A Lady with a Barbell #1: Approaching the Squat Rack

Important note: I have decided not to renew my domain registration as a free blog better suits how I actually use this. As a hobby. So soon my only address will be frugalparagon.wordpress.com.

This is the first of what I hope will be an occasional series demystifying weight training, specifically training with barbells, for regular people–women, primarily–interested in general fitness. As opposed to, say, powerlifting competitions.

Disclaimer: I am not a trainer or fitness professional of any kind. My goal is encouragement and demystifying, not teaching you how to do exercises or how to develop a program. See the bottom of this post for suggested resources on actually doing the exercises and you should probably consult your doctor and so on. Amazon links are affiliate links.

For most of my life, I took group fitness classes. Jazzercise, Body Pump, power yoga, whatever was around. About two years ago, my schedule was awkward and I couldn’t make it to any classes, and I impulsively took up training with free weights.

Friends, I seriously recommend it. Watching one’s numbers climb, especially into triple digits, is a HUGE confidence builder. Done with care, free weight exercises yield much better results than those circuit training machines that isolate muscles and leave your core unengaged.

I get it, the free weight section is intimidating. Sometimes it’s full of giant men. It is easy, as a woman or a man who hasn’t lifted before, to look at that section of the room and think, I don’t belong there.

You paid the same price for your gym membership that everyone else did, and yes, you DO belong in the free weights. I highly recommend training with barbells, and in this post, I’m going to encourage you to try the squat rack.

What’s a squat rack?

My gym has two kinds: a fully enclosed rack, often called a “power rack,” and two that are open at the front, often called “squat racks.” The point of it is to hold the bar up so that you can step under it and lift it with your back. Your back and legs can hold a lot more weight than your arms can.

Why you should start there

A standard Olympic barbell is about seven feet long and weighs forty-five pounds. That’s the only kind my gym has, and for a lot of different kinds of exercises, I’ve had to make adaptations and modifications. More on those in later posts.

But any adult with decent basic fitness can expect to be able to walk up to a squat rack and use it the way it was designed. Forty-five pounds is a reasonable warm-up weight for barbell squats.

How to adjust the rack

I was really nervous about approaching the rack because I did not know how it worked, but it turns out to be super easy. There are two different supports, the top supports and the bottom pins. The top supports hold the bar in place while you get under it. The bottom ones will catch the bar if you start to go down and can’t get up again. (This has happened to me only once, doing front squats. Fortunately, I was not at my usual gym, so I didn’t have to worry about showing my face there again. Also, arguably more importantly, I was not injured.) They both adjust the same way, by sliding in and out of these holes.


This shows you how the parts fit together. The top supports are larger but work similarly. They’re too heavy for me to hold with one hand to take a picture of.

If the bar is in the top supports when you approach the rack, grasp it firmly with both hands (Careful! It’s heavy!) and lower it to the pins below. Then you can adjust the top supports to the correct height for your body and your intended squats. Too low is better than too high. After you have set the top supports, squat down, lift the bar carefully, and place it back into the supports. If necessary, adjust the pins.

Here’s a problem I have never seen addressed in any of my reading. I am a very short woman and I do low-bar squats, in which the bar is held in the spine of the scapula (shoulder blades)* instead of resting on top of the shoulders. So it’s lower. And a proper squat is deep, deeper than you are probably used to going. I discovered that if I squat to a proper depth, the bar will hit the pins of the squat. I can only use the power rack at my gym, where the pins can be set lower. So if you are very short, be on the lookout for this problem.

*This sounds complicated but it felt very natural when I first tried it.

If you’re not sure you can squat 45 pounds

Practice with goblet squats, in which you hold a weight in front of you. If you can do that a few times with a 45 pound plate or dumbbell, then you know you can squat the bar. 

If you’re still nervous

Don’t worry so much. Remember, everyone in the gym was once a beginner. I have been going for two years and have never gotten an unkind word. Mostly people ignore each other at the gym. Sometimes a passing gentleman will get the clips down from their hook for me (I have to kind of climb up the rack to reach them), and once an avuncular fellow told me I was “really hittin’ it.” I think that’s a compliment. It’s OK to fumble, to experiment, and even to ask for help if you need it.

