#SkinnySmackdown: The Origins

#SkinnySmackdown: Origins

So, in my New Year’s post I briefly mentioned that I was in a weight loss competition called #SkinnySmackdown.  I thought over the course of our contest, I’d take a few posts to update my progress and explain a little more about how it’s taking over my life helping me make healthier choices.  First, let me tell you how it all began.

It started right after Thanksgiving.  The holidays were looming, Stephanie and I were texting each other about eating whole sticks of butter and all the weight I’d gained since she’d moved out of town and stopped delivering me fresh vegan meals. It was all in good fun, but then I just started feeling sick.  Like every day.  I was just feeling mild nasea, exhaustion, depression, dull headaches–my husband told me I was doing weird things in my sleep, and I started to care about my diagnosed (but untreated) sleep apnea.  I was the heaviest I’d ever been at exactly 220 pounds.  I was down to one pair of jeans that still fit.

I really think my body was trying to warn me something dreadful was about to happen.

So, who has two thumbs and starts a new diet/exercise regimen at the beginning of December?  I truly believed if I’d waited to take action, something bad and irreversible was going to happen in my body.  I wasn’t fully dieting, but I decided to back off on December indulgences and start Jillian Michael’s 30 Day Shred (Affiliate Link).  I’d seen it work for others, and the reviews on Amazon are incredibly positive.

Did I stick with the program?  No.  I lost motivation after a death in the family threw our December off kilter.  But I continued to calm down my eating habits and lost 1 pound by the end of the month.  I still didn’t feel great, but I wasn’t fearing death the way I had been at the beginning of the month.

In the midst of my Jillian trial, I texted Stephanie a picture of the DVD box, “After #DomesticThrowdown, we need to compete with this!”  She wholeheartedly agreed.  We spent the rest of the month debating over the rules and over what to call it.

It took us until January 1st, to settle on the hashtag. Some of the runner ups were #FitFued, #SlimShowdown, #90PoundThrowdown, and my husband’s favorite, #FatFight.  In the end we chose #SkinnySmackdown.  I think it does a good job conveying the nature of our competition–similar to professional wrestling, our smackdown is a violent spectacle involving huge egos, plenty of braggadocio, and the occasional folding chair to the skull.  However, it was even more difficult to agree on the rules.  TO BE CONTINUED…

Yeah, it’s a little weird to be telling my “Before Picture Story” before I have an “After” to share with you. I have to say, though, writing this made me realize I’d already started to forget how bad things felt!  It was very motivating for me to look back and remember how I was feeling just a couple months ago. 


Did that? Try this!–Lesson 1


Now that #LearnToSewIn5 is in full swing, I wanted to take a second and show you guys all the things you should totally be able to make, now!  It’s amazing what you can do with just one sewing lesson!

For example, you’re totally ready to make this infinity scarf.  Or how about this cowl?

Here’s a very simple baby blanket that is well within your skill level!

You should probably throw together one of these to hold your hair back when you sew.

And it’s chapstick season.  Give these out as sweet Valentine’s gifts this year!

I’m almost hesitant to tell you this, but you totally have the skills to SEW a friggin’ DRESS now!!!  You’re amazing!!!  Don’t get a big head about it!!!

And if you liked the dress, but you’d like something better suited to a cold weather climate.  I recommend this cozy top.

Oh, speaking of big projects, I should remind you of my duvet, which should be so easy it’s boring to you now.  I should also mention my hand sanitizer cozy.  You’re on to me now.

This nifty little purse/makeup bag/easter bag….  It’s darling, and well within your abilities now!

And let’s cover the usual first projects.  This tutorial for cloth napkins was very well done, and I think you’ll find the results a little more professional than most. This pillowcase tutorial will inspire you to spruce up your bedroom.

Just one lesson in, and you can already make like… practically anything.  At least that’s the goal.  But don’t get too big a head about it.  You still need to know about interfacing, button holes, jersey knits, quilted layers, reading a pattern, installing a zipper, working with elastic…  Coming soon. ;-)


Start here! First Project Friendship Bracelets

FirstProjectFriendshipBraceletsThere’s an unwritten rule, but a rule nonetheless.  It’s something like this:  Your first 10 sewing projects HAVE to be ugly.  After that, you’re allowed to do 10 pretty cute ones, then you have to challenge yourself and crank out 5-6 ugly ones again.  This is how you learn.  It’s science, and if you break the rule, the craft cops show up at your door and take you to Pinterest prison.


