Tuesday, January 27, 2009

Idea notebook

New studio ideas:
  • Install shelves in the big closet with the sliding doors to hold my vast fabric collection, allowing open storage of all fabrics with room for growth. Keep sliding doors on but leave open so fabric stash is partially visible for decorative effect.
  • Throw caution to the wind and move the dining room table (which I'm currently using as a cutting table/sewing desk) upstairs to the new studio; use as a cutting table and secondary sewing desk (possibly for a serger in the future?); use money saved to buy a nicer dining room table and take better care of it this time!
  • Use D's old desk as a sewing desk; rotate 90 deg. so it faces the door and to maximize benefits of natural light.
  • Perhaps don't replace beige carpet with blue -- beige would camouflage light-colored threads much better. Opt for scatter rugs instead? (All decorating books/magazines say to go with wood/tile/vinyl floors but I really prefer carpet.)
  • Wall decor: large bulletin board; smaller memo boards covered in custom fabrics; "inspiration wire" to be changed frequently; "Friendship Flowers" quilt (photo to come); vintage brochure covers; art by K.
  • See if kitchen cabinets or tall wicker drawer units can be purchased for underneath cutting table (dining table) to maximize storage space. Utilize vertical space by hanging wire baskets from ceiling to receive scraps, hold tools out of reach of K, etc.
Right. Time to get on the ball. Scale drawings and paint chips and budgets and agendas! I feel like I should put a sticker on my virtual forehead saying, "Ask me how my work on the studio is going!" so you-all can keep me in line.

Monday, January 26, 2009

Mmmm... Vintage-y

Looky what I got!

A mutual friend of my friend who bought the felt pencil rolls saw them and thought of me when she was cleaning out her basement, and a bag of vintage fabric is now mine! I was thrilled to take it from her, and she was pleased to have found it a good home. Here are my favorite pieces:

And some old knitting and crochet booklets came along with the fabric. I'm thinking that these two might look pretty in frames on my studio walls:

All in all, not a bad haul. I can't wait to dig in!

Sunday, January 25, 2009

Many Happy Returns

A rousing Happy Birthday to my good and dearest friend! It goes without saying that your companionship and support mean the world to me, and how wonderful it is that birthdays come along and give me the chance to try to show and tell you that!

This year the theme for your birthday gifts is "Out on a Limb" -- in other words, these gifts are my way of thanking you for standing behind me during the past year as I have undertaken new ventures and become just a little more daring. They may not quite be as perfectly matched to your personality as gifts in other years have been, but I'm hoping you'll find them fun, anyway.

First up is a set of "Mixy-Matchy Napkins," as they're called in Amy Karol's Bend-the-Rules-Sewing, a fun new book I picked up before Christmas. Since I can never get all of my napkins to match, I actually prefer it if none of them do, so I really liked this little project. (Also, I got to use all kinds of fun fabric, which is like being a kid in a candy store.) I don't know how you feel on the subject, or even if you use cloth napkins, but if you try it I bet you'll never go back, either to the matching or to the paper. And of course I had to make you seven of them, because what number goes better with a bunch of mis-matched items? Now, really?

Next is something that I hope I can label "Not Too Frou-Frou," though by its nature it is a little fussy. It seems that aprons are all the rage these days, at least among the bloggers I read and the authors of my favorite sewing books. Thus, I felt called to make you one. I wanted to make you a tea-towel apron because I love the simplicity and utility of them, but I couldn't find a towel attractive enough to make me want to sew with it. So you've gotten the standard vintage-style apron with the gathered waistband and the tapered ties, guaranteed to provide a perky bow (if you can handle that.) I chose a vintage-style daisy print that I hope manages to remain understated, and I left off the rick-rack and the frilly pockets. (This pattern also came from Bend the Rules Sewing.)

Things I learned while making these gifts:
  1. How to make a narrow hem without burning my fingers
  2. How to baste by machine
  3. How to make gathers and sew them into a waistband
  4. That I can make things that are not comprised completely of straight lines
Thanks for those, and for your continual encouragement and faith in me. You are a blessing to those who know you. Have a happy!

