Some soft things & one antlered


Here's an embarrassing fact about Mr. New Media: In his dream home he will have carved out a sizable nook just for pillows. A pit, if you will. This space would be floofy and cushy and, I imagine, I Dream of Jeannie-like. He imagines possibly falling back into it, perhaps from a second floor landing. Maybe he lazes in it, sipping red wine. Maybe he browses the internet, enveloped in velvets and damasks and silk brocades. Maybe he takes in a football game on his appropriately man-sized flatscreen. I don't know. I do not share this dream. But nothing gratifies quite as instantly as a simple pillow project. And really, when your completed product is as soft and yielding as something to populate a pit of pillows, there's also very little that's as forgiving. 


For a good stretch there I followed the self-instigated tradition of crafting up a pillow as part of every gifting event for Mr. New Media. Birthdays, anniversaries, father's day, etc. Most were sewn, some with a simple envelope closure, others outfitted with zippers. At least one was knitted in an atrocious display of color theory. Some required new fabric, chosen off bolts or salvaged from the remnant bin, or worked from a napkin picked up on clearance. There's the one cut from a favorite t-shirt and fringed in bobbly orange. There's the one that sits as homage to Mondrian. One was made from velvety scraps left over from our re-creation of a favorite book. Two are giant felt carrots. One is just plain giant.


We have yet to find that dream home, the one with the pillow-lounging corner. Hell, we're not even in our dream-state. Home ownership and serious commitment to decorating will have to wait. Right now, it's really just a pillow hole, spilling out of the tent my mom made The Boy for his second birthday. Still, I'm about to stitch the first seems of a dress, a huge, daunting project, and am in serious need of some quick-return craftyness to build up my energy and self-steem. 

So, pillows. In starting the dress project, I had cut out pieces to construct a muslin, a most unthinkable act. My bright idea was to use the scraplets from to piece them together in a jagged, strippy fashion to make a pillow front, and then back it with flannel left over from the throw I made at Christmas. Easy enough, but the resulting panel evoked mummies and wrapped bandages. And, as Mr. New Media pointed out, we're a family prone to laying down stains wherever we sit, with sticky chocolate and ripe-strawberry remains grinding into everything. The fine art of napkin usage, despite constant gentle reminders, has not quite stuck with the three-year-old. And the muslin panel, as it was, was just too blank a canvas. A little embellishment was in order, so a second unthinkable act was initiated. I did some appliqué work. In the shape of Texas. Which really accounts for a third unthinkable act. But as they say… When in Rome, adorn your home goods with the likeness of your nation-state. I set a zipper in and called it good.


I've been in a state of mind the past few weeks where I've been very down on this state. There are, of course, many stereotypes about Texans. You know, the whole gun-totin', hickish, loud-mouthedly conservative bit. Lately, it feels like certain citizens of this state have gone out of their way to validate these stereotypes. But there was something rather therapeutic about making this pillow. Maybe it was all the pinning and needling the shape took, like a Texas voodoo doll exorcising its likeness' demons. Maybe it's just that it's fun and cuddly.

In the background, there, is the first piece we took in to commemorate our then-new Texas-ness. Our own deer bust in cardboard and decorative paper. I tasked Mr. New Media with this project once we were settled in this house. He predictably objected to the paper I had picked out. Too girly, of course. But what could be a better antithesis to your archetypical taxidermized trophy than patterns you might decorate a girl's baby shower with? Another Texas corner funned and cuddlied up.


Things in other things


Of all the classes of things that my Singer has stitched together, by far the most populated is the bag/bucket category, things that hold other things. Mr. New Media will label it a compulsion, some kind of sickness. He comes home and finds stray toys corralled into yet another little bucket, and he snickers, gives me the this-is-how-you've-been-spending-your-time eyebrow tilt. But really, what couldn't use some corralling into a bucket or tote or gift bag or purse or large purse or purselet or wristlet, or something to which I've added a pocket to make it self-containing? Nothing.

And I've been on a bit of a roll lately. 


