Archive for the 'sewing' Category


Happy 2018!

So after a great start to 2017, I totally fell off the wagon—both for blogging and for canning. The canning challenges for the second half of 2017 just didn’t inspire me, so I let those slide and did canning projects that interested me (e.g., peach-sriracha jam, pickled scapes, cranberry-raspberry jam).

In August we had reunions with two of the kids (and their families) with whom my daughter had become good friends at the CISV Village she attended in July 2016—one from Canada and one from Italy. We plan to see the Canadian next August, too, and we just found out that one of the kids from the Philippines delegation will be on the East Coast in June or July, so we hope to see her too.

I’m not one to make New Year’s resolutions, but one goal I do have for this year is to do more sewing. To do that, I need to set up a sewing space that isn’t a small table shoved against the wall next to the washing machine in the basement laundry room. But with encouragement from a friend who’s done a fair amount of awesome sewing herself, I hope to tackle zippers for the first time. Wish me luck!


Two birthdays

Early May is a busy time around here, with Sylvia’s birthday and my birthday only two days apart. I don’t mind the busy-ness so much, though. May is a great month for a birthday! With so many flowers blooming, it seems like nature shouts “Happy birthday!” to us every year. And the weather is usually cooperative for an outdoor party.


Remember the party garland I made for Sylvia’s birthday last year? About a month later I lent it to my next-door-neighbor for her daughter’s surprise birthday party. A couple of days after the party, my neighbor knocked on my door and sorrowfully announced that she’d lost the garland. (The party had been held at a local church, and she’d put some of her daughter’s friends in charge of hanging the decorations. No one knows what happened to the garland.)

She felt just awful about this, but honestly I wasn’t too upset about it. She offered to make a new one for me, but I decided on a compromise instead: she could do all the cutting. She (happily!) did this while watching the Winter Olympics and gave the pieces to me in plenty of time for sewing them together into a new garland. And this one, at 80+ feet long, is even longer than last year’s 60-foot-long version!


Sylvia wanted to help made decorations, too. So Jan created a skull-and-crossbones stencil that she could place over construction paper and paint with craft paint. When the “pirate flags” were dry, we glued on eye sockets and nose openings cut from black construction paper, then strung the flags on some yarn.*


Jan is an awesome baker, which means that Sylvia gets pretty amazing birthday cakes each year. (Remember last year’s fairy cake?) To match this year’s pirate theme, he created a three-dimensional pirate ship. This is chocolate cake, with reduced-raspberry-jam “glue” in a few places, covered with chocolate buttercream. The cannons are Rollos, the ropes are red licorice, and the cannonballs were Whoppers. We even managed to find gelatin-free gummi-style sea creatures. And the whole thing is sailing on a sea of baked meringue.


My own birthday was a more low-key affair but just as enjoyable. We went out for high tea, then spent the afternoon flying kites in a park. Awesome.

*Red Heart acrylic yarn is pretty vile stuff. Seriously–I think I’d rather knit with boogers than with that stuff. But it is useful to have a skein of it on hand for kid-oriented crafts.



Guess what happened again yesterday?


(I love how rhododendron leaves curl up when it’s really cold outside.) Fortunately, only about an inch fell this time.

We’ve been busy with crafty stuff around here, partly because of being snowbound. We do go out to play in the snow, but after a while it’s time to come inside to get warm and enjoy some hot chocolate and do some inside stuff for a while. The other day, Sylvia and I build a nest: I hot-glued together some pieces of craft felt into a bowl-ish shape, and she filled it with lengths of yarn. Then she asked me to make a bird for her, so I made up this one:


I’m in the home stretch of the Wonderful Wallaby I’m knitting for myself–working on the neck placket now (woot!). I’ve decided not to knit the hood. The result won’t be an exact match to the hooded Wallabies I’ve knit for Sylvia and Jan, but I know I will never wear the hood, so there’s no point in wasting yarn and time on it. I expect to finish up this sweater in the next few days. In the meantime, I’ve been wearing a sweater that I finished during the summer…and just now realize that I never wrote about here.

