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Monthly Archives: September 2007

That Annoying Frog

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My first day as a fourth and fifth grade Sunday School teacher left me conjecturing that I don’t really like children after all – well, at least not boy children – or at least not fourth and fifth grade boy children.  Since I work with children all day every day and generally enjoy my time, this realization came as quite a surprise to me. 

But, you see, I have worked for the Girl Scouts for over five years now.  I only ever work with girls – in a world of pink and butterflies and hugs and happy chatter and, most of the time, a desire to please the teacher. 

 

Not that little girls don’t have their own evils as they certainly do – the incessant talking, the snubbing each other, the ever-present desire for absolute “justice” (“she got more stickers than everyone else!  that’s not fair! is she just going to get away with it?”).  But I am used to these evils.  I know how to deal with them.  I have confidence when I interact with girls – of diverse ages, races, and socio-economic circumstances.

Boys are a completely different ball game.  During the course of my 20 minute Sunday School class the boys wrestled, made fun of each other, made fun of me, abandoned the classroom without permission, threw things on the floor for the fun of it, refused to answer simple questions about the lesson (I’m talking VERY simple – “What could you do this week to be kind to others?”), and tried to make a joke of everything I said.

I realize now that my life really has not equipped me to understand boys.  I grew up in a house wherin the only male was my dad – even the dog was a girl.  I had very few male friends until high school – we all sort of segregated ourselves.  I mostly sought out and took babysitting jobs for families with only girls.  And now, I work for an all girl organization.  I never had a chance against the boys in my Sunday School class – and I think they sensed it.

Really the breaking point came when I had us do an icebreaker in which we all announced our favorite movie.  When it was my turn I said that Muppets Take Manhattan and my comment was met with glazey eyes and, finally, “what are muppets?”  I didn’t know how to react – few things they could have said would have alarmed me more.  Once I gathered my bearings I replied, “Hello?  Kermit?  Miss Piggy?  Come on!”  This brought the glimmer of recognition to their eyes.  One girl (one of only two) said, “Oh yeah – those puppets.”  Then…….a boy……..one of the wresting, fun-making boys said, and I quote, “Oh yeah – that annoying frog”.

Well that was it.  Any Christian charity I still felt toward these hooligans evaporated and I have been muttering to myself ever since, ‘what are we teaching children these days?  rotten hooligans’.

In order to heal I engaged in some Muppet therapy and I counter with this:

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Despite the poor picture (I was too impatient to wait until it was light outside) I am pleased with the results.  This garment started out life as a large, boxy, white t-shirt.  For reasons unknown even to me I decided it would be more fun to dye and alter the construction of this shirt to make it fit my needs than to purchase one that was already appropriate.  I took in the sides a little – especiall under the bust – though you really can’t tell from this picture – and I raised the shoulder seam and shortened the sleeves.  I’m not sure if it was worth it – I tried to do this to two other t-shirts with disasterous results.  They are now cut into strips for another project.

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I found the picture of Kermit (who is not the least bit annoying, by the way) on the internet somewhere and I freehanded the lettering and the little fly.

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Maybe I’ll take a better picture of this shirt out in the daylight.  This is a little fuzzy and dark, but I wanted to include a detail shot.  

I have enjoyed my week of all girls so far and I am still working up the courage to go back this Sunday and face the Muppet-hating, paper throwing, wrestling monsters I met last week.  Can we start an all girls Sunday School?

Back To School

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Today was my first day of school!  I am working part time for the Girl Scouts going into schools four days a week to do enrichment activities with the girls during their normal school day.  I haven’t been this excited about going back to school since I was very young.  Going to open houses and parents nights in these schools – all built around the time when my elementary school went up – has just jumpstarted my memories and launched me into a very nostalgic period.

I had to commemorate this new school milestone by making something, of course.  I felt I simply could not go back to school without a new school bag.  And I wanted it to be a school bag – a pencils and apples and rulers and autumn leaves and new plaid skirts kind of a bag.  Since I am trying to save money and since the perfect bag probably didn’t even exist in a store, it was the perfect thing for me to handcraft.

