Under the Maple Canopy

Singing Union Songs Since 2009


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WIP Wednesday – Mostly Linen

Most of the surfaces in my kitchen seem to have a fine layer of flour sitting on them, even though I’ve tried my best to wipe everything down.  It’s probably not a surprise then that I’ve been doing quite a bit of this:

IMG_1351(from Ken Forkish’s “Flour Water Salt Yeast“)

And not so much of this:
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That’s not to say that I haven’t accomplished anything, it’s just been quite a bit slower than usual.  Most of my “to do list” remains in tact, but I did get a few choice (and very exciting) projects finished.

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First up is my very own Pleated Beauty Bag from “Bend the Rules Sewing” by Amy Karol.  I started it last week and finished it up this last weekend.  I realize that I’m probably a less than unbiased judge of the bag, but in my most humble opinion, if it’s not squee-worthy then I don’t know what is.  No, seriously, with all due respect to last week’s composition book cover, this is hands down my most favorite project ever.

EVER.

rsz_img_1306close up of the stitching and pleat

IMG_1309lining and pocket on the inside of the bag

Did I mention it was an economical project to boot?  Here’s the cost breakdown:

2/3 yard of 100% linen from JoAnn Fabrics – $7.10
1 yard quilting cotton from JoAnn Fabrics Saturday after Thanksgiving sale – $2.10
Incidentals from my stash (thread, fusible interfacing, fabric for purse bottom pocket, purse bottom) – $5

Grand total?  $14.20

The only change I made to the pattern was swapping out the flannel used in the lining for a light weight fusible interfacing that I already had on hand. I have no idea which one it was as I suspect I bought the interfacing in 2009-ish.  I was a bit short on the fabric needed to make the pillow for the rigid interfacing in the bottom so I just used some Kona Coal from my stash.  The rigid interfacing was the same one I bought for the crowns I made the kids this past Halloween.  I’m also planning on picking up a magnetic closure to put on the inside because it feels to me like it needs it.

I love the box bottom on this bag and was a bit uneasy about making it since I’ve found the process a bit frustrating in the past.  A quick search online to see if there was another way to do it netted this tutorial from Lazy Girl Designs that fit the bill perfectly (also pinned on my Sewing and Quilting Tutorials board).

If I made another one (which I’m definitely open to), I would either swap out the inside pocket for a zipper one or I would have stitched a few lines in it to make it a bit more useful and a lot less floppy.

IMG_1327My only other finish this week was a linen bread bag of my very own.  This one’s a bit on the small side since I didn’t have very much linen left.  I predict another trip to the fabric store is in order as we’re definitely going to need another much bigger one!

Quick Finishes (or the “finish it already!!” group):

Waiting:

  • Shattered – needs quilting and binding
  • fleece quilt (pictured here) – need to finish sewing nine patch blocks, need to finish sewing together rows and then needs some sort of binding to help keep it square-ish – but mostly waiting on inspiration.

In Progress:

Time Sensitive/Need to Get Started ASAP:

  • red/gold bunting for Imbloc/Chinese New year (need to purchase fabric)

The Great Big Wish/To Do List:

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From “Sewing in No Time” by Emma Hardy:

  • fireplace screen
  • drawstring toy bags
  • fabric covered storage box
  • floor pillows
  • floral pillow with ties

From “Quilt Revival” by Nancy Mahoney:

  • 30′s Shadow Star

From “Oliver+S Little Things to Sew by Liesl Gibson:

  • tutu (x2)
  • reversible bucket hat (x3)
  • travel quilt (?)

