Fall Drama

Life certainly has no shortage of drama right now… I’m back at work, COVID cases are on the rise, life with toddling twins is the definition of insanity… but today I want to talk about adding some drama back to my sadly-shrunken wardrobe.

I bought several Style Sew Me patterns back in the summer, despite having no good way to print PDF patterns since my home printer (which is almost as old as Syo) has bitten the dust. But the absolute standout was, of course, the Madison Cardigan. And when I recently learnt that the print shop on my local campus does A0 sheets for $1.50 (1.75 for colour)… well, the Madison was at the top of the pile to get printed.

I don’t have a lot of sweater knits, and of those I do have, I don’t typically have the three or so yards the Madison calls for. I was actually thinking about trying it out in a drapey woven, when a dig through a bin yielded a sizable chunk of black wool jersey I had forgotten about (or at least forgotten how much there was).

It took a bit of deep breathing to commit a precious piece like this to an untried pattern, but I knew that the style was awesome and a comparison with my beloved Blackwood Cardigan pattern convinced me that the sizing was reasonable. And I had JUST enough fabric, or not quite enough but by cutting the front slightly off grain (it was too wide for my folded fabric anyway) I got it to fit. I was hoping, considering the whole thing is expanded and drapey, that the grain wouldn’t matter much, and it doesn’t seem to at least so far.

I did my usual standby alterations: square shoulder, raise the underarm, small swayback adjustment (I usually would skip this in a knit but the back princess seams are there so why not?) and of course adding about 4” to the sleeve length. I cut a M, grading to an L for the hips, which is technically correct but doesn’t actually matter much because this is a floaty, open design. I also cut the length for the largest size, because who doesn’t like a bit more length and drama, but the nesting isn’t really designed for this so there was some futzing and re-cutting of the curved edge.

Trying to point out the invisible pocket.

The Madison has a two piece sleeve, which is probably good in a more structured fabric, not really necessary in most knits. I was, however, a good girl and slashed and spread my extra length in in two different places. (Spoiler alert: I have actually outdone myself, I think I only needed about three extra inches in length. The sleeves are very long, and unlike the Blackwood Cardigan sleeves they don’t scrunch up nicely). They aren’t terribly full but I did end up taking them in about 1/2” along one of the seam lines for a closer fit. Again, in a more structured fabric I might want that width.

The pattern has you staystitch the back neckline and hem all around the neckline and the drape. I have opted (thus far) to leave the edges raw for maximum drape, but I did want to make sure the back neck was nice and stable. So I fused a narrow strip of knit interfacing along the back neck, stay stitched on top of that, and finally bound the edge. I also wanted to make sure the shoulders didn’t stretch—they are just a little wider than the Blackwood and I’m not really into the dropped shoulder look, so I stitched them with a straight stitch and then added some clear elastic with the serging, and top stitched after. So I’m pretty happy with how that turned out; I might shave a smidge off in the future. I used the serger for the rest of the construction and I may regret that as I think the tensions could use a bit of tweaking…

Looks better when not overexposed.

The one thing the Madison doesn’t have us pockets. This is understandable as they tend to interfere with the drape and flow of a style like this, but I’m also pretty attached to pockets in my sweaters these days. After some cogitation I decided to go with patch pockets (modified from the Blackwood, because when it works it works), but locate them over the side seam. This is similar to what I did on my York Pinafore hack, and I like it—not ideal for putting your hands in, perhaps, but I need somewhere for phone/keys/masks, especially when I’m at work. They’re not overly pretty, but in practice they’re almost invisible, and will increase the practicality of this sweater immensely.

In conclusion? Fun and happy. Definitely considering a lightweight knit version, and wishing desperately I had three mètres of French terry to make a yummy baby-proof version…

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Gloriously simple

I suppose it was inevitable that I’d eventually fall for the statement sleeve trend (which is probably long past now, but don’t get me started on trends…) Anyway, I had purchased the Adrienne Blouse pattern from the Friday Pattern Company over a year ago, but what with pregnancy and preemies and all never made it. Until now.

This is a really simple pattern. Like, simple enough that I almost hated to buy it. But sometimes you just want your hand held, and also I feel a bit guilty knocking off indie patternmakers.

Anyway, no regrets about buying it. I do kinda wish I’d printed it out twice, as you have to cut the sleeve on the fold twice and the front and back piece are the same so you have to cut that twice as well. Or traced it out in full pieces as per the cutting layout. But yeah, really simple.