Thursday, January 22, 2009

Separation anxiety

So I took my sewing machine into the shop to get cleaned and serviced today. I like the Vac 'n' Sew man a lot; he's just friendly enough without drawing customers into long involved conversations that hold up the other customers so they can't get their vacuum cleaners back and get out already. I handed him a long list of special presser feet I wanted and he was nice about saying he'd try to get them for me rather than laughing at me for wanting things he couldn't get for my pathetic simpleton machine. And he said I could have my machine back in about a week. I must have looked perfectly aghast at him, because he quickly added that he'd try to move it along so I could have it Monday or Tuesday instead. What a nice man!

Meanwhile I will tidy up my (temporary) craft room; I will continue to do work toward claiming my new craft studio; I will try to do some general decluttering around the house; and I will attempt to finish one crochet project. Excellent plans, I think; we'll see how many of them I can accomplish.

Studio daydreaming

I've been working in the office today, clearing out the big double closet and imagining what might go inside. I have so many ideas for how I want the room to be, I thought I might write about some of them here.

I have a vision of yellow walls with a blue carpet, and maybe some blue echoed in a border around the tops of the walls, or some stenciling. Red accents, too. Primary colors really work for me, keep me content and keep me focused.

The main fabric collection will be stored on open white shelving that we already have -- cotton calicos sorted by color. I'll have to check where and when the sun comes in to be sure they don't fade; otherwise some sort of curtain will be in order, or else I'll store the fabric behind the closed closet doors. The various other fabric collections can be stored in labeled, stacked bins. I saw an idea in a magazine for organizing larger scraps by color in shoeboxes, and using the fabric scraps on the outside of the shoeboxes to indicate the color of the scraps inside -- that could be fun. I think I will stop keeping the tinier scraps, or keep them in a special wastebasket for a while in case K wants to play with them.

This is really getting far out now, but I'm thinking that we might want to put a loft bed in the room for two reasons: 1) for extra sleeping space, i.e. guest quarters, and 2) to give K a place to play where she can be out of my way. I could put the sewing desk underneath the bed (maybe a double?) and use full-spectrum lighting with it. There would also be room for storage and maybe an extra seat.

The cutting table is really important to me. It needs to be really big and high enough to use comfortably. The height will not be a problem if we go with an Ikea table; they have easily adjustable legs; but I'm not sure if they make a table top big enough for my cutting mat. It might be possible to put two table tops together to make one big enough, but that would be using a lot of space. A custom cutting table might be a better choice.

I'm thinking that to save space we'll hang the ironing board on the back of the door. I can always take it out and set it up when I need to work with it. Alternatively, if we used an extra-large surface for a cutting table, the excess could be turned into an ironing surface without much trouble.

This is getting exciting; the more I write about it the more motivated I'm becoming to excavate the remains of the office and start moving in.

Warm fuzzies

Remember my vanilla-and-chocolate blanket, the dark brown wool one with the cream-colored binding? The one I was afraid to give to my dad for Christmas because it couldn't be washed? Well, I got crazy the other day and washed it.

Yes, I did, I washed it. In hot water. And dried it too, on high heat. And it did just what I thought it would. It felted. It got all soft and thick and fluffy. I love it. The only thing is that, of course, the binding didn't felt, so it's all puckered around the outside. But no biggie. It lives in my bedroom. I'm the only one who has to know. And if I get tired of it, think of the teddy bears I can make with it!

Moral of the story: Felt the sage-green suiting before turning it into a blanket. Get a nice smooth binding on it and end up with a beautiful cozy washable wool blanket, suitable for gifting -- or for keeping all to myself because oh, how I love things that are soft and warm.

Tuesday, January 20, 2009

Gone quiet

I haven't had much to say these last few days, partly because I've been feeling sleepy and sluggish and partly because I'm trying to keep a couple of secrets, but I'm still working and thinking and creating and producing in the background here. I'm trying some new techniques, and I'm sewing with some fun fabrics from my stash that I've never found the right quilt for because the yardage was so short. And the wheels are always turning about my craft studio, whether or not I'm actually plugging away in there. I've taken to carrying the Ikea catalog with me when I go out in case I have a spare minute to browse.

