Hello! I'm Suzannah, a serious DIYer. Follow along with my DIY fixer upper house renovations, sewing and crafty projects, real food recipes, and de-stressing goals. I'm a recovering former vegan and vegetarian, now healing with a nutrient-dense mostly Paleo diet, and love at-home CrossFit and yoga workouts. I'm also the author of DIY Wardrobe Makeovers!

New mom to baby Otto born April 2018!


5 tips for getting into your sewing groove

I find that time flies when I'm sewing, but sometimes it's hard to turn away from the computer and focus on my projects when I have a few hours to myself. So I've been thinking (after this lovely long weekend we just had, when I worked toward several sewing goals), how can we focus more, or more often, on sewing in a way that's fun and relaxing rather than stressful or burdensome?

Back in January I posted about my sewing resolutions this year - several things I wanted to remind myself to do right, for better results! Those resolutions were mostly about sewing quality and ease, but #4 was "Schedule time." I'm still working on that one, so  thoughts about this post have been guiding me on that one!

While my sewing resolutions were about quality, this post - 5 tips for getting into a sewing groove! - is about efficiency in sewing, and enjoyment of it. Because most of us are probably doing this because it's fun, and most of us probably do it as a hobby so we have to fit it in between other things! So let's do it efficiently, and keep it fun. Get into a groove!

Here are 5 ways I've found I can get focused, get sewing, and have fun!

5 tips for getting into your sewing groove

1. Set aside time (this one's obvious), within reason. 

Of course part of the problem is that we don't have enough time for everything, so of course we don't have 6 spare hours to spend working on a dress or slipcover or whatever. Unfortunately we often have to break up sewing sessions into multiple days (or stay up really late, if that's your thing). So find a compromise! Give yourself a good amount of time (even if you don't have quite enough for the perfect length of time), and do tips 2 and 3...

2. Pick a goal milestone to reach. 

My mom always talked about getting projects to the "hanger stage." Like, a success worth mentioning was that she got two garments to the hanger stage that afternoon, ready to hang them on hangers and get them out of the way to make room for other work. (Also a win: the "try-on stage"!)You may not finish your project, but if you can get it to the point where you know you'll like how it looks, it's a lot less stressful to put it down.

You can also...

3. Find your happy sewing time. 

Some of us are "morning people," others work better late at night. Think back to when you had school deadlines or other big projects to do - did you do your best work first thing on the weekend, or did you prefer to stay up later than usual to really focus and cram? It may be that that timeframe still works best for you for today's projects, like sewing rather than math homework.

4. Find media you enjoy. 

I love getting into the zone on evenings by myself with Mindy Project or Modern Family marathons, or Gilmore Girls if I want to go back even further in syndication... or, I turn on Pandora to a station I'm in the mood for and enjoy that if I need to focus more on the project. I also have a nice ritual of Saturday morning catching up to my favorite podcasts that aired Thursday and Friday, often while sewing or doing chores. (Faves: Pop Culture Happy Hour from NPR and Balanced Bites.)

As for strategizing and working more efficiently (listening to TV shows is not geared at increasing efficiency, just enjoyment!)...

5. Cut out more than one project at once. (But not more than a manageable amount.) 

For most of us, cutting is a pain because unless you have a tall, large, clear table to use, you may be doing it on the floor or on a cramped table space, and you may have to move things out of the way to get enough room. Also, cutting is often the hardest part of a project, and you need concentration (or at least the right mindset and a big chunk of time) to do it right. Big chunks of time and concentration  are not always rich around here. So I like to design a few projects and let them accumulate in my cutting list, then cut out 2 or 3 at once. (Sometimes I'm even using the same pattern for a couple of them, which is extra handy--only have to get it out once and can sometimes use one lining as a pattern for the other dress!)

They may be easier said than done at times! But, thinking about tips really helps me have fun and get lots done when I want to!

What are your tips for getting to work at the sewing table?? I'd love to hear!


Inspired! A cropped lace top

I finally caught up on my April and May magazine-reading the other weekend, and saved several pages for my (hard copy, pre-Pinterest) inspiration binder. I get too many of them and they usually pile up for several weeks until they get overwhelming, and then I have a marathon session of flipping through for outfit ideas as well as sewing ideas and inspiration!

Usually I tear out ideas for dresses I want to make, but this time around I also found this pretty eyelet lace top. I don't often sew boxy, looser-fitting things (or tops at all), but maybe this one, with the simple lace and cheerful, bright whiteness, was more appealing - and I had some fabric in mind! Plus, it's unlined, so very fast to make!

