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Saturday, December 28, 2013

Knitting Patterns: Beanie Hat

I love to knit. It's a great way to pass the time when I'm not in the middle of a sewing project that needs attention. I like to sit and knit while watching my favorite movies. Usually I'm making whatever my kids have asked for. Yesterday, it was a beanie hat, often called a toque. Making one yourself is actually very easy. All you need is a couple balls of yarn, a circular sewing needle (I like US size 7, but you can use a different size if you like), four or five double point needles of the same size, a tapestry needle, and a free afternoon. You'll also need to know how to make a basic knit stitch and a basic purl stitch.

Start by casting on your stitches onto the circular needles. How many you need is determined by how large the hat must be. The hat in the picture was made using a hundred stitches. It fits my five-year-old son. You can make a hat using many more stitches, but make sure the number you use is divisible by four. For example, you can make a hat using 124 stitches, but not 125. Trust me, this is important.

Once you have your stitches cast on, join them so they're in a circle on the circular needles, making sure not to twist the stitches. Also make sure you use a stitch marker so you don't lose track of where you started. Now you can begin a simple rib stitch. Knit one, purl one, repeat. See, simple. Continue the rib stitch for six rounds, more if you want a thicker rib around the base of your hat. Keep your stitch marker in place, making sure not to drop it. That stitch marker should stay exactly where it is until you've finished the hat, so just keep transferring it from needle to needle.

After you've completed the rib section of your hat, you can forget all about having to purl. The rest of the beanie is only a knit stitch. Knit until you are at least six inches from the edge of the hat, maybe a little more depending on the size of your forehead. At this point, you can add the stripes of color seen in the photo. Add two rounds of a contrasting color, then three of your base color, then two more of your contrasting color to get the effect you see in the photo. You can change the patter as you desire, but once you've added seven or eight additional rounds, it's time to start decreasing your hat.

This is where being able to divide your stitches by four is essential. Knit one more round, but count out your stitches, adding three more stitch markers as you go. You should end up with four stitch markers evenly spaced. I like to add a fifth stitch marker to the first one so I still know exactly where I started. This keeps your hat nice and even as you decrease.

So, decreasing. It's really not that hard. You'll have to be able to knit 2 together and perform a slip, slip, knit, but you can find videos for these on YouTube. Basically, you knit 2 together after each stitch marker and slip, slip, knit right before each stitch marker. This reduces your total number of stitch by 2 for each stitch marker, so you'll have eight fewer stitches after each completed round.

Continue to knit, decreasing at each stitch marker. At some point, you'll have to switch to the double pointed needles because you won't have enough stitches left to continue on the circular needles. I like using five needles for this, but you can do it with four. It doesn't work with three. Continue knitting on the double pointed needles until you have fewer than ten stitches left.

At this point, you should cut a ten inch tail of your yarn. You won't need more than that to finish off the hat. Thread the end onto your tapestry needle, thread the tapestry needle through the remaining stitches, and tie off the yarn on the inside of the hat (because your hat will look funny if you tie it off on the outside).

You should now have a completed hat. Maybe now you'll want to make a coordinating scarf. I know I did.

And for those who need a little help with slip, slip, knit.

Friday, November 1, 2013

Caring for Wool Sweaters

Wool is a marvelous fiber. It's comfortable, warm, and attractive. However, if not cared for properly, it can shrink, lose its shape and sometimes even unravel completely. In order to prevent this from happening, wool sweaters should be cared for in very particular ways.

Wool sweaters should not be cleaned too often. Excessive cleaning can break down the wool fibers. Only wash your sweater when absolutely required. When you do wash your sweater, it is probably best that you follow the care instructions on the tag. Most tags will indicate that your wool garments should be dry cleaned.

However, it is possible to wash your wool sweaters and other garments in the washing machine. If you choose to do this, use a mild detergent that is specifically formulated for wool. Biological detergents, or anything that contains bleach, will be disastrous to wool fibers. Read all the fine print of your favorite detergent to determine if it’s safe for your wool sweater.

Select the slowest spin speed and lowest temperature possible when machine washing any wool garments. Higher spin speeds could cause your sweater to stretch, while hot water can shrink your garment beyond all repair. If your machine has a wool care setting, use that. Otherwise, a cold water delicate wash will usually suffice.