Recommended Resources for Learning to Squat
Starting Strength: Basic Barbell Training, 3rd edition, by Mark Rippetoe: This is what I’m doing now. The book is like drinking from a fire hose and it’s not super-easy to use, but I’m enjoying the focus on solid, compound barbell exercises. The author does sometimes assume that you’re a dude, like when he suggests drinking a gallon of milk a day, but the pictures include women. There are also a bunch of YouTube videos featuring the author, Mark Rippetoe, who has kind of a pleasant drawl. This book is where I finally learned to squat low enough. In future posts, I’ll share more about how I have developed workarounds for exercises where the barbell is too heavy.

Stronglifts 5×5 (website): The guy who does these is, not to put too fine a point on it, kind of an ass. But his form checklists are useful. If you want to learn to squat like right this minute without spending any money or going to the library, this is a fine option.

The New Rules of Lifting Supercharged: Ten All-New Muscle-Building Programs for Men and Women, by Lou Schuler and Alwyn Cosgrove: The first book I ever lifted from. This prescribes a lot of fancy exercises that I no longer bother with, but it has a lot of helpful options. I am suspicious of the authors’ emphasis on front squats, which I find to be awkward and to discourage REALLY getting low enough. This is where I learned to do goblet squats. Another issue: it does not emphasize getting low enough for squats, so if you go with this one or Strong, I suggest also trying another resource as well for more info on squat form.

Strong: Nine Workout Programs for Women to Burn Fat, Boost Metabolism, and Build Strength for Life, Same authors. Nicely woman-centered even though it’s written by dudes. Again, I dunno about the front squats. It assumes that you have a suspension system, which can be annoying if you don’t.

Please let me know in the comments if there are any particular topics you’d like to see covered here. Stay tuned!


Living Well in the Living Room: One Year Out

October marked the one-year anniversary of my divorce being finalized and also the one-year mark of my living on my own for the first time. Seems like a good time to take stock of how far I’ve come and where I am now.

Still in the Living Room

I gave serious thought to moving, especially as the XFP landed a stable job (phew). Right now, I live in a one-bedroom apartment about a mile away from my kids’ school, over a major road. For about $400 a month more, I could have two bedrooms and my own washer and dryer and be just 2 blocks from school.

Probably I could swing that if I really worked hard to find paid work for all my scraps of time. But… $400 a month is a lot of money. And I don’t actually like living in apartments. I want to be living in a townhouse or detached house sooner than later. Paying extra for a fancier apartment puts me further from that goal and only gets me… a nicer apartment.

I was able to renew my lease just through August. Even if I wind up paying for a month that I don’t use, I’ll save around $2600. With moving costs I’m not spending, let’s make it an even $3K. That’s a lot of money for a girl like me.

I’m making some minor changes to make apartment living more comfortable and have hunkered down for the duration.

About to Be Mortgage-Free?

The XFP has been living in the house with his wife, but has not been able to refinance. The house is currently under contract for a nice amount of money. Fingers crossed that it all goes smoothly. I am anxious to have this chapter wrapped up–my share of the equity under my own control, my credit unencumbered.

Still Looking for Full-Time Work

I have managed nicely on the hours I scrape together, but I’m still receiving support from the XFP and still paying the part-time rate for health insurance (the difference is a couple hundred dollars a month). I have been working hard to raise my profile at work and am optimistic my efforts will pay off soon.

Finances: Holding Steady

Without a full-time income, I haven’t exactly leaped forward in the world, but I have been able to scrape together some savings. I have some money in my HSA, some tucked away in an Ally account, and I generally “live on last month’s money.”

Having enough money to handle one really bad emergency or several minor ones is an enviable thing for a lady with my income level. I have budgeted carefully, lived within my means, benefited from the safety net provided by my family (still loving my reliable Honda courtesy of the Frugal Patriarch), and enjoyed luxuries when they have come my way as gifts.

Almost all of my savings have come from windfalls like third-paycheck months, gifts from family, and my tax refund, because normally my spending and income run verrrry close together. I received the Earned Income Tax Credit earlier this year and am cognizant that that’s other people’s money. Thank you, fellow taxpayers. I do not take it lightly.

One Big Happy Family

The XFP remarried very soon (one might say impulsively, but who am I to judge?) after our divorce. I used to say, “I like [stepmom]” because I thought it made me sound cool and self-confident. But you know what? I actually like her. She’s funny and she loves my kids and they love her and she adds something to their lives. She bought Big Brother Converse shoes to go with his super-stylish vest and tie, for instance, which I wouldn’t have thought of.

