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Toddler Dress from Man’s Shirt

mans shirt with toddler pattern for cutting
This colorful checked shirt will make a memory keepsake for a special little girl.

A Friend’s Request

A few weeks ago, one of my local Facebook friends contacted me about taking on a different kind of sewing project for her. She wanted me to sew a toddler dress from a man’s dress shirt. This particular friend and her husband are foster parents and will soon be adding another child to their family by adoption. They also recently lost a family member–the husband’s father passed away last fall. It was their desire to honor his father’s memory by having their new daughter wear a dress made from one of her grandpa’s dress shirts.

This is where I come in. In the words of my friend, I happen to be her “most expert sewing person”. She wanted me to make her daughter-to-be a simple jumper using a man’s dress shirt. I agreed to accept the commission. A toddler dress from a shirt was a totally different concept from the usual memory pillows that I make.

Choosing a Toddler Dress Pattern and a Man’s Dress Shirt

My friend was interested in a simple design and wasn’t set on any certain style. That was music to my ears! We quickly agreed on a Simplicity Easy-to-Sew pattern that I just happened to have in my stash of uncut patterns.

I was delighted when I saw the shirt that they chose for the jumper. The rainbow of colors and check/stripe design are perfect for a little girl’s dress. The pattern pieces for a size 1 dress fit easily on the XL man’s shirt. I used the front of the shirt for the front of the dress and opted to leave the shirt pocket intact as part of the design. The sleeves provided enough fabric to cut bias binding to use for the armhole facings.

The pattern was a relatively quick sew, though it did take me a little longer than I anticipated. Turns out that I’m a little rusty when it comes to making toddler dresses.

The Finished Memory Dress

toddler girls dress back view

I love the way this little toddler dress from a man’s dress shirt turned out! The only change I made to the pattern is the back closure. The pattern called for a button and an elastic loop. I’m not a fan of that type of closure since the elastic loops will often fray or break. Instead, I added a small tab and stabilized it with interfacing so that I could attach a plastic snap. This was the perfect opportunity for me to use one of my fancy snaps that I’ve gotten free with my snap orders from KAM snaps.

snap closure on back of toddler dress

Welcome to Your New Family, Baby Girl!

I applaud my friend and her family for making room in their lives and in their home for their newest foster daughter. She is most fortunate to be finding her forever family with this couple and their other children. I wish them nothing but the richest blessings and happiness!

I pray that having their new daughter come into their family dressed in one of her new grandpa’s shirts will help them to feel that he is there with them in spirit on this special day. May this little dress be a reminder to all of them of their missing loved one and the special place he holds in their hearts and in their family.

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Fleece Car Seat Ponchos Are Getting Bigger!

car seat poncho with hood

We’ve probably all had the misfortune of ordering a clothing item online only to find that when it arrives, it’s smaller than we expected it to be. This situation is especially frustrating when ordering for a child because children grow so quickly. An item that just fits today may be too small in three months! I’ve always been up front about the fact that my fleece car seat ponchos run small. I’ve spent a fair amount of time during my busy season urging customers to size up. But I’ve still had some customers who were disappointed in the size when their order arrived.

That is why, after selling my handmade fleece car seat ponchos for four years, I’ve decided to make a change in the sizing of my ponchos. This decision was not made on a whim, but is the result of careful consideration and concern for my customers.

The ponchos will be exactly the same design — a circular poncho with a two-way zipper and hand slits — made from premium anti-pill fleece. I will continue to offer ponchos with hoods and ponchos without hoods. The difference is that effective March 1, 2019, the ponchos will all be one size larger than before. This means that my car seat ponchos will now more closely correspond with typical children’s clothing sizes.

Last year’s size 8 will be this year’s size 6. Last year’s size 6 will be this year’s size 4T, and so on. Ponchos will still be available in five sizes, but this year, the sizes and front zipper measurements will be as follows:

3-6 months 12″
12 months 13.5″
2T 16″
4T 18″
6 20″

I’m certain that this change is going to be a positive one for my business and for my customers. I look forward to offering a generously sized car seat poncho in my Etsy shop beginning March 1, 2019.

What are your thoughts on this change to my car seat ponchos?

car seat poncho with arm holes
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Car Seat Ponchos Without Hoods

fleece poncho without hood

Help! My Kid Hates Hoods!