Do not dry your wool garments in the dryer. Any heat applied to wet wool can (and usually will) cause shrinkage. Instead, lay your wool sweaters flat to dry. You can purchase a rack for drying your sweaters that allow them to be laid flat while permitting airflow from all sides. The wool will dry quickly and your sweaters will maintain their shape. If you notice that your sweater is slightly out of shape, stretch it gently before it’s dry.

Pilling is a common problem with wool sweaters, and it really cannot be avoided. This makes the sweater look untidy and a little ratty. However, when you do notice little pills and bobbles appearing on your sweater, you can treat the sweater by either plucking the pills off with your fingers or shaving the sweater gently. After a few washes, pilling will become less of a problem.

Wool sweaters are very attractive for moths, and once eggs are laid and the larvae hatched, they feed on the wool fibers. Most people would reach for the mothballs, but these can actually damage your wool sweater. Instead of mothballs, consider storing your wool sweater wrapped in plastic and sprinkled with lavender.

For more long-term storage, consider placing the lavender in a sachet with rosemary and dried orange peel. Place this near, but not on, your sweater to avoid any possible damage. Then place both the sweater and the sachet into a cardboard box, canvas or muslin bag, or simply wrap in an acid-free tissue paper.

The better you care for your sweater, the longer it will last. Clean your sweater only when necessary, store it carefully, and rinse any stains immediately with cold water. You should get years of life out of your wool sweater if you're careful.

First published as How to Care for Wool Sweaters

Friday, October 25, 2013

How to Embroider Faces on Cloth Dolls

There are many methods by which you can stitch the face onto a cloth doll. It can be done before the doll is assembled, during assembly, or after the doll is completed. Most of the time, it is easier to stitch the face onto the doll after the doll has been stuffed. This allows you to place the face exactly where you wish and the firm surface means your stitches will probably be more even. If you’re hoping to stitch the face onto a cloth doll, there are certain steps and tips that will make the process easier.

Thread Selection

When choosing a thread, the type and content of the thread is not nearly as important as its thickness. You’ll have to select a thickness that matches the size of the doll. For most dolls, embroidery thread will do. Depending on the delicacy of the doll, you may have to split the thread three times or more. For very large dolls, you may have to use wool. Choose a thread that gives you the desired results. A thread that is too thin won’t show up and one that is too thick will make your doll look chunky.

Creating the Face of the Doll After Stuffing the Head

If you’re stitching onto a head that is already stuffed, you’ll have to use stitches that allow you to conceal the end of the thread. If the head is not already attached, consider sliding the needle inside the head to start your stitches. The thread will be hidden inside the doll. As an alternative, you could a double stitch on the outside of the doll. This encases the thread, not only hiding the end but preventing the threads from being pulled out. There is nothing as annoying as finishing your embroidery and having the entire thing unravel.

Start by drawing the face on the head with a thin felt tipped pen. You should use a washable pen just in case you make a mistake. When you’re satisfied with the face, select the specific thread colors you’d like. Typically, a doll will have red lips, dark pink nose, and black or brown eyes and eyebrows. However, the colors you select are highly dependent upon the style and type of doll. Select the colors that work best for your project.

Thread a sharp needle of the appropriate size and, if you do not wish to use a double stitch, go through the neck area of the stuffed head. Pull the thread up into the area to be embroidered, but hold on to the very end. You don’t want to pull it all out and have to start again. Resist the temptation to secure the thread by tying a knot in the end of it. Eventually this knot will work its way through the fabric, unraveling your embroidery. You have to secure the thread by stitching it into the stuffing.

To define the shape of the eyes, you must use a chain stitch. Do this by pushing the needle down into the face and back up though the face in the same movement. The stitch length should be small and neat. Before pulling the needle through and completing the stitch, wrap the end of your thread around the needle. When you pull the need through, it will form a chain. Additional stitches are completed in the same manner. When you’ve reached the beginning, draw the thread back into the head of the doll and down through the neck. Secure the threads with a double knot, pulling them taunt but not enough to crease or pucker the face.

The eyeballs are created using straight stitches in whatever manner best suits your doll. The nose can also be worked with straight stitches, and chain stitches once again for the mouth. Eyebrows are also usually worked in chain stitches, though if you want thick eyebrows, consider a few rows of straight stitches. Stitches are all secured in much the same manner as the eyes were, by drawing the threads though the neck.