Stepmom has two little boys of her own, close in age like mine and a little younger. I actually had all four boys over for a sleepover last week and it was fun. Really. Stepbros are adorable and they were super-polite guests and it was nice to spend some time with these small humans who are such a big part of my kids’ lives.

The XFP and I have our bones of contention from time to time but I’m really happy that we all get along so well. I have a… friend… myself, whom the XFP seems to think highly of in turn.

I’m Happy

Sometimes I wish things were different. Sometimes I wish I didn’t have to share my kids. Or had more money to buy things. Or still lived in a house.

But life is good. I am enjoying being single–it’s kind of like going back in time to my 20s (when other people were dating but I was married) and having a do-over. I do things like sit on the couch/my bed drinking wine, eating caprese for dinner, and watching a French lady on YouTube give fashion advice that I will never follow because I’m lazy. It’s not a stage that I want to last forever but I’m enjoying it for what it is.

I won’t go into detail, but people whose marriages are working do not get divorced. Many things were not working, and those things are out of my life now, and that makes for a much more relaxed, confident, and happy FP.

I wouldn’t go back, I’m enjoying where I am now, and I am excited about going forward. There’s nothing else I could ask for.

How has your year been?

August Spending

August was all right. Not too expensive even though I kinda bled money on school uniforms and whatnot. I felt quite broke because I live on last month’s money, so for August I was limited to what I had earned in July (and some of my purchases came from a particular savings category). But it came out OK. And when I compare August income to August expenses, which is how I usually do my blog posts and my Your Money Or Your Life chart, it looks pretty good. Here are the figures.


Amazon return: $38.20

Library take-home pay: $1921.81

Interest: $7.83

Child/Spousal Support and Reimbursements: $652

Total Income: $2619.84


Rent and included utilities: $1083.75

XCel: 16.96

ATM fees (reimbursable): +$5

Conference registration: $55

Haircut and brow wax: $71

Household items: $94 (Includes Instant Pot from Craigslist, $48, a mop, and some other odds and ends)

Laundry: $40

Speeding ticket: $40 (Not a real one, a camera one–that’s why it’s cheap)

Ting: $33.73

Comcast: $9.95

Groceries: $268.79

Wine: $20.49

Home entertainment (Amazon music and HBO Now, because Game of Thrones): $20.19

Coffee shops: $8.82

Gas: $49.48

Rocky Mountain National Park day pass: $20 (grand adventure worth every penny)

Other parking: $23 (Unusually high because of failure to adequately plan for parking for Jeopardy! audition)

Miscellaneous kids: $41.34 (things like a Thermos for LB, their allowances, etc.)

School uniforms and new shoes: $120.55

School supplies: $12

School fees: $60

Babysitting: $48 (Some of this time I was working, and some of it I was auditioning for Jeopardy!)

Adult health:$20.80

Pink Chucks: $21.52 with Zappos coupon.  I love them. I have to remind myself to wear the other shoes.

Sewing notions: $28.05

Cat litter: $10

Total Expenses: $2212.93


Well, I’m in the black, so yay. In YNAB I wound up with like $20 left to budget. I set it aside for having Kitty Paragon’s teeth cleaned, an expensive project for which I am saving up. Because the vet said her gums probably hurt and I like the cat.

It’s nice to see the income going up as I can pick up school day library shifts again now that school is back in. Here’s hoping that my job situation improves and the XFP gets his act together and settles the house so we can finally close out our divorce.

How was your August?

A Laundry Bag, a Boy Apron, and Napkins: More No-Pattern Sewing Fun

After I spent three months learning to draft a skirt pattern and then sewing it, I said that my next garment project would be from a commercial pattern. I have bought some fabric and some patterns but haven’t started yet. Instead, I’ve been whipping up a few easy no-pattern projects.

My old nylon laundry bag was coming apart at the seams. I keep this bag inside the laundry hamper and tote it to the laundry room across the courtyard, so it takes a lot of abuse.


I didn’t even bother trying to repair because the fabric was dissolving.

I didn’t feel like spending five hard-earned dollars on a replacement, so instead I cut up an old sheet. I find straightforward sewing to be quite relaxing, so it was a satisfying evening. Didn’t even measure. Just hacked at it with the pinking shears and stitched it up.


This looks close enough.


