Friday, 27 September 2013

Local gifts for local people

Have you come across Laura of Behind the Hedgrow yet?  She's a new-ish and recently new-to-me blogger who makes lovely stuff, for herself and for her kids, and writes about it in a very readable and enjoyable way.  So before I ramble on, I thoroughly recommend a good read and a follow! However, let me be totally up front here: what excited me most when I discovered her, was her walls.

I was timewasting on Pinterest the other day when I saw a picture of her absolutely beautiful Liberty skater dress. And no sooner had this garment's gorgeousness sunk in than the realisation struck me: "hang on - semi-exposed brick? Peeling white paint? Bright but grey daylight? AND funky children's clothing? This blogger can only be in Belgium!"

And of course I was right :-)

All of which is a long-winded way of introducing some children's clothes, on my garden walls.  Because there are not just new-to-me Brussels bloggers round these parts, there are new Brussels babies aplenty as well.

And you can't make things for newborn boys without making things for their big sisters as well. The little t-shirt on the right is for a little T, and the bigger t-shirt on the left is for big sister S. T's shirt is from this free pattern - I just could not get the scaling to print out right, so I guessed a random size and it's probably far too big. S's t-shirt is a lengthened skater dress bodice, size 18m - 2yrs: she's just over two, but my T insisted on trying this on and it fit, and he's four, so I guess it'll be too big as well. Good thing kids grow I suppose. Both t-shirts are made of recycled adult tees and fabric scraps.

Baby A gets a stuffed inital. I enlarged hugely the A from the free Ottobre sulo applique letters, because I like the shape of them so much. The back fabric is towelling; the front is Alexander Henry quilting cotton. I bought a metre of it ages ago and have got so much use out of it, one gift or pair of trousers at a time.

And finally, I couldn't leave out A's big sister E, now could I? She gets her very own skater dress!

This came out an awful lot greener than I expected (though really, what did I expect?). But apparently she likes it and is quite taken with the little squirrel on the front, so, phew. I've seen her wearing it and it's also pretty big - I think she might still be getting some use out of those long sleeves next winter as well.

All in all, I have to say I really enjoyed making a whole lot of little gifts for little people. So much so that it's got me thinking quite a lot about what I actually like to sew, and how I use my time and abilities. In my head I'd make myself an entire bespoke wardrobe, and I certainly have no intention of giving up the many patterns and fabrics I have planned for myself. But I also have all sorts of ideas swirling around my head about how to get the right balance of time and importance between the kinds of sewing I do.  It's got something to do with that connection - the babies we know, the crafts in our communities, that putting together of our hands and our hearts.  Who knows, maybe my thoughts will come to something and I'll tell you about them :-)

A few days after we'd given baby A and sister E their presents, we bumped into them and their grown-ups at the playground. This happens quite often after school; we don't live far from each other. I'm very glad that my L and T are such good friends with both the littles and the bigs among my friends, that we have this kind of community - though in such a different way from how it was for me, growing up in a non-urban environment in the UK.

A and E's mum knows how to do french plaits, even on short-ish hair. L thinks she's the best.


Sunday, 22 September 2013

For the packed lunch-makers

Every school night, at around 10.30 pm, I have the same conversation with myself. As I start considering going to bed, I'll think: maybe it would be good to get the kids' lunches prepped already. And I'll keep that thought there for another half an hour or so, until it really is bedtime, and then I think: no - I'll just get up 10 minutes earlier and do it tomorrow.
The next morning, I wake up at the same time as usual and - of course - slap the sandwiches together and into the kids' bags, just as they run out of the door for the bus. Never a minute earlier. Because, as those of you who do it every day will know, making packed lunches - your own or your kids' - quickly becomes one of the most tedious routine domestic tasks EVER.
Believing that I can sew some motivation into anything, I recently decided it was time for an upgrade in our lunch-packing infrastructure. Re-usable sandwich wraps have long been one of my most useful sews, but previous versions were looking worn out and I'd been getting frustrated with their design flaws.  So, I sewed some more, new and improved: slightly bigger, with rounded corners and loooong velcro strips for wrapping flexibility.
Then, I made them do a little dance:

My sandwich wraps and I would like to dedicate this performance to any and all long-suffering packed lunch-makers out there.

As we say around these parts: smakelijk! Bon appetit, enjoy :-)

(If you'd like to make your own, this tutorial is pretty straightforward. As mentioned above, I find a slightly larger size, round corners and long velcro gives the best wrapping experience. I'm not so fussy about plastics so mine are wipe-clean on the inside).


