Monday, November 28, 2016

The Kids Made Their Own Advent Calendars

Today's photographs are brought to you by our little substitute camera because our Big Camera is in the Camera Spa for a tune-up. All I will say is I miss our Big Camera. I hope he comes home soon.

Advent is upon us this week.

And I feel a bit sentimental and nostalgic. See, I was looking back over the months and years I've been blogging and I realized something. Long ago, when I first started blogging, I was a mother of a preschooler, a toddler and a nursing infant. It's funny. No, the funny thing was not how I had no life apart from that which revolved around one or more of those children. Or even how my clothes never fit and I still wore them anyway. Out of the house, even.

The funny thing was me starting a blog when I had no mental or physical space in my life to take on the learning curve of social media or the weird genre that was bloglingo. Or a DSLR. Or a photo-editing program. Or, for that matter, staying awake long enough to write anything that wasn't feeding times or a log of the contents of diapers. 

I blame the Other Blogs. The ones that went before me, the pioneers and inspirers and trailblazers and round-uppers. The ones whose photos and children-in-handmade-glories motivated me to want to sew, craft, dig out my glue gun, create, design.

And to share unto others as others had shared unto me.
(How does that saying go?)

Over the years, I've watched so many of those Other Blogs evolve, dwindle, disappear. And for good reason: people's children grew up and became teenagers, college students, adults. There was no longer a need to make quiet books, burp cloths, tag blankets, cardboard ovens. 

Then there was the advent of iPhones and Instagram and Twitter, which offered deliverance from long hours of photo-editing and writing clever paragraphs. People could now brag-post without actually having to brag-post: a single photo of a finished quilt, snapped and uploaded on the same device, and they could call it a day. 

And some Other Blogs I loved became other kinds of blogs - shopfronts for commercial pursuits: etsy stores and fabric lines and sewing patterns. Mine, too. I mean, look: I have an etsy store. Not very well-stocked, true, but still - a shop. And I have a pattern store. And I am in books and magazines and whatnot. 

How on earth. . .?

Of course I'm happy for those enterprising bloggers who have Gone On To Turn Hobby Into Business. If we can make a living (in whatever capacity) from doing what we love, let's shoot out the fireworks and give thanks, is the general consensus.

But I miss my old blog. And the other Old Blogs that were full of charming handmade crafts that so whetted my appetite to make and give and share and enjoy - simply for the sake of (and delirious fun in) making.

And that is the story of my nostalgia attack.

Maybe I've just had a busy year, doing who-knows-what. Or maybe I sorely miss cardboard. After all, the cardboard side of my split personality is the purest facet of my crafting soul. I am never as gleefully creative with fabric as I am with cardboard, nor as courageous against norms and expectations of what is possible, or sensible. 

Or maybe I miss my kids being Little Ones, with their great thirst for markers and coloring and globs of glue and glitter and five-minute insta-projects. 

So this year, I thought I'd spend some time doing some of the things I used to do with the girls when they were small. We called them Complex Crafts - those that required some prep time and which involved us working together over more than a single day. Here's one: paper tube Advent Calendars. 

It's all over the internet: 24 tubes made from cardstock, tissue paper, masking tape and handmade number stickers. Each child got her own box. I prepped them and announced that we would be making our own Advent Calendars this year.

To my surprise (and delight), they were excited. Whoda thought - these girls who planned their own birthday parties and made their own jewelry and sewed their own bags got excited - and serious - about paper tubes and stickers. 

And you wouldn't believe how serious.

We sat and visited together as we worked - they colored and masking-taped, and I hot-glued. Just like old times. Then, when the tubes were all assembled, they stuck their stickers on.

Tomorrow I will fill these tubes with truffles and treats and glue them onto a board so there won't be any peeking. And, come Thursday, the poking and popping will begin. 

Some quick instructions if you want to make your own:

  1. Cut 6 sheets of letter-size cardstock into quarters. I've seen toilet paper tubes used, too, but unless you like the natural look, you'd still need to cover that with pretty paper, or paint it. Each piece will be 4.25" x 5.5". I used 5 green sheets and one brown sheet.
  2. Roll and hot-glue each piece along its long edge into a cylinder 4.25" long (the 5.5" edge becomes the circumference).
  3. Cut 24 circles of tissue paper, about 2.5" in diameter.
  4. Spread white glue (not hot glue) around the mouth of each cylinder (on the outside of the tube), center a circle of tissue paper over the mouth and press down the overhang onto the glue to form a "drum skin" covering one end of each tube.
  5. Print out the sheet of numbered circles below.
  6. Cut them out and turn them into stickers (if you have a sticker maker), or else leave them as is to be stuck on with glue; it is easier to color a whole sheet before cutting them out.


  1. Cut twenty-four 6" strips of tape wide enough to cover the messy tissue paper glued to the outside of the tubes. Mine were about 3/4" wide. You might need to demonstrate wrapping this strip around one of the tubes.
  2. When tubes are all wrapped by child, hot-glue them into a Christmas Tree shape.
  3. Fill with treats.
  4. Glue a board over the back of the Christmas Tree shape.


