Friday, August 31, 2012


I made myself a bag. 

I never make myself bags -have you noticed? They are always for other people - Mum, Mother-in-law, sister-in-law, daughter's party guests, daughters' teachers, and you, of course. What I actually do carry around with me is some ratty purse thing bought at a store. It's filled with rubbish - children's snacks, old tissue paper, receipts, bank statements, pens, makeup, one pair of emergency earrings - those sorts of things. Why would I need a beautiful bag for stuff like that? I'd sooner give it or sell it to people who actually deserve it.

Unless it was in Orla Kiely fabric.
Then I might be persuaded to keep it. 
After all, my wallet is in Orla. And my ipod pouch is in Orla.  
Might as well have the set, right?

So meet Bella Bag #5.
It has 11 different fabrics in it, of which 5 are real Orla's. 

Like the lining and the straps.

And the trims on the side pockets

and that iconic stem print. It's hard not to recognize that.

Can you tell that I really had fun making this bag?

Some of you asked me where I got the stem fabric. I wish I could say that I'd discovered a store here in the US that stocked Orla Kiely fabrics (ebay does not count) but no. 
The real answer is: from my bed. I bought this and cut part of it up. Most expensive single fabric purchase I'd ever made. Don't worry- I didn't touch the comforter (that's still intact and on the bed). I'm not that crazy. The fabric, however, had to be prepped before it was suitable for a bag. It has a gorgeous sheen and tight weave but it was too thin for a bag. So I backed it with twill. Not interfacing (gag) - just twill. And quilted it, but without the puffy batting. See those stitching lines around the motifs? Each piece of fabric I used had to be stitched to its backing piece of twill this way. The prepped fabric was as robust as twill and felt like twill but looked like the original fabric.

There's a reason for sharing this technique with you. If you've been reading this blog awhile, you might have noticed that I get on my soapbox whenever I can about using the right-weight fabric for bags i.e. home-dec or heavier. I never use quilting cotton, no matter how beautiful because I'd either end up with a flimsy excuse for a tote or something heavily interfaced that still crumples and softens over time and with wear. However, I know I am fighting a losing battle, given the popularity of quilting cotton, so (sigh) if you would still insist on prefer to make bags with quilting cotton, yes, it can be done. Just be willing to quilt it a bit. You could even use sew-in interfacing, although not for the Bella Bag, since interfacing won't work with the gathers. 

Well, let's move on! Let me show you something I really like about this bag: the textured base! It feels like what the straps look like- all scribbly.

Let me show you something else:

See? I'm not selfish. I made you one, too. 

It has the same roomy side pockets,

one of which has that hidden strap with a swivel hook for your keychain, just like mine.

And there's that big back pocket.

Your straps are backed with orange, to match the piping on the side pockets.

It makes me smile, this bag.

Because now, this is my favorite Bella Bag. 

I am aiming to get the Bella Bags in the shop by Labor Day. And I am thinking of auctioning this Stem Bella rather than just putting it in the etsy shop with the other Bellas. I can think of many, many worthy causes that could benefit from an auction like this. So I have a couple of questions for you: if I list it on ebay rather than etsy, do you have an ebay account to bid with? If not, would you be willing to open one just to bid for this bag?

And finally, a pattern update: Stage 2 testing is done and I am planning to work on the pattern this weekend to get it ready for you! Meanwhile, you can see Grandma G's Bella here, which she made from the alpha version of the pattern. It is beyond gorgeous. Hurrah for Jessica Jones! More photos of her bag, plus her review of the pattern coming later on her blog. 

Tuesday, August 28, 2012

We are Woman, hear us roar!

Hello friends!

We are entering the last week of the summer vacation before the kids return to school. Suddenly, there is so much to do! Yesterday morning my previously wide-open week filled up with people calling to squeeze in last-minute playdates. I said no to some and yes to some (I live in Minnesota so I have to be nice). Why do people do this? The last-minute thing, I mean? I try to make my appointments weeks in advance when it involves people. And I'm the world's most accomplished procrastinator!

Yesterday morning, I wrote this status update on FB. What I was doing on FB when I was supposed to be sewing, I don't know.

