Coping By Sewing

I’m not doing well with this winter, with all the snow and the bitter cold and the limbo-ness of life right now. It has always been cold and snowy, it always will be, and we will never sell this house. That’s how it feels. I am cranky and resentful. Every forecast causes husband and I to swear at the TV. Are things blooming where you live? I really don’t want to see pictures. Is it above freezing? Please don’t complain. Freezing is warm to us. See? I am cranky. And to make things even better, our (now former) Realtor spends a couple-three months in Florida every winter. No, we didn’t know this before we hired her, nor did we know some other things that, sigh, don’t matter anymore because I’m sure she’s an excellent Realtor (she told me so constantly), but not for us.

And so, I sew. Last week I made myself a skirt out of thermal knit fabric.

layered thermal skirt at

When I ordered the fabric to make the thermal knit shirt in this post, I also ordered black. Although both colors had the same description and were the same price, the black was thinner; too thin, I thought, for a shirt. But I thought I could double it over and maybe add in some of the olive grey…. and it sat as an idea for a month or three until last week.

I am still (always) learning. I continue to make skirts too big for my waist. I’m not sure if I don’t trust my measurements or I’m taking them wrong (some of both, probably). I knew enough not to follow the directions for drafting an A-line skirt in Sew What! Skirts, because that book only deals with woven fabrics. I used the measurement guidelines in this maxi-skirt tutorial instead. The errors are mine; I should have made the fold-over waistband smaller around. The skirt still works, though, because I intended to wear it over jeans. I’ve found that wearing a skirt over my jeans keeps me warmer. This black thermal knit fabric, by the way, was by far the fuzziest thing I’ve sewn with. Lint was fairly jumping out at me as I sewed.

Sunday morning I sewed my daughter the most cheerful pair of leggings ever, using this Oliver + S pattern.

cheerful leggings at

These are for no particular reason than that I liked the fabric and recognized it needed to be turned into leggings for my color-loving girl. She wore them to school Monday with her ladybug dress. Her wardrobe palette has never been sedate.

Sunday afternoon and Monday, I sewed a pair of linen pants for myself, for when it’s linen-wearing season again.

linen pants at

The pattern is from Simple Modern Sewing, and the fabric was a pre-Christmas on-sale purchase. It’s a nice, opaque linen, although I’m hoping a few more washings will soften it up a little more. The pattern sheets that come with the book are printed with multiple, overlapping pieces on each sheet, so it took me a while (and another cup of coffee) before I could untangle the pattern lines I was trying to trace. (Did M. C. Escher draw these pattern sheets? It seemed so.) Then I thought I’d done it wrong after all because the back pieces are wider than the fronts. This fabric, too, created much fuzz in the machine, and for the first time, I broke a needle while sewing, trying to sew a tri-fold belt loop onto a seam line of the waistband. But lo, the pants are complete, well before I’ll have any chance of wearing them.

Tuesday I dropped my machine off for a cleaning. It’s been almost three years, and I can see cushions of fuzz in places I can’t reach with my little brush. Best to get it cleaned before it’s a problem, is my thought. However, my coping method is now out of my hands for the next week. I plan to cut out lots of pattern pieces so I’m ready to start sewing again once I get it back. I shall sew spring dresses for the girl, as an offering of faith that someday–someday–the snow will melt.

A Couple of Sewn Things

I have lots of fabric waiting to be turned into sewn things, but most of them are spring sewn things and I just can’t yet. The snow, it is piled up, and it’s so cold with wind chill that I can’t in good conscience send my stir-crazy energy-filled kids outside. We all hate snow by now, even the kids.

Anyway. I sewed some things.

kindle cover at

I finally got a Kindle, so of course I needed to make it a cover. I used this tutorial and canvas upholstery fabric from stash. I consider this my starter cover, something to keep it safe and protected until I make one with a bit more personality.

It slides into a pocket for protection in a bag:

kindle case at

And it slips into these nifty corner tabs when I’m reading it.

kindle cover at

Cute, huh? My husband said, “Most people buy a Kindle and then just buy a case, you know.” I said, No, most people who sew make their own. Slightly different worlds! I like my sewn Kindle case.

