a “probably different than you’ve seen before” flat-felled seam tutorial

Many months ago, I was deep internet researching jeans-related construction, and came across a forum convo about flat-felled seams. I can’t remember exactly where this was posted (pattern review maybe?) but I tucked that info away in mah brain and pretty much forgot about it until now. I pulled out some denim for a pair of jean shorts and decided to do some testing on scraps. I was pretty excited about how my seams came out (as were you!) that I immediately tried another sample and snapped pics. Like I said, I didn’t come by this method independently, so if you’ve seen this discussed elsewhere, give me a holler so I can give credit where credit is due. [*UPDATE* Found it! It was a pattern review thread… I can’t seem to link directly to the convo, but it’s under “sewing techniques and tips>how to sew RTW style flat felled jeans seam.”]

There are two things that have always bothered me about the center back crotch seam on jeans (now there’s something only someone who sews might say…). First, the way things are usually constructed, the seam allowances are pressed to one side of the seam line. This means that the top stitching is not centered, and the pockets are not equidistant from the top stitching. You can space the back pockets differently on each side to offer a little more symmetry, but ultimately I would prefer a centered seam. The second thing that annoys me is that the original stitching line can end up looking a little bit strained. Even though the seam is perfectly secure from all the lines of stitching, sometimes you end up pulling on the original seam and you’ll see the lighter part of the denim showing through. Hard to explain that one, but if you’ve ever noticed this, you know what I’m getting at.

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METHOD 1 | 3/8″ SA

I’m going to show two slightly different methods. The first method requires a 3/8″ SA, and is particularly useful on thicker fabrics because the final seam ends up with only 3 layers of fabric. (Click on the photos to enlarge)

Take the fabrics you will be joining, abut them, and sew a wide zig zag stitch to join them. Do not overlap the fabric. It doesn’t matter what thread you use, because this stitching will be hidden at the end.

This part gets difficult to explain, so bear with me and when in doubt, refer to the photos. Press the fabric just to one size of the zig zag stitching (about 3/16″ from the abutted edge), then turn to the other side and do the same. If you look at a cross section, your fabric will form a “Z”. The abutted seams are on the inside of the folds and completely covered.

Top stitch from the right side, then make a second pass, which will just catch the folded edge on the wrong side. I like to use my blind hem foot as a guide, and I found that the folded ridge on the under side is lumpy enough that the foot can follow it for the second pass. This eliminates any guesswork or need to sew from the wrong side. Given that most machines have difficulty producing a nice stitch with top stitching thread in the bobbin, this is most useful!

At the begining I had marked the 3/8″ SA, and you can see that my marking is neatly centered. Also, you will note that the finished seam has three layers of fabric, making it perfect for thicker fabrics.

METHOD 2 | 1/2″ SA

The second method is essentially the same as the first, but it ends up being a little bulkier, and requires a 1/2″ SA.

Start by pressing one of the SA’s to the right side by 1/4″, and the other SA to the wrong side by 1/4″. Open it up, and overlap the pressed SA’s, using the pressed line as a guide.

Once overlapped, run a line of basting stitches down the center. Again, thread doesn’t matter, the stitching will be hidden in the final seam.

Since the seams have already been pressed, top stitch as before: first at the outer folded edge, then again along the inside folded edge. Since the fabrics are overlapped instead of abutted, you end up with 4 layers of fabric in the seam.

You can see from my chalked marking that I got off ever so slightly, but this is a sample and a super unprofessional blog, so I didn’t feel compelled to re-do it.

It occurs to me that you could also mark 1/4″ on one SA, overlap the other fabric, baste, then press the seams after basting. Give it a go on some scraps and see what works for you.

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Before you ask, I did try the first method (though not the second) on a curved edge in order to simulate the back crotch seam of jeans. I found that I had absolutely no issues with the curve. If anything it was easier because all the top stitching was closer to the edge of the fabric. When you press a curved edge to one side, the edge of the fabric is shorter than the line where you would be top stitching. You can clip the curve if you are faux flat-felling, but the seam will be inherently weaker. That’s not to say you’re in danger of splitting your jeans, but if there’s a better way I’m all for it. I hope you give this a try!

