Sunday, September 28, 2014


Hello peoples! Things are bustling in these parts. I've been really busy at work, and working really hard on our house, and yes, just a bit of sewing too. All of this frenetic and somewhat scatter-brained activity has not left me with a lot of time or energy for writing blog posts, but never fear, I'm sure I'll get my blogging mojo back at some point.

Do you ever feel really inspired, but also really scattered? That's me right now.

So rather than following some orderly path, this post will likely be as scattered as my mind is these days. So many disconnected projects!

First up, progress in the kids' room!

Work in the Kids' Bedroom

Steve put up little Ikea shelves for books.

Work in the Kids' Bedroom

And we installed the giant wall map! I got the wall map (which came with old fashioned wallpaper paste) on Amazon, and I love the colors, which have exactly the vintage quality I was looking for. I was a little disappointed that, at least when it comes to California, it's not actually that accurate, though! Sacramento is where Reno is, and Stockton is shown as north of us instead of southeast? Very strange and annoying. And now it's permanently affixed to my wall! ARGH!

Oh well, it's pretty, even if it's not precisely accurate ... ?

Work in the Kids' Bedroom

But look! It's so pretty!

Work in the Kids' Bedroom

All this little reading nook needs is some floor pillows and it's ready to go.

We haven't moved the bed into the room yet, but Joe, aka, "Hates All Change: Good, Bad, and Indifferent," actually seems on board with the idea! But rather than moving it in there the second he suggested it, we are leaving him wanting it for a while, hoping to avoid second thoughts and regrets.  We know Joe pretty well, cough cough. He is also upset and disturbed by the idea that we will have to disassemble the bed to fit it into the room - he says, "No!! Don't take it apart!" in alarm. Because ... I'm not sure, actually.

But we're working on it, and I expect this will be a real bedroom soon.

Inspired by this transformation, I decided to take on an even more ambitious project: repainting my living room!

Painting the living room

My friend Karen, who advised me to paint the kids' room Sherwin Williams "Rainwashed," told me that "Agreeable Gray" was the color for this room. Who am I to argue? We like it so much we are considering carrying it into the the dining room eventually.

Do you see the kid scribbles on the wall to my right? They are GONE!!! Oh happy day!

Painting the living room

Steve has been such a good sport and has helped me execute all of my ambitious plans for the house! Eight years of living in a house with an underwater mortgage doesn't exactly inspire one to make improvements (because why bother? we'll never get that money back! etc.), and of course, small children don't help much either. But I am ready to really freshen this place up.

Okay, the truth is that I'm super obsessed and crazy over the idea of redecorating the place and my family is putting up with my craziness and pitiching in, probably out of fear. It is entirely possible that I am suffering from an overdose of Pinterest and HGTV. Personality-wise, Joe and Steve are similar - why fix something that isn't broken? And no, they don't see "comfy hand-me-down couch that is out of proportion with the room" or "walls that are a nice shade of blue that I've grown tired of" to constitute an actual problem. The sharpie scribbles on the wall? They add character. But they're both being such good sports and putting up with Mama's nuttiness. Joe only spent about 30 minutes grieving over the removal of that junky chest-of-drawers which was serving as a place to heap clean laundry from the room. (He's still upset that we gave away the playpen like six months ago.)

Painting the living room

Yep, only a madwoman could be so happy while painting!

And here's the room after yesterday's work! There's still some masking tape to pull off, and I plan to paint the baseboards and window trim today.

Living room - walls painted!

I bought encouraged my husband's buy-in on this project with the promise of a nice entertainment center on this wall, so we need to do some shopping! It's going to be awesome! I envision lots of room for the kids' toys and our books as well as a place to put the TV.

Since I have unilaterally decided that the room will have pops of cheerful yellow, pink, and red, I had to whip up a few new couch cushions to tide us over until we can afford new furniture. These have been very popular with the kids, at any rate. Everyone loves a nice cushion to snuggle with.

Couch cushions

You know, in 20 years of sewing, I don't think I had ever sewn a cushion until I made these.  Is that strange?

Couch cushions

They are simple envelope style cushions with buttons on the back. I pieced and quilted the fronts and then used piping on one and pom poms on the other. Maggie is obsessed with pink and with pom poms right now.  "MY PINK POM POMS!" She has been carrying my pom pom stash all over the house and refusing to share with Joe.