I also finally sewed the DNA apron I had in mind when I saw this DNA fabric, which I just had to buy, because DNA is so beautiful–not just its structure but the elegance of its construction as a solution to the problem of how to replicate itself.  Nature is a superb designer.

DNA apron at

Kind of a fuzzy picture, taken by my 6yo, but you get the drift. I intend this for an art-work apron, especially while teaching, as I’m constantly needing more hands than I have. Pockets! Hopefully I will someday teach again. If we lose another Monday to snow I’m afraid we’ll never be able to make them all up.

My favorite part is the bias trim, I think.

DNA apron bias trim at

I have some of each fabric left over, too, so I’m sure it’ll show up as a pouch lining or something sooner or later.

I’ll be sewing more soon. Sewing therapy!

Candy Cane Mittens

candy cane mittens at

“Mama,” said my middle child last winter, “can I have mittens striped like candy canes?”

“Sure,” says I, and I began to knit. He didn’t like the striping. There was no talking about it, and so I quit knitting the mittens.

This fall: Lather, rinse, repeat. “I don’t knit for tyrants,” I told him. After a while–and some other, non-tyrant-related knitting–I told him I’d happily knit him solid mittens, but I wasn’t fooling with all those loose ends from striping. But he wanted red and white striped mittens. And then I signed up to offer an after-school program and enlisted him as a helper and offered to pay him in knits–specifically, striped mittens, even though they’re a big pain with all those ends to weave in. The class began January 5 and was slated to end February 9 after five sessions; however, we’ve only managed two because school keeps getting cancelled on Mondays due to snow. It didn’t seem fair to make him wait for the mittens though, so there they are, with all those annoying ends woven in and everything.

He loves them.

And thus ends a rather quick post. What else to say? February sucks my soul. Snow, grey days, snow, shoveling, cold, snow. Why haven’t we moved yet? Why, indeed. I tell myself that all the many annoyances would feel less so if it weren’t February, cold, and snowy. I try to hold my tongue and keep perspective. What seems overwhelming in February is merely a trifle in July. July will come.

January Reading List

valentine banner at

I thought I’d try to keep track of the books I read this year. I’ve tried this before and it never really sticks, but I’ve done it for a month now, anyway. The books I read in January (with asterisks next to the ones I really really liked):

The Double Helix by James Watson (a re-read)
Brown Girl Dreaming by Jacqueline Woodson **
Day After Night by Anita Diamant (a re-read, which I realized partway through)
Small Blessings by Martha Woodroof
Little Mercies by Heather Gudenkauf
Metropolis by Elizabeth Gaffney **
Good Harbor by Anita Diamant
Friendswood by Rene Steinke
The Golden Ratio: The Story of Phi, the World’s Most Astonishing Number by Mario Livio
The Birth of the Pill: How Four Crusaders Reinvented Sex and Launched a Revolution, by Jonathan Eig

I’m not strictly keeping track of the chapter books I read aloud (mainly to my 6yo), but there were a couple Moffat books, Peter Pan, and the first Penderwick book in January. We just started the second Penderwick book the other night.

(Every post needs a picture, and the one above is of our Valentine banner, now on its fourth year. You can see how we made it here.)

Adventure: Reconnaissance Trip to Maryland

house hunting

Tuesday we dug out from our blizzard (that took a while) and Wednesday we left as planned for a lightning-quick trip down to Maryland to do a little reconnaissance. We drove down on Wednesday–it’s about six hours of driving from here to Annapolis, where we stayed. I drove all the way down so my husband could field work calls, emails, and texts, which meant I drove over the George Washington Bridge and under the Baltimore Harbor. I wouldn’t have thought that driving under the harbor would rattle me more, but about halfway through I realized I was holding my breath. Ha! Since the car isn’t actually under water that wasn’t necessary. Luckily we have an Ezpass, which made going through all those tolls on 95 much quicker. It’s a straight shot down 95 from here to there but I don’t think I will ever enjoy the New Jersey Turnpike, nor their filthy bathrooms.

