The Quilt is Done

Summer 2014 019My mother did not quilt.  My grandmother did not quilt either.  My great-grandmother probably did quilt as befitted the time in which she lived,  but as we were not destined to know one another I can’t be sure.  What I’m getting at here is that quilting was not something I absorbed from my childhood surroundings.   I wasn’t mitering corners at grannie’s knee or using a rotary cutter in elementary school. It is rather baffling therefore that for my first quilting project ever I decided to make a queen-sized quilt for my baby daughter.  I considered the lap quilts but felt she would outgrow those too fast, and who has twin beds anymore anyway and so heck- why not just go big or go home?  So I went big.  I completed all of the blocks during her first year of life and even got them all put together with the inner borders.  We were living in Eugene, OR at the time and knew we wouldn’t be able to stay.  I chose colors to remind us of that place- the blues of the sky, the greens and browns of the earth.  For the background I chose a patterned fabric featuring bright umbrellas in front of a cloudy sky. Once the top was done it just sat.  And sat.  For 2 years.  I’ve heard this is common tale- the patchwork top is the exciting part and after that it’s just levels of tediousness.Summer 2014 018

Once I finally came to terms with this understanding I hired a longarmer.  In other words, one who possesses a long-arm machine.  It was a wonderfully freeing experience which has left me with a finished quilt, a sense of peace, and a neater sewing area.  Thank you Heidi Hendrix in Lusby, MD!

The longarm machine is an invention which allows the quilter to spread a large portion of the quilt out while machine quilting the patchwork top, inner batting, and backing together with a set pattern such as spirals.  If your other alternative, like mine,  is using a small sewing machine shoved into the back corner of your loft, a longarmer might be preferable.

For the next quilt I will be using a solid color for the background, and instead of doing a sampler quilt where every block is a different pattern, I’ll just be sticking with the ones I like.  Rail fence is one of my favorites- nice and simple and best of all- no triangles!

Summer 2014 016



Best Old School Toys


New school 2011

20140323-142236.jpgWe didn’t know it at the time but the toys we grew up with in the early 80’s were simply the best.  Many of them are no longer being replicated, at least in the way we remember them.  Wooden Tinker Toys are no longer being sold- there are plastic versions in “girl colors” and “boy colors” but nothing like what we remember. Mr. Potato Head, which used to be rather well-made, has evolved into a cheap and unfortunate tuber. The two new Potato Heads we bought new a couple months ago are impossible for my preschooler to do by herself and even though the female has a throw-back hairstyle they shout “Modern!  Shiny! 21st century! Junk!” The pieces don’t fit well, the glasses fall off, the hair thunks to the floor at the least provocation.


Old school 1983

Last week on a vacation in upstate NY my family was lucky enough to run across not one, not two, but three old school Potato Heads from 1983.  The year is printed inside the butt flap in case you’d like to know when your own model originated.  Now I’m not looking forward to answering questions about Mr. Potato Head 1983’s pipe(which is kinda cute if you don’t think too much about it) but you can’t dispute that the toys were built to last, to be functional, and to be fun.  They were more than money makers.

When I was a bit older Domino Rally came out and I thought it looked incredibly entertaining.  I got it for Christmas that year and couldn’t have been more disappointed.  The loop-de-loop malfunctioned repeatedly,and  the track was always falling apart.  I should have realized then that the era of good toys was ending.  If I’d made that realization I certainly wouldn’t have given away all the tangible pieces of my childhood.  I would have kept them for my own kids.  Alas, here I am searching thrift stores whenever I have the chance.  My husband just rescued his childhood collection of He-Man action figures from his parent’s attic.  We are both ridiculously excited about this.


Tinker toy telescopes

For the most part we try to buy wooden toys and toys that are 2nd hand.  Even better are toys that are wooden AND 2nd hand.  Fortunately for me and for my kids, my dad is an amateur toy maker.


The Myrtle Turtle and a VW bug.