So expect to hear more from me by the end of the week. I intend to finish my current project, re-cover the ironing board and then take the sewing machine in for its supposedly regular maintenance, which I hope will spur on some serous activity in the craft studio, or at least some general cleaning around the house. It's all good!

Saturday, January 17, 2009

Mishmash: Frigid night edition

It's been pretty chilly around here this week, for New Jersey anyway; I'm not giving out actual temperatures for fear my Midwestern friends would laugh me off the Internets; but tonight is the coldest yet and I am NOT going outside to clean out my car as I had intended to, nor am I taking down the pathetic-looking Christmas wreath that still adorns our door.

I have been working on Prayer Quilts this week, since Irene put a note in the church bulletin that we are running extremely low on them and CALLING ALL SEWING MACHINE OPERATORS, could we please make some more. I turned out two moderately acceptable quilts that are ready for tying at the meeting Tuesday night. I have a third one cut out but I think I'll wait on that since I have so many other projects churning. I wish I could say I was proud of these quilts, but they're not really my best work; I tried, but I rushed them and it shows.

As far as the other projects go, I don't want to say too much about them because some of them are intended to be a surprise for a particular reader -- more on that later. I do want to make a new ironing board cover to replace the one that disintegrated last week; ever since I saw the idea for that in one of my sewing books I can't get out of my head the notion that I must not, MUST NOT purchase one.

The volunteering at K's school has kind of piffled out. I keep trying to make myself go, but then I think about spending two hours cataloging Magic Treehouse books incorrectly and putting scotch tape over spine labels, and I think -- and maybe this is snotty, but I think it anyway -- "What a waste of my time." I would much rather be making things with fabric, or even working on the church's music library, which I've been further encouraged to do by the new music director. I suppose I just want more of a challenge.

Speaking of challenges, this weekend is going to be one -- K has yet another long weekend, and with the freezing temperatures even she doesn't want to play outside, so we've had to think creatively about how we're going to spend the time. Today we're going to do an afternoon movie double-feature with The Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe (which we read most of on our recent trip to Wisconsin) and Prince Caspian. Tomorrow we're thinking of doing a game day, which K has specifically asked for recently -- board games, card games, hide and seek, you name it. And for Monday either D and K will join the school's "Day of Service" efforts or, if that doesn't pan out, we'll do and arts-and-crafts day. Tuesday, thank Heaven, she'll be with her grandparents!

Oh! One more thing -- I saw my friend who asked for the felt pencil rolls yesterday and gave them to her, and she was very pleased. She asked me, "How much?' but we were with a crowd and I didn't want to talk about money then, so we agreed that she would call me later. When she did, I told her how much they had cost to make (around $5) and she said, "Let me give you $12 apiece," and I told her that $10 was plenty, but she said she'd feel better giving me $12. I thought about what a commenter on my other blog said:
I would feel guilty if I asked a friend to make me something for pay, and she made it for me and insisted on giving it to me unreimbursed. At the very least, if I'd explicitly asked for whatever it was, I'd want to cover the cost of materials.
So I decided that I'd let her give me what she felt comfortable giving me. I have to admit I'm pleased to have earned some money doing what I love to do. I think when I have time I'll make more pencil rolls to have on hand.

Monday, January 12, 2009

A new era

Our choir director and organist at church recently retired, and though I will miss her, I am blown away by her replacement. I think my excitement has something to do with the anthem he chose for his first Sunday with us, "My Dancing Day," a traditional English carol that fit perfectly with the lessons and allowed us to sing with a joy and freedom that I, personally, have not experienced in a long time. It's amazing how the right kind of music can enhance worship, and how music chosen or performed poorly can completely flatten it.