However, we got to the hotel by late afternoon, after taking a detour through a suburb of Baltimore (a house had come up there during our online searches) and determining it wasn’t for us. We went out to eat and then spent a very frustrating night all in one hotel room with the two younger kids absolutely refusing to settle down many many hours past their bedtimes. At that point I realized why so many people go house hunting without their kids along and simply move them to a new house as a fait accompli. Silly us, we thought it would be nice for the kids to have input.

Thursday morning we met our Realtor at the first house at 10 am and got going. We were connected with her via a Twitter friend who lives in Maryland. I asked her if she happened to have any recommendations, and I have to say that was the smartest real estate-related move I’ve made yet, because this Realtor is fantastic. We had one day in Maryland this time around, and we were with her for over five hours, driving down the edge of Chesapeake Bay, looking at both rentals and houses for sale. I am so impressed with the number of appointments she was able to set up. It works differently down there–up here, the selling Realtor has the key and both Realtors are there during a showing. Down there, there’s a lockbox, and the buyer’s Realtor is the only one present. We saw so many houses they’ve run together (I took notes in my trusty Moleskine), but we began to get a feel for areas and houses we like, and our Realtor did, too. We can’t make an offer to buy anything until our house sells, so this really was about getting a sense of place.

And the kids did great on that long march of a day. We kept saying we’d get lunch after “one more house,” but there wasn’t really anyplace to get lunch in the areas where we were looking. So I kept plying them with snacks from the back of the car–chips, fruit, granola bars–and we kept going to “one more house” and “one more house.” Finally we finished up around 3:30, drove past (but didn’t go in) yet another “one more house” while I Googled for food options, and we got to The Ruddy Duck at about 4, where the parents ordered coffee, then beer to go with the food. Lunch, afternoon coffee, and dinner, all at once. We’ve decided we need to live within easy distance of The Ruddy Duck, which has gluten-free pizza and other options and even brews their own celiac-safe gluten-free beer. It was a glorious place to end up at the end of a very long day.

Friday, we drove home, back up 95. This time I handed over the wheel at the last rest stop on the Jersey Turnpike, because my eyes hurt. So when we went back over the Great Gray Bridge he drove on the top level (I’d driven down on the lower level) and that was cool. Getting home was nice too. But we are getting anxious to be down in Maryland, at least we big people are–anxious for the selling and looking part to be over and to simply be where we’re going to be. It would certainly be easier for my husband work-wise, and those DC work trips coming up would just be longer work days rather than overnights. I’m glad we were able to get down there, even quickly, so the kids and I could actually see the area in which we’ll be living. It helps make it more real and for the kids, I hope, a little less unknown. Adventure!

Teaching the Girl to Sew

Her first machine sewing project at

Earlier this month, my 6yo daughter told me one of her goals for this year was to learn how to sew using the sewing machine. No problem! I told her when I taught myself how to sew I started with projects that involved straight lines, and we talked about some options. She, a girl after her mother’s heart, decided she wanted to start with a tote bag. We do love our things-to-put-other-things-in here. I showed her some options in Sew What! Bags, and she chose the Reversible Tote.

Now, I’d had some ideas of what to do with Saturday afternoon, involving baking banana bread and making some art with all the kids, but G was excited and raring to go, so I shifted gears so I could meet her enthusiasm with a great big YES. First thing we did was investigate mama’s fabric stash which, sadly, is stored in bins instead of on color-organized shelving, but we did the best we could. She selected several then decided which two to use. Her bag is as colorful as her typical outfits. (She used the same fabric for outer and lining, and the same heart fabric for both pockets because yep, she has an inside pocket too.)

Once she’d picked the fabrics, I pulled her Learning Tower over to the ironing board and I showed her how to iron. (Not too long after that, I knocked our iron off the board and it broke, but husband saved the day with his travel iron, which is JUST the right size for 6yo hands, too.) Then I cut out the pieces–I did that part, because it was all rectangles and I used the rotary cutter and plastic ruler and, well, that’s going to take some growing on her part, I think, before she can safely use it.

