Monday, May 31, 2010


No, I don't mean the high-tech social networking
I mean, literally, books of faces:

******** Do NOT copy these photos of my kids! *********

When I was a guidance counselor and worked
with troubled kids, we sometimes found it difficult to
get them to tell us how they were feeling. The very
little kids were taught to roughly group their feelings
into Glad, Sad, Mad and Bad. The older kids were able
to add more specific emotions to those broad categories.
Sometimes, though, they were experiencing such a mixed
bag of feelings inside that they couldn't even pick one.
And sometimes they didn't even want to talk. So we
employed a variety of tools and methods to help them feel
comfortable and find a way to say what they needed to.

One of my favorite tools was this set of
The Bears Cards -
the full-bodied bears in different postures were easy for
kids to relate to. I really liked that the bears were full-
bodied and not just faces, because a person's body
reveals so much more about how their day/year/life
is going than just what their face does. These cards
were used for opening conversations about feelings
as well as talking about strengths, which was
so helpful in building resilience.

I also made a different kind of cards to use with older kids

based on a (then) very popular collection of these
circular faces that was circulating as a printout.
I don't know where it originated or where to get it now,
unfortunately. They were nowhere as fabulous as the
Bears cards, especially for young children,
because they were only faces.

(Jenna has adopted this set as her own, simply because
she loves anything in a set, and especially
anything in a set that looks like cookies).

But faces are still good, especially if they are the kids'
own faces! So I thought we'd make another version of
those face cards, not so much for psychological purposes,
but more for playing and general parenting.

First we took a series of photos of each of the kids.
We made a list of common feelings/emotional states:

  • happy
  • excited
  • sad
  • sick
  • angry
  • disappointed
  • confused
  • calm
  • tired/sleepy
  • scared

and made prints of them.

Then we took some 4"x6" foam sheets lying around
the house (we found them at the dollar store) and
punched holes at the top. You could use anything -
cardstock, old cereal boxes, whatever. We just had
these lying around the house. We also unearthed
some of my old ring things (what do you call them?).

Then we made a cardboard stand - ours was 4" x 6.5" -
a little longer than the foam sheets so they didn't stick
out at the bottom. The base was 3" deep, with a fold
in the middle. We also punched holes through both sides.

Then we set the kids to work gluing
their photos on the foam sheets.

We added a cover and then assembled the little flip book.

Jenna uses hers as a restaurant menu, so we
order "Disappointed" or "Excited" as if they
were names of dishes. Funny.

Kate likes to look at her own faces and imitate
her own expressions. It is hilarious to watch.

Other things you can do with this basic idea:
  • Faces of family members - like a flippy photo album
  • Photos of the same child at each birthday - like a flippy Baby Book
  • Photos of classmates - like a flippy autograph book
  • Blank paper for artwork - like a mini flipchart easel
  • Social skills training - teach kids to recognize facial cues so they know how to respond appropriately.
  • Mood indicator - set it on your desk at work with the appropriate face/caricature so people know to come say hello or keep away!
  • Menu for kids' lunches - squid pizza, anyone?

Or make it just for no reason other than to collect
funny faces of your kids before they become teenagers.

**** I know I'm nagging, but do NOT use any photos of my kids' faces, even to link!****

Wednesday, May 26, 2010

Butter and Slate

Not very good photos today of the buttery yellow linen that is supposed to become a tunic sometime this summer. The actual color is really butter and not this weird balsa wood hue.

So here it is with some grey running stitch. And some other stitches in white I was experimenting with: wheat-ear on the left and herringbone on the right.

And this was what I initially thought I'd do with the neckline placket and cuffs (and maybe the side slit placket):

But then I changed my mind and wondered if I should just do embroidery on those same places, since I am still in my Top-Stitch Everywhere And Then Some mood. Embroidery is more modern and edgy and East India Company but that vintage cotton lace is pretty, if a bit dressy. What do you all think:

A Embroidery
B Lace
C Just go to Target and buy a tunic, for heaven's sake


Sunday, May 23, 2010


Wednesday is Emily's last day of preschool. Naturally I am an emotional wreck, wailing "where has the time gone?" and "but I just gave birth to her!" and generally overreacting. But she had a great year, and exceptional teachers, one of whom we lost early in the year to cancer. As part of said emotional overreaction to everything, I sent out these pieces of canvas to the kids in Emily's class, along with fabric markers, so they could draw pictures of themselves.
Then I went shopping at Home Depot for these PVC pipe bits

to make this frame.

Then I sewed all the fabric pieces together, found some print fabric (by Jessica Jones) in my stash and made a hack of those Reisenthel baskets I can't get enough of (I have two, and I want more).

