Saturday, October 29, 2011

The good life

This week, I finished sewing all the knots to complete our family's summertime happy quilt, or as I've renamed it "The Good Life" quilt (because this life, especially in summer, is oh-so-good). I am so happy with the results!

I didn't get too precious with this. I machine-sewed the binding (so much faster and probably more secure). I had stitched-in-the-ditch along all the squares first, but they were too big to hold it together well in the long term. Rather than stitching all over the quilt and not matching up with any of the stripes on the back, I opted for a tied-quilt. Internet recommendations led me to use square knots instead of surgeon's knots, and they worked quite well. If they come undone, I can always do them again. No biggie.

I have a vision of our family using this as our go-to quilt all summer long, on the couch, in the sun, on the grass...

...but I think it is most likely going to be used for this.

Life is good.

Friday, October 28, 2011

My colorful birds

A few months ago, I spied these wings in Elsie Marley's links, and I knew I wanted to make a pair for my girls. I'm sorry to say the project was added to my never-ending list of un-tended inspiration...until now. My girls decided to be colorful birds for Halloween. Perfect!

These wings are very simple to make. I started with six fat quarters my wee girl picked out. She chose six different patterns in six different colors, which seems perfect! (word to the wise: these wings are real fabric-guzzlers. you might want to cut up some vintage printed sheets as Kat did and save yourself some trips to the fabric store or raids on your stash...)

I cut those fat quarters into 3 inch strips (length is about 19 inches or so). Then I folded each strip accordion-style (or to be more accurate, in half in half in half again to give me eight layers); each pile was approximately 2" x 3". With sharp sewing shears (say that 3 times fast!), I cut a curve along the sides and bottom edges, leaving the layers connected at the top by an inch or so. Unfold and voila: a row of fabric feathers! (lesson learned: cut taller strips leaving a 1.5"-2" uncut so the feathers won't overlap so heavily, allowing the fabric pattern to show and you to save some work and meterage)

Making the wing base is easy too. Measure the child from the middle of the back to the wrist. My 3.5 year old measures 40cm; my 6 year old measures 50cm. If you want to make a pattern on newspaper (or you could just measure and cut the fabric directly), just make a 90 degree angle, each side the length you need. Then connect the ends with a curve. Fold the fabric in half so you only have to cut once to get 2 wings. Done.

Starting at the outside edge, sew on one row of feathers at a time. I used a zigzag stitch since the fabric was all raw edges, but I really don't think that was necessary (it used up quite a lot of thread). The raw edges will indeed fray over time, but I think that's all right. More feather-y, yes? Keep sewing, one row at a time until you get to the very top. If you are a bit worn out with sewing by then or if you are running out of fabric feathers, you may want to cut a large patch with feathery edges to finish the top.

When both wings are complete, sew a ribbon along the top edges to join them. Then sew elastic loops at each end for wrists and attach in the middle a ribbon with velcro sewn on the ends to wrap around the child's neck (thank you, Artful Parent, for these suggested modifications!). The original pattern called for all ribbon here, but tying and untying is tedious for children and I don't love the idea of tied ribbon around their necks.

Fabric wings.
They take ages to sew.
They guzzle fabric.
They are beautiful!
I highly recommend you work some up for a little person (or heck, even a big person) you love.
Watch their imaginations take flight!

The perfect summer shirt

Thanks to the Commonwealth Heads of Government Meeting (CHOGM) here in Perth, all Perth-ites enjoyed the day off today as a rescheduled Queen's Birthday celebration (thank you, Queen Elizabeth!). Hubby was home. The girls were home. And I was sewing for me!

With a massive backlog of want-to-do/need-to-do projects for other people, I thought I'd indulge in this day off to sew for myself. A couple of years ago (years? really?), Amanda at SouleMama posted about the fabulousness of Heather Ross's summer blouse from Weekend Sewing. I bought the book and have been (sort of) poised for action ever since.

Since then, I have been reading on blogs that the patterns in that book were flawed in various (minor) ways that made them frustrating unless you knew how to work a garment in advance. For a relatively inexperienced sew-ist, this was not good news. Last year, I spied the Make It Perfect pattern for the Shearwater Kaftan (very similar design by an Aussie) and have read nothing but praise for its simplicity and clear instructions. Hurrah!