But anyway, for your very first sewing project (remember?  I’m trying to teach you how to sew pretty much anything on Pinterest in just FIVE lessons!) I decided some friendship bracelets were in order.  These can be made with scraps you find in the remnant bin, and if you screw one up, you can just throw it in the trash can and try another one!  The idea is to 1.)get those ten ugly projects done and over with as fast as we can, 2.)get you a jam packed session of sewing know-how, and 3.)give you something snazzy to wear or share at the end!  Plus, there’s just something so summery and fun about a friendship bracelet!  Let’s have a slumber party!

TIP:  There’s no better way to get free sewing gear and fabric than to let your friends and family see you with something you’ve made yourself!  Wear some of these bracelets with pride, and whenever someone comments, tell them that you’re learning to sew!  You’ll be surprised how many folks have their grandma’s old supplies lying around in the attic and would love to help you get started!



  • YOUR SEWING MACHINE MANUAL (I’m so serious here. Every machine is a little different.  You need this before you begin.)
  • Several strips of quilting fabric (see TIP below), about 2″ wide and 12″ long  (I just ask that a couple of these strips be a solid color) P.S. You get extra points for ironing them first.
  • Thread in at least two colors
  • A wide straw (like a smoothie straw or one out of a water bottle) and a bamboo skewer.  Or equivalent.  You can even buy the real deal here. (Affiliate Link)
  • An Iron

TIP: Quilting fabric will the the biggest section of fabric you see at the fabric store.  It’s woven (which means it’s not stretchy).  It’s generally cotton.  It’s not very thick or very thin.  It usually comes in all kinds of prints, and it’s generally used for… quilting!  For a project like this, I recommend hitting up your store’s remnant bin to save some cash.

Sit down at your machine!  Congratulations!  You are going to rock this!  To the left of your machine will be the needle.  If you’re using an older machine, refer to the manual to see how to replace this needle with one that is new and sharp.  Trust me.  A fresh needle can help you avoid worlds of frustration!


If it’s a brand new machine, we’ll assume your needle is ready to go.  Refer to your machine’s manual to thread it.  There will be an upper thread that comes straight off the spool that sits at the top of your machine.

There will also be a lower thread that comes from the bobbin of your machine.   This bobbin will need to be loaded up with thread and while I could waste your time showing you how mine works, I’d rather you get nitty gritty with your sewing machine manual and find “bobbin winding” in there.  Your machine’s manual is your new best friend.

Also, please load your bobbin with a different color thread than your spool.  I have my reasons.  Don’t question the process.

TANGENT:  I’ll never forget the time when a couple of us had our sewing machines out around one of my non sewing friends.  Somebody asked for a bobbin and my friend started laughing her head off.  “You can’t be serious!  A bobbin?!” She thought we were making it up as some sort of inside joke, but no, it’s really called a bobbin.  A bippity bobbin.  Okay, not really bippity.  I had you for a second, though, right?  Also, my friend finally caught the sewing bug and, in fact, is the same one that just schooled me in our #domesticthrowdown.

TIP:  If you’re reading instructions in your manual, and still having trouble making sense of it, try looking up the issue and your sewing machine model number on YouTube!  So many generous YouTubers share step by step videos of themselves operating their sewing machines.  You really don’t have to be too lucky to find someone explaining your exact model!

Now, raise the presser foot and let’s just place one of your pieces of plain fabric nice and flat below it.  You might notice there’s little grippy metal parts under that foot.  These are called your feed dogs.  Yes.  Really.  They’re called that.  The feed dogs are going to grab hold of your fabric move it along nicely while the needle moves up and down doing the sewing.  It’s important to understand how all this works, you see.  If you start tugging on your fabric one way or another while you sew, your poor dogs will be out of a job, and trust me, they do a much better job of making your stitches even.  Don’t pull on your fabric!  Let the feed dogs feed!

Now, lower your presser foot.  Your fabric should be sandwiched in there nice and tight.  Try keeping the fabric just at the edge of the presser foot and sew a nice straight line for giggles and kicks.  How does it look?


