Saturday, December 31, 2011

And what of the new year?

This is the time of the year when I look back and wonder where the time went, and what I actually accomplished, and whether next year I'm going to sew exactly the same kinds of bags and dresses as I did this year. And also whether I'm going to do the same old on the blog as I did in 2011, and the year before that, and the year before that. Yes, friends: once again, 'tis the winter of my discontent.

Some people have sewing blogs. They're focused and they're singularly productive in turning out garments and bags and toys and curtains and bedlinen. Some people have quilting blogs, and they design block after block of gorgeous color and ingenious matches. Some people have crafting blogs and they make stuff I can't stop pinning. Some people cook and bake and I gain pounds just looking at their photos. Yum. And some people are a bit all over the place. They sew a bit and get bored. They make cardboard toys and get bored. They draw silly cartoons and get bored. Secretly they actually just want to go swimming, which is never boring. 

Aaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaah. That would be me. 

This coming year, I need to be challenged -again- because, honestly, I'm bored. I already said that last year, so even saying it now is boring. In 2011, I managed to fill the days with all manner of odd things to make, and dug out some ancient unfinished projects and actually finished them, by gum! Throughout the year, I'd been fighting the sense that all I was doing was playing catch-up with old projects. I told myself stuff like, "if you don't finish those dolls, or those bibs (ha ha ha ha ha! My eldest, for whom I cut them out, is now seven, for heaven's sake) or alter those pants, you have no right to start that new ambitious project." So I finished them. Like squeezing blood from stone, I finished them. And now, as I don't think I have any more outstanding incomplete projects, I might just be able to peek around the corner into 2012 and start planning my crafting year on a fresh slate.

Which brings me to creativity. What should I make? Or, more helpfully, in which medium should I make it? Fabric? Cardboard? Pen-and-ink? Electronics? Yarn? Dried squid skin and thumb tacks? 

Fabric is more stylish, of course, and sells better (than cardboard, and certainly squid skin), and is easier to buy in different varieties. I've made some wacky things on my sewing machine in the distant past but they are nothing compared to the cardboard ideas I have to beat down every day just so I can put dinner on the table at a decent time. I still want to make that full-size rocking horse from cardboard some day, for instance. Even the kids think I'm nuts, and who can blame them? "It's not strong enough to sit on!" they feebly counter. Oh yes it is, my sweet children - you don't esteem cardboard quite highly enough. At least not as well as you will by the time you have kids of your own. We've only been scratching the (corrugated) surface all this time. 

When I first thought about it, I postulated that all this listlessness stemmed from my having been sewing for just too many years. It's that horrible proverbial plateau everyone dreads will happen to them, an attenuation of sorts (to borrow a Physics term). This may sound silly, but there are times when I get comments from people who have just started -or resumed sewing after a long hiatus - and I envy their enthusiasm and excitement. My husband, who listens to my craft complaints, reads my blogs and solves my computer and camera problems, thinks I should try a new craft field. Like fine art. Or pickling. Or anything, really, that doesn't involve gigantic cardboard boxes to infest the basement. Interestingly, we also ruled out knitting/crochet (gigantic skeins of yarn), soap making (gigantic tubs of lye), pottery (gigantic kiln) and upholstering (gigantic industrial sewing machine). Not a bad idea in itself, taking up a new craft, but - here's the irony - I've been playing with cardboard even longer than I've been sewing, and I'm not bored with it. So what gives?

I often think that there is a limit to creativity in fabric that is absent in cardboard. I mean, we're all still in very safe waters where sewing is concerned- same bags, same dresses, same pants, some dolls, same patterns, same vintage remakes. New designer prints to quicken the pulse a bit, yes, but we're still bouncing off one another's safe, cute, easy ideas, aren't we? And no, it does not count to take gorgeouser and gorgeouser photos of the same bags, dresses, pants, dolls, patterns and vintage remakes. My new year wish for the crafty/sewing blogging community is this: let's raise the ceiling this year. Remember Jodie's Selvedge Frock? I remember how good it felt for my jaw to hit the floor when I saw it. Bless her. I've seen nothing close to that ingenuity in sewing blogland since, frankly. Please don't misunderstand, friends- I've seen amazing and clever and beautiful things on blogs and in books this year and have had many of those "why didn't I think of that?" moments. And I've even made a couple things from other people's ideas because they were so much fun. But I'm not talking about a new little novel project that I'd pin or bookmark - I mean, when I saw Jodie's frock, it never crossed my mind to try and make my own selvedge frock, or selvedge zippered pouch or zippered crayon roll or whatever. Its jaw-hit-the-floor-ness was entirely based on its making me sit up, and wanting to try something new and different with my own craft simply because someone else pushed the limits of her field a little farther out of reach, and made it all the more enticing for it.

