotter. It means that sometimes I can wriggle out from under them and sew while they nap. I’ve also put all the trashy battery-powered whiz-bang toys down there in the hopes of distracting them when they’re awake, which sometimes works.

Shortly after the twins were born, K-Line offered me a gift of fabric, and I wasn’t too proud to take her up on it, in the form of this yummy cotton rayon sweatshirt fleece from Blackbird Fabrics. It then sat, burning a hole in my stash, all winter. Finally, as soon as I finished my French terry leggings, I decided it had to get sewn; I had already decided on a Helen’s Closet Blackwood Cardigan, because easy and the pattern was already fitted and ready to go.

The fabric sat, pattern pieces half-pinned, on my basement floor for weeks, a testament to the fact that my husband never goes down there and teenagers have no limits to their ability to step over shit. But eventually I did manage to get it cut out. After that the sewing actually went fairly quickly, even at the rate of a seam or two a day.

I’ve made two other versions of this sweater. The first is great, but being wool it’s not something I dare wear in my current constantly-being-puked-on state. I have been wearing my second, knit jacquard version, but it’s not very warm and the black I used for the bands is pilling (the jacquard is holding up better than expected actually). And my phone tends to fall out of the pockets when I sit down. That being said, it’s a cut above a shapeless sweatshirt, and I was excited to have a plainer-but-still-stylish version.

I made only one change to the pattern, deepening the pockets so my big ass phone sits securely down in them. However, I missed one critical fact about my fabric. Unlike any other sweatshirt fleece I’ve worked with, this one has its main stretch vertically. I didn’t notice—didn’t even think to check!—until the sweater was completely finished, so there’s not much to do about it. It fits fine, except the sleeves are quite snug, and hard to push up to wash your hands. Oops. Meanwhile they stretch loads lengthwise. Oh well.

Oh, and I chose to make the pockets raw edged rather than torturing myself trying to turn under the edges. No regrets.

Oh, and these are the leggings from my last post, because I live in them now.

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Avery in terry

After I had a little breakdown a few days ago, my husband committed to giving me an hour or two baby-free this weekend, and I took full advantage to make another pair of Helen’s Closet Avery Leggings.

This is my third pair, but my first post-pregnancy. I made two adjustments to the pattern, adding 7cm of length to the ankle and 2cm to the back rise. The extra length preserves the scrunch around the ankle, and the rise adjustment (which I have made in pretty much ever pair of pants I’ve made ever) just lets them sit a little more comfortably.

This pair is made in a stretchy French terry but it’s a bit less stretchy than the cotton spandex I’ve used the other times I’ve made this pattern, so they’re a bit snug. Except at the waist, where I put very little tension on my 1/4” clear elastic, so it’s a bit loose. Although nice for not digging in. We’ll see how they do for staying up. The double layer of terry in the waistband is a bit heavy, but comfy.

I guess technically they aren’t done, since I didn’t finish hemming them, but I suspect I’ll be wearing them just like this for a while.

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Quaran-teen skirt

Syo is sixteen right now, and home from school with the pandemic. Which causes all kinds of angst and strain, although she’s pretty happy not to have to get up in the morning.

It’s also meant we get to spend a bit more time together, now that she’s not at extracurricular activities every. Single. Day.

Inspiration skirt

Anyway, a week or so into quarantine she presented me with the above image (and a few others) of a skirt she’d like to make.

Me being me, I instantly began scrolling through my pattern database picking out pattern options. No, she clarified. She wanted to draft the pattern from her own measurements.

So we did. I dug out the only hard-copy pattern drafting text I have, Suzy Furrer’s Building Patterns.

Pattern drafting with help from your sister!

I confess I don’t love this book, maybe because I don’t find the diagrams terribly inspiring. I have preferred Metric Pattern Cutting or Patternmaking for Fashion Design. Syo hates working in inches, so I’m sure she would’ve preferred Metric Pattern Cutting as well. But I don’t own those ones (I should really fix that) and the library isn’t accessible so we went with Furrer. There were some things I liked—the skirt draft was a nice, self-contained module, and there were clear charts to mark down your measurements, and tables to walk you through all the necessary calculations.

