Friday, June 28, 2013

Ikat Is In and I'm Selling It

Yes, it's true.

But I already knew that.
As did some of your favorite fabric designers like her and them.
And look what google found.
And what I bought:

People still ask me what ikat is. And why my blog has such a weird name, which they are a bit self-conscious about pronouncing (it's "eeee- 'KAHT", by the way, not "i-Cat"). And how to sew with it. I don't know if there are rules for ikat, necessarily. I mean, people have sewn entire dresses of it. And bikinis, like that one above. And upholstered entire sectionals. And made drapes for windows. And concocted delicate wallets and key fobs. It's probably more helpful to say, "Use it as much as you like print in general." Real ikat (i.e. the authentic tie-dyed and woven stuff) is dreadfully pricey and not usually available in, say, JoAnn Fabrics or your favorite brick-and-mortar quiltings shops. Thankfully, we have the affordable print facsimile versions thereof to buy in general fabric stores.

To help you get all trendy, I made you some ikat Lunch Buckets to buy. Disclaimer: these are ikat-print fabrics that I used. If I'd used the real stuff (read about how it's made here) I'd have had price those buckets at oh, about $200. I figured the print stuff was just as pretty and also more modern-looking with all that white in it. Find them in the shop now.

In case you're unfamiliar with my Lunch Buckets, I'll take you through their features -

they are about 7" across and 7.5" high from base to rim. With the strap up, they are 13" tall.

The strap is detachable, and stays up for carrying

or swivels down to allow access to the contents via a drawstring cover.

The drawstring cover folds down into the bag or out over the rim. The buckets are lined with oilcloth,

laminated cotton

or Therma-flec, for easy cleanup (check the description in the individual listings for which material is used to line that particular bucket).

There are four available: blue, red, ocean and multi-tone.

Buy one before they're all gone!

And while we are on the topic of shop, I have a Pig Family for sale. Full disclosure: this Pig Family is a book sample, meaning I made it for publication in this book. Pig and her Piglets stayed under the care of the editors for a year, during which she got photographed, displayed at book launches and publicity events and people got to see and touch her (and her babies).  She was even on TV! Then she was returned to me early this year and I got to keep her.

But... I already have a Pig -

which is very much loved by all three kids,

has been brought to school for show-and-tell (to much squeals from the teachers and classmates)

and participates in numerous Farm Pretend Play Scenarios at home.

So I really don't need a second sow. And quite a few people have written to say that they aren't seamstresses and therefore can't use my Pig pattern to make their own pig family, so would I consider custom-making a family for them instead (sorry, no - I'm disinclined)? So, I'm going to put this one in the shop. The pigs are in very good condition and look brand-new (in spite of having been made two years ago) because they've spent most of their time in storage and not being played with by children the way our original Pig has.

This Momma Pig family has 5 piglets

that store in a zippered compartment in her belly and their little snouts stick to velcro circles on her underside to mimic nursing.

The big Pig is about 20" from snout to tail and the little piggles are almost 6" from snout to tail.

Find the pig family in the shop here and the ikat Lunch Buckets in the shop here.

Monday 1 July update: The buckets and Pig family were all sold over the weekend and going to new homes this week. Thank you for your support!

Thursday, June 27, 2013

Don't Forget That Google Reader Is Going Away!


Very short post today to remind you all that come 1 July, Google Reader disappears. This means if you're getting ikatbag posts by Google Reader, you'll need a new alternative. I've imported all my to-read blogs onto Feedly. I hear there are others like it e.g. Bloglovin' so know that at least you've got choices. 

Here is ikatbag on Feedly, so you can see how it looks.

Either way, remember to get all your must-read blogs moved over from Google Reader so you don't lose any of us!