Creating the Face of a Finished Doll

The stitches remain the same for a finished doll, but everything else is different and infinitely more difficult. You can try to put the needle through the back of the head, but you’ll have to use a needle long enough to ensure you get the placement right. A double stitch can be used to secure the thread on the front of the face, but in all other respects the stitching remains the same. This method is more difficult simply because it is harder to secure the thread. Hence the double stitch.

If stitching a face onto a finished doll is too complicated (and it often is), consider using appliques on larger dolls. You can make your own appliques out of bits of felt. In areas too small, you may have to use a permanent fine tip pen to create the look you want.

Creating the Face Before Stuffing the Head

If you want to stitch the face before assembling the doll, invest in a darning mushroom of the appropriate size. You can stretch the fabric over the mushroom and position the face correctly before you stuff the head. Darning mushrooms are available from most craft supply stores.

Using embroidery to create the face of a doll is both beautiful and safer. Faces created with beads, jewels, or other items can present a choking hazard for young children. Instead of creating something that might pose a danger for your children, considering embroidering the face of a doll. With a little practice, you will become a master of this delicate art.

First published at Helium: How to Embroider Faces on Cloth Dolls

Friday, September 13, 2013

Making an Art Smock for Your Child

The kids just went back to school, and that means I've been busy. Each year the school supply lists come home filled with things you can and sometimes have to make at home. Bags on hangers. Drawstring gym bags. Art smocks. The list goes on and on. I have two children in elementary school and both of them need things made every year. And because I'm well known as a seamstress, many parents from the school ask me to make things for their children.

The most popular item I've been asked to make this year is the art smock. The supply list says to use an old T-shirt, but not a single child wanted to be caught in a dirty old shirt, starting with my own seven-year-old. So the art smock got my attention this year.

I, of course, started with the smock for my own son. He had some specific requirements. It had to have "jaggy edges", it had to have holes under the arms so he wouldn't get sweaty, and he had to be allowed to paint it. Knowing it had to last the year, I chose a light denim to work with. He wouldn't be too hot and it would last.

So how to you make a smock for a child? With four pieces of fabric, some thread, a good length of elastic, and a sturdy sewing machine. To make one yourself, follow the directions here. Consult the rough sketches if you need a little help. These instructions assume you've done things like insert elastics and sew seams. Detailed directions for these things will not be given.
  1. Start by measuring your child (all in inches). Measure the width of the child's torso (A), top of shoulder to top of knee (B), and top of shoulder to wrist (C).
  2. Cut two pieces of fabric measuring A+20 inches wide and B inches tall. These will be for the body of the smock.
  3. Cut two pieces of fabric measuring 24 inches wide and C+6 inches tall. These will be for the arms of the smock.
  4. Lay out the fabric as the diagram suggests, keeping right sides together. Each sleeve piece should be folded in half to make a single sleeve. Raw edges should face down.
  5. Study the sketch carefully. Notice the diagonal lines drawn on the pattern. Duplicate these, measuring 6 inches across and down from each corner indicated on the diagram. These lines will be exactly where your seams are.
  6. Pin the required pieces of the pattern together, right sides together, lining up the lines you drew in Step 5. You should have four seams. Sew them together.
  7. You should now have something that looks a little too big. That's okay. Keeping Right sides together, stitch the side seams. Start at the wrist area and sew until you get to the bottom edge of the smock. Then stitch the other side. If you want to give your child more room, sew only to just past the hip area on both sides.
  8. Now you'll need some elastic at the wrists. Measure carefully. You don't want to make the wrists too tight. Sew a channel for the elastic, leaving a large enough space to pass a safety pin through. Attach the elastic to the safety pin and thread the pin through the channel. Once you have the elastic in place, sew the ends of the elastic together so it doesn't come out again (because that would mean you'd have to start over and that's annoying). Repeat on the other side.
  9. Now you have to decide how to finish the piece. Start with the neck. If you notice in the picture at the top of the post, I just hemmed the area. No elastic, nothing fancy. You can do the same. You can also add an elastic if you want to tighten up the neck, but I tend not to. It's easier for the kids to get the smock over the head if the opening is large.
  10. For finishing the other areas, I used pinking sheers to cut out holes under the arms (you don't have to do this; my son asked me to). I also cut around all the unfinished seams (still using the pinking sheers) to give it a "jaggy look" just like my son asked for. I frayed the edges a bit and used a decorative stitch just to make sure the denim didn't unravel.
  11. Finally, my son broke out the fabric paint. He wanted it to look like he'd just come away from the paint table, so he put lots of paint splotches on it. He also added his name.
And voila! He had an art smock. Apparently all the kids loved it because I've made 11 more, all in the same style (though fabrics have differed). I've also provided fabric paints for each child. They decorate the smock when the come pick it up, then play with my kids while the paint dries. Tons of fun for everyone!