Back, which is identical to the front.

One of the reasons I wanted the pattern was I was curious about the construction of the shoulder. Turns out it goes together pretty much exactly how I thought it would, but it’s still nice to have the brain-work done for you. And the elastic measurement (and yes, it is as short as it says, I spent a good while looking for reviews because I thought it should be a longer piece over the shoulder. It is not.)

Based on my measurements, I cut a medium in the sleeve and bust grading to a large in the waist and hips. Other than that, I added a bit of length to both sleeve and hem (simply by cutting to the length of the longest size), and a bit of fullness to the sleeve mainly to maximize fabric use. I would definitely keep the extra body length in a future version, but maybe not bother with the extra sleeve length. I have long arms but that doesn’t matter so much when the sleeve is meant to be 3/4 length. I also cut the two bands at the neckline on the straight grain, which isn’t really a good idea but the heavy rayon spandex I was using has lots of stretch in every direction, and it let me use up more of the sliver of fabric left between cutting out the bodice and the sleeve.

The sizing turned out pretty perfect for skimming without being too tight, and this heavy rayon knit is the perfect fabric for this pattern—the weight and drape are just luxurious.

I did most of the sewing on this pattern with the serger and my new coverstitch. I used the coverstitch for topstitching the neckline bands, as well as hemming and creating the elastic casings on the sleeves. The only thing that gave me pause was how to use it for the sleeve hem, since the instructions would have you leave a gap for inserting the elastic and I didn’t think that would be a good idea for the coverstitch. So I basted that casing with the regular machine, inserted the elastic, and then cover stitched, painstakingly since it’s VERY GATHERED (especially since I made my sleeve hem elastic quite a bit more snug than the measurements given, since I wanted it to stay up if I pushed the sleeve up my arm.) I’m not sure if this was the 100% best way to do it—stitching the casing and inserting the elastic before sewing the underarm seam would be a lot less fiddly and almost as tidy—but it worked in the end.

Other than basting the sleeve hem, the only thing I used the regular sewing machine for was basting the parts where the neckline joins the sleeves, since this needs to be really precisely positioned. This worked pretty well. I also took the time to thread my serger tails back into the seams here, since they need to be sturdy.

So I’m pretty impressed with the combination of simplicity, fit, and dramatic flare. I’m also currently fighting off the urge to make this in five different colours, because it is pretty distinctive and I probably don’t need THAT many versions. I do really like Strict Stitchery’s version with the lace sleeves, though, and I also wonder if it might work with a lightweight non-stretch for the sleeve…

Maybe just a red one though?

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Wee babbie bits

The sudden appearance of the Euphoria in my life has prompted another little spate of baby sewing. The day it arrived I pulled out a number of baby patterns and did some tracing, mostly of very basic pieces.

We’ll start with Stretch & Sew 850. This is a vintage knit pattern (dating to around the era of my birth, so yeah, I guess I’m officially old now?), a very basic baby sweatsuit type of thing, in what it claims are sizes for 1-18 months.

There are only three sizes in the pattern, and the pants in the picture above, which fit the twins quite nicely, are made from the smallest size. So the “1 to 6 month size” is really more of a (large) six month size. Not the first time I’ve run into this with older baby patterns, but it still confuses me. I compared the pattern to some pants and shirts that currently fit before picking a size.

And I will say, it’s a very satisfactory little sweat-pant pattern, with one issue—there is neither pattern piece nor lengths given for the ribbing bands pieces anywhere on the pattern (so cuffs, shirt hem, and neckline). Instead, throughout the instructions tell you to measure the required length, calculate 2/3 of it, and cut a strip that length for the band. Not really too big of an issue for the cuffs, but a bit annoying for the neck of the shirt. Also, I’m like “really? You couldn’t bother to measure your own damn pattern?”

Come to think of it I don’t think I finished my post on these white dresses…

I’d chalk it up to being spoiled by the excellent hand-holding of most modern indie patterns, except I’m pretty sure the last Kwik Sew I used of a similar vintage had not only pattern pieces for all the bands, but separate ones depending on whether your bands were going to be of ribbing or self fabric.

(I won’t confess that I pretty much never use band pattern pieces anyway… so really my irritation is more a matter of form than substance.)