I didn't have eyelet, but I did have this geometric-ey floral lace c/o WholePort!

And I didn't have a pattern for a boxy cropped top, but I did have a simple sheath dress pattern (I used Simplicity 2584, which is out of print, but you could use any basic sheath dress pattern, ideally with side bust darts for shape).

Aside from cutting the dress shorter (to just below the waist), I knew I was going to use a bias binding at the neck, so I cut down 5/8" from the neckline on the front and back pieces, since that amount was meant for seam allowance and would have been turned under.

It's great sewing with chunky lace that doesn't require a lining or hemming!

On the bottom edge I used the "selvage" of the yardage, but on the sleeves I had to trim carefully around the bottom edges of the curved flowers. But still, this went together SO fast - no hemming at all!

Grab some thick/substantial lace and try it yourself!


Help me design a dress to wear to a friend's wedding - 2.0!

Nearly 3 years ago, I sent out a similar call - I was in a friend's wedding and needed to wear a specific color dress of any style, and had a hard time designing it. (Here's what I came up with.)

Now, I get a chance to design and make a dress to wear to the wedding of a good friend of mine later this summer. It'll definitely be a different atmosphere (beautiful rustic lake setting, peacocks wandering around the property, 300+ guests!), and I'm not in the wedding so I don't want to look too similar to the bridesmaids (who, I happen to know, will be wearing teals/blues in simple, short-ish semi-formal dresses). But, I do want to look good in the setting and with the color scheme. I'm not 100% sure on what it is, but I know it's rustic (think wood cookies, cowboy boots on the bride, and wildflowers in jars) and has a peacock theme twist to it (I think there'll be some peacock feather accessories).

Summer in Oregon is a magical time, and I love getting to enjoy it outdoors at a pretty setting like this wedding venue. It's definitely not the place for preppy or formal summer guest wear (I doubt there will be many ties, grey suits, and stilettos) but I definitely want to dress nicer than I do for a backyard party. Style challenge!!

So, some rustic inspiration from my friend's wedding pinboard... =)

Plus ideas from great party dress sources! Hoping I can combine the two, plus fabric and patterns I have or can find, to make a great dress to wear!

Designing a wedding-goer dress for a rustic wedding

So, I did some serious wedding party-goer dress research, and came up with these top choices from some pro sources: BHLDN (they have a whole listing for wedding attendee attire!), J.Crew Wedding, and Anthropologie party dresses, because I think some of their slightly funky prints and laces could be perfect for this kind of wedding).

My friend the bride has always liked blues and aquas more than pinks, and I really associate her with navy and mint and light blue. So I'm definitely drawn to those colors for this dress, to honor her tastes plus the wedding theme for the attitude.

(I would modify some of these since I don't want to do a maxi dress, and I'd pick a blue/mint/aqua/navy color family rather than the pink one.) But something like...
Sources: BHLDN, J.Crew, Anthropologie

Okay, obviously I'm all over the map! So many choices, all so different!

What would you do? Fitted? Ruched? Loose and flowing? Fit and flare?

I have plenty of patterns at home to work with, as I'm sure you can imagine, but can modify them to get the look! I may have to go fabric-shopping for this one. So, print or solid?

(Can you tell I need help focusing?) Anyone been to a wedding like this before, and have any ideas?

Update: This is what I made!



A new kind of halter dress from vintage striped fabric

I like thinking out of the box (or pattern envelope) and trying something new!

I love summer dresses and I'm so happy warm weather is coming up, and I love making cute and colorful things for myself to wear. But I do sometimes get bored of my same styles (McCall's M5849, my fave strapless dress pattern, and variations on fit-n-flare Simplicity 1913 and Simplicity 2444)... so when I saw this page of my InStyle (April 2014), with these bold colors and shapes (Rosie Assolin designs), I was totally drawn to the cheerful coral party dress with tiny strap and midi skirt. I thought, how cute! I've never made one like that before!

I don't have the same silk (not sure what weave) of the original $2,995 dress, and while I do love the color, I had some woven stripe (appears bright solid) vintage fabric that I thought would be a good weight.

I used McCall's M6331, but obviously modified it considerably. I used the bodice of View B but I cut the center front piece on the fold, and didn't cut the flap extension--I shaped the sweetheart neckline shape freehand while cutting. I also skipped the back straps altogether (now wish I'd cut the back down a little lower, fits kind of high) and just added a narrow bias strap, attached at the innermost points of the front strap location. I lined the bodice with self fabric.