But really, the kids' artwork was so phenomenal that I could have just stuck it all on a poster board and it would have been fabulous. Still, I thought a market basket (or something to throw school supplies in to cart from room to room) might be more practical.

So much fun to make. The PVC frame is inferior to the lightweight aluminum Reisenthel basket's in several ways: it is heavier, and the handle does not fold down. But I take my hat off to the folks at Home Depot - I brought my Reisenthel (and my three children) there, accosted the electrical guy (poor man was the first one who met me at the door) and said, "I need to make this. What do you have that I can make the frame out of?"

Then we brainstormed, me and the electrical guy. And we conceptualized the PVC frame and I went home and sawed away (used the wrong blade, no less) and fixed it up. I can't remember the last time I brainstormed with any of the JoAnn staff.

In anticipation of your questions, should you ever want to make this:

Q What fabric did you use?
A Canvas, duckcloth and fusible craft-weight interfacing (aka craft fuse) on the lining layer and the printed fabric which was floppy.

Q And what else?

Some 1/2" foam to pad the handle,

five metal purse feet and PVC glue for the pipes. And some drawstring cord for the piping around the base.
Q What keeps it from collapsing?
A Faith. No, seriously - a flexible
Ikea cutting board -from this I cut the base board (it is hidden between the outer layer and lining) and four supporting spines for the sides of the basket.

Q And what pattern did you use?

A Made my own to fit the frame. Used simple geometry.

Q And what special feet did you attach to your sewing machine?

A None. Used the regular presser foot most of the time, and the zipper foot for the piping.

Q And was it cheaper than the Reisenthel?

A Let's just say that I didn't do this to save money. Especially not after already buying two Reisenthels. I did this for the teachers and the kids. But well, let's total everything up. All the PVC stuff came to about $8 per basket. The glue - a few bucks. The fabric and interfacing - I'd say maybe $10 per basket. The foam - a few cents. The Ikea cutting board - $1 per basket. That would make it about $20 per basket.

Q I'm disinclined to go shopping at the hardware store. Can I buy a ready-made frame?
A Sure, if you want to mass-produce Reisenthel hacks - try here. Or if don't mind a much-poorer finish aluminum frame with two handles (they fold down), Target has a smaller, zippered-cover picnic tote for $10 that you can buy and throw the fabric part away.

Q Will you be doing a tutorial?

A And deprive you of the fun of putting it together in your head yourselves? Heavens, no.

Come Wednesday, the kids will get to see what their artwork has become. I can't wait. They are such amazing kids. And the teachers, of course - they'll get to keep their baskets!

Saturday, May 22, 2010

Fancy Feet I Don't Have

This is the post in which I act as if I know what I'm talking about.

I've been asked several times what sort of feet or tools I use to do certain things when I sew. In the process of thinking of how to answer, I've been struck by a recurring theme: people often think that you need special equipment in order to do things. Or, putting it another way, if you don't have Tool XYZ, you can't do piping, or ribbing, or invisible zippers, or whatever.

My sewing machine has three feet (it has a couple more but I don't know what they are and I've never used them because I am hopeless) that I use:

Regular presser foot

Zipper foot (mine allows you to use both sides)

Buttonhole foot

My sewing machine is a Pfaff, so it comes with an built-in walking foot, which I use a lot without even realizing it. Here it is - that black thing on the left side of the photo. Here it is not engaged:

And here it is engaged:

I thought I'd just share how I work with these:

1 Invisible Zippers
Coates will have you believe that you need an invisible zipper foot for inserting invisible zippers. I use my normal zipper foot. When I lay my zipper tape along the sewing line, I machine-sew a line of long stitches (basting stitches) at the edge of the zipper tape, far away from the coils, to hold the tape in place. Then I use the normal zipper foot, hug the coils so they open up, and sew. When I'm done, I pull out the long basting stitches or I leave them in if they're hidden in the garment lining. Incidentally, invisible zippers are very easy to insert. Easier than regular zippers, in fact - I never need to hand-baste in an invisible zipper, but I always do regular zippers.

2 Piping
I don't have a piping foot. I use my zipper foot. Again, I sew a line of basting stitches at the edge of the piping tape to hold it in position before I hug the piping cord with the zipper foot.

3 Bias Binding
I don't have a bias binding foot. I've thought of buying one, but after asking around, I got the impression that it did not significantly improve the ease or the result of sewing with it. So I just sew bias tape the usual way - with a regular presser foot and hand-basting.