—lisa g.

a better gathered skirt

i like gathered skirts as much as anyone, but i tend to find the gathered rectangle variety a bit annoying. unless you are using a super thin fabric, they can get very bulky, very quickly. so, if you ever want a nice full gathered skirt with less waistline bulk, here’s how…

your typical full gathered skirt will have a hemline about twice that of your waist measurement. here i’m using a measurement of 30″

i’m drafting one quarter of the skirt, since most likely you will be cutting it on the fold.

step 1: divide your waist measurement by 4. this will be your quarter waist measurement

30/4=7.5

step 2: take your quarter waist measurement and multiply by 2

7.5×2=15

step 3: take your quarter waist measurement and multiply by 1.5

7.5×1.5=11.25

step 4: subtract the 1.5 measurement from the 2 times measurement

15-11.25=3.75

on your drafting or tracing paper, start by drawing a rectangle as wide as your 2 times measurement (15″) by however long you prefer. don’t bother with SA’s or hem allowances at this point.

with a straightedge, make about five evenly spaced vertical lines. cut along these lines, leaving a tiny bit connected at the bottom for a hinge.

overlap the slashed pieces until you have reduced the top measurement by the amount you figured in step 4 (3.75″–since i made 5 slashes, i will overlap about 0.75″ at each section). this doesn’t have to be absolutely precise, just keep it all as evenly distributed as possible, then tape the sections in place. since this piece is now a bit of a mess, trace the shape onto another piece of paper, rounding off the edges.

once you have retraced, add your side SA, waist SA, hem allowance, and fold markings at CF/CB. if your back piece needs a seam for a closure, just remember to add SA when cutting your fabric, or trace off another pattern piece with a CB SA.

once you have this drafted, you can add it to your favorite waistband and make a skirt or use it for the skirt portion of any dress.

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here i made a skirt for my daughter out of chambray. i added yoke front pockets, an elastic waist and belt loops. and sometimes i make my daughter clothes that i really wish i had made for myself…

–lisa g.

hemlock tee dress

i was at joann fabrics recently, checking out their knits. nowadays they have a decent selection of rayon jersey that is so very soft and has a nice drape. even though i’m turned off by the exorbitant price, they’re either on sale perpetually or i can use a coupon to soften the blow. i was looking for fabric to make a tunic-length hemlock tee (the super popular FREE hemlock tee pattern), and picked up this cute floral print. i couldn’t pass up this fabric because it has all my favorite things—floral print, navy, red, and green. after thinking about it for a bit, i decided the print would be better suited to a dress, and here it is!

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instead of just cutting and lengthening the hemlock pattern willy nilly, i went and traced out a proper hemlock tee dress pattern. go me! this loose but still cute silhouette should really be my go-to. the volume on top helps to balance my hips, or something. i don’t know, i just really like it on me. plus, in a knit i think it qualifies as secret pajamas, doncha think?

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HOW TO MAKE A HEMLOCK TEE DRESS

depending on how long you want the skirt, you will need 1 3/4 yd fabric (one and a half, if you’re particularly thrifty), and some 1/4″ elastic.

i’m a big fan of building in an elastic casing to the waist seam, so i did some fancy maths (stood in front of the mirror with a tape measure…) and made my best guess about how long to make the bodice. i wanted it to hit 1″ below my natural waist, and blouse slightly. cutting straight across for the bodice usually means that you end up with either some pulling at the bust, or excess volume at the sides. to avoid this, i curved the front waist line down by 1″. if you are especially busty, you may need more length. from the shoulder point at the neckline to the bottom of the bodice should be about 18″ in the front, 17″ in the back. this includes the extra SA for the elastic casing. (note: neither my pattern piece below nor the dress i’m wearing are this exact length. after making it once i determined that 18″ would be the perfect length for me.)

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i also wanted the bust to be more fitted, so i curved the side seam in by 1″ (removing 4″ total) and flared back out to the original side seam at the waist. while doing this, i raised the height of the underarm seam to reduce side boob flashing. i have spindly arms and frequently shorten armhole depth.

since i added in the extra bodice length for the bust, i simply cut a rectangle for the skirt portion. i didn’t want anything overly gathered, so i went with a width slightly more than 1 1/2 times my waist measure. for reference: my waist is 30″ on a bad day, so i needed at least 45″ in skirt width. i cut each skirt piece 24″ wide by 22″ long, which (minus 1″ for 1/4″ SA) gives me a finished skirt width of 47″. this ends up being a couple inches wider than the waist seam on the bodice, but i was able to stretch them to fit when i sewed top and bottom together.