I'll try and get the Lunch-Buckets-In-The-Shop post out tomorrow (or Saturday) if I can, so you can go shopping. We're doing a garage sale tomorrow (I know, I'm nuts - but in my defence, we only do one every three years or so) so I might not get to the computer till who knows when. I'm getting rid of some cardboard stuff - let's see which neighbors are cool enough to pick those up. I desperately want to toss out the cardboard grocery shop because it's such a space hogger. I've tried several times already but they kids always wail and moan and give me the Absolutely Miserably Shattered To Death look and convince me not to. So that stays. But Trainville goes. Managed to get the kids to say yes (they bargained to keep the actual engine and cars, though).   

And, for the first time, I'm garage-sale-ing something I've sewn - the kids' crib linen. How do you put a price (and a cheap one, at that) on something handmade? Enough time has passed that I no longer feel sentimental about the associated baby memories. But, still - all those hours of work! What do you guys do with your handmade stuff when you no longer need them?

Lunch Buckets for Teachers

Last week was Bug Party Week.

This week is Lunch Bucket Week.

Over my many, many years of sewing, I've realized that my favorite projects are bags. I like sewing clothes, but I get easily burnt out sewing them. I think it's because I'm so particular about fit and drape and stuff like that - it makes me wait until I have a big chunk of time to measure, draft, baste, adjust, pick the right fabric and all those other serious garmentmaking necessities- that it never happens. I mean, where would I find big chunks of time? I'm a stay-home mother of three small daughters, who runs a haphazard blog-pattern-etsy-business; my life consists of disconnected 10-minute packets of time interspersed with emergencies and crises. And that's just when I'm not cooking or cleaning something sticky/encrusted off the floor.

Bags, though, totally work with those discrete 10-minute time quanta. They're mostly geometrical shapes, so they require hardly any thought at all. I can plan their structure while in the bathroom, sketch their schematic diagrams on the backs of grocery store recipes while in line at the supermarket checkout, pull fabrics out of my homedec and canvas stash on my way to drop off a bunch of Tinkertoys in the playroom, lay out rectangles and circles while waiting for the oven to preheat, and stitch - sans basting- in between laundry and dishwasher loads and bedtime song crooning. True, bags are still work and those 10-minute time segments still add up and I'm still anal about the workmanship, but then, my bags actually get made. Unlike most of the clothes I've planned in my head. 

Bottomline: you've gotta love bagmaking!

And, boy, will I find any excuse to do it.

Like when the girls were done with their school year and said goodbye-and-thank-you to their teachers. They brought Lunch Buckets with them. 

Which their mother made while procrastinating on sewing a dress for a wedding. Which seems to be an annual tradition.

If you're new to my Lunch Buckets, they have swivel-able, detachable straps, a drawstring cover and a wipe-cleaning lining (this one is oilcloth).

This first bucket was for a teacher whose favorite color we weren't quite sure of. So I went a bit nuts with print and hues. Here's another angle:

This next one was for a teacher who loves purple.

Next up: Lunch Buckets to buy! 

Tuesday, June 25, 2013

Egg Art by Jenna

A short post today - here's an example of an unsupervised art-and-craft project done by the kids. This doesn't happen all the time, just so you know. But sometimes, a particular art form so engages them that they will spend days working on a project without me having to lift a finger. Those are good days.

This is a crayon-resist-and-water-color project that Jenna (she's six) discovered on the Crayola website. She found it, called Kate over, they watched the instructional video together and then gathered supplies, plonked themselves at the kitchen table and worked. 

It involved drawing egg shapes on paper, cutting them out, drawing a pattern with a crayon and then painting over it to get fun effects.

When I noticed that Jenna was struggling with drawing and cutting out about 60 paper eggs individually (which was not the point of the craft at all), I interfered and suggested she use one half of a vertically-splitting plastic easter egg to trace around. She was much relieved.

The point of these colorful paper eggs, she explained, was for them to be pencil toppers for a table centerpiece for Easter. There was an accompanying family activity involving those pencils but it doesn't feature in this story much. She commandeered almost all the pencils in the house to make her centerpiece and when it had lost its novelty (and when we wanted our pencils back), I untaped all the paper eggs, chose 30 of the colorful-est, stuck them in rainbow order on poster board and glued a border of scrapbooking paper strips around it for a frame. It has since become the newest kid art hanging on Kate's and Jenna's bedroom wall. 