It's easy with cardboard, but I want to do that with fabric, too. Push the limits, I mean. Just as I've done by moving to and living in the US these past years, I almost feel as if I need to move to another country for a while and immerse myself in their fabric and sewing culture. I'd love to be able to sew the clothes that are popular there, or study the way they manipulate fabric into garments and other products. I don't mean buying a couple of sewing magazines from, say, Japan, because I already have magazines like those and I haven't felt inspired to sew Japanese frocks. Wait- unless it's a kimono, I mean. A real kimono. You think? 

A couple of months ago, I was at the birthday party of one of Jenna's classmates. His mom is Vietnamese and she had a sewing machine and a serger in her house. We talked a bit about sewing - she sewed clothes professionally when she first came to the US, but doesn't now. I also found out that, like me (and practically all of Asia, really), she doesn't use patterns and can't understand them, so she drafts from people's measurements, too. "It's how we were taught." We said to each other, sadly, as if it were some kind of genetic defect. He he he. So what is it like to sew in Italy? In Africa? In Russia? In Korea? In Mexico? People leave comments all the time, saying they covet the fabric we have in the US. Well, I covet your sewing culture, wherever you are. It's different and new and fabulous and you have so much to teach me. 

I'll tell you what else it feels like, though - it feels like my girls are growing up and moving on from handmade pigs and chickens and table tents and strawberry shortcake costumes. They are asking for cardboard toys more than fabric stuff. Kate (she's the three-year-old) had this conversation with me yesterday morning:
K: Mum, can you make a Barbie castle?
Me: What's that, Kate?
K: A Barbie castle! You know!
Me: How do you make that?
K: You take cardboard and tape and you make it! Pleeeeeeease? Wight now?

So that's where we are this year-end. Thought I'd just share. Sorry for getting all introspective on you all. I have projects planned out, of course, for 2012, that have nothing at all to do with the sentiment in this post but they're just projects. They're not the essence -or the embodiment- of creativity by any stretch of the imagination. And the last thing I want is to fill my year with more of those Just Projects. So come on in, 2012 - and bring something awesome with (as they say in Minnesota)! And you, lovely readers, tell me what you're planning for your new year!

Tuesday, December 27, 2011

Round Stack

Now that Christmas is over, I'll show you what I did make for gifts. What's incredible is
  1. all my handmade gifts fit into one post (and the previous RD2 one)
  2. it was one week before Christmas and I was taking photos outdoors. In Minnesota!!!!!!!!! 
How crazy is that?

You've all seen Erin's brilliant little circular earbud pouch, right? I fell in love with its shape immediately upon seeing it. And in spite of imposing a sewing ban on myself this entire Christmas/advent (did you notice?), I decided that these would be a happy exception - they were round, they were simple and they were the cutest things I'd seen in a long time. And fast. I finished all of them in two days, from cutting to hand-stitching the vinyl, to snipping of the last threads.

Look- it's the designer gallery of fame - 
Jessica Jones, Heather Ross and Amy Butler, 
bookended by the peerless Orla.

Love Orla.

Those were for the girls.

The boys had all the fun stuff this year! 
Faux leather aka vinyl 
(the topstitching had to be done by hand)

and neoprene. 
I've been dying to sew with neoprene.

The naysayers were right, though - neoprene isn't friendly. I needed a roller foot for this thickness of neoprene (4mm), which I didn't have, of course. So I made my serger do the dirty work. And I'm still not satisfied. Maybe in the new year I'll work on my neoprene-with-home-sewing-machine technique a bit more. Or buy myself an industrial machine. I've been coveting one for a very long time.

I kept this one, and gave the rest away. 

Two other gifts - some tea towels trimmed with ribbon, from the kids to their teachers and grandparents. This idea came from here.
It's a great gift idea, not only because it is infinitely practical, but even the kids could sew them. Emily and Jenna picked their ribbons and sewed theirs, and I sewed Kate's (she picked her ribbons).

The tea towels were accompanied by these homemade cookies, blogged about here.