My fabric isn't as fancy as the silk, and this isn't quite as summer wedding-ey as the original--better for my lifestyle that way! Oh, the fabric is vintage, a blue/back woven stripe, which I bought for $0.99 for the whole 4-yard piece at Goodwill on vacation in Washington. Um, amazing deal.

Here it is!

The fit is great!

Except the slightly high back, like I mentioned. I guess it's better this high for a dress with continuous straps--for a halter, it felt like it might not stay up perfectly.

So summery!


How to Wear DIY: Geometric print maxi dress and summer accessories

It's almost too good to believe that it's been so warm and beautiful this week. Sandals to work, sunglasses first thing in the morning, windows open all night... signs of summer!

It's also awesome that it's time to wear dresses on their own, out and about. No need to cover up with a jean jacket or layers underneath; it's been dress weather 100%! So I was stoked to wear this maxi dress out to the movies the other night.

An extra warm weather touch: straw fedora - instant summer!

Funny that I chose this to wear to the LEGO Movie (second run theater, all movies $1 on Mondays!)--which was delightful, by the way--the geometric print is definitely block-like! Doesn't quite remind me of Legos visually but is fun and playful.
Hat: F21 (similar). Bag: Target (similar/similar/similar). Sandals: Ross (similar/similar). Dress: DIY, here!

Are you wearing maxis yet? Planning to make any new ones this summer?! 


A simple pink lace dress

This is one of those projects where you want the simplest pattern available so you can let the fabric stand out. This super cool strechy pink lace with swirling flower patterns (what on earth is the name for this kind of stuff?) called for a simple, easy-to-wear pattern to keep me from looking like a Barbie birthday cake or 80's  bridesmaid dress.

I used (modified) Simplicity 2584, a simple sheath dress with bust darts at the side seams. It's out of print but other basic sheath dress patterns would also work - I preferred this one over something with vertical waist darts, for this lace project. Darts in lace can get a little messy!

I modified the pattern by not giving it the slit down the front, and by cutting the sleeves shorter. I also gave it an interlining of the pink cotton, so at the neck I made a neck facing using this technique.

The lace up close. (Seriously, what's it called?!)

I used this lace c/o WholePort over a plain 100% cotton (quilting cotton) lining. I wasn't sure about my lining choice (I looked at a slinkier poly as an option, and couldn't find a stretchy light pink cotton blend) but it worked out really well and is definitely more comfortable than a poly, and a little more substantial than a stretch. (Speaking of top Sewing Circle questions... you can read more about how to sew on lace,
lining fabrics vs. interlinings, and what to make with lace that isn't too bridal!)

I guess it's kind of inspired by these simple sheath lacy dresses!

I like the length and fit on my version! The joys of making your own clothes.



Four new fave simple food/close-up photography tips

Aaah, food photography - it can be so amazing when done well, but it's so hard to do on your own! At least, it's a fun challenge when I try and capturing the perfect shot often eludes me. So I was excited to get to listen to the food/close-up photography break-out group at the recent Portland Bloggers specialized photography workshop!

The event was taught by three local photographers (Margaret Jacobsen Photography, Linnea Paulina Photography, and Aubrie LeGault Photography) and was hosted by Favery and Elli, local co-companies with a great space in the Pearl District and great stuff to share with bloggers for photography!

We broke out into groups for 1) close-up/food photography, and 2) fashion/style/portrait photography (outside), then came back in for a panel with general blog photography questions. There was SO much great information passed around,. but I took a few notes of highlights to share with you!

I attended the food/close-up workshop taught by Linnea and Aubrie. They both have done some amaaaaazing styled work, seriously - so grateful to hear their wisdom!!

And here you have 4 of my biggest take-aways from the workshop: 4 of my favorite simple food/close-up photography tips! About styling, lighting, composition, and capturing the shot!


  • Make your own backdrops with $1 foam boards and any fabric or paper you like. You can easily change them out if you get tired of them, or use the same ones for your common photo subjects or Instagram photos for a consistent look.
  • Secure them to a chair or something nearby with clamps! (Why have I never thought of that before?)


  • Reflectors are great, but you can also use the $1 foam boards to bounce light off!
  • Use reflectors/foam boards to hide glare, add light, and remove shadow. (Note that they also remove dimension with the shadow, so that may not always be the look you're going for.)
  • Silver or gold reflectors amplify a white reflector/board - add aluminum foil to your homemade board one one side to give yourself the option. Gold shine instead of silver adds warmth to your shots.