construction is very simple:

  • sew one shoulder seam
  • attach neck binding
  • sew remaining shoulder seam
  • turn 3/4″ hem for the sleeves and topstitch
  • sew bodice side seams and tack SA to the back at the armhole
  • sew skirt side seams
  • attach bodice and skirt with a 3/4″ SA. finish raw edge
  • press SA up and topstitch 1/2″ from seam line, leaving an opening to insert elastic
  • insert elastic and adjust to fit. topstitch opening
  • hem skirt

i love this dress so much, that i already have fabric for another version. since it barely takes more time than a tee shirt, it’s a great one day project. if anyone gives this a shot let me know—i’d love to see it!

lisa g.

burdastyle | ballet wrap top

i’ve thought way too much about how to cleanly finish the hem for a wrap top, so i thought i would share my most successful method. my thoughts on this started with my coppelia wrap cardi and my dissatisfaction with the pattern’s instructions. i like the idea of a hem band because often the knits i would choose for this kind of cardigan would be difficult to hem with a twin needle (since i don’t have a coverhem machine in my arsenal). i was determined to find a better way, and was able to have a second (and third) try on ballet wrap tops i made for two of my girls.

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i used burda 12/2011 #143 and made a few pattern changes so i could finish all the edges with bands. i cut 2″ off the sleeve hem (and replaced it with a wide cuff), 1″ off the bottom hem, and simply left the neckline as is on the pattern. the pattern has a wrap around edge binding, so adding the band as i did brings the neckline in a little. however, looking at the picture on burda’s model, the neckline looks pretty wide, and adding a neckband band fixed that.

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so here’s how i do the hem band and ties: take the tie pieces and sew the side and one end, and turn them right side out and press (this burda pattern has you do more of a spaghetti strap thin tie, but i prefer the look of a wider tie). the rest you can see in the following pictures.

i love how easy this is, and so much less fiddly than the coppelia instructions.

as far as this particular pattern goes, i made up the girls standard RTW size (i didn’t measure them for size) and the fit is a little bigger than i would have preferred. however, they should be able to get at least two years of wear with these sweaters. the regulation dance wrap sweaters are $20-25 each, and i made two for under $15, with fabric to spare. this is one of those cases where making it was a huge money saver.

as you can see, the sleeves are ridiculously long. in burda’s defense, Isabella is quite small for her age.

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i don’t have any modeled pics of my other daughter, sylvia, but the fit on her is much better. still large, but not comically so. the girls love their sweaters so much, they’ve hardly taken them off since i made them! they have worn it with dresses, leggings, skirts, jeans, you name it. this turns out to be a much more useful sweater than i would have anticipated.

—lisa g.

perfect corners on waistbands? yes you can!

for a long time i struggled with getting my waistband corners to turn out well. it seemed that nothing i tried would produce anything even close to a neatly squared off corner. i tried everything—trimming, pressing, taking a diagonal stitch, jabbing with anything sharp i could get my hands on… but finally, finally i came upon a fool-proof technique. no, really. you’re skeptical, and i understand, but trust me: this one actually works.

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begin by sewing your waistband and waistband facing together at the top edge. sew all the way across, then press, grade, and under stitch all the way across.

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attach the waistband to your pants/skirt. give it a good press, and double check that your fronts line up nicely at the waistband seam. if all looks good, grade the SA.

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now we’ll sew up the short sides of the waistband. from the front, fold the waistband facing over the waistband (RST), making sure you grab the whole upper seam allowance. it has been under stitched, so just make sure everything is nicely lined up.

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stitch up the short side, making sure that your stitching hits right next to the pant/skirt opening without catching it in your stitching.

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trim the SA down to 3/8″—no smaller. no smaller you hear? the only bulk i remove is that little snip you see there.

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get ready, here’s the cool part: fold the SA back and pinch it with your fingers right at at the corner. while pinching, pull the waistband right side out. then kind of take the seam and rub it in between your fingers to work that seam out.

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if it doesn’t quite lay square yet, take your point turner and don’t just start poking willy nilly!!! place it between the layers of fabric to finish squaring out the corner.IMG_0909

here’s the finished corner before pressing. the whole key to this working is allowing the layers to be neatly folded up inside. keeping the SA’s strengthens the corner and encourages it to keep it’s shape. when you trim close to the corner as we’re all told, you weaken the seam and lose all that interior structure. then when you jab and jab to get that point out, you stretch out the fabric and just end up with a wad of fabric jammed into the corner. it will never lay nice and square that way.

