Monday, April 16, 2018

Somewhere There Is Summer

And it's not Minnesota, for sure.

How many inches of snow did you guys get this weekend? We got over a foot. And it's still coming down.

I'm afraid April is a washout. Literally. Let's hope May looks more like spring. Either way, you can keep your snow, Minnesota. I'm looking elsewhere for my sunshine.

Like the equator.

I like to remember that there are other parts of the world where the sun shines, and hotly, too. Wanna see some photos? I haven't had the time to curate our Singapore photos, and these are just random ones I picked out. Can't remember if I edited them at all; if I did, it'd have been minimal. It's surreal to gaze upon them - what does warmth feel like? Or seeing the road beyond two feet ahead of you when you drive? Or hearing birds . . . wait, what are birds again?

This was at a beach resort in Indonesia, where we spent a couple of days with the grandparents. 

These next photos are in Singapore. We spent an afternoon at the Jurong Bird Park. Here are the girls in an elevated bird enclosure feeding colorful lories.

Still at the Bird Park, here is Kate with toucans perched on her arms. All I could think of as I watched her was "that would be an easy Menagerie variation." Mother fail, I know. 

Speaking of Menagerie, the children were relentless in their encouragement to Make This! and Make That! whenever they saw an animal - any animal. Which, if you were at places like the Bird Park and the Zoo, kept happening every other second. This here is a cotton top tamarin at the Singapore Zoo (and yes, kids, a Menagerie version would be fab). Incidentally, if you're ever in Singapore, stop by the Zoo. The primates are awesome. These tamarins came  down from their trees to hang out pretty close to the visitors, and the orangutans range free. 

Whenever my world turns blizzard white, I look at pictures of Singapore, where the trees are perpetually green and everyone wear shorts and not a snowflake has ever sullied her sweltering shores. Don't lose hope, friends. If the sun can shine somewhere on the planet, even Minnesota (and Canada! Michigan! Wisconsin! Every other state that's buried under!) must swing around to take its turn sometime. (Like tomorrow. Tomorrow would be nice.)

Monday, April 9, 2018

Menagerie Season 2 - a roundup

Lots of animals in this post, so prepare for a stampede (in a manner of speaking)!

Before we go any further, it's probably prudent to clarify that this is not (yet) a pattern. The aim is for it to become a pattern sometime this year, so the collage above is as much a celebration of all the creative effort that birthed the prototype animals as an inspiration for me to continue that journey toward bringing the how-tos into your own sewing rooms and homes.

It's always funny to look back on a project that's taken as long - and in as many exciting directions - as has Menagerie. If this is the first time you're hearing about it, allow me a quick recap. It all began in the winter of 2015, when the kids and I decided to make a multitude of stuffed animals from a single base template. In one of the best ever ways to cope with cabin fever, we made almost 20 different animals that winter. So much creative adrenaline; we were inventing, but we had guidelines off which to springboard. It felt organic and it looked like a lot of artistic payout for what was really very little work. Fun, in other words.

I created Menagerie not to overwhelm you with a veritable zoo of critters you should feel obliged to make, but to impart some basic techniques for building different stuffed animals from the same pattern block. Yes, there were instructions to make 18 of those animals, but I really wanted people to see them as practice samples, or inspirational pieces toward creating their own variations. The girls and I made lists and drawings of many more animals than eventually got shortlisted for the pattern but in that final selection, I tried to include as much diversity as I could - not just in the species themselves, but in the construction methods and different ways to add features and change the configurations of the templates.

In the months and years following Menagerie's launch, I was thrilled to see  your versions - both original and new - that you'd made either from the pattern or adapted from the raccoon variation in the Sew Mama Sew tutorial. You guys emailed me and shared stories and photos, uploaded images to my flickr pool and wrote blog posts about your softie-making adventures. In response, I Pinned as many of these as I could find. See them on my Menagerie Pinterest brag board here. Some highlights:

My aunt in Singapore sewed almost every animal in the first series - in multiples! 

She also devised a few new ones of her own. She added wings to my originally-wingless Ladybug.

and designed a clownfish. Which she then made a school of (yes, mass production clearly runs in the family). Scream! So cute.

Lisa made this incredible lobster (see her flickr stream in the link for more Menagerie creations, including a dragon with permanent eyes).

Louise from i'mfeelingcrafty made this perfect, perfect Pikachu. 

Mindy F. made this Porg. A Porg, people! Eeeeeeee!

Ostinato S. from Ostinatoseaker made a super realistic tiger. Very few of the Season 1 prototypes were originally rendered in fur, so I was thrilled that she chose to make her tiger in striped tiger fur!

Finally, behold the beautiful work of Amelia. Amelia is 13. She received the Menagerie pattern as a gift from her mom and she's been sewing up a storm. To say her email (with these photos attached) made my day when it arrived in my inbox is an absolute understatement. 

Much as it was gratifying to finish writing the Menagerie pattern, launch it, and watch how other people have enjoyed using and creating with it, my own kids and I felt that we'd just scratched the surface with those first 18 animals. Every now and then, one of them would say, "Mom, you need to make this animal, or that animal." Or they'd have a friend's birthday come up, and they'd request, "Mom, this friend's favorite animal is such-and-such, and you need to make a Menagerie one!". Even more amusing: we'd be traveling and see an animal in a zoo and they'd say, "This is a perfect Menagerie one - see, just put the head here and this part becomes the tail (or fin, or nose, or whatever)."