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For the main exterior I used a sheet I purchased at a thrift store months ago (I washed it in hot water first – don’t gross out).  The lining, strap, and apple applique are all “vintage” fabrics I found in my mom’s old scrap pile.  These are very fitting for the project because many of them were the remains of dresses and shirts I wore to school the first time around.

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I used a stiff, iron-on interfacing to give the bag and strap body.  While I am pleased with the structure it affords, I am quite unhappy about how bubbly and wrinkly the fabric now appears.  I don’t know what I am doing wrong – I have used interfacing only twice – and both times I had dissapointing results.  Anyone with advice, please educate me!

I wanted the bag to be practical so I put a few pockets in the lining.  You can see one is for a water bottle.  The other two are more general in nature. 

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You may notice the courderoy padding on the strap.  This is not an original feature of the bag.  This is a band-aid.  This is a desperate attempt to repair the sad, poor little strap after it had several chunks chewed out of it.  I’ll give you one guess who did it – and its not the usual suspect…….

……hint…

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Since I was generally pleased with my finished bag I decided that I absolutely need a purse to go with it.  My summer purse is looking a little to – well – summery, and I wanted to start the school year right with a respectable fall purse.  Learning from my interfacing debaucle I had a different idea.  I decided to buy low-loft quilt batting and line both the exterior fabric and the lining fabric with it.  I’m very pleased with the results – it has the structure I wanted (actually much more than the interfacing) and there are no bubbles.

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This purse project was a little more frustrating than my last.  I made more mistakes this time – sewing the top of the lining shut so there was no opening in it, forgetting to place the darts in the bottom of the bag, missing the fabric on one side of the seam and having to go back and do it by hand.  But in the end, despite its flaws that are probably only noticed by me, I love this little purse.  Like the Lemonade tote, I used Artsy Crafty Babe’s Pleated Tote Tutorial for this bag and highly recommend it again.

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The exterior courderoy is left over from pillows my mom made me.  The lining is scraps from my mom’s fabric stash that I worked into a crude patchwork before cutting out the pattern shape.  The bird design is taken from a vintage tatoo and I really love him.  I hand embroidered the red stitching along his perimeter and thought of doing more embelleshments with the red thread but decided that less is more.

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 As with the school bag, I customized the lining, creating spots for my lipstick, my cellphone, iPod, sunglasses, and personal care items.  I also included a loop on which to hook my keys and another loop which will hold my camera case (still working on that).

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I’m reveling in all that (almost) autumn has to offer this year and I’m happy to have bags that show it.  They aren’t perfect, or close to it, but I’m learning – a student of sewing – and I’ll keep on practicing and studying and hopefully show improvement the next time around!

Patterns

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I am seven years old and it is warm with a slight breeze that rustles the grass, tickling my bare legs.  My friend Sarah, tall and lanky, twirls her short, sunny orange hair between her fingers and remarks that her mother is taking her shopping for school clothes that evening.  I consider this for a moment and, confused, ask her doesn’t her mom make some of her clothes for her?  Sarah tells me, matter-of-fact, the her mother doesn’t sew and she seems baffled by my question, as if the notion of mothers sewing clothing was foreign to her.

Later as I walk up the hill toward our comfy, happy ranch house I contemplate this new paradigm with which I am suddenly confronted.  Didn’t all moms make at least some of their childrens’ clothing?  Their Easter and Christmas dresses if nothing else?  My entire outlook on the world was challenged and I didn’t like this new reality.  Poor Sarah, having to wear store-bought clothes all the time.  I would not want to live in a family where the mom didn’t know how to sew.  Somehow, the world seemed a little colder, less secure, not as friendly.  I walked into the warmth of my cheerful house a little less innocent and a little more grateful for my crafty mom.

Now mind you – this was the 80s and my mom bought most of my clothes.  Apparently I was blocking out of my mind all of those outfits and focusing only on the ones handmade by my mom.  If I check the evidence now – pictures from that era – I plainly see myself clad in a majority of ready-made clothing. 