Jenna clarified in her solemn, matter-of-fact way, "Yes, it's nice. But actually I made almost all those eggs. Kate didn't do much." 
I'm making sure to pass that vital bit of information on to you guys, okay?

Unrelated: I'm already starting to plan the next birthday party, believe it or not. The downside of scheduling all our parties in the (miserably short) summer season here in MN is that they are back-to-back. Good thing I only have three children. And I tell myself that in the winter, I get to be an absolute slug and, armed with tea and a good book, adhere myself to the sofa and not make a single handmade thing if I choose (I'd probably last all of 5 seconds).

Saturday, June 22, 2013

What I Learned After Hosting Nine Kid-Birthday Parties

Actually, ten. 

But the first one was when Emily was three, and it was a total experiment. 

See - until I had children, I'd never experienced a kid-birthday party myself. Ever. In Singapore where I grew up, people didn't throw birthday parties for their kids at which other kids got dropped off to have a good time. People celebrated their kids' birthdays by inviting their own (adult) friends. Who, if they happened to have kids, were allowed to bring them. Sometimes, the kids did not know the birthday kid. And sometimes, there were no other kids. And the food was usually a full meal (e.g. lunch, tea, dinner) that was homecooked (if the parents were so inclined), or else it was catered and looked like a wedding reception - of adult food. With maybe one obligatory dish for the kids, if they turned up. I have happy memories of my mother serving a cauldron of gloriously spicy chicken curry with fresh loaves of bread, or noodles, or DIY popiah (egg rolls) when my brother or I had a birthday. The entire extended family turned up to feast and celebrate.

LiEr (not sure what age, but possibly 6) and Auntie Laura, 
who made the cake and all the treats. No curry at this party -
just lots of relatives. And -SIGH -yes, LiEr is indeed wearing 
a pink, lacy dress (handmade, probably by Grandma, 
but can't be sure).

The only thing clue to it being a kid-birthday party was the presents, which were often red packets of money. Sometimes, particularly if the child was an infant, the relatives might even bring jewelry. Not the plastic thingamajigs for dress-up but real gold and jade, which the birthday baby's mother might then squirrel away until the kid turned 16 or 18 or got married or whatever. If the family was especially Westernized, there might have been a cake (so I guess yes, we were Westernized). I have since heard that Singaporean parents now do throw themed kid-centered birthday parties for their children, with pinatas and coordinated decor and everything. But way back when I was a kid, family feasts were all I knew. 

Anyway, so when my first child was old enough to ask for a birthday party, I was stumped. I now lived in the US; all my relatives and friends were back in Singapore. Who on earth would I invite? So we invited the neighbor kids. Who were in middle and high school. To attend a three-year-old's Princess party. It couldn't have been stranger. All I knew was there had to be cake and maybe some cookies. The idea of decorations or matching tableware or -gasp- crafts and games never occurred to me. And what was with this themed thing? Why on earth would anyone need a theme to celebrate a birthday?

Emily's 3rd birthday party: fussy handmade cardboard castle table 
centerpiece filled with handmade princess cookies. Also note 
fussy scalloped-cut paper cups filled with goldfish and sporting fussy flags.

Emily's 3rd birthday party: fussy princess-themed handmade bingo game, 
hand-drawn, hand-cut, hand-arranged and hand-glued. Pinnacle of fussiness.

Emily's 3rd birthday party: baby Jenna under the table during set-up. 
Kate not born yet. Just to reassure you guys that there was a time when 
I ran birthday parties with infants underfoot (and in arms, and in utero). 

Evidently, that cultural chasm needed to be bridged, and quickly:

Lesson #1: Invite similar-aged children. If the child doesn't know any, they're probably too young to have a kid birthday party and it might make more sense to have an intimate celebration with just family.

