Wednesday, June 29, 2011

Pink & Blue

Tuesday's color in the Summer Colours Week Flickr Group was pink. My daughter and I saw these flowers on our nature walk last week:

And over the weekend, we saw these down near the Bay:

I think those are some sort of beach rose, but botany was never my strong point.

Today's color is blue, but these photos are from last summer. First, a view of the scoreboard at a Red Sox game at Fenway Park during the ritual singing of "Sweet Caroline," because around here, summer and the Sox go hand-in-hand.

And then there's this one.

Blue indeed. I love that my summer includes views like this as part of the routine.

One more under blue--an action shot of my daughter wearing her newest blue skirt, last seen here as a mere folded rectangle of fabric:

I'm telling you, she doesn't stay still.

Monday, June 27, 2011


It's Yellow Day in Poppytalk's Summer Colours Flickr Group. I won't be able to take pictures for all five colors, I'm sure, but I managed yellow. I only added two to the group, but I'm posting the outtakes here, too.

One day last week, my daughter and I went for a nature walk nearby. I told her the colors we were looking for. It was a grey, overcast day (later in the day we had some pretty impressive thunderstorms), so the photos don't really have a summery feel. For a while we followed the yellow trail...

...and my daughter spotted a yellow leaf on the ground:

Yesterday I took some more summery yellow photos. My son and I walked up the street to take a picture of these pretty yellow flowers:

Wouldn't you know the first photo I took (of many) ended up being the one I liked best? And just up from our house is this yellow sign, which I requested the town install, in a rather futile attempt to get people to slow down and follow the posted speed limit:

Summer should be about children at play. My kids and I have loads we want to do this summer, and I'm sure we'll all learn loads while we're at it, but it will be real-life hands-on self-directed play-filled learning, with nary a worksheet in sight. Here's to summer, y'all.

Sunday, June 26, 2011

Wrapped-Wire Shell Pendant

The most recent Action Pack has directions to wrap a pretty stone or shell in twine or wire to make a pendant. I'm not sure why this never occurred to me before. I've seen necklaces for sale constructed in this way, we've made necklaces out of shells before (the ones with the pre-existing holes, though), and I have jewelry wire right in the art/craft table. I also have some beautiful, small pieces of polished purple quahog shell, so I decided to give it a try.

I quickly learned this is one of those things that is a little trickier than it looks. I chose some fairly thin wire, about 28 gauge, so as not to overwhelm the delicacy of the shell, but with my first attempt I didn't feel the loop was terribly secure. I didn't think to take a picture; I just took it apart and tried again. The second time, I strung the wire through a small bead, curved a loop, brought the wire back through, and then twisted the wires around each other a couple of times. I then had two longish pieces of wire to wrap around the shell, and the loop felt much more secure.

See the long piece that comes from the bead and goes all the way down the shell? There's a matching wire in the back, and then I just twisted and wrapped those two pieces around the shell until I was  happy, twisted the ends together in the back, tucked them under, and clipped them close. (I used wire cutters, but this wire is so thin scissors would work too.) The shell still moves around in there a little bit, so we'll have to see how it stays with actual use. I'd like to try some thicker wire, too, but like I said, this shell piece is so small and delicate, I'm not sure how it would look.

I searched my jewelry box for a thin, delicate chain to match, but realized I didn't make a big enough stringing loop to get a jump ring through. Next time, I'll put the chain through, then size the loop down and continue wrapping, but for now, I used a ribbon and cord concoction that used to hold a pendant, which broke the second time I wore it.

The thin cord is knotted through the shell's hanging loop, and everything is attached to a metal chain/clasp set-up in the back. I'm not sure, it might overwhelm the shell a bit, but on the other hand, the purples are nice all together.

The great thing about this, of course, is that it's fairly easy to take it apart and try again. Also, the beach is full of shells.

