Taking a break… be back soon!

be.back.soon

 

My dear blog friends,

I will be taking a break until May.

Sadly, I am suffering from tennis elbow in my right arm, despite the fact that I am left-handed.

I’ve given up tennis, but it seems that is not enough. So, I’ll also be giving up (temporarily) using a computer mouse with my right hand, needlework, and pretty much any extraneous activity that involves my right arm.

Hopefully this break will allow me time to draw, paint, or unlock my left-handed inner artist with a Cat Bennet book.  More likely, I’ll fritter it away watching House of Cards, goofing off on instagram, and trying to garden with only my left hand.

I look forward to re-connecting in a few weeks.

Happy spring, everyone!

Elizabeth

Friday Photo: travel ahead

arizona

I’m packing today for a trip to warmer lands, specifically, Arizona.

I spent a week in Arizona last March, when I took this photo. Springtime is when Sonoran desert plants bloom – before the hot and dry summer. What a thrill it was to see so many blooms in the desert. I’m hoping to see more this trip.

I’m not sure if I’ll be blogging next week or not, but I’ll definitely be posting photos on instagram, and I would love have you join me there!

Also, I’m linking up with Martha at Weekend Doings for a picture… a moment and Catherine at Knotted Cotton for a mid-month Slow Bloggers Linky.

How to organize your bed sheets, the crafty way

harry potter glasses embroidery

I’m not even close to being a super organized mother, as in, the kind of mother who maintains a color-coded family calendar, impeccably organized pantry, and foolproof system for managing the constant stream of children’s artwork coming home from school. But I do have my moments.

One thing I can’t stand is a jumble of bed sheets, mixed up sizes (twin? full?) in unmatched sets. (A pillow case from 2008 with a brand new top sheet?! the horror!) When my children where younger, I solved this problem by buying printed sheets: sheets with trucks, robots, airplanes. I would buy whatever it took to get them to love their beds, with the added bonus of easily organized sets.

white sheets, laundry basket

Now that they are older, my sons are ready for unadorned sheets. Even my 7 year old requested plain white sheets after having slept on hand-me down robots, trucks, airplanes for his entire life. With a sigh of resignation, I imagined lots and lots of undistinguishable white sheets heaped in a laundry basket and waiting to be folded and organized into sets for each bed.

Then, it dawned on me: this is a crafty opportunity! This is a chance to put my newfound craft of embroidery to practical use.

all.sheets 2

To distinguish among identical sets of sheets, I embroidered a symbol in the corner of each sheet/pillowcase, one symbol per set. Since this was more funcational than decorative, I stuck with a single color motif in a tucked away location – just inside the pillowcase, at the upper hemmed edge of the topsheet and at a single corner of the flat sheet.

I started with a set of sheets for my 7 year old who is currently obsessed with Harry Potter. We dithered about how to reduce the whole Harry Potter saga to a single essential motif – a lightning bolt scar? wand? Hogwarts crest? In the end, we settled on the pair of spectacles you see here.

Transferring the motif was as satisfying as ever and stitching was a breeze. (I used back stitch this time.) In the end, this was a speedy and satisfying project, though I’m not sure if it qualifies as a craft project, or merely clever housekeeping.

P.S. I’m no Martha Stewart, but I do love this sheet organization idea from her website.  Even more clever housekeeping!

Small Moment: Germinating Seeds

seedlings leaning into the light

Last week, I planted a few seeds. Nothing special, a little basil, a little cilantro. Another way to fight the doldrums of  this long snowy winter.

I was delighted, earlier this week, when the cilantro seeds germinated. I found these seedlings, bright and green, stretching toward the sun, craving the same warmth and light that I do, oblivious to the bitter cold and the blanket of snow outside the window.

Watching tiny flecks of seeds transformed into tender living plants never fails to thrill me. The symbolizism is so obvious (new life, fresh start, etc.), it could seem tired. Germination is such a fundamental function of life, it could be easy to take for granted, but it rarely is. The inexplicable joy of a sprouting seed transcends cliche – this tiny miracle never fails to delight.

I’ll be starting more seeds for my vegetable garden in a few weeks – tomatoes, squash, cucumbers, zinnias. I’d like to plant a few metaphorical seeds as well – kernels of self sufficiency, resilience, and empathy in my children being highest on my list. I’m also working on the seeds of a few creative projects- sketches in a notebook, like a tiny plant curled up inside a seed, waiting to unfurl.