Honestly, I had very low expectations.
So low, in fact, that at 3 pm, I gave up and went swimming. Why fight it? It was looking like one of those days in which nothing on my to-do list was going to get done anyway. I was a wreck when I left the house: grouchy, headachey, and with one miserable meatloaf in the oven when I secretly wanted lamb rogan josh with basmati rice. 

At the end of the day, the bag was untouched. As expected. However, the laundry was done, the dinner was cooked, the cookies were baked and I went for a run as well as the swim (well, whatever that playful splashing in waist-deep water with children hanging on to various parts of my swimsuit is called).

In other words, motherhood - 1, crafting -0.

Is there a point to all this sickening self-exaltation?

Yes - while looking back over the day's happenings, one thought struck me: I couldn't have done this two years ago. Forgive me- I didn't mean to sound superior. If anything, my jaw dropped in wonder and my heart swelled in gratitude when this realization hit me. Let me explain.

Two years ago, my girls were 5, 3 and 2. My days were full of diapers and naps and washing and wiping and sippy cups and small, messy snacks and potty-training charts. And watching -monitoring, overseeing, checking, double-checking, chasing, entertaining. And, very often, flitting between sick children, medicating, taking temperatures, staying up at nights to clean up barf, chloroxing everything in sight. Read? Only if it's the dosage chart on the backs of Tylenol bottles. Sew? Brahahahaha!! Blog? Only to keep from going freaking insane while missing family back in Singapore.

Mum said in those early baby days, "It gets easier when they get older. Don't worry."
I didn't believe her. It would NEVER get easier. I would always have three children whose ages were 3 years apart between the youngest and oldest. They would always be needing something. I would never have time for anything that wasn't related to the kitchen, the bathroom, the diaper mat, the nursing chair. I would never swim a lap again in my life. I would never be able to leave the house alone to do something as luxurious as running; if I had "time off" because the husband was on child-duty, it was to see the doctor for mastitis. 

And I would never, never, never, ever have made a stupid list like my status update on FB yesterday. It was an inferiority complex, depression (hormone-induced or otherwise) and beating-self-over-the-head-with-someone-else's-glossy-paged-published-craft-book nightmare waiting to happen.

But you know what? Inexplicably and without my realizing it, my babies grew up a bit and became real girls, with full vocabularies and independent streaks and wonderful personalities. They can do things on their own now (some things, anyway). They don't need me in those endearing-yet-debilitating ways that they did when they were stumbling around the house on unsteady feet. Mum was right after all. And I am getting a bit of myself back. Not quite the old LiEr from a decade plus ago, though. This LiEr can't quite do the late nights thing as well as she could and doesn't hang out with very happening people the way she used to and certainly can't keep the pounds off while eating full-fat ice cream and lard-filled roti prata at midnight the way she did when her metabolism actually worked. But I think this is a better LiEr, because she's done the motherhood thing and survived- nay, lived - to celebrate each day since, sticky kitchen floors and zero short-term memory and all.

Many people have left comments or emailed to say the equivalent of, "How do you get so much done?" I never know what to say because anything witty would sound flippant. I know some of you meant it as a compliment and for that, I thank you. But I also sense that, for some of you, maybe it wasn't  just rhetorical. Will you accept, instead of a list of secret tips (which I really don't have), a big hug and my mother's wise words, "It gets easier when they get older"?

Squish your little ones while they are little, friends. Be good stewards of the gift that are these precious- and maddeningly frustrating- early years. Expect nothing more from yourself than getting through the day (as my neighbor so aptly put it) "without losing any of the children". You will swim again, sew again, write again, dress in non-baggy clothes again, hang out with your husband again, dream again. And when that happens, look back and tell someone else that you did it, not by being organized or savvy, but by gripping the edge of sanity by your unmanicured fingernails and letting time take you on a fantastic journey. There are no motherhood success secrets - no personality types more predisposed than others towards avoiding breakdowns because all of us have fallen off the Type A/Type B spectrum from sheer fatigue. The only thing we do have in common is that we are women- and women are made for resilience in the face of repetitive challenges* and for kindness to each other. I've learnt that it's not about being mighty; it's about asking for help and saying thank you when it comes.