Thursday, June 23, 2011

My Creative Space

I remember, what seems like ages ago, seeing creative spaces on some Australian blogs I followed. I didn't realize until recently that our creative spaces is now hosted on its own blog. It's a really nice place to find inspiration and peek at what some very creative people are doing, and I want to join in! I share my creative space with my kids, and today (hurrah!) is (finally!) the last (very last!) day of school, so I'm not sure how many of my projects will get attended to over the next couple of months, but either way, the creative spaces in this house are usually pretty interesting.

Earlier this week I finished another simple A-line skirt for myself.

This is fabric, again, from the Purl Soho sale, and again, it's an elastic waist. What I really wanted to do was a drawstring waist with two buttonhole slits at the front for the drawstring to come out of, but I'm not really on comfortable terms with my buttonhole foot yet. I did try it on scrap, but I just wasn't confident enough to attempt it on the skirt. Also, even though I narrowed this waistband from the last skirt I made, it's still too big. I don't know if I'm not getting an accurate hip measurement or if I'm just cutting with too much caution, but I could take a couple inches from that and still get it over my hips. (As it is, I adjusted the elastic to be a bit loose, since I often wear skirts and pants around my hips and not my waist.)

At any rate, when my daughter saw this skirt, she asked where hers was. So that leads me to my picture of my creative space as of this morning.

The folded rectangle of blue fabric in the back is waiting to become my daughter's skirt, and the narrow strips next to the felt will become a couple of scrunchies for me, and that about does it for the two yards of fabric, except for scraps from cutting out my skirt pieces.

The felt is wool felt, 18" squares, that I ironed last night. It's for a hand-sewing project I plan to do this summer. Can you tell from the colors that it's a Christmas project? For once I'm not only thinking way ahead but doing way ahead. That's the plan, anyway!

See more creative spaces here.

A few fun things around the web--I want to try and participate in Poppytalk's summer colours week. Doesn't that sound like fun? Again, not sure how well I'll do getting online with all the kids home, but we'll see. I also am thinking of signing up for this sewing only hesitation is how much time I'll have in July and August, but I might just give it a try anyway. And finally, with my kids in the studio hat on, I'm guest posting today here at Mama Pea Pod.

Tuesday, June 21, 2011

Utility Belt (Action Pack)

We've been living with Action Pack 4 for a couple of weeks now, really getting to know it. We printed out the whole thing (double-sided, at least, so we saved a few trees anyway), and I gave it to my nine-year-old. He loved it so much he brought it to school with him.

I kind of had a feeling he'd key right in on the utility belt, and I wasn't wrong! I admit when I looked at the directions my first thought was, Really? It looked involved. And it was, in a way, but it didn't take us  more than a couple of hours, and I already had a pair of adult jeans in my to-be-repurposed bag. I've been cutting patches out of the leg with the rip in it, but luckily the other leg was whole and just waiting to be turned into a utility belt.

First, though, I had to do some Aussie-to-American translating. The materials lists includes a "press stud kit," and when I read through the directions I thought press studs were the same as snaps, but maybe I was wrong and a press stud is something completely different I've never heard of? I checked with my Australian friend Bells and she confirmed yes, those would be snaps. For the record, I used the Dritz heavy duty snap kit with tools, shown below after I'd installed all six snaps. The silver post and black plastic piece are the tools (you need a hammer, too), and the metal spiky thing came from my husband's tool box. It's a nail setting tool, 1/32" size, and I used it to poke the holes in the fabric, also with a hammer, before installing the snaps. The way it's graduated at the tip there, it makes it easy to slowly enlarge the hole enough to fit the snap piece through, but not too much by accident.

I'm a bit ahead of myself though! Without revealing exactly how we made it (you'll have to buy the Action Pack yourself for directions), I'll say that I was hoping my son could do more of it. He's left-handed, and I only have right-handed fabric scissors, so cutting the denim was out. He did help make the template and trace it onto the denim, and he helped a bit with the hammering, but wow, that took a lot of whacking to get those snaps in. He's never used the sewing machine before and this wasn't the project with which to teach him... my sewing machine did not like sewing through several layers of denim, even with the heavier needle. It made some scary noises, and at the end, my presser foot came off. Unhappy machine.

