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28 Nov

With the holidays approaching (and with them, the birthdays of most of George’s little friends), I’ve been waist-deep in production and all the stuff that comes with it. Trying to figure out what to make. Pick fabric. Choose trims. Do it right. And once it’s made, hope the recipient likes what I’ve done. Anyone who handmakes gifts has made something that was poorly received. My own favorite story — the word ‘favorite’ being a relatively recent development, as the multi-level bummer finally wore off — is of making something for someone who probably thought she was being tactful by tasking someone else with the chore of asking me for the gift’s receipt. Whether I should’ve taken the fact that the thing passed for storebought is the only possible positive of the whole deal, because when the middle-woman asked for the receipt, she turned what may have otherwise been a somewhat laughable oh-haha-err-awkward! situation into a fight. “It’s HOMEMADE?! What were you thinking? You should’ve just gotten her NOTHING. Can you at least get her a real present now?” Seriously. If you will, dear reader, please imagine my response and make it as — ahem — colorful as you’d like.

Regardless of how shitty that lady was, the sting of disappointment is harsh when you’ve worked hard on something that isn’t well received. It can feel like a personal affront; your choices and efforts are entrenched much deeper in a handmade present than one bought in a store. And sometimes that fact falls on deaf ears…or into unappreciative hands.

When I was pregnant with George, I told my mother — a longtime smoker — that she could not continue to smoke and have a relationship with my child. As a child myself, my parents’ smoking was a constant embarrassment and nuisance. Like when you give someone a homemade gift (George is, afterall, about as homemade as gifts get), the gift my mom got in her grandson was not customizable after-the-fact or exchangeable for another size or color. But the gift she got was good. The only appropriate reaction, in my book, is akin to mine when I was given my first, beautiful handknitted wool sweater: what do I have to do to keep this gift as perfect as it was the day I got it?

My mother’s reaction was… not that. Over the past year and a half, she has lied about giving up smoking, told me the cigarettes in front of her weren’t hers, insisted the smell on her clothes wasn’t smoke, and snuck away during Thanksgiving festivities to light up in the bathroom, bringing with her upon her return a foul stench that required my entire family to bathe when we got home. Before we could collapse into bed with a tired infant whose sling also reeked of cigarettes, who was exposed to third-hand smoke for an entire day. And that was my last straw.

I love my mother. We have our issues, most of which revolve around situations just like this one, wherein she has sold me out in favor of someone or something more important to her. But there will be no selling out of my kid, and I didn’t hesitate for one hot second when I called to say we’d made it home through the snow to add that until she stops smoking, she will not have the privilege of seeing George. Because she’s setting a bad example. And even if you don’t believe the studies about third-hand smoke, I’m pretty sure we can all agree that a baby should not smell like cigarettes.

I wish I could say that my mom’s reaction was a hearty hey-whatever-it-takes-because-I-love-that-kid. But it wasn’t. And my feeling was similar to the one you get as you watch your friend or family member’s face go from I’m-opening-a-present-this-rules! to ummm, WTF? when they peel back the tissue paper on your homemade table runner and matching napkin rings. But, like I’ve had to do with people who felt my gifts missed the mark, I’m letting go of my mom’s complete lack of appreciation for what she’s been given. If she chooses to throw it out, that’s entirely up to her.


bean bags

14 Nov

One of our little favorites had a birthday party this afternoon. I wanted to make her something that would be useful for longer than most baby toys. Something that could grow with her, not be annoying or take up too much space. Somewhere, a long time ago, I ran across a blog post about making little bean bags, but I think the ones pictured were letters. 26 bags was a project too ambitious for me at the moment, and letter blocks are easy enough to come by, in any case. I decided to make, instead, a set of numbers, zero through nine. Good for tossing around now, practicing math later. I just hope my shoddy stitch-up job holds until she’s ready for addition and subtraction. I hate to sew “in the ditch” so they look very homemade.

Oh well; they are.

