Friday, October 2, 2015

Felt Insects

Today, I am going to talk about wool felt.

But first,  let's talk about hand-stitching.

Some late-night hand-stitching happened this past month.

There's something cathartic about hand-stitching, isn't there?
It's deliberate and exact and pure and wonderful, especially compared to the efficient, floor-the-pedal, bam! Bam! Bam! of machine-sewing, which conjures images of mass-producing and imprecise seamlines and winging-it-ness. 

And the bother of details that slow down that process.

Oh, the details.

Whenever I'm machine-sewing a bag, for instance, I often roll my eyes when it takes me twice as long as it should, simply because I've added in superfluous pockets and topstitching and fiddly bits that aren't the actual bag. But when I'm hand-stitching, I expect the details; they're factored into the design itself, and I love how it slows me down, embellishing even as I am making.

So, last month, when I consulted my mental calendar and realized that, once again, the summer was over and the kids were returning to school, I gleefully began planning the girls' back-to-school lunchbox gifts and looking forward to the promise of more hand-stitching. This was a deadline-heavy project in that each Sunday night, one little softie per girl needed to be completed and wrapped for her lunch box the next morning. However, it was also spread across four Sundays in the month of September, allowing me to slowly stitch throughout the week, sitting on the couch in the evenings with the husband, which I can never do with my machine-sewn projects. 

When I dug into my wool felt stash - the one I'd inherited from grandma - and began cutting and adapting and choosing colors, I discovered I was lacking in some of the shades I needed.

Enter etsy. 

Many readers have asked where I get my wool felt and I thought I'd do a post or two to answer. First, most of my wool felt was, as I said, inherited from grandma. Sometimes when JoAnn has a sale on their wool-blend felt, I'll pick up a yard or two. But their colors are extremely limited, and they aren't 100% wool. So whenever I need particular shades of 100% wool felt, I buy 8" x 12" sheets on etsy, from Felt on the Fly

Now, today's post is a product review. I've been known to do those from time to time on ikatbag, if the product is something I really like, and something my readers would find relevant to the sort of projects that define this blog. I don't do product reviews of things I have never used myself, or simply in exchange for a freebie that, up till that point, I'd never heard about or been interested in.

Vendors have, and will, write to me, offering their stuff, to review. In such cases, I tell them that I cannot guarantee I will even try their product, let alone write a post about it, let alone have it be a positive post. If they are still interested, they are welcome to send me their product, understanding that I may do anything (or nothing) with it, from ignoring, throwing away, giving away, or liking/hating it enough to give it airtime on my blog. This is how I try to be transparent to my readers. You can read about it here (but it's pretty much what I've already just said in this paragraph).

Occasionally, I will come across a product (or a book) that so grabs me that I actually contact the vendor to ask if they'd be interested in a review. Cinnamon Miles' beginning sewing book was one of those, and resulted in a fun collaboration and a chance for you guys to win her book for yourself. But it rarely happens, because it means being pretty sure I'll already love a product I haven't actually yet used myself, and those are more exceptions than the norm. 

Most of my reviews are of products I am already using and want to gush about - products I like so much that I'd use even in secret without telling you about.

I've been buying my wool felt sheets from Felt on the Fly for years. Janet, its proprietor, is wonderful to work with, and prompt and helpful in her correspondence. Whenever my own felt stash falls short in certain colors, this is where I buy what I need. They come in different sizes - 6" x 8", 8" x 12" and larger 18" x 18" sheets.  The quality is excellent. There are ready-matched combinations to pick from, or you can choose your own shades from among the 112 colors

Some months back, Janet emailed to ask if I'd be interested in reviewing her felt if she sent me some free sheets for my projects. I was already familiar - and happy - with her felt, so it was easy to say yes. However, I hadn't a felt project in mind then, so I waited till I began planning the kids' back-to-school lunch gifts to write her back and start things in motion. 

She sent me these lovely colors to work with.

 So gorgeous.

Want to see what they became?

First: Emily's gifts. For the past few years, hers were of a fish/sea creature theme, which you can read about here

This year, I found I'd run out of sea creatures to make from my go-to book:

and switched, instead, to insects: 
butterfly, water-beetle, ladybug and caterpillar. 

Their legs are bendy wire, so they can be posed in er... more natural surroundings.

The ladybug is Emily's favorite critter - "so forlorn!" she says.

Here's a shot that shows how well 100% wool felt holds up under edge-stitching (blanket stitch, in this case) - no pilling or tearing or any of the other tragedies that befall craft felt (aka eco felt aka acrylic felt).