What I didn’t like as much was the draft itself—it uses a larger front piece than the back, so the side seams are thrown slightly to the back “to make the backside appear smaller” (Syo said, “why would you want your butt to look smaller?”), and takes the exact same amount of dart out of the front as the back, except that some of the back dart is shifted to a shaped centre-back seam, so the back darts actually end up smaller than the front. Given that it’s only in the last few years I’ve had a shape where ANY front dart was useful, and my athletic sixteen-year-old has a flatter tummy than I ever did, this didn’t thrill me. And while I liked the part where some of the rear dart shaping was taken up in a shaped back seam, for this particular design it would’ve made more sense to omit the CB seam—which we could’ve done but it would have been a bit more complicated than with a straight centre back seam. If the fabric she picked had been a plaid, we would have done it, but for this subtle diagonal we didn’t bother.

It was fun to discuss the features she wanted, and what would go into drafting them. How to draft facing and lining pieces, and adding ease to the lining. Which side would be best for the invisible zipper.

Skirt front. You can see how much longer the back is.

How to make the front of the skirt as short as she wanted while preserving the length in the back (you can maybe see how curved the back hem is… we probably should’ve spread the curve out better, but she’s happy so I’m going with it.

And the back. I’m pretty sure it’s the same length on both sides, but my picture wasn’t straight on.

She’s more willing to unpick when she made an error or we changed our minds midstream than I am. When she hemmed the lining inside out, she went back and unpicked. I know for a fact I’ve never willingly hemmed a lining twice.

I didn’t make her put a hook and eye on the side zip. Yet.

I’m really proud of how she did on the invisible zipper, given how they can be finicky and it’s a pretty hefty fabric. And also on sewing up the seams below the zipper so they ended tidily.

So yeah. My kid made a skirt. I provided guidance, some hands on but mostly just verbal while I juggled the twins. Pretty proud of both of us, frankly. I wonder if I could get her to sew something for me… 😂

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Masked Pandemic

I’ll want to remember this later.

At the dance competition

The first full weekend in March, we went to Edmonton, Alberta, for a dance competition for Syo. It was our first out of province trip in six, almost seven years. The Covid-19 virus was on its way, but there were only a few cases in Edmonton at the time; we felt safe, and it was great to see some family we hadn’t seen in years. In hindsight, though, the huge dance competition would’ve been ripe for a super-spreader event; I kinda feel like we dodged a bullet.

We got home late Sunday night, March 8, and the first part of the week went as normal. We went to baby storytime with my mother on Thursday. We had plans to go to a luncheon (with talk on historical clothing) on the next Sunday the 15th. I was just starting to feel a bit uneasy about it. By Sunday, the luncheon was canceled, and I wasn’t feeling too sure about Syo going to school. By the end of the next week, school was canceled too. Both older kids got laid off from jobs that Thursday, the 19th.

I have four girls. (This may still be sinking in)

In a lot of ways, we’re in the best possible position. I’m already on leave. Tyo has a second job that is based on online sales, so she still goes in to work there. Aside from having to cover the payments for the senior trip next year that Syo was trying to pay for with her very-very-very part time job, our income isn’t affected much. I was pretty paranoid about taking the twins out over the winter anyway, and except for baby storytime at the public library (which I did find stressful the first few times) we really only went out to doctors appointments and to see family. So our lifestyle hasn’t been affected nearly as much as most people. On the other hand, Tyo and Syo both were supposed to be getting on a plane to Australia yesterday, to go to my brother’s wedding.