“NOW can we sew, Mama?” Not quite yet. Reading the directions, we saw it was time to iron some more to prepare the pockets. I held the fold, she pressed (and learned what it means to “press” rather than “iron”). Then I showed her the sewing machine and what the various dials mean and do. She sat on my lap and I operated the foot pedal while we practiced together. Then it was time to assemble the bag. (The rest of these pics were taken by my husband.)

sewing on the pocket at

She raised and lowered the presser foot, kept the fabric aligned (with some guidance by me, less and less of it as we went on), raised and lowered the needle, rotated the fabric around corners, operated the reverse stitch switch for backstitching, removed pins, cut threads. She trimmed seam allowances and clipped corners. She pressed seams.

learning to machine sew at

I included this photo because I love the look on her face! I think she’s concentrating there.

sewing with mama at

When her bag was done she said, “I can’t believe I made this all by myself!” And I grinned because it wasn’t quite all by herself but it was, too–she didn’t just sit on my lap and have her hands there and sort of sew it. She was learning the steps of sewing, how the machine works, what needed to be done, what it means to clip corners and press seams and on and on. She rightly feels ownership of that bag, and what a good use of an afternoon, to begin to teach my girl how to sew. How wonderful to share something I like with someone who wants to learn.

Reading, Doing, Making, not Blogging

I’ve sort of neglected this space this month. Partly it’s that I’ve been reading and researching, trying things out, making things (more talismans, mainly), preparing and teaching, and by the time I get to the end of the day I never get around to sharing. Partly it’s the January-almost-February doldrums…despite what I’ve just listed, most days it feels like I haven’t actually accomplished anything, or finished anything. This feeling is, I’m sure, exacerbated by the continuing limbo of not having sold our house yet. There are some things I’d like to plan and such and they really do need to wait until we are where we’re going to be. Doldrum-y limbo, that’s uncertainty in January all right.

Anyway, some photos of some things, in reverse order of occurrence.

watercolor and ink mandala at

A mandala, completed this week, first doodled in ink and then colored with watercolor. A very soothing thing to do.

Last weekend I decided my earrings needed to be out of crowded jewelry box and somewhere I could see them. After finding this on Pinterest, I decided to keep my decorative metal sheet whole and hang it on the wall as is. My earrings would never fit in an 8×10 frame.

earring holder at

I might still space them out a bit–I have the room. I also have room to add more. Let me tell you about me and earrings–before I had kids, I wore earrings every day. I really liked them, and while I never wore overmuch makeup or jewelry, earrings were a part of my outfit. Then I had kids and years and years of small people understandably attracted to shiny dangling things, perched on my hip within grabbing distance, so I stopped wearing them. So many years of this that I thought my holes had closed up. But no! A couple of years ago I decided to reclaim my earrings and even buy more. It’s a small way of getting back to that pre-mother Amy and I enjoy them. My kids do, too, because, as my daughter said, when they’re not sure what to get me for Mother’s Day or my birthday, they can always pick out earrings. My mother-in-law has given me some gorgeous pairs as well. Liking earrings makes it easy on gift-givers! It’s a win-win.

On to teaching… I’d love to have a studio/classroom space of my own one day where I could offer classes. At our last class (we didn’t have one this week because Monday was not a school day), we talked about different types of line and Piet Mondrian. When I showed a Mondrian and asked what sort of feeling it gave them, one girl said “quiet.” Yes, I feel that way about his paintings too. The orderly frame of lines, the limited palette–soothing. Then we made tape-resist paintings using primaries and black (ie, Mondrian’s palette). I showed them several examples of tape-resist paintings. One I’d done as “inspired by” Mondrian. Another, my son had used the tape as roads on a map. Another showed an abstract design made by the tape. I told them they could be inspired by Mondrian but they could also do their own thing entirely, because it’s their project. I’m very clear on this: I’m not out for cookie-cutter projects. And they all had ideas. One boy wanted to recreate the Union Jack, so he got an atlas to consult, used the tape to form the lines, painted blue, then filled in the tape lines (after peeling) with red. Another girl placed four pieces of tape vertically, painted the whole paper black, and ended up with a striking and minimalist black and white painting. I am always impressed with kids’ ideas, always.

These are my kids’ paintings, which I can share here. G was Mondrian inspired but in many directions.

tape-resist in Mondrian's palette at

N did his the next day, since he’s on duty as a helper (and an excellent one) during class time.

tape resist using Mondrian's palette at

He painted white on white, too, which might be observable if you click right on the photo–I’m not sure. It’s quite an effect in person.