Wishing you all, dear readers, the best of luck in planting some seeds of your own, literal or metaphorical.

Weekend Doings

P.S. Linking up with Martha at Weekend Doings for: A picture… a moment. Click through to see her and other beautiful posts!

Amos and Boris and an Embroidery Project

happy whale and book

For me, one of the biggest pleasures of being a mother is reading bedtime stories. As I snuggle in each night with my youngest child, I often find myself re-reading old favorites – The Very Hungry Caterpillar, the Gruffalo, Frog and Toad. And I often find myself inspired, transported, bewitched, not just by good stories, but by captivating illustrations.

amos and boris book

One such inspiring book is Amos and Boris by William Steig. It tells the story of a friendship between a whale and a mouse and the illustrations are loose and alive, emotive and humorous, absorbing and appealing. I know this story so well now, that I read the words aloud without comprehension, while my mind dwells on the images, roaming over the rooftops of a castle on the horizon, basking in light shining from a boat’s cabin, floating in the swells of the ocean.

waves

Inspired by the quirky and cheerful seascapes in this book,  I recently sketched a whale in the ocean, a design I decided to use in an embroidery project. I chose three shades of murky blue-green for the sea, an earthy whale grey, and a white cotton drawstring bag.  I stitched the lines of ocean swells, darkest blues toward the bottom, lightest towards the top for an ombré effect. (DMC #s 924, 926, 927, if you care for specifics.)

happy.whale.front

My whale, outlined in a split stitch, seems a bit washed out compared to William Steig’s beautiful illustrations. When I am a more experienced and more confident embroiderer, I’ll have to revisit this project and try filling and shading the whale with stitches.

At the edges, I extended the ocean waves (stem stitch) around the side seams of the bag and across the back too. This reverse side might just be my favorite part of the project. The open blue ocean, embroidered version.

happy.whale.back

Small moment: Sorting embroidery floss

sorting floss

I’m tidying up this morning, sorting embroidery floss before I finish up my second embroidery project. Handling the threads, enjoying the textures and colors can be intensely satisfying-  a small moment but a pleasureable one.

Since I’m new to embroidery, I’m trying out a system of wrapping the threads on little cards and keeping the cards on a ring. If any of you more experienced stitchers have any tips on how to store floss, I’m all ears!

I’m also participating in “A Picture… a Moment” a link up over at Weekend Doings. Martha takes beautiful photos on her blog and on instagram. I’m thrilled to be part of this party. If you’re a blogger, you should link up too!

Weekend Doings

DIY pirate shirts tutorial

DIY pirate shirt tutorial

We’re really into costumes at my house. I have two sons who love dressing up, with pirate costumes being among the most popular. For Christmas, they received a beautiful set of sea captain coat, knee breeches, boots, from H and M Unicef/All for Children.

While these clothes were a hit, the problem of what to wear beneath the coat became a nagging question in the mind of my seven year old. White button down? Wrong. Plain T shirt? Wrong. Striped shirt? Wrong. Like I said, we’re really into costumes. So, we sewed pirate-ish muslin shirts to go with these jaunty sea captain clothes.

I’ve already described my mixed feelings about this project, and since it was a little out of my comfort zone, I’ve just added it to the New to Me Linky at Celtic Thistle Stitches. Click over there to see all kinds of geat projects. If you want to hear more of  the details of how I sewed these shirts, please, read on! I’ll tell you what I did and what I learned.

Before starting I did a little google searching, and found this pirate shirt “unpattern” tutorial on Wee Folk Art to be helpful for thinking the project through, though I did some things differently, notably the cuffs and neckline.

Now, the details in slide show format. Please note that by clicking on the bottom center of a slide you can pause, go forward, or go backwards in the instructions.

This slideshow requires JavaScript.

The tale of two pirate shirts, or, I sometimes hate my sewing machine

sewing maachine

I kind of hate my sewing machine, and yet, there are times when I just can’t stay away. For example, I might find myself spending a long Sunday sewing two small-sized pirate shirts instead of skiing like everyone else I know. I might find myself puzzling over how to fit the sleeve into the shoulder with just the right amount of puffiness, or how to cinch the cuff so my 5 year old can easily get it on and off. I might find myself looking at a kitchen table covered in scraps of unbleached muslin, newspaper patterns, bits of thread and straight pins, and wonder what was I thinking?? Why did I take this project on??

sewing debris

My mother once said that knowing how to sew can feel like a curse. When you know how to sew you see how simple and easy it can be to make something. You can imagine customizing and creating exactly what you want – color, fit, feel, functionality. You can imagine and execute any number of stunning and special projects.