Composition/Setting Up the Shot

  • Think about the rule of thirds and negative space when setting up the shot. It doesn't need to be too busy - the negative space will really emphasize the subject.
  • Add life and a dynamic element to your photo with intentional props that go with the food. For example, don't show ingredients that aren't in the recipe you're capturing. And, remember that food is usually eaten with utensils or napkins, so put some of these logical companions in the shot. 
  • Don't over-prop, though, and take the focus away from the subject.

Capturing the Shot

  • Play with depth of field and use different depths in frame. Don't line it all up in a straight line, the same way you wouldn't stand flat against a wall for a lively portrait.
  • Also add life and interest to the shot by changing it up mid-shoot. Food is imperfect, so elements like crumbs are realistic and dynamic. (Half-eaten food looks appealing!)

After the presentation, everyone got a chance to play around with the props. Here's a behind-the-scenes of shots like these being captured!

Elli styled the lovely table for us. Amazing what a little perspective, lighting, and styling can do for the setup, right?! Aubrie's photos above are inspiring!

Here's to trying out some of these tips soon! I'm sure there will be more tips from the workshop on the Portland Bloggers blog soon, too!

Close-ups by Aubrie LeGault Photography.


DIY cutout back dress tutorial - use your favorite pattern!

I've got another tutorial for you on how to modify your fave basic dress pattern - this time for a backless or cutout shape back dress!

I did a Sewing Circle post once for a reader who wanted tips on making backless dresses. There aren't many commercial patterns out there for them, so I talked about modifying a similar pattern. This tutorial goes into more detail, and shows you how to do a cutout back detail!

How to Make a Cutout Back Dress from a Basic Dress Pattern

Just like my DIY crop top tutorial last week, you can do this method with just about any basic dress pattern. I recommend one with one piece for the back, for simplicity, but you could probably figure it out with a princess seam back or midriff panel waist dress pattern as well. (I used one of my favorites, Simplicity 1873, for this one. Simplicity 2444 would also be great.)

Have fun with the cutout back design you choose! There are lots of heart cutout dresses, big diamonds, multiple cutouts, rectangles, deep Vs... you can probably do a Pinterest search and get creative if you don't already have a dress in mind you're looking to emulate! Or add this detail to any simple summery or party dress and design your own. You can use this tutorial to cut any shape.

I had a variety of inspirations for this dress, but one of them pretty similar to what I ended up with was this one.



Cut out the required pattern pieces, front and back/sleeves/skirt, fashion fabric and lining. We'll focus on the back pieces.

Measure 1.5" or more from the top neck edge and mark with a fabric pen (depending on what seam allowances you prefer. If you always use 1/2" seam allowances and want a 2" wide piece, for example, mark 3" down at the center back).

Now, get creative! Draw the shape you're imagining for your cutout back. Mine was an oval.

Once you're happy with it, cut it out.

Now cut the lining, if you're using one. (Note that the better way to do this is probably to draft a paper pattern or cut the lining first, but... I live on the edge. ;) Plus, you wanted to see the fashion fabric in the photos, right? So, do the above steps with the lining if you want to play it a little safer!)

Assemble the bodice as you normally would. Darts, side seams, etc., fashion fabric and lining. Follow the pattern instructions but don't do anything at the center back seam. Sew right sides together fashion fabric and lining at neck openings, armholes, and - gotcha! - the inside of the cutout shape and the center back seam at the top (see arrows). Snip the corners at the right angles for easier turning.

Again following the pattern instructions, snip around the inside edges of the lining and then the fashion fabric--again, do this for the cutout shape as well.

Follow the pattern instructions... understitch or topstitch around the edges; press seams.

Assemble the top shoulder seams per pattern instructions.

(Assemble bodice and skirt wherever the instructions tell you to.)

Install zipper per pattern instructions but only going up to the bottom edge of the cutout. At the top of the cutout opening, add a button and buttonhole, snaps, or hooks and eyes for closure.

All done!

It is very hard to take a great picture of the back view of the top part of a dress - hence the awkward hair pull-aside. But you get the idea. Back/side/front!

This fabric actually used to be one of those pre-ruched tube top dress fabric yardages--I bought it at Goodwill for something like $1.99 because I loved the classic blue and white color. I wrapped it around myself like the tube top style it was meant to be (one-seam sewing project) and decided nope, not flattering! So I cut it apart and used the smooth yardage for this pattern!

I just barely had enough fabric for the skirt, which is why it is a sort of wimpy 1/4 circle skirt.

It was so fun! I think I'll have to do it again with another shape!!

You can do it too!



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