This book has been next to my sewing machine for a couple months. It's title might suggest that it's all about patchwork, but all the linen is what sold me on it. It doesn't get much simpler and cleaner than that. This box-bottom tote folds up neatly into its built-in pouch. It was a no-brainer that this would be my first project from the book. We're good and diligent about bringing reusable grocery bags to the store every week, but when it comes to other shopping expeditions, the ones where we come home with clothes and electronics and candy by the pound-ful, we're lousy. So having these little bags stashed compactly away in the diaper bag or car is key.


I had bought this pattern for a round bucket last year and made about a dozen of them out of burlap and heavy twill and home dec fabrics, sending them off for the holidays as gift baskets. But there are also a bunch tucked away around the house holding things like socks in my dressing area and hats by the entry. I'd been so smitten with those buckets that I bought the pattern for the rectangular, nesting version the day the author released it. I made one to hold all those napkins I'd made up, because while they all fit neatly in our old napkin holder when they were freshly pressed and sewn, rumply and fresh out of the dryer they're not quite so crisply paper-flat. And if there's something I'm not down with, it's ironing cloth napkins. The only solution was to make a larger home for the napkins, a home of wool felt and some fabric left over from my chair redo. I would totally live in that home. I made another large bucket to house loose toys in the office. Because, yes, I often set the baby down on the floor with a toy or two or nine while I download the latest batch of blurry photos. 


A long-time denizen of my to-do list, making reusable produce bags was in desperate need of fruition. I'd wanted to make them out of some kind of cotton netting, but could never find something durable enough for constant use and wash. So I used muslin instead. Not exactly transparent, but definitely lightweight and cheap. I love this stuff, actually. I love it's color, the little bits of fiber thrown into the particular muslin I get, the softness and forgiveness. I package our holiday gifts in them, hurriedly whipping them out by the dozen, unlined and with frayed edges for a rustic look. These produce bags needed to be a tad more durable. I plan on using them a lot. So I went with a french seam, which is a damn fancy way to say I stitched them, turned them, then stitched them again. Still, they're so useful and happy-making, I decided to make up a little tutorial for all the how-to hounds out there. 


In all, I made fifteen, a couple being larger to fit the lettuce we get when we feel compelled to eat lettuce. Which is, admittedly, not often. But there they are, a couple bags that are not quite like the others. They needed to be differentiated. So The Boy and I made a morning of leaf and apple printing. The leaves, fittingly enough, were chard harvested from our container garden. The apple had been sitting lonesome in the fridge for a little too long and needed to be consumed. Half was sacrificed to some fabric paint, the other half eaten. Had I given it some forethought, I would have just sliced off a thinnish cross section for the project, leaving us with more edible parts. At the end of our printing session, The Boy looked up at me and said, "Painting with the apple was fun, Momma."

How's that for happy-making? 


Produce bags

Hands down, the greatest thing about being married is having an in-house spider catcher. The greatest thing about being married to Mr. New Media is having an in-house web-developer. Thanks to him, I now have this nifty new slideshow thingie. 

Made of muslin (I get the 108"-wide stuff), these things are crazy-cheap to sew up. Get yourself one of those 40% off coupons at Joann's and you're in business. 

Produce bags in muslin

This neat little stack of sacks is freshly french-seamed and drawstrung, all ready for market.

  • Muslin — I used about a yard and a half of muslin to make 15 sacks
  • Cotton string — I used a thick crochet yarn
  • Threaded sewing machine — duh

Cut out the pieces

Cut a lot of them. I did mine in a variety of sizes, but the vast majority were made from 25” x 13” swatches of muslin. I also did a few that were a bit longer, to accommodate unwieldy things like lettuces and chards. Just remember to cut pieces about twice as long as your intended bag length.

Fold in half and stitch

Fold in half, wrong sides together (if your fabric has a wrong side) to get a squarish shape. Stitch the two sides, starting at raw edge and moving toward the fold, about a 1/4" from the edge.

Turn and stitch

Turn the sack inside out. Push out the bottom corners (I use the point of my scissors for this) and lay seams as flat as possible. Stitch again, a little more than 1/4" from the edge, making sure to entirely encase first seam.

Turn again

Turn the bag right side out again, so that the encased seam lays on the inside of the bag. Push corners out.

Make the drawstring casing

Fold the top of bag 1/4" toward the outside and press. Fold over another 1/4" to encase that raw edge and press again.

