Friday, November 20, 2015


So I'm not supposed to be blogging, but yesterday, I found this photo in a drawer:

(It's Kate, by the way; circa 2008.)


I know it's my own kid, but  - dang - those cheeks.

So then of course I became deeply sentimental, and went looking in our photo library archives to the year 2008, and found these.

Here's one of Emily and Jenna, with their twin chick stuffies, a month before Kate was born.

For the longest time (it seemed), it had been just the two of them.

And then Kate came, and there were three. 

And I looked at that picture and marveled that
  1. I had had three kids in five years.
  2. we had diapers in multiple sizes in the house because not all those kids were potty trained yet. 
  3. I was ever in non-PJs.
  4. we had so many large, noisy, colorful plastic toys that it felt like a daycare.
  5. I kept my sanity at all . Then again, maybe I didn't, and maybe I never got it back.
  6. I got anything done around the house.. 

I call those years my Hijacked Years. I don't remember them at all. If not for photos, I wouldn't have believed they happened. Not because it was all wondrous and lovely and literally unbelievably sweet, but because my mind was in a perpetual fog from sleep deprivation, and trying to keep the family fed and safe and clothed (bought! Not sewn - are you nuts???) and there was no time for anything that wasn't infant-related or nursing-related or well-child-check-ups-related.

But then there were the unbelievably sweet moments, too. Which I don't recall. Which, as said, I have these photos to thank for.

And then there was this one. It's Kate again, embellished by Jenna and her markers. Ah, sisters.

And here they are now, no longer babies.

How those years have been good to us. 

End of sentimental trip. (Wipes eyes.) Back to sewing now. 

I'm almost done clothing and accessorizing those Owie Dolls! 

I think they'll be ready for the etsy shop by early next week, although I'll probably only ship them after Thanksgiving, I'll let you know when they're in the shop.

Monday, November 16, 2015

Jam Tarts in Homespun!

'Nuther bit of press!

The lovely Homespun magazine again - this time it's their 150th issue! Truly, an honor.

In this particular issue, there is a feature on fabric high tea.

Ta-da! My jam tarts! So excited. Here is the original jam tarts post, by the way.

But wait, here is the really astounding thing in that spread - the tea cup.

The teacup is fabric (the tea is nylon stocking)! 

I've seen fabric teacups before, but this one absolutely takes the cake (in the very best sense of the word). 

Here are a couple of other projects in this issue: this adorable turtle, whose shell is his backpack. Eeeeeeeeee! I'm dying from the cuteness.

Clever upcycles of old jeans and denim scraps - and gorgeous photography.

And this quilt! A celebration of china at its very best. I know squat about quilting, and I'd generally pick any color in the spectrum before pink, but I really, really love this.

I am going to disappear for a few days  - not that you'll notice, given my sketchy attendance on this blog lately - and when I come back, I shall have (hopefully) Owie Dolls in the shop for you to buy, and (even more hopefully) Time Warp bags to show and tell and deconstruct!

Friday, November 13, 2015

Behind My Back

I just want to say that there's sewing, and then there's sewing.

Emily made this pillow yesterday.

It's quite an ordinary pillow - two rectangles sewn together, stuffed partway through the process, and sewn up completely by the end. She decorated it with fabric markers and presented it to the younger sister whose BFF it was made for.

The appropriate thank-you was said, and Bunny (the BFF) went to bed with a new pillow.

While it was all happening, I'd watched the proceedings in a semi-distracted haze - I'd been working on Owie Doll accessories and cooking supper and therefore, mentally, I wasn't quite all there.

And, besides, making and creating happen all the time in this house, right? This was an evening like many others here. 

Later, when my mind was empty again, I thought back over the day. 

And it hit me like a ton of bricks:

My eleven-year old is now an independent seamstress.

Let me break it down for you - those proceedings that I'd watched in my fog of dinner prep and glossed over as if they were status quo.

This child made this pillow all by herself. That is not a big deal for those of you whose children are already handmaking their own garments at age 5. 

It is, however, a big deal for me because she made it all by herself

Specifically, all by herself, she decided she wanted to make something for Kate. 

And, all by herself, she got out her sewing supplies, made her measurements, added her SA, cut out the fabric, stitched away on my sewing machine, stuffed the pillow, sewed up the opening, and embellished it. And cleaned up after.

While I was upstairs preparing supper.
And not in the same room helping her.

All I remember was her asking, "Mom, can I sew this up myself? I know how to use the sewing machine."

"I know how to use the sewing machine."

If that isn't music to a sewing mother's ears, I don't know what is.

Even more of a big deal to me, is how she made the pillow. 

Did you miss it in that earlier paragraph?

Here: I'll show you the bit that blew my mind - 

"And, all by herself, she got out her sewing supplies, made her measurements, added her SA, cut out the fabric, stitched away on my sewing machine, stuffed the pillow, sewed up the opening, and embellished it."