Saskatchewan did a pretty good job of shutting down in time, if only because we’re a bit of a backwater and the virus reached us a little later. The numbers for the last couple of weeks have been pretty good, single digit new cases, people recovering faster than more people are getting sick. This is important because we don’t have a large population, and even ten or twenty new cases a day would overwhelm our hospitals soon enough. So the curve has been flattened, here. For now.

That doesn’t make us immune to a second wave, and there haven’t been any days without new cases. I’m not sure what “reopening” looks like. I’d like to be able to at least visit our family and closest friends, though. I’m most sad because I had hoped to spend a lot of time at my mom’s family farm this summer, since I’m on leave, but with this virus around we won’t want to put my 95-year-old grandmother at risk.

Despite the local curve being pretty flattened, we aren’t immune to social peer pressure. I sewed a mask yesterday—Syo took the twins out for a two hour walk (nap) yesterday and it was amazing! I spent most of the time sewing, tackling some mending and then the mask. Some of my friends from Fabricland are making them for sale.

Mask interior

I kinda draped the pattern on my face, but I still wound up taking a pleat to get the fit how I wanted. I used quilting cotton scraps and a dense upholstery flannel for the lining. I remembered (almost too late) to add a pocket for a nose wire. I made channels in the ends to insert elastic or ties through; I initially tried elastic but didn’t like the feel on my ears, and I feel much more comfortable and secure with the shoelace that’s currently there.

Quarantine is a good time to be a hoarder. I had a spool of wire in the box of jewelry-making supplies that I’ve had kicking around since I was a teenager. So I pulled some of that out and made a wire nose piece. It can slide out of the pocket for laundering. The end of wire I used was a bit manky to start, so it’s not pretty, but it still works fine.

So that’s the weird place we’re at in the world right now. At least cute babies make things a little better.

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Clara-fication

The other day a very sweet local sewing friend came over to visit, eat scones, and hold babies. And instead of spending that time doing something useful, like packing away the hand-me downs I sorted and spread all over the dining room table last week, I went down to the sewing room and finished off my in-progress Jalie Clara leggings.*

I bought this fabric back in September, as a treat for myself for having to take time away from being at the hospital to sort out some government paperwork with regards to my parental leave (it helps that the Fabricland is right next door to the Service Canada office). It’s a stretchy fleece with a smooth side printed like bits of denim, and they were crying out to be some kind of jegging. Perhaps a more literal jegging might have been better, but I knew that wasn’t going to happen with my situation this fall, so instead I opted for the Jalie Clara leggings, with the seamless front that’s so good for showing off prints. I actually managed to trace off the pattern, cut them out, and sew up the main pieces back in November when my bestie came to visit for a few days, but when I went to try them on, I had a rude awakening.

I’ll blame my oversight on my sleep deprived state, but I hadn’t actually managed to compare the stretch of my fleece with the stretch of the pattern. And while there is almost enough widthwise stretch (enough, given that I was making a larger size anyway), the fleece has almost no lengthwise stretch. Oops. Even though I traced the no-yoke version of Clara (for simplicity) and added my usual height in the back, and Clara is meant to be high waisted, it was decidedly low rise. (I also added a whack of length to the leg and angled the back crotch seam in a bit more. These are my usual Jalie pants adjustments.)

Fortunately, this could be fixed by adding a yoke at the top, but at the time I was stymied. So today I cut a new yoke, added it on (should’ve made it wider, perhaps) and then added a nice wide exposed waistband elastic on top of that. The result sits more or less where I wanted it, which is high. Really high. Grandpa high. A little more height in the back wouldn’t have hurt, but it will do.

I’m not convinced it looks good, but it feels pretty good. And not like I need to hike them up every five seconds like every other pair of pants I currently can fit.

It’s a pretty modest success, but they’re done, with a few months of wear left before the weather gets too warm, and I’m pretty excited to have something other than the two pairs of jeans and assortment of ratty leggings I’ve been living in.

*after spending an hour or so digging out the ironing board and machines, and then having to find a chair.