Next up are Jenna's and Kate's back-to-school gifts - 
and more on the different kinds of felt there are on the market.

Tuesday, September 29, 2015


I have bicultural kids. 
Have I ever mentioned that before?

It's very interesting, this idea of biculturalism. 
Random strangers have come up to me and commented on my kids. 
"They're mixed!" They say.
Or, "Is their dad White?"
Or, "Can they speak Korean?"

Sometimes -particularly if they themselves have bi- (or tri- or quadra -) cultural kids - they even engage me in lengthy discussions on dominant vs. recessive genes or whether they emerged at birth with hair that color.

Or - and not just once - I was even encouraged to "have more children because they're so beautiful!" 

Total strangers.
In Target. 
Or the parking lot.
On in line for snacks at the pool.

I accept their compliments and get on with my errands. In a place like Minnesota, where folks are - frustratingly - vague, a break from phatic communion is sometimes refreshing. I do not get offended - these people might have been overly effusive and a tad TMI but they had not meant any harm. Besides, if you have bicultural kids, you will understand that there are far more pertinent issues in their lives than hair color and at what age their features began to morph towards one direction of their ethnic heritage over the other. 

Like how rich their lives may be because they have influences from two (or more) countries of origin, languages, cuisines, climates, faiths, political worlds.

And how these multiple viewpoints can also bring conflict when they're trying to define their concept of home and identity. Everyone, irrespective of their cultural heritage, is going to have to figure themselves out someday, but multicultural kids have that extra layer of drama to add to the mix - those invisible threads woven into their very psyche, which make their individual lives as global and national and other as they are personal.

Like how similar they are to their friends whose parents grew up in the same small town in northern Minnesota, and also how similar they are to their other friends who've moved here from India, or Russia, or New York, or Virginia. And how, at the same time, how different they are from the neighbors next door, simply because their parents are unique individuals with unique parenting styles and personalities.

Do I love having bicultural kids?
Over having non-bicultural kids? 
No. I don't know; I've never had any other kind.

Do I feel obliged to teach them the language of my country of origin (not Korea, by the way)? 
Uh, we speak English in Singapore. Quite well, in fact, when we feel like it (other times we use a horrendous mix of English and our three other national languages that often and immediately -albeit unintentionally - makes visitors feel acutely left out of entire conversations). That particular pidgin form of English I don't care to teach my children, thank you very much.

Do I feel obliged to enroll them in a Chinese-immersion school so they can communicate with their maternal grandparents in Singapore?
Let's see. . . do you mean the grandparents who speak English (and at least two other languages), watch MLB on cable, bake apple pies and pastries and roasts and boast a formidable collection of music LPs from the days of Bob Dylan, Elvis, Abba, Loretta Lynn and Mitch Miller? I don't believe that might be necessary.

My children may be bicultural by birth, but they're going to have to grow into that mantle their own way and in their own time, and find out what it means to have feet planted in two worlds. It will be a fantastic journey. And they might be surprised to discover there are more of them - kindred spirits - out there than they might have initially thought.

Kate has been watching me make my new line of multicultural Owie Dolls this week. She's asked if she could request a custom order, as her sisters have Owie Dolls and she doesn't.

"I want mine to have fair skin, green eyes and tan hair," she'd dictated. 

"So she'll look just like you?" I'd wondered aloud, half in jest.

"Yup," she'd replied, utterly sincere.

Oh, to be seven again.

Some years back, before any of my kids were in school, I'd wondered if I might one day have The Conversation with them - you know, the one about how they look different from the other kids at school. 

It hasn't happened yet. 

Their classrooms are filled with children from so many different cultures that everyone is different from everyone else. How fabulous. And I especially love that, with many of those kids, I can't even tell by looking at them, what their ethnicity is, or if their parents were from the same village in China, or Norway, or both, or if their skin tone is that way because they were blessed with it from birth, of if they are merely holding on to the lingering effects of the summer sun. 

In a world without borders, it seems even our classrooms - microcosms of the larger community - are changing. 

Yesterday, I stuffed sixteen doll arms. Kate saw them, held her own arm against the disembodied limbs and commented, "I don't match any of these."

Maybe not, but somewhere on the planet - or down the street - someone has a skin tone that might. And, unlike these dolls, whose culturalism is literally only skin-deep, those folks have just-as-colorful lives to accompany it.

P.S. Almost forgot to mention the purpose for all these disembodied arms: rumor has it that the new Owie Doll kits will be available in early October. And possibly seven new dolls in the shop. I'll keep you posted!

Sunday, September 27, 2015

This is not it

It appears I am back online.


So, I finished a new bag yesterday.