Sunday, 15 September 2013

A little less inspiration, a little more action please

Today's post comes LIVE!! from the front row of a big, sprawling, brawling, testosterone-fuelled* FIGHT in my sewing room.

The Inspiration has been making disruptive incursions on Actual Sewing for several months now. This summer, the Ideas finally ran completely amok, leaving a disorientating shock-and-awe of Mess which punched me in the face the second I re-entered the room after my holidays. I've been nursing my bloodied nose with Knitting ever since, while Sewing has been out cold.

We now find ourselves backed into this corner:

Knee deep and sinking in a desperate confusion of inaccessible clutter. Glancing under the desk set off panic systems, as the suppressed trauma of drowning in an unmanageable, un-prioritised profusion of planned projects suddenly surfaced. Organisational capabilities seem to be in shutdown.

Semi-conscious hallucinations of notions, stationery, supplies and stash swill around my tortured mind before I push them back to the depths of the denial whence they emerged.

Behold the shadowy colours of denial.

No - I can't - stagger -  ...  eurghhh ...

That's the sound of my motivation, dying.

:: :: ::

This kind of showdown is a sewist's occupational hazard, right? We all know and understand how it happens.  Do you, too, get to the point where you just can't take it any more?

I've been thinking about a solution, and - although we all craft in different spaces and situations - I think in essence it's pretty universal. It's this:
  1. Get organised.
  2. Stay organised.
  3. Don't think more than one project ahead.

Would you agree?

It doesn't cover everything, of course: the other big challenge is maintaining self-discipline in the face of inspiration overload.  For that I think we surely each need to find our own way of diffusing the urge to Do All the Projects! And All the Patterns! With All the Fabric! For now, this is mine:
  1. Ideas are fun!
  2. But ideas do not always have to be executed.
  3. They also don't have to go on a To Do list.
  4. Nor do they necessarily need blog sharing in sewing-plan format.
  5. Blog sharing just for fun is ok though! (See point 1).

What about you - what's yours?

How do you manage your ideas and your space and to keep your sewjo alive?

:: :: ::

* um, in my dreams? 


Saturday, 7 September 2013

Sugar and spice and all things nice


Harmlessly cute nursery rhyme gender stereotyping or not*, this is a post I have hesitated to write for about six months. If you want to know why, feel free to scroll to the end - and there's a free picture of some slugs! Once you've read it, I hope you'll forgive me for starting with yet more pictures of L wearing yet another remixed popover sundress.

This one has pom poms and is made with some lovely spotty pink cotton that Ilse kindly donated to the swap at our Belgian bloggers' meet. At L's demand request, it was going to be a halter neck, but once we got to trying it on, she hated having the ties behind her neck, so it was hastily converted to a crossover back instead. I would offer a brief explanation for how I did all this, should anyone be interested, but it was just before the holidays and I cannot for the life of me remember. It wasn't that hard so I doubt my explanations would be that useful anyway :-)

Here's  the back detail:

Close examination of late-August hedgerows can only mean one thing...

Yum yum yum.

While going through my Scandinavian photo dump, I also discovered the following pictures, taken in July somewhere and never shared as intended. While we're on the subject of little dresses, I might as well add them here. It's another remake of an Oliver & S pattern, because I am coming to appreciate how really great their designs are, not to mention the instructions. (And by the way I am now taking bets on how long I will resist their new playtime dress, tunic and leggings. Current odds: not very long).

Anyway, roller skate dress #2:

Like my classy shiny sellotape there? I am too cheap to buy pretty washi :-)

For me it's the details and finishing that make Oliver & S so good; this dress is possibly nicer inside than out (I'm not actually that enthusiastic about how the big print works on a little dress, but hey). I topstitched the neckline and armholes because in the end I was getting quite irritated with how the lining keeps peeking out of the first roller skate dress I made.

I wanted pictures in our local botanical gardens, before even realising they had specially put on purple flowers for us. Win.

And now, to the real story I have to tell here.

Regular readers (hello my lovelies!) might have noticed that I've made quite a few dresses for L this spring/summer: here, herehere and two here. It's not really exceptional - many bloggers seem to make this kind of a kid wardrobe weekly - but it's not my normal sewing behaviour. I also don't usually splurge on kid patterns or fabric, which I have done recently.

Unfortunately, this didn't come about through a happy accident of clothing needs and sewing inspirations.

It happened because of the sudden, negative body consciousness of my beautiful five year old.

We all know how it is: kids can be mean, and schools these days are rightly hot on healthy eating. Ours bans all chocolate, sweets, sodas and the rest, and teaches the kids about how to eat well. The fact that their teachers help get my kids on board with that is something I hugely appreciate. But, it mixed up in my daughter's head with some nasty name-calling, and came out in the form of:

"Mummy, is my tummy too fat?"