This is what the utility belt looked like after sewing and installing the top snaps and one of the bottom ones, when I took a break from hammering snaps (and my thumb, a couple of times) to start dinner. I kind of wonder what the neighbors thought about all the banging coming from our deck?

And here's the finished utility belt, with six pockets ready to be filled with whatever my son wants. There are belt loops on the back (it was sewing those on that really upset my machine) so you can weave a belt through and strap it on, ready for Exploration and Adventure.

While I had the topstitch needle in the machine, I sewed some Velcro together to make another item from this Action Pack, the flower (or perhaps leaf or seaweed, depending) press.

Whew. That was much easier.

Friday, June 17, 2011

Tuesday, June 14, 2011

Mother-Daughter Skirts

Oh yes, I did. I sewed us matching skirts.

(Apparently we often stand the exact same way. I had no idea.)

For the first seven years of my mama-ing existence, I was a boy mama. I thought I was a dyed-in-the-wool boy mama and that was that, and then pretty much as soon as I got pregnant with the third I knew she was a girl. I've come around to being a girl mama pretty well, don't you think?

When I saw that Purl Soho was having a Memorial Day sale, I decided to get some fabric for skirts for me and G, and it was actually my idea to get enough of G's choice so we could have matching skirts. I sat her on my lap and asked her what she liked, and she chose this cute flower print on a blue background. (The sale is still going on, but I can't find this fabric there anymore; it must have sold out? Here it is on the Robert Kaufman website.)

I made G's skirt using the simple skirt tutorial at MADE. Actually, I read the tutorial on the computer, took some measurements, and went downstairs to sew without consulting the computer again. It's that simple. (Just a note, I tacked down the seam allowance at the top 1 1/2" before making the casing; the tutorial doesn't say to do it, but it helps keep the elastic from snagging.) I whipped it up Saturday night while G was asleep, then fit the elastic and sewed the gap in the casing on Sunday morning.

Then I made mine, using the directions in Sew What! Skirts (borrowed from the library) for drafting an A-line, elastic-waist skirt. I went on faith while I was making it, because it looked like a lot of width at the bottom. Even as I was adjusting the elastic, I thought maybe it wouldn't hang on me right. But I think hemming it did the trick, and it drapes just fine. I could have gone smaller in the waist (the book has you use the hip measurement plus some ease; I probably could cut down on the ease a bit) but it doesn't look too big, I don't think. I'm mulling over trying a skirt with a zipper next... I don't know, though. The elastic waist is awfully easy. I bought another cotton print for me, and some voile, and I have enough of this blue flower print to make G a pair of easy elastic-waist pants, too. (Although she's told me she expects a matching skirt for each one I make for myself.)

We love our new skirts. And this girl mama thing, it's pretty fun!

Sunday, June 12, 2011

A Smallish Knitted Thing

So, what seems like a long while ago, I was browsing the new patterns on Ravelry whilst bored and saw le petit sac. I'd been in a knitting holding pattern for a while, simply knitting mitts to use up left overs and stock the holiday gift bucket while waiting for the urge to knit something else to hit. Without thinking much beyond, "Oooh, pretty," I ordered the yarn and pattern and waited for the mail to arrive.

Then I started knitting and realized the needle I had in the correct size, an Addi Turbo, was way too slippery for this yarn. After making several mistakes, I went shopping for a bamboo needle and ended up with a Hiya Hiya (yes, this is important), not my usual brand of bamboo. I started the sac for the third time, but the twice-used yarn was too splitty by this point, so I rewound the ball from the other end and began again. (By this point, I was sick of the sac but determined.)

I actually began to make some progress.

I realized, though, that I was off gauge. In order to successfully knit that stitch pattern (which includes right and left twists) with that yarn and that small of a needle, I had to consciously knit a little looser than normal. No way could I go to an even smaller needle, especially a non-metal one; I barely made it through the pattern with that Hiya Hiya (which I'll never buy again) because it cracked. I don't know how they knit the original. I'd say I knit neither tight nor loose but fairly evenly, but I don't think I could have gotten gauge here without more broken needles and maybe broken fingers. So, since the bag was coming out wider than written, I decided it needed to be longer, too, to compensate, or else the proportions would be all off.