From “Handmade Home” by Amanda Blake Soule:

  • beach blanket

From Oliver+S:

From “Little Stitches” by Aneela Hoey:

  • Empire State Building Needle Case
  • Rain, Rain Go Away Hanging Hoop

From “Liberty Book of Home Sewing” by Liberty of London:

  • Sugar Bag Doorstop
  • Toiletry Bag
  • Bean Bag
  • Keepsake Board
  • Lampshade

Seeing Squares (small) from Empty Bobbin

Batik Squares quilt (my own design)


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The Amazing, Disappearing Loaf of Bread

The last time I wrote about bread, I was thrilled with my ability to reliably turn out a decent loaf.  Would it surprise you that I almost didn’t hit “publish?”  There was a small, but vocal part of me that worried if I would somehow jinx myself (even though I am aware that this is logically impossible) by seeming too successful at the whole venture.  True to my own illogical worries, I have since been plagued by a number of mediocre, shrinking, and otherwise not quite right loaves of bread.

Rather than throw my hands in the air and give up I decided to keep on baking (and failing) because even if I knew that they weren’t right, they were still tasty and not a single member of my family paid my failures any mind.  If it looks like bread and smells like bread, in their minds that’s good enough for lunch.  Mostly, I did a lot of reading, a little bit of troubleshooting, and watched a few more videos from my Craftsy class, “Peter Reinhart’s Artisan Bread Baking.”  It’s a lovely class – the perfect mix of the why and the how of bread baking.  I’ve already learned quite a bit and I’ve been working on this whole bread thing since 2009.

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Isn’t it pretty?  I’ve been mostly making enriched loaves lately, but there’s something quite wonderful about a nice lean dough – just flour, water, yeast, and salt.  I love the techniques used in the class.  They’re somewhere in the middle between “Artisan Bread Everyday” and your standard cookbook bread recipe.  Tonight it was all about catching the bread on the rise and trying not to squish too much of the air out of the bread when shaping the final loaf.

IMG_1347If the crumb is any indication, I’d say I was pretty successful with tonight’s lesson.  As for the taste?  Let’s just say the husband is lucky there’s any bread left for him.

Oh, and yes, dearest loved one, your loaf is coming.

 


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WIP Wednesday – Plugging Along

The last week or so has been rather busy, but I’ve still managed to continue plugging along on my many projects.  To help keep things straight I’ve decided to tackle this post (and probably future ones) in list form.  Here’s how things stand this week:

Quick Finishes (or the “finish it already!!” group):

Waiting:

  • Shattered – needs quilting and binding
  • fleece quilt (pictured here) – need to finish sewing nine patch blocks, need to finish sewing together rows and then needs some sort of binding to help keep it square-ish – but mostly waiting on inspiration.

In Progress:

IMG_1270Pleated Beauty Bag from “Bend the Rules Sewing” by Amy Karol

This is where the linen went that was supposed to be used to make my own bread bag.  The grey and yellow print is one that I picked up the Saturday after Thanksgiving when it was only $1.99 a yard.  I picked up quite a bit of fabric that day, some of which became skirts for my daughters and some of which is sitting in my stash waiting for me to be inspired.  I’m struggling a bit with the embroidery – mostly because my abilities don’t quite match my desires.  I wanted to try and echo the pattern in the highlight fabric, but my french knots need more practice before that would be a reality.  After muddling around for awhile I finally landed on the scattered stitches on the left which I’m loving to pieces.

IMG_1278embroidery piece for my linen bread bag

Remember the linen bread bag I made my mom?  This was supposed to be the decoration for a matching bag of my very own, but then, of course, purse and here we are – cute little double-decker bus and no linen for the bread bag.

Finished this week:

IMG_1257Indygo Junction Composition Covers pattern x2

I actually complete two of these this week (check out last week’s post to see both sets of fabrics), but I was so focused on getting my mom‘s to her that I didn’t even stop to take a picture.  I am so glad I left the decorative band off the cover for mine.  I didn’t want anything to distract from the fabric.

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My favorite part of the cover?  The cotton twill ribbon made to look like a tape measure, of course!  I got mine from BrownBirdMarket over on Etsy.  Now that it’s finished I’m thinking a new pen is in order.  I’m not letting that hold me up, though, as I’ve already begun to fill the first few pages with my project list and a few of my own ideas.  LOVE it!