My other bit of advice is to go swimming. Really! I'm going through swimming withdrawal symptoms so badly that I've signed myself up for swim lessons in the fall. When I can already swim (but don't tell the instructors that)! Seriously, I'm going to have them teach me some good stuff, like kickturns and the butterfly stroke, both of which I am useless (translation: can only watch other people do it, and drool) at.

And that, friends, is my grand "slice of real life" story for the day. And speaking of Mighty Women, I'd like to share three sites that bring together women bloggers who Write About Stuff. I think you'll enjoy them. They were nice enough to invite me to Say Stuff, which I did, so you'll see me there, but that's beside the point. Enjoy the melting pot of viewpoints, inspiration and personalities, find some new favorite blogs and know that among these women, you are in good company.

First is Whip Up -

Kathreen hosted the mind-blowingly awesome Creativity Series earlier this year, in which she invited bloggers to write on specific topics: creativity and health; creativity and business; creativity and parenting or creativity and process. Some of the stories made me weep, literally. You'll love the brokenness, the honesty and the strength of these women. My story isn't particularly moving, but you can read it here anyway.

Next is Bonbonbreak 
Bonbon Break
which Val and Kathy fill with stories, insights and links to all manner of wonderful resources in the categories of Kitchen, Front Porch, Family Room, Bedroom, Playroom, Backyard and Mom Cave. Here I am in the Playroom, going on about cardboard.

And, finally, Noodles On The Wall,

where Elena features enterprising and inspiring moms, their creative endeavors and their down-to-earth words of wisdom for all of us. Come read my two suggestions for raising creative kids.

I hope you enjoy them!

*how many men do you know who can repeatedly sing The Wheels On The Bus in falsetto with all the verses and and actions without frothing at the mouth? Eh? 

Wednesday, August 22, 2012

I'm Talking Back To School on Miss Lovie's Creations

Hey everyone!

Today I'm guest-posting on Miss Lovie's Creations, as part of Allie's Back-To-School Event. 

Here's a funny thing I discovered when looking through my archives for projects to share with you: I don't do any back-to-school projects. Or, more accurately, almost all the back-to-school projects I've done are for guest posts on other people's blogs, as if that's the only motivation for me to do anything school-related. And I'm not even saying they're in time for the traditional September back-to-school deadline, either. The few times when I've actually made something for my kids because they needed something for school were well into the school year. Sometimes I was so tardy that I actually finished something (e.g. Emily's preschool backpack) a whole year late, 

To me, that was both very sad and very funny. Sad because, if my children depended on my handcrafting skills to ensure they were clothed, they wouldn't be (which is why I buy clothes rather than sew them). But also funny because it seems somehow incongruous with me having once been a teacher and all. I mean, you'd think I'd take this whole school thing seriously enough to be on time for the first day of school, right? Apparently, my superior procrastinating powers disagree.

But there's another deeper, more insidious reason for the lack of back-to-schoolness here in our home: Emily's birthday parties, which always happen within the first weekend of the start of school each year. This means manic preparation beforehand, to the point where it's a miracle if I actually remember to get the children on their respective rides to the correct schools at all on the first day, let alone all togged up in handmade clothes and be-shouldered in handmade rucksacks and handmade lunchbags.

Speaking of birthday parties, Emily's is coming up again. AGAIN! How is one year later already? Remember this exchange from the movie "Tangled"?

M. Gothel: No. I distinctly remember your birthday was last year.
Rapunzel: That's the funny thing about birthdays.... they're kind of an annual thing.

For once, I'm with Mother Gothel.

In an ideal world, everyone's birthday would come only once every two years (preferably alternating between the children with the most closely-spaced birthdays), so we'd all be half our age and the kids wouldn't grow up quite so fast.

This year, though, I'm going to be having quite a bit of fun with the party prep. The only clue I'll give you for now is that my dad would be so proud. But that's a post for another day. In the meantime, stay in the school mood and go check out my roundup on Allie's blog here!

Saturday, August 18, 2012

Say Hello to Sugarcane and Ash



and down.