If it looks like mine, AMAZING!!!  You did it!  You can sew!  But if your stitches are all loose or all bunchy, you might have a TENSION PROBLEM!!!  Lets not jump to conclusions:  Did you put in a new needle?  Is your bobbin wound nice and evenly or is it a little wonky?  Is your machine dirty and dusty?  Did you troubleshoot it with your sewing machine manual?  If all those things look good, we’ll assume you need to adjust the tension on your machine.  I want to break this down for you in my own way in an upcoming blog post, because people really make this more intimidating than it needs to be.  Unfortunately, I have this whole world wide virtual classroom waiting for me to help them make their bracelets right now, so in the mean time I want you to read about adjusting the tension in your manual, and if that doesn’t seem pretty clear, put on your glasses and go learn some stuff here.

Also, feel free to contact me, and I’ll see if I can help you trouble shoot it when I can, but for the rest of the class…

Let’s do this again!  Cut the threads from your first line, and try stitching another line parallel to it.  Now, let’s back up a little bit and do this properly.  When you begin to stitch a line, first press very gently on your machine’s petal to make just one or two stitches.  Then, find the reverse function on your machine.  It will probably be a little lever on the front or side of your machine.  (If you can’t find it…. Manual time!  Are you noticing a trend here?)  Stitch backwards now over those first two stitches.  Beautiful!  You’ve now secured your stitching so you can’t just pull a thread and unravel all your work.  When you get to the end of your line, do the same thing.


Now, back to those of you that had tension problems earlier.  Remember how I told you guys to load in two different colors of thread?  One for the spool and a different one for the bobbin?  Here’s the back side of my work where you (mostly) only see the bobbin thread.  This is what (mostly) perfect tension looks like.  Don’t feel like you have to have it just right.  This is the first try, after all, but I guess at this point I’m really just trying to CAUSE you problems.  You don’t learn to sew without encountering and conquering a few unexpected problems along the way.  And I only have 5 chances to get you through all the required ugly sewing projects.  So yeah.  No foolproof napkin tutorials, today!  Give me 50 squat lunges!

TANGENT:  I feel so tough.  I’ve been doing these Jillian Michaels workout DVDs.  Is her influence bleeding over into the way I’m teaching you to sew?

Go ahead, sew a few more straight lines, and when you get bored…

…we’ll try a zig zag!  I don’t care if your machine has 4 stitches or 500 stitches, you need to know how to navigate your way around a straight stitch and a zig zag stitch if you want to conquer your “Learn How to Sew” Pinterest board!  Go ahead and select a basic zig zag stitch on your machine.  (Your manual will tell you how!)  I decided to make these stitches diagonal on my fabric, for a fun little pattern.

TIP:  You know that thing where you stitch forward a couple stitches then stitch backward a couple stitches to secure your sewing?  You don’t need to do that with a zig zag stitch.  It just doesn’t work the same way.


TIP:  The picture above is not a repeat, I just wanted to show you how I pull the threads back under my presser foot and out of the way when I sew.


Now, for extra credit!  I want you to look in your manual and start experimenting with stitch length and stitch width!  If you used my guide to buy your sewing machine, you should have a stitch width option, if not, you may only have stitch length, but go ahead and play with it anyway, while you’re still in zig zag stitch.  Above, I played around with both those functions to get a real variety of looks with my zig zag.  I LOVE playing with stitches on scrap fabric to see what I can come up with.  Is it just me?  I don’t know!  Have fun with it!

TANGENT:  Does your machine have a bunch of decorative stitches?  I want you to play with those, too, of course–just not at the expense of playing with your zig zag stitch.  Here’s why:  I’ve actually found myself using a decorative stitch once in my sewing career.  ONCE.  You can see it here.  Now, more functional stitches, aka stretch stitches, overlock stitches…  Yes, play with those… but not until after you’re comfy cozy with your zig zag.


Okay, that was a long lead up, but if you’ve practiced your stitching and had a little fun, you are ready to actually turn this into a cute friendship bracelet!  Get that iron steaming, because we’re going to fold your strip of fabric in half, and it’s easier if you crease it with your iron.  Choose which side of your fabric you want to be showing.  This is called the RIGHT SIDE of your fabric.  You want the RIGHT SIDES of your fabric to face each other for this project.