Stitch the casing

Stitch the fold down, leaving a teeny tiny opening at one of the side seams. (Funky camera issues and tree-filtered natural lighting lend this shot its dramatic flair)

Insert drawstring

Cut a length of string about 5" longer than the circumference of the bag. Use a large darning needle to run it through the casing at the opening you left in the seam.

You're done!

Fill with produce. Store in fridge. Wash. Rinse. Repeat.

Snaps shot


Three years ago, while trimming the nails of a very uncooperative baby boy, I handed him the nearest shiny object in an attempt to acquiesce him into acceptance of the clippers. This camera, whose commercials claimed it to be the "official camera of the internet," eliciting a snortle every time I heard it, was swiftly clunked to the ground. It's lens, bent at an unholy angle and refusing to retract, was waiting apologetically for Mr. New Media to judge when he got out of the shower. It was deemed unfixable. So we replaced it. With the one we currently use. The one The Girlie now manhandles.

Babies, I suppose, are all alike in this regard — they have no respect for personal electronics. The Girlie, like The Boy who blazed the trail before her, has a bad habit of sweeping the camera to the floor. One swift movement of a roly-poly arm, and a pocket-sized camera can be sent clear across the room. One could see how I could be to blame. Mr. New Media has suggested that I've been purposefully careless with the camera to necessitate the purchase of a new, much more expensive one. To which I just shrug sheepishly. 

After the last big tumble, this old thing's developed some focusing and lighting issues that can't be rectified. And when telescoping open, it issues a Clickety Clackety that, while not altogether displeasing, isn't really a healthy camera kind of noise. And three years in digital goods time pretty much constitutes an eternity. So we're in serious camera-shopping mode around here. And yes, we're looking at DSLRs this time. Mr. New Media's got his eye on some specific cameras whose specs elude me. I really don't know a damn about cameras so I'm leaving it to him to decide. Just direct me to the macro button, thank you very much. These fancier cameras have macro buttons, right? Jeez, it better come with a printed manual. I'm looking forward to some good ol' documentation-reading already.


In the meantime, I'm still using Clickety Clackety, because there are shots to be taken, moments to be digitized. And while I can never quite get the shot I want anymore, what with entire quadrants of blur taking over the frame, there is a bit of a lomographic quality, an analog-ness, that makes it downright charming, if quasi-artistic. Thank god for blurry photo flickr pools. 


I know I'm not the world's greatest photographer. But I try. And I think I've pulled off some pretty good shots with our little point and shooter. Even Mr. New Media, who had harbored aspirations to photojournalism before being drawn to the dark arts of the eponymous New Media, concedes that I take the better photos these days. But having a camera with obvious defects takes a good deal of the pressure off. It's ok if my photos aren't in focus. Or evenly lit. Or look like they were shot in this decade. They're flawed. To which I just shrug sheepishly.

Tags: camera, photography

Gardening, contained


A new friend asked the other day if I do any gardening. The short answer is no. Between being in a rented house whose owners seem to have a specific horticultural vision, and having a bit of a short attention span when it comes to looking after the well-being of plantlife, I've got solid excuses not to dabble in the green arts. But I'm going to be completely honest with you here. It's the bugs that really keep me from spending time in the garden. I am deeply squeamish even at the mere thought of bugs. It's an embarrassing fact, one that exposes me for the scream-and-scamper GIRL archetype that I am. 

I've been thinking for a while now that I just need to get the hell over it. Because if I ever hope to rely on the kids for bug removal, I'd better not let on to them that bugs are creepy crawly little nightmares that, at all costs, should never be touched or looked at. And I really believe that one of the greatest activities for kids at home is watching and tending to a growing plant. Hell, even I love watching a seed germinate. Well into adulthood I've been known to pop a bean or avocado pit or pre-seeded peat disk into water and watch that little sprout unfurl its tender green head. Magic. So, the hell over it, I'm trying to get.