Also, instead of indicating a shorter cutting line for the version of the shirt that has a band at the hem, the instructions would have you cut the shirt out and then cut off 1 1/4” from the bottom. And that’s not even mentioning that the pattern calls for putting a zipper in one shoulder (with 1/4” seam allowance) to facilitate getting the shirt on and off over giant baby noggins. Anyone who was dealing with baby clothes in the 70s or early 80s, was this a thing? I don’t think I’ve ever seen a shoulder zipper in baby clothes. But maybe it’s a thing?

My first go at the shirt was a bit of a fail. I used the same thick purple fleece as the pants, but in the heavy fabric it was just too small (and a sweatshirt should be roomy). It was cute, though. I wound up binding the neck rather than adding a band, so as not to make the opening any smaller. Since I did not, y’know, install a zipper. I should probably try again in a larger size.

I opted to try again in a lighter fabric—the scraps from my birthday top, in fact—but I couldn’t resist tweaking it a bit into a tent shape. And it’s very fun and swingy and perfect with leggings.

I made the sleeves about an inch longer and they’re still a bit short, but the shoulders are loose. So obviously drafted on the square baby model (which is fair, my first two babies were deliciously solid chunks, but the twins never really got there and seem to already be moving towards lean toddlerhood…)

At the same time I was tracing S&S 850, I thought I would check out what the smallest size of my trusty old Jalie 2920 leggings pattern looked like. The smallest size is for 2 years, but it was actually smaller than the sweatpants pattern I used above, so I figured I’d test it out. Obviously it’s for leggings, not sweatpants, so the amount of intended ease (and stretch) is very different. I made it up in this beautiful/horrible slippery polyester blue print (covered in shiny silver dots) that is perfect for making a toddler happy. I figured the worst case scenario is I add them to the boxes of size 2 hand-me-downs I’m already hoarding. But the poly fabric actually isn’t super stretchy, so while they’re a little roomy now as leggings go I don’t think they’ll make it to age two. And I’m sure I don’t need to tell you I’m much fonder of the Jalie pattern.

As I dug through a box looking for knit fabrics for an Adrienne blouse or Luna tank, I stumbled across a couple of wee scraps obviously hoarded from other projects. Why they’re in general population and not the scrap bin I couldn’t tell you except that outside of work my approach to organization is, um, lackadaisical. But anyway. There was a bit of pale blue burnout fabric that became another swingy tee, though I did have to cut the wee short sleeves on the cross-grain (this fabric hasn’t much stretch so it seems to be working)

I will say, the Euphoria handles these lightweight hems like magic. I haven’t needed to stabilize anything, a bit of tweaking of the tensions has been all it’s needed. I’m getting a bit better at folding the hems under consistently. I do think I’d like to invest in the clear presser foot, to make topstitching the neckline tidily easier.

Uneven hem from lazy cutting, not wonky folding!

A second piece must be an off-cut from a knit maxi dress I made some time ago. I love this fabric. The piece wasn’t quite long enough for leggings, but I figured with the addition of a coordinating black extra-wide baby-grow style cuff they would work (and I was feeling bored with shirts.)

I used Jalie 2920 again, but pinched out about 1/2” from the width, plus the aforementioned length modifications.

I’m pretty happy with how they turned out although I’m not sure how sturdy they’ll be. Still cute.

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The “90s Teacher” pinafore

Once upon a time, long long ago, Helen of Helen’s Closet posted a series of hacks on her blog to her fun, basic York Pinafore pattern. I, of course, fell in love with the most complicated hack, the combination of spaghetti straps and a gathered tier skirt.

Fast forward to last month, and I found myself purchasing three metres of this deep teal cotton/linen blend from the half-price sale at Fabricland. It’s soft, more cottony than linen-y, with one side very slightly brushed. (Which I didn’t notice until halfway through construction, so fortunately I was consistent about which side I used for the outside.) I wanted to make something that would transition well to fall, but wasn’t too complicated/didn’t require tracing a whole new pattern, because that’s pretty hard for me right now.

As “hacks” go this one is pretty intensive, as the only line from the original pattern that stays the same is the three or four inches of side seam. As such my version ended up a bit different from Helen’s—my front bib is lower (since I started from my low-necked version of the pattern) and I think I inadvertently squared off the neckline curves a bit more. I would raise the front (I’ll get into that) but I don’t mind the square necklines.