At this point I realized what I was doing wasn't far off from knitting a scarf in that I was knitting the same thing, over and over, until the rectangle was long enough. You know why I don't knit scarves? I think it's dull to knit the same thing, over and over, until it's long enough.

Still, I wanted this cute linen bag in time to use it this summer. Did I mention, what with the looser gauge and the yarnovers I decided it was absolutely necessary for me to line it? I was going to anyway, although the pattern doesn't call for it, but it simply wouldn't be usable without one. So when I was finally done knitting, and blocking, and sewing up, I measured my bag, cut some muslin, and hand-sewed a little lining. I matched my thread to the yarn, so you can't see my tiny stitches from the outside of the bag.

(The quality of the photographs on this blog is going to go way down
when summer is over, I think!)

The cord is supposed to be i-cord, but I felt that was a little too skinny once the bag got bigger, plus it was really annoying with this yarn, which I swear is splittier than other linens I've worked with. So I just did garter stitch, which I sewed to both the knitted edging and the muslin lining, for extra security. I never intended for this bag to hold too much, but with the lining, I feel like I can put in my wallet, keys, phone, and maybe a pen and little notebook without the whole thing stretching out of shape (and without losing the pen through the yarnovers). 

I'm not so thrilled with the line that emerged when I picked up stitches for the edging, but not so not-thrilled that I felt like doing it again. Because by this point, I was sort of tired of knitting the bag and just wanted to be done with the bag and move on to something else already. In retrospect, this is a cute little bag but a little bit more work than the pattern would lead you to believe. (Looking at the few other pictures on Ravelry, I don't think I'm the only one who had it knit up looser than advertised. I'm glad I know how to sew in a lining!)

My next job is to sew some skirts to wear with my linen bag this summer. Because I wait for bare legs-skirts-sandals-linen bag season all year long!

Friday, June 10, 2011

Review: Sewn by Hand

Note: I purchased this book myself, through Amazon.

The first thing I ever sewed, whatever that was, was by hand. My mother had a sewing machine, but she never taught me how to use it, and I didn't sew with a machine until nearly three years ago, when I bought a Pfaff for my 35th birthday. Before that, I was fairly against sewing for a while, even knitting sweaters in the round to avoid sewing up. ("If I wanted to sew," I'd say, "I'd be sewing, not knitting.") I had to hand-sew a zipper into a Tomten I knit and it was fairly torturous and laborious.

And then I decided to sew a couple of Waldorf dolls from kits (by hand), and I figured that made me a sewist. And then I got the Pfaff. And then, much later, I decided to learn embroidery, and now, depending upon the project, I'm just as likely to choose to sew by hand as use the machine. So when this book came out and I failed to win a copy in any of the many blog giveaways I entered, I bought it.

Why do I choose to sometimes sew by hand? For a smallish project, like a cuff or a needlebook, it's often easier to sew it by hand than to wind a bobbin, if necessary, and thread the machine just to get started. Sometimes the project demands it, like patching the knees of my sons' pants. I often feel like I have greater control over the small bits if I'm doing it by hand. I can sew upstairs, sitting in my chair, talking to my husband and watching the Red Sox. Or I can more easily sew while my kids are playing around me, and interrupt my work without much fuss. But until I began learning embroidery, I didn't really know one stitch from another, and like with most handcrafts, I'm cobbling together knowledge as I go.

But look at the Table of Contents in this book!

Essential Tools and Useful Thoughts: Lovely to have, especially the Gallery of Hand Stitches, and I'm not embarrassed to say that my knots need work and this book tells me how to do better. For those of us who are teaching ourselves how to knit, sew, and whatever else we want to do, a resource right, shall we say, at hand is both essential and useful, as billed. Even if I don't make any of the projects, I have a feeling the book will be quite worth it as a reference tool alone.