Couch cushions

I used natural linen on the back of the log-cabin-pom-pom pillow, and Art Gallery Fabrics Lazy Daisy to back the HST pillow. These are really fun and fast, and I'm busting through my stash of quilting fabrics.

Destined to become cushion #3

I decided that I had to have at least one hexie pillow! I am still deep in the trenches of hexagon addiction over here (my pile of Grandmother's Garden flowers is growing!). It's hard to explain the pleasure of watching a hexie project grow while you're watching Magnum P.I. and home improvement shows.

I have plans for non-home-dec sewing as well, but if you've been following this blog for any length of time you've probably noticed I'm susceptible to intense "phases" in my sewing and everything else. I am powerless to resist the pull of my obsession of the moment! For me, "selfish sewing" is sewing whatever I feel like sewing! Which is most of my sewing, so I really can't complain. So happy Selfish Sewing Week!

Monday, September 15, 2014

Snuggle Robot.

Sometimes there's not a ton to say about a project.

Joe and his Robot

This started out as a gift for a small baby (hence I used felt instead of buttons for the details). It's the Wee Wonderfuls Robot softie. The pattern is very simple, and it was really fun to make. It is a great way to use some of those small scraps of fabric and felt that are always threatening to explode out of my sewing corner and take over the entire house.

Wee Wonderfuls Robot

The softie is sewn together by machine, then the details are added by hand (although you could easily do most of those by machine as well). I assembled it in an afternoon, and enjoyed the handwork while I was watching evening television.

Wee Wonderfuls Robot, detail of control panel

But when I was done, Joe claimed it as his own. He asked very nicely if he could keep the robot, because "it is warm and snuggly." Then he took it to bed with him. Everyone needs a warm and snuggly robot, right?

Joe and his Robot

Well, I'm a sucker for those baby blues. Of course you can keep the robot, Joe.

Wee Wonderfuls stuffed 

I guess I'll be making another one!

Wednesday, September 10, 2014

A Few of My Favorite Things: the Nova Tote.

After the challenge of Maggie's backpack, I was ready for something easier and more fun! But I wasn't sure I wanted to do another bag. Like, ever again! So when my buddy Mahriam a.k.a. Three Owls Handmade asked me to test her new Nova Tote pattern, I initially hesitated.

But then Mahriam kept talking about how easy and simple it was to construct as well as parading out amazing versions made by her and her other testers, until I broke down under the pressure! And she was so right! This bag completely cured me of my "I hate sewing bags" mindset.

Nova Tote

The Nova Tote is a simple canvas tote bag with an optional quilted panel on the front. It comes in two sizes and has an optional lining. I decided to make the larger size and go with the simple unlined version. The size is perfect for hauling kid stuff around on the weekends or hitting the farmers' market. (Or the grocery store; there is a plastic bag ban in effect in my county.)

Nova Tote, front

Picking fabrics for this bag was so fun. I bought the canvas especially for this project, but everything else came from my stash. This bag has so many of my favorite things - golden yellow, Heather Ross VW vans, quilted stars, striped binding, orange wood grain fabric, hand embroidery. It kind of makes me want to break out in song!

Detail, hand embroidery and HR side panels.

I got a little nervous cutting into my precious fat quarter of VW buses - it was a gift from another sewing buddy, and it might well be the most valuable fabric I own from a collector's perspective. But now I can enjoy it everyday, and I still have plenty left. Fabric is meant to be sewn, right?

Making the quilted star panel was the most challenging aspect of the bag for me, since I'm only an occasional quilter. I required a bit of hand-holding from Mahriam on that part, since I had to learn how to make "flying geese" using only squares and rectangles. She has since added more detailed instructions on that technique in the instructions - it's one of those techniques that not immediately intuitive but once you "get" it you can't imagine doing it any other way. Once I figured it out, it was really fun! My points aren't perfect and my star is a little wonky, but since I'm not a hard-core quilting perfectionist who measures self-worth by triangle points, all I see is ORANGE WOOD GRAIN AWESOMENESS. Haha. 

I did add a little hand-embroidery in lieu of quilting, just because.

Nova Tote, pocket

The front pocket is big and deep enough to hold my keys and wallet separately from my other things without falling out.

The construction of this bag truly is simple and fast, making this a great first time quilting project for an apparel sewer or, I imagine, a great first time sewing project for a quilter. All of the pieces are rectangles, and it goes together without a lot of fuss. My only suggestion would be to use a really nice heavy denim needle in your machine and go slowly - I broke two needles in my rush to sew through four layers of canvas! But even so, this was an afternoon project. Once the quilted panel was completed, the rest of the bag was done in a jiff.