And a lot of sobs.

And this suddenly slotted together with things she'd been saying over the few weeks before, and I had an awful realisation of what had really been bothering her.

And, well, I don't know if this is a girl thing, really: in a class of 5-year olds, I can imagine the same happening to the boy who happened to be chubbier than the rest. But what I do think is a girl thing is that when she came to me and said that, my shock and despair was not that she had to ask, but that she had to ask it so soon.

There are so many other things I could say here. The only one I'll mention is the constant nightmare of trouser-shopping for a girl with a stomach and a bum. It seems that all kids are now supposed to be slim-hipped. And while I was panicking, desperately trying to think what to say to this beautiful daughter of mine, I realised: at least half the battle is that feeling of being comfortable in your clothes.  We all feel awkward and often yes, too fat, when we're trying to carry off clothes made to fit the shape of someone else. Right?

It's how and why I got into sewing for myself. And it's exactly how and why I sewed for L this summer. She got excited about the fabrics, she got excited about the clothes, and we talked about all of it just enough for her to forget the name-calling which thankfully disappeared soon after. I'm pretty sure that what did it was not just her parents' love and reassurances, or her teacher's extra attentiveness, but L herself, the day she proudly walked into class wearing one of her skater dresses. Because she feels good wearing them, and sod the rest.

While my hand in it was probably nowhere near as significant as I'd like to think, it makes me very happy to know that with a bit of love and distraction, we were able to help this whole thing blow over.  Sadly, I'm pretty sure the issue will come back - but hopefully not for much, much longer, and with us in full knowledge that we have the weapons to fight back.

And as for what little girls are made of... who remembers the rest of that rhyme?

What are little boys made of?
Slugs and snails
And puppy-dogs' tails,
That's what little boys are made of.

On our first morning at this campsite, G and I were intrigued to see L and T spend about 40 minutes absorbed together, playing with something on the ground at the other end of the field. It turned out to be the above.

It's a house for the 'family' of slugs they had painstakingly collected from the pathways: the leaves are beds, decorated with flowers, of course, and with roofs to keep the rain out (there is actually a slug inside each one, too). The grass cuttings are for their dinner.

The pride with which they showed it to us and explained what the slugs were all up to, well - I almost came over all emotional. Such imaginative, curiosity-fuelled, slug-focused brother-sister collaboration.

In the real world, that's the kind of thing all little kids are made of.

:: :: ::

* but I don't find it either harmless or cute.

:: :: ::

Tuesday, 3 September 2013

rocks :: water :: wool


Rocks, water and wool.  Knitting, unravelling, travelling...

We had the most fantastic holiday ever. I shall say nothing except: if you've never been to Scandinavia and you get the opportunity - just go. Not only is it absolutely, stunningly beautiful, the people are lovely too. 

Plus, imagine you're a resident of mainland Europe and you go by car, well. That's some good chunks of knitting hours you can get in there. And you're going to be doing some lakeside and beachside sitting too. Yes yes.  It took me a little while to get going, with a false start to unravel the neckband (just after that top left photo there), and another to unravel some before starting the stripes (just after I had confidently taken the picture on the top right...). The main thing I have been learning so far is how to correct mistakes as I go along. It sounds small, but without an experienced knitter on-hand, figuring these tools out on my own feels like an invaluable step forward in my knitting skills. (The book I'm relying on, heavily, is this. Not inexpensive but worth every penny).

And is it just me, or is knitting utterly addictive? Especially a project like this: not done that quickly, but not dauntingly huge either. Since we got back I have been working it into my day at every possible opportunity.


Always outdoors. I think the fresh air of this cardigan's inception is going to stay with me.

Those shoreline colours - chosen far away, far in advance - just don't feel like a coincidence.

:: :: ::

Before signing off, I would also like to add a great big Thank You for the comments on my previous post, before I cast on any of this.  Computer issues have prevented me replying so far (on my own blog!!??) are fixed - I comment on Disqus again!, and I am taking things slowly while getting back into the whole school-work-life routine, but I was actually overwhelmed to come home and see such kind, lovely thoughts on my modest ambitions. To those of you who share them: just pick up the needles and go! To the others, thank you so very much for the encouragement :-)

Reminded, yet again, of this lovely corner of blogland we inhabit. Not a bad everyday life to come back to, at all.

Updated to add: my Ravelry notes are here, for those who may be interested. I'm enjoying this knit so much that I'm actually updating them as I go :-)