My eleven-year-old had just taken her very first step on the amazing journey we call drafting.

No templates. No patterns. No blog tutorials. No Sewing School textbooks; 
she simply eyeballed Bunny, measured her fabric according to the user of her finished project, visualized her seam allowances, added them around her seamlines in her layout, and cut.

And sewed her first independent project. 

(And I missed it, because I was cooking.)

Now, the tailoring journey is a long one, and it will be quite some years before Emily - or her sisters - are able to draft and sew prom dresses and suchlike. But this is how it begins. And while I'm slowly working with my kids on easy stuff like toys and bags, I am always thinking about how to introduce them to garment-making. I will confess that I had seriously considered starting them out with commercial patterns, because it's an easy shortcut, and because it's the way it's done here in the US, where they'll be living (and hopefully sewing) for most of their lives. 

But now, I think that maybe, they might be ready to sew old-school. After all, it isn't about whether the project is simple or challenging; it's about how we make it, how we get from start to finish. As my Aunt Laura always says, "If you can visualize it, you can sew it." It's the mindset, the philosophy: if you can draft a bag, or a pillow, you can draft a garment. 

I'm not in a hurry. I'm happy to wait for them to be ready, for them to be the ones to say, "Mom, I need to make a skirt. Can I sew it? I know how to use the sewing machine."

And when that happens, I'll say, "Well, then, cooking can wait. Let's order in, and I'll get out the drafting paper."

Saturday, November 7, 2015

Shopkins & Demystifying Felt

Welcome to the embarrassingly-belated Part II of "Send Your Kids Back To School With Small Toys In Their Lunch Boxes Which Were Extremely Time-Consuming But Also Wonderfully Cathartic To Make"!

Did you miss Part I? It wasn't as much of a mouthful, I promise. 

So now that we're all caught up on the oldest child and her felt bugs, let's talk about my other two kids. Every year since I don't remember when, Jenna has had cupcakes in her lunchbox on the Mondays in September. It was always cupcakes, because Jenna loves cupcakes and does not mind getting lots and lots of them. Kate, on the other hand, changes her mind every few seconds about what she likes or dislikes, so each year she gets a different theme of lunchbox toys to accommodate her somewhat volatile attention span.

This year, both got Shopkins.

No reason other than 
  1. I was too lazy to think of new flavors (i.e. colors) of cupcakes that I hadn't already made
  2. I was in the girls' bedroom and saw their collection of Shopkins and decided, randomly, "I'll make Shopkins, then."

So I picked he ones I liked most

and copied them in felt.

Ridiculous cuteness and colorfulness aside, it was also an exercise in design.

They're not as straightforward as they look, these little creatures. 

For one, not all of them are easy geometric shapes - a couple of them are cubes and rectangular prisms and general 3-D planes with gussets, but others are more. . . unusual. 

For another, they're made of felt, meaning that rounded contours ran the danger of puckering and gathering instead of being smooth the way, say, fleece or knit might be. 

Finally, they still had to look like the original plastic pencil-topper toy, which was tiny. 

I do love challenges, though.
(Even though the actual drafting of the miniscule pattern pieces was a bit mind-numbing.) 

It forced me to think in different ways to achieve certain shapes.

Which is always valuable in a continuing-education kind of way when you design toys and stuff like that as your sort-of job. 

So, if you ever want to improve your design and visualization skills, I highly recommend trying this out - pick a toy and try to render it in fabric, exactly. It will completely open your mind (and fry your patience).

Here are the Shopkins, in plastic and felt:
Cheeky Chocolate

Toasty Bread

Taco Terry

Melony Pips


Garlic Rose

Cool Cube

Macca Roon

Bun Bun Slipper

Cupcake Chic

Suzi Sushi

After 11, I kinda got bored and stopped. 

However, I thought I'd share one of the techniques I'd learned from my experiments - shaping a stiff piece of flat felt into a smooth curved surface like a bowl. 

First, gather the edge of a flat circle as you would if you were making a ball. Tighten the thread to the desired diameter of the bowl. Then turn the edge (my SA was about 1/4") inwards to the WS and concentrate the gathers within that 1/4" rim as shown, using your fingers to smooth out the area above that turned-in rim so there are minimal (or no) gathers there. If you have a rigid form (e.g. a small bowl that's the exact size) it will be as simple as draping the felt circle over its smooth surface, turning the surplus fabric over the rim and gathering it tightly so the gathers are all hidden within that rim overhang. But you'd not be able to get the form out after, which is why we're doing it this way.

To stabilize the gathers (so they won't slip back above the puckery rim), 
pinch and flatten the edge of that rim

and sew tiny running stitches all around the circumference, very, very close to the fold,

easing the gathers smooth as you go.

Eventually, you will have a relatively-smooth bowl like this.

Which, upon being stuffed,

and ladder-stitched to a flatter layer, 

gives a pretty smooth outcome.