Time Sensitive/Need to Get Started ASAP:

  • red/gold bunting for Imbloc/Chinese New year (need to purchase fabric)

The Great Big Wish/To Do List:

IMG_1076

From “Sewing in No Time” by Emma Hardy:

  • fireplace screen
  • drawstring toy bags
  • fabric covered storage box
  • floor pillows
  • floral pillow with ties

From “Quilt Revival” by Nancy Mahoney:

  • 30’s Shadow Star

From “Oliver+S Little Things to Sew by Liesl Gibson:

  • tutu (x2)
  • reversible bucket hat (x3)
  • travel quilt (?)

From “Handmade Home” by Amanda Blake Soule:

  • beach blanket

From Oliver+S:

From “Little Stitches” by Aneela Hoey:

  • Empire State Building Needle Case
  • Rain, Rain Go Away Hanging Hoop

From “Liberty Book of Home Sewing” by Liberty of London:

  • Sugar Bag Doorstop
  • Toiletry Bag
  • Bean Bag
  • Keepsake Board
  • Lampshade

Seeing Squares (small) from Empty Bobbin

Batik Squares quilt (my own design)


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Art with Kids

Sometimes I feel like the odd mom out. Homeschooling was often difficult and stressful. I couldn’t quite let go enough to unschool and I had had no interest in trying to make nice with the fundagelicals. These days I find that I don’t care enough about the sorts of things that public school parents are supposed to care about (mainly test scores and a freakish obsession with attendance). I let my kids watch Disney movies, but I don’t have cable television and I limit their opportunities to watch TV. I don’t let my kids have free access to computers and electronic games, but I do allow them to have judicious access to the iPad and am still on the hunt for good educational games and resources.

Lately, I feel this limbo even more keenly as I’m finding some parts of the previous roles I played difficult to give up. I may not be homeschooling my son anymore, but I still think in terms of themes, subjects, units, and other ways to tie the ordinary parts of life into learning. Some habits, as they say, die hard.

Back in 2007, I was the stay-at-home parent to just one child and would look forward to the new issue of Mothering Magazine with the sort of excitement only mothers of small children can understand. In one of the issues that year there was an article by Jean Van’t Hul called “Small Hands, Big Art” that inspired me (link to the author’s website as the magazine article is not online). While my dreams of a toddler art group and then a homeschool art group never materialized (sadly, though not for a lack of effort on my part), I still tried to replicate some of the things that Van’t Hul talked about in her article both when my son was an only child and now when my table is groaning under the collective weight of artwork generated by three enthusiastic (and mildly serious) artists.

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People ask me in real life how I come up with the ideas of the things we do together as a family, believing that I am some creative maven, but to be honest, I often feel anything but creative. I, like so many other parents, often shy away from allowing the kids to do art projects because I dread the mess. Dread it. I am still discovering spots of red and blue tempera paint that my now five-year-old daughter sent flying three years ago in my kitchen. And glue? Oh, the glue. Sometimes it feels like more than any reasonable person can handle.

But when it all comes down to it, I believe in my heart that this sort of creative outlet is important in young children. It’s important in school age children. It’s important for homeschoolers. It’s important for the parents of public schooled children. Anyway you slice it, if you have kids, then opportunities for artistic and creative expression at home is as important as any other extracurricular or school related activity. I believe this with every fiber of my being and just as passionately as I do the importance of children playing outside without adult direction or structure (and the adult watching from the sidelines or the kitchen window, of course).

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Whatever the sort of parent you think you are, would like to be, or plan on becoming at any point in the future, I still encourage you to take a few deep breaths and dive right in to creating with your children. I would say it borders on a cultural imperative requiring that even grandparents, aunts, uncles, and other adults who care for children take part.