I grew up playing with a handmade pull-duck with leather feet that flapped along on a rolling wooden wheel.   I learned my states early and confidently because I had a huge wooden map of the USA with puzzle pieces of all 50 states.  I had a wooden whale puzzle that had only 5 pieces but was deceptively difficult and my dolls got rocked in a handmade cradle which eventually got donated to the Para Los Ninos foundation in Los Angeles.  To my everlasting regret I didn’t keep most of the gifts my father made.  I only have the whale puzzle, a jewelry box made out of a tree limb, and a giant rocking cow named Bessie.  Incidentally, Bessie weighs about 50 pounds and won’t be living with us forever:)

My dad has begun making wooden toys for my kids.  It’s a very lucky thing to have a toy maker in the family.  My daughter has her own pull mouse which she delightedly drags all over the college campus down the road and my 11 month old has figured out how to push his wooden cars across the living room.  I absolutely love watching them play with things that didn’t come in a box.  Things that were made by a real person, things that have imperfections (not referring to Mr. Potato Head here), toys that encourage activity instead of passivity.

It’s a changing world.  I do see the advantages of having a preschooler who knows how to use a variety of computers.  But I also see the need to teach our kids how to build with their hands and how to race real wooden cars.

What’s your best old school toy?

Whoa There Valentine’s Day

Winter 2013 159

Heart pattern- from paper to cloth.

Winter 2013 161

Grand plans.

Here in Southern Maryland we’ve been getting snow and slush more often than is usual for this time of year. Our plans to deliver valentines to local college students were thwarted by a slushy morning since I felt obligated to give my bicycle-commuting husband the car.

A secondary fail was the fact that the valentines I actually did make for my nieces never made it into the mail and remain in partial states of undress here in my house.  Sorry kids.  Maybe they’ll arrive in time for St. Patty’s Day?20140216-144822.jpg

For valentines this year we made cloth hand warmers in the shape of hearts.  They’re full of rice and can be heated for 45 seconds or until warm.  It seemed a nice way to send some love across the miles.  Or it would have been if that love had actually left our house.


Heart hand warmers.

Holidays are starting to get exciting around here- my daughter seems to grasp the concept of “holiday” now, at least partially.  She has not however caught on to the concept of “making crafts” which I hope will come some time soon.  Adults can only play with Little People for so long before a spork in the eyeball starts to sound like a good alternative.  Don’t you agree?

What did you make for Valentine’s Day this year?

Got Sun?

An absolutely ridiculous thing about having kids is that when you finally do get a minute of pe20140121-112700.jpgace your brain may be too fried to think of anything fun to do with your offspring.  This is why I love Pinterest.  Last month my daughter and I finally got to make sun catchers.  What is a sun catcher?  Only a life saver if you happen to have a toddler and an infant.  Particularly in winter when playground time is sparse, the local museum is closed for renovation, and you share a car with your husband.

20140121-112636.jpgThey are easy enough even for young toddlers and if they are motivated (we were lacking a bit there) the project can be completed fairly independently.  We chose to make several small ones in honor of Grandma Plummie’s birthday and one large one for a friend who was coming over for dinner.

You just need clear contact paper, some colored construction paper, colored tissue paper (at least 4 colors), tape and scissors.  Simply cut a shape border out of the construction paper (such as a triangle, heart, or rectangle), peel off the back of  the contact paper cut large enough to fill the frame you’ve just made, and tape the whole thing to a window, sticky side facing away from the window.  Rip the tissue paper into small bits and put them in a bowl for your child.  Let them stick the pieces onto the frame until it is full.  Voila.  A sun catcher to keep in the window to imitate stained glass.20140121-112550.jpg

A great thing about this project is that you can revisit it fairly often.  That’s my plan anyway, at least until spring comes and we can get back outside.

DIY Cloth Gift Tags, a Reflection on the Absurdity of Wrapping Paper

20131215-212954.jpgAfter I moved out of my parent’s house all those years ago it never occurred to me to buy wrapping paper.  I had witnessed first hand the amount of space it dominated for so much of the year.  My mother was always trying to find it a home where it wouldn’t get crushed, eaten by mice, or completely forgotten about.  Eventually the wrapping paper was relegated to the space under the basement stairs.  It was still a pain, even in that out of the way place. The rolls were so long that the only place you could really wrap presents was on the ping pong table in the unfinished basement.  It was really cold down there.  We used to dress in layers to take our turn in the ice cave on Christmas Eve.

