My new sewing haven

The moment is here! Oh, not that. Baby is still very much in my belly. Due date is on Monday. Eek!

The excitement of the now is our new renovation!

Dustin and I never had the intention of staying in our current house for this long. It's the age old story of being thoroughly shocked at housing prices in Toronto and rethinking the need to move...

When we finally made the decision that we would stay in this house for at least few more years (likely longer), we decided it was time to invest some money into making us love it more. With the second baby on its way, Lily was moving to the guest room which had doubled as the office/sewing space for Dustin and me. I needed a new sewing haven.

We live in a narrow townhouse with no basement (it was built atop an old gas station, so I guess this was the simplest way), and our garage is attached to the rear of our house. The ground floor is an awkward through-space that is the width of our house, but leads from the front door and upper levels to the laundry/furnace room and garage. We had a large Expedit storage unit from Ikea against the wall, and a couple chairs near the entrance for luxury seating while husbands waited for their wives to say goodbye for the 40th time.

It was time to make the space more useful. To make an incredibly long story short (Dustin wanted to DIY, I wanted to just pay someone to get-er-done), we contracted California Closets to design and build the mudroom/office space (see who won?). It was very much a collaborative effort in designing the space, and now that I've been using it for a little over 2 weeks, I can confidently say I'm thrilled with the result.

And the moment has arrived to reveal the space to you!






1. I couldn't figure out how best to store my 24 inch ruler. I wanted it accessible, but not just on the table buried under everything. The last time I had a dilema with this ruler, I sewed a chic ruler caddy for transportation to and from my quilting class. It seemed perfect to just hang the thing on the wall using some grommets and finishing nails. I also use it to hold my scissors, rotary cutter, and other commonly used tools. When on the go, I just take it off the wall, fill it up with whatever else and roll it up for transport! Here's the original post I wrote about this ruler caddy.

2. I am getting so good at curtains! I sewed a set for Lily's room (that room is never clean enough for pictures...) and then decided that this new sewing space deserved new window coverings too. The workroom received some new Joel Dewberry fabric a couple weeks ago, and I fell in love with the Egg-Blue Crysanthemum print. It also just happened to match my Olfa cutting mat. I used a wonderful tutorial from Design Sponge to sew the curtains and have learned that taking the time to measure and cut everything is key to simplifying the sewing.

3. I toyed with the idea of buying new fancy baskets or bins for all my fabric, but regular clear plastic tubs are just too practical. I use the Rubbermaid "Roughneck" from Canadian Tire for about $10 a bin. Nice and heavy duty. This is where I sort my leather, batting, wool, jersey, Liberty Lawn, and other big fabrics. I have one called "on the go" for when I need to throw together materials and tools needed for a project I'm working on outside my home.

4. I use smaller clear containers for my quilting fat quarters and scraps. I sort them by colour and share two colours per bin. I also use the smaller clear containers to organize my notions. They sit just above my sewing space for easy access: thread, elastic, pins, buttons, zippers etc. Again, I've thought about getting prettier containers: vintage tins, colourful boxes. But right now, this is what works. I like being able to see what's in the containers.

5. My desk light: the Uberlight by Reliabe. I love it. It's a little spotlight for exactly where I need some extra focus. And because it's LED, it's energy efficient and doesn't cook your face when you're already sweating from trying the invisible zipper for the third time.

6. That's my new blouse. In Liberty Tana Lawn. It deserves a post on its own, so I won't spoil all the details. The neat thing here is that it's hanging on valet rod. I asked them to install one so I could hang my finished shirts and dresses up. It's the little things that make me really love my new space!




Too Cool For School (Days Jacket)


After my fairly good experience with the Seashore Dress, I decided to try another Oliver + S pattern.

The instructions are so clear, and I really love the variety in patterns they offer.

Lily was in need of a spring jacket. Her parka was finally becoming a little too warm, and her rain jacket didn't provide any warmth.

Oliver + S has half a dozen jacket patterns alone. I definitely loved the look of the School Days Jacket the most, and there are plenty of wonderful examples of this jacket online. One of my favourites is from the Probably Actually blog.

I purchased the wool from Downtown Fabric, after the always-animated owner, Daniel, convinced me to use a patterned beige wool. For the lining I chose Riley Blake's Rocket Stars quilting cotton from the workroom. I wanted to keep the jacket gender neutral to maximize reusability for Lily's future siblings...