Their suggestions stretched me to look at Menagerie from different angles, in different sizes, in different fabrics. I loved that it has made me think, try, reach. For three years - from 2016 to this - we designed and sewed, working with that same base template and turning it this way and that, moving seams, reshaping limbs and heads and tails. Some were easier variations than others and required just a day - and a single prototype - to birth; others needed numerous iterations, experiments with different fabrics, unpicking and alterations. Some were utterly unique constructions; others close variations of each other.

In the design process, search engines became my best friend. Oh, the things I learned about the creatures with whom we share this vast, amazing planet! It was like seeing each one for the first time, to count the number of toes, name the exact shade of grey around their eyes, observe the layering of feathers, or pinpoint where upon their brows or temples or gums their horns (or antlers, or teeth!) grew.

I've blogged about each animal as I made it, but I thought it would be nice to have them all together in one post, so here follows a round-up of the creatures of Season 2 of Menagerie, in no particular order. There are more photos of the different angles in the individual posts of each animal, so click on its name in the caption to be linked to those posts.




Dog - Beagle





Polar Bear




Sea Lion




Including the critters and mini-critters of both seasons, I reckon the tally is over 40 animals (and counting) made by both me and you, from that single base template. It makes me smile just to think it. But with all the photos and links to those 40 animals, I suspect you might have some questions about the pattern and what's to come. I'm going to anticipate and answer some here:

Q: Okay, wait, so I'm confused - how many Menagerie patterns are there?
A: At the moment, just one - it's simply called Menagerie, and has been available for purchase since 2015.

Q: And what animals are in that Menagerie pattern?
A: There are templates in that pattern to make 18 animals: 
Squid (although not pictured on the cover)
Kangaroo + Joey

See this post for more information on that Menagerie pattern.

Q: So just to clarify, are these Season 2 animals (the sloth, elephant, narwhal, etc.) in that 2015 Menagerie pattern?
A: The templates to make the Season 2 animals are not included in the (first) 2015 Menagerie pattern. 

Q: But I want to make these Season 2 animals! What should I do?
A: I made every single Season 2 animal by adapting the base pattern in the 2015 Menagerie pattern. If you feel sufficiently adventurous, you might be interested in doing the same. It can be done!
Alternatively, you could purchase the Season 2 expansion pack when it is available (sometime in 2018).

Q: What do you mean: "expansion pack"?
A: The 2015 Menagerie pattern contains the base template and instructions to use it to create different animals by adapting limbs, faces, heads, tails and other features. 
The Season 2 pattern is not a stand-alone pattern. It is an add-on to that 2015 Menagerie pattern i.e. it expands on the 2015 Menagerie pattern by giving you additional templates to make these 16 (or however many are eventually shortlisted) animals shown in this post using the same instructions, reference points and techniques in the 2015 pattern. Check this blog - I'll post updates on my progress as I can.

Q: I've noticed that the Niffler isn't in today's roundup. What's up with that?
A: For licensing-and-copyright reasons, the Niffler will not be in the Season 2 expansion pack. I know this may disappoint some of you, so I apologize in advance :(

Q: Well, boo. But these other 16 animals in today's roundup will be in the expansion pack, then?
A: They could be. The first step in moving forward in the pattern-making process is to decide which of the 16 animals to include. Here is where your input will help me. If you have a minute, would you leave a comment to let me know your favorite animal(s) of Season 2? This not only gives me a picture of general and specific interest but also lets me know to include them in the final shortlist.

Q: So now with Season 2 under your belt, are you done? Or will you be making yet more animals? 
A: I'm sure I'll keep making new ones, as long as there are animals in the world to turn into softies, and as long as my children have a voice on my creative design team. But for the moment, I will be taking a break from designing to focus on writing the instructions for the Season 2 expansion pack.

If you have a questions I haven't answered here, drop me a note or leave a comment, too. Also, if you've made a Menagerie animal that you'd like to be featured here, let me know!

Thanks, everyone!

Friday, April 6, 2018


Our final Season 2 Menagerie animal:

a Three-Toed Sloth.

He is as furry as he looks, if not more. That fur was 1/2" thick and not fun to work with, but so worth it.

He has these long limbs that are awesome for posing.

Also this bitty tail (until I did sloth research, I had no idea if sloths even had tails).

Real sloth tails are much narrower. Apparently, because their digestion is so slow, they only poop once a week. So every seven days or so, they clamber down their tree to the ground and dig a hole with their tails (yes, their tails!) for ah . . . shall we say, business purposes, after which they ascend their trees once more. I've also learned that this descend-to-earth-business-transaction is also a big social-community activity for these guys. To each his own, I guess.

Our Sloth's tail is a little wider than their real-life counterparts, especially in this fur. Seen from the side, it's practically a little puff ball. Eeeeee.

Cute though his tail may be, it's his face that undoes me.

I mean, gah. I don't even care that he looks more plaintive and less smiley than real sloths. 

Here are his limbs and toes.

The kids adore this Sloth. And by "adore", I mean "have worked out a roster for whom gets to sleep with him in their beds". They've also named him Mo (they tell me it's short for Slow-Motion). 

Here are some shots I took of Mo sitting on a random piece of furniture just a day or two after finishing him. This was at the end of Feb. It's been more than a month and I haven't seen him since - the kids have hidden him away. I haven't heard any fights either so one must assume that the bedtime roster is being followed amicably and equitably.