I do want to make some projects, though. I like the Thread Caddy (follow the link to download the pattern for free at the Lark website). I also like the Button-Up Tote, which comes with directions on how to make your own fabric-covered buttons. (The possibilities there are dizzying to me.)

And can you imagine hand-sewing curtains? Not too long ago I said out loud that while I had no problem sewing many things by hand, curtains, well, of course I'd use the machine for curtains! And then I saw these:

Sheer curtains, sewn with silk ribbon. So pretty, and really, it doesn't look that hard, and how else to sew curtains with silk ribbon if not by hand? I don't think I have one room in my house that is worthy of such pretty, delicate curtains, but I may just allow the kitchen to put on airs and make a sweet little cafe curtain that I can admire while I wash dishes.

So there you have it, my unbiased opinion of this book--while it has a few things I'd never make, it's full of information and I feel it was a good purchase. Usually I check out sewing and knitting books through the library before buying them, but I took a leap on this one and ordered it sight unseen. I'm glad I did.

What about you? Do you ever sew by hand, or do you prefer the machine for everything? (Or do you avoid sewing as much as possible, as I used to?!)

Wednesday, June 8, 2011

The Girl's Apron

That's one happy chica. Tuesday morning I tried an experiment--for the first time, I attempted to sew an entire project while my 2 1/2-year-old kept me company. (I cut the pieces Monday night.) I think I may have thought about doing this a while ago and gave up before I began, but this time, it worked. My sewing machine shares space with our art table, but the table itself, while large, isn't big enough for my daughter to, say, paint (which is what she usually wants to do down there) while I have the machine and fabric out. But she really wanted this apron, so I suggested we give it a try. She stood on her Learning Tower (love, love love that thing) playing with buttons and scrap fabric and looking at sewing books, until, after a while, she decided she was going to sew, too.

She went upstairs to get the rainbow-colored wooden fidget toy you see in the back there; that was her sewing machine. And she began to cut her scraps. (This picture was taken after I'd finished sewing her apron, but she wasn't quite done with her own project.)

I'm on the lookout for better scissors. I want child-sized, blunt-tipped scissors that are capable of cutting fabric, because those paper-cutting scissors there are crazy-making, although she demonstrated loads of patience. I'm thinking either these, which the Fiskars online support person said could cut though fleece, or these, which appear to be similar in size, and the description says they'll cut fabric. (Any suggestions? I'd love to hear them!)

Back to the apron--G's is much nicer than mine, as it benefits from being sewn second. Also, I switched out the wonky bobbin and my tension fixed right up. The fabric she chose is all on the heavier side--my main piece is a lighter cotton, and I think the heavier weight works better. Since it's hard to get a good look at anything on a moving toddler, here's a still shot:

She picked out what she wanted for the main piece, the pocket, and the ties. How happy are those smiling kids on the pocket? And yup, I'm clear-headed enough to double check before I sew, so that the kids weren't upside down--no small feat considering my usual state of sleep deprivation! G's apron has five total pockets, because when I asked her if she wanted a pencil pocket and if so, on what side, she replied that she had two hands and thus needed a pencil pocket on both sides. Good logic, that.

Like my apron, this was sewn following Wendi Gratz's Get to Work Apron Pattern.

Monday, June 6, 2011

Weekend Sewing: A Zipper and Some Binding

I'm pretty much fearless when it comes to trying anything new with knitting, but the idea of trying some sewing techniques makes me far more wiggly than I'd like. Buttonholes with the buttonhole foot? Get the smelling salts. Sewing in zippers? Forget about... oh, wait. Turns out that's easy peasey, especially with video assistance.

This is my first sewn-in zipper! I'll be the first to admit it's not perfect, but the bag itself is so appealing. I keep picking it up and unzipping, zipping, unzipping, zipping. ("You're like Eeyore," said my husband, which is exactly what I was thinking--you know, when he gets the broken bit of balloon and puts it into and out of his Useful Pot like anything?) I followed Wendi's Zippered Pouch pattern, which has helpful advice about making sure what direction your zipper teeth are pointing before you sew the whole thing together and why, and is very clear and simple.