So, that’s more or less what I’ve been up to. I run when I can to try to combat the irritability that seems to be cropping up (see: doldrum-y limbo). I’m reading books on all sorts of topics for the next issue. I’m getting ready for a quick scouting trip down to Maryland. I’m driving kids to school and appointments and activities and feeding them all the time. You know. The usual.

Why Hello, 2015

I was exhausted entering the holiday season. I think two straight months of cleaning and decluttering a 5-person house will do that to anyone. But the two holiday weeks–even with the cooking and such–were restorative. I needed that restful time, the reading, creating, sleeping late (by which I mean 8 am versus 6:15), the indoor days. Although I wasn’t keen on returning to the regular schedule this week, with its early mornings, lots of driving time, and schooling the 10yo, I do feel energized and ready to take it all on.

“All” includes a five-week after-school program at my kids’ school built around the Art Together zines. This has been in the works–originally scheduled for the fall–but with one thing and another it started this week. This is a Very Good Thing. I really enjoy working with kids in this way, and it’s a good experience for me as well. The group is larger than I anticipated, so I conscripted both my boys to help out. They are wonderful at this–they’ve both helped out in these settings before, and they know the materials and the activities. They are extra hands to fetch clean water or more paint or even answer questions. We started with the color wheel and color mixing this week. I just have all good feelings about all of it, for everybody involved.

I’ve also stocked up on library books as I begin researching the next issue of Art Together.

research at

This is one of my favorite parts, y’all.

I received a metal stamping kit for Christmas, and I’ve been making talismans for some folks I know….

talismans at

I have more to make. Bit by bit.

And finally, I paid for a membership to the University athletic complex again, month by month this winter (because who knows when we might move??), so I can run on their indoor track. I like running. I do not like cold. Every time I see a runner outside all bundled up I feel a little guilty, but…I run because it’s pleasurable. Running IS the means to the end. I’m not doing it for any other outcome but to enjoy the running, and running in bitter cold is more akin to torture for me, and I’m not into suffering, really. (On the flip side, unlike many, I don’t mind running in 95% humidity in the summer. To each his own.) So I’d rather pay the monthly fee and run indoors in shorts and a t-shirt, even if running perfectly flat circles gets a little boring–it’s warm and dry and the air doesn’t hurt my lungs and I start running and I can’t help smiling. Also, since it’s indoors, I’ll listen to music, which I won’t do while running on the road, when I want to hear approaching cars. So it’s a different sort of workout but it still clears my brain and gets me moving and I love it. Which is the whole, entire point of running for me.

So. How is your 2015 starting out?

What I Did On My Christmas Vacation

* I cooked a lot of food. Really, a lot. We joked my Italian was showing. We had my husband’s family here for Christmas Eve dinner and it was really, really nice. I’d hoped we could make that happen, since we won’t all be living in the same state by next Christmas. Then I cooked more just for us five on Christmas Day–my first roast beef! It was fabulous, just like I remembered from childhood. For some reason, even though I rarely eat red meat, I was craving roast beef with gravy, so I checked the Internet and talked to my butcher and made one. Yum.

* I read and read and read. I can’t even tell you much of what, because I don’t keep track of titles. I thought it might be nice to keep a list this year, but it’s January 2nd as I type this and I’ve already finished two books and begun a third this year and I suspect I will get tired of writing down titles by the end of the month, if not sooner.

Double Wave mitts at

* I knit a pair of mitts from my own design, sewed my daughter a pair of leggings (successfully–and I have fabric to make more), and sewed myself a jersey knit thermal shirt. I took this picture and then noticed the streaky bathroom mirror. It’s clean now.

sewn jersey shirt at

* I moved all my Art Together zines from e-junkie to Payhip, which is taking care of VAT. I also decided upon a topic for the next issue. I hadn’t started working on a winter issue yet, not knowing whether it would even be possible to sell it. So it will probably be a late winter or even spring issue, but I have an idea I’m excited about, and that’s the first, most important step. Anyway, I’m really glad an option materialized that would work for me to continue selling it without having to deal with other countries’ confusing tax laws. (My own country’s confusing tax laws are bad enough.)