  1. Color the numbered circles.
  2. Cut out the numbered circles (if not turned into stickers already).
  3. Glue the numbered circles onto the tissue-paper covered opening of the tubes.
  4. Wrap tape around the mouth of the tubes, covering the glued-on tissue paper.

Friday, November 18, 2016

Cardboard Shoutout

Very excited to show you what arrived in the mailbox this weekend:

Isabelle Bruno's and Christine Baillet's Reinventer series of books by the French publishing company Hoebeke Editions features fun new ways to use familiar products and materials. The first two books were all about Lego and IKEA.

The newest book, Reinventer Ses Emballages is all about packaging materials - - a little bit upcycling, a little bit repurposing and a whole lot of art, readers are challenged to put a new spin on an old thing that's headed for the recycling bin. 

I am ridiculously thrilled to say that I am in it!

Well, my cardboard train is, at any rate.


Let me show you what's in the book. It's divided into four sections according to difficulty level. 

My cardboard train is in the intermediate category.

Here are some projects from the different categories: a cardboard lamp (Simple),

Cardboard lamppost and masks (Intermediate),

A wooden palette outdoor swing and chair (Advanced),

and a manipulate-able cardboard bird costume and a camera made from a sardine can (Expert).

It's mind-boggling, the things people have made from plastic cartons, cardboard boxes, wooden pallets, glass bottles, food containers, tin cans and other kinds of packaging. I wish I could show you everything in the book - from organizers, working toys and furniture to entire rooms and offices made from cardboard and pallets. That's cardboard walls and supporting posts, people.

I haven't seen this book on the US amazon, but I found it on the UK site and the France site 

Wednesday, November 16, 2016

A Midsummer Night's Dream

Really - that was what our Halloween was this year: uncommonly warm and summery.  We couldn't believe we were out trick-or-treating in just long sleeves and no sweater.  Literally, a midsummer night's dream come true!

Speaking of which, Kate was a fairy this year. 

Here she is, looking all demure.

A bit too demure.

Ah, that's much more like it.

Here's the ensemble - one dress, one pair store-bought wings, and one floral garland, which was a hand-me-down from Emily's 2013 costume.

While on the topic of hand-me-downs, when Kate said she wanted to be a fairy this year, I was ecstatic for all of five minutes, thinking she could wear Emily's fairy outfit from 2012, when Emily was exactly the same age Kate is now. 

Everyone rushed to the costume closet (where all the outgrown costumes go to languish), my heart soaring with the wild hope of sewing one fewer costume this year.

It didn't fit.
At all.

But see - that's the problem with custom drafts: what fit Emily beautifully at 8 will only ever fit Emily at 8, and no other 8-year-old. 

And Emily said, without a single ounce of pity, "Anyway, that's not the point, Mom. We're supposed to each get a new outfit each year. We all look forward to that!"

Now who on earth started that ridiculous tradition?
Apparently, me - in the carefree days when I only had one child. 

So . .  brand new identical-looking fairy dress it was, then. 

The skirt is a full circular skirt with a scalloped hem. 

I twined together two different colored trims for the waist seam and hand-stitched that onto the dress.

The lining was soft coordinating knit for the bodice, hand-stitched at the waist to the wrong side of the skirt. Two reasons for hand-stitching rather machine-sewing this seam: one, it was easier to completely face the neckline and strap if I could leave the entire waist edge open till the last. 

And two, the skirt consisted of five different fabrics and the outer bodice consisted of two, coming together in a bulky waist seam of seven rather itchy layers. Hand-stitching the bodice lining over that seam hid it and prevented abrasive contact with the skin when the dress was worn.

And now we come to the most important part of the costume: the sidekick. In the last couple of years, Kate has picked costumes based on their likelihood of including a coordinating one for Bunny, her favorite stuffed animal. Last year, she was a bunny and Bunny was a carrot. This year, her sisters tried to help her brainstorm (Kate as Rey and Bunny as BB8 was our favorite combination) and Kate finally that Bunny be a pixie. She very assiduously designed the outfit and measured Bunny, then drew her technical diagram.

She ran into slight problems during the layout and cutting stage (don't we all?) and I had to step in and rescue her. We finished Bunny's costume in a fraction of the time it took to make Kate's.

Okay, even I admit that it's kinda cute.

Cardboard wings were started, but eventually abandoned, so Bunny's really more elf than pixie. 

Which is great, because now her costume can double up for Christmas. Not quite hand-me-down, but we get to double the mileage by making it multi-holiday!

Sunday, November 13, 2016

Random Beauxbaton Person

"And not Fleur Delacour," Jenna hastened to qualify whenever anyone asked her who she was for Halloween.

Jenna is so funny. And so particular about what she does and doesn't want. If you remember, she's been Queen Susan three years in a row for Halloween, but each year she wore a different outfit from the Narnia movies. And each year, of all my children, hers is the most elaborate and challenging costume to make, but I do it because her choices stretch me to places I haven't been before. This year was no exception.

When she'd finally decided to be a Beauxbaton (they're the visiting wizarding school-for-girls in Harry Potter & The Goblet of Fire), this is what I imagined:

And I thought, "Oh, that's easy. Satin and drapey and semi-circular and a back zipper and a little capelet over everything. I'd say 4 yards of satin should about cover it." 