I also did my tiered skirt a bit differently. I decided I wanted a long skirt with a ruffle rather than three equal tiers, and also that I wanted the longer part to be flared, not just rectangular. I thought I had calculated pretty carefully to still get the 1.333:1 gathering ratio she followed, but I think my mental math was a bit off for the top of the skirt, as the gathers are very minimal. Also, minimal gathers are WAY harder to get nice and even, by the way. I don’t think I’ve ever consciously aimed for less than a 2:1 ratio in gathered tier skirts, so even though I’ve made a million of them this felt pretty awkward. And I had to pull my first go at the bottom tier off because the gathering was way too minimal. I thought I would try to get away with using only two fabric widths, and have a bit of fabric left over for baby dresses. This looked terrible. So I added a third fabric width, got much better results, but baby dresses won’t be happening unless I happen to go back for more fabric. Really that’s ok.

I made the spaghetti straps into adjustable ties, partly because the mental work of figuring out the exact right length seemed too much, and I’m glad I did although the babies also love to pull on and untie them. This way I got to play around with where the whole thing sits, with the side scoop at my waist (as originally drafted) or dropped way low—turns out I mainly like the “way low” version (as seen in these pics), although I probably wouldn’t feel comfortable wearing it with a crop top at work.

It also works backwards!

It also works backwards! at least in the “dropped” length. So that’s a fun variation. If I were to do it again I would definitely reduce the discrepancy between the height of the front and back panels, so that the front stayed over my boobs even when “dropped”, and as it also makes it harder to get the ties tied nicely.

I had originally cut inseam pockets but completely forgot to install them and was too lazy to unpick the side-seams once I had them all sewn and serged. So I made patch pockets. This turned out well in the end as I had decided I wanted the option of wearing it backwards, so I put them centred over the side-seams like cargo pockets. This wouldn’t’ve worked so well with the inseam pockets I had planned. So sometimes being brain dead and distracted while sewing in five minutes bursts is actually helpful? they stick out a bit as the skirt is gathered but I don’t mind, though I could add a button if I really wanted to. It makes it easy to drop a phone in them, though. And they are plenty big enough for phones, masks, baby snacks, and a plethora of other doodads.

Back view of the front. Apparently my only back view of the back photo was weirdly cut off.

I got a bit of a mixed reaction from the older kids. Tyo (who is the Twenty Year Old, now, by the way) said it was very “90s teacher” and reminded her of Miss Honey from “Matilda.” Which is apparently a good thing? Syo (the seventeen year old) is just confused by it. I might be a little confused myself, as it’s definitely not my “usual style” … not that I actually even know what that is these days, I gotta say. But I think I like it. At the very least it’s comfy and practical and more stylish than leggings and a tank top. Now I kinda want to make a bunch of cropped sweaters…

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Ridiculousness

If you think Tris looks unhappy here you should see the other pics…

If you’ve been following along, you may have noticed a trend of impractical white baby wear on this page that experienced parents like us should be wise enough to avoid. What can I say? Having two more babies just as the first two are almost grown wasn’t exactly practical either.

Anyway, my husband bought a white baby jean jacket the other day, but there were no white jeans at the store to go with it. So obviously I had to make some.

I also skipped the snaps on the inseam.

Fortunately, my hoarder tendencies come in handy in the sewing department. I’ve had this vintage pattern (I actually have gathered a collection for the whole family, women’s, men’s, and several children’s sizes) for a while. My mother, in fact, recognized the pattern line and told me she’d made me a pair of little jeans from them back in the day. A little bit of digging turned up a lightweight white twill (poly-cotton, I’m pretty sure) and white topstitching thread.

Anyway, the pattern claimed to be a size 1, however between the twins being rather shrimpy and patterns tending to fit large I figured they would be roomy. But if you’re going to sew ridiculous white baby jeans, you can at least make them with room to grow, right?

The pattern, as one might expect for baby jeans, is a bit stripped down. The fly is just for show and there’s no back yoke at all. The front pockets are real but have no lining—the cut-out curve is hemmed and the back portion is just top stitched in place.

This is the only white 1” elastic I had, and it’s salvaged off something else. There was just enough.

There’s a few other bulk-reducing points that I appreciated in a baby pattern. The waistband (only present in the front half) is cut on the selvedge so the inside doesn’t need to be folded under. The elastic is applied to the inside of the back, not folded into a casing. And finally, the “jeans stitch” the instructions recommend has you trim one seam allowance, overlock the other, and topstitch down. I was surprised at how much bulk this cut down, too. Usually I just overlock both edges together and stitch down, and I like the bulk in regular sized jeans, but for baby jeans anything that reduces bulk is awesome.