Lesson #2: Apparently, children expect to be entertained at parties. There apparently must be games like treasure hunts. Also crafts, because children apparently like making things.

Lesson #3: You do not have to entertain or feed the parents. Apparently, the birthday party is for the kid. Mind-blowing! Who would've guessed?

Lesson #4: You cannot just invite children to a party to celebrate the birthday kid and eat cake and call it a day. There must be take-home stuff. Children expect it. It's called a goodie bag, and it can be filled with anything but the norm is candy, a pencil and some plastic trinket. 

Oh, I could go on, friends. My inauguration into the world of Western birthday culture was fraught with misconceptions. The only thing funnier than my ignorance was my resistance to doing parties the way everyone else did. My kids wanted birthday parties straight out of the pages of an Oriental Trading Company catalog; I wanted a big pot of curry and the relatives, all relaxing. Losing battle, right?

Let's fast-forward to last last weekend, six years after that first birthday party. I'm not going to say I've come a long way since then. I mean, my disposable cutlery still doesn't match the eclectic selection of paper napkins we've corralled from past parties. However, I do have a comfortable system on which I fall back whenever birthday season rolls around. It works for me and my particular personality, anyway. I'm happy to share the lessons I've learned, which have streamlined my somewhat manic approach to prepping for and running the show. Some of these lessons might be contrary to what you personally believe is stellar party behavior but remember: we're all different and what works for me may not work for you, and vice versa, okay? 

1 Do it outdoors, period.
Our most relaxed parties have been the outdoor ones. I'm personally convinced that if you can hold a kid-gathering outside on a 75 degree day, you don't need anything else in order to declare it a win. All the decorations and activities are merely a (very pale) bonus. But since we're talking about parties in particular, outdoor means fresh air, good light and space for the kids to run and amuse themselves in between the formal acts of the party. More space also means more tables can be set up so that there are fixed stations for food, crafts and other activities without having to hurriedly clear a single one after one activity (e.g. food) in order to set it for the next (e.g. crafts). Because only one of our kids is born in a warm-weather month, we've actually moved our other kids' house parties to the summer, disregarding their actual birth dates. Just to get an outdoor setting! We still plan to celebrate their actual birthdays (indoors) with family but we feel it's more enjoyable for young friends to play at an outdoor party.

2 Manage Time.
I have learned to run our parties as if they were a classroom lesson - I plan the schedule out on paper, then keep a mental version of that in my head on the day itself and I watch the clock. Vigilantly. During my first few parties, I actually stuck the paper schedule on the wall so I could follow it. And I was always surprised by how little time a game actually takes, and how much time opening gifts actually does. Now, 10 parties later, I roughly know how long each segment will be (e.g. pizza-eating-by-12-kids = 30 minutes) and don't have to check my watch every few seconds to watch the time pass. 

3 Manage Mess.
Children = mess. That's a fact.
Many children = pandemonium. 
I don't mean it in a snide way; I mean that a party full of children simultaneously attempting a new craft and sharing supplies, or eating melting ice cream, or collecting party favors when their parents come in droves to pick them up is not a stable situation. Here are some ways we minimize the mess: 

  • Sticky liquids: we do not use glue. There are exceptions, but where there can be found a less wet alternative, we will pick that. Examples: self-adhesive anything, double-sided tape, glue dots. The child-friendly sort of wet glue does not dry fast enough to keep craft bits stuck together and results in frustrated (or worse, messy) children.
  • Stainy liquids: we do not use paint. Unless it is an Art-themed party (which I have never had) and guests were told beforehand to wear ratty clothes and bring a smock and you have a garden hose on hand, and an adult helper with a hair dryer to dry the paint so the kids can take home their "craft" without staining someone else (or worse, their car seats). We use markers, including Sharpies - you'd be surprised by how adept even 3-year-olds are at using those without staining themselves.
  • Compartmentalizing: At the beginning of the party, each guest gets a big grocery sack with handles with their name on it. They are told that these are like portable cubby holes: they dump all their stuff in their sack, including the sweater they came in but which they took off when it got too warm, the loot from the pinata, their crafts, their blowout, cupcake topper toy, their prizes, etc. If we hand out goodie bags at the end of the party, they get tossed in there and the guests informed that there is a goodbye-and-thank-you surprise in their sack waiting for them when they get in their car. When their parents arrive to pick them up, there is no scramble to locate their stuff - they grab their sack and leave. These aren't the prettiest carryalls but they are sanity-savers. And the kids love that they have their own place to put (and find) their things while in a house that's not their own.

