Thursday, December 30, 2010

snowed in

We were hoping to head homeward yesterday, but the Montana storm dropped into Wyoming and we've decided not to cross that state for a few more days. So instead of being home, cleaning up and getting ready for the next semester, this is where I'm playing today. Not a bad trade-off, I must say.

Wednesday, December 29, 2010

wednesday's ode

To beautiful surroundings.

Tuesday, December 28, 2010

Beyond unraveling

It took years of knitting before it dawned on me there was a much cheaper way to come by yarn. I began buying up sweaters made of quality yarn at thrift stores, then unraveling them for use in my knitting projects. I could get the equivalent of 10 skeins of yarn for $3. I was in knitting heaven - and quickly acquired by far more sweaters than I could re-knit in a lifetime. Even though it felt a bit like cheating, I decided to pursue the concept of repurposing sweaters. The idea that a knit sweater could be treated like any other knit fabric - cut apart and sewn into something new - was a brilliant solution to the glut of sweaters in my knitting pile. I picked a soft blue (moth-nibbled) wool sweater for my first project. Ever frugal (even with a $3 Goodwill sweater), I spent days finding a way to make two sweaters out of one. This was the first.
The sweater itself, and my determination not to waste any of it, dictated the design of this one for my four-year-old. I enjoy the challenge of creating something when faced with constraints - the end product is often superior to what I could have come up with complete freedom.

Monday, December 27, 2010

ahhh, fresh pine

After seven years of faux christmas trees, we are thrilled to be back to the real thing. The forest service opens up an area 10 miles to the north, and 20 miles east up the canyon, for cut-your-own trees. The drive alone was spectacular, but pulling a fresh tree into the house and kids making wreaths with the extra branches did more for making our home feel like a holiday home than anything.

I'd love to say our ceiling left room for this whole tree, but we were only able to kept the top seven feet or so -- the bottom half came home in pieces, and boy did the car smell good.

Next year we're bringing home the Dr. Seuss looking tree near the north end of the cutting area . . .

Friday, December 24, 2010

Have yourself an unbreakable Christmas

I grew up on stories of my parents' first Christmas together: they were so poor that they didn't have money to buy ornaments and so made their own. It always seemed such a sweet picture to me that I decided my husband and I should do the same (though I think the supplies for making them cost about as much as buying a box of ball ornaments). My husband dutifully stuffed each star as I sewed them (and cursed how easily brocade fabric frays), humoring my artificially constructed romanticization.

It is only since having children that I have realized how brilliant this project actually was. The girls cart them around all day long and I have never once had to sweep up a broken ornament from the floor.

Thursday, December 23, 2010

happy holidays!

We have tried over the years to make most of the presents for each other and the grandparents. When the older kids were little, we made ornaments to give. We traced their hands on a thick piece of veneer (mahogany, I think -- but don't quote me on that), cut them out with a scroll saw, sanded the edges, and finished them. We cut their names and the date with a dremel (which, by the way, is a good present in itself). Ten years later, it's amazing to see how much their little hands have grown.

Wednesday, December 22, 2010

wednesday's ode

To beautiful surroundings.

Tuesday, December 21, 2010

Creating a pattern without a pattern

I have just finished one of the most time consuming projects that I have attempted to date - putting together an official pattern for a dress that my mom and I designed. I had no idea how to go about doing it. I really had to stretch myself in order to actually complete it. I taught myself how to use new software along the way, as well as how to re-size a dress I originally constructed just for my three-year-old. The steps were so numerous that I told myself "I'm almost done!" at least ten times during the process, only to discover that I was still only halfway there. But I am finally done! And it's beautiful.