This project is easy to do yourself, though most people don't. It can be made with more fabric, increasing the width of the body pieces and giving it a more 'flowy' look. I do this for the girls so they have something that flounces. For the boys (like my son) something more streamlined works better.

Friday, August 9, 2013

Sewing a Stitch & Trim Seam

There are many types of seams, some more common than others. While the plain seam is the most common, it is also over-used by amateurs. A plain seam is only suitable for delicate fabrics that will not fray. If you're using a delicate fabric that might fray, the classic stitch & trim seam might be your best choice. It can really be used on any fabric weight, but those that fray easily would benefit from a different finish.

Like most seams, the stitch & trim begins with a plain seam. This is simple enough. Place your fabric with right sides together and pin. Put your fabric in the sewing machine and sew a straight line ⅝" from the raw edge of the fabric. Don't forget to backstitch for ¼" at both the beginning and end of your stitch so the thread doesn't unravel. Press the seam open with a warm iron so it lies flat for you.

Once you've done this, it's time to create the stitch & trim seam. Sew a line of straight stitching ¼" from the raw edge of the seam allowance. Do this to each side separately and press flat again. Make sure you backstitch to keep your stitching in place. It does you no good if it unravels as soon as you've pulled it from the machine.

Once you've flattened your seam, it's time to trim. Cut away the excess fabric at the raw edge of the seam allowance using a pair of sharp scissors. Get close, but not so close that you clip the stitching. Once you've trimmed, press the seam open again so it lies flat.

Mastering this seam allows you to move on to more complex seams such as French, bound, and Hong Kong seams.

Friday, February 15, 2013

Sewing a Straight or Plain Seam

The most common seam in the sewing world is the plain or straight seam. In fact, most other types of seams, including many of the fancy seams, begin with this simple process. So you absolutely must master this seam if you're going to do any amount of sewing at all. The good news? It's so simple my four-year-old can do it.

Before you begin the seam, check the pattern you're using. The standard pattern you buy at most stores will have a " seam allowance, though the clothing you buy off the rack will usually have a ½" seam allowance. A proper seam allowance is essential to ensuring the garment fits as intended, so make sure you know your measurement and that you've set your machine accordingly. See your manual for directions on doing this.

Pin your fabric pieces with right sides together. Make sure the fabric is lined up and that nothing is backwards (picking out a seam is a pain). Place your fabric in the sewing machine and stitch a straight line at an equal distance from the fabric's raw edge. Do this for the entire length of the seam. Backstitch ¼" at the beginning and end of the seam to keep the seam from unravelling. Once you've done this, press the seam open so it lies flat inside the garment.

Once you've mastered this seam, you can start finishing your seams using any number of finishes, including hand overcast, zigzag, or pinking.

Friday, February 8, 2013

The Importance of Seams and Seam Finishes

Seams are quite possibly the most important part of your sewing project. Think about it for a moment. You do all this work to designs, pattern, and cut your garment. You pin it all in place. That's already a lot of work, especially for more complex sewing patterns. You owe it to yourself to make sure the seam is of good quality, and that you're using the right seam finish for the job. After all, you don't want that gown or blouse falling apart the first time you wear it!

Your seam will make or break your project, so understanding seams will help create an item that will have both form and function. A seam finish is used to make the raw edge of your seam allowance look cleaner, but it also keeps fabrics from fraying or unraveling. But before you choose a seam finish, there are three important factors to consider.

Fabric Type and Weight

Some fabrics are more delicate than others. If you're working with a finely woven lace, you'll have to use a different seam finish than you would if you were using a heavy wool. You might only pink the wool, but you'll probably have to hand overcast or even tricot bind the lace. A knit fabric may need an overlock seam. You must take your fabric type into account when choosing your seam finish.