Last year, during the 2018 poncho selling season, I had a few customers contact me asking if I could make car seat ponchos without hoods. It seems that some kids don’t like hoods. Who knew?
Several moms who asked for ponchos without hoods said that their kids didn’t like the feel of the hood behind their heads while they were riding in their car seats. I agreed to consider adapting my poncho pattern after my busy season was over.

Let the design process begin.

Over the course of summer 2018, I made several attempts at a poncho without a hood. All of my prototypes lacked a neck finish that I would be happy to offer to my customers. I just couldn’t seem to get that neckband right!

I was determined to offer a poncho without a hood, but it had to look good. If I just removed the hood and finished the poncho with no neckband, the neck opening would be too large. I spent quite a lot of time contemplating how to make this work.

My light bulb moment

By August, I still hadn’t come up with a workable solution to my design problem. I had just one last option….I prayed. Yes, I’m a praying woman who believes firmly that it is God who has given me a talent for sewing and creating. I don’t know why it hadn’t occurred to me earlier in the summer to ask Him to help me with my dilemma. Not long after praying, I was lying in bed one morning, and a thought came to me about finishing the poncho neck edge with a method I had used before for finishing knit shirts. It worked!

fleece car seat poncho without hood

A successful product!

At the beginning of September 2018, I offered car seat ponchos without hoods. As an add-on purchase, I also offered the option of a detachable hood that snaps onto the neckband with six sets of plastic snaps.

During the last four months of 2018, my busiest time of year, I was surprised by the number of customers who chose ponchos without hoods. My ponchos with hoods still outsold the new hood-free ponchos, but not by a huge margin. Forty-two percent of the ponchos that I sold in those four months were ordered without hoods. I was pleasantly surprised by the success of this addition to my shop!

All of the feedback so far has been positive. Customers have appreciated the option to choose their fleece car seat poncho with or without a hood. I’ve even added hats to my shop, and they work beautifully with the hood-free ponchos.

The moral of the story

If you’ve got a need that a shop owner may be able to meet, don’t be afraid to reach out to a business owner. I’m very thankful that those customers made me aware of their need for a car seat poncho without a hood.

All of the improvements that I’ve made to my poncho design over the past few years have been made because of requests that I’ve received from past or potential customers.

If you’re not wearing a car seat poncho on your child instead of a bulky winter coat, you can head on over to my Etsy shop right now. I’ll be happy to work with you on a custom order.

Car seat poncho without hood
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A Swimsuit for a Special Doll

My Life doll in swimsuit

On the 4th of July, I decided to take a break from sewing fleece car seat ponchos and do a little sewing for fun.  I already had a project in mind.  I wanted to make a swimsuit and beach bag for my granddaughter’s 18″ My Life doll.  Aaliyah is six years old, and she loves playing with My Life dolls!  I enjoy watching her change their clothes and create scenarios for them while she’s playing.  I knew that she didn’t have any swimwear for her dolls, so the project choice was an easy one.

This is Aaliyah with one of her dolls that looks a lot like her.  The doll is modeling her new swimsuit and swimming goggles. Aaliyah is modeling her pink cast that she’s been wearing for the past three weeks.

Project Inspiration

My inspiration for the fabric selection for this project came from a kitchen towel that I found on clearance at Walmart.  When I saw the towel, it reminded me of a beach towel.  It was a little larger than most doll beach towels, but I knew Aaliyah wouldn’t mind.doll with beach towelMy Life doll with swimwear

I chose a yellow floral swimsuit fabric for the main part of the swimsuit.  I used a black and white polka dot fold over elastic for the edges of the swimsuit.  The polka dots in the elastic mimic the black and white pattern on the towel.

For the beach bag, I chose yellow with a black and white trim again.  But this time, I added a coral color print for the pocket to coordinate with the coral letters on the towel.  I chose blue jelly bracelets for the beach bag handles.

Swimsuit Details

Everyone’s favorite part of the swimsuit is the bum ruffles!  This detail on this particular pattern is just adorable!  The pattern is from Lee & Pearl.  It’s their Retro Ruffled Swimsuit Pattern.

I chose a black and white check swimsuit fabric for the bottom ruffle with a solid yellow for the top ruffle.  These particular fabrics were available from Lee & Pearl, too, and I’ve had them in my stash for a few years.

doll swimsuit with ruffles

This project reminded me how much I enjoy making doll clothes.  I love the process of choosing a pattern and fabrics with no complicated fitting issues to work around.