To make them, I used felt scraps and freehanded the numbers, used quilting cotton scraps in interesting or pretty patterns for the backs, and white fleece for the fronts. The synthetic fleece isn’t my ideal material, but I wanted something kind of tactile and substantial. Also, I had some lying around. The truth comes out!

I used cheap, nutritionally void white rice for the filling. Lentils would also be nice, or popcorn. They’re not all the same size and they’re admittedly a little wonky, but I think they’ll be fun to play with. Once George gets out of his mouthing phase, I’ll probably make him some, too. For this project, all I had to buy was the rice; if you’re a sewer, you can probably do the same, as these don’t necessitate any particular material other than hole-less (and if you’re mainly sewing with mesh, I’m gonna bet you don’t have children).

Happy birthday, little lady. I hope your bean bags bring you hours of happy play. And happy birthing day, mama. So far, so good.

jam on it

19 Oct

We’re lucky enough to live in a house where, in the far back of the property, blackberry bushes grow undeterred all Summer long. Some might not call this luck. In fact, some might gripe about how they have to get a new weedeater to combat the attempted take-over of the garden and back fence. The same person(s) might be eating some words…and some jam, right about now.

I used a combination of the directions found inside the pectin package and those found here.

I got the no sugar needed type of pectin and sweetened the jam with some really nice raw honey that my mom gave us. It is outrageous. Perfectly sweet and honey-tasty but still a little tart.

George hung out (pun intended, har har) in the sling while I cooked and canned and Nathan photodocumented. He was unimpressed.

We shared a slice of toast with some butter and the last bit of jam left in the pot after I’d filled the jars. This Fall and Winter it will be so good on our oatmeal and kasha (and bread, and by the spoonful).

I didn’t bother with the canning-specific pot you’re “supposed” to have and just used our giant stockpot which seems to have worked; my lid buttons are sucked in and the stuff has set. A tip I read, though, which was heartening when I decided to try jam-making: if it doesn’t set or your lid buttons don’t pop down, you can re-make the same batch or just put the jam in the fridge or freezer and it’ll keep.

The breakdown:
4 cups of berries (harvested throughout the Summer and frozen) = free
1 cup of honey = gift from mom
1/4 cup of sugar = we’ll say .50, just to be generous. It’s organic, but that’s still probably an overestimate.
1 package of no sugar needed pectin = 2.39
mason jars and lids = already had
jam funnel thing = .99
TOTAL = 3.88. For three jars! Awesome! Is my math right? Who cares.

This was way easier than I thought it would be and only took a little over an hour from start to finish. I also got exactly the flavor I wanted and know exactly from where all my ingredients came. I’m stoked to take on my next canning project: green tomato, ginger and vanilla jam. I know, it sounds gross.


28 Sep

In the past few weeks, the weather has taken the most wonderful Autumnal turn. I feel like this is possibly happening earlier than usual, and is the universe’s polite way of saying please, for the love of god, stop wearing those stretched out tank tops. George’s current legging collection can no longer contain his fat little thighs and all the pants I made him a couple of months ago are too tight around the bum. With a new crop of t-shirts recently acquired, all he really needed for Fall were some snuggly pants. My mom’s boyfriend gave me a very generous birthday gift of money to be spent at Joann, and with it I’ve gotten started on a few things that I hope will carry this little butterball through until December, when it’ll be time to bust out the fleece.

Exhibit A:

Some birch-printy, black flannel-lined pants that are notably less clownish than what he’s been sporting all summer.