It took me all morning to make, but I can confidently join in the praise of this pattern. It is very clearly written. I added two inches to the length (normally required for me; I'm 5'10" with a long torso), but I ended up cutting those 2 inches off again because they weren't needed. I will add 2 extra inches to the sleeves next time, because I like really long sleeves and these most conveniently button up out of my way when I want them shorter (my first foray into buttonholes on my sewing machine was a success!).

The fabric is Nani Iro double gauze. It is soft and flimsy and is a bear to cut (it shifts even when pinned), but oh isn't it the perfect weight for Perth summers! The buttons came from my last trip to Bali and are mother-of-pearl carved with leaves and vines. Joy!

This blouse is awesome! I love that it can be long sleeved to protect my arms from the vicious Aussie sun, but it buttons up above my elbows to keep the sleeves out of my way in the kitchen, the garden, or wherever else I need it. Methinks a few more of these babies will be in the works before long!

Thursday, October 27, 2011

How to distort your color perception

For 30 seconds, stare at a piece of hot pink paper. Then look at a white wall.
What color do you see? (bright green)
For 30 seconds, stare at a piece of green paper. Then look at a white wall.
What color do you see? (hot pink)

Mastered that color distortion yet?

Now, attempt to cut hot pink fabric against a bright green cutting mat!

Whoa, nelly.

Wednesday, October 26, 2011

Teacher's pet

At our school, parents are expected to contribute at least 6 hours' work each semester. It can be filled with library duty, gardening work, playground maintenance, class laundry...or in my case, sewing. Since our teacher discovered I own a sewing machine, I have been a sewing fool for that classroom. Last year, it was 2 children's aprons...swiftly followed by 24 (count 'em, twenty-four!) child-sized chef's hats. At the start of this year, it was two dozen vinyl pockets. Have you ever sewn with vinyl? That was an adventure, let me tell you!

This term, I sneakily signed up for class laundry once a week. Smiling Teacher noticed and asked me instead to please sew just three little pockets with velcro closure--out of fabric this time she emphasized--and she would pass the laundry to another family. Okay, I said, waiting for the complication. None was forthcoming. We met and discussed what she had in mind; easy peasy. She bought the materials (usually, I do that); that was my hint.

When she handed me the bag of fabric, there were more than three fabrics for more than three a meter of hot pink cotton in there too. "For the petticoat," she smiled. Um...wha? "You know, a nice big petticoat, with lots of ruffles around the bottom. By the end of the week if you can. Thanks!" Big smile.

Do I mind? Actually, no, not at all. When I was a teacher (without a sewing machine), I often thought up simple solutions to a classroom need that would be so easy to remedy myself...if only I could sew. Now that I can sew, I'm happy to do it, and I'm extra happy to see the work being put to fun use by the kids. But I do have to laugh at how every time the commitment increases dramatically after saying "yes" to the project.

The mom who sews.
Every teacher should have one.

Monday, October 24, 2011

Some days are like that

When I was in high school, I discovered this treasure of a children's book: Alexander and the Terrible, Horrible, No Good, Very Bad Day by Judith Viorst.

It quickly became one of my favorites, and I have owned a copy ever since.

Last week when I found myself struggling with stress, I noticed that my 6-year-old had pulled it off the shelf along with a dozen others and plopped it in her reading pile. I picked it up, laughing now at how apropos it was (is).

The (presumably American) boy, Alexander, is having a tough day in the normal life of a kid, but don't we all know how this feels?

What made me smile is that he believes this will be solved by moving to Australia (which I have done myself). At the end, his mom assures him otherwise...

She is right.
Somedays are like that.
Even in Australia.

Saturday, October 22, 2011

Creative work resumes

Quilt binding now in progress!

That's almost 9 meters of binding (in a seriously cheery stripe)!
The color riot of this quilt makes me happy.

Inspiration strikes me almost daily. One project after another pops into my head, and I gear up for each one...and then stall out. Working on my happy quilt today has gotten the creative juices flowing again. Perhaps I might consider cleaning off my sewing desk...

Happy Weekend to you!