Garment Type

Almost as important as the fabric is the type of garment you'll be creating. If seams are visible during wear, you might opt for welt, fagotting, cord, or even hand pick when finishing the seams. Standard seams are fine for any project where the seams are hidden inside the the finished product.

Frequency of Use and Laundering

Wearing and washing garments slowly weakens all seam finishes. If you're going to be wearing something every day, you might choose an overedge seam or even bias tape binding to get the most life out of your garments. If you're hardly going to wear it (or if it's home decor project), hand overcast  or topstitching might do.

In the coming weeks I'll explore the thirty most common seam finishes. Some of these are practical, some are decorative, but all are useful when sewing, either for the beginner or the seasoned professional.

Friday, February 1, 2013

Reupholstering Dining Room Chairs

I love my padded dining room chairs, but I'm not a fan of the fabric. It's dated (since my parents originally bought the set back in the 1980s) and not in the best shape. Also, the foam isn't as firm or as springy as it used to be. Time for a new look, but instead of buying new chairs, I'm simply going to reupholster the old ones.

This is actually a fairly easy process if you have a few simple tools. You can do it yourself if you're so inclined. First, select foam made from compressed polyester fiber. I like Nu-Foam, but there are other varieties out there. This is a better material than the more common polyurethane foam because it is flame-retardant, mildew-resistant, non-allergenic, washable, and it doesn't yellow or disintegrate over time. This means it will last longer and wear better than polyurethane. You can get compressed polyester fiber foam in a variety of precut sizes, and it can always be cut down if it's just a little too big, so it's convenient as well. If you have to cut the foam, use a utility knife or even sharp scissors to get an even cut.

Select a fabric that you enjoy. An upholstery fabric is your best bet, but you can use almost anything. Bear in mind that thinner fabrics aren't as durable and will have to be replaced more often. Thicker fabrics wear better and are more designed for constant use.

Once you have your foam and fabric, turn the chair upside down. Look for the screws holding the seat in place and unscrew them. Remove the seat and place it in front of you so you can see the staples holding the existing fabric in place. Use a heavy-duty staple remover (or a flathead screwdriver) to remove the staples. Do this carefully so you don't damage the seat.

Take the existing foam pad and fabric off the chair. The foam may be disintegrating, so be careful not to make too much of a mess. You can throw out the foam, but keep the fabric for now. You can use it to create a pattern and limit mistakes. Press the fabric with a warm iron so it lies flat. Place it on top of a sheet of butcher's paper (or other large paper) and trace the shape of the fabric. use a thick marker so you can see the line clearly. Then cut out the shape and discard the fabric.

You now have a basic pattern to use with your new fabric. Position the new seat fabric right side up on a flat surface. Put your pattern on top and trace the pattern using a removable fabric marker to avoid staining the new fabric. Cut out the fabric and discard the pattern (unless you're doing more than one chair).

Place the new foam on a flat surface. Put the seat base over the foam to see if you have to trim any edges. You probably do, even with precut pieces. You probably want to round the corners and trim the edges. Use your scissors or a sharp utility knife for this.

Now that everything is trimmed to size, place the fabric right side down on a flat surface. Center the foam over the fabric and place the seat base over the foam. Pull the fabric taunt toward the seat base along each side. Place a staple in the center of the edge closest to you. Pull the fabric taunt again and place a staple in the center of the edge furthest from you. Do the same on the right and left edges, pulling taunt each time. You should have four staples holding the fabric in place.

Now finish stapling the fabric, folding the raw edges and corners under as you go. Start close to one of your staples and move toward the corner, pulling taunt each time to keep the fabric smooth. Make a small pleat at each corner, then staple the pleat in place. Don't cut the fabric or you'll risk a tear in the finished product.

When the fabric is attached and you're satisfied with the results, reattach the seat to the chair frame. Repeat with all your other chairs and you're done.

A word of warning: If the fabric you're using has a pattern where direction matters, make sure you staple the fabric so the pattern goes the same way on all chairs. It will look more professional.

Want to watch a professional do it? Take a look at the video below. Bear in mind that he doesn't remove the foam or existing fabric, but you get the idea.