They close with snaps at the side-seams, a bit of a rudimentary closure where the top couple of inches of side seam are just left open. I doubt any closure is really necessary, given the elastic across the back waist, but I went with it as I figured if they were too big I could easily add another set of snaps to adjust them. Which I had to. Although I’ll already have to replace at least one. Oops.

My favourite touch, though, is the little dragon patches I added to the back pockets. The iron-on patches have been kicking around the stash for years, originally for Tyo and her bestie to put on their jackets but since that hasn’t happened I don’t feel bad yoinking them. I did iron them in place, but I trust that about as far as I can throw my husband, so I also spent my Saturday painfully hand-stitching down the edges. Hand-stitching through fusible guck sucks, by the way, and it’s hard to use a thimble when you can only get about three stitches done at a time before a baby face plants on you.

I had a lot of fun making these, impractical and oversized as they may be. The topstitching was fun, and white on white is forgiving. And the little dragons add a dash of personality. I was pretty dubious about the waistband construction the whole way (to be honest I really didn’t understand what they were going for until the very end) but I’m not mad at it, though I might not bother with the side openings if I did it again. But it’s definitely time to get back to my own jeans. These darn baby projects just like to sneak themselves in there!

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Euphoria

My birthday, as you probably won’t recall, falls only a week after the twins’. I’m pretty resigned to it being permanently eclipsed now that they’re around, but this year was a bit of a bigger one: 40.

I could probably muse about what it means to have ended another decade, or the approach of middle age; about body changes and how they interact with fashion trends to affect your style. I could even say something about the fact that this blog was only a few months old when I turned 30.

But instead, I’m going to celebrate my birthday present. After years of wistful wishing, intermittent planning always aborted by some more pressing expense, I walked downstairs yesterday morning to a comically large box on the dining room table.

My husband (abetted by my children, my mother, and at least one sewing friend), had pulled the trigger I have never been able to, and bought me a coverstitch.

And because he’s him, it wasn’t the baseline model I had generally planned on. The Babylock Euphoria has all the bells and whistles, including air jet threading for the looper and a harp space big enough for a quilt, should you decide to coverstitch your quilting.

I can’t even wrap my head around it, to be honest. But it’s there, begging to be used. There’s about a million accessories that I need to buy (all the binding attachments, for a start)… and I’m back at work so my time is even more limited… but it’s here!

For my first project, I picked a design I’ve been musing about for months as a nursing-friendly topper. I used my trusty knit sloper and drafted the crossover and flare right on the fabric.

It’s cute, casual enough to wear working from home but spiffy enough for when I’m in the office, and best of all, it has miles of hem for testing out the coverstitcher.

Because this was self-drafted very much on the fly, there wasn’t really any testing of where the crossover would fall; I kinda feel like an inch or so higher or lower might have been better, but I’m not hating it. My bust point fell abruptly by at least an inch on August 31 last year (the day the twins were born) so my sense of where certain points on the pattern fall is a bit inaccurate these days. At least it still mostly fits.

I’m very happy with the width of the flare and the flutteriness I ended up with though.

I need to slow down and build a bit more precision with the thing, but as time poor as I am right now that’s maybe not going to happen. On the whole, though, it makes the whole hemming process much faster. I haven’t even needed to use a fusible so far.

In desperate need of pressing!

The weather turned sharply nasty in time for my birthday, and we realized that the twins had outgrown most of their clothes during the last month while they were wearing mostly diapers (with occasional cute dresses). So tonight I spent some time cutting out some little pants and sweaters. Of course the first ones I went to sew up aren’t terribly warm, but those will come, I promise. These are cut from Jalie 2920, the classic leggings pattern, in the smallest size, which is a kids’ size 2. Technically far to big, but smaller than the baby sweatpants pattern I was also testing out so I thought I’d give them a try. This shiny polyester doesn’t have a huge amount of stretch so they actually work as loose-ish pants right now. I don’t think it’ll hold up, but it’s pretty and the fabric was a hand-me-down I’m unlikely to use for anything else. I actually had to turn the tensions (both upper and looper) down fairly dramatically on the coverstitch for this fabric, which was another lesson learned. I’m thinking matching dresses…

And more to come!

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Katabasis (in the NICU)

There’s a script to birth.