I bet you’re feeling a little overwhelmed at the thought of where to start, right? I have a few “rules” that I think might get you pointed in the right direction.

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First, I think it’s important to be well rested. I have a great deal more patience with my children if I’ve had enough sleep the night before. You’re going to need every ounce of emotional and mental energy to make it through this alive. Well, maybe not alive, but at least to prevent meltdowns of the adult kind. This is, of course, the ideal situation. Life, as I’m sure you’re aware, is not ideal which is why this past weekend I found myself the administrator of the little artists’ studio complete with headache and plenty of pauses to count to ten and breathe deeply. Rule number two then would be that sometimes rule number one does not apply. Sometimes it’s worth just diving in anyway.

The remainder of my “rules” relate to materials used. Primarily, buy the best art supplies that you can afford and buy in quantity – both of which should be done with an eye towards free expression. Buy so that you can say “yes” more often than you say “no.” Buy paper in large reams and try to breathe when they go through four sheets in one sitting. Often. And deeply.

Why quality? Because there’s nothing more frustrating to an adult than when the tools you are given to complete your task either don’t work or break. The same is true for children. But again, not so expensive that your eye starts twitching when the kids go through it like water as they are wont to do.

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Most importantly, leave the craft projects to someone else. As endearing as the cut on the line, glue the tab here, and otherwise follow directions to make some specific thing may be for busy-work-needers and fillers-of-children’s-time, it’s not the same thing as the freedom to create what you see in your mind or the ability to follow where your inspiration takes you. One is about coloring in the lines and filling up a box. The other is about thinking outside of the box and daring to make a few mistakes along the way that just might turn into the next great masterpiece.

With that goal in mind here are –

Some of my favorite sources:

Nasco (www.enasco.com) – Supplier to schools, day care centers, etc, etc, but most importantly open to the public. They’re local for me which means that I can drive down the highway and shop right in their store, but you can order online. Nasco has been my key to keeping art supplies cheap and plentiful. They sell name brands, but they also have a line of their own that’s wonderful as well.

Dick Blick (www.dickblick.com) – Another fantastic supplier. Sometimes when I’m researching a particular medium or product I find their website answers most of my questions. They also have a line of their own products that’s very good quality.

Imagine Childhood – Really amazing supplies some even made from natural materials. I’ve been eyeing up the Mercurius chalk for quite some time now.

Painting Boards – I like the birch plywood ones that Nova Natural sells. These are fantastic for protecting your table, but also make moving wet paintings a breeze.

My “must have” list of supplies:

Watercolor paint – I prefer pans because the kids can use them easier and I don’t have little jars of premixed paint sitting in my fridge. I bought cheap and went for 16 pans because my children ask for more colors, not less. I bought mine at Nasco and they must have been their brand because there was no label. For my second grader I went with a 10 pan Yarka.

Brushes – Royal Brush Big Kid’s Choice are my favorite. Plastic handles, comfort grips, and most importantly sturdy brushes that don’t shed bristles. I’ve purchased a number of brushes over the years, but these are my favorite hands down. A set of the Deluxe Shader 6-pack is the perfect place to start.

No-Spill Paint Cups – I have this set and love them for the under 6 crowd. I also love canning jars (pint for water, half-pint for paint) and simple 10-well paint trays.

Paper – 50lb and a bright white. I think the last time I bought paper I went in intending to purchase this one and left with this one. At least I think so. I need to buy some more and I’m kicking myself for not writing down the product number. A 500 sheet ream is a must. Whatever I bought, I love it for all of our drawing and painting needs.

The BARP (aka big-ass-roll-of-paper) – Great for protecting your table from paint, pumpkin guts, clay, glue, etc. Makes for quick and easy clean up. Also perfect for those times when a standard sheet of paper just isn’t big enough. This one from Nasco is beyond cheap for what you get.

Fingerpaint – Crayola, of course.

Tempra Paint – Crayola or Nasco’s.