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This blue dress with its crisp white collar was handmade by my mom.  I think she also made her sailor style top.  I’m not sure about Kelli’s dress. 

But I was still in my ego-centric years, just beginning to be confronted with the realization that not all families were like mine, not all experiences parallel to my own.  And one experience I counted on was a trip to the fabric store before each major event of the year – school starting, Christmas, Easter, and the summer season.  We’d walk in and sit at the familiar pattern counter, my sister and I spinning around and around on the tall, plastic stools as my mom flipped through the phone book sized catalogs. 

After we were to dizzy to spin anymore we’d entertain ourselves by looking through the Halloween costume section of the pattern book and covet the elaborate costumes we were sure our mom would not make us.  Mom was always willing to spend days crafting a complicated Christmas dress but she was much less keen on toiling for hours to make halloween costumes she knew would be worn for a grand total of three hours – ever (we would never even think of wearing the same costume for more than one Halloween, despite my mom’s stories about dressing as either a hobo or ghost every single Halloween of her childhood without complaining.)

Eventually mom would call us over to get our opinions – did we like this style of dress, did we promise to wear those shorts if she made them?  We would usually get reprimanded for arguing and bickering right around the time my mom was making final decisions on patterns – when we thought it was high time we were moving on to the fabric-choosing  portion of the event.

We would finally go and look at fabric – usually cotton, and here we had a respectable level of autonomy to choose for ourselves, allthought we were always gently guided by my mom’s taste and sense of decorum.    Still, we managed to go home with, over the years, many “gems” of the fabric world including: a print of large, primary color, angular giraffes, neon pink fabric printed all over with neon colored sneakers, retina-burning coral fabric with electric blue seashells….. and probably countless others that were less than my mother’s top choices.  But the important dresses – Christmas and Easter – were always crafted with more classic, tasteful fabrics.

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After the pattern, fabric, and notions were chosen came the measuring, the fittings punctuated by accidental pin pricks, and the sessions of standing still for far too long while mom tacked up the hem just right.

Then, finally came the time when we could put on and proudly wear our very own kiddie-coture that I know we didn’t properly appreciate.  I’d like to say that most of the outfits were worn regularly and treasured by us, but I’m sure that we occasionally frustrated my mom by ignoring and neglecting pieces she’d worked so hard on, relegating them to the bottom of our closets until they were, all too soon, too small.  For me, this always meant the happy prospect of shiney new clothing, often for my sister it meant giving new life to my cast-offs – such is the downfall of being born second.

I grew up in this homecrafted way – wearing hand-made dresses, helping my mom bake our birthday cakes, receiving hand painted ceramics as gifts from my paternal grandmother, watching my aunts paint with water colors and design their own jewelry.  I saw my dad and my uncles take pride in woodworking and woodcarving, my maternal grandmother doing ambitious needlework, my aunt crocheting intricate baby gifts for each new member of the family….. and on and on. 

So I guess I come by my obsessions honestly and really had little hope of leading a normal – craft free life (not that I’d want to).  Just as Randy was destined to play music, I think crafts are written into my DNA. 

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As much as I pictured myself as a modern, metropolitan woman on the move when I day-dreamed as a child, I find myself preferring to stay home and sew rather than go out and paint the town red.  I suppose it is inevitable – so I salute my hand-made heritage and the multi-generational pattern into which I have so neatly and naturally conformed.  I salute all the people I now emulate who do the seemingly illogical – spending countless hours and often substantial amounts of money making items that could be purchased easily and sometimes more economically, often with more consistent results.    People who poured their heart and their sweat into customized and carefully thought out gifts that were all too often under-appreciated or worse, even dreaded by their recipients.  I have to admit that I have been on that side of the coin – wishing to open a bland, mass-produced item I could have easily purchased myself.