* I chose ADVENTURE as my word for 2015. I want to view this move to a new state as an adventure for all of us!

* I began Lisa Sonora’s 30-Day Journal Project. Mmmm, we’ll see. I’ve found I’m not so good at doing one thing daily for any amount of time. I like to do rather a lot of creative-type things (plus all that reading), and I typically do at least something creative every day but not the same thing. So we’ll see.

* We spent a lot of time at home, happily. Reading, making things, watching movies, playing games–the boys are both very into Magic and Minecraft.

I hope you’re having a gentle entry into 2015. I’m not looking forward to returning to the regular schedule on Monday. I’ve so enjoyed our slow and easy mornings!

Some Thoughts on Selling

A few things have lately got me thinking seriously about trying to sell items online and in person. First, the new EU VAT rule changes that affect anyone who sells digital items online. It’s been hashed and explained and talked about elsewhere; the end result is that I’m ceasing selling the Art Together e-zine as of tomorrow until I decide if it’s feasible to do it in a way that doesn’t run afoul of the EU laws. Yes, I agree—how and why would they enforce it in the US and for so little? But I also know it’s absolutely possible to track down anything on the internet and it’s not worth it. (It’s not worth it; I’ve been thinking that a lot lately.)

Then, a couple of days ago, I received a confusing two-page sales tax reconciliation form from the state. I have a license to make sales. It costs $10 and is necessary even to sell at a craft fair. I also applied for, and received, an artist exemption for the sale of certain works. Everything I sell falls under the exemption as I applied for it, so I don’t actually owe sales tax. But I have to send in the paperwork quarterly anyway, and now I need to run this form by an accountant because I’m afraid I’m going to screw something up. I have to list everything I sold in the state, and where, and when, and how much of that itemized list falls under my exemption, along with supplies I purchased, and lots of other things I’m not even sure of. I sold less than $200 worth of items at two craft fairs. At the second one, I didn’t even sell enough to cover the application fee (we’ll call that a learning experience). I’m looking at this form, thinking, It’s not worth it.

I get paid a little bit for writing the Home/School/Life column. I earned some money teaching this past year, some from the zine, some from sales of handmade products. I sold more physical items at craft fairs and through a local shop than I do on Etsy, but I make more profit on Etsy sales. Either way, though, everything added up amounts to no more than what my mother used to call “pin money.” It covers the cost of this site, of using e-junkie to sell the zine, of fees and supplies (mostly, as I also used lots of what I already had). The profit is minimal, laughable almost, but it covers some homeschool supplies, and every now and then I can use my PayPal balance to buy something for myself rather than charging it. Best of all, I can use that money to buy my husband birthday and Christmas gifts, rather than putting them onto our shared credit card, which he pays for. The money I earn isn’t necessary to my family’s economic health (thank goodness, because we’d be in trouble). But it’s done great things for my own sense of self. To be clear: we have always considered the family finances a joint venture, and that didn’t end when I ceased to draw a paycheck over a decade ago. His name is on the check, but the money is ours. Making a little on my own isn’t because I had no economic say-so without it. It’s because I have my own skills and talents and passions and no way or desire, right now, to manage a full time job. It’s about doing a little on the side, something I enjoy anyway, and earning a little, and the way that can positively affect a primarily stay-at-home-parent’s sense of self-worth.

But increasingly I’m feeling like it’s just not worth the regulatory BS, not for this amount of money. I’d need to invest the time and energy to create an actual business with a real, worthwhile profit, and I don’t want to do that at this point in my life. So I’m not quite sure what I’ll ultimately do. I don’t know what opportunities might be available to me once we move (please, universe, send us a buyer so I can stop living in limbo). But I think it’s a sad thing, that it’s this difficult to navigate. I really like interacting with people who, for whatever reason, take a chance on something I’ve created, whether it be the zine or something handmade. I received the nicest Etsy review a few weeks ago, from someone who bought an embroidered chicken pouch for his wife. I love the emails I get from parents who are so happy to have Art Together as a resource. Something more than pin money is taken away when people like me feel it’s not worth it because of regulatory headaches. That’s what I think.