Acrylic – We used to use Tempra paint almost exclusively, but regardless of what the paint folks say, it always seemed flaky and I wasn’t super thrilled with the end product. We’ve since switched to Solucryl which is a water soluble acrylic paint and reasonably priced to boot.

Paint Markers/Daubers/Bingo Markers – I got a set from Do-a-Dot Art when an educational store in the area was going out of business, but the Nasco brand is nice as well. This is a relatively mess free way for kids to paint so get a set for each kid. There will be fewer arguments and I’ve been known to leave my kids at the table with these while I escaped to the shower in the morning. It makes for the most wonderful peace and quiet.

Oil pastels – I love the Crayola ones because they’re inexpensive, easy for the kids to use, and the shape keeps them from rolling off the table.

Colored pencils (we love the erasable ones too), markers (thin, thick, scented), and crayons (regular, beeswax, sticks, and blocks) – Crayola primarily, but Stockmar and Lyra are heavenly. Stock up on these during the back-to-school sales. If your kids are in school, buy a set for home and a set for school.

Glue (sticks, bottles, craft, white and gel) – Lots, please. You wouldn’t believe how much glue kids can go through. Consider buying it in gallon or quart sizes.

Glue-ables – Pompoms, wiggly eyes, beads, beans, cotton balls, popsicle sticks, glitter, tissue paper, etc.

Scissors – Fiskars or other decent quality scissors appropriately matched to your child’s handedness.

Stickers – As many as possible in as many color, shapes, and sizes. A big bucket of stickers and large sheets of paper is another wonderful way to get a little peace and quiet.

Modeling materials (clay, playdough, Crayola Model Magic, etc) – Some to play with and some to make things with that will last. Add in some rolling pins and other tools for even more fun.

Pipe cleaners – Their bendable-ness never ceases to inspire my children to make wearable art (necklaces, bracelets, headbands, etc). Get as many colors, shapes, and sizes as you can find. This is another great way to keep little people entertained so that you can get dinner made or find where you left your brain.

My favorite places for inspiration and ideas:

All of my best ideas lately have come from Joyce Raimondo. She has a series of books (some out of print, eek!!) that use an artist as inspiration for picture study and then projects inspired by that artist. The series of oil pastel pictures I used in this post were inspired by a Degas painting in “Picture This!: Activities and Adventures in Impressionism.” Lou picked the first project Raimondo listed after the picture study. I’m probably going to kick myself for mentioning this to you, but if you can get them, get them. I had meant to get the full set earlier and didn’t. Now I’m wishing I had.

MaryAnn F. Kohl is another great author. She has books on art of all kinds. Books for art and toddlers, kids, science, storybooks, etc. She even has books about artists with hands-on experiences much like Raimondo’s. Don’t forget to check out her blog or her fantastic Pinterest board!

Amanda Blake Soule’s books and blog are a great way to see how someone else works art and creativity into their family’s every day life.

The Studio Blog from the Eric Carle Museum.

The Crafty Crow (blog)

The Artful Parent (blog) or her book “The Artful Parent” coming out in April this year.

And last, but certainly not least, I’ve also created a Pinterest board called “Art with Kids” where I’ll be pinning some of my favorites listed here as well as other resources and materials I find along the way.

There are many regrets, dear reader, in my life when it comes to raising my children – doing less art is not one of them. Here’s to making art together!


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Quiet Spaces

IMG_1166Things around my house can be crazy.  Like, really crazy.  It’s tough to stay on top of the mountains of things that a family of five can somehow generate or at least make appear as if from thin air.  I have a daily battle with the things that appear on my kitchen counters (a war at which I am presently losing) not to mention the toys, books, and papers that seem magnetically attracted to the floor.

By way of context, I should point out that my definition of “mountains” and “clutter” and “mess” are probably different from most people’s.  We’re not talking hoarderville here and as my husband is keen to point out, my messiest days are many other folks’ cleanest.  Still, it’s cluttered to me and the worst of it is often in my studio which has become the catch-all for anything I don’t want on the kitchen counter upstairs.

