Tuesday, July 28, 2009

Learning not to think

I'm a thinker. I mull things over, obsess, worry. I spend so much time thinking about how best to do something, sometimes it keeps me from doing it. I am not spontaneous. In college, I quit the clarinet--which I'd played well for years--because the next stage would have been for me to play improvisationally, and I just didn't have the nerve to do it. I love ballroom dance (it has rules; I can follow), but am self-conscious just moving to music. I love to sing, and can learn and hold a second-soprano part with ease, but ask me to make up a harmony on my own? Forget it.

So it's interesting that my favorite quilts tend to be the improvised ones, rather than those that follow a pattern.

When I began my crazy log cabin quilt, I was thinking too much. Each block took me a very long time, because I'd cut a piece, search and search for the best piece to go next, think about which pieces should come after that, think about what size and shape I wanted the pieces, etc. Then one day I just cut a whole bunch of pieces randomly, so I'd have a bunch ready to just grab. They were in nice neat color-sorted piles, and I was still spending a lot of time looking for just the right piece.

Then last night, I took my color piles and jumbled them up into baskets. I liked it so much better already--I could see at a glance what I had, and the juxtaposition of pieces beside each other in the baskets suggested possibilities.

I knew I wanted to start a block using a small piece that featured a girl in bed with a rooster on the bedpost. That meant using a very wide piece against the center block, making it almost double-centered. But I didn't obsess about it. I glanced, made a quick choice, and sewed. (In fact, I was being so spontaneous, I messed up--you'll see it if you've made log cabin blocks before. Oh, well. I chose not to worry about it and kept on.)

And in the end, I love how it came out. I did another block using the same method, working too quickly to think it over too much. I generally knew which color I wanted next, and I sometimes chose and rejected one piece before settling on another, but that was about as much thought as I gave it. And it worked.

How wonderful. Sometimes, not thinking is exactly what I need. Now if only I could apply it in other areas of my life...

Monday, July 27, 2009

Independence Days challenge, week 13

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

1. Plant something: No.
2. Harvest something: Eggs, grape tomatoes, lovage, chives, blueberries (from a local organic farm), currants (total harvest this year: about 8 berries. Pooh.)
3. Preserve something: Froze blueberries.
4. Waste not: Nothing new.
5. Preparation and storage: No. (Wow. I've been terrible this summer!)
6. Build community food systems: I feel pretty good about this area, because I'm raising/teaching children who know where food comes from. We've been making daily rounds of the garden this week, assembling what amounts to a salad-in-the-hand: a leaf of lettuce, a chive, a piece of lovage, a grape tomato, a currant, etc., and then gobbling them up as a snack on the spot.
7. Eat the food: I made a great pasta salad this week with tons of cucumber, scallions, and radishes from the farmer's market and lovage and chives from the garden. We've been eating well from the farmer's market, too: fresh salsa, peaches, green beans, etc, etc, etc. I made two delicious zucchini breads, and realized just how far I've come in learning how to really cook (i.e. not just follow a recipe)--I was able to figure out several successful substitutions for ingredients I didn't have. (All that practice from eating out of storage in the wintertime.) That said, I'm realizing just how depleted our stores have become, and I need to do a big huge shop to replenish.

Saturday, July 25, 2009

Circus crafting

For the past several months, the kids in my early childhood program have been into the circus. My teaching is inspired by the schools of Reggio Emilia, Italy, and in part, that means that curriculum emerges from the children, supported by teachers and parents. What started with one girl pretending to be a "circus girl" has blossomed into a long, whole-group project. As one way to support them, we recently went on a field trip to see Circus Smirkus, and as I sat there in the stands, completely enthralled, I took notes on aspects that I thought the children could incorporate into their play.

From the children, I'd already realized that being "circus girls" required costumes. From the circus we saw, I wanted to add hula hoops and juggling with "devil sticks." From Reggio, I got the idea to host a parent night during which we'd make gifts for the children to support their curriculum. So last night, several of the parents came over for a crafting night. The results of our labor:

7 child-sized and 2 adult-sized hula hoops (tutorial here):

5 pairs of "devil sticks" (tutorial here):

2 vests, 3 capes, 5 tutus, and 2 sets of open-ended sleeve/leggings/hat thingies:

(The red fabric doesn't photograph well, but is a great glittery star pattern--perfect for the circus. I thought it would be great for quick projects, too, as it doesn't unravel. But it was a nightmare to sew. It's bathing-suit fabric. How does anyone ever sew a bathing suit!?!)