It's late February now, practically March, and from what I hear it's been unseasonably cold. I hadn't noticed. While the rest of the country was suffering through an actual freeze, the latest cold front ushered in daytime temps in the 50s. We only had one day this month in the 70s. That madness seems to be passing now, the sun glimmering friendly and warm. I threw sweaters on the kids one cool morning last week and we headed out, on foot, the few blocks to our favorite nursery, crossing paths with thin-skinned natives bundled in their fleeciest coats and scarves and hats. We exchanged hellos and I snickered inwardly.


Some people can rattle off genera like their own phone numbers, pinpointing a plant's taxonomic hierarchy with hairline precision. They know what to plant, where to plant it at the right time of year, have pre-tested the soil balance and treated it for optimum growing conditions. Me, I glance at the little tags staked into the pots at the nursery. And then I throw all caution to the wind and just plop my new acquisitions into a freshly dug hole, or in our case, one of the pots I have sitting around waiting for this occasion. This day, I let the Boy make most of the plant selections, steering him towards herbs and small flowering things. We picked out enough to fill the basket under The Girlie's stroller, laid out a Girlie sized bag of organic potting soil at her feet, and tossed in a couple of seed packets to round out the mix.


Playing with dirt is nothing The Boy needs to be talked into. He was more than happy to shovel it into the pots and nestle it around the transferred mounds of dirt and root. He carefully laid the plant markers into the pots, lest we forget the difference between rosemary and thyme, and liberally sprinkled all the containers with his watering can. Then he piled the soil into our recycling bin-salvaged egg carton and, ever gently, massaged sunflower and wildflower seeds into the dirt. His daily responsibilities now include watering his plants ("They belong to all of us, Momma") and checking for any new growth. No new developments, yet, but not having to go out and buy a sprig of sage for tonight's dinner gets me plenty excited. I could get used to this kind of gardening. 



While we're on the subject of curling up under warm things, I thought I'd share with you this little work in progress, whose stitches were cast on the day after I found out I was pregnant. I waited that extra rotation of the earth only because the yarn store wasn't open on Mondays. Not knowing the gender of the baby, and really not one to bend to blue and pink stereotypes at any rate, I picked out what I felt to be gender-neutral yet modern nursery-cute colors. That was a long year and half ago. Now, the salmon and gray combination strikes me as somewhat Freddy Krueger-ish, but I persevere, if only to get one more project done and out of mind.

I don't want to make a habit out of trotting out the works in progress. Because, yeah, while the process is just as important as the product, projects that never see the light of completion are just big ol' crafty fail. And, yeah, I do have a back-of-the-closet-ful of semi-stitched/glued/worked/cut miscellany developing that mustyness that comes about from spending any amount of time scrunched up in a plastic bag and shoved into dark spaces. Even my unfinished digital projects somehow manage a hint of that odor. So this bit of knitting is getting the fast-track treatment, itching to be used as the baby blanket it was intended to be, while The Girlie is still a baby.

As was the hand-stitching and binding that completed the quilt, knitting is what I consider a TV activity. Not content to just curl up in my chair and absorb the drama of whatever Tivo has seen fit to entertain us with, I must constantly keep my hands afiddle with things like quilting, knitting, crossword puzzles (NY Times in pen, thank you very much) and, in an admittedly poor exercise of my multi-tasking muscle, reading. I could attribute this to something about idle hands and the devil, if I believed in such things as evil and archaic adages. It's all about being productive and efficient. And while I'm not out there producing a paycheck for the family coffers, I might as well be making something pretty and cozy while numbing my brain with the warm glow of pre-recorded goodness.


We've been watching as much Olympics as Tivo will allow (which is markedly less, here in Houston, without the access to Canadian networks that we had in Seattle), and for these few weeks have submitted our kid-free evening hours entirely over to the Games. The quilt, completed on the eve of the opening ceremonies, gave way to the soft and wooly fibers (superwash, of course) of this blanket worked on spindly circulars. I'll keep going until I run out of the yarn, whose dye lots have all surely been consumed in the intervening months since I purchased them. It won't be crazy-large, like a certain blanket I knitted The Boy four years ago. But it will require some augmentation, likely with fabric, to calm the intense edge curling and puckering that even a most stringent blocking will be unlikely to resolve.

It likely won't be done before the closing ceremonies five days from now. But good progress has been made. And we have three seasons of Mad Men to catch up on.