In the interests of sanity, I try to maintain one space in the house that is off-limits to other people’s stuff.  That space has become the table I rescued from my grandmother’s basement.  Last week I removed the Yule tree and lights, gave it a coat of beeswax furniture polish, and dressed it up for a new holiday season.  Some red and pink to remind me of warmth and fire (and a reminder that Imbloc is on the way), a pomegranate to bring to mind Persephone’s trip to the underworld, some amethyst, treasured antiques, my plant, and a few handmade items on which to place it all.

It’s my sunshine when the day is cloudy and the reminder of the need for a little bit of silence every day (just the sort of thing lacking in a house full of three children, two cats, and an exuberant Golden Retriever puppy).

 


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The Secret Revealed

Any guesses as to what yesterday’s secret project was?

No?

How about a hint?

IMG_1189A bag?  You’re getting warmer.  Any other guesses as to what one should do with such a bag?  (Although, I think it’s lovely just the way it is, if I do say so myself.)

How about a peek inside?

IMG_1191It’s a linen bread bag.  Isn’t that just the sweetest thing you ever did see?  I’m not sure which one makes me smile more.  The linen bread bag or the loaf of bread inside of it (even if it was an off bread day).  Of course, I promptly gave it and the bread away because a certain person, ahem, was hinting (slightly) that they were lacking in the bread department.  What better way to share a loaf of bread with a friend than to put it in this reusable and ever so attractive bag?

Sadly, dear reader, I’m not able to share the bread (or the bag) with all of you, but if you’re so inclined, you can make your very own.  I used this tutorial – loosely, though, because when have I ever been able to follow directions as written?

And the linen?  Oh, my.  I would like to make some towels for my kitchen, some napkins for the table, and a bread bag for myself.  I had a yard when I started and had plans to make at least three bread bags, but I got…distracted.  The rest of the linen somehow, mysteriously mind you, found itself cut up for a purse.

*sigh*  We’re going to need more linen.

 

 


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WIP Wednesday – Practical Projects

I haven’t quilted in the longest time.  I had been trying to get the Sunbonnet Sue wall hanging completed, but then ran out of time before the holiday so she sits waiting for her binding.  Poor girl, I think it’s going to be awhile.  I did complete the snowmen wall hanging this week which had an embarrassingly small amount of binding left to stitch on.  There was a point when the need to finish things hit me that netted that one plus a few partial finishes before it petered out.  What can I say?  Inspiration is a fickle bitch partner.

Lately, instead of quilting, I’ve been working on practical projects that I can not only use every other day, but that I can finish relatively quickly.  Plus, I’ve been stocking up on fabric while things were on sale (and that one place in Fort Atkinson that was going out of business) so that I could make better use of my limited fabric fund.  Emphasis on the limited.  It’s been a great deal easier to sew knowing that I already have fabric to draw on without needing to leave home.

First is a design notebook.  I love my spiral bound quad ruled notebook, but it’s not very pretty.  A quick Google search revealed that you can get quad ruled composition notebooks which meant that this Indygo Junction Composition Covers pattern (on sale at JoAnns) would work perfectly.

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I’m adjusting the pattern ever so slightly by eliminating the decorative band across the front.  I really (really, really) love this Michael Miller Eiffel Tower fabric and didn’t want to cover it up with anything.  So, no decorative band on the outside, but there’s still plenty of room for flair on the inside.  What’s not to love about fabric that looks like handwriting paper (Moda’s Bungle Jungle)?  Reader, have I mentioned my love for handwriting paper before?  No?  Let’s just say it’s a borderline obsession in all of its newsprint-y goodness.