So I went on pinterest and found loads of images of people cosplaying the Fleur-Delacour-Runway-Model-dress-look. Yessss. Inspiration. Solidarity. I can do this without losing my sanity, I thought. Maybe in time for Halloween, even!

Then Jenna disabused me of any hope. "No, not the dress. Who wants the dress? I want the uniform."

There's a uniform? I just bought FOUR yards of satin to make you that twirly, slinky, uberfeminine Barbie Doll frock! 

This uniform, apparently:

Shock! Horror! Fear! 

That is not a Halloween costume; it's a fitted THREE PIECE SUIT. With a fitted blazer with killer trim. And lining and interlining. And did I mention fitted?

"Don't forget the hat, Mom. That's the most important part."

Oh, right. The haaaaaat.


I've never made a fitted blazer before, incidentally. Never had the need to, and always figured that if I had to someday, I'd just figure it out. After all, it can't be that different from a regular button-down shirt - you just make fancier lapels and overlap the button stands more and introduce extra ease in the right places since it's going to be worn over other clothes. 


It amuses me how deluded I let myself get.

Want even more self-mockery? Here's a confession: you know how, in this post, I was all "you MUST measure accurately" and "good measurements contribute toward 2/3 of drafting success" and "if you measure badly, you might as well not bother to do the actual sewing because it would be a disaster"?

Well, guess what - I thought I could slack off on my own advice, and I paid dearly for it.

See, before I made Jenna's costume, I made Kate's (coming up in next post) . And, because it was "just" a dress (har har), I grabbed Kate, wrapped a measuring tape around her body and guesstimated her waist, the rough width of her shoulders, and random positions of where her armscye might or might not be.


You'd think that my accompanying commentary might have tipped me off: "Er . . . stop wriggling. Stand still. Where on earth is your waist? Is this your waist? Okay, let's just say your waist is here!" or "Well, whatever! 15 inches, 15-and-a half inches, 25 thousand inches, what's the difference?!"


And then further red flags: re-grabbing Kate a few more times to re-measure her because the first draft and muslin looked "a bit weird". Yep. Both. I was already suspicious of the draft and still turned it into a muslin. What was I possibly expecting - magic?

Well, serves me me right because I ended up having to shift the waistline and reposition the zipper and straps, and use up almost all my seam allowance to make the "just a dress" work.  

So, by the time I got to Jenna's blazer, I was much humbled. I decided there would be no shortcuts or perfunctory "good enough"s this time; no, for a fitted blazer, I'd pull out all the stops - neck chain and waist string and actual measuring list and everything.

Much better, I thought.

What an interesting experience, making my first blazer! I'd heard it would be challenging, which I specifically imagined in two ways: fit and interlining/underlining. 

Fit is always a thing for me (and other people who custom-draft), so I was prepared to spend time adjusting for this anyway. Interlining, though, was new to me because we'd never needed interlining (for insulation) in tropical Singapore. Fortunately, this year's Halloween forecast was gorgeous - 60s and windless - so I eventually decided on just underlining (i.e. a simple supporting layer behind the outer satin, without the need for warmth). For this underlining I used a heavy linen that I'd bought for myself years ago. Linen has a glorious weight and drape and was perfect to stabilize this flyaway satin.

Here are the elements of the suit -

We decided to omit the inner shirt (hurrah) and make just the hat, blazer and skirt.

The skirt was just a semicircular skirt with a fitted waistband. Note the back hem extending lower than the front. When drafting for children, we often have to accommodate for rounder bellies and similarly full contours that affect how and where the final garment sits. Comfort is paramount, and sometimes this means waistbands sitting below bellies instead of on. This was the case with Jenna's skirt - she liked having the front waistband ride below her abdomen while the back sat squarely at the natural waist position at the small of her back. The front hem was correspondingly raised to compensate for this.

Here's the back zipper. This skirt was not lined. 

Here's the blazer.

We modeled it after the movie stills. I was going to add the standard welt pockets with flaps but there were none in the movie photos. 

The back had two vertical waist darts - pretty standard.

Here's the inside - fully lined, with the button stand faced. Again, nothing exciting.

The trim took a bit of work,

because of how the corners met on the lapel. If I'd had more time, I'd have wanted to do this piecing-style instead of the fold-over-and-hand-hem method I used.

The sleeves were fun. There was a slit at the hem, repeated in the inner sleeve lining that peeks out about a half inch below that.  

The two layers are separate at the hem so there is no pulling or tension spots visible from the outside.

Finally, the hat -

This was a quick sew. Rather than wool felt, we went for the cheaper (and warmer) alternative - 300 polar fleece. I used my own winter hat pattern from this post and tweaked it to shape and to incorporate a brim and that little pointy tip. Looking at the finished product, I think I'd have hand-stitched the double layers together at the brim instead of the machine topstitching I chose. 

Jenna didn't care; she said it was her favorite part of the suit.

Here she is with Meira, winter warrior. 

Kate was not available for this photoshoot - it's the first year we don't have a photo of all three girls in their outfits. Sniff.