They'll be gift-wrapped, for the children to discover and open over the coming week. Let the show begin!

Thursday, July 23, 2009

Back to Lucy's quilt

Finishing my quilt for Craft Hope seems to have given me renewed energy for Lucy's quilt, which has lain dormant for a while now. The other night, I made this block. Despite the error (can you see it? One side required an extra piece, as I'd cut it too small...), this is my favorite block so far. I showed it to Andi and said "I think I need some more fabric to work with," and she said "yes, you do." It shocked both of us to hear that come out of her mouth! Not one to miss an opportunity, I was in the car in minutes and on my way to Goodwill, where I picked up this pile of shirts and giant pajama pants, soon to be cut to bits.

Wednesday, July 22, 2009

Mama needs a treat

Rough morning. Five asleep. One awake and at my feet. There's only one thing to do with this naptime:

Cowboy cookies with crystallized ginger added. That's better.

Hope in the mail

Two hats and a quilt, on their way to Texas, and then on to India. Doesn't look like much, but a lot of love and time and yes, hope, is in that package.

Craft Hope Spreading seeds of hope one stitch at a time

Tuesday, July 21, 2009

I finished my quilt!

I can hardly believe it: I finished my quilt for Craft Hope. On time. And it's pretty darn cute! I am ridiculously proud of it.

Now, that isn't to say it went smoothly. Last you heard, I'd pieced all the blocks, lickety split. And then I sewed them all together the next night. But soon after, I got stalled. The problem was the quilting.

I'd ended up with several extra blocks (after laying it all out, I thought it was too big, so I removed a row). So I used those to practice quilting. First I thought I'd try free-motion quilting. I gave it a shot, but decided I would need a LOT more practice before I could do it on a quilt. So then I decided a squared-off spiral would look good with the pattern I'd chosen. Nope. I kept having problems with the thread bunching at the turns (more on that later). Also, I was surprised at how quickly the quilt got stiff that way--very stiff. Not the feel I was going for. Finally, I decided on diagonal lines, dividing all the squares into triangles. A nice look and feel and better for my novice self, but there was the problem of straight lines on not-perfectly-lined-up blocks. That made me crazy.

I went ahead anyway, using a water soluble marker and ruler to mark the lines. But it was taking forever (we know patience is not my strong suit). So after doing only a few lines, I set it aside and dreaded finishing it. But then, just in the nick of time, Crazy Mom Quilts posted a painter's-tape tutorial. Just exactly what I needed! I pulled out the blue tape, and somehow, it made the line marking so much easier. Plus, she made me feel better about the lines not perfectly bisecting every corner.

But I was still having trouble with the thread. It just kept breaking--strangely, in almost the same spot on every line, about 4/5 of the way along (just when I thought I'd finally finish a row without rethreading!) I was using a new needle, there weren't any particularly bunchy seams, I'd cleaned out all the lint...I couldn't figure it out. But then I ran out of white thread, and had to run out to the drugstore on the corner to get more. I took whatever they had so I could get back to work. And guess what? It stopped breaking. I've been so pleased to be able to be able to dip into my big thrift-store and tag-sale stash of notions whenever I want to make a project, without having to buy new. But it might be time to admit that some new thread would be worth buying.

I thought about various fabric options for binding, but in the end, went with expediency and chose some bias tape I had on hand. I worried that it would be too narrow, but I actually ended up really liking how it looks: the bright turquoise pops out despite its small size, and saves the quilt from being too cutesy pastel. I even love the back--simply solid white, but now, crisscrossed with quilting lines and edged in turquoise, it looks so inviting.

I made mine much smaller than the pattern called for, but even still, it's quite large: about 36"X42". I think it's just right for a baby to play on, though, and will work well for years. I've never been a big fan of tiny receiving blankets; I like something more substantial.

Monday, July 20, 2009

Independence Days challenge, week 12

lunch from the garden

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

1. Plant something:
No, so thank goodness for things that plant themselves.

volunteer squash taking over the compost bin

2. Harvest something:
Eggs, chives, grape tomatoes, comfrey (for the chickens), mulberries, feverfew, lovage, kale, good king henry, chocolate mint, spearmint, lavender, rosemary, red clover.
3. Preserve something: Dried mulberries, chocolate mint, spearmint, rosemary, red clover, feverfew, lavender.
4. Waste not: I remembered, for a change, to dry the bread ends for bread crumbs before they became stale chicken food or moldy compost as usual.
5. Preparation and storage: Made a diaper cover rather than buy one; am trying to save money for other priorities.
6. Build community food systems: No.
7. Eat the food: Altered a "Cheddar and Onion Muffin" recipe to use tons of chives from the garden rather than onions. Made lunch from the yard and neighborhood: "green eggs" (see basket of goodies above) and mulberries.