When I showed my design notebook and my plans to make a pretty cover to my mom she indicated that she like the idea as well.  I figured if I was making one for myself, a second for someone else was easy peasy.  My mom’s main fabric is some Joel Dewberry Modern Meadow that I picked up from Jeni Baker’s destash.  I love this fabric almost equally as much as I love the Eiffel Tower fabric so you know that I love my mom because I wouldn’t share this with just anyone.  Nope.

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I’m using a green print that I picked up at JoAnns (on sale, of course) to use on the inside for the lining and business card/pen pockets.  The bigger question, though is if I should put the decorative band on the outside in the same fabric bordered by some maxi piping or leave it plain.

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I have no idea.  On the one hand it’s nice.  On the other hand it does cover up some of the pretty fabric.  Hmmmm…

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I finished up the doll dress for Lou’s American Girl doll (a re-gift from my grandmother and purchased at the annual sale locally, I think it might actually be a Pleasant Company doll from before Mattel bought them).  It’s a couple of fabrics from the Lucy’s Crab Shack line and a pattern out of  “Oliver+S Little Things to Sew.”  All this one needs is a couple of snaps to complete it.

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And, of course, if I’m going to make one doll dress for Lou, then I need to make another one for Boo.  Boo has two dolls, a My Generation doll from her Nana & Buppa and an American Girl doll from my grandmother (also purchased at the local sale) that she got to match Lou’s. This dress should fit either of her dolls and is also made from some fat quarters of Lucy’s Crab Shack that I picked up at Life’s A Stitch (on sale, of course).  My motto when sewing curves is that you can never use enough pins.

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I bought the pattern for this one at a quilt shop in Fort Atkinson that was going out of business.  The pattern plus two Atkinson zippers costs me less than $5.  How’s that for a bargain?  The fabric looks familiar, yes?  I still have some left, if you can believe it, which means I’ve made it stretch quite a bit.  The pattern is mama’s stuff sewing organizer from Sweetwater.  The pattern is easy enough, though not as well documented as I would have liked.  There were plenty of…deficiencies in my construction.  You know, those tiny little mistakes that most folks wouldn’t notice, but that I will always see forever more?   I’m happy to report that post-binding they are barely noticeable.  I may even make a second one for my mom.

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The inside with two zipper pockets with vinyl so that you can easily find what you’re looking for.  I thought it would be perfect for those times that I take a project with me to the quilt guild meeting and far more preferable than just putting the thread, needles, and scissors into a bag and hoping for the best.  Notice the button there?  That’s one of those deficiencies.  I’m sort of wishing that I had put it on earlier than the pattern dictates.

IMG_1076This is my (partial) to-do list (well, aside from the one I already have on Pinterest).  So many practical (and not so practical) projects are on the horizon!

From “Sewing in No Time” by Emma Hardy:

  • fireplace screen
  • drawstring toy bags
  • fabric covered storage box
  • floor pillows
  • floral pillow with ties

From “Quilt Revival” by Nancy Mahoney:

  • 30’s Shadow Star

From “Oliver+S Little Things to Sew by Liesl Gibson:

  • tutu (x2)
  • reversible bucket hat (x3)
  • tea party doll dress (x2)
  • travel quilt (?)

From “Handmade Home” by Amanda Blake Soule:

  • beach blanket

From “Bend the Rules Sewing” by Amy Karol:

  • pleated beauty bag

Seeing Squares (small) from Empty Bobbin

Bailey Island Hobo from Aunties Two Patterns (needs handles – drapery grommets?)

From Oliver+S:

This is going to be a fun winter!!


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Painting Without Brushes

I’m not one for New Year’s resolutions.  To me it seems like a silly exercise in unkept promises, except this time it’s promises made with yourself.  This is also why I consider canceling my YMCA membership for the months of January and February.  You wouldn’t believe the way the parking lot and elliptical machines fill up for a few weeks at the beginning of the year only to empty out come March.