It’s a simple bottom-up in-the-round raglan knit in Wool of the Woods. It’s very toasty and has a buttoned opening on the front-left raglan seam. (Because the neckline is so wide, I don’t ever need to unbutton the sweater to get it on or off.) My favorite part? The buttons:


I bought these buttons when Sylvia was maybe a year old. They are pewter, and I bought two of each of the five designs, thinking they would be so adorable on a sweater for her. Unfortunately, they are rather heavy–too heavy for a fine knit. They work well on this raglan seam, though; because it’s on an angle, I think that helps prevent the buttons from sagging.


Signs of the season

Aside from some Christmas-related stuff (lights and ornaments, mostly), we don’t have a lot of store-bought holiday decorations. Our holiday-themed decorating is pretty restrained–partly because we don’t want to have to store the stuff for the rest of the year, and partly because our quotidian stuff already takes up most of our space.

But we do like to make things, and now that Sylvia has become fairly adept with scissors, glue sticks, and crayons/pencils/markers, she likes to work on these crafts too.

First up this year, an autumn tree for our front door. (We actually did this one a few weeks ago, when the leaves first started to turn.) We did something like this two years ago, but at that time Sylvia’s only contribution was patting into place the leaves I had cut out and backed with rolled-up pieces of tape. (She was only two then–not quite ready for scissors.)

This year, however, she cut out all the leaves herself! (I made stencils for her to trace onto construction paper.) I cut out and taped up the trunk and branches, and she put all of the leaves exactly where she wanted them.


Next up: some mice for the steps! I did all the cutting for these, but Sylvia put (most of) them in place. (I did have to offer suggestions now and then, to ensure that we didn’t end up with six mice on one step.)


And of course we needed some bats! These are solar shades, which block harsh sunlight and UV light but don’t block all light and still allow visibility. (We prefer to have no curtains or shades on our windows, but this room gets bright morning light, and we need to protect the piano.) When they’ve been pulled down in the evening in anticipation of the morning sun, they provide a nice amber-hued, slightly glowing backdrop to the bats.


Here’s some more of Sylvia’s (mostly) solo work. The spiders were easy: one circle for the body, one circle for the head, and eight strips for the legs.

I made eye, beak, wing, and chest feather stencils for her to use for the owl parts. By the time she got to the third owl, she said, “I don’t feel like doing the chest feathers.” I told her that it was okay for the owls to be different–they didn’t all have to look the same. She wasn’t satisfied with this response, though, and scowled until a lightbulb went off in her head: “I know! This one can be a baby owl whose chest feathers haven’t grown yet!”


Our final project was this leaf garland. I made stencils of oak, maple, and birch leaves, then traced them (with tailor’s chalk) onto craft felt. Sylvia and I each cut out half of them (some of hers required a bit of “smoothing” on the edge by me afterward), she chose the order in which they should appear, and I sewed them together with invisible thread.



Sew what have I been up to?

p6118677apronftf.jpgNow that I know how to use my sewing machine, I’m having fun trying different patterns and learning how fabric and thread come together. (Or not–which can prompt the use of some choice words.) Last month I made this apron (modeled here by Jan) as a birthday gift for my brother. The pattern is from Lotta Jansdotter’s Simple Sewing: Patterns and How-To for 24 Fresh and Easy Projectsand he’s the one who gave me that book for my birthday two years ago. Sewing through seven layers of cotton twill (when attaching the ties to the body of the apron) pushed my machine to its limits, and I had some trouble negotiating the thumb curves* when sewing on the hand-shaped pocket (it looks like someone on a bender sewed that part), but overall I think it looks great.

p7229158skirt1.jpgOne of my birthday gifts this year was Sew What! Skirts: 16 Simple Styles You Can Make with Fabulous Fabrics, and I decided that my first project should be something small. So I made a skirt for Sylvia, using the first “pattern” in the book. It’s for a simple drawstring skirt with an A-line shape, a pocket on the front, and rickrack trim along the bottom. I subbed an elastic waist for the drawstring, ditched the pocket, and kept the rickrack (I found rainbow-colored stuff!) trim. Sylvia loves it!

p7229159skirt2.jpgShe also likes this skirt, which I made from a funky cotton print she and I found together in the remnant bin at Joann. This time I didn’t follow a pattern or use any measurements. I cut two identical rectangles, sewed together one side, made a casing at the top, strung in elastic (sewing it down at both ends), added bias tape** to the bottom hem, and sewed together the remaining side. I didn’t bother making double-fold seams anywhere, relying instead on pinking shears to control fraying. This was intended to be a quick-and-dirty sew–and it was. And she loves this one, too.

p7229161skirt3.jpgI made this final skirt last week, and of all the projects mentioned here it is the only one for which I did not use stuff from the remnant bin. I actually purchased fabric off the bolt for this one. Owls! On corduroy! Seriously–how could I resist buying a yard of this stuff? My plan from the beginning was to make something for Sylvia, but when I got home I was sorely tempted to use it for myself. But she really loves it, so another skirt for her was born. I used the same technique as for the previous skirt–easy peasy.

*Wabi-sabi rules!
**Bias tape is awesome for hem edgings. You get a clean, finished look without investing huge amounts of time and effort.

In spite of what recent posts here may have led you to believe, I haven’t just been taking pictures of flowers these past few weeks. I’ve actually done quite a bit of crafting!

In early spring, I decided to start on my first “real” (i.e., not teddy-bear-sized) top-down raglan. At Christmas I’d received a copy of Barbara Walker’s Knitting from the Top, and after reading through it felt pretty confident that I could knit a top-down sweater for myself.

So in March I dutifully swatched and found the gauge I wanted for the many skeins of Nature Spun I had in my stash, then cast on. All seemed to be going well at first, and when it came time to set the sleeve stitches aside and continue on the body, I tried on what I’d knit so far and double-checked with some of my knitting friends that it was turning out all right.

But somehow, in spite of my gauge checking and careful measuring and getting a thumbs-up from my friends, something went terribly wrong: in mid-April, when the sweater length was about four inches below the arms openings, I tried it on again and discovered that it was too big. No, “too big” doesn’t do the size of this thing justice. It was ginormous. I spread it out on the table, whipped out a measuring tape, and was astonished to find the width of this thing at 22 inches. That’s 44 inches all around. That’s nearly a foot more than was I was aiming for. I have no idea how this happened. It’s so bad that I’m not even going to take a picture of it. Needless to say, at that point I was feeling pretty discouraged about the whole top-down sweater thing. I’m sure I’ll give it another try, but I need to put this aside for a while first.

p5268618socksftf.jpgFortunately, I have managed to get a good dose of project-completion satisfaction recently. For the last year or so, I’ve taken to having a sock-in-progress with me at all times (well, whenever I’m taking my sling bag somewhere with me). My sock projects fit neatly into the awesome bag that Deborah gave me last fall, and it’s amazing how a-few-rows-here and a-few-rows-there can turn into a completed sock faster than one might expect. The pair of socks I just finished is for me, and I made it out of the fabulous Sea Wool yarn that Chelle gave me a year and a half ago. I loved working with this yarn, and the socks feel very luxurious. They’ve been packed away for the summer, and I look forward to wearing them when the weather turns cold again next fall.

p5268619washclothftf.jpgAnd here’s another recently (as in “two days ago”) piece of knitting. I knit a lot of ball-band washcloths a few years ago when the first Mason-Dixon Knitting book made them all the rage, but then I ended up taking a break from them for a while. Now I make them as gifts for friends, and I really enjoy the process of making something by hand that contains thoughts of the recipient and is likely to be appreciated and used. My latest thing: monochrome cloths. I really like the simple look of these.

p5248481blanketftf.jpgI’ve been doing some experimental sewing, too! I recently did the “seasonal switcheroo” in Sylvia’s room (put out-of-season clothing and bedding into a storage box, make sure the in-season stuff still fits) and remembered that there was still a stack of receiving blankets in one of her underbed drawers. When she was born, we got a gazillion of these as gifts. They didn’t get used for swaddling—partly because Sylvia was born just as spring hit its stride and the weather was warm, and partly because she was ten pounds at birth and from the get-go was just too big for them—and were mostly used by Sylvia when playing with her stuffed animals.

She’s been in need of a light cotton blanket for summer, so when I saw these receiving blankets I figured, “Hey, I can just sew these together to make a big blanket for her.” And that’s what I did. Sort of. My plans to make a huge blanket were foiled when I realized that the dozen or so blankets in the drawer were of two different sizes—and some had been stretched or poorly cut or whatever and weren’t as square as I’d like. So I ended up making two blankets: one with six blankets, and one with four. Here’s a picture of the smaller one (which lives in our den now). I can’t provide a photo of the larger one because it is on Sylvia’s bed—she loves it.

Recycling + something Sylvia will actually use = Hooray!

Where I grew up in the Midwest, people didn’t distribute “goody bags” at birthday parties. That’s a phenomenon I first encountered here on the East Coast, and at first it struck me as a little weird. Since then I’ve come to think of it as akin to [START GEEK ALERT!] the Hobbits’ tradition of distributing gifts on one’s own birthday [END GEEK ALERT!], and I think it can a nice way to teach small children about being hosts and thanking their guests for sharing a special day for them (and not just giving thanks for gifts received).

p5027714goodybags.jpgJan and I wanted the gifts to be something special, so I decided to start by using my newfound sewing skills to make the bags themselves. Each is a simple rectangle with two drawstrings. I went a little nuts and did applique letters (corresponding to the initial letter of each child’s first name) on each bag, too. With her pre-reading skills, Sylvia really enjoyed identifying which bag went to which child and handing them out herself.

p5027716bagsample.jpgEach bag contained a little fairy doll (Sylvia chose fairies as the theme for her party), some multicolored pencils, and a set of mini sketchbooks. The books were a lot of fun to make, not least because I used images from Japanese coloring pages for the covers. Those little animals are just so darn cute!

p5027713ethanbag.jpgSince one of our guests is only 17 months old, I figured he wasn’t quite ready for those items. So I made a stuffed rabbit-thingy for his bag. I winged it, so its ears are as long as its body, but it was fun to make. Experimenting with fabric is a lot faster than experimenting with yarn!

p4267532dolls.jpgThe little fairies were a lot of fun to make, too. I used recycled felt for the bodies and wings, a pipecleaner for the arms (with polyfill-stuffed muslin hands), and polyfill-stuffed muslin for the head. For the hair, I ordered four different sets of hand-dyed Border Leicester locks from Enchanted Yarns. I told her what I was going to do with them, and she suggested using needle felting techniques to attach them to the heads. Amazingly, I was unable to find any local vendors (either large craft stores or local yarn shops) that carried them, and by the time I started on this project I didn’t have time to order them. So I took a chunk of locks and used invisible thread to sew down where the center seam would be, thus creating a “wig” of sorts, which I then hand-sewed to each head. Perfect, no—but I think they turned out all right.

Nearly two years ago my good friend Gina gave me her starter Singer sewing machine when she upgraded to a more uber model. (By the way, her blog banner is out of date. She now has six cats.) Armed with Lotta Jansdotter’s Lotta Jansdotter’s Simple Sewing: Patterns and How-To for 24 Fresh and Easy Projects, I chose a tote bag for my first project. I got about three-fourths of the way through it when I got stuck. The sewing machine wouldn’t do what it was supposed to, the bobbin thingy was misbehaving, and I got annoyed. So I put away the machine. For a long time.

I brought it out of storage again last month, determined to figure out this sewing thing once and for all. I had lots of ideas for Sylvia’s birthday, and many of them required sewing. For some reason (maybe the stars were properly aligned this time?), the machine worked just fine this go-around. I finished up the tote bag (yes, it’s a little lopsided, but since it’s the first thing I ever sewed on a machine I think it’s not bad) and got to work on the birthday-related items.

p5027712garlandroll.jpgFirst up: a fabric garland. As soon as I saw this party garland a few months ago at the Purl Bee, I knew I wanted to make it. I ended up using various bits and bobs of fabric I had lying around, as well as some interesting cottons I found in the remnant bin at Joann. My garland isn’t as “pretty” as the Purl Bee’s, true. But then again, mine isn’t made out of pricey designer fabrics. Plus, I wanted to keep the color as non-seasonal and non-gendered—yet still very festive!—as possible, because I figured this would take a lot of work to put together, so the result had better be useful for lots of different occasions.

p5027915garlandopen.jpgAnd yes, it did take a long time to make this. That time was spread out over many evenings, though—a little here, a little there. Ten minutes before the official start time of Sylvia’s party, it was pretty clear that the rain was going to make us move the festivities indoors (eight kids and eighteen grownups!), Jan and his brother set about stringing up the garland inside. All told, it was over sixty feet long—enough to zigzag across the kitchen, dance across the dining room and living room ceilings, and crawl up the bannister a bit.


My SP11 spoiler strikes again

pa137918sp11.jpg Another terrific package from my upstream SP11 pal landed on my doorstep this afternoon. The presentation was so nice (garden-motif wrapping paper and a Halloween-themed box and ribbons) that I was almost reluctant to unpack everything!

Again, she sent me a cute tea-themed notecard with a teabag tucked into a special pocket inside. (Where does she find these cards, I wonder? I love them!) This time the tea was from the Charleston, South Carolina, tea gardens, “America’s only tea garden.” I had no idea this place existed! (According to the Great Wik, however, tea has also been grown in Hawaii since about 2003.)

The box also contained more tea, chocolate, notecards, and sticky notes. And a jar of pear-ginger jam. That she made herself. I can’t wait to try it on some scones alongside a pot of tea.

She also sent two skeins of Crystal Palace Maizy, a new sock yarn that’s made of 82% corn fiber and 18% elastic, as well as a trio of stitch markers with little teapots on them. Teapots, people! The cuteness is overwhelming!

Last but not least, she sent a project bag that she made of fabric with pictures of cats, yarn, and knitting needles on it. In her note, she wrote, “When I saw you were learning to sew*, I figured you would not be critical of my sewing.” “Not be critical” is an understatement–this little bag is amazing. I adore it and can’t wait to put it to good use–perhaps for whatever socks I’m knitting at the moment. It’s the perfect size for them!

Thanks for another great package, SP11! Everything you sent it just perfect for me!

(*Sometime in early summer, I mentioned that I’d recently acquired a sewing machine and a book for beginner sewers, and was planning to learn how to sew. Well…I got about halfway through a tote bag when the thread got totally derailed off the bobbin and I ended up with a machine that punched lots of holes in the fabric without actually putting any thread in them. I spent some time looking up “how to thread your sewing machine” videos on the Internet, but none of them were helpful to me. So out of frustration I temporarily abandoned the sewing, but I do hope to get back to it soon–especially when bags like the one I just got make me remember all the cool things you can do with sewing!)


Art and life

Via Craft I came across this article about a guy in San Francisco who, on one afternoon every month, sets up a sewing machine on the street and sews whatever people bring him. Sure, Michael Swaine is a performance artist. But one could also say that he’s someone who’s just trying to connect with other people. In this age of disposable everything, people who can’t sew rarely bother to mend their clothes, I think. Why pay someone money to fix a shirt when you can get a brand-spankin’ new one for only a few bucks more, right?

I also think this is one of those rare cases where art actually does touch the masses. It’s not hung up in some hoity-toity gallery, or set on a stage or concert hall for which paid tickets are mandatory. It’s right there on the street, accessible to anyone. The utilitarian nature of this project–fixing people’s stuff–makes it easier for people to engage it. Instead of trying to wrap their heads around an abstract painting or interesting wordplay or major and minor themes in a piece of music (not that those projects aren’t worthwhile, too), people can just ask someone, “Hey, can you fix this for me?” and end up having a conversation with that person.

The French sociologist Pierre Bourdieu theorized that the production of art is one way in which the ruling class maintains its status. They have access to the material capital to produce it. A truly democratic society, he argued, should provide gobs of funding for art. (Yes, I know this summary doesn’t even begin to do justice to Bourdieu’s massive oeuvre and incredibly influential work.) We have the NEA here, but that agency funds only people who are “officially” recognized as artists. That money isn’t spread around nearly as widely as Bourdieu would have liked.

I’m not sure how much money should go to public art. I’m not sure how art should–or can–even be defined in these cases. But I do see a need for publicly supported encouragement of creativity. Having worked for two different educational publishers and one organization that was involved in educational activities, I know how state-mandated educational standards have affected what goes on in classrooms. Funding for art, music, and theater programs in elementary, middle, and high schools keeps getting cut because those subjects aren’t seen as “important” enough; that is, they aren’t generally part of the core subjects that students are tested on these days. And by “tested” I mean “taught to memorize tons of information that will be on a standardized test.” Yes, a lot of this is stuff that students ought to know. But what about standard-less creativity? What about time to draw a picture or play a song not to have it evaluated in some way but just for the sheer joy and self-expression?