4 Manage Fuss
By "fuss", I really mean "superfluous details". For an example of a fussy party LiEr threw, scroll back up to the earlier photos of Emily's 3rd birthday party (unblogged; don't go looking for it on ikatbag).

If you've followed my blog for a while, you'll probably know that I love details in a project because they make projects extra fun. At parties, though, I prefer to keep those to a minimum. More fussy stuff means extra work, extra hands needed to administer them, extra time, and extra stress should some sabotage happen on the day itself. You know, like unexpected wind or a sibling accidentally poking a finger into a beautiful cake - my brother used to do that a lot when he was a kid (although I'm not convinced it was accidental). It gets extra ridiculous when a theme is involved - suddenly one is tempted to include themed tableware, themed cakes, themed drinks, themed favors, themed crafts, sometimes to the point of forcing something to fit that doesn't.  I used to ooh and aah at those perfectly-coordinated parties on people's blogs where the cupcake toppers match the labels on the bottles of drinking water, out of which pop polka-dotted straws in the colors of the parents' football team and everything has a pretty bow tied to it and all the fonts are printed on the computer and think that, by comparison, my parties are hand-drawn and crude and vulgar. I've since revised my outlook: I think that those kinds of parties make certain personality types feel happy and other kinds of parties make other personality types feel happy. I like the kinds with wacky crafts that the kids can take home and actually play with and a lot of outdoor running and store-bought cake and who cares whether the forks are even all the same, let alone match the plates. I don't like goodie bags with candy and plastic trinkets because that, to me, feels like fuss, but I am aware that some parents might roll their eyes at what their kids bring home from our parties and say, "What? Another fleece dress-up thing? Why can't she just hand out goodie bags with candy and plastic trinkets?" Different strokes for different folks, right?  

I try to keep my manic need for fuss and details in check with these two questions: 
  • Is this (decoration, activity, craft, favor, food) for the birthday kid (and her guests) or about my own self-expression?    and
  • Will I need a whole bunch of adult helpers just to administer this (decoration, activity, craft, favor, food)? If so, maybe it's too fussy and something simpler will be better. 
P.S. If you are reading this and feeling guilty of having thrown fussy birthday parties yourself, don't feel bad. There will always be people more fuss-inclined than you. For example, I know of people who have hired an entire petting zoo (among other things) for their over-one-hundred-kid guest list birthday party for their kid. Feel better now?

5 Manage Expectations
This really pertains to the prep period leading up to the party, and the expectations in question are those of the birthday child (and her enthusiastic sibling helpers). Kids love prepping for birthday parties but their excitement can drive a person up the wall. I often make a task sheet like this for the birthday kid - she picks out a task but Mom gets to say when we do it. 

If the siblings can help out on the day itself as well, it's even better. At Kate's Bug Party, Emily and Jenna staged a little indoor magic show for the guests while I set up an outdoor craft table and hid the flower pillows around the yard. The guests loved it, Emily and Jenna had a blast and I even got to take a breather!