It’s pretty awesome to hear Aaliyah tell me how amazing I am, too!

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Car Seat Ponchos Changes for 2018

new shape for car seat poncho

Change can be scary!

In spite of our fear of change, sometimes change is good.  That’s certainly the case with the car seat poncho changes that I’m making for 2018.

Ever since I began sewing and selling car seat ponchos in 2015, I have used the same pattern.  That pattern has been well received by my customers.  On occasion, I have had customers tell me that they wish their poncho was just a bit longer.

That’s why, when late last year, my pattern designer made a few minor changes to her pattern, I knew I wanted to make the same changes to the car seat ponchos that I offer in my shop.

New for 2018

The new ponchos will be slightly longer in the front and back and slightly shorter at the sides.  The new ponchos have an elongated shape with the extra length where needed.
The photo below is a “old” size 2T poncho that I made using the pattern that I’ve been using for the past few years.

Size 2T car seat poncho

Now, this poncho below is a new size 2T in a beautiful gray and purple feather print.  You can see the slight difference in the shape of the ponchos.

Size 2T car seat poncho

For comparison, check out the photos below.

Two car seat ponchos
New shape of car seat ponchos

In the first photo, you can see the old poncho is approximately two inches shorter than the new poncho in the front and back.

In the second photo, notice that the new poncho is not as wide at the shoulders as the old poncho.  This allows for a better fit with less bunching at the hands when using the wrist snaps.

Admittedly, these changes are not earth-shattering, but both of the changes are positive improvements in the car seat ponchos that you can purchase here in my store or in my Etsy shop.  Anyone who purchased a poncho after February 2018 already received this style.  The measurements in the listing descriptions in my shop will reflect these changes.

I look forward to hearing your thoughts on these changes to the car seat ponchos.  Rest assured that the features that set my ponchos apart from the rest — the two-way zipper, hand slits, and wrist snaps — will not change.  I will continue to make ponchos that you and your children can enjoy for years!

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Why I Became an Entrepreneur

Why I became an entrepreneur

When I was a child, I remember people asking me what I wanted to be when I grew up.  I’m pretty sure I never once responded to that question by saying, “I want to be an entrepreneur.”  As a child, I had never once considered the possibility of owning my own handmade business.  Yet, here I am, sole proprietor of Elaine Searer, Sewing & Alterations, and I’m loving it!

Three Reasons I Started My Own Business

My top three reasons for owning my own handmade business are as follows:
1. Opportunity to work in my own home
2.  Setting my own schedule (except during my busy season)
3.  Satisfaction of doing work that is appreciated by my customers.
Making fleece car seat ponchos

Not only do I make custom items, but I also do alterations.  I find it extremely satisfying to take a garment that someone couldn’t use and turn it into something that fits and works for that person.  I feel that same satisfaction when I take two pieces of fleece fabric and make a car seat poncho that will keep a child warm all winter long.
Paperwork is part of my businessMy husband and I have created a comfortable, practical sewing studio in the basement of our home.  It’s one of my favorite places to spend time.  I am very thankful that I can contribute financially in a way that is enjoyable and fulfilling.
Choosing snaps for a car seat poncho


Before I became an entrepreneur, I was a high school English teacher.  I liked that job, too.  The time I spent in the classroom with my students was especially enjoyable for me.  I did find, however, that I was not well-suited to running my life by a system of bells.  I craved an opportunity to be more in charge of my own schedule.

Owning my own business doesn’t mean that I can work only when I feel like it, but my schedule is flexible.  My husband, Jack, and I start every day with coffee and a “business meeting” in our living room.  We love our local customers whom we see face-to-face.  It’s fun to follow our packages that are sold in my Etsy shop and here in my own online store as they travel across the U.S.A. and Canada.  Our customers often make our day with their orders and positive feedback for my products.
Handmade fleece car seat poncho
For right now, I’m fully convinced that I’m doing exactly what God created me to do right here in the space that He’s given me.  If anyone would ask me what I’d like to be doing with my life, I’d proudly tell them, “I’m already doing it!”