A couple of Christmases ago, I let the boys pick out fabric (not telling them what it was for) and made them these great Montessori aprons (I got the pattern from Sew Liberated.) Well, Big Brother’s was always a big small and it has become quite unwearable. Time to upsize.

I had to do more measuring here because I could not readily find a pattern for a children’s apron in a larger size. So I measured the proportions of the little one, and the proportions of my adult apron made by Grandma FP, took my best guess, drew up a pattern, and cut up some old muslin to make a sample. It seemed about right. I used freezer paper to draw the pattern and my flexible curve ruler to make the curved sides. I kept the kid-friendly features of the original and just increased the size.

Walmart didn’t have any boy Justice League fabric when I was there, so he had to settle for Avengers. The workmanship isn’t perfect, but I’m pretty happy with it. I lined it in something approximating Hulk green.


Friends, I LOVE sewing things that I can’t buy. Elastic-neck,  hook and loop-closure, licensed character aprons are just not a readily available thing. Plus, now BB knows I think he is worth the time.

Besides, everyone should have an apron, because cooking and eating are for everyone.

When I had made the old aprons, BB hacked up some of the leftover fabric and taped it and said he had made “a napkin.” I persuaded him to let me remove the tape and zigzag around the sides so it could be washed. The result was not lovely, but it does function as a napkin. Little Brother wanted one, too.


When I bought the Avengers fabric, they were very clear that they wanted Avengers napkins. So I thought, maybe I will learn to make REAL napkins. Since I was working from scraps, the result is small but usable.

Apparently napkins have something called “mitered corners.” I had a little trouble learning this skill. I used this tutorial and then also this one, but my first two results, though usable, were clearly not “mitered.”

I practiced with a piece of paper–easier to fold–and realized that I was not folding the corners far enough down before folding the sides. Though still imperfect, the third one has rather nicely mitered corners. Now I know this trick in case I ever want to make specialty linens or whatever.


Of the four corners, this was the most beautiful.

Next, I need to once again mend the edge of my spare bath towel and then get started sewing garments! Stay tuned!

What have you been making lately? How did it come out?

July Spending: Red Months Happen

This was one of those months during which I bled money for causes both anticipated (taking the children to an amusement park with the free tickets they got for summer reading) and unanticipated (replacing my laptop). Well, sometimes that happens. I was in the red this month BUT did not have to draw down any emergency savings categories. I covered it all out of normal float and my “spendable savings.” Here’s how it looked:


Library take-home pay: $1456.61

Support: $575

Total income: $2031.61


Rent and included utilities: $1082.77

ATM fees: $6.00

Bike tubes and patch kit: $24.17

Laundry: $20

XCel: $18.34

Ting: $33.75

Internet: $9.95

Groceries: $266.94

Wine and a beer at the bar: $18.86

Gas: $30.42

Kids’ allowances: $27.54

School uniform pants: $129.36 (Ouch! Growing boys! But Costco will refund my money if they rip them.)

Restaurants: $57.23

Amazon music: $4.30

Coffee shops: $11.07

Movie snacks: $15.46

Using boys’ “free” tickets to amusement park: $96.98 (That’s my ticket, parking, Dippin’ Dots, and lunch.)

Gifts: $70

Buying things: $307.48 (Including a refurbished laptop for $150, a years’ supply of razor cartridges, some Target things, and $50 of exercise equipment for which I am owed a refund–I got the wrong thing.)

Travel: $39.59 (On family vacation. I spent more like $140 but this is net–I received an advance on future family travel expenses.)

Child care punch card at gym: $15

Vet checkup for Kitty Paragon: $55

Cat food: $15.06 (Minor achievement–I discovered that PetSmart has a subscription service; I don’t have to go to the store any more and they had a 30% off signup discount.)

Total Expenses: $2355.23


Eh, it’s fine. One of the points that the book Your Money or Your Life makes is that there is no “typical” month. I could say, I would have spent so much less this month if I hadn’t had the amusement park, a replacement laptop, and back-to-school clothes. But this is not unusually high spending for me. Another month it might be car insurance or registration renewal or a major bike repair or any number of things.

I had enough money to cover it and I’m not going any deeper into the red month-to-month; my long-term savings are untouched and even growing. So, again, “I still need a full-time job” but there’s no cause for alarm. My monthly income should be higher during the school year anyway as I have more time to work.

