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Apparel Construction at CCSF

I took Apparel Construction I (FASH 15A) at CCSF this past fall semester. I couldn’t find much online about the class before taking it, so I wanted to document what we did (bearing in mind that all this might change semester to semester)

Course description was:

FASH 15A Apparel Construction I (3) Beginning course covering basic principles and concepts in the construction of garments. Emphasis on machine operation, sewing skills and techniques, and construction processes. Students will create sewing samples and 3-4 garments.

We did several weeks of “sewing notebooks” (samples in muslin), both machine and handsewn. Then we made an apron with pockets, a skirt with side zipper and waistband, and a collared shirt with sleeves. Pants were on the syllabus originally but we ran out of time so those became extra credit. I took on a little too much by trying to make a shirt dress for the shirt project and did not do the pants!

Below: Understanding grain line by removing one thread from warp and weft – I thought I knew about fabric having grain but I didn’t actually grok it at all until I did this exercise. It is harder than it looks!

Drawing lines and spirals in pencil, then following with machine to practice sewing straight lines and turning nice corners.


Then many varieties of seams…


Handsewing notebook, lots of hems!


Buttons! I apparently did the hook and eye incorrectly, the thread was not supposed to show so much on that side? Basically don’t necessarily use these photos for getting your homework done, not all mine were correct. 🙂


Zippers: I can’t find the centered zipper but this one was a lapped zipper. I redid it in colored fabric because it is a bit of a complicated process and figuring out which side the flap would end up on took some trial and error.

DSC02404      DSC02405


Some notes from the apron project:


The apron. We learned how to make bias tape by hand (though I cheated a little and used a bias tape maker gizmo), how to sew it onto curves (so exciting, I was never able to figure that out before!!), making nice hems, and making two kinds of pockets. This is a terrible photo that doesn’t capture how pretty the fabric was (from the Japanese fabric store on 4th St. in Berkeley). It looks wrinkly and weird here but I thought it actually turned out rather lovely in person. I got quicker after the first one and made a few for family. I let my mom pick her pocket placement as I figured she would have opinions!



Then we made a simple a-line skirt with four panels. We learned how to lay out and cut a pattern, hand finish a hem, clean finish seams inside a garment, add a side lapped zipper, add a waistband with a hook and eye closure. So we basically applied a bunch of the sewing notebook techniques we’d done earlier. It’s surprisingly hard to visualize even such a simple garment coming together until it does.

Laying out the skirt (I gave it away to a friend, I’m hoping she’ll take a photo when it’s warm enough to wear it!)


Finally, we made a collared shirt. Surprisingly, this wasn’t as impossible as it sounded except that I was a bit silly and decided to try to make a shirt dress. The hardest part was probably putting in the sleeves, which requires making “gathering” stitches to help carefully fit the sleeve to the armhole. One thing I learned is how much fabric can stretch as you work with it, so you need to build in adjustments as you go even if you cut things to fit exactly.

Photo Dec 24, 12 07 12 AM Photo Dec 24, 12 08 53 AM

Community colleges are awesome. <3 Support your local community college.

P.S. I’m trying this thing called Iron Blogger. And woops, I missed this week due to not reading the rules carefully enough! Oh well, progress was made.


A miscellaneous stuff-I-made post with some things that were on my camera.

Pencil rolls, watercolor tins, little notebooks with watercolored gradient paper, hand warmers.

Handsewn kits for friends filled with tiny useful objects.

Hypotrochoid trivets made with the Spirogator app.

Rendered some gifted beeswax from an Oakland beekeeper, sent these back in return! Elusive teeny tiny lip balm tubes found here.

A quincunx (because that is a cool word!) made with my brother from office supply store materials.
bean machine

Coaster experiments in Processing.

Rainbow coatrack made at/for Walrus.