If you already know how to sew in a zipper it might be too clear and simple, but if you already know that, you probably don't need a pattern to make this simple little pouch. But if you don't? Lovely little pattern with which to learn. I used scrap fabric--the outside is repurposed batik denim, and the inside is from a 1/2 yard bundle that I used to make project bags. Here's the other side--the denim overalls were made of many batik prints all sewn together.

Super, super cute.

I made another of Wendi's patterns this weekend, the Get to Work Apron. I think a pocketed apron will come in handy while I'm in the craft/art/sewing room, whether I'm working on my own projects or helping the kids with theirs. For starters, although you can't see it, I added a narrow pocket all the way to the right so I stop losing my damn pencils.

Is this colorful or what? Stash busting, is what I'm doing. One night last week I hauled up the bags and containers of fabric and organized it (boy did the living room look a sight about halfway through, making it really hard to justify that order I placed during Purl Soho's Memorial Day sale). At any rate, it's much easier now to find things, and I figure this makes a fun apron.

Again, it's not perfect, but it's useful and cute and I made my own binding tape. I couldn't find the right size doohickey at Joann's, so I just folded and ironed by hand and really, it didn't take that long, and my binding matches my pocket, which makes me smile. (One strap also puckers up a little, although I can smooth it out again. I think that must be a tension problem? Dunno.)

My daughter has already picked out fabric for her apron (and if you think mine is colorful, wait till you see hers), and when I showed my oldest the pencil pocket, his eyes lit up. He loves pockets. I let him know that the out-any-minute Action Pack 4 has instructions for a utility belt--that he can make himself, with my assistance as necessary, of course. The button to the left and the one on the sidebar will take you right to the Action Pack shop.

And also, my package from Purl Soho just arrived. And I have another apron to sew...

Friday, June 3, 2011

Scrappy Notebooks

We have so much 8x11.5 paper used only on one side floating around; don't you? I'll often give it to my daughter to use to color on, and sometimes I'll actually find a piece at the exact time I need something to take a message down or write a note to school on, but much of it ends up in the recycle bin. That's not as bad as throwing it out, but surely I can do better?

How about making notebooks!

I collected sheets of paper printed only on one side, folded them in half, ripped along the fold, then folded them in half again with the printing on the inside. The book is bound with the open edges on the left and the folded edges on the right, so each page is blank on both sides. Follow? I've seen this in more than one place, but for this book I was following directions for the Slack Stab-Stitched Recycled Book in How to Make Books by Esther K. Smith. I used Kraft Paper card stock (I'm a bit in love with this stuff at the moment) for the covers.

The binding is a sewn stab stitch. As the name says, it's slack, so that the book will open flat. I love the look of stab stitch, but I don't always like how it chews up some of the page. The slackness, at least in my attempts, can cause the stitching to look a little sloppy when the book is closed. I tore my pages and cover, rather than cutting them, so the books have an all-around relaxed look. I stamped the covers in about five minutes flat. You can tell I didn't take my time with it,  yes?

My daughter was ready for me to be done already, it was time to start the sauce for dinner, and these are books made of scraps otherwise destined for the recycled bin... for my own use, perhaps sloppy covers for my scrappy books isn't such a bad thing. The ball of yarn and sea star stamps are both hand-carved, and I've been wanting to pair that ball of yarn with "knit notes" on a notebook for a while. The "summer plans" notebook will hold just that--the list I make with my kids each year that covers what we'd all like to do, see, visit, and make during the seemingly very short time they're not in school.

Speaking of school, I used several recent notes from school when using these books. It occurred to me that if I had kept every single notice that came home this past year--and some I get twice--I could make a recycled notebook for every single teacher and then some, sending their notes back to them in a usable form. It's too late for this year, but I think I already know what part of next year's teacher's gifts will be... (which is pretty funny, considering I have no idea what I'm doing for this year!)