The baby is born. They hand her to you—wet and naked, or freshly dried. You pull her to your breast, skin on skin on skin. She roots, head turning blindly, mouth wide and hungry, and finds a nipple, and you feed her from your body, that she will live. This isn’t everyone’s script, but it was mine; I had followed it twice before.

When the twins were born, I didn’t get to follow it.

I’d rather not go back there. Close the door, turn out the light, walk away. It’s taken me a year to put this together end to end. It’s not tidy writing, half poem, half prose, half mess. But let’s do it, in honour of their first year.

It’s a tunnel, a chthonic journey. I looked it up and found this word: Katabasis (Going down). It’s the hero’s journey down to the underworld, to retrieve his lost love.

30 weeks six days.

First, you are alone, when you should be half of a pair (I should be with two babies). It’s a lost, wild, numb feeling. You talk, laugh, move, like a living thing, but really you’re a kind of ghost.

We kept asking, “When can we go down?” And the answer was “Soon, not yet.” I’ve never felt so pointless, useless, as we waited.

Eventually you find your way to the underworld.

Eventually, they tell us we can go down. Everything is strange and overwhelming. The doors are big and heavy and closed; entrance strictly monitored. We learned the first ritual fo the NICU, scrubbing in. Beyond the doors and the sinks, a cramped, alien underworld, a sea of incubators surrounded by machines, wires, cables, tubes—a halo of technology monitoring, maintaining, keeping bodies, too tiny to live, alive.

We are in the way, intruders in this realm. They tell us we are welcome, that we will learn to belong here. We don’t believe them.

Small spirits in plastic boxes, too fragile to live.

Rules

There are rules in this underworld. No phones. One visitor per bedside. Too much activity today—let them rest. We stub our toes on the rules, again and again.

Rites

Strict rites which must be followed. Scrub with soap for thirty seconds. Follow with sanitizer. Wipe your phone with the disinfectant wipe. Hand sanitizer again when you go from one isolette to the other.

Isolette.

Altar. Bier. Reach inside and feel the tiny flutter of the heartbeat, the rise and fall of ribs like toothpicks. We learn the names of all the wires and what they watch. Heat, heart, breath. The tubes and what they carry: air, fluid, food.

One hand for the head, one hand for the body. The appropriate gesture of worship.

Talk to them, we are told. Tell them stories. They hear your voice. They know your voice. You voice will help draw them to the land of the living.

Skin to skin, another ritual. Ceremonial garments chosen carefully: wide neck, loose body. Let them be as close to your heart as they were, before. Sit in contemplation. These are the only peaceful moments.

Libation.

The breast pump is the most ceaseless ritual. Mark your time by it. You cannot stay in the underworld; you cannot live in the land of the dead (of the not yet living). But you can pump, and feed them of your body, and maybe one day they will come be with you like living babies in your arms.

The first precious drops, golden miracles. 10 mils. 10 more. A syringe connects to the tube that runs down their throats into their bellies. The first feeds are a single millilitre. It looks like the right amount for such a tiny body.

We pump more, and more. When we have enough milk, still we continue, anxious. The ritual comforts us.

Anabasis (coming up)

I held Tristan on the evening of the first day. I was frightened to touch her, and desperate to hold her. They were intubating River; I couldn’t hold her yet.

I held River on the third day. She was extubated, but under a bili-light blanket.

They sent me home from the hospital on the third day. You can’t live in the underworld. I cried a lot, and told my husband that it was ok that I was not ok.

On the sixth day (31 weeks +5), they detach the intravenous fluids. They can live on my milk, delivered through its own tube. Their stomachs work. Their intestines function. This is a victory.

The breathing supports step down. Intubation to CPAP, CMAS to CPAP, down to 2 litres room air. On the twelfth day (32 + 3), they breathe by themselves. Holding our breath that they will breathe. Later one will reverse, because nothing in this underworld is a straight line.

On the eighth day, River cried and I comforted her. I felt like a parent for the first time.

The ritual of the blanket.

On day 9 we find that the body temperature monitors have been removed, and the twins are wrapped in blankets. Thermoregulation is a victory.

On the eleventh day, a magician dressed as a nurse helps me hold them both together.

On the fourteenth day (32+6), we are moved to the oasis. (To Elysium?) There are only four isolettes, a permanent table for the nurses, space between the isolettes for the rocking chair. For the first time, my husband is comfortable enough to hold them.