I am happy to say that once sewing sanctions are lifted in chez ikatbag, I might finally start some real sewing! Like a qipao top for the Chinese New Year! With those frog buttons that are half-made (as is almost everything around here). Hope your Christmas was lovely and restful!

Monday, December 26, 2011

Geek Shirt

Everyone's favorite droid

on a no-sew shirt for the husband for Christmas.

Freezer-paper stencil, in case you were wondering.

Love it even in relief.

With paint - very Vader-esque, actually.

In spite of how it looks, it took me a lot less time than I thought it would. It was printed, cut, ironed, cut, peeled and wrapped in less than 4 hours (excluding overnight drying time, I mean). Faster than sewing anything. Packing the kids in the car to go shopping for the Tshirt took longer than that.

Thanks to Holly for the stencil art - in a serendipitous late-night email correspondence, we got to talking about Star Wars stenciling. You should see her son's Star Wars Lego shirt. And this other Clone Trooper shirt. And - be still, my heart - the Millennium Falcon shirt. And then she sent me this R2 to work with. I had so much fun with it that I don't think I'll enjoy anything less intricate than this in the future. Help. 

Saturday, December 24, 2011

The Lights Project - Trainville

Day #9 and we are wrapping up the Lights Project!

No Science lesson - I've nothing more to share that you might need - so we're just playing today.




There's the station with the stoplight;

the train,

with its engine

and little cars

loading up at the station.

All aboard -

and ready to go!

Two years, it took me. Not because it was hard, but because I had to stop and go shopping for parts, and find times in the day/night to finish it in secret. And I got distracted by, I dunno, sewing. It went through so many mental revisions and finally, for the sake of actually finishing it, I just kept the train, the two stations and the tunnel. 

I threw out (mentally) the rails, the motor and gears (for making the train run on its own), the rotating train house, the ginormous fold-up playscape, the roads, the turnarounds, the cardboard trees and houses, the little barricades, the lighted street lamps ..... it would never end, all those details.

We have a modest little wooden train set, which the girls sometimes play with. But nobody can actually ride in the little Thomas/Ikea/Imaginarium trains, you know? And my girls, with their clans of prettyrellas and peg dolls and playmobil and Little People, like loading them up in vehicles and zooming them off on adventures. We made Carville a long time ago, in response to that. I'd wanted to make Trainville then, too. Well, I'm not working on it anymore- it's done. And my girls are two entire years older since I first designed it for them. How did that happen?

Here's the tunnel, which is the very last project in our experiments with those Ikea STRALA lights. It's just cardboard, hot glued together.

It's hollow

so the lights can be installed

and lit.

Why didn't I install lights in the train, too? Ah, because I made the train two years go, friends. At the time, I didn't even know you could buy battery-operated light sets like the STRALA ones. If I'd made them this month, for the Lights Project, they would most definitely have had lights.

And that playscape - instead of building it all for them (as I would have had to, two years ago when they were teeny), I gave the kids the blank canvas to design their landscape. 

There are the train tracks I saw in my mind - I knew they'd turn up one way or the other!

The girls have just started, so it's still very bare. I'm hoping that eventually it will take on a decent character like the Carville playscape.

No, I'm sorry but I'm not doing a tutorial for the train. It was so long ago that I don't even remember how I made it. If you look at the photos, you'll probably get some ideas. All I know is there are toilet rolls and paper towel rolls involved, and some bent wire to hook-and-release the train cars. I hope you try it, though. I also hope you remember to put lights in it. May you finish yours sooner than I did!

And -would you believe it - it's Christmas Eve! Did you enjoy experimenting with circuits and lights with us? My guests and I had a lot of fun with our projects, and we hope we've given you some ideas on what to do when your kids get to that age when - like mine - finger-painting and popsicle-stick crafts and scented homemade playdoh no longer excite them. We're always cardboarding and (when the mood strikes) circuit-ing around here, but I don't often step out and share it on this blog. I mean, it's so very different from sewing that sometimes I wonder if you think I've gone loony when I start frothing like a rabid dog in my excitement over Science and stuff. Also, I initially considered doing this series in January or February when all is bland and unfestive. But I wanted to catch you before you unthinkingly threw out all those shipping boxes that were sent to your door by the Cardboard Fairies. And perhaps Target - or IKEA - will have a post-Christmas sale at which you can snag light strings for pittance. One hopes. 

And on this note, I bid you a glorious Christmas! I hope you get to play a lot with the kids (if yours are still small enough to play goofy games with, I mean) this weekend!