The only consolation was the record player which spent its retirement next to my Smashball set and a couple tennis racquets.  Muppet Christmas, Bing Crosby, and the Clancy Brothers Christmas always felt like old friends. As I labored over the giant green table, watching my breath freeze before me, I became aware of how much I really resented all the tiny scraps of paper too small to use for anything.  The whole experience of wrapping presents just made me feel like I’d won the honor of feeding scraps to the recycling bin with frozen fingers.

Since that time I have been a gift bag girl.  I’ve used the same ones for years and years and the only problem I ever have is knowing which bag is for which person.  Although gift tags come with a paper tag, once it is used you have to resort to other methods of o20131215-212926.jpgrganization such as crossing out last year’s recipient and replacing them with someone else.  This can be awkward such as when that person has been divorced out of the family or what have you.

This year I pulled out my stash of holiday bags.  “Not bad, not bad,” I murmured looking over them for tears.  Glancing at the paper tags with their long lists of old gift-getters I resolved to find a solution.  Enter cloth gift tags.

I know.  We all have better things to do 10 days before Christmas than hide out next to our sewing machines ironing and stitching scraps of fabric we’d forgotten about.  Throw in the minutes it takes to reminisce about the last time you used that fabric and you’ve got a major time commitment.  However you can use them just about for ever.  Plus you get to use up your scraps.  And those thread colors you have no use for.  Although these tags could have been much more neatly done today was about productivity.


Step 1: With right sides together stitch most of the way around your square or rectangle.  They don’t have to look great.


Step 2: Turn the tag right side out (after clipping corners), stick a ribbon in the hole and top stitch around the whole shape. Stitch a letter on if you wish, loop it onto a gift bag. Tada!

Consider my tags an example to beat.  They are not here to look extraordinary but rather to show a possibility.  My sewing machine is old- it does not embroider and so I experimented with stitching letters on.  It didn’t go swimmingly but perhaps it will for you.  I made 3 tags for each member of my family, that ought to keep us going for a while.  The ribbons/leftover bias tape I used was cut in long segments so that the tags can be looped through themselves around the handle of a gift bag.

Next year I’d like to go ahead and make a few cloth gift bags, perhaps with velcro at one end.  You know, like those lunch bags from the 90’s that had a velcro strip at the top.  They would be washable and far more durable than the paper bags.  One day!

From Sweaters to Tree Skirt DIY


So cheerful!

Buying a tree skirt seemed ridiculous when there were drawers full of fabric in my sewing nook.  No matter than no one piece of fabric was anywhere near big enough.  My tree needed a skirt.  I imagined myself in Little House in the Big Woods and I improvised.


Depressing sight.

Now I’m not saying it’s a beauty but I used up three old wool sweaters (except the arms which I’m saving for toddler leg warmers), I find it cheerful, and I no longer have to look at the bare base of the tree.  That’s 3 excellent outcomes from this project.


Scarf cut into 3 equal lengths.

First, I cut two sweaters in to rectangular bricks.  Then I sewed a long line of the bricks end to end alternating between the gray and the striped.  Then I sewed a second long line of them the same way.  I sewed the two together so that it looked like a scarf.  With the heavy wool I opted to use the zigzag stitch.  I cut the scarf into three equal segments, then sewed the segments side by side so it looked like a square.  Then I cut a slit halfway through the square so I could slide it over my tree base.


Scarf turned into a square.

Hoping that this would be large enough for a tree skirt I took it downstairs and tried it out.


Way too small. Hmmm.


Tree skirt enlarged.

Unfortunately it was way too small.  I went back upstairs and found a third sweater.  I cut it into 4 pieces and placed them around the tree skirt to be.  Looked OK except I didn’t have quite enough.  No problem, I had lots of gray fleece.  I cut out two fleece squares.  Perfect.  Then I stitched it all together and got this.  I found the red heart in my sewing basket.  It came in handy because I was able to sew it over a moth hole.

You can see that the stretch in the blue sweater is taking away some of the aesthetic value.  In order to fix that I could quilt a backing on it- that’s my only solution.  Next year I’m planning to have lots more energy so I’m going to give it til then to see what k20131207-181053.jpgind of thoughts emerge.  In the meantime I’m going to enjoy the satisfaction that comes from making something new from something old.

Got old sweaters?  Need a tree skirt?  Feeling thrifty?  Feeling green?  You know what to do!