Monday, December 20, 2010


Ah, our fashionista 9 year old. This is the girl who spends her time designing clothes and house plans, and setting out different outfits, just in case. Most of the outfits consist of clothes that are her size, maternity clothes she pinched from my pile, and clothes that should have long since been handed down to her sisters (after all, short sweaters are definitely "in"). But she's in a bit of a conundrum: she likes her pajamas roomy. Last week, no longer able to keep the all of these collected clothes from falling out of their cupboard, she finally gave in. I opened the bedroom door to find a stack from her in front of the 7 year old's bed, and another stack for the 4 year old (literally, size 4 -- she really really really holds out on passing things down the line).
And in return I put together some new pajama pants for her. These are flannel, and the other pair are fleece, both from the superb Hart's Fabric. Having no actual pajama pants pattern (and not having sewn with patterns for years anyway), I took the one pair she had that still fit, and laid it down on the double-folded fabric (inside leg seam on the cutting edge, outside of the leg on the fold). I cut through all four layers at the same time, leaving about 1 1/2 inches on the top and edges, and 3 or 4 inches at the bottom. My serger is out of commission for the moment, so I put the pants together with french seams (which are probably far more comfortable for pajamas anyway). I ironed down 1/4 inch on top, then folded it over another inch (for 3/4 inch elastic), and sewed a casing for the waistband, leaving an inch open to thread the elastic through. No-roll elastic is great for pajama pants, seeing as the kid in them is doing plenty of rolling through the night. I did the same thing for the hem -- 1/4 inch ironed fold, and then a 2 or 3 inch hem. This way, if she has another growth spurt before she parts with these pants, I can at least let the hems down a little and give them longer life.

Friday, December 17, 2010

Rainbow arches and a miniature enchanted forest

Outside our apartment are some haphazardly pruned plants that I've been eyeing for the past month. Every time I see them, I imagine a fairytale forest on a tiny scale. Today the sun was shining, so we brought out the rainbow arches and little wooden people and acquainted them with the California flora.
I have become increasingly interested in wooden toys for my girls. I'm in love with their beauty, durability, simplicity and versatility. I saw some stacking rainbow arches in a friend's home and decided to try making my own. With my dad's woodworking know-how (and his bandsaw) I made these from an old chunk of a tree in his garage and painted them with watercolors. Our two-year-old block-stacking guru loves them.

Thursday, December 16, 2010

refashioning, round 4

We left our old couch at the student housing apartment we moved from and bought a new (old) one when we arrived here. This is our first try with leather, and the kids have declared it "cold and hard." Oh well. So to soften things up I decided to make a quilt to keep next to it. Obviously it had to be extra soft, if it had to counter "cold and hard," so one more round of refashioning for the old duvet. One side was much less worn (we'll call it our Second Favorite Side), so I pulled all but the edges and it is now the new front of a new quilt. I machine stitched all the shapes (three days isn't quite enough time to hand stitch something like this, even if I had the patience to ever try), and it still took hours and hours and hours. Crazy. But I'm thrilled with the result.

We always do one biggish "family present" for Christmas, and this is it this year. So shhhhhhhh . . .

Tuesday, December 14, 2010

wednesday's ode

To beautiful surroundings.

IOU the best sweater ever

A few years back I gave my husband the kind of Christmas present that he scoffs at: an "I owe you". I was in my knitting phase and thought it silly that I had knit numerous items for our daughter and all sorts of other relations, but not for him. Knitting an adult sweater was quite an undertaking (one I had never undertaken before). Plus, I wanted to make sure this sweater was an embodiment of his unique personality. Knowing there was no possibility of designing the perfect sweater and knitting it by Christmas, I took a risk and went the IOU route. I think I did get him something else small in addition, but all he could remember was the IOU/fake present (as he called it) I had given him. Perhaps his refusal to humor me in the slightest lent me the determination to actually make him one. And so by the next Christmas I had not only designed and knitted a sweater for him, but a matching one for our one-year-old as well. I owe you? Double check.
My husband is unique in his clothing tastes (and also incredibly picky). The inspiration for the sweater had its roots in a fuchsia t-shirt covered in iridescent butterflies that he picked up in the women's section of our local Goodwill. It was further influenced by the sweater (worn by the boy) in the movie "About a Boy". I purposefully made the sweater for our daughter too big (just in case I didn't actually finish it by that Christmas). It's about a size two, but the other day as we got ready to visit the migrating monarchs at our local state beach, she dug out the sweater and squeezed it onto her four-year-old frame. Dad donned his matching one, and, fittingly, his butterfly t-shirt as well. I count it as a success every time he wears it.