Sounds like a blessing (and it is) but sewing projects take time. Lots of time. I could never possibly do all I dream up so I have to pick and choose which projects are worth it. Yes, there are probably mothers out there who manage to hand sew all their children’s clothing while also homeschooling, eschewing refined sugars, and building a home composter. But I’m over any form of competitive mothering.  I’ve settled for polyester superhero suits with stitched in muscles and dubious plastic party favors. But simply knowing the hand-made possibilities makes this settling hard to do. 

ruffle.cuff.pirate.shirt

In my household, costume collaborations always start strong, but  by the end of the project, my children have run off to play legos while I finish up. I’m fine with that – we’re not raising them to be tailors. But I sometimes wonder – wouldn’t it have been easier to just buy a flimsy scrap of polyester?

I remind myself: its the process, not the product. I know there are benefits of doing these types of projects with my children. We work together,  they exercise a few skills (pinning, cutting, sewing) and they learn something about sequencing a project (draw pattern, cut newspaper, pin it to fabric, cut fabric, etc.). Its a creative collaboration that allows my children to see and experience something more authentic and less made-in-china.

As I clean up and muse about the value of sewing projects,  a wee pirate bounds into the room, smiling and proud, brandishing his pirate sword and smoothing his fresh pirate shirt over knee breeches. Yes, our afternoon of sewing has been a success, though, next time, I might consider a less time consuming cooking project

aargh.pirate

P.S. I sat down to write a post about how to make a pirate shirt and wrote this instead. Clearly, I needed to work through my feelings about the value of sewing children’s costumes. In my next post, I’ll share some DIY instructions and what I learned about how to actually make one of these.  

EDITED 2/27/14: I’ve now posted some directions here. If I haven’t scared you off and you want to make one of these, hope my tutorial can help! 

More is never enough

seed.packs

I’m so excited about my garden, despite the blanket of snow outside my windows. I’ve decided to try winter sowing this year and so I’ve been busy designing and dreaming, scheming and selecting seeds, and potting and planting them up.

In other years, I’ve planted early crops under a cold frame in March, but this year (and I’m a little late for it) I’ve stuck some seeds out in the snow. Here’s how: Save clear-topped plastic containers, order seeds, fill containers with damp soil, sow seeds, close containers (except for air and drainage holes) and place them in a sunny spot, outdoors. That’s the rough plan, anyway, and a reasonable one, at least, according to my internet search and wintersown.org.

planted.seeds

My internet search also yielded the quote, “More is never enough.”  More googling suggests Marty Rubin as the source of this quote. I have no idea who Marty Rubin is, or the context of the original quote, but feel that in the context of garden planning, it could not be more apt.

I am dreaming big right now. With spinach, arugula, water cress, broccoli, parsley, and a some foxglove now winter sown, I’ve also ordered three kinds of tomatoes, beans, squash, carrots, nasturtiums, zinnias and more. A whole colorful summer garden’s worth of seeds.

As I now consider adding shrubs, perennials, and roses, I realize that late winter garden dreaming is the correllary to seasonal garden ennui. Now is the time for ambitious garden planning. Now is the time when more is never enough.

winter.sown

Craft Project, or a cry for help?

tulle.tutuI recently made tutus for two of my little nieces. Initially, I did not plan to post about this project because it’s been done so many times before and as a craft project, there’s pretty much nothing to it. One need only to look at this photo and this photo, and how to proceed becomes clear.

DIY.tutu

Proceed, I did, and in the end, I was almost shocked by the finished products. These tutus appear so ridiculously girly, so over the top in their puffy, frothy pink-and-purple-ness, that it occurred to me that these tutus might seem like a cry for help from the mother of four sons.

In truth, I‘ve made my peace with the awkward questions (Gonna keep trying ’til you get a girl?) and unanswerable comments. (Four boys!! How do you DO it?!!) I even try to have a sense of humor and enjoy connecting with other mothers of all boys. I love my children for the wonderful people they are and feel lucky for all I share with them.

Nevertheless, I won’t deny enjoying the novel experience of tutus, barrettes, bows, and extreme girliness I get by having nearby nieces. I guess I better enjoy it now, before the girls get old enough to reject it.