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you can even see the folding action from the outside. go grab one of your RTW pants and you’ll see the same thing.

moral of the story: fold, don’t jam. and finally enjoy those perfect corners you’ve always dreamed of.

—lisa g.

how to sew a pant fly like a pro

this post is all about de-mystifiying a zippered fly front. if you examine a RTW fly, it’s not inherently obvious how it is constructed. while there are numerous fly tutorials out there (this is the one  most frequently referenced) i feel they are lacking in one way or another. hopefully this post will be enlightening!

a few thoughts first…

this tutorial will be most helpful for anyone sewing the sewaholic thurlow, because it already has all the extra pieces included. i will show in another post how to draft these pieces if they aren’t included in your pattern.

unfortunately, the fabric i am using here is extremely difficult to photograph. many of the pictures are clear, but a good handful are slightly fuzzy. also, my top stitching thread is dark and doesn’t show up that great. when i do another project with a fly (and i have at least two more in my que) i’ll update the pictures.

lastly, my fly facing is narrower than it should be, i won’t bother you with why. again, when i do another fly i’ll update this post.

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first, get a feel for what you are going to do. grab a pair of pants and look at the zipper. basically, the fly is nothing more than a lapped zipper. one side of the zipper tape is sewn to the underlap, and the other is sewn to the overlap. the overlap is topstitched through the facing securing it to the front. the fly shield is back there as a layer of protection from the zipper. that’s not so complicated, right?

now that we’ve made peace with the fly, let’s get to work. for this tutorial, i will be referring to left and right sides as the “overlap” and “underlap” sides. most patterns are drafted so that you zip with the left hand, even though all the RTW i own zips from the right. i suppose it doesn’t really matter, but i can assure you it would bug me tremendously to have the fly zip from the left! moving on…

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the over and underlap sides are different only in that the underlap has an extra 1/4″ or so along the edge. this will be where the zipper attaches, and the reason it’s there is to ensure that the zipper is fully lapped by the overlap and not exposed in any way.

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note that most patterns will have two markings for the fly. the upper one is where the zipper stop goes, and the other is about 1/2″ lower and marks where the CF stitching ends. i find that too many markings tend to become confusing or get lost, so i only mark where the zipper stop goes, either with chalk or a little snip in the SA. this marking goes on the underlap, the fly facing and the fly shield. they’re all the same distance from the top. also, at the waist, mark where CF is on the underlap side.

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finish the edges however you prefer, zig zag or serge. i highly recommend doing this now because as construction proceeds, it will be difficult to get back in there to finish those edges. also, i recommend reducing the front crotch curve SA to 3/8″. i left it at 5/8″ for this tutorial, but 3/8″ is definitely better.

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grab your fly facing and sew it to the overlap, stopping at the mark. grade, press and under stitch, then turn in and press again.

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now take the other front side and sew them together at the front crotch curve, stopping 1/2″ below the mark (where my pin is pointing). you will need to make sure you keep the facing out of the way.

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clip the underlap SA so the crotch curve SA can lay to the overlap side, and press.

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if you are making a dress pant, you can leave it as is. if you are making a more casual pant, clip the crotch curve then top stitch from the waist all the way down along the edge of the overlap. a more casual pant typically sits closer to the wearer, so top stitching the SA flat along the curve will make it more comfortable.

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fold the overlap side down and out of the way and line the zipper face down on the front edge of the underlap. the zipper stop should be lined up with the marking.

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with the zipper foot, sew close to the zipper teeth all the way down the tape.

now take the fly shield (which should be folded in half and one edge finished with a zig zag or serger) and baste it on top of the zipper, sandwiching the zip between the front and the shield. sorry, didn’t get a pic! grr….

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now turn it all to the inside and topstitch along the edge of the zipper, stopping at the zipper stop.

at this point, you should be able to tell if everything is positioned correctly, your zipper is going the right direction, etc.

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pin the fly shield back and out of the way.

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turn your work over, and from the front, line up the edge of the fly facing with the center marking on the underlap side.

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hold that in place with one hand, then flip up the front and pin through the fly facing and the edge of the zipper tape.