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Readmission

On the evening of December 12, Tristan had a fit of strange little jerks of her knees. By noon the next day, she’d had several more and, on consultation with the nurses in the family, we took her in to the Children’s hospital ER. Going back to the hospital woke a lot of feelings in me I didn’t expect. I had thought, hoped, assumed that once the babies were home all would be well. But all wasn’t well. I was on some level more upset about taking her back to the hospital than I was about the possibility that something might be really wrong.

We didn’t have video of the spells when we first took her in. It was, hands down, the most pleasant ER experience I’ve ever had, in that there was very little waiting around. But the resident and then the attending examined Tris, said she “examined very well”, and thought that the spasms we described sounded like “myoclonic jerks”—usually harmless spasms, like large hiccups. They started a referral to neurology just to be on the safe side and sent us home.

That night, we caught the above video; by this point Tris had had seven or eight episodes in 24 hours. At 10:30 at night we decided to head back. If I thought we’d been seen quickly before, this time was lightning. We just handed the registration nurse the ID bracelet Tris had gotten on the first visit, and were shown directly to a room. The resident and attending from before were still on shift, and considerably more concerned about the video than our descriptions. They showed it to the neurologist. We were assured that he still didn’t think they looked like real seizures, but they were going to admit Tris anyway.

Those words hit like a hammer.

Before that, it was the “everything’s probably fine, they’ll check things out just in case” bubble. After that, it was real.

They took us back upstairs, to the pediatric ward, one floor down from the NICU where we had spent so much time. The same but different. I was stunned, robotic. Going through the motions, while inside My vrai chanted how can I leave her here again???!?” over and over.

More upset, in that moment, about being back in the hospital than about the possibility that something might be really wrong with my baby.

Leaving her there was like tearing my heart in half all over again.

On the other hand, sleeping with only one baby at home was a huge treat.

The next morning felt like a surreal repetition of our NICU lifestyle. I packed up River and a little cooler of pumped breast milk and trudged back to the hospital.

They did the EEG that afternoon. As medical tests go, it’s pretty non-invasive, and I gotta say the funny little head-sock they use to cover all the wires was pretty adorable. And surprisingly stable, which is good because she had to wear it until she had an episode, and I was worried how it would handle nursing, since she often tries to whip her head back and forth wildly.

PICU was like a more chill version of NICU. I was a bit stressed about managing with River there and just me, but on the other hand, unlike in NICU I COULD HAVE RIVER THERE TOO. I could nurse them whenever they wanted. The nurses even held River (not a patient) a few times while I was feeding Tristan.

Tristan, for her part, seemed to fall back into the hospital routine, too, spending most of her time sleeping or sucking on a soother. They hardly ever use their soothers at home, and tend to spit them out after ten seconds when they do. She did enjoy the little fish tank video that plays on a screen above the bed.

And then, a couple of hours into the EEG, while the nurse was on her break, Tristan had her seizure.

It felt weird to be excited about that. But that was what we needed to happen.

The EEG confirmed seizure activity, but not the worst-case scenario, infantile spasms. The neurologist recommended starting an anticonvulsant, and ordered an MRI to see if there was any obvious cause for the seizures. The MRI would be sometime the following week, and if she tolerated the medication well, the neurologist was reassuring that Tris would be home before Christmas.

I won’t tell you the diagnosis was easy to take. Even though it was about as good as it could have been, in the circumstances. I cried. I just wanted to hold Tris and make it better. And the most likely cause of these seizures is brain damage related to the premature birth, so bring on another wave of guilt and maternal failure from that direction.

But I cried through it. Went home. Came back for an evening visit with my husband and Tyo. Cried some more. Bought a one week parking pass. Enjoyed another night of sleeping with only one baby at home.

By the time we came in the next day, they had already done her MRI. We were pleasantly stunned. No brain abnormalities detected, just a remnant of what might have been a minor bleed, probably from birth (so minor it didn’t show up on either of the two head ultrasounds she had in NICU). No tumors (my husband’s nightmare.) The neurologist said she could go home that afternoon.