As with my last Oliver + S pattern, I soon realized that the pattern called for far too much fabric. I had purchased 1.5 yards of wool, and easily could have fit the pattern onto a single yard; but the upside was that I had plenty of fabric to match those pesky stripes.

I sewed the size 3T, added a layer of quilt batting to the lining, and decided to sew the toggle closure rather than button closure.

It was plenty roomy for Lily and will definitely fit her this Autumn. Her sleeves are rolled up twice right now, so there's even a chance she could fit it next year! I struggle to understand why the Seashore Dress is a 4T for her and this 3T jacket is so roomy, but I'm really happy with the final product.

The stars really give the jacket such pizazz. The sewing was rather tough, but probably because I made it that way. Had I chosen a solid wool and not bothered to do a quilted lining, I would have had a much easier time!

Most of the reviews I've read about this pattern end by saying that the end product is well worth the effort. And I couldn't agree more! A confident beginner with a good level of patience will have such a great experience with this pattern!





Meet Magda (and her beautiful chevron baby quilt)

It's late March. A week until April. I'm in Ottawa and it looks like the middle of February. I hope mother nature remembers how pretty spring is supposed to be...

Speaking of pretty, meet Magda and her beautiful chevron baby quilt.


Magda is a perfectionist in all senses of the word. She strives for the best at all times, rarely settles for anything but, and always ensures that she has taken the time to fully research all aspects of a subject before she makes the best decision possible. She is my go-to for any technology, appliance, or renovation advice. I have yet to be led astray.

Her chevron baby quilt is no exception. She was inspired by this baby quilt from the plaid scottie, and pulled her beautiful neutral-gender colours from Riley Blake Designs' Sasparilla Alphabet Teal.


Magda was set on a chevron quilt that didn't have too deep a zigzag -- a shallower chevron without too sharp a point. Eventually (through much online research) she found a lovely tutorial from The Crafty Cupboard that uses a 60 degree angle instead of the typical 45 degrees.

She added a strip of white fabric to really make the rest of her quilt pop, and the end result was gorgeous.

People approach me all the time to tell me how impressed they are with my sewing talents (aw, you guys). And I protest until I'm blue in the face that I'm no more talented than the average person. I just seize moments when I'm inspired and schedule some time to give it a try. Magda used to be one of these people I speak of. And here she is, whipping up a beautiful quilt top in less than two days.

It's about setting aside the time and surrounding yourself with inspiration and support. I've got a couple spots left in the my Summer Farmhouse Retreat if you're looking for a creative outlet!

Sadly, Magda isn't able to join me for the next retreat. If only Magda's amazing husband could lock her in a room and force her to finish the quilt so we can see the finished product. She's chosen a mouse and bicycles print from the Lizzy House Cat Nap collection as her quilt back!


Keep it classy with more scarves

My commute to work these days has been depressing. There is excessive construction on my usual bus route so I now walk the 1.5 km to the subway station instead of catching what used to be a quick 5 minute bus. The subway has also been unusually packed including multiple delays in all directions. I can only assume this is all due to the start of the new school year.

When I need a pick-me-up, I usually switch my iPod to play broadway musicals. I think God has fun with me and my choice of music sometimes because I was listening to "Class" from "Chicago" when I witnessed an truly unclassy scene.

The lyrics are jazzing away in my earphones: "Whatever happened to Please may I? And Yes Thank you?" and then three teenagers rush onto the subway. The girl that got on first cuts off an old man and sits down in the middle of three empty seats. She then holds her hands out to reserve the seats so her friends could catch up and sit next to her. I don't mean a nonchalant stretching of her arms; it was a full blown wing span stretch. The old man is stunned. I think I tried to make stink eye with any of the three punks. They never looked up. They didn't even talk to each other. They took out their various electronic devices and emailed, ninja'ed fruit, or knocked down some green pigs. "Nobody's got no class!"

You know what's classy? A really big scarf. Here are two more that I finished, including the original yellow polka dot flannel. The other two didn't turn out as big because they were made with a knit side rather than a flannel side, but they're just as cozy, and just as classy.

The tutorial I used as a guideline was from Anna Maria Horner. If you're looking for fabric measurements, 1 meter of each fabric (front and back) is plenty. If you're using 60" wide fabric (as with most knit fabrics) you may only need 1/2 meter because I ended up shortening my scarf to 60" long. I highly recommend testing out the length before you finish sewing the scarf.