Nova Tote Interior

Since I opted not to line the bag, I finished the inside seams off with some bright tomato red bias tape I had in my stash. The main body of the bag is actually two layers of canvas, so in theory it could be self-lined, or you could line it with a cute contrasting fabric. Next time I will probably add an inner pocket or two, preferably with a zipper to keep my keys safe, but as far as easy breezy beach bags go, this is exactly right as-is.

As you can imagine, this bag went immediately into regular rotation and is now my go-to tote bag when I am running errands! I want to make the medium size next, and I'm excited that Mahriam is working on a quilted lunch bag that would be perfect for taking leftovers to work (I am currently using a five year old Cost Plus reusable bag that has really seen better days, so I could use something just like that).

It's exciting to see my friends designing patterns! Right now, I don't really feel any desire to learn to design or sell patterns, but I sure do enjoy testing them (when it works with my schedule and desires and usually in exchange for a copy of the final pattern). Ha, it works out just perfectly, right? Excellent symbiosis.

Are you considering making a Nova Tote? Do. It. It may change your mind about bag-sewing. And if not, you'll still have an awesome tote.

Monday, September 8, 2014

Kids' Bedroom: Progress!

Kids' room - painted!

Just a quick update to show you one project that has taken up an awful lot of my "free" time lately. I spent most of Labor Day weekend painting our tiny second bedroom upstairs, which will eventually become a shared bedroom for the kids.

After looking over my shoulder at my Pinterest board of kids' spaces, Joe decided that he wants a big world map on his wall (most of my map pictures were added after he said that, as I looked at different ways to incorporate maps into decor). Joe is currently really into maps, and being a map person myself, this is an interest I definitely want to encourage!

So after much deliberation and polling all my friends on Facebook (bright white? light blue? yellow?) I decided go with a light blue - like the ocean in an old map.

Several paint samples later, and it turns out that all light blues are not created equal. I don't consider myself to be especially picky about paint colors (maybe I'm kidding myself), so I was surprised at the strength of my dislike for my first set of samples. In our older house, with the rich dark hardwood, bright/light pastels look ... just awful! Who knew? I realized I needed something more muted, with more gray/brown in it.

So I polled my friends on Facebook. Again. What can I say? I'm a Libra. "Decisiveness" is not one of my strong qualities. My decision-making process involves a lot of hemming and hawing and trolling of Pinterest and blogs and soliciting of advice, usually followed by me ignoring said advice and doing whatever I feel like, much to the annoyance of my friends, who spent ridiculous amounts of time talking me through the whole thing. But, hey, I really want to know what other people think!

But here, one of my friends seriously came to my rescue. "Try Sherwin Williams 'Rainwashed.' Or maybe 'Sea Salt,'" she commented.

Do you have friends who not only know color generally, but can nail down exactly the shade of paint you need? It turns out this particular awesome friend, Karen, is considering going into interior design. The woman knows paint.

Samples were duly procured, and ... yes. Oh gosh, Rainwashed and Sea Salt are both so beautiful. Soft lovely green-blues with just the right amount of muted warmth to work in an old Victorian house with rich brown floors.

So I decided to do the walls in Rainwashed and the ceiling in Sea Salt, but it turned out you can't tell the difference and the room looks like it's all one color. Ha! Oh well!

Kids room before after painting

I know it's not a huge difference, but it looks so much nicer and cleaner now! There is really nothing like painting the baseboards and door to make a room seem suddenly clean and bright!

The actual painting went pretty quickly, even though I did it all myself. It's a small room (but the ceiling is high on the left!). I was so excited to be fixing up this space, I was actually freakishly happy most of the time, despite the fact that I was working really hard.

Working on the house

See, most cheerful painter ever, right? Until I got to the ceilings, anyway. Painting 10 foot ceilings is not a fun or cheerful job. But again, luckily the room is really small.

So that's where it is at this point. There is still a lot of work to be done - paint needs to be scrubbed off the floors and I need to screw on new outlet covers and I want to change the light fixture and furniture needs to be moved in, etc., etc.  Also, I need a really big map!

The current tentative plan is to put the map on the higher wall to the left, and the bunk beds under the dormered ceiling to the right. Then I will figure out some storage for clothes, books, and toys.

But as far as the beds, that might be a while. I have started talking to Joe about sleeping in his own room. The conversations usually go like this:

Me: "You know [BFF] sleeps in his own room, and has lots of fun toys in there, right?"
Joe: "I don't want to sleep in the other room. I like sleeping in my bunk bed near you and Daddy."
Me: "Daddy would still snuggle you every night, even if your bed was in the other room."
Joe: "I don't want to put my bed in the other room."

Okay ... so this may be a bit of a long term project!

That's okay. We'll get there eventually. In the meantime, the kids will have a lovely, light blue play space.

So ... what kind of curtains should I do?

Friday, September 5, 2014

Maggie wants what kind of backpack?

So. You know that thing where you have lots of things to blog about, but you procrastinate actually writing, and the next thing you know, you're way behind and it starts to feel like a chore to catch up?

And then there's a big ol' earthquake that causes lots of property damage in the city where you work and you're running around like a chicken with your head cut off trying to address a million different earthquake-related legal and insurance issues for several weeks? Which makes blogging seem like pretty much your negative one-hundreth priority?

What? No? This hasn't happened to you? Weird.

Anyhoo. Earthquake aside, things are good with us, and I've been keeping very busy! Not just sewing and learning about FEMA, but cleaning out and painting my children's future bedroom, and getting everyone ready to start a new year at Peter Pan, where apparently I am the parent of the oldest and youngest child in this year's class! Ha!

My main sewing project for August - and it was quite a project! - was Maggie's backpack. After all, baby girl is starting preschool this year, and I have standards to uphold; she needed a mama-made backpack. The only question was what type of backpack?

Joe: "Maggie wants a squid backpack, Mama."
Me: "What?! Squid? Um ... she told you that?"
Joe: "She wants a squid. Or an octopus."
Me: "Uh ... Sure, whatever."

I decided that was all Joe, and went and bought some adorable Japanese fabric with cute chickens on it for Maggie's backpack, along with matching notions and hardware.

Then I showed the fabric to Maggie, and she said, "NO!!" and (literally) threw it aside in disinterest and dislike. And walked away.

Now, given, she is two, and she says "No!" quite a lot. But still ...

Me: "Steve, Joe says Maggie wants a squid backpack. And Maggie didn't seem the least bit interested in this cute chicken fabric I bought. But it's so cute! I don't know what to do."
Steve: "A squid backpack would be way cooler."
Me: "But ...!"
Steve: "I think you should do a squid."
Me: "I guess I could maybe appliqué a squid ..."

Interlude. I spend way too much time on Pinterest trying to figure out what squids even look like, ahem. Then I tear my fabric stash apart, pulling all of the fabrics out looking for something that might work for an appliquéd squid. Because I sure as heck am not buying even more fabric for this project. Then I work up the nerve to freehand a squid shape and cut it out in fabric, fusible web, etc. This all takes about a week. 

I appliqué an orange squid to turquoise cotton piqué (what's with all the accents?). I show it to Maggie.

Maggie, pointing, approvingly: "Mah back-back."

Joe: "See, Mama? Maggie does like it."

Um, okay then! I am sorry I ever doubted my in-house older sibling toddler mind-reading/translation services!

Off to the fabric store to buy orange piping and zipper and nylon webbing. Do you know how hard it is to find bright orange notions? So there are four slightly different shades of orange in this backpack, but in the end I just to be like, whatevs, I don't have time to make my own piping or troll the internet for a bright orange zipper right now! 

Squid backpack

Here it is, finished, in all its squiddy glory! The pattern is Rae's Toddler Backpack, of course, the same pattern I used for Joe's backpack a couple years ago. It's a great little pattern - comes out looking so professional! - and the size is perfect.

Squid Backpack

I am pretty thrilled with how this turned out, but I have to say, I found my second version just as challenging as the first. This pattern is awesome, but - I'm just going to say it - kind of hard to execute! Specifically, getting the piping around the bottom, with the corners and thick layers: it is very difficult! For this backpack, I used heavy interfacing on the front, back, and side pieces, and two layers of batting on the bottom piece. I was going for extra-sturdy, especially because the cotton piqué I used for the body of the backpack is pretty lightweight, but this made for a lot of layers, and with the piping along the bottom, I could not for the life of me catch all of them in a nicely piped seam. So there were these ugly bits of fraying and batting showing through. See what I mean? Not pretty.

I ripped and redid this whole area about ten times, but it only seemed to get worse and the fabric was starting to fray and shred where