Sunday, December 12, 2010

refashioning, round 3

This one is really more of a hidden picture. A duvet in a duvet, if you will. See it? Right there . . . no there. And over there too. In fact, if you looked closely (and were well acquainted with our linen shelf) you might see other covers in this cover. That cream fabric? A well worn favorite sheet. The blue? Another favorite (although I left off the edge with the marker -- ahhhh kids drawing in bed after Lights Out). I opted for broken-in material with this blanket because it needs to be ready to snuggle on arrival. Sometimes immediate softness trumps longevity, although hopefully it will offer a little of the latter as well.

Thursday, December 9, 2010

refashioning, round 2

Have I mentioned that this baby is about the spittiest baby around? No dainty burp clothes here. We need half a dozen cloth diapers (you know what I'm talking about there, right? we call them "spit rags" around here, but they're just plain old cloth diapers) on hand wherever we go. I've tried the little baby drool bibs too -- no dice. He loads them up and soaks his clothes right through. I'd be nervous about whether he was keeping enough down, if he weren't topping the charts and tipping them over on weight. So, a new solution.

I traced a salad plate onto one of those lovely absorbent cloth diapers (no no, don't panic -- it had never been used as a diaper diaper). I then traced the salad plate onto a scrap jersey pillow case doubled up and sewed all three circles together -- diaper in the middle. I then clipped out a half moon from the top for the neck. The edging was made with scraps of the duvet. Can I just say how much easier it is to tie broken-in material than new stiff stuff? (even though I obviously did not get around to tying it in the photo below).

And oh, is the whole concoction absorbent. With only two at present, I save them for when we're out and about and haven't got a lot of back-up, in terms of outfits and extra cloths. But maybe after the holidays I'll have to put together another dozen or so. Just to make it all the way through a day.

Wednesday, December 8, 2010

wednesday's ode

To beautiful surroundings.

Tuesday, December 7, 2010


For the majority of my adult life I have clung to the security of the tried and true. I never strayed from established recipes and sewing patterns. I practically used a paint by numbers approach when it came to art. And so I consider my recent foray into sewing without patterns and cooking without recipes quite an accomplishment. Sewing without the constraints of a pattern has been delightful. Cooking without guidance hasn't been quite as successful - maybe since it coincided with my most recent pregnancy. Funny how avocados, grapefruit, chicken and rice could sound divine to me, and yet even my adventurous husband couldn't bring himself to finish his first helping. After a few similar episodes, my confidence is a bit deflated.

Perhaps that is why I have found such satisfaction in making free-form artisan bread. Though I use a recipe, it is still liberating to let the loaf rise and bake without the constraints of a pan. My willingness to relinquish control is what allows the variability and interest of the end result.
A worthy lesson to remember in all my creative pursuits.

Sunday, December 5, 2010

refashioning, round one

Although I've got a front pack to haul this baby around, I am finding all those snaps and clasps less than handy to throw on for fifteen minutes here, five minutes there. So I used the pattern in Amanda Soule's very excellent book "Handmade Home" and put together a sling. I improvised a bit, doubling up the fabric to make it equally lovely inside and out, as well as a little stronger all around. The old duvet is soft as butter, and the sling is amazingly comfy -- even with an 18 pound baby in it. Why have I never had a sling before? Seriously -- what was I thinking?

"Sixth time is the charmer," has become my new rallying cry. Next up, cloth diapers?

Friday, December 3, 2010

wool dress for winter walks on the pier

Wool is one of my favorite fabrics, especially for children. It has the amazing ability to simply let go of dirt - the rest of my family's clothing seems to cling to it. Laundry is my nemesis. No matter how much or how little time and money I invest in doing laundry, stains run rampant in our household.

So in choosing the fabric for a winter dress for my almost two-year-old who loves to frolic in the dirt, wool was the perfect choice. This was an antique cut of fabric that I found (where else) in my one of my mom's old trunks.