Saturday, July 18, 2009

Bum sweater

Lucy's been desperately in need of some new diaper covers. She outgrows them so fast (and it doesn't help that we're prone to shrinking them. Particularly the totally-adorable custom-made one I just got from Etsy, darnit!!) I had made her several pairs of wool "longies" this winter, but hadn't yet made any "shorties." Yesterday, I gave it a try, using this pattern for a "baby bum sweater."

I had a little trouble with the waistband--where all the points come together, I ended up with a peaked-up piece. I'll have to figure that one out for next time. But otherwise, I love the pattern. They came out so cute! (Well, yeah...they would have been a lot cuter if I'd had the right color thread. But we were going for immediate results, here, people.) I can see a lot more of these in her future.

One adjustment I'll make next time that I learned from this pattern for a "butt sweater": rather than use the sleeve cuffs to make the legs, I'll use the neckband, cut in half. I was sad that in cutting the cuffs off the sleeves of this beautiful pink sweater, I ruined them for the longies I'd planned to make from them. Hmmm...maybe I could cuff them instead with trim or fabric? Will have to think about that. But first, some more shorties!

Muumuu to Skirt


At one of the first tag sales I went to this season, I spotted this muumuu peeking out from a box of ugly old clothes. I've been reading a lot of wardrobe refashions lately, and have been inspired to look at fabrics, rather than whole garments. I knew this could be cute, and for 50 cents, I couldn't pass it up!

At home, I studied it a bit closer, and discovered that it was handmade. Perhaps it was already a refashion--a sheet remade as a dress, maybe? I also discovered that it had pockets; bonus! I cut off the top, added an elastic waistband, and voila! New skirt. I love it. Easy, comfy, cute, big pockets...the perfect preschool-teacher garment.


Thursday, July 16, 2009

Distraction and lessons learned in blogland

I admit it...I have a short attention span when it comes to crafty things. I get started on one thing, then I get distracted by another, and so it goes until I've got many unfinished projects in the works or just in the planning stages, with nothing to show for it all. So, yes, two quilts in the works, diaper covers to be sewn, a Craft Hope deadline, a baby gift overdue, pillow re-covering only begun, and yet...I decided Lucy needed a new romper, and I had to make it now.

In my defense, Lucy has a wonderful hand-me-down wardrobe of lovely clothes...but it has its limitations. For example, right now, she's trying so very desperately to learn how to crawl, but most of her clothes are dresses. I love dresses on a little girl, but not when she's learning to crawl. She gets tangled up in all that dangling fabric, making the whole process even more frustrating than it already is. So, of course, she needs me to make her more clothes. (What? You say I should just put her in a onesie? But then her diaper shows. I know, I know, I'm ridiculous. But I can't help it! She's so beautiful; who wants to ruin it with diaper shots?)

So I looked through my small-but-growing collection of vintage patterns from thrift stores and tag sales, and found this one. Look past the overly-frilly examples, and you can see a nice basic romper, with room in the butt to cover that big cloth diaper, and nothing to get in the way of crawling. (I'm making view C, top right.)

It's been a long time since I sewed a garment from a "real" pattern (i.e. not the internet or a simple sewing book). The last few I attempted are half-finished somewhere. I learned how back in 7th grade Home Ec class, but that seem to have failed me on a few points.

For example, thank goodness I've read enough blogs and books now to realize that you don't necessarily want to cut the pattern to the size you're making. This pattern, for example, has sizes S-XL, and if it turns out that I like it, I might want to make it again in larger sizes. I used to think sewing was crazy expensive, because I had bought a pattern and new fabric, used it once, and moved on to the next thing. This pattern cost me 50 cents, so imagine how affordable it'll be if I use it more than once! Of course, not cutting it means you have to trace it somehow--and oh, my gosh, that is rather overwhelming for impatient me (so, yes, as you may have noticed in the photo, I cut corners on that one by folding the pattern out of the way in some cases). And then there are all those markings to transfer. And then only after I got started did I notice that part where I was supposed to have cut out lining pieces, too. Yikes. Not the best project for my short attention span.