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staying free of the front, sew two rows of stitching on the zipper tape to secure it to the facing.

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looking at the front, mark 1″ or 1 1/4″ away from the CF curving down 1/2″ below the zipper stop—this should be in line with where you began sewing the front crotch curve. once you are happy with your markings, pin through the pant front and the fly facing, and topstitch (the fly shield is still pinned out of the way). once you get to the curved part of your topstitching, put your needle down, raise your presser foot, reach under and flip up the bottom edge of the fly shield so you don’t catch it in the top stitching, then continue topstitching to CF.

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unpin the fly shield and, through all layers, bar tack where your topstitching meets CF (which is the bottom of the fly opening), as well as somewhere along the upper part of the curve. if you are sewing a dress pant, make the second bar tack only on the inside, tacking the fly shield to the fly facing. again, referring to any RTW pants you have will help you determine the position.

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you will have to pull out the zipper teeth that are in the SA and move the zipper stops down (here’s a diy link). then all you have left to do is pat yourself on the back and admire what a great lookin’ fly you have!

—lisa g.

how to attach a narrow binding for knitwear

here is a little top i made for my daughter. since i have recently discovered the awesomeness that is the dolman tee, i decided to make one out of a knit fabric i bought from gee i wonder where… girl charlee. this is one of those roxy prints, which i bought mostly because purple is her favorite color. it’s kind of a strange fabric… it’s a burnout but just barely, not a ton of stretch, and it’s medium weight.

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i assume there isn’t a kid-sized dolman pattern out there so i drafted my own based on a regular knit tee pattern i had. assuming this pattern ran large, i traced off a size 8. to get the dolman shape i took the sleeve pattern piece and lined it up at the shoulder seam then let the bottom seam sit on the seam line under the arm. i taped the pieces together then traced out a dolman shape under the arm and added the upper seam allowance where the shoulder seam extends down the sleeve. i used the same piece for front and back and simply drew in a different neckline for the front (just as the cation designs dolman tee is printed).

i guesstimated how long the arm and hem bands needed to be and cut a binding strip for the neckline. this narrow binding is becoming one of my favorite neckline finishes. i’ve done it several times and only casually mentioned it here on the blog… so to let you in on my awesome binding method, here’s a handy dandy tutorial for you!

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how to attach a narrow binding for knitwear

this binding method is most similar to a regular bias binding for wovens. make sure that the edge you are binding is without any seam allowance, or that you have added width to your pattern if you are replacing a banded finish.

cut a strip of knit binding on the crossgrain (or bias if you’re dealing with stripes) to retain stretch. it should be about 1 1/4″ wide and a couple inches longer than your neckline. (note: my binding strip is cut 1 1/2″ wide and ended up being wider than necessary.) if you choose, serge one edge of the binding strip. this is not absolutely necessary, but later when you topstitch i feel like the serged edge gives the topstitching something to grab on to and is a little more secure than a raw edge.

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after sewing the shoulder seams, take the binding strip and line it up with the edge of your top, right sides together. serge the binding all the way around the neckline edge and stretch the binding as you sew. no need to be gentle here, just try to keep the pressure as even as possible, stretching a little harder as you go around any curves. i usually stretch the binding, hold it in place, then serge an inch or two at a time; stopping and starting as i go.

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once you are almost back to where you started, trim your bias strip so you have 1/2″-1″ overlap, and just let the ends overlap. sure you can stop serging, piece the binding together then finish attaching if you really want, but i have found that this tiny raw edge is virtually unnoticeable (and believe me, i notice everything!) and is definitely less bulky.

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serge the free edge of the binding together at the overlap.

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from the outside, press the binding strip up  then fold it over the edge to the inside; the edge of your top should be encased in the binding, not folded over in any way. pin the binding in place all around the neckline then twin needle top stitch either directly on the binding strip or just below as i have done here. i find that stitching on the binding is a little harder to do evenly, and works best on thinner knits. if we’re close to medium weight i would stitch outside the binding.

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give it all a press and admire your handiwork!

note: if you want a cleaner finish on the inside, you can turn the binding strip under (from the inside) before topstitching. just make sure you calculate the right width for the binding.

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this gal is super pleased with her top and wore it all day beginning the second it came out of the sewing machine, and was mad at me this morning when, for the second day in a row!, i did not have it washed so she could wear it to school. which reminds me… i should really go do some laundry…

—lisa g.