June: In Which I Make Short Work of My Third Paycheck

Since I’m paid every two weeks, June was a three-paycheck month for me. Which works out nicely, because it was also the month my car insurance payment was due. Since I knew they would coincide, I didn’t worry about saving up to pay my whole car insurance. They will align again in December and I will reevaluate then. Anyway, here’s how it broke down for June.


Library take-home pay: $2546.12

Money that I am not sure why Amazon sent me: $11.05

Cash: $20

Interest: $6.74

Trivia income: $70

Travel money: $50

Reconciliation adjustment: $5.95 (my record keeping, it is imperfect)

Support: $555

Total income: $3265.08


Rent and included utilities: $1085.45

Replacement bowl for Cuisinart, secondhand: $21

ATM fees: $2.50 (reimbursable)

Laundry: $40

Renter’s insurance installment: $33.50

Electric: $17.43 (My AC doesn’t work very well anyway, so I just… sweat)

Ting: $26.75

Internet: $9.95

Groceries: $277.16

Wine: $6.47

Gas: $47.82

Car insurance: $451 (6 months of full coverage on my Fit)

Kids allowance and miscellaneous: $50.14

Asthma medicine: $184.01 (Every time a pharmacy clerk rings this up for me, they visibly recoil when they see the price. Fortunately, it lasts three or four months.)

Babysitter: $45

Restaurants: $16.30

Amazon music: $4.30

Coffee shops: $19.35

Gifts and miscellaneous shopping, including some workout equipment: $91.38

Travel: $150.16 (the rest of my Vegas trip from last month)

Charitable donation: $3.20

Total expenses: $2577.87


Well, I still had a good bit of that third paycheck left over. Under $2600 for the month in which I paid my car insurance seems pretty fabulous, spending-wise.

July is already shaping up to be much spendier–I have been buying more entertainment than usual–but I’m happy with how June turned out! Aside from continuing to improve my wardrobe, I’m saving up for when I can hopefully move and will need some new furniture. (Being as I currently have a combined couch/bed situation, and the goal of moving would be to have my own room, logically I would need to purchase either a bed or a couch.)

In exciting budget and parenting news, Little Brother, who turned 5 in May, no longer sleeps in Pull-Ups! That will help my grocery bill. I have eleventy billion left over, which I have donated to the XFP and his wife for the younger stepbrothers. Having my kids finally totally potty trained makes me very sympathetic to those whose children are not.

Better Late Than Never: May Spending

So… it’s June 21. And I never totaled up my May spending. I almost didn’t at all, but I’m glad I took the time–while everything gets added up by YNAB, I learn a lot about myself and my habits from typing it all out. So here’s May.

Library take-home pay: $1795.50

Returning things to Costco: $82.97

Subbing take-home pay: $44.05

Interest income: $6.48

Trivia income: $35

Ebates: $1.95

Support: $575

Total income: $2540.95

ATM fees (reimbursable): $.50

Rent and included utilities: $1079.02

Home supplies: $83.32 (mostly a vacuum cleaner, plus odds and ends)

Laundry: $40

Electricity: $16.18

Ting: $31.56

Internet: $9.95

Groceries: $212.24 (I was out of town for a few days and also had a gift card)

Wine: $6.47

Gas: $50.35

Parking ticket: $50 (Forgot to read the damn street sweeping sign. This happens to me at least once a summer. I think of it as a sort of urban road maintenance tax.)

Parking: $6 (reimbursable)

Children’s allowance and ice cream: $14.62

Restaurants: $30.49

Amazon music: $4.30

Coffee shops, burrito runs at work, etc.: $18.52

Clothes for me: $78.47

Fabric and sewing notions: $83.73. Because patterns were on sale and I may have gotten carried away at Joann.

Gifts: $73.81 (There was a birthday)

Miscellaneous shopping and spending, including a haircut and some ebooks: $108.50

Travel: $325.87 (for Vegas trip; there was another hundred-ish in June)

Donations: $5

Cat food: $24.75

Total Expenses: $2352.65

Surplus: $188.30


Well, if you’ve ever read one of my spending reports before, you know it always starts out, “I need a full-time job.” But somehow I keep managing. I enjoy some luxuries, even, thanks to careful money management and the generosity of family and good friends. (I got my eyebrows professionally waxed, for instance. That Vegas trip? Heavily subsidized. Thanks, Mom! And I received some lovely gift cards as a Mother’s Day present, which I spent on things like non-pre-owned sheets for my bed, new cutting boards, and Frappucinos.)