On the 17th day (33+2), I am permitted to put them to my breast. They both latch well. I cry. I know motherhood isn’t the same as breastfeeding, but my heart confuses the two.

At 33 weeks gestation, they have only just developed a sucking reflex; I have to watch to make sure they stop to breathe. The next day Tristan has twenty bradycardias, episodes where her heart rate drops terrifyingly—all oral feeding is suspended. She is diagnosed with a UTI and ends up back on breathing support for two more weeks. During the whole time she can’t eat by mouth, but sucks ferociously on her pacifier during her tube feeds.

One day, River is fussing as I hold her during rounds. I quietly nurse her, and she is satisfied and goes to sleep. I get in trouble after because it isn’t the time to feed her, and at her next tube feed she regurgitates milk from an over-full tummy. Another toe stubbed on the rules. But how can I regret the first time she communicated her need and I responded?

On the nineteenth day, they are given clothes. This is also a victory.

On the 30th day (35 weeks), the Jim Pattinson Children’s Hospital opens. We arrive early to follow our babies on the Great Baby Migration to the promised land of the New NICU. It’s nice to have the ability to sleep over, but mostly I preferred the Oasis. Our solitary room is lonely and the isolettes are on opposite walls, making it almost impossible to hold both babies together. And the chairs are not very comfortable.

The last month is a slow road winding into the distance. Weight gains. Breathing. I am permitted to nurse each twin twice a day, no more than fifteen minutes. They weigh her before and after, a practice damaging to the nursing relationship, so I have read, but deemed necessary here. I am tired of telling every new nurse, every day, that I will want to breastfeed.

They begin to supplement the twins: two feeds a day of preemie formula, for extra minerals and calories. I will need to supplement them the same way when they come home, they tell me. I cry all day, because this feels like, again, my body is not enough. The failure of your body to provide as it should is the most haunting ghost of this underworld.

The slow road is almost, but not perfectly straight. River is moved to feeding on demand—loses weight, refuses feeds. For four days she won’t nurse, and takes bottles sporadically. I wonder if maybe she will never nurse again. The same nurse switches shifts and takes on overtime to see us through. They put her back on scheduled feeds, finishing through a tube. Eventually, she nurses again. She’s always slow to start—at breast or bottle—but she likes to fall asleep at the breast without letting go. I dream of the day where she can be that annoying baby who likes to sleep with a nipple in her mouth.

The first day I get to nurse Tris again, she is so eager. It’s wild and exciting and she takes (according to the scale) 42 mLs, a huge amount for her. I still have to watch her breathing. I pay close attention; I often catch the oncoming bradycardia before the machines do.

The braddies, bradycardias, are our nemesis. Both twins have them several times a day, more when eating. They are what stands between us and going home. On the 50th day, the doctor raises the possibility of sending the twins home on oxygen, rather than keep them. It cuts like a knife—they don’t need oxygen, haven’t for weeks, except that it helps keep them from forgetting to breath. But the idea of having them home makes it worth it.

(As of the twins heard her, their bradies reduce sharply)

Home. The goal. The land of the living. The end of the half-life. It’s strangely terrifying. How will I live without constant daily weights, without the reassurance of a nurse at hand at every moment?

On the 54th day, for the first time, I spend the night in the twins’ room. This is a disaster. Every little grunt and twitch wakes me; isolettes across the room are nothing like having the baby in a bassinet right beside the bed, or right in the bed with you as I did with my older children. I wake up every hour, if not more. This does not assuage my terror.

On the 55th day, I tandem nurse both twins for the first time. It’s wild and crazy because I am trying to watch both their breathing, but the milk flows fast and plentiful.

On the 56th day, Tris comes home at 38+5. My heart is torn in two, because with River still in the NICU, I have to choose between my babies. Once a baby leaves NICU, they can’t come back. I tell myself eight hours at the hospital with River still leaves me more time at home with Tris than we had before. Despite the pain, it’s easier to transition to the complexity of life at home one baby at a time.

Tris coming home

On the 60th day, River comes home at 39+2. Everything is quietly, achingly wonderful. And yet very, very, very hard.

My first picture of all four girls together. And at home.

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A shirt to match a shirt

Shirt on left is mine, shirt on right is from Baby Gap.

I can’t remember who gave us the hand-me-down little white shirt (on the right). It’s Baby Gap, and fairly exquisite, with lots of cute details—back buttons, smocking, little puffed sleeves.