Exhibit B:

Some navy flannel-lined overalls with wooden buttons, modeled after some that a dear friend and amazing seamstress made for George that he has, regrettably, worn twice and outgrown.
I didn’t use a pattern for either, having made so many things like this for him already, but I’m still always surprised when a project turns out so nicely.

last night a tutorial saved my life

12 Jul

Okay, so it was actually yesterday afternoon and “saved my life” might be hyperbolic. But this tutorial for making your own mei tai just gifted me (with some work on my part) my very most favorite thing I’ve ever made, ever in my whole long life of making things.
I love my Ergo. Previously, I may have said that it saved my life. And that would only be slightly hyperbolic, because when you have a baby like George, who wants you to hold him every second of every minute of every day, you find that occasionally you need your hands no matter how pleasant holding you baby may be. That Ergo has allowed me to pee, to check Facebook when George was, in the beginning, what we lovingly refer to as a blob, and most importantly, it sometimes puts him to sleep. We use it multiple times a day for walks and picking up around the house and giving a nap the old college try. I’m not giving up on my Ergo. But it’s just so…black. And Beige. With giant clips and padding and that swirly logo that treads dangerously close to hippy territory. I wanted something jazzier. Yellow. Flowers? YES! I am not a flowers type of gal (gal — check), but this fabric seemed right to me. So, with $16, two Joann coupons, a bit of brown minkee fabric I had lying around the sewing room and about 3 hours, I have this little number.

girls’ clothes

2 Jul

It’s no secret that I love making clothes for my kid. For kids in general. You got a baby coming? Expect a package from me…eventually. I love trips to the post office significantly less than I love sewing.
I have a massive stash of fabric from when I worked years ago as the manager of a fabric store. One of the only craft-related things that brings me more joy than finding a good bit of fabric to add to my stash is using up a bit that I’ve squirreled away for the perfect project. Week before last I finally found use for my very-most-beautiful find of the century and made myself Anna Maria Horner’s mariposa nursing tunic. I have since worn it like every other day. If you see me often you may get the impression that I wear the same thing all the time. That impression would be correct.
George has inherited this trait somewhat accidentally. As he’s grown out of all of the clothes we got him while I was pregnant (except for what can only be generously described as “character” pieces) and before I was pregnant — because yes, I am one of those women — I’ve sort of frantically started replenishing his drawers so he’s not stuck wearing green/blue plaid shorteralls and a brown/green homemade cardigan and black/red maple leaf legwarmers.* Because I wanted a gypsy baby, but not like this. NOT LIKE THIS! My chubby little guy who was so skinny when he was born is outgrowing his twelve month tshirts and wearing size 2T pants as we speak. The cloth diaper bum is mainly to blame, but let’s just say that ghetto booties may run in the family (thanks, Nonna). He’s growing faster than I can sew.
I never expected to have a son. I expected to have children, but in my mind, my destiny was a tribe of little girls with tangled hair and well-worn sundresses. My fabric collection reflects this — dainty little calicos, big florals, pinky-purples. Silk. My constant question when looking for something suitable for George’s next pair of pants or kimono is “is this too girly?” Why?
Let me be clear: I could not possibly care less if people mistake my son for a girl. I would put him in a skirt any day of the week, and not as a joke. If he gets older and asks me to make him a fancy dress I can safely say I will be stoked. I want him to be comfortable with his gender identity, whatever it turns out to be. But in the meantime, I admit that I’m a little self-conscious about people thinking I’m a weirdo and judging him as a result. (Incidentally, I don’t necessarily think that couple in Sweden did anything wrong and letting people develop their own gender free of outside influence is an interesting idea.) I also don’t want to dress him in stereotypically female clothes as some kind of counter-culture statement.
Is this something that anyone else struggles with and can’t pin down why?

* “This outfit? But it’s July!” You might be saying. Oh, dear reader, you must not live in the Pacific Northwest.


25 Jun

Okay, I am officially obsessed with this pants pattern.