Three quilts


Come every September, as the weight of summer heat, something I'm just not cut out for, makes way for that first chill, that slightest sliver of an inclination to slide my toes and children under a cozy blanket and settle in for the cooler months ahead, I start thinking quilts. I pull up images pilfered from websites and books and magazines, and sort through my stash, and browse all the pretty cottons online and wound in bolts at the store. And I plan and plan and plan. And then, nerve worked up to finally cut through some fabric, I realize that I need to put the whole thing aside to get to more pressing, seasonal matters.


And so it's gone the past few years. First it was The Boy's quilt. It was my first, a pattern from Denyse Schmidt's book, the one that allowed me to believe I could actually pull off such a thing. He was a baby, then. I'd been poring over the book for a few months, not ready to take the plunge into actual making, until I found him one December morning, foot leveraged against the rail to his crib, ready to launch himself out of bed. That night, we converted the crib, with a few turns of an allen wrench, to a toddler bed. And I decided that a toddler with a new (sort of) bed deserved new toddler bedding. I attended to the quilt in the evenings, after work and dinner and Boy putting-down. Worked in one-hour increments, that impossibly small crib quilt took three months. It, with Elvis Presleyan accents and blue-green floral notes, still accompanies his sleep, though it's entirely too small, now, for both his full-sized bed and his sleep-squirmy body.


The materials for quilt #2, a large one for our queen-sized bed, were freshly purchased when I found out I was pregnant. I, atingle with nervous excitement at this new development, stashed the bags of fabrics into a closet until such a time as my unstable nerves were steadied enough to wield something so sharp as a rotary cutter. In the meantime, I kneaded biscotti dough and hand-rolled truffles and brewed up liqueurs I wouldn't be able to drink (I may have taken a couple of sips here or there — you know, for testing purposes), and bundled them up for their holiday recipients. Once past all the gift-making, I took a moment to consider the direction of my next projects, whether they should be baby-related or not. I opted to spend the next few months working on a fairly simple quilt for us, because The Boy looked so content under his, and I wanted my own, dammit. I went without a pattern on this one, going with a simple staggered brick construction in solids of blues with columns of blue/green/brown prints thrown in for interest. I happened across the Democrat print next to a similarly spent bolt of Republican fabric at the store and knew it would have a happy home on my bed. If there had been a crazy-Liberal fabric, I would have stitched that in instead. The back, with its center stripe of orangey flowers dividing two cephalopodic panels, is an effective marker, like that tug-of-war flag, in our nightly battles for bedding supremacy.


The Girlie was born in July, with a full Houston summer's worth of bone-melting heat and humidity to survive before any kind of blanketing could even be considered. In a third-trimester scramble, I had made up a stack of light receiving cloths and even lighter provisions for the double-swaddling that would enable us all some sleep. These were no more complex than a layer of stretchy cloth edged with bias binding. A quilt would have to wait until such a time that being buried under a crib-sized hill of cloth and batting would not send me into sweat-gland overload. I emerged from a summertime spent cordoned in air-conditioned spaces in relative un-craftiness (there was a newborn to attend to, after all), consumed by two urges. The first, a strong desire to throw myself into a wordy, webby self-indulgence. The second, an absolute need to piece together this quilt. Mine (well, The Girlie's) is not so faithful to the whole polka dotty theme as its author's. But I knew we had something good going when The Girlie gave me her first chortles while eying the unfinished quilt-top hanging across the room.

This quilt is a product of flannels from The Boy's old receiving blankets and cotton prints from my stash, left over from the previous two quilts and other little projects for our little family. Things like baby booties and Easter baskets and blankets and little kimonos and pillows. The backing is a heart-y kaleidoscope, printed up at Spoonflower, swatched and color-corrected until it repeated and read just right. Hand quilting has a permanent residence on my ever-increasing list of things that I'm slow at, somewhere in the midst of running and writing and mentally reckoning for daylight savings. But after a happy month spent with legs cozied up under the quilt, thumb thimbled and rocking away, I was then faced with the task of binding. And, quite possibly, there is nothing I'm slower at than that, measuring my progress in tedious little inches. But it's finally done, all colorful and cheerful and full of bits and pieces of our family. And, yes, warm.