Too much math? Maybe I'll make a tutorial when we make them at the Farmhouse Retreat.

For those attending the retreat and are still deciding whether or not to join me for the workshop, check out these beauties!







A really big scarf

My neck is always cold. Girls say that all the time. Maybe not Paula, but even she would sport a really big scarf because she's trendy like that.

This is a big one. And I made it myself. And if you're coming to the Farmhouse Retreat, you should make one with me.



Along with the Racerback Tank Top, my second optional sewing workshop being held at the retreat is an infinity scarf.

There are several tutorials online for sewing these scarves, also called figure 8 scarves or circle scarves, but besides the simplicity, there are so many other reasons for making one at the retreat: perfect for the upcoming chilly Autumn weather, and finding the perfect pair of fabrics.

I love that simple projects mean you can focus on the fabric, and with an infinity scarf, you get to choose two coordinating patterns: matching, contrasting, themed, or completely random. The choice is yours!

I've had a mustard yellow polka dot flannel sitting in my stash for a while now, I think it was going to be potential bedding for Lily's crib, but decided it would be a perfect colour for the summer/fall transition.



I found a nice large graphic print fabric from the workroom in grey and cream to balance the bright mustard yellow.

I made the scarf a little shorter than most because I wanted a closer fit to my neck. I find some scarves are more necklaces than actual scarves and I wanted to use this one to stay warm. Maybe I'll make the next one a tiny bit longer.



While at the workroom, I picked up a few more fabrics that paired with other flannel or jersey that I had at home. I don't know what I'm going to do with so many scarves, and I feel like the style is so uniquely me (whimsy-ridiculous?) that I wouldn't even know who to gift it to! Maybe I'll hold an auction for charity one day.

This is a perfect beginner project, lazy afternoon project, or just one of those really useful "I need a scarf" projects. It can be done in less than an hour, and I always like to finish it off by hand so I can relax on the couch, chat with a fellow crafter, and maybe watch an episode of The Chew on my laptop.

Giant sailboats paired with an ocean blue floral print

Big pink pom poms with a ruby red jersey

Whimsy back-to-school print paired with a navy blue knit



Racerback tank at the farmhouse

I'm getting so excited for my first retreat!

It's a crafty escape to the farmhouse, and I'm already halfway booked up! Please feel free to email me at contact@purpleworkbench.com for more info if you are interested. In the meantime, here's a sneak peak at one of the optional workshops I'll be teaching at the farmhouse.

For a few years now, I've been working on a pattern for a good racerback tank top. My first version was when I sewed a racerback tunic for my trip to Mexico. Since then, I've made at least half a dozen more, trying to improve the pattern each time.

If you're at all in tune with the sewing world, the Wiksten Tank has hit this world by storm.  It seems everyone and their cool blogging aunt is sewing up their own Wiksten Tank. It has so many similar elements to my racerback tank, I was so proud that I was on the right trend. The most obvious difference from the Wiksten Tank (besides the absence of an ever so cute breast pocket) is the actual racerback shape of the backside.

Last week, my friend Jenn came over to test the pattern out with me. We had planned this sewing date since our trip together to New York City, where we visited the uber-whimsy 

Purl Soho. The fabric and yarn shop had a beautiful selection of Liberty London fabrics and Jenn and I knew we had to pick out a couple patterns for the racerback tank top.

When you get two money-conscious, Asian women contemplating how much luxury fabric we can afford to walk away with, you are sure to witness some genius moves. We decided to stretch the penny and make the tank top with a Liberty patterned front, and a solid coloured back. Somehow, it was going to work.

The Robert Kaufman Cambridge Lawn is a beautiful solid coloured cotton that pairs perfectly with the Liberty Tawna Lawn fabric, at a fraction the cost. Without getting into the mathematic details, we had to do a bit of pattern modifying to make the 1/2 yard of Liberty fabric stretch into a proper tank top. But the really fantastic outcome of such frugal thinking was how much the solid fabric accentuated the floral pop of Liberty on the front of the tank top. And thus, a creation was born. The Liberty-accent racerback tank. Liberty front, solid back.

Farmhouse crafters are welcome to make their own Liberty-accent racerback tank, or just a regular cotton tank if they choose. I'm excited to see all the finished products!