TIP:  For small jobs like this, I find it easier to iron right on my sewing table over a double folded towel.  No need to bring out the whole ironing board if it’s not handy!

TANGENT:  I actually didn’t iron mine, but I’m a lazy good-for-nothin’.  Don’t be like me.  Just iron it.


Oh dear!  Look at how uneven my edges are!  If yours are the same way, grab your scissors and trim them so they’re even.


Just like that.  Lovely!


Now, for this, let’s just line up the edges of your fabric with the edge of the presser foot.  (See why I wanted you to cut them nice and even?)  Set your machine back to a straight stitch with a medium stitch length.

TIP: You may notice that the stitch width function on your machine now controls the position of your needle.  A very handy feature when you’re trying to get a precise measurement for your seam allowance a few steps from now.  

Remember, stitch one or two stitches, stitch backwards, then carefully stitch your line.  At the end of the line, stitch backwards and forwards another couple stitches, trim your threads, and you’re good!

TIP:  Let’s talk about straight pins.  Beginners are usually instructed to go very slowly and use a lot of pins to secure their work.  You may pin before you stitch if you like, but I find pins tedious and frustrating on a project like this one.  If you press your bracelet with your iron, and let the feed dogs feed, I really don’t think even a brand new baby beginner will need to use pins here.  We’ll talk a little bit more about when and how to use your straight pins in an upcoming lesson.


If you’re feeling sassy, you can go ahead and trim a little of the excess fabric away from your seam.  You now have a long tube.  Your next step is to sew one end of your tube shut!  Now things are about to get interesting!


Get out your smoothie straw and your bamboo skewer, or if you’ve just got to be fancy, your professional grade tube turner. (Affiliate Link) Slip the straw into the tube you’ve just sewn.


Now, use the blunt end of your skewer to press the closed end of your tube through the straw.  And voila!


Your tube is turned!  Go ahead and snip off the closed end of the tube.  Use your iron to press the tube flat with your seam centered on the back side.


Now it’s time to measure your wrist.  Not really your wrist.  What you actually want to measure is your hand.  I think you’ve learned enough today without diving into elastics just yet, so fold your hand up and measure it so that you know what length you’ll want on your finished bracelet.  Big enough to slip over your hand, and not much bigger.  Just like a well adjusted friendship bracelet from summer camp.  In my case, I settled on 8″.


Now, whatever measurement you thought was best, add 1 1/4″ before you trim down your fabric tube.  Snippy snip snip!


Since this is basically sewing bootcamp, I’m going to have you make me a french seam!  You might need to read through the next few steps a couple times before you start.  We’ve covered this before.  It’s so much easier than people think!  First, sew your ends WRONG SIDES TOGETHER (which is different than when we made our tube) leaving a 3/8 seam allowance. (In this case, wrong sides would be the side with your first seam showing.  My work is turned inside out in the picture above and you can see my WRONG sides.

Trim that seam down a little bit.  Turn your bracelet inside out (just like in the picture above).  Pinch at the seam and press with your iron.


You should have pressed this with RIGHT SIDES TOGETHER.  Go head now and stitch with a 1/4″ seam allowance.  Doesn’t that look tidy?  It’s like you’ve left a little tag that will be on the inside of your bracelet.  No raw edges showing!

If you were making a shirt or a jacket or a hand sanitizer cozy, you’d probably just leave the seam like that and call it done.  But we want a nice finish on our bracelets.


Go ahead and iron your little flap to one side and we’ll do a straight line of stitching to make it lovely and flat.  It really does look nice, don’t you think?

TANGENT:  Did you notice I swapped bracelets halfway through this tutorial?  That fabric I used at the beginning was flannel.  I used it because it was the only solid fabric I have in my stash at the moment (something I’ll fix soon).  I thought it would do just fine.  Flannel is kind of considered a quilting fabric, it is usually 100% cotton, and it’s one of my favorite fabrics to work with… so soft!  It actually did quite well, right up until the last step.  I had to flatten that french seam using my widest zig zag stitch set to zero stitch length…  That worked out great for me… I actually really like the look of it, but I thought it might be a little too much for you to worry about on your first project.  But, now, at least you know the story.  Stick to a plain quilting fabric, and things should work just fine!