Friday, January 18, 2013

Vintage Patterns: Choosing Undergarments for Your Vintage Clothing

I make a lot of vintage or vintage-inspired clothing for my customers. And I'm inevitably asked about undergarments. Do you really need those vintage undergarments to get the right look when wearing vintage clothing? Well, yes and no. It really depends on what your goal is.

Many of the patterns from the '50s and '60s (and some of the earlier sewing patters as well) were designed to be worn over specific undergarments. In the case of women's garments from those decades, this usually means a girls or petticoats, sometimes even both. If you're sewing a very fitted garment that is designed for use with a girdle, you may have to add more ease to both the waist and the hips. If you want the iconic look, you might want to try a girdle.

Most of the vintage patterns you'll find look perfectly find without any special underwear. In fact, you'll look more like you're wearing clothes and less like you're wearing a costume if you just wear whatever you would normally wear. If you like a push-up bra, wear it. If you hate garters, ignore them. Wear what makes you comfortable.

This is true of just about all vintage clothing, unless you want to achieve the full-skirt look. If you really want full skirts, you'll have to wear petticoats. Don't bother with the hoop skirt (they're uncomfortable and unwieldy), but do buy or make a few good-quality petticoats. Before you hit the town, however, practice wearing them around the house. Modern women aren't used to petticoats, and they do change the way you move. A few hours should be enough time to acclimate yourself to the feel and look of voluminous petticoats.

How many petticoats? That's up to you. More petticoats means a fuller skirt, but it also means you'll have more difficulty moving around. Try adding one at a time until you get the look you want.

Friday, January 11, 2013

Vintage Patterns: Finding Patterns With Particular Design Details

Vintage patterns are many and varied, just like modern patterns. And we all get comfortable with certain design details and styles. Perhaps we like the style, or we just find it easier to sew garments when we're already familiar with those particular details. But it can be difficult to find vintage patterns that use the design details you're familiar with.

This is where Vintage Pattern Wiki comes in. This is a standard wiki site, which means it can be edited by anyone, but this one focuses on vintage sewing patterns. With the ability to search patterns by era, style, manufacturer, or designer, this is probably the fastest way to find what you're looking for.

What I love is the search function. You can type in certain design elements (try typing princess seams in the search bar), and you'll come up with a variety of patterns that contain that particular element. And there are usually links to online stores where the patterns are available for purchase. You can even sign up for a wish list for patterns that are currently unavailable. This way, you'll get a nice little e-mail telling you when the pattern is available.

All in all, Vintage Pattern Wiki is an excellent site that allows you to find vintage patterns. But don't bother searching for modern sewing patterns. Nothing newer than the 1970s is listed. It's Vintage Pattern Wiki, after all.

Friday, January 4, 2013

Vintage Patterns: Grading Vintage Patterns

Changing a pattern to a different size is called grading. This is different from altering a pattern, as altering usually involves just a single area. Making the bust bigger or smaller to fit is altering. Changing a pattern from a size 6 to a size 10 is grading. Since vintage patterns are often smaller than today's patterns, they often require grading to fit. This process can be complex, so you should be prepared to practice a bit.

There are many different ways to grade a sewing pattern, and many vintage pattern sellers provide links to tutorials that explain grading in detail. Take a look at these different tutorials, searing for one that deals with a pattern similar to the one you will be grading. If you want a general overview of sewing pattern grading, check out Megan Nielsen Design Diary. This can help you get started, but be wary of just applying the directions given without considering your specific vintage pattern.

The first time you grade a pattern, you should use a simple sewing pattern free of complicated details. A gently sloping A-line dress is usually a good place to start, though there are other simple patterns you might want to try. Depending on the pattern itself the the exact measurements, you may be required to do either an even or an uneven grade. The difference? Quite signicant, actually. An even grade is where you add the same amount (or subtract the same amount, if you're making the pattern smaller) from the bust, waist, and hips of the pattern. For an uneven grade, each area is adjusted by a different amount to account for varying body proportions. Given that today's people are not the same as the people of 75 years ago, it's entirely possible that you'll have to do an uneven grade when working with vintage patterns. Commonly, you'll have to make the bust a great deal larger, which usually means an uneven grade.

Before you begin grading a pattern, practice with some spare fabric. You don't want to ruin a more expensive fabric until you're certain you've done everything correctly. Don't be afraid to experiment, but always practice before tackling the final project.