I'm also excited because the new organist found out about the major cataloging project I took on in the music library years ago, way before K was born, and wants me to finish it and presumably take on the role of music librarian. (D had cooked up a database for me to make the music library (SMML) more accessible -- at the time the only access was through a set of notecards that covered about 1/10 of the music we had on file -- and I had gone through the music files one by one and counted, repaired and cataloged them. I had gotten through about 2/3 of the files when I realized that no one was going to actually use the data I was collecting -- so I stopped.) I'm thrilled that our SMML database will finally be put to use, and that our efforts will be appreciated.

Studio update

D and I have been putting in some time on the studio, making slow but steady progress. He broke down the boxes from his new computer and moved them out, and cleared the rubble from his desk and the surrounding area. I've mostly been providing support up until now but I've got a box of papers to file and a number of containers of "keepsake" items that need to be weeded ruthlessly. Tasks to be accomplished in the coming days:
  1. Move printer downstairs to D's new office
  2. Move my desk to the great room
  3. Relocate books from office bookshelves
  4. Relocate clothes from office closet
  5. Remove old computer equipment
  6. Move filing system downstairs and cull outdated files
It looks like a lot, but an hour a day gets a lot done, so I think it's manageable. After we finish those jobs we can look at painting, possibly getting a new rug (I can dream) and moving materials and furniture upstairs.

Pajama pants pattern experiment

Let's just say it didn't go so well.

Ok, I got the instructions out and read them carefully. I figured out which pattern pieces I needed. I cut the pattern pieces out from that pathetic skimpy brown tissue paper. I pinned them to the fabric in such a way that they all fit with a little room to spare, and I cut them out with the rotary cutter (note: bad idea, regardless of what my sewing book says.) I cut the notches (note: cut them out, not in, next time) and penned in the dots with disappearing ink. Then I re-read the instructions and started to sew.

I tell you what, though, those dad-gum instructions are darned hard to understand, especially for someone whose visual-spatial comprehension skills are somewhat limited, as mine tend to be. Give me more verbal directions, please, explain to me what I need to do and then label your diagrams and I'll be fine.

I'm not going to tell you which parts of the pajamas I actually sewed together, or attempt to describe the anatomy of the person who could potentially wear the pants I produced. I'm just going to give it a little time, take a few good deep breaths, and try, try again.

Friday, January 9, 2009

The loving house

How did it take me so long to think of this? K's easel has been sitting in the great room being an eyesore for years now, and I've been afraid to slip it out the back door and down the highway to the Goodwill lest I incur her wrath, but now it is a thing of beauty and purpose.

What has changed? Well, that big remnant of white polyester felt that I bought against my better judgement some months ago has finally come into service. I clipped it to the top of the easel and voila! Flannel board! Way cooler than writing on a white board that's been stained with permanent marker, or a black board that's been marred with waxy crayons. K and I (well, mostly I) immediately began cutting shapes out of scrap felt to put up on the board.

The story on the flannel board at the moment is that there is a"loving house" -- because Valentine's Day is coming up, and anyway the scraps are pink and red -- that is guarded by two knights (they look like upended fish to me, but whatever.) I'm not certain what comes next, but that's part of the fun. I will try to find the time to cut out some "surprise" shapes for K when she's not looking today.

Isn't it amazing -- the beautiful dollhouse she got for Christmas, with the fancy expensive dolls and furniture and even tiny clay food, and she wants to play with felt scraps. I'm not saying this in an ironic or bitter way, I'm honestly fascinated at the way children gravitate toward the simplest toys. Even the day after Christmas, she was sailing in a cardboard box boat. Amazing.

Prayer Quilt: Colorburst

I'm so pleased with the way this prayer quilt turned out. There's something about the color that is just symphonic, which is hard to see in the photograph -- yet another reason to start saving for a new camera. And the pieced backing just gilds the lily.

Shh! My dirty little secret is that there was not one single point to match up in the entire quilt! I couldn't have messed this one up if I tried! It came from Super Simple Quilts #1 with Alex Anderson & Liz Aneloski (Oh how I love Alex Anderson!) and was called "Marching in Line" in their book. There are two other quilts in their book that I want to try, and both will lend themselves to prayer quilting as well.

Who will buy?