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My Top Sewing Machine Buying Tip

Buying a sewing machine can be a challenge.  I’ve got some advice that can help with your decision.   Because I sew a lot and own several sewing machines, people ask me fairly often for advice in choosing a sewing machine for themselves.  Usually the questions are concerning the brand of sewing machine, the price of the sewing machine, and the features that I consider necessary.

I’m happy to offer my opinion on any or all of those questions, but my #1 word of advice for buying a new sewing machine has to do with WHERE to buy a sewing machine.  My advice is always that same.  Buy your new sewing machine from a sewing machine dealer.
Janome Magnolia 7330  

Recently, I decided to buy a new basic sewing machine so that I would have a back up machine for my “good” sewing machine that is getting older.  I wanted a Janome sewing machine so that all of the accessories would be interchangeable with the sewing machine I use most.  You might expect that since I knew what kind of machine I wanted and what features I would need, that I’d just log in to Amazon and have this machine on its way to me with that famous Amazon two-day free shipping.  That is NOT what I did!  Not only would I never buy a sewing machine from Amazon, but I also never recommend that you do that.

Instead of clicking that “buy now with one click” button, I drove to my local Janome sewing machine dealer.

Here are three reasons why I always recommend buying a sewing machine from a sewing machine dealer:

1.  At the dealership, I can see the sewing machine in person.  The dealer, who was trained by the sewing machine company will demonstrate how to use        the machine.  I can sew with the machine myself, just as I would test drive a potential new car.

2.  Sewing machine dealers offer repair and cleaning services to their customers.  Once a year when my sewing machine needs to be professionally                cleaned, I take it back to the dealer where I bought it.  I can also return to the dealer if my sewing machine should need to be repaired.

Last year, while working on a sewing project, I accidentally sewed over a straight pin.  My needle broke, and I could not get my machine to sew properly.  Because I depend on my sewing machine for my small business, this was a crisis.  I immediately called the dealer who is also known as The Sewing Machine Doctor.  He advised me of a few things I could try to get the machine working again. None of those suggestions worked, so he agreed to take a look at my sewing machine that same day!  Would I have gotten that kind of service from Amazon?  No way!

3.  I am supporting a small business in a nearby community.  As a small business owner myself, I know how important it is to support other small business       owners who can sometimes feel that we can’t compete with Amazon, Walmart, and other huge businesses.

Buying a sewing machine locally, just makes sense.  If you find yourself in the market for a new sewing machine, I hope you will consider shopping at a local sewing machine dealership.  I can guarantee you’ll be glad you did!
 . My Top Sewing Machine Buying Tip
Do you have a local sewing machine dealership in your area?

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What Customers Say About Extra Warm Car Seat Ponchos

I’ve been selling fleece car seat ponchos in my Etsy shop  since 2015.  The first year that I sold ponchos, I offered only one style of car seat poncho.  My regular car seat poncho was and still is made of two layers of anti-pill fleece.  Here in Pennsylvania, my grandchildren have found them to be cozy and warm.

Extra Warm Poncho

But what about those kiddos in extremely cold climates?  Would two layers of fleece be warm enough for a child in Minnesota or Wisconsin or Canada?  I wasn’t sure it would be.  That’s why, in my second year of poncho making and selling, I offered the option of choosing a layer of cotton quilt batting that I added between the two layers of anti-pill fleece.

Last year, one third of my poncho orders were for extra warm ponchos.  Most of those extra warm ponchos made their way north to colder states and to Canada.

This fall I asked some of those customers whose children used the extra warm ponchos last year to take a short survey.  The results were overwhelmingly positive, and every one who responded said that she would make the same choice to purchase the extra warm poncho again.

Survey Results

1.  In what state or province do you live? 

The women who answered my survey were from Nebraska, Michigan, New Jersey, Minnesota, Oklahoma, and New York.

2.  Did the extra warm poncho provide adequate warmth? 

Everyone agreed that the extra warm poncho provided adequate warmth.  One mom said that on the coldest days in Michigan, she would layer the poncho over a fleece jacket.

3.  Where there times when the poncho was too warm? 

Some responded that the poncho was too warm for fall and spring weather.  Another mom added that if the temperature were forty degrees or warmer, the poncho was not a good choice.  The others assured me that the poncho was not too warm in their winter climates.