But wait--I added even more steps. I learned something else from all the wise bloggers out there--don't try a new pattern (especially with beginner skills like mine) on your good (expensive, precious) fabric. So I dug through the heap and found a hand-me-down fabric from my mother's sewing days to try first. A good idea, but it means I don't LOVE it, which means my motivation is not all that high.

So, the question is...will I ever finish it? Will she still fit into it if I do? I can't answer that one now, because I have to get back to work on my Craft Hope quilt, which has a very specific deadline (clearly, something I need).

Wednesday, July 15, 2009

Sharing scraps

Ronit, at 2Hippos, made an absolutely gorgeous quilt for Craft Hope...so beautiful, in fact, that she was asked to make more to use as wall art in the orphanage. But she'd used up most of her red, orange, pink, and yellow fabrics in making that quilt, so she's asked for help replenishing. She says "I'm open to a range of fabrics, the pretty and the ugly, the excellent and the not-so-amazing, because in a scrap quilt, the diversity of fabrics helps make the quilt."

As I've said before, I don't have a very expansive stash, but I thought I could come up with some things to share. Here's the little pile I'm putting in the mail for her tomorrow. I'm eager to see the new quilts!

Craft Hope Spreading seeds of hope one stitch at a time

Monday, July 13, 2009

Independence Days challenge, week 11

My woefully small Sharon's Independence Day's Challenge update for the week:

1. Plant something: No.
2. Harvest something: Lettuce, our first 3 grape tomatoes, thyme, eggs.
3. Preserve something: No. (Oh, no...we were really lax this week!)
4. Reduce waste: Nothing in particular.
5. Preparation and storage: I did get to a bunch of tag sales and thrift stores this week and got great sewing notions which will go into clothes, and lots of books for future homeschooling.
6. Build community food systems: No. Man, what did I do this week?
7. Eat the food: The kids have been having smoothies for snack this week. I've been using the last of last year's frozen berries, plus milk, plus a dollop of maple syrup, plus whatever green stuff I feel like throwing in (such as the broccoli and cucumbers they hadn't finished at lunch). Blend it all up, and yum! Whatever's left gets poured into popsicle molds for later snacks.

Saturday, July 11, 2009

T-shirt refashion

I've been having a rough time with sewing lately...I haven't had time to do much, I've been too tired when I do have time, and then when I finally get to it--like this morning--the results are disappointing. Last summer, the parents in my early childhood program designed and had printed beautiful t-shirts with all our names in balloons held by chickens (way more cool than they sound). I'm too big for the cute girly tees all the skinny moms wear, so I got the shapeless men's version. So, inspired by all the refashion-your-t-shirt books out there, I took scissors to it and tried to reshape it in a more flattering way. But it's a lovely soft stretchy material--not all cotton--and it turned out to be very hard to sew. It kept curling up and refusing to stay held in place by pins or stitches. In frustration, I stuffed it into the back of the closet. But it's been causing me so much guilt. I'm sure the parents would like to see me wearing my gift. And tomorrow, we're going on a group trip to the circus, and I thought it would be cool to wear my shirt; I know many of the kids and parents will wear theirs. So I finally pulled it back out again today and finished it. The sewing went much more smoothly, and I incorporated a new skill I've learned since starting it--sewing with elastic thread. But in the end, I don't like it: the shoulders aren't symmetrical; the arm elastic isn't comfortable; I don't like the neck. I was so disappointed.

So I abandoned the project and read a few blogs for inspiration. That's when I came across Amy Karol's brilliantly simple refashion. Just exactly what I needed to get out of my funk: an instantly-gratifying, super-simple project. Sure enough, I'm sitting here now in my new t-shirt cardigan, thinking I might just be able to face the sewing machine another day.

Friday, July 10, 2009

This is where I live...

And yet, sometimes, we forget to take advantage of all it has to offer. Thank goodness for friends, who make us go out when we think we're too tired to get off the couch. With our community of immediate neighbors, we enjoyed a delicious pot-luck picnic on top of a gorgeous mountain, with this amazing view, followed by honky-tonk music, swing dancing with the baby in the sling, and an intermission to watch the sunset from the porch. Here's hoping we'll remember to take time to savor what we've got around us more often.