Last Friday after the noon Mass (where I serve as an acolyte) I went out to lunch with some friends. Because D was off work and K was off school, they went with us. We had brought along K's art-on-the-go bag to keep her occupied, and of course people noticed it. They were impressed with the simple tote bag I had made, but when they saw the felt pencil roll they got really excited and told me I should sell my crafts -- I'm not sure where or to whom.

But one friend offered to buy some from me for her nieces and nephews. I said I'd be glad to make some for her but wasn't sure about selling them. I have, in the past, sold blankets and ponchos that I've made, but I've never felt good about it because people have either offered to overpay (in my opinion) or I've had to ask too much to cover materials and feel like I wasn't getting ripped off for the amount of labor put into the item.

Not that I'd mind selling crocheted items at, say, the church bazaar, for a reasonably low price. That money goes to a good cause and not to my pocket. And I expect that this year I will have plenty of handmade goods to offer up for sale at that function. But that's different.

So my questions to you are: Should I let my friend pay me for the pencil rolls? Should I just ask her to reimburse me for the materials (about $5 each, but I had everything to make them right in my studio, I didn't need to buy a single thing, not even the pencils) or should I let her pay me extra, which she will offer to do? If I do let her pay me extra, what would a reasonable price be? (They took less than an hour apiece to make once I got in the groove; I'm thinking $10 apiece would be more than enough.)

Some other folks have encouraged me to start selling my work on Etsy. Does anyone have experience with this, either buying or selling? I've looked at it and it seems kind of confusing.

Wednesday, January 7, 2009


I finished my quilt top. It's beautiful. I would love to show it to you. Except.

I opted for the "quick-turn" or "self-binding" method of finishing the edge, where you assemble the quilt sandwich inside-out, sew around the edge, and then pull the layers through a hole in the seam, sort of like making a pillow or a stuffed animal. Easy, right? Except. I put the layers in the wrong order, backing-batting-top, when they should have been top-backing-batting. And I sewed it that way. And clipped the corners. And only noticed my mistake when I went to pull the layers through.

So my quilt top is trapped in a broken sandwich, and I have to unsew a million billion stitches to free it from its batting and backing before I can show it to you. And then I have to piece together a new backing and re-layer and re-sew the sandwich, taking special care around the darned clipped corners. The good news is that the pieced quilt backing will surely be more interesting than the plain one I had originally been using. Plus, it's my learning experience. I find that every quilt I make has a lesson in it. Usually the lessons don't involve the kind of agony that this one did, but there's always something.

Side note: K has been using her Dover stencil books we gave her for Christmas and birthday to create lovely pictures. She does little tricks like stencilling in a giraffe, then repositioning the stencil slightly so she can stencil in another head to create the effect of two giraffes standing side by side. I think that's pretty clever for a five-year-old.

Monday, January 5, 2009

Peaceful ... and not

No parties to go to or to host, no presents to make or to wrap, no decorations to put up or to take down. There's a pizza in the oven and a dvd in the drive, waiting for us to be ready to eat and watch -- we both like Good Eats from the Food Network these days. K is drawing at her little table with her Smencils and Cray-Pas, making sound effects for the tigers and pirate ships as they appear on the pale pink card stock she's using.

And now she's found her recorder. "Try to guess what song this is!" Since she can only play one note, that's kind of difficult. I must go now before the desire to wrap it around her neck overwhelms me. (The song, in case you were wondering, was "Rudolph, the Red-Nosed Reindeer.")

Sunday, January 4, 2009

The big day, part II

We served K breakfast in bed (banana chocolate chip muffins, her choice) because she has decided, based on the fact that we did it this year for D's birthday, that it is now standard-family-birthday-tradition. That's ok. My birthday is next.

Then I told her to go look and see who was in her new doll trunk. She looked at me as though I were insane -- "It's empty, mama!" -- but went down to check anyway and came thumping up the stairs with a gleeful shout, dragging the trunk behind her. "This is the BEST birthday present you EVER gave me!" Inside the trunk was Li'l Susie Sunshine, a doll from my childhood, a bit the worse for wear but still attractive with long blond hair, movable arms and legs and eyes that open and close, dressed in a long pink gingham dress with a pinafore. I had hung up her clothes in the other side of her trunk along with a hat, a hairbrush, a pair of shoes and a pillow and blanket. Pretty spiffy, according to my little one.