4 Finishing Raw Edges of Seam Allowances
Sergers are all the rage now. I own one, and I like having and using it. Sometimes certain fabrics make the loops come out like worms. So then I hate it. I've only had my serger for 4 years. All these past decades of sewing, I've used the zig-zag stitch on my sewing machine and I've been perfectly happy with it. In fact, there are times now when I deliberately choose a zig-zag edge finish over a serged finish, simply because the serger can't get into tight curves the same way a sewing machine can. So if you have a serger, good for you. If you don't, and feel you want one because you want to branch into professional sewing, that's good too. But if you don't own one but feel you're missing out, don't. It's not the fancy tools that make the seamstress. People in the old days were outstanding seamstresses and they used treadle or hand-crank machines. Or sewed by hand.

5 Applique
I don't own an applique foot. Although at one point in my life, I was convinced that I needed one to do "nice applique". I've unbrainwashed myself now. I use a regular presser foot and a close zig-zag stitch. And I turn the fabric a lot.

6 Pleats
I don't own a pleating foot. I measure my pleats, pin them, and sew straight across to hold them in place. If they are tiny pleats, I use my seam ripper.

7 Gathers
Is there a gathering foot? I dunno. I use the longest stitch on my sewing machine and do TWO rows (about a quarter inch apart) - one on either side of the actual sewing line. Then I pull to evenly gather to size. Then I sew ON the actual sewing line, between the two rows of gathered stitches, which fixes the gathers in place. Then you pull out the rows of gathering stitches so they don't appear in the finished garment. Here is what I mean - the green stitches are the gathering stitches, and the brown stitches are the actual sewing line. The gathers are awful and irregular and hideous, but they would have been worse if I had sewed only one row of green stitches.
Note: This is just one of many methods of gathering. You can use differential tension in your sewing machine (top tension different from bottom tension) to gather fabric too. I must try that someday.

8 Ribbing and elastic stretchy knit stuff
I use a ball-point needle for knits and stretchy stuff. It isn't sharp like a regular needle so it doesn't catch the fabric. I do use elastic thread for shirring. Otherwise I don't use any special stitches or feet or thread when I sew regular stitches on knits. If I am sewing necklines that need to stretch to go over heads, I stretch the ribbing (cut smaller than the neckline) to fit the neckline; I don't stretch the neckline. Same for fold-over elastic: I stretch the elastic (cut smaller than the waist) to fit the waist. Pull both ends of the ribbing/elastic - both behind and in front of the presser foot as you sew, unless you have a walking foot, which does the behind-pulling for you.

Last Word:
My only suggestion is to invest in a walking foot, if you can, and if your sewing machine doesn't have it built in. It holds fabric layers so nicely together so they don't pucker or slide as they go under the presser foot. It isn't only for quilting (which I never do). I use it when I make many-layered thick-fabric bags, work with elastic and slippery fabrics and zippers. My walking foot is built into my sewing machine shank system, so I can engage it together with whichever foot I'm using - the zipper foot, for instance.

Last-Last Word:
Obviously, it is a good thing if you already own fancy feet and enjoy using them. That's what they were created for - to simplify or facilitate specific sewing tasks. I've been tempted to buy a couple fancy feet myself but always laziness or the relative difficulty of getting clip-on Pfaff feet (without going on ebay or to my dealer) has indefinitely postponed our happy meeting. Sometimes sewers who have just bought their first machine, or are just beginning to sew can be overwhelmed by all the gizmos that promise to turn them into better seamstresses. Perhaps after reading this you might be a little bit more confident that you can do a whole lot of stuff without fancy feet.

What tips do you have for sewing without fancy feet?

Pop-up Cards

Had this post sitting on my dashboard for ages
-forgot all about it.

Here's another very simple paper craft the girls did
the other day - pop-up cards. My kids like anything
that seems magical, and 3D is magical to them. We started
out folding some lined filler paper accordian-style.
We used the lined paper because it was thin and
the lines help with the regularity of the pleats.

Then we cut each folded sheet into narrow strips,
drew a picture on a card, and stuck (with glue) the
folded paper on one half of the card,
right at the middle fold.

Then we put another line of glue on the other half of the card

and stuck the other short end of the folded
paper to it, to make a fan

like so

and made a few more umbrella cards.

Then we drew ballerinas and made tutus.

We stopped at ballerinas and umbrellas, although you
could go on to other things like mushrooms, flowers,
carousel roofs, flowerpots, wigs......

Then we tried another, different kind of pop-up card.
We cut out animals and gave them slit mouths. We
folded a diamond around the slit mouth
to make beak-type lips.

Then we stuck the animal with glue on a card, so the
mouth part is along the middle fold of the card
and pops open when the card is closed.

But before gluing the animal down,
we drew worms in the bird's mouth

and bread in the fish's.

There are millions of kinds of pop-up cards out there,
but we picked these two because the kids could make
them pretty much by themselves without much knife-work.
I pleated the filler paper for them, but otherwise they
did what they wanted. And that was how we spent a
particularly rainy morning in our house.