Making is messy. <3 20140412_085755

Coconut and Olive Oil No-Sugar Granola

I love this olive oil granola recipe, but was doing “no added sugar November” and got curious if granola could possibly be tasty without sugar. I followed the suggestion in this recipe to use egg whites for the crunch that cooked sugar usually creates. I didn’t have high expectations and was honestly rather boggled that it turned out delicious (and several friends agreed, so it wasn’t just my sugar-deprived brain!). The coconut oil seems key, it gives it a rich, toasted-coconut flavor. And because it’s homemade, it’s not dry like the store-bought kind.

As you’ll know if you’ve ever made granola, it’s a very flexible recipe! Substitute your favorite nuts/seeds/fruit/spices.


Coconut and Olive Oil No-Sugar-Added Granola

Makes ~11 cups, ingredients below cost ~$12 total (for the organic version even!)

  • 3 ½ cups rolled oats
  • 1 ½ cups sliced almonds (or your favorite nut)
  • cups unsweetened shredded coconut
  • ½ cup raw pumpkin seeds
  • ½ cup flax seeds (ground or crushed – apparently you can’t digest these as well whole!)
  • ½ cup sesame seeds
  • ½ cup chopped dried dates
  • ½ cup extra virgin olive oil
  • ½ cup virgin coconut oil (the kind that actually smells like coconut)
  • ½ cup unsweetened applesauce
  • 2 tablespoons grated fresh ginger
  • ½  teaspoon kosher salt
  • ½ teaspoon ground cinnamon
  • ½ teaspoon ground cardamom
  • 2 egg whites
  • 1 cup unsweetened raisins, dried cherries, dried apricots, or dried cranberries

Preheat oven to 300 degrees F. Toast sliced almonds on a baking sheet in oven for 3-5 minutes or until lightly toasted (watch them carefully! They will go from beautifully golden to burnt very fast). Pour into a large mixing bowl immediately after taking them out of the oven.

Mix all ingredients except the eggs and raisins in the bowl with the almonds. Whip egg whites in a small bowl until fluffy. Mix egg whites into granola. Spread onto baking sheet and bake for about an hour or until golden brown and crunchy, stirring every 15 minutes. Transfer to bowl and toss with raisins.

Serving suggestion: serve with yogurt or milk and fruit of your choice (bananas, strawberries, sliced apples, grapes, blueberries, peaches, pomegranate seeds…)

Old Machines

Tools that are just so beautiful you don’t even care what you’re making! Bernina 731, around 50 years old and still works perfectly. It opens in lots of clever ways to give you access to the mechanisms inside. Only downside is it’s a bit heavy to transport!




What my parents did to encourage me in STEM

I hear and read this question all the time: how do I get my daughters/kids interested in STEM? (for those who haven’t heard this acronym before, it stands for “Science, Engineering, Technology, and Math,” sometimes expanded to STEAM to include Art).

I generally agree with most of the advice given: access to interesting, hands on materials, encouraging curiosity and exploration, exposing them to inspiring examples and role models.

However, as a teacher I sometimes wonder about the effect on kids of labeling some activities more “stemmy,” and therefore more awesome. Looking back, I feel incredibly grateful to my parents that I don’t recall a single thing I did as a kid being labeled one way or another.

I am by some definition a STEM-kid success story. I have several degrees in Computer Science, and another from MIT in a technology research program (Media Lab). I now teach programming and electronics and am thoroughly immersed in making things in the world of computing.

However, as a high schooler and younger I was mostly the kid that would probably make the parents asking the STEM question panic! I wanted to be a princess for most of my young childhood and forced everyone around me to role-play as various members of the royal family. I loved reading novels and making crafts. I enjoyed computers, but mostly used them to write dramatic fantasy stories, look up origami diagrams and pictures of bunnies, and make art (I still think Kid Pix is the best piece of software ever written). In 9th grade, my dad encouraged me to take a programming class. I hated it and dropped it after a semester.

So how did I end up in STEM? In college, after starting out as an industrial design major and dabbling in psychology, I took another programming class and got hooked. Fast forward 10 years: I’m still in love with the field, and keep discovering new intersections with my other interests, from crafts to education.

Sooo…what’s the point? I feel like my parents gave me room to pursue my interests without stressing out about how STEM they were.