Goal: Secure more hours before October so I can comfortably afford a second bedroom.

How was your May?

Jeans, More Jeans, and a Beach Cover-Up: More Sewing Projects

After I finally, at very long last, finished my skirt project, I was kind of on a roll and tackled a few other jobs.

First I patched a pair of jeans. See, sometimes you want old jeans, right? But my jeans wear out at the inside thigh, which makes them go instantly from “presentable” to “might expose flesh” overnight. So if I want to have serviceable old jeans, I have to patch this area.

I have iron-on patches, but they’re kind of stiff. Instead, I like to cut up an even older pair of jeans and use that. Big Brother had these wide-legged 4T jeans that passed the point of repairability, so I used those. I cut a piece using pinking shears and sewed it down, using a zigzag stitch over the most vulnerable area. Before I owned pinking shears, I used a zigzag stitch to attach the patches, which is serviceable but makes a more noticeable repair (as the stitches can more easily be seen from the outside than a straight stitch.) You can really only see it from the outside at all because I accidentally caught a tiny bit of fabric as I was sewing.



Over time, the double hem creates a line on the outside of the jeans. Blech.

Next, I had a pair to hem. Now, I know cuffing jeans is in fashion this year, but I’m so short that I would have way too bulky a cuff unless I hem (being as I could not find Short in my size). I consider the ideal leg width for skinny jeans to be “exactly as wide as my sewing machine in free-arm mode.”

I tried a new method. In the past, I have simply cut some off and double-hemmed using dark blue thread, but this is a pain and I don’t like the way it look as it wears.

So instead I used this tutorial for preserving the original hem. I hear that the flap of fabric created on the inside can be annoying, so I chose to stitch it down across the front and not just at the sides. These stitches are technically visible from the outside, but you can’t really see them.


Inside view. I did the zigzag BEFORE cutting off the excess. My machine does not like to sew too close to the edge of the fabric.

I like the way it looks… but I accidentally left them too long, so I still have to cuff them. Oops!


Real quick, I mended the side of an old bath towel. It is otherwise perfectly serviceable, and you can’t have too many bath towels. I cut off the frayed strings. Part of the edge was still in place, so I zigzagged stitched it back down. This being an old bath towel, I didn’t worry about buying special matching thread!


For my piece de resistance, I had an impulse to turn an old jersey sheet into a bathing suit cover-up. This is more a cutting project than a sewing one. I used this tutorial, which claims to be twenty-minute project. It took me a couple of hours. I kept having to cut and cut and cut more. Then of course I probably cut too much. The only sewing was attaching the braided straps. I was afraid that they would not fit under my presser foot, but it worked just fine. I made a little box to hold each strap in place.

After I sewed these on, I cut down the surrounding fabric.

I think it kind of looks like I made it from a sheet. But it will serve for getting the kids to and from the pool at our apartment complex, at least!

Now I have put away my sewing machine for a while with firm intentions to work on my scrapbook, although I did promise Big Brother a new apron soon.

What are you making lately? How’s it coming out?

Well, That Got Out of Hand: I Made a Skirt Without a Pattern

This post contains affiliate links for research purposes. I got my books from the library.

If you’ve been following along, you know that first I made skirts from library book patterns (here’s the first and the second). Then I tried making a gathered rectangular skirt, which does not require a pattern. The waistband came out pretty well, but the result was unflattering.

Then I took it into my head to learn pattern drafting.

Friends, I am not sure what I was thinking. Man, that was hard.

First, I made a straight skirt sloper just from taking my measurements and drawing things on freezer paper. I was very pleased with myself. Then I slashed and spread the pattern and raised the waistband to make a high-waist flared skirt sloper. So far, so good. Although it took me a couple of tries to get the fit right, so by this point I had been fiddling with the project for some weeks.

The flared, high-waisted sloper. Down to 1 dart per side because the other is where I slashed and spread. You must forgive me for not modelling i.

Now I was ready to move on to the actual sewing. The book I was using, Skirt-a-Day Sewing*, gives very specific directions for making specific designs rather than expecting the reader to do so. To make the pattern for the design I chose, there was yet more slashing and spreading involved to turn the darts into pleats.

*I think it’s important to note that this refers to having a different skirt for every day of the month, NOT the length of time they take to make!

A major weakness of the book is that it does not give instructions with this pattern for truing the waistline or the hem after all that slashing and spreading. Not sure it came out right.