Monday, July 6, 2009

Where the wonderful books are

One of the blogs I absolutely must read every day is Vintage Kids Books My Kid Loves. Like me, "scribbler" is a children's-book lover (have you seen my obscenely-large, beautiful collection of children's books? Some might say I'm addicted. Some might say it's hard to maneuver around the piles. Others might relish every word, every illustration, and every minute spent snuggling up with a child, sharing the joy.) She has a special fondness for vintage books, and, apparently, amazing skills at finding vintage treasures at bargain prices. And every single day, she reviews another one. The part that really shocks me is how often she reviews books I've never seen (I know more children's books than anyone I know, and yet...) She's dangerous to my wallet; my wish list is full of books she's reviewed. And, as if that's not enough...every Monday, she gives away a vintage book to some lucky reader. This time, I won! What a treat! I wasn't paying enough attention when I was reading (might have something to do with a teething baby...) and mixed up which book was being offered this time, so I won one I already own: "Where the Wild Things Are." No matter. It's a classic that every kid should have, so I'll give it to one of the children in my early childhood program. Anyway, if you have any interest in children's books, or vintage books, or good design, go check out her blog (in fact, if you go right now, you can enter to win "The Big Orange Splot," another wonderful book...).

Shop Indie Bookstores

Independence Days challenge, week 10

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

1. Plant something: Nothing.
2. Harvest something: Eggs. Mulberries. Clover. Kale. Good King Henry. Garlic scapes. Strawberries (bartered labor for berries at a local organic farm; that's Lucy, "picking berries" above).
3. Preserve something: Canned 7 1/2 pints mulberry jam (from this recipe), 3/4 pint strawberry-lemonade concentrate, 2 pints strawberry-quince preserves. Dried 2 pints strawberries, 1 pint dill, 1 pint red clover blossoms, 4 pints mulberries. Froze mulberries, strawberries.
4. Waste not: Nothing new.
5. Preparation and storage: Organized past two years' preservation lists into a notebook to use as reference for this year.
6. Build community food systems: Spent a lot of time, while making a spectacle of ourselves at the mulberry tree, talking with neighbors about foraging and mulberries. Brought the children in my early childhood program foraging for mulberries and clover.
7. Eat the food: Finishing off the last of 2008 preserves.

Sunday, July 5, 2009

Bringing light to the sunroom

We call it the sunroom, because that's what it looked like to us when we moved in (a once-upon-a-time porch, now enclosed to be a room). But we ought to call it the living room, not in the formal don't-go-in-unless-there's-company sense, but because it's the room where we live. There, the children and I gather on the couch to read for hours, and their moms gather to chat in the mornings before heading off to work. Babies learn to crawl on the rug there, and pull up to stand at the coffee table, which is a constantly-changing landscape of play in process: blocks, puzzles, animal cities, shell designs, etc, etc, etc. We collapse in exhaustion there at the end of the day, and more often than I care to admit, meals are eaten right there, too.

But to me, the life has gone out of it recently. The furniture is showing its age (it's all free stuff covered with slipcovers or bedspreads). The pillows are dull and bought to enhance a previous couch. The rug is looking flat and matted. I've been wanting to inject some new life, but haven't had the right inspiration (or time) yet.

The other night, I could take it no longer. I took 15 minutes to transform 2 placemats and some vintage buttons into a new cover for a wintery-looking throw pillow, to inject some summer energy into the room.



Next up: a change for the couch. Here's the before:

Stay tuned for the after. Maybe posting that I plan to do it will be the motivation I need.

Saturday, July 4, 2009

Happy Independence Day!

Friends, family, a quiet state forest, a gorgeous hike, toes dipped in the lake, a sunny day at last; who could ask for more?

Thursday, July 2, 2009

A taste of summer: treasures from the shore

It's been miserable and grey and rainy here for what seems like forever. I needed a touch of summer...something fresh in the house to cheer me up. I put together this display, in a footed glass trifle dish, of the treasures I found on our May trip to Maine. Ahhh...a little better.

Wednesday, July 1, 2009

Foraging with children

Andi and I made a commitment two years ago to eat only local fruits and vegetables. This means a great deal of time is spent gathering and preparing local produce for storage. The children in my early childhood program are included in that process, and therefore know a lot about where food comes from, what's in season, and how to preserve food. This week, they helped me forage for local goodies: mulberries (to be dried and added to winter granola, as well as to be eaten fresh) and red clover (to be dried for tea).