Back pocket. 
And yes, fellow perfectionists: the print does meet at the seams and zipper flap. Remember when I said that print fabric is not for the faint of heart? Sometimes I read on blogs, people gushing, "I LOOOOOOVE funky print fabric!" and I literally gulp. They are so brave. I feel absolute terror when working with print fabric - it deserves the highest respect because it shows up your workmanship - good-ly and badly- like nothing else does. (This is why I am best friends with solids.)


And the lining - it's like cutting into a lemon

and having a burst of citrus hit you with a smile.

And that big happy John Lewis flower! It's ombre on rippled clouds :)

This is my current favorite of all the Bella Bags, I think. 
At least, until I finish the one in Orla! Can't wait.
Then I'll be able to list all five in the shop and you can pick your favorite to adopt! 

More Cardboard Supremeness

Two readers shared Izhar Gafni's cardboard bicycle with me this week and I thought it was too good to keep all to myself. You have to see this video and this video. It is astounding and yet comfortingly believable- not only because we all know that cardboard is the most underrated building material ever, but also because there are millions of incredibly talented and ingenious cardboard engineers out there, some of whose names we are just only discovering here in blogland. Thank you, kwm and Leslie for sharing this!

We fall prostrate to the wonder that is cardboard. Are you on your faces, too?

Friday, August 17, 2012

Feeling Green

I picked up some treats today at the fabric store. I was there to buy grey duck cloth for my bag and also bought these lovely things:

The industry name, I believe, is Polypropylene (PP) Spun-Bonded Non-Woven Fabric (yes, I know things like this while being completely ignorant of names of fabric designers and the parts of my sewing machine). Layman-type folks just call it "shopping bag fabric". 

These are the first non-hideous prints I've seen at JoAnn. So I bought several yards of each. They're good for the kids to practise tote-making with, since they don't fray, they hold their shape and don't flop, and are easy to work with. And the end-product is a really useful thing they can use for actual shopping or to give away. I'm thinking that I must design a shrinkable, space-saving foldaway reusable shopping bag for these fabrics soon. Not just because it's green but also because it feels like magic.

Here are the other novelty items I found at the store. I was very suspicious of them being called "Fun" Tape Measures. What makes them "fun"? Is it the colors (how is almost-white "fun")? Or the possibility that, upon unwrapping the packaging, I might find the markings don't extend beyond 12"? Or the numbers suddenly morph into Chinese characters? Or the rest of the tape is really marked in more exciting units, like cubits, angstroms or parsecs? Or they're blank inside, with a small black marker and instructions for DIY callibration? Or what? 

No, I haven't unwrapped them. And even if I did, I won't tell you - you'll have to go procure your own Fun Tape Measures to find out. 

P.S. Thor? Seriously? Come on! That's like choosing print fabric when you could have ikat.

Thursday, August 16, 2012

Sugarcane and Ash

Yes, I'm working on bags. Took me a while to even cut the pieces out because in my way were birthday presents. I know I try not to handmake birthday gifts but these were an exception - two Rapunzel wigs for two little girls and one Tshirt for Mum. 

This is Gift for Mum, Take Two, after that first one did a Bermuda Triangle on me enroute to Singapore. Before I mail this one out, I'm literally going to lay hands on it and pray for deliverance. Get it? Deliverance? Hahahaha! Quick, shoot me now, before I get worse. I didn't sleep a whole let yesterday, see. I stayed up to watch Thor while cutting out fabric for this bag. Real smart. Let me share some prudent sewing advice, fellow seamstresses: do not cut fabric while watching Thor. You will pay more attention to the movie than the fabric. No, I'm not talking about Chris Hemsworth (who's he?).  I mean Tom Hiddleston, people. SIGH. I idiotically finished the entire movie plus the director's commentary and deleted scenes before looking down at my cutting board and saying, "Hey, look.....there's fabric... and blades..... and rulers.... on the floor all around me. Oh, riiiiiight. The bag." 

So, the bag. This is #4, in that gorgeous John Lewis fabric my friend Edwin sent me from London. One question: which button? The light ash or the charcoal? Second question: you- Team Thor or Team Loki?