Sewvember: A Review of 4 Fun Pinterest Tutorials

20131120-144807.jpgWe’ve gotten lost in Sewvember!  This month has been all about finding time for a few Pinterest tutorial projects I’ve been drooling over.


A bit too long.

Project 1:  The car seat pillows.


Stowed in the back of the car.

I’ve become a bit tired of my son’s head flopping forward when he passes out in the car.  I sewed up a flannel pillow for both kids in preparation for our 10 hour Thanksgiving road trip to upstate New York.  Sew (so) far I’ve found them to be a bit too long and though the ribbons are cute they are rather impractical.  Something that attaches without so much effort would be nice.  I also wish it had occurred to me to include a loop for hanging.

Attaching them to the outside of the straps and  securing them in the back of the car when not in use are time consuming.  However I’ll know more after our big trip.  They may be a life saver, and in the meantime they add some color to the car.  If you’d like to make one here’s where I got the idea.

Project 2:  Fleece superhero cape.20131120-145349.jpg


I added arm holes because my daughter can’t walk 2 feet without picking up a rock.

I love how this one turned out.  Kudos to the tutorial author for making a cape/poncho design.  The only trouble is that my daughter (who has no prior knowledge of superheroes) has no interest in wearing it.  Dang!  I was so excited to see her zooming around in it this winter.  I did make it very large so it will still fit for another 2 years but still.  This was definitely a project I made for myself which I didn’t quite realize until I tried to put it on her.  Plus, I’d forgotten that when sewing for a 2 year old the term UNGRATEFUL must be used regularly.   I used a yard of blue fleece, one giant blue button, a ponytail elastic (what a fantastic idea courtesy of the tutorial author- so much better for kids to use than a buttonhole), a 14 inch chunky zipper, some scraps of pink fleece and a package of matching pink double bias tape.  20131120-150019.jpgThe tutorial I used was great if the child you’re sewing for is between 3 and 5 years old.  I didn’t scale down for my 2 and a half year old because she is tall and I wanted to be able to use this for a while.  She was so eager to take it off these were the only pictures I could get.  Ingrate.

Project 3:  Baby and toddler booties.


Baby booties

With winter coming I wanted to get to this project before the cold really set in.  I managed to do that but the sizing is a bit off on both pair.  The ones I made for the baby fit perfectly for today but by next week they’ll be too tight.  I’ll have to whip up another pair one of these nights.  The ones I made for the toddler are too wide and I’d like them to be taller like boots so I’ll need to experiment with altering the pattern.  Pattern altering is not a great strength of mine- it has been too long since my pattern-making class in college.


Toddler booties!


The tutorial was very helpful but I sort of forgot that my 7 month old son already wears 12 month clothes.  The pattern was supposed to fit babies up to a year I think but I’ll have to enlarge them for him.  I bought the special non-skid material from Jo-Ann Fabrics so that my toddler can continue to run around the house in them without me fearing for her life.  I made them in the same blue as the super hero cape thinking she could wear them together for fun.


Double layer fleece baby poncho!

Project 4:  Fleece baby poncho for the stroller or car seat.

We all know we’re not supposed to put kids in car seats when they are wearing bulky coats but then how do you keep them warm without blasting the heat and making everyone else in the car miserable?  Fortunately there are smart people out there who have already faced this problem and have taken the time to instruct the rest of us.  This tutorial was fantastic. It took no time at all to make this wonderful poncho and it is double layer fleece so I feel like I finally have a way to protect my baby from the wind.  It just slips over the baby’s head when he is in his stroller and BOOM.  Instant warmth.

20131120-144922.jpg I made it long so it reaches all the way down to his booties and I can tuck it under his arms so it is more like quadruple thickness there.  I used 1/4 inch elastic inside the neckline so it is flexible and comfortable.  I didn’t have quite enough fleece to make the poncho circular so I opted to go with an oval shape instead of heading to the fabric store with two little kids in tow.  The tutorial includes directions for a hood but my little guy isn’t a fan of hoods.  Plus he has a nice winter hat.  So I just cut a circle in the middle (a bit too large actually) and then made a little sleeve to thread the elastic through.  Works great.  How lucky.

What projects have you been working on?  There are so many good ideas out there.  I know I’ll hear about many of them once my kids are too big to benefit from them so please tell me now!

Happy sewing!