Here is a second bowl being ladder-stitched to the other face of the green layer,

 to make a complete macaron (or - if you changed the colors - a hamburger).

Here is a random shot to show the foot - a simple flat, double-layered shape stitched to the bottom of the creature to provide stability.

Here is that same technique used for the rounded top of a cupcake. Start with a circle that's a little bigger than the hole you want it to sit in (in this case, the top of the cupcake liner). Gather around the edge as shown,

pull to create volume,

tuck it into the open top of the liner, and ladder stitch through the upper rim of the liner. We're concentrating the gathers under that line of stitches,

leaving the top smooth and rounded after stuffing.

And now for some felt talk!

As with Emily's insect collection, the felt for these Shopkins came from Felt on the Fly, courtesy of its proprietor Janet Wieczorek. You can read my review of her felt and customer service in that earlier post here, and about Janet and how here business with felt began here.

While corresponding with Janet, we talked about the different kinds of felt available on the market and how it can potentially be confusing for people to know which kind to buy for different projects. Here is a quick summary of our research, explaining the common kinds of felt you can find in stores and what to pay attention to so you know what you're looking at and paying for. Thank you, Janet, for sharing your years of experience and expertise with us!

Let's start with what felt is: a non-woven, non-directional fabric. It doesn't fray and doesn't stretch (usually). Felt is made by pressing loose fibers together. This can be done in a variety of ways: by machine, by needling and steam, and by water and friction. Additionally, processing methods and dyes have a profound effect on the end product. 

Now let's discuss the kinds of felt found in stores:

1   Craft Felt 
Felt can be made from man-made synthetics e.g. polyester, rayon, rayon/viscose blend, or acrylic (which is marketed as the ubiquitous Acrylic Felt)This type of felt is commonly found in craft stores, comes in a variety of colors, and is very inexpensive. They are sold on wide bolts (commonly 72"), as well as in single sheets (usually about 9" x 12"). I've found that in general, the kind on the bolts is of slightly better quality than that of the sheets, although not consistently so; there are times when I've compared a particular color in both and found, for example, that the brown sheets are less pilly (i.e. of better quality) than the brown on-the-bolt felt. 

2   Eco-Felt
Felt can be made from recycled plastic.  This is often called ‘eco-fi’ felt (implying it is environmentally friendly).  While it’s true that keeping plastics out of landfills is a terrific idea, the felt itself is not environmentally friendly - not only because of its plastic raw product, but also the process of adding more resources and energy to turn plastic bottles into plastic felt. Perhaps "recycled felt" would be a more accurate term. This felt is also readily found online and is very inexpensive.

3   Bamboo Felt
Made from natural bamboo fibers, bamboo felt is another eco-friendly felt - soft, of reputably good quality, and takes well to dyes. Sold under the brand name Xotic Felt, it is also relatively easy to buy, although it tends to run higher in cost. Here is an interesting post on Bamboo felt. 

4    Wool-Blend Felt
These felts contain natural wool; typically having a 10% to 35% wool content, with the remainder being synthetic or man-made fiber, often rayon. Wool-blends are easily found at craft stores and online. Originally produced for commercial purposes decades ago, wool-blend felt has become popular with US crafters who were looking for something more substantial than synthetic. They come in many colors and are quite affordable for the jump in quality over craft felt and plastic felt.

5  100% Wool Felt
This felt is literally all natural wool. It is the only felt that was originally conceived and designed specifically for handwork and sewing. Interestingly enough, not all 100% wool felt is created equal; there are hundreds of different breeds of sheep, each producing a wool fiber with its own unique characteristics. For instance, some sheep are known for producing thick, coarse or stiff fiber. Others produce curly fiber, or long or short fibers. Merino sheep, for instance, produce a soft, fine fiber, and Merino wool felt is a good-quality - and common - wool felt. 

Wool felt comes in different thicknesses, as well as different feels and qualities. For most hand-stitching projects, 1mm to 3mm is perfect.

Here is a fun comparison between the four main kinds of felt - craft, eco, wool-blend and wool. 

I've often been asked which kind of felt I'd recommend for my projects. My short answer is, "the best-quality felt that you can afford." I've found that the higher the natural wool content in the felt, the longer it lasts, the less it pills (the 100% wool felt hardly pills), and the better it holds stitches without tearing.

That said, not all of us can afford (or find) 100% wool felt, in which case, here is my long answer, "the most important thing to remember when choosing felt for your project(s) is this: different felts are good for different projects."

100% wool felt, for instance, is best for hand-sewn projects, particularly if they are small, because the fibers hold the stitches well.

Craft felt and eco felt are great for large projects that don't require too much detailed stitching - they cost less for more yardage than wool or wool-blend felt. They are also wonderful for projects that only require gluing.

Wool-blend felts are good in-between options - they don't pill as much as the synthetic felts, and they are affordable enough to buy in bigger quantities for larger projects. 

I hope this has been helpful!