But there was, of course, only one, and while I don’t NEED to dress my twins alike, it’s fun to at least have them coordinating. So for a long time I’ve wanted to make a second similar shirt.

Things crystallized when I came across two little scraps of pintucked batiste, I think made as demonstration or practice pieces, too tiny for most anything but with too much labour put into them to send them to the bin. Just right, as it turns out, for making a wee little 6-month sized shirt.

Not much went into the making of this shirt. I sewed the side seams (actually I think I forgot to press them!). I rolled tiny hems with the rolled hem foot on my Featherweight, which for once behaved almost flawlessly, top and bottom. I hand-wound a bobbin of elastic thread for my modern Janome machine (I’m sure it would’ve worked for the Featherweight too but I didn’t have any empty bobbins for that one), and made a few rows of elasticated shirring stitches around the top of the shirt.

What took the longest was actually finding a similar off white fabric for the little sleeve/shoulder straps (and if the light is good you can see I didn’t quite succeed). The batiste I had made the pintucks in is just faintly ivory in colour. I’m sure I have more of it in stash somewhere, but I didn’t manage to find it, so I wound up going with a slightly heavier cotton for the sleeves. And the colour that seemed to match in my basement sewing room is, of course, way off in daylight. Ah well. Again they’re just rectangles, the edges narrow-hemmed, and a couple of rows of shirring added.

I basically guesstimated where to stitch the sleeves down front and back, but they seem to work all right. As a bonus, the very stretchy shirring makes it quite easy to take on and off.

So I’m pretty charmed by it, and I think it’s a good mate to the storebought one. We also have one matching (though from a completely different brand again) white ruffly diaper cover… now if I can just manage to make another of those!

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Variations on a theme

A few weeks back I presented my husband with several pieces of fabric for potential baby dresses, and he selected this blue/white shot cotton. And then we both got ridiculously distracted by dressing the babies in matching white things. You’d think we were noob parents, not veterans of 20 years. But the other day I finally tackled it.

These came together during a single day’s naps. (Which totals about four hours although less than half of that is reliable “usable” time.) this is possible only because I didn’t use a pattern or need to rethread any of the machines, and I had the fabric pre-washed and ready to go.

These look slightly different from the white and red-striped versions, but the basic idea is the same. I used the full width of the 45” fabric to make the dresses. I made the armscye curves a little bit smaller this time around, which means they’re less oversized than the other dresses… I may regret this later but I like how they fit now and our sundress season is short. They’re also a little shorter, although still long enough to catch on R’s knees now she’s crawling.

The biggest change I wanted this time around was to incorporate a bodice panel type thing front and back. Inspired by the free Oliver & S Popover Sundress, which I made aeons ago when my niece was three, but only goes down to a size 2. So the panels would serve as binding for the front and back, and then I would add bias tape to the armscyes that turned into the shoulder ties. (Opposite of the other two dresses, where the ties came from the binding that encased the front and back gathering.)

I also chose a wider binding this time, so I made sure to pre-press the armscye curve into it. I used pleats instead of gathering, just for a change, as I was bored of gathering, though I don’t know that the pleats where any less time consuming. And finally, I added a bit of pompom lace to the fronts.

As with the white dresses, I used the full width of the fabric, with a single seam in the back. I cut the front and back panels to the width I knew I wanted the chest to be, 12 cm, and then pleated to match that. I forced myself not to fuss too much over the pleats.

A bit shorter than some of the other dresses, but they still get caught on her knees when crawling.

My bias strips came out a bit shorter this time (or the method of binding the armscye requires a longer strip) so they tie in knots, not bows, but that’s all right for the thicker binding as bows might be quite bulky. I could’ve pieced for longer strips, but I didn’t.

I should maybe pause to mention that having a rotary cutter and mat has changed how I tend to make bias tape. I still start with a rectangle, cut off one end at a bias corner, and sew that to the other end, but instead of sewing the resulting parallelogram into an offset tube and cutting miles of continuous bias, I tend to cut individual strips, sewing them together only as necessary. It’s more annoying sewing the strips individually but the cutting is so much faster and more precise.

The worst part of nap time sewing is that I can’t really take process pictures, as I use my phone to play soothing white noise for the babies. I always prefer blog posts with process pictures. Oh well.

I gotta say, I think these are my favourite yet. I love the lace and the panel and the pleats. Part of me is wondering how many more little sundresses they could possibly need, but another part of me is eyeing up every light-weight cotton in the stash…

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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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