This is not the Time Warp Tutorial Series, by the way.

This is the Time Warp Tutorial series (see? It's still happening):

Which is infinitely more technical and professional-looking and proper and wonderful to behold than the bag I made yesterday.

Not that the bag in question is hideous, no - not by any definition, I don't think.

It's just that I've been doing a disproportionate amount of Not-For-Me sewing lately, and I decided I needed a pity party. And then Kate had me babysit her slouch bag last Sunday while she was in Sunday School and I realized
  • hey, this is actually a pretty neat bag
  • I don't actually own a floppy shoppingbagish tote like this and, therefore
  • I wanted a bag like this, but in grown-up fabric

So I printed out my own pattern from my own blog (because, of course, I apparently didn't save my paper templates after making all those slouch bags last Christmas) and followed my own instructions and made myself a bag. 

And I carried it around all day yesterday and today, like it was an extension of the clothes I was wearing.

And it already has battle scars stains from chucking it onto all kinds of surfaces, which I would never have done with my real bags - the kind with vinyl and interfacing and good topstitching and proper machine tension and hardware and which didn't take only hours to make.

Like the Time Warp ones.

Which are going to make imminent appearances here.


I promise.

Thursday, September 24, 2015

Almost a month

since we last met here. I thought it would be fun to ignore the blog for a whole month to see if the world ended.

It didn't.

Which proves that there is life outside of social media.

Which I secretly suspected, but daren't say in case all my friends ostracized me.

School is in full swing and I'm sorta off sewing. At least, I'm off machine-sewing. It seems like too much work when one feels more like moping around the house, missing outdoor swimming and all the other happy things of summer.

I have, however, been hand-stitching. So cathartic. I always feel like I'm 9 years old again, making my little felt stuffed toys for my classmates, whenever I do this. These are the kids' back-to-school lunchbox gifts, a tradition I shot myself in the foot by starting. 

Two themes this year: critters and Shopkins. 

You're familiar with Shopkins, yes? They're those addictive, overpriced pencil toppers that are, unfortunately, somewhat cute. See here:

More photos later!

Friday, August 28, 2015

Sewing To Empower

Hello friends!

Today I want to reintroduce you to Jen, a.k.a. Daljeet, my lovely childhood friend who co-wrote that long-ago drafting series for children with me

Drafting Better

and whose own drafting and garment-making skill I cannot say enough of. 

This is the Jen who got me started in drafting and garment sewing at the tender age of 13 (as well as shoes, but that is another story for another day). This is also the same Jen with whom I go fabric and notion shopping in Singapore whenever we make a trip back to visit Mum and Dad, and whose impeccable Mandarin Dress was featured in the 2011 Fabric-by-Fabric One Yard Wonders book. 

And this is the Jen who lives in Kuala Lumpur, the capital city of Malaysia, where she runs a custom-tailoring business, produces small-batch samples for designers and has a fashion line to her name.

This is also the Jen with whom, were we living in the same country, I'd co-author a drafting book someday. We'd talked about it, yes - a long time ago. But, you know, life and small children and education and business and sewing don't leave much time for writing, especially something as technical as drafting. Our minds dream things. . . but our hands change diapers. Motherhood is possessive that way.

But let me tell you briefly about Jen's latest labor of love - to set up a training and sewing workshop to teach foundational drafting and sewing. Her vision and goal: to equip and apprentice women in her community to sew for themselves and make a living with those skills. Upon completion of the relevant courses in her workshop, these students can do either of two things. One is to continue under her tutelage to learn intermediate skills. The other is to become a paid apprentice within her own company, or be referred for employment in other socially-conscious designing businesses in need of trained employees.

While this training "school" is open to all, some of the training spots are reserved as free opportunities to empower women-without-means to learn a skill that will potentially give them more options for employment and self-sustenance. Jen plans to work with orphanages, foster homes and other community institutions to nominate interested and suitable candidates for these opportunities.

She's started an Indiegogo (like Kickstarter) crowdsourcing campaign to fund this vision - you can read about it here. There you will find more info on this program, donation how-tos and other practical ways you can support her - donating drafting software or sewing machines, for instance. Please spread the the word for us!

Here is a link to her Facebook page, where she posts updates on her business and this newest venture. Thank you, all!

Friday, August 21, 2015

Coupla Bags

It's so hard to be productive in the summer, isn't it?

It's a trade-off: wonderful outdoor lighting but no time to make anything to take photos of.