When I hated that first programming class (I can tell that story another time!), my computer scientist dad said “sorry you had a bad experience!” and helped me drop the second semester of the class. He never pushed, but continued to invite me to different kinds of tech events.

When I asked for a sewing machine around 10 years old, my mom got me one for my birthday. As an adult I learned that her very traditional homemaker mother had taught her to sew with the idea that she would follow a similar life path to her own. My mom “rebelled” and became an electrical engineer, yet was completely supportive of her daughter’s (my) interest, to the point where it didn’t occur to me to question it. I spent many happy hours making doll clothes, and taking the darn thing apart every 20 stitches or so when it tangled horribly. Now I’m quite comfortable taking apart all kinds of machines, and I have a much better intuition for solving engineering problems that require understanding complicated topologies, and how flat pieces turn into curves.

I feel like I’m falling back into the STEM trap in the way I am describing some of these things, as though these seemingly unrelated activities were justified by turning out to have some connections to engineering. I was trying to make the point that my parents were totally okay with them not going that direction, and this gave my siblings and me a really important kind of freedom. My sisters went into art, animation, music, film, fashion. One brother went into philosophy and education, the youngest two love cooking, art, poetry, writing, sculpture, music, video games.

Just to close, I absolutely disagree with people who say that it’s a true meritocracy, and girls who are interested will just find their way into STEM fields on their own. There are a lot of barriers along the way, including toxic culture, societal expectations, and the sorts of toys marketed to girls vs. boys. That “inspirehermind” ad literally made me cry the first time I saw it (GIVE HER BACK THAT POWER DRILL RIGHT THIS SECOND WHAT ARE YOU THINKING?!!!!!!) (and the Youtube comments are even more painful).

Also, I think I’m understating here how much my parents were role models and examples of gender equality, beyond exposing me to different activities. They didn’t actually show me all that much of what they did at work until I was much older (“they work with computers or something”) but it was their casualness about it all that made a world of difference.

I guess I’m suggesting: definitely do expose your kids to lots of interesting tools, materials, ideas, and people. But then don’t panic too much if your kids have lots of interests, and they don’t seem very STEM to you.

Also, if we’re bringing shop class back to the 21st century, how about home ec, too?


Multimeter how-to

Here’s a little printable how-to booklet on using a multimeter! It’s not exhaustive of course, but is hopefully a useful and not-overwhelming start for troubleshooting circuits. Illustrations focus on paper circuits.

1432950678889Multimeter pictured below is the Etekcity UT120C and I like it so far, it’s nice and small and has its own case which this booklet fits into.

1432950762081My process at the moment is to draw things in ink, scan them, and then wrestle with a few different programs for layout. For this one I used Pages, Preview, and Pixelmator.


The cursive font is called “The Only Exception” and is from Kimberly Geswein Fonts.

Paper Doll Designer

I’m working on a new digital fabrication app called Paper Doll Designer, now with a tool for programming designs (beyond changing parameters as in the Spiro app). It uses Blockly for the programming blocks and Paper.js for the graphics.

Screen Shot 2015-02-23 at 1.33.40 PM

You can print the outfits out, and I’m working on adding registration marks to the exported images so you can also cut them out using a Silhouette cutter.

From the process side, I’m really really excited about moving to web apps, because needing to install the Spiro app seemed to be a bit of a barrier for folks, and there were a lot of requests for a version that works on tablets (this one does, to my surprise without me having to do anything extra!) I’m still learning HTML/CSS/Javascript and it’s amazing how everything I know about how to write cleanly structured code goes right out the window when I’m working in a new environment and language, but it will get better!

Inspired and informed by:

Arduino Error Bingo

Idea born of observing students feeling like they had failed when they saw an error message, and having difficulty persuading them that breaking things is often so much better for learning than getting it right the first time. With this, getting an error is a win! As it should be.

Download below, design and execution by my colleague Becca Rose. It has turned out great with our students! Share and enjoy (click on image for PDF version).

arduino bingo