So I guess we wasted some money on that parking pass.

It’s a mental adjustment, for sure. My baby who I hoped would be perfectly healthy, once we got through the whole NICU thing, isn’t. She might grow out of it, but she might not. But at least so far, it isn’t impacting her brain development, and now that she’s been on her medication for a couple of weeks she’s getting over the sleepiness that is the main side effect in infants. And the measures you have to take to protect kids with seizures are basically the same as what you do normally for infants. So that will be more of a thing later than it is now.

So for now, we’re good.

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Healthy and home

We spent eight weeks in the NICU and there’s a lot to say about that, good and bad, hard and beautiful. There’s stuff I want to say about it, but it’s a long post, and a hard one. I’m not ready yet. Maybe by the time I’m ready, it won’t even matter. In hindsight, it feels like a voyage to the underworld out of a Greek myth (the internet just taught me the word “katabasis“). There’s some trauma wrapped up in there, for sure. But both twins came home by the end of October. Not in time for Thanksgiving as I had hoped (Canadian Thanksgiving is the second Sunday in October) but before Hallowe’en, and before their November 3 due date, at least. In our time there the twins went from three pounds apiece to five; they learned to breath, eat, and even breastfeed. They had no major medical scares, although for every step forward it seemed like there was a half-step back.

First pic of all four sisters together

Having them home is emotionally easier but not practically easier. Sleep is a real issue. And they’re not bad sleepers, as babies go, but they take turns. And the strategy that got us through the first month stopped working in the second.

Getting anything done with a small baby is hard. With two, it’s nearly impossible.

Other than sleep, getting a handle on the bottle feeding we had to do was really, really hard. In NICU I wasn’t allowed to breastfeed the babies more than two or three times a day, for no more than fifteen minutes at a time. Every breastfeed was followed up with a bottle of pumped breast milk fortified with preemie formula powder for extra calories and minerals. They also have to have two feeds of special preemie formula a day. And that was the feeding strategy that we brought home, topping up each feed, formula twice a day.

I had never sterilized bottles before, certainly never prepared formula. It didn’t seem so onerous while we were in the hospital and the prep was all being done for us, but at home it was a massive struggle of constant bottle-washing. And laundry, a whole other issue. Fortunately the twins got the hang of full-time breastfeeding within a couple of weeks, and became less and less interested in their top-up bottles, so at this point we only have to give them the supplements. It still feels like a lot of work, and it’s hard to get out from underneath babies long enough to do it, but my system has improved a bit. I’m still excited to phase it out, once they’re three months past their due date.

Other than those struggles, and a health issue I’ll cover soon, life is good. I spend a LOT of time stuck under babies. Sometimes I’m bored or resentful, or just stressed that I’m surrounded by disaster, but often it’s calm and blissful.

I miss wearing makeup and clean clothes. There’s puke. So much puke.

They don’t fit these preemie outfits any more. They were already getting too small when they came home from the hospital.

Getting to let them just lie side by side felt like such a privilege to begin with.

I have neither the ambition nor the organizational skills to dress them alike at all times, but it’s fun sometimes. I particularly like coordinating but non-identical outfits.

They don’t interact obviously, but they do subtly synchronize, movement, waking, even bowel movements.

I try to nurse both together often, for the time saving as well as the abundance of milk. It’s kind of like the Wild West of breastfeeding—they move their heads around a lot and grunt and swallow air, but it gets things done quickly.

Dresses on babies who can’t walk yet are a little ridiculous and awkward, yet still adorable, especially at Christmas. Those “infant” sized tights are as long as they are, however.

There are some really sweet moments.

The newborn sized clothes are getting outgrown now, too.

Just in the last week or two they’ve been getting interested in their play frame, kicking and batting at the hanging toys, sometimes even long enough for me to eat breakfast.

So yeah, if you need me, I’ll be over here under the pile of babies.

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