Just last week, I was thinking back over what we'd actually done this summer and I realized how different the last couple of years have been than the ones before. In the old days, when my kids were babies and toddlers and preschoolers, our summers were one big parent-centered entertainment fiesta. Or, for that matter, the other months were, too: every day is a No School Day for babies and toddlers, right? We'd wake up early (because the kids did) and fix everyone breakfast, and spoonfeed it to them. We'd pack everyone in strollers or wagons, along with all the sippy cups in the house and enough finger food to feed a small country, to take a short walk around the block, pausing to watch caterpillars crawl across the road or a dog sniff a bush. We'd strap everyone into backward-facing car seats and make mini-trips to mom haunts: the soft foam playground, the Open Gym For Small Feet, the Monday Mom Meetings at the park. We'd research all the free admission attractions and religiously memorize the schedule, and doggedly get in line because there was no way we were paying full price when our kids would need naps the minute we got in the door. 

And then there were the Organized Crafts - buckets of markers and crayons and foam stickers and construction paper and glue sticks and pipe cleaners and tempera paint and macaroni and googly eyes. Our kitchen table was buried under them. Our floor was littered with them. And our sofa still vomits them out, indigestible mementos from a bygone era, when we turn out the cushions for vacuuming even now. 

How I don't miss those days. 

In the past two years, however, our summers have changed. We sleep in and let the kids make their own breakfast (and clear the table). We don't have bags of frozen chicken nuggets in our freezer for a never-changing lunch. The kids ride themselves around the block on their bikes, and visit the neighbors to invite them to ride themselves around the block with them. They plan their own playdates. They make their own schedules. They call and Facetime their friends to keep in touch. They plan their own birthday parties. They have extra-curricular activities that don't involve me as their instructor. We swim when we want, eat when we're hungry, read when we're bored, and entertain ourselves. We have conversations in sentences and paragraphs, literal and figurative, concrete and abstract. 

And we pay the admission for museums and zoos and other attractions - because we actually spend enough time there to make it worth it. 

Even their meltdowns and bickering - yes, those still happen - are different. They're eloquent and logical, more about my space vs. your space and my rights vs. your rights than I'm So Freaking Tired And Overstimulated That I Can't Stop Screaming.

Somehow, behind my back, the children have grown up. 

When I was in my Weird Clothes years - you know, when you seem to be perpetually pregnant and/or nursing and for modesty's sake you just throw on whatever sack isn't in the dirty laundry hamper at the time - I was secretly afraid my babies would morph overnight into Children (uncute) and Tweens (uncouth). So I tried to savor their fuzzy peach heads and chubby wrists and grape toes and jellybean bodies and willed time to slow down, slow down, slow down. I will never get them back, I moaned. I will lose these years forever. I will forget what a baby smells like. 

And I did. 

But so what?

I'd never have believed it, back when I was tethered by strands of sentiment to my sweetly napping infants, but these Older Years are just as wonderful. And they take away some of the fear that the teenage years and the college years and the adult years will be weird and awful and somehow deficient. How can they be, I reason with myself, if they belong to these same children who are blossoming into fuller, richer human beings?

So we're coasting along now, enjoying these golden days of sunshine, choosing as-and-whens over must-dos. At some point, I will need to start planning Halloween costumes -at least one child already has an opinion of what she wants to be. And I am happy to say that at least one child has also decided not to have a birthday party, opting instead to spend a day out with a few close friends. And everyone has started ice-skating lessons because living in Minnesota and not knowing how to ice-skate is like living in Singapore and not knowing how to swim. But that's about as structured as our time out of school has been. I'll be honest and say that I do feel frustrated some days when it's suddenly midnight and the dishes are still in the sink and I haven't sewn anything for days or responded to the business emails in my inbox and I can't remember where the hours went. It's just that overly-focused part of me reacting to being carried away by the easy flow of summer. 

I tell it to Chill, Already.

But sometimes, when the flow pauses long enough to sneak down into the sewing room, I make a bag.

This one was designed entirely to demonstrate the famed Recessed Zipper technique. No other reason.

And this is the penultimate Time Warp Bag.

If it were solids, I'd turn out a bag like this in a couple of days, max. 

But when I work with print, it takes five times as long. It's scary how quickly your eye is drawn to misalignment; when everything lines up, your mind sweeps over it without noticing because that's the way it should be, but when it's off, you can't stop looking because somewhere in your brain, it's a disconnect, an anomaly in the natural order.

This bag was designed entirely to demonstrate the Zippered Expanding-Compartment technique.

But with all those different straps, it's also a bag that can be used in lots of fun ways.

I have one more to go, which is thankfully less fiddly than either of these two. And I can wrap up the sewing and begin the photo formatting. And then we shall have tutorials!