But as I look back to all the material items I have kept over the years (and I’m not a “thing-keeper” by nature, so my collection is small and limited to the things that really made an impact on me), I don’t still have my long-coveted Eastland loafers or my stone-washed denim purse.  I do have my hand crocheted baby blanket stitched for me by my great aunt Chris,

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and the Easter dress my mom made me in kindergarten (though I didn’t get to wear it on Easter that year thanks to a nasty case of the chicken pox),

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the wall-hanging my grandma stitched (its called Chirp and Squeek – isn’t that adorable!),

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the ceramic bunny shaped jewelry box my grandma painted and fired, the cable purse my aunt knitted me for Christmas, even an ornament made for me by my 2nd grade teacher with my name on it.

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I have these idealized fantasies of future Christmases with our future children: we’ve limited the store bought gifts – the things we could easily purchase any other time – and we revel in the handmade ones we’ve worked on all year for each other.  I know my fantasy is just that – and the reality will fall somewhere between all commercial and all hand-made, but it is a beautiful fantasy.  And it is why I continue to work on hand-made items despite the occasional frustration (‘why do i even do this?  i suck!  its no fun’) , the inevitable dissapointment when the reaction of the recipient does not match the time and excitment I poured into the project, and the endless marital struggles over the ever-climbing craft supply bill.

Lately I’ve been having some of those creative frustrations (Randy tells me I am creatively constipated) and I needed to remind myself why I do it.  And in the end, its all worth it – where else would I get a dishtowel displaying a teapot eating a doughnut if I hadn’t made it myself?

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The Craft is Back!

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In my description of this blog I say that its mostly about making things.  Lately I have not been delivering on the posts about craft productivity.  That is largely because I have been creatively frustrated lately with most of my crafty undertakings being so unsuccessful that I began to wonder if I’m still crafty at all.

Well, it turns out I am.  One of my problems has been that I have too many fires burning in the old craft room.  I have millions of ideas for fun projects and I actually become stressed out trying to coordinate all the “fun”.  Then I try and remind myself that its not a leisure activity if you stress out about it.  And that stresses me out even more……. so I try not to overthink it.

I have realized that I am a higly goal oriented crafter and I work best under pressure – real or imagined. 

Exhibit A: The Finished Product

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Gifts for my friend and her daughter, wrapped in my new lazy creative method of “jelly rolling” the gift and tying in a coordinating ribbon.  Einstein is clearly, NOT impressed.

Exhibit B: Gift for Mom

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I made this dish towel for my friend, Mandie (hi mandie!)   She recently moved into new digs and I knew she would appreciate a not so conventional housewarming gift.  Since we share a strangely imbedded affinity for the muppets I knew this would be the perfect adornment for the towel.

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I found a picture of the Sweedish Chef and printed it out, then sort of converted it into a makeshift pattern.  In the process I found that in his spare time, the Sweedish Chef has created his own version of Google.  Go to here to check it out.  Bork bork bork.

 Exhibit C: Gift for Daughter

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Mandie’s daughter, Holland, is going to Kindergarten this year!  I made her this bag to commemorate the occasion because I still remember how excited I was to go to kindergarten.  I felt like I had really made it in the world and I wanted more people to understand what a big deal this was. 

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I sewed the bag from scraps of “vintage” fabrics (circa the 1980s – from my mom’s old fabric pile) and I found the embroidery transfers in a huge book (also from the 80s – 1981 to be exact) of transfers for every occasion that Randy’s mom gave me from her stash.  So you could say that this bag spans many decades and involved many family members – a real team effort!

The little square of red fabric at the bottom is a tiny pocket for Holland to stash a secret treasure.  Its mostly there because I originally transferred the “D” for holland backwards and I needed to cover it up…..but who’s counting?  Now that I look at it again I wish I would have embroidered her name at the top across the red strip, but one part of working under pressure is that you don’t always have time to plan these things out.  Oh well – I think she likes it anyway…

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This post has been a long time coming and since I started writing it over a week ago I have had many more crafting successes and feel like I am solidly back on the horse. 

Now if I could ever get around to doing a photo session with these new crafts so I could post about them….