6 Manage Movement
In an ideal world, there would be no limitations. Parties would be held in a spacious outdoor garden with stations set up for guests to enjoy activities and victuals at their leisure and in whatever sequence they prefer. In my world, we have limited space, limited furniture and a layout that requires maneuvring up and down stairs. So I often have to plan the flow of activities to minimize movement and/or maximize furniture use. For instance, at Jenna's indoor Halloween party last fall, we had only one table that was large enough for all the guests and which we used, in quick succession, for a pizza lunch, a craft and two games. In between those activities, that table had to be cleared and set up anew, and the guests were moved to another part of the house for a distractor event meanwhile. It felt as if we were constantly herding children back and forth. 
Jenna's 6th Halloween-themed birthday party: note the store-bought 
bingo cards. Maybe not as charming as hand-drawn but less fussy!

Emily's Archery party, held outdoors, had a much smoother flow - everyone finished lunch and cake, and then sat on the grass and decorated their bows for a good chunk of time before taking off on their own to try them out, no herding needed.

7 Maintain Equity, or Preassign Stuff.
Sometimes, as creative people, our deep need for variety can be our undoing. Case in point: Anything I mass-produce has to be made in different colors, or else I get bored. The variety in colorways and print make for glorious photographs and happy people. Unfortunately, the same cannot be said for party favors. When they are available in different colors for guests to choose from, the pink (why?) ones will always be more highly desired. If, like I was in my early party days, you are foolish enough to offer these to guests, saying "Who would like blue?" there will be fights. Err on the side of blandness and buy or make identical favors. 

Or, if you cannot bring yourself to provide identical stuff, preassign (yes, label them with names) them to individual guests. Zero fighting, plus all the guests will feel very special that stuff was actually "reserved" for them by name.

We use the same Preassignment Principle with the gift-opening sequence. Left to their own devices, all the guests will want to have their gift opened first by the birthday kid. I once even stupidly provoked them by asking, "Who would like to go first?" (Smack self upside the head). I am now wiser. We draw names out of a hat to decide the sequence. This way, it looks like a fun game of luck and randomness but it's actually a controlled environment. Either way, everyone feels that it's fair. Plus, if you're particularly smart, you could get a sibling of the birthday kid to draw the names- it makes them feel important at a time when all the attention is on their VIP sister (or brother). Extra equity-feeling all round. High fives for everyone!

8 Don't make it all.
Buy at least half the stuff for the party. I like to divide the handmaking so that I'm not overworking on the day of the party itself. So if I'm sewing butterfly wings in the days before, I'm not frosting a home-baked cake on the day of. And I won't put streamers and balloons all over the deck if I'm also going to be decorating cupcakes half an hour after. 

Ah, the wisdom of hindsight, gained from ten parties' worth of mistakes! I love that moment when a party is over and I can kick back and relax. I am never stressed by the prep (cardboard and sewing- whoo!), but directing the proceedings on the day itself feels like I'm just waiting to exhale. After, though, I always look at the lovely photos of the kids' happy faces and decide that it was worth it. Let's be honest - themed kid-friend parties are fun. I'd give my time and effort any day to throw those for my kids as long as they want them. But what I wouldn't also give for just a pot of curry and a houseful of family!

What party tips do you have to share?

Thursday, June 20, 2013

Bug Party - Flower Pillows

Fat flowers for the bug party games!

These were the easiest things to make- just cut out flower shapes, 

applique on round green centers,

stuff (deploy the children)

and get instant flower pillows -

all plump and happy.

This was a really good way to use up the smaller fleece remnants from bygone costume-sewing adventures -you know, those bits that are too big to be considered scraps on which to test machine tension. 

I made these 2D pillows (meaning they were a flat sandwich) because they had to be mass-produced quickly for the party. So they're fat in the middle and flat at the edges. Were I doing these for real interior decorating, I might have added a gusset to make them more uniformly 3D. And maybe piping, but only because I'd put piping anywhere.  

Here's the pattern template. 

  1. This is a PARTIAL pattern template. It is of ONE PETAL of the flower. You need to print 5 copies, cut the five petals out and stick them together with tape as shown. This will give you the full pattern.
  2. This full pattern has NO seam allowances, so be sure to add your own around the border. 
  3. I did not include the standard 1" callibration square because there is no standard size this flower pillow needs to be. Size it up or down as you wish.