That isn’t to say that I don’t take advantage of winter’s more introspective nature forced by cold weather and diminished sunlight.  For some it’s a recipe for depression.  For me it’s a chance to recharge.  What better excuse for an introvert to stay home than, the easily at hand winter weather?

Lately I’ve been thinking about food.  What we eat.  How I make dinner.  How I plan our meals.  Having long since given up on the folks (from all sides) who think that food is somehow at fault for everything currently wrong with us – a veritable fountain of youth to some and the path of required asceticism for others – I have been trying to reach a far more balanced approach where one eats, not to medicate away the ills of modern life, but because it’s necessary and if it’s necessary, why not do so in a way that brings pleasure to your life?  (A foreign concept for our American Puritanical natures to be sure.)

I’m not interested in lists of forbidden foods.  I’ve done the low-fat, high-fat, low-carb, high-carb, traditional foods, counters full of fermenting and bubbling kitchen experiments, pre-packaged, Snackwells, sugar-laden, South Beach, thirty minutes a day to a thinner, more beautiful you and I’ve had just about enough.  Give me a roast chicken, some roasted root vegetables, and a pile of bacon-y greens to circle my plate and let’s just sit around the table and talk, laugh, love.

And bread.  Give me bread in carefully toasted piles with melting salted butter, caramel brown crusts that audibly let you know that you have in fact arrived at meal time, and a slightly resistant chewy crumb that says, “I’m alive and this is bread.”  You might think this sounds like a lot to expect of bread, but I can guarantee you that there wasn’t a single person around the birthday feast table on Friday that didn’t remark that the rolls we had were the sort of bread you could live on.

Not a one.

I’ve been reading Tamar Adler’s “An Everlasting Meal:  Cooking with Economy and Grace” the last few days, gasping over every other paragraph from words placed ever so carefully together by a writer who is as adept at spinning a phrase as she is at bringing together humble ingredients into nourishing meals.  The husband thought I was a little crazy as we were following the curves of Highway 14 on our way to Black Earth and I was practically tearing up over what spoke so powerfully to my very core.  Adler gets it and provides not a collection of recipes, but a way of cooking that makes sense to me.

In the chapter she calls “How to Paint Without Brushes,” Adler gives the shortest list of kitchen gear you’ll ever read and then instructs the reader:

You can gather all of that, in whatever versions.  You can also cook well, not in different pots and pans, but in the ones you have.  As long as you taste curiously, and watch and feel and listen, and prick your way toward food you like, you will find that you become someone about whom people will say that cooking seems to come naturally, like walking.  They will say it and it will be true.

That is my advice then, on experience and equipment.  Consider not minding whether you know the answer, and not filling your kitchen with tools, but becoming, rather, the kind of cook who doesn’t need them.

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I’ve long been on the search for the perfect loaf of bread and have turned out my share of wheaten bricks.  I had read much and tried lots with marginal results.  Those who eat my bread would probably be surprised to learn that up until recently, I considered myself a marginal baker at best and a bumbling fraud at worse, but yesterday there was a moment when I looked into the mixing bowl and knew incontrovertibly that I had arrived.  That bread dough right there in the bowl was done – there was no further need for kneading.  I could shut the mixer off and know that my bread would turn out.  I repeated the process with a second batch (because baking less than two loaves at a time in this house is silly) and arrived at the similar point.  I knew it in the way that I know few other things in life.

I had, in fact, arrived.

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And it was, dear reader, exactly as I thought it would be.  The loaves rose perfectly in their pans and baked equally so with just the right combination of oven spring and browned crust.  Arriving, as it were, to some portion of my true self, The Baker, and giving myself permission to cast as wide a net for my creativity as is honest and true to who I am.

Maybe food really is transformative – not in the health seeking, life prolonging, death preventing way, but in a way that allows us to live well, laugh often, and love intensely.  Allowing us, maybe for once, to seek fulfillment in the everyday and to tell all the “experts” to kindly mind their own business.