4.  How would you describe the weight and feel of the extra warm poncho? 

I wanted to get some opinions on the feel and weight of the extra warm poncho since I’m often trying to describe it to potential customers.  My survey-takers described the extra warm poncho as a thicker fleece, not too heavy or thick, warm and cozy, substantial without feeling stiff or cumbersome.  One mom was concerned that the extra layer would make the poncho stiff, but it did not.

5.  If you were to purchase another poncho, would you choose the extra warm style? 

All of the survey participants agreed that if they purchased another poncho, they would, without hesitation, purchase the extra warm poncho again.

There was that one mom who said that since she already had an extra warm poncho, she might choose a regular poncho to use in spring and fall weather.  I like this idea!  Everyone should buy two ponchos:  a regular and an extra warm one.

Contact Me About a Poncho:

If  you’re interested in ordering a regular or extra warm car seat poncho, please contact me.  You can use the contact form here on this site, contact me in my Etsy shop, or visit my business page on Facebook.  I’d be happy to work with you to create a poncho for that special child in your life!

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Licensed Fabrics Are Off Limits for My Business

Minnie Mouse full coverage bibLicensed fabrics that have favorite TV and movie characters on them are quite popular especially with children.  I often receive requests to make ponchos or bibs using licensed fabrics from Disney, John Deere, NFL teams and other companies.

The Facts About Licensed Fabrics:

If you’ve ever bought licensed fabrics, you may have noticed that the selvage (edge) of the fabric is usually printed with these words:  “For home use only. Not intended for commercial use”.

That warning means just what it says.  Those characters, phrases, and even color combinations may have been copyrighted by the original owner.  Using those words or images for business gain is not legal.  Some small business owners believe that a multi-million dollar corporation is not going to concern themselves with a small business’s infringement of their intellectual property.

The truth is that Disney, Marvel, and other companies HAVE filed suits against small business owners who have used their images, color combinations, and copyrighted phrases without first purchasing a license to do so.  

My Policy:

I have chosen not to sell items made from licensed fabrics.  It is so tempting to bend the rules to make a poncho with Ana and Elsa, Minions, or Minnie Mouse fabric.  But the bottom line is that I am not willing to jeopardize my business by infringing on the rights of other businesses.

It is perfectly legal to make gifts, donations, and personal items with licensed fabrics.  It is also legal to make items from licensed fabrics if my customer purchases the fabric and delivers it to me.  In that case, I’m performing a service, not selling a product.

Apron bib in paw patrol printJust this morning, I made this Paw Patrol bib for my sister’s granddaughter.  While I was happy to indulge little Brinley’s obsession with Paw Patrol characters, I can guarantee that you will never see licensed fabrics in my Etsy shop or in my Facebook group.  I’m playing it safe with my business, and I trust that my customers will understand my reasons for that.

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Fleece Fabric Scraps Become Beautiful Blankets

quilt top made from coordinating fleece scrapsFleece fabric scraps sure can create a big mess!  After making more than 240 fleece ponchos in my Etsy shop in 2016, my small storage room was overrun with fleece scraps.  I had a huge mountain of mixed up fleece scraps that was threatening to flow out into my sewing area.

Many of the scraps were good-sized pieces of fleece, and I couldn’t bear the thought of wasting them.  My husband Jack urged me to just throw them away.  I just couldn’t bring myself to do that! Instead,  I turned to Facebook to offer my fleece scraps to any of my local friends who could come and pick them up.

A Perfect Match

One of my Facebook friends responded saying that her mom would be interested in making blankets from my fleece scraps.  The next morning, Amelia stopped by my house.  Jack and I loaded her car with boxes and bags of fleece scraps.  Her plan was to turn the scraps into blankets.  She would then donate the blankets to Christian Aid Ministries, a non-profit Amish-Mennonite organization that works to meet physical and spiritual needs around the world.

Just last week, Amelia stopped by again to show me what she was able to do with the fleece scraps that I had given her.  Jack and I were both impressed with the beautiful, colorful blankets that will soon be bringing comfort and warmth.
A fleece blanket made from scraps Thanks to Amelia’s hard work, those fleece scraps that just barely escaped the fire, are going to help someone in need.

Here’s one last picture of Amelia and me holding the blanket that I like best.  We are the poncho maker and the blanket maker who joined forces to help warm the world!  All of my customers who ordered ponchos have a share in this, too.

Which blanket do you like best?