They are perfect for sitting around,

for lounging on mama,

for “tummy time” (oh how I hate that phrase please oh please someone give me an alternative), and, of course,

for modeling. I just made ANOTHER pair, but I will spare you the photos. Probably.

quick change trousers

24 Jun

George’s six month well child check is today, replete with shots. I figured nothing softens the blow of unexpected pain and the corresponding confusion like a new outfit, right?! So, last night, I tried another pattern from Anna Maria Horner’s book Handmade Beginnings. Like the other two projects I’ve made from this book, the quick change trousers turned out super cute and made up quickly. They’re fully reversible which I could not love more and the back yoke detail is simple but adds a lot of interest to what would otherwise be really plain pants.
(In the morning light George is so pale he looks like he’s glowing. Wonder where he gets that.)
They are undeniably hippy pants, but I love all the fabrics I used and I know I’ll be sad when I have to pack them away for the next baby.

Now we just need to hop the ferry to Orcas for a little hippy vacation.

chubby girls (and boys)

12 Jun

I am always on the hunt for 60s and 70s kids’ clothes patterns at thrift stores. When made correctly (which I sometimes fail at), they fit the way I think clothes should. I have the hardest time buying new clothes for George because I find most of what’s in stores so incredibly tacky, stereotypically gendered, poorly made and bearing the stupidest sayings (“Mommy loves me” — no shit; I hope so!). There aren’t too many good old patterns out there for boys. Most of the ones I fall in love with are for jumpers or dresses, or my recent favorite: a bikini. So I was super stoked to find this one at Value Village the other day:

I got it home and looked it over again and couldn’t believe I’d missed something right on the front of the pattern sleeve.

See it? “Not suitable for chubby girls.” Or, I should say, “NOT SUITABLE FOR CHUBBY GIRLS.” Like, sewers for chubby girls: don’t you even THINK about it.
It brought to mind a few questions. Were there patterns, specifically a different version of this one in particular, that WERE suitable for chubby girls? What is “chubby” according to McCall’s? And how many little girls sat with their mothers at the fabric store pattern book table, like I did with my mum so many times, and fell in love with this pattern only to have their mother point out that it wasn’t made for them?
Children of seamstresses are (sometimes painfully) aware of their measurements. I have always known what pattern size I was, and I knew when I had grown disproportionately because of my mother’s tongue click and slight grimace in recognition of the extra work she’d have to do folding here, adding on there. And this was before she started calling me fat, outright.
Now, I will never be 5 feet, 10 inches tall and I will almost certainly never weigh less than 120 lbs, which is about what my mother weighs and always has. I will never consider myself thin, and considering myself normal is a daily struggle. Just today, a friend referred to her own body as such and I had to check the part of me that judged her COMPLETELY valid self-assessment as boastful (totally messed up, right?). I can never imagine anything less than genuine, serious health-related concern forcing me to even broach the subject of weight with George. And never in a million years would I, even then, call him fat (okay, I call him fat all the time. I mean later). But what I DO do is call myself fat. And I need to knock it off, as soon as I say this one thing:
This chubby girl is making the effing pants and peter pan collar jacket.

baby in the hood

8 Jun

I had been waiting, breath bated for Anna Maria Horner’s new book, Handmade Beginnings to come out. I’d seen a few of the patterns and thought the mariposa nursing tunic looked, well, LESS like a maternity shirt than all the other nursing clothes I’ve seen. So I bought the book on sale and was so pleasantly surprised to find lots of other projects that actually align with my aesthetic pretty well. This is rare in the sewing world, unfortunately. Though I’ve been sewing for like 20 years, primarily with patterns, I very rarely find something just like what I was wishing for. I got the book in the mail and promptly made two (different!!) nursing tops — photos maybe later, if I am looking cute — and the “baby in the hood” jacket for George. It is precious, made up in about 2 hours with some pattern alterations (I didn’t fully line it, summertime coming and all), and fits him with a little room to grow in the 9 month size. My little butterball.

I’m so glad to be using up some of my fabric stash and I’m totally validated in my habit of keeping weird little scraps because I lined the sleeves with one scrap and made the hood stripe and button placket with another.

I am already having anxiety about George’s upcoming phase of hating mama-made stuff. I went through one, albeit a brief one where I eventually just learned to sew, and I’m sure my mum was bummed.