Tuesday, October 18, 2011

A weekend on Rotto

Rottnest Island is a small island just off the coast of Perth, Western Australia. It is only a brief 30-minute ferry ride away to a relaxing, completely low-key holiday spot, and we were fortunate to be there over this past weekend.

Why the name? Apparently, it was discovered by Dutch sailors who found it completely populated with small, bouncing marsupials they mistook for rats. They claimed the island was a "rat's nest." It is actually the only known home of these cute little guys: the resident quokka (pronounced kwok-uh). Cute, no?

Thursday, October 13, 2011

Summertime happy quilt

I should probably come up with a name a bit more sophisticated than "summertime happy quilt," but that's just what this is. Last summer, I bought a 14 fat quarter pack of these Kaffe Fassett polka dots at the local fancy fabric shop, but I just couldn't seem to cut them up. All those spots are so cheery! Then, I realized that I didn't have to cut at all. Last week, I went back and purchased 2 more, and voila! 16 fat quarters becomes a 2 square-meter quilt!

Just in case you are wondering, a 2 square-meter quilt requires a lot of pins.

It is backed with some seriously bold Kaffe Fassett stripes.
Because I can.

(keep in mind, this is the reverse side. the front is much bolder)

The idea is that this will be our family's summertime toss-around. I can see it in the grass, on laps, on the couch, on a bed, in the shade...everywhere.

I made the top, bottom and quilt sandwich (including stitch-in-the-ditch of the squares) all in two days last week...and then the fabric store quilting guru told me the squares need further quilting to help it hold together better over time. It has been folded on my couch ever since. That may sound overly dramatic (it's only been a week), but I'm in limbo. More quilting? Maybe ties? I'm inclined toward ties (how to do that?). And then there's choosing a binding fabric for one seriously colorful quilt...

Wednesday, October 12, 2011


The color vibrancy!
The flagrant excess of all those petals!
That was money at the farmer's market well spent.

Tuesday, October 11, 2011

KCWC delayed

When I signed on for the kids' clothes sewing challenge, I didn't notice it would run during the second week of school holidays. Both kids home. Playdates galore. Headed off to Rottnest this weekend...hmm.
I'll just have to have my own challenge week, maybe even next week. I was all prepped and ready, except for the timing bit. Sigh.

Friday, October 7, 2011

Parenting in the school holidays

My mouth may be saying, "Today is not 'Let's Make Mama Nuts' Day", but a voice in my head tells me that it is, every day.

Thursday, October 6, 2011

simply ten

simply ten good things, inspired by soulemama

  • a little helper by my side as I begin new projects
  • sisters reading to each other (especially when one is "incognito")
  • gorgeous, sunny spring days
  • commiserating and laughing with friends
  • schedule-free school holidays
  • the little one singing all day long out of contentment
  • enjoying dinners outside as the days grow longer
  • from scratch goodness in the kitchen
  • kids returning to full health after a 3-week tussle with germs
  • pottering around in the sunshine at the river, the beach, the park...

Good bye, Steve Jobs

I opened the Apple homepage today and learned that Steve Jobs has lost his battle with cancer. I have been a diehard Apple fan for the past 10 years and a Pixar fan for even longer. What a legacy he leaves.

Good bye, Steve Jobs, and thank you.

Tuesday, October 4, 2011

Homemade laundry detergent

My recipe for homemade laundry detergent came from A Home Companion by Wendyl Nissen, purchased on a cold, rainy day during our recent vacation near Kerikeri in Kiwiland. A good list of her cleaning recipes can be found on her website here, so I hope she doesn't mind that I'm sharing this:

Laundry detergent

½ bar Castile or vegetable-based or Sunlight soap, grated
1.5 litres of water
½ cup washing soda
50 g borax
1 litre hot water
Place soap in a saucepan with the first quantity of water and heat on low until soap is dissolved. Stir in washing soda and borax. Stir for a few minutes until thickened and remove from heat. (If you're using Castile or vegetable-based soap it won't thicken straight away, but don't worry, it will overnight in the bottles). Add 1 litre of hot water to a bucket. Add soap mixture and mix well. Fill bucket with another 5 litres of hot water and mix well. Pour into old milk bottles or other containers and set aside for 24 hours or until mixture thickens. Use ½ cup of mixture per load. It is easy to squeeze from the bottles as it is quite gluggy.