Instead of a zipper, this skirt uses button-down tabs. When you unbutton, you can open the tabs and step in and out. There’s also a hidden snap holding the tab in place. It only took me 8 tries to make a passable four-step buttonhole.

The big knot is where the bobbin thread ran out. It goes faster than I expect.

I was worried about lining up the button and buttonhole and the two parts of the snap, but this seemed at least moderately forgiving. I did not have trouble. And I got to use the sew-in snaps that my grandmother gave me circa ten years ago (when my mom gave me a sewing machine for Christmas and grandma gave me a stocked sewing basket) and have not yet had a use for. Rather satisfying.

As always, there were some hiccups. For one thing, my machine is getting wonky. Sometimes it makes a giant knot instead of sewing. Oiling it approximately every 28 minutes helps, but is tedious. When it happens in an important place, like the right side of the hem (I am lazy and always hem with  straight stitch), I pick it out and start over. When it happens in an inconspicuous place, I pretend I don’t notice.

Reverse side of the front tab where the machine went wonky. Why is it white on the back? I ran out of fabric. Oops.

Another hiccup was my decision to add pockets. All skirts and dresses should have pockets, no? I traced a pocket shape from another book, Love at First Stitch: Demystifying Dressmaking. But those pockets were designed for  a rectangular skirt, and this has curved side seams. They hung weird at first. But a little ironing seemed to put them right.

Honestly, I’m still not sure about the skirt. I’m in love with the basic premise of a full skirt made of polka dots. Very 50s-ish and the silhouette is flattering. But possibly I will find the pleats waaaay too fiddly and always be adjusting them. The ones in the back I actually sewed down because I found that I did not need to open them to get the skirt on, but I think I made them too tight. I might need to move the front buttons and re-press the pleats closer to the middle.

Sorry for bad photo. The children were not feeling cooperative this morning.

My next two sewing projects are no-pattern easy things: Hemming jeans and making an awesome new boy apron for Big Brother. But I bow to conventional wisdom. The next time I make something for myself, I will take the easy road and buy a clearance pattern, even though I will lose the bragging rights. (“Thanks! I made it! From a library book!”) I think I need more time to develop my skills without the pressure of pattern drafting.

What are you making lately? How’s it coming out?

April 2017 Spending: Ouch

Well, I had some nasty surprises in April. Here’s how it breaks down.


Library take-home pay: $1462.92 (Why so low? I upped my HSA contributions, and the boys’ spring break hurt my earnings)

Costco return: $10.76

Substitute teaching take-home pay: $44.06

Interest: $5.95

Support: $743

Total Income: $2266.69


Rent plus included utilities: $1085.31

Home supplies: $10

Laundry: $40

Speeding ticket: $305 (So frustrated with self! I was driving an unfamiliar road and didn’t see the school zone sign)

XCel: $19.31

Ting: $24.54

Comcast: $9.95

Groceries: $305.91

Wine: $12.94

Auto maintenance: $153.31 (When I went to have my summer tires put back on, one of them turned out to be broken and had to be replaced. It was new enough they said I could just do the one.)

Gas: $44.91

Parking (reimbursable): $11

Kids, misc. (allowance, field trips, ice cream): $27.62

Kids, clothes and shoes: $82.10 (2 pairs new sneakers, 1 pair Batman PJs with cape)

Restaurants: $101.70 (Yowza! My boyfriend had a birthday and a cousin visited from out of town in the same month.)

Coffee shops and snacks: $22.88 (I promise there were a lot of times I wanted it and didn’t get it.)

Tickets to special Viking exhibit at museum: $20.85

Work clothes and shoes for me: $271.40 (Because if I want to be taken seriously, probably should not wear hiking shoes to work, right?)

Some things from Target: $20.12

Cat litter: $14

Total Expenses: $2577.83

Income minus expenses: -$311.14


Eh, I can live with it. By now, I’ve gotten used to my low-income, low-expenses balancing act tipping sometimes into the black and sometimes the red. It’s more often black, so I’ll live. I had enough money to cover the shortage without dipping into my emergency fund. And I still have money set aside for various projects (like an upcoming trip and taking the cat to the vet).

Possibly, however, I sobbed when I got the speeding ticket. There is a definite mismatch between how long it takes me to save $305 and how long it took me to lose it! At least I had the money. I blew my nose, mailed a check, and lived to fight another day.