After a morning of food shopping, cooking and cleaning it was finally time for the party. Guests started arriving shortly after two. Since it was only family, it was a relatively small affair. K opened presents and was universally pleased. She did mention to me later that nearly every present was something to wear, and that was sort of true. Probably her favorite present was her tutu, along with the accompanying ballet tights, slippers and leotard we found at Target. She changed into those before the present-opening was complete, and kept them on for the rest of the evening, performing endless renditions of her version of the Dance of the Sugarplum Fairy.

The party was pretty much over the minute the cake was cut. Last year people stayed and talked and played with K and her presents, and I had a chance to take a picture of K with each person at her party, which I wanted to do this year, but people were kind of restless and grumpy and wanted to be off doing other things, so I let them go. I was ready for a nap myself.

We let K be the Sugarplum Fairy for a while before bed -- she seemed so relaxed and happy, not her usual tired, grouchy, early-evening self. She asked for ballet lessons. Again. And again I said, sure, someday you can have them. Someday being the operative word. When you're older. When I find a ballet school that is not Insane. Which I can only imagine will be in the far, far future. Till then, twirl in your homemade tutu to your heart's desire, and your father and I will applaud.

Saturday, January 3, 2009

The big day

Today my little one turns five -- it's hard to believe I'm the mother of a child half a decade old. This is a special day for her, but it's pretty special for me, too. I don't know what children's birthdays are like for other moms, but for me it's an intense time of remembering the events surrounding K's birth and infancy, and the important events of her life and of the past year in particular. Sometimes it's kind of hard.

The night K was born was scary. I didn't even realize I was in labor till the nurse told me I was 3 centimeters dilated -- I'd been sure it was gas pains -- I wasn't due for another two weeks. How naive can you get? So I had an emergency C-section (she was breech and we'd planned to deliver that way anyway.) People did various painful, frightening things that caused me to yell and cry. I was terrified. And exhausted. And too loopy to hold my new baby girl for more than a minute. That was how it started.

Combine that with deep, intractable postpartum depression and a case with DYFS (because the PPD was so awful that I scared other people) and you've got a recipe for serious misery. When I look back on those days I can only be grateful for the many people who helped us out -- our families, our friends, our parish, the various medical and mental health professionals -- and got us through day after impossible day. I'm so astonished that I can sit here calmly and safely typing at my keyboard, with my daughter in her little fleece snowman jammies snoozing cozily in her bed upstairs. I give thanks every morning for that.

So today we will put up our new birthday bunting and get out the goofy paper hats and cuddle and kiss and love our little one to pieces. And if her excited antics drive us batty, which they will -- well, for one day a year that can be part of the fun.

Thursday, January 1, 2009

Back to normal

The tree is down, the ornaments are packed away, the boxes are ready to go back up to the attic. Thank goodness. I'm ready for things to settle down, once K's birthday celebration is over with. I worked on her crown with no success yesterday; I'm afraid she's going to have to do without one. I can't seem to get the trimmings on straight, and then I can't cut the lining the same size as the front -- I don't know what the problem is, except maybe that I'm rushing the process or that I'm just not into it. She'll have plenty of other goodies so I'm not worried about it.

I've started in on a prayer quilt that's long overdue, in a pattern I've never tried before that looks promising, with some awesome Michael Miller prints I picked up when we went to the Herrschner's outlet in Wisconsin over Thanksgiving. I'm not used to working with such high-quality fabrics and it's really a treat. I'm also getting back into crocheting an afghan, a bubble gum pink affair that I started last summer that's so garishly bright I can't help but love it. It's slow going but will be worth it in the end.

D got his desk put together and into the closet, and moved the new computer onto it, so he's officially out of his office. Now the next phase, clearing out the junk, begins.