Tip: Add about 20 drops lavender oil at the end before pouring into the bottles for a nice fragrance or try eucalyptus oil, which is great for woollens.

I'm still not 100% sure mine is right, because there is no need to squeeze it from the bottles. It thickened, yes, but not to that extent. There are gluggy clumps in a watery base. Right? Wrong? Not sure.

Can you use it in a front loader? Yes!

The important question is: is it any good?
I think so. I'm quite happy with it, but I admit haven't put it to a tough test. I'm lucky that my girls aren't big mud-rollers, so our laundry isn't too demanding. I have noticed it doesn't have the stain-busting power of the commercial stuff when there is heavy-duty demand (ex: blood from skinned knees), but it does a pretty good job on the day-to-day. The clothes look clean and smell like...clothes. The essential oil doesn't linger (alas), but then again, no chemicals linger either which is a real plus, especially if anyone has sensitive skin.
Another unexpected bonus is it seems to be cleaning my washing machine too. I started noticing a moldy smell in the laundry room the first few days I used this detergent, and I definitely didn't think that could be good (thankfully, that has passed). Then, I realized this detergent seems to be cleaning out all the build-up of gunk and goo that must be in the internal workings of my machine. In recent months, the "cleaning jet" at the top of my front loader has been more like a "cursory trickle"...but that is coming back to life (see the waterfall inside the washer near the top of the photo taken today?). Nice.

If you are concerned about chemicals in your home, on your clothes and skin, and in the water supply, I certainly think this recipe is worth a go! If you are someone who doesn't see the point of "green" options because you think small changes don't matter (and there seem to be a great many people in this camp), let me convert you for reasons of frugality. I don't know what you spend on laundry detergent, but the homemade stuff costs close $5 for an estimated 100 loads, even factoring in the Dr. Bronner's lavender castile soap I purchased at a ridiculous imported price of $7 per bar. Sweet!

Please let me know if you give it a go. I'd love to know how it works for you (and if yours sets to a more gluggy consistency than mine so I can figure it out better)!

Saturday, October 1, 2011

favorite things

Tonight is my post-birthday dinner out, and I'm sooo excited! At first, I'd planned a fancy-pants 5 course sit down meal at a wonderful place nearby, but it was expensive and planning-intensive and a bit joy-sucking. My most indulgent husband suggested I change it over to our favorite local Italian restaurant and treat everyone (his gift). Now, it's a no-stress, bring-your-own-wine girlfriend fest, and I think it will be a blast!

Rather than getting all stressed out about Martha Stewart perfection and planning of gift bags, I thought this would be the perfect opportunity to host a "favorite things party" (inspired long ago by the beautiful inchmark blog). I asked everyone to think of her favorite item that costs $5 or less and to please bring 5 of that item to the dinner. No matter how many people come, everyone goes home with 5 new things. I love this idea! It has inspired some real creativity. Some guests have taken it completely in stride, announcing "Done!" without hesitation. Others ask brilliant questions like:

"Can it be living?"
"Can the average cost per item be $5 as long as the total of the 5 items doesn't exceed $25?"
"Do the items have to be identical?"

and my favorite...

"I was going to be all intellectual and creative, but what I really love is chocolate.
Can I just bring that?"

One creative friend has worked herself into a frenzy, choosing the ideal $5 items and then packaging them to the hilt. She gets bonus points for presentation.

I love this idea. I think it would be incredibly fun to host a favorite things party twice a year. It's a great way to share little indulgences, and twice per year would take the pressure off finding the ideal item the first time around. I know I've gone 'round and 'round with it. A pre-paid coffee in a nice cafe? Chocolates from my favorite local maker? Homemade granola in nice jars? Recently, I've been making my own laundry detergent (that's another post), and I can get about 100 loads out of $5. Hmm...

This time, it was nail buffers. $4 at The Body Shop for beautiful, healthy, shiny, no polish nails.

I'm also cheating a bit (hey, I'm the host and it's my birthday!) and also giving everyone magnetic bookmarks from The Netherlands (purchased at the Mauritshuis when we lived in The Hague) and an Anne Taintor postcard. Just because.

Happy Birthday to me!