You’ve done it!  You’ve made a friendship bracelet!!!  You’re not done yet, though!  Now, I want you go go back and make a bunch more!  Experiment with some of your other stitches, learn what they do and how they work.  Try adding stitches before you make the tube and actually ON the tube after it’s made and turned right side out.  Learn more about your stitch length and width…  And make a few bracelets for your non sewing friends!  They’ll think you’re amazing, and every new sewist can use a bit of extra confidence right? ;-)

IMG_7385 IMG_7390

Ah!  It’s the dead of winter, but now we have a little taste of summer camp on our wrists!  Let’s think of each other every time we wear them, okay?  ;-)



Thank you for visiting The Happy Homester.  This is the first installment of #LearnToSewIn5, where I attempt to teach you how to sew in just five lessons.  This is kind of the “beta” version, so I need feedback and testers to improve this series over time!  If you’re new to sewing, there’s never been a better time to subscribe and let me know how I can better help you!  And if you’re old to sewing, I’d love to have your ideas for making this series as comprehensive as possible!  Thanks!


Swift and Nifty DIY Duvet


If you’ve ever sewn anything at all in your whole life, you can make an easy duvet to go over your comforter.

Here was my problem:  My husband hates the top sheet.  No matter how tidily I make the bed, no matter how many hundred thread count sheets we use, the top sheet has always been a nuisance and will always be a nuisance.  I don’t understand why it bothers him, but when your head hits the pillow at the end of a long day, I think you deserve to be comfortable, and you shouldn’t have to concern yourself with social norms just because your wife went on a white sale shopping spree:



So, why let all our top sheets go to waste?  A duvet was in order, and it was so simple.  No pictures necessary:

  1. Sandwich two sheets PRETTY SIDES together.
  2. Pin one side and stitch.  Pin the bottom and stitch.  Pin the opposite side and stitch.
  3. Turn it inside out and slip it over your snuggliest comforter.

I used two different sheet patterns for this project, so I can flip it over and have a different design depending on my mood and/or what bottom sheet I’m using.  To keep things tidy, I like to fold one of the loose ends into the duvet and drape the other over to show off the bottom pattern.

The benefits of this project?

  • It’s so nice to be able to just wash the duvet instead of the whole blanket!
  • I noticed that mentioning to my friends, “Oh, well, I made a duvet for my bed last night…” sounded WAY more impressive than it actually was.  So, you know.  What is sewing about if not for getting insane amounts of street cred?
  • My husband is SO happy to not be struggling with a top sheet, anymore, even though he still gets the benefit of a soft top sheet built into his blanket!
  • Making the bed has never been quicker!!!

Let me know how this turns out for you!


P.S.  The #LearnToSewIn5* lessons are coming!  Just more slowly than I expected.  Our schedules have drastically changed over New Years, so I’m still finding my new groove, but also, I’ve been working on it a little every day, and I’ve realized it’s just not worth rushing.  If I have to take a little more time to make it all a bit easier to understand, than it will be worth it!  Thanks for your patience!
*If you’re new here, #LearnToSewIn5 is my ambitious project to teach you how to sew in just 5 lessons.  The first version, will be free!


A Brand New Year

I had a sub, yesterday.

It’s been a while since I’ve given you a more personal update, so here goes!

Two days after Christmas, the tree I worked so hard on was already in the basement.  This December was HARD on the Fifes! We lost a great grandparent in the middle of the month, which aside from the pain of loss that all passings bring, also meant a much more complicated month than we had planned on, and a general sense that we were just treading water to make it through the holiday.  On Christmas Eve, my son threw up all over the living room rug.  On Christmas Day, I got a sore throat and cough and lost my voice for a week.  The day after Christmas BOTH our cars had to go into the shop.  Our budget was shot, our schedule was shot, our diet was shot…  yeah.  One of those months.  As exhausted as I was, I still tore down that tree with enthusiasm!

Read more

Buying Your First Sewing Machine on a $100 Budget


It’s gift card day, guys!  If you’ve been on the thinking about learning to sew, you might be headed out the door ready to buy your first sewing machine, today.  I don’t want you to go unarmed!

If you’re looking to buy your first machine this weekend, these are five features I wouldn’t want you to go without: