Tuesday, June 30, 2009

I won!

Back in May, Sew, Mama Sew! sponsored a giveaway day, with hundreds of bloggers participating by offering wonderful craft supplies and handmade goodies to commenters. I was on vacation then, so had time to browse many new blogs and enter the giveaways. And I won one!

Trish, at Two Peas in a Pod Homegrown Designs, offered this beautiful farmer's market tote, and then at the last minute, decided to add a lovely produce bag to go inside. They arrived yesterday and are more beautiful in person than photos can show. They are very well made, sturdy, and lovely. I adore the mix of vintagy-looking fabrics.

Trish had asked for snack suggestions: "your favorite fresh wholesome after school snack... It should use fruits or veggies and not a lot of ingredients – something tasty and good for you and something that celebrates nature's harvest." I won with my (admittedly very strange) suggestion of cabbage and ketchup--but I can't take credit for the idea. Last summer, I took an online food storage class with Sharon Astyk, and I asked the group for suggestions about how to get kids to eat more greens--particularly cabbage, which I had tons of from the farmer with whom I was bartering. Sharon suggested offering it with ketchup as a dip, which seemed like a gross but perfectly logical choice, as kids love to dip. Sure enough, they all ask for "more cabbage! more cabbage!" when I offer that now-favorite snack. (I make my own ketchup, so I know they're not getting too much sugar and nasty ingredients.)

So this summer, when I shop the farmer's market for more cabbage and tomatoes destined to become ketchup, I'll carry them home in a lovely new bag. Thanks, Trish!

Monday, June 29, 2009

Independence Days challenge, week 9

Time again for Sharon's Independence Day's Challenge:

1. Plant something: nothing this week.
2. Harvest something: Mulberries. (This week, we met the man who owns the tree, and got official permission to pick the berries; he even said it would be ok for us to bring a ladder.) Eggs.
3. Preserve something: Dried mulberries. Dried turnip greens. Dried blueberries.
4. Reduce waste: nothing unusual.
5. Preparation and storage: Last summer, we picked and froze a ton of blueberries--maybe too many, as we still have a few bags left. So I tried an experiment: I dried some of the frozen berries. I'd wondered if freezing would break the cell structure a bit so the skins wouldn't dry all papery and loose around the berries. Sure enough, they dried beautifully! This will be my new, more-effective blueberry drying method. (And it made some room in my freezer for this year's bounty.)
Also, one positive effect of the economic times is two great new thrift stores opening in our area. I got many wonderful books for future homeschooling this week.
6. Build community food systems: We gave the man who owns the mulberry tree his first taste of a mulberry, and encouraged him to continue to fight to keep that tree there (he said the city wants to take it down). I also brought some of the children in my program picking with me.
7. Eat the food: You're probably wondering "dried turnip greens? What do you do with those?" Well, my Wednesday group of kids has come to expect popcorn for afternoon snack. I like to boost the vitamin content a bit, so we make our own version of "Veggie Booty" (one of their favorite store-bought snacks, from back when I bought them prepared snacks). I put dried greens in the blender and turn them to powder, then coat buttered popcorn with it. We've done spinach, kale, and parsley so far, all with great success. Also, tried a new recipe for mulberry muffins.

Wednesday, June 24, 2009

Can I make a quilt in time?

When I decided to join Craft Hope for their third challenge, I pledged to make at least a hat and a pair of booties. I made two hats right away, and got started on a pair of booties. Somewhere along the line, I decided to make a blanket to go with each set. I was thinking about hemming up a simple flannel blanket, and trying to figure out when I'd get out to buy the flannel, when somehow, I got a notion to make a quilt. Unlike some bloggers out there who seem to whip out a quilt every week, I've only ever made one quilt (a sad, lumpen, polyester thing made with love for my honey right after college). I've started on one for Lucy's room, and am doing an occasional block here and there towards finishing that for her first birthday. But this seemed more manageable--small, and on a deadline (I have until July 25th). Where do I get these notions? I have a million other projects I want to get to. And yet...

I googled around for a suitable pattern, and chose this one. I'm making mine smaller, more swaddler size than crib size. Once I had the idea in my mind, I was possessed, and went digging through my fabric for a large variety that went well together (this is when I wish I had a larger stash, though what I've got barely fits as it is!). I started cutting, and couldn't stop until all the pieces were cut out (I stayed up WAY too late working after my family was asleep). And never mind that the sewing machine is in our bedroom; I simply had to sew together the first block just to see how it would look (they slept through it). Here it is:

(Ignore the washed-out picture. It's been raining here forever, I think. It's way cuter in person.)

Now, if it weren't for that pesky thing called work, I could just sew and sew like a maniac until I'd done them all! Couldn't we just have a quilting holiday?
I wrote the above yesterday, planning to post it today. Then last night, I got on a completely obsessed sewing spree. From one block completed, to this:

(completed blocks, clearly in need of pressing, laid out on Lucy's floor, where they're in grave danger of being scattered by galloping cats)

I love it! I really don't want to do anything else until I've got it all sewn together. Now I'm thinking I might actually be able to finish it in time!

Craft Hope Spreading seeds of hope one stitch at a time

Tuesday, June 23, 2009

New field bags

Here is one of the field bags that nearly destroyed my sewing machine. Each is slightly different, but they all contain the same supplies. They're embroidered with the children's names, in the color which helps them identify all their belongings at my house.

The children in my program are between 1 and 5 years old. We're starting small and simple with these bags, and will work up to more later. For now, they contain:
a beautiful little sketch pad
a pencil
a small magnifying lens
a tulle collection bag for rocks, bark, flowers, etc, etc, etc.

As the children get older and more used to using their field bags, I expect to add:
watercolor paints (thus the really nice sketch books which work beautifully with watercolors)
field guides appropriate to wherever we're headed and whatever we're into at the moment
critter collection containers
and...? We'll see what comes from the children's pursuits.

Lori Pickert, another Reggio-inspired educator, has a great tutorial on her blog for how to make a field bag from recycled clothing. I'd wanted to have field bags for the kids, and her blog gave me just the kick in the ratty-old-mom-jeans I needed to get going on making them.

Monday, June 22, 2009

Independence Days challenge, week 8

Week 8 for me of Sharon's Independence Day's Challenge. Still puttering away, just doing a tiny bit at a time.

1. Plant something:
Provider beans (raised bed with trellis below the clothesline), Kentucky Wonder beans (beside the compost bin and behind the fence), Laxton's Progress peas (forest garden), Mammoth Melting peas (behind the compost bin), swiss chard (planter in herb garden).

2. Harvest something: Lavender.

Mulberries. (The area where we live used to be the home of a utopian community which ran a silk mill. There's a lone mulberry tree at the end of our block, a relic of that time. It drops its berries all over a parking lot there. Last year, I decided that if no one else was going to pick them, I would.)
3. Preserve something: Lavender oil.
4. Waste not: Nothing in particular.
5. Preparation and storage: Not this week.
6. Build community food systems: Well, we participated, anyway. We went to the Tuesday farmer's market for the first time this year (we have three in our town, aren't we lucky?) and got tons of great produce, bread, and maple syrup (didn't make our own this year, as Lucy was born right during syrup season so we had our hands full). And I guess maybe I gave some people a lesson in foraging, being the crazy lady picking the mulberries, as neighbors passed by on their evening walks. And, as always, I involved the kids in planting.
7. Eat the food: We've been terrible about cooking since Lucy was born, and especially since the elimination diet Andi's been on has taken all the fun out of it. I cook all day for the kids, but by dinnertime, we're wiped out. So we've been eating out way too often. I decided it was time to try something "new" (really an old idea, just new to us). I wondered if we planned a meal for each day of the week--the same each week--if we'd find it easier to cook. The hardest part for us seems to be thinking about what to make. It worked pretty well. We cooked three actual sit-down, eat-the-same-thing-together type meals this week (sad that that's good for us, huh?). We'll try again in the coming week. The best was Tuesday night: bread and chop-chop salad. Perfect for the night of the farmer's market. This week's salad had baby carrots, spinach, scallions, almonds (from storage), radishes, turnips. Next week's will have whatever looks best at that market. I know we'll stick to that menu.

Sunday, June 21, 2009

Why I like metal parts...

Once upon a time, I began work on a set of field bags for the children in my early childhood program. I cut up an old pair of jeans and stitched them into small bags, then started adding webbing for the handles. That's when all the trouble started. My sewing machine didn't want to sew through so many layers of fabric. It tried, but there was a big nest of tangled fabric on the back of each one which did nothing to hold it in place--give a tug, and all the stitching came right out. I tried fixing the tension, I tried a new needle, I tried all the fixes I could find suggested on the internet. Nothing. Then there was a big klunk! and then it just wouldn't sew anymore.

Well, I tried without success to find someone around here who would fix it. (I got attitude instead.) Then my friend in Boston suggested a place near her. Two hours each way one weekend to drop it off; then again the next weekend to pick it up. But it was all worth it. "Mr. Sweeper" got it running again, and I've never had it run so quietly and smoothly.

But I never went back to the field bags. There they sat, for months and months, while the kids asked "are they done yet?" It was a doomed project. I just wasn't excited about it anymore. Finally, I couldn't stand looking at the unfinished heap any longer. So today I got to work on them. Hooray--it was working! The stitches were regular and lovely! All hail the old machine that sews through anything!


Yup. Broke it again. Tried all the fixes. Then remembered that "Mr. Sweeper" had said the needle plate was bent. Sure enough, bent again. Damn. I looked all over the internet for a replacement, but found only the information that it was "Obsolete. Unavailable." (Explain to me how it can be obsolete when there are still machines out there in the world, sewing away...) I start mourning my machine, and getting all depressed about my inability to sew.

But then I think--hey, it's metal. I like metal parts because they are repairable. What would it take to repair this? A hammer? I give it a few whacks with the hammer until it looks straight, pop it back in, and ahhhh.... Sewing again.

Friday, June 19, 2009

Inspiring Reading

It was my birthday in May, and my mother sent me money to buy some of the many sewing books that fill my wish list lately. I had such fun choosing which books to buy! These are already here:

Shop Indie Bookstores

You've already seen my first two projects from this book here and here. So far, I've found the directions to be clear and I'm thrilled with both projects. I know I'll do more.

Shop Indie Bookstores

I had this one out of the library for a while, and was really inspired by the idea of being able to make actual blouses and slacks (seems daunting to me right now, but I think I'm getting there...). I love how it takes basic shapes and teaches you to customize them in so many ways, you'd never realize it started as the same pattern. I've followed patterns before, but never known how to adjust them to my body. I'm hoping this book will teach me. It had better, because the patterns only go up to size 12, and I need a 14. I'm nervous about that, but am trying to trust that if I keep up my baby steps like the little Lucy clothes I've been making, eventually, I'll be able to do it.

Shop Indie Bookstores

This one's just for fun. I've collected vintage tablecloths for ages, wear vintage aprons while I cook, dry my dishes with vintage dish cloths... you get the idea. So, some fun reading.

And as soon as it comes out, I'll be getting a copy of

Shop Indie Bookstores

I can't wait. I love Soulemama's blog so much that even if I've already read every word online, I'll be thrilled to have it in book form. (Though I'm sure she'll have saved some treats just for the book...)

Thursday, June 18, 2009

Waiting for the sun

It hasn't been feeling much like summer around here (not that I'm complaining; I like spring!), but if it ever does get hot, I've got just the thing for Lucy to wear. I made another pair of "Ruby's Bloomers" from Weekend Sewing (boy, do I love that pattern!) to go with the Little Brown Bird Smock, and what a cute outfit it made! I'd made the smock from a pink polka-dot skirt. There wasn't enough fabric left for the bloomers, so I used the plain-pink lining fabric from the same skirt, and to tie it all together as an outfit, I edged the legs with the brown bias tape I'd used on the top. I love how it looks, and imagine I'll be using bias tape on many more pairs of these bloomers. In fact, I imagine I'll be making more of this very same outfit--the two patterns work beautifully together, and each is simple enough to finish in an evening.

Wednesday, June 17, 2009

Crafting Hope for Orphans in India

Craft Hope Spreading seeds of hope one stitch at a time
I've decided to join Craft Hope in making infant hats, booties, and blankets for babies in India. I thought I was going to make a dress (their first project) and a doll (their second), but never did either. This time, I commented right away so I'd be committed to producing something!

That very night, I dug through my shirt pile to find one that was ready to be chopped up to make hats. I made two sweet little blue hats, and set to work making booties to match. I clearly worked well past my too-exhausted-to-sew point on those, so they're going to require stitch-ripping and re-doing. Oh, well...I've gotten a good start and I'm glad to have something to contribute this time. I had made some of these caps before, for Mama to Mama's Caps to Cap Haitian project, and it was so wonderful to watch that cap counter go up and up, my little contribution of 3 hats adding to the heaps until there were a total of 5523 hats and 169 blankets contributed!

I don't suppose my little contribution is going to change the world. But one little baby will be a bit warmer and a bit more secure in the knowledge that there is a world out there that cares about them.

Check out Craft Hope's latest project. Maybe you'll want to whip up a bit of warmth, too. (It's open to knitters and crocheters, as well!)

Tuesday, June 16, 2009

"Sew Into Summer" swap gifts revealed

My two "Sew Into Summer Fat Quarter Swap" partners have received the fabric I sent, so I can show it freely here now.

Our local fabric shop is going out of business (pooh!). I went--with all the other vultures--to their sale. They had just this little bit of Amy Butler fabric left, and I bought it because I liked it, but didn't have particular plans for it. It turned out to be just enough for the two fat quarters needed for the swap. I hope Ronit and Karen will like it, too. I had fun pairing it with some vintage buttons from my stash. (Please excuse the wonky photo, taken while pacing with, rocking, and bouncing my baby girl.)

Monday, June 15, 2009

Independence Days challenge, week 7

Week 7 for me in Sharon's Independence Day's Challenge:

1. Plant something: No. But I did finally do some work in my gardens, spreading compost, pulling weeds, and covering some berry bushes (almost too late, as the animals have left us only a few currants and gooseberries).
2. Harvest something: The kids continue to pick and eat herbs daily: chives, mints, oregano. Hardly counts as harvesting, but I think it's important, anyway, as a way of encouraging a new generation of gardeners.
3. Preserve something: 1 pt. dried rhubarb, 19 qts. pickled asparagus.
4. Waste not: Cutting up a ripped fitted sheet into rags, it suddenly occured to me that I could salvage the elastic as well (duh!). I tucked it away with my sewing things, where it will probably become a waistband for something for Lucy someday. I also finally finished spreading this year's finished compost over the gardens.
5. Preparation and storage: We did some work on organizing our gazillions of canning jars, which had been taking over the basement, and also our canning shelves, in preparation for this year's bounty.
6. Build community food systems: I did the dehydrating and canning with the kids, who helped quite a bit this year. I documented the process for their parents. I feel really good about this group of children knowing food preservation as a normal part of life--something they probably wouldn't see elsewhere.

7. Eat the food. We ate the last jars of pickled beets, pears, and applesauce from the basement. I've got to use up the last of the frozen strawberries, as this year's have been in the market for two weeks now! (And then we need to pick this year's supply and figure out some time to deal with it.)

Sunday, June 14, 2009

Little Brown Bird Smock

Little Brown Bird Smock
Originally uploaded by mcghol
My mother gave me some money for my 40th birthday, and I used it to buy sewing books. One of them was Bend the Rules Sewing, which I've thought about getting since it first came out, but couldn't decide whether it would be worth it. After checking it out from the library, I'd say it is definitely worth buying! This is the second pattern I've tried from the book, and it went as smoothly as the first, with equally satisfying results.

This is the "Swing Swing Smock," which I re-sized to fit Lucy. I couldn't guess at what percentage to copy the pattern, so I googled around for a bit, and found someone who'd made it for a 6-month-old at 150%. My printer has a 157% setting, so I used that. It looks like it should fit 4-month-old Lucy just fine, for quite a while.

I replaced the pocket with an applique, which seemed more appropriate for a baby to me (pockets being essential, however, for stuff-toting toddlers). I used pink polka-dot fabric from a thrift-store skirt, and brown fabric and bias tape from a tag sale. I'm planning to make some bloomers to match.

Saturday, June 13, 2009

Orange Polka-Dot Bitty Booties

I finally finished the second of three pairs of "Bitty Booties" we'll be giving as baby gifts this spring. These had the potential to be my favorite pair so far, but they gave me fits making them, so now all I see are the flaws. Here's a hint if you want to make some: don't use cashmere! (The purple dots are from a cashmere sweater.) It doesn't felt well, and gets all misshapen as you try to applique it in place. Argh. And why did my sewing machine suddenly decide it can't sew on the elastic hair bands for the button loop? The last pair worked fine, but this time, it only pretended to sew, leaving no stitches attached. So, these are entirely handstitched. Probably better that way anyway, but still annoying. Oh, well. They're still pretty darn cute, I guess.

Friday, June 12, 2009

More "Sew Into Summer" fun in the mail

Another package arrived in the mail today, this time from Ronit, who organized the "Sew Into Summer Fat Quarter Swap." I waited until nap time to open it, so I could savor it. Here's what I found.

Ronit remembered that I'd entered to win the hippo fabric from her in the Sew, Mama, Sew! May giveaway. So she sent me a fat quarter of that now. (Yay! It's like winning after all!)

She added some "Happy Birthday" fabric, thinking I might use it in a birthday garland for Lucy. (I do have plans to make one of those sometime before her first birthday...)

What a lovely surprise. Thanks so much, Ronit!

Monday, June 8, 2009

Treasure in the mail: "Sew Into Summer" fat quarter swap

What fun! Yesterday's mail brought a treat...a fat quarter from 2Hippos "Sew Into Summer" fat-quarter swap.

A package arrived from Karen at Venezie Bags. Inside, it looked like this (I loved the cute packaging.)

Inside that, I found this:

So cheerful! This is what I was hoping for in doing this swap--something I might not have bought myself, but which I could totally see myself using in a project. Thanks, Karen!!

Independence Days challenge, week 6

Oh, dear...we're not doing very well with this challenge this year. New baby+return to work+vacation= not much accomplished. Weeks 4 and 5 were pretty much lost. Not doing much better this week, but I thought I'd better post, anyway, to get myself motivated to do better.

2. Harvest something: Good King Henry, spinach, chives, mint

7. Eat the food: I was proud to make a dinner this week that came half from my back yard: sauteed Good King Henry, spinach, and garlic, with scrambled eggs and parmesan on pasta. In a yard with barely any sun, it's exciting to be able to grow even that much of our own food.

Good King Henry is my new favorite green. I planted it last year in my so-called "forest garden" (wishful-thinking name for a tiny strip of garden between us and a neighbor, which I'm trying to transform). It's a perennial, grows well in the shade, tastes similar to spinach, and grew more leaves by the time I was ready to harvest more. It's growing seeds now, so I'm hopeful it will spread by next year.

Sunday, June 7, 2009

Another woman's trash...

Originally uploaded by mcghol
I went tag-sale-ing yesterday and found sewing treasure. A green linen table runner at one sale--what might it become? And then, at another sale so puny it almost didn't seem worth getting out of the car, I found three cute prints--maybe a quarter to a half yard each--for a grand total of $1. Yay! I love that blue floral print. And it's super cute with the red polka-dot. A dress for Lucy?

Tuesday, June 2, 2009

Another quilt block

Please excuse the terrible photo...when I work all day and then squeeze in some sewing, by the time I'm ready to take a picture, the light is nearly gone. This block is much prettier in person. (Unfortunately, I don't have a good excuse for the way-too-skinny outer "logs.") Despite the weird proportions, I'm very happy with this block because I incorporated three new fabrics I love:
--the yellow gardening girl fabric in the upper left, which is one of the ones I bought on vacation, and which I just love for its vintage-y charm.
--the green alphabet fabric, also bought on vacation. I didn't have enough green in this quilt yet, and I imagine Lucy will love finding Ls and other favorite letters at some point in the not-too-distant future.
--a teeny scrap of the vintage sheet that's been seen in so many of my projects this spring (Lucy's kimono, my skirt, my headband, my purse...). There will be so many fond memories attached to that fabric. Some day, after I've done much more sewing, I look forward to making a whole quilt of meaningful scraps like that one, with stories attached.

Sew, Mama, Sew! sewing machine meme

It's Sewing Machine Month at Sew, Mama, Sew! For anyone who might be in the market for a sewing machine, they're asking bloggers to do blog "interviews" about their sewing machines. Here's mine:
What brand and model do you have?
A Kenmore 14 Stitch.

How long have you had it?
I took it with me to my first post-college apartment (1992). My mother had had it for many years before that.

How much does that machine cost (approximately)?
I recently saw the same one, with accessories, at a tag sale for $25. There's a similar model for sale on eBay right now, going for $120.

What types of things do you sew (i.e. quilting, clothing, handbags, home dec projects, etc.)?
For years, it was used infrequently--to make curtains or pillows, tote bags, or occasionally a crafty gift or a simple dress. In the last year, I've been using it much more frequently, for baby clothes, diaper covers, clothes for myself, purses, gifts, and my first quilt.

How much do you sew? How much wear and tear does the machine get?
My mother sewed many of our clothes (3 girls) when we were young. Then I sewed infrequently on it for years. Lately, I've been sewing much more often--every week, and often several times a week. But I think I've put more than my share of wear and tear on it. It hasn't had as many tune-ups as it should have, I haven't dared take it apart enough to properly clean it myself, and the needle plate is all nicked from too many broken needles and sewn-over pins. (I know, I know...I've learned my lesson now! But I used to think you were supposed to stitch over the pins.)
Do you like/love/hate your machine? Are you ambivalent? Passionate? Does she have a name?
I have passionately hated my sewing machine at times, but I've come to realize that it was pretty much all my own fault. I cursed it for bunching up the thread over and over on the back side of the fabric and breaking threads and sucking my fabric right down into the bobbin case only to be ripped as I tried to extract it. But....um....well...let's just say using the right needle--changed not because you broke the last one, but because you've been using the last one for ages--makes a big difference! So does a good tune-up. I've come to appreciate it more and more. But, no, she doesn't have a name. Is she a she?

What features does your machine have that work well for you?
It's "convertible" (i.e. a piece comes off so you can sew around narrow parts like sleeves). It has zigzag stitches and other stitch styles I haven't yet explored. I just tried using the darning plate for the first time to do free-motion embroidery, and that was great fun.

Is there anything that drives you nuts about your machine?
Probably everything that makes me nuts about it is really my own ineptitude. As I get better at sewing, I'm liking it better and better.

Do you have a great story to share about your machine (i.e., Found it under the Christmas tree? Dropped it on the kitchen floor? Sewed your fingernail to your zipper?, Got it from your Great Grandma?, etc.!)? We want to hear it!
Not yet.

Would you recommend the machine to others? Why?
I'm a big fan of older machines in general. I like mechanical parts that can be repaired; metal parts rather than plastic; and strong machinery that can handle tough jobs. Mine satisfies all these qualifications. When I saw that $25 one at the tag sale, my first thought was "who can I buy it for?" (My next thought was "damn, she got it first.")

What factors do you think are important to consider when looking for a new machine?
Quality. Price. Ability to be repaired. As few unnecessary parts as possible (less to break down).

Do you have a dream machine?
I don't yet know enough about sewing machines to have a dream one.

Monday, June 1, 2009

Bitty Booties, take three

We know three babies who need gifts this week. I decided to make them all Bitty Booties from Heather Bailey's free pattern. The first pair had to be made quickly--tonight--to get into the mail tomorrow. So I went for a mostly-machine-sewn design, decorating them with some cute berry trim I got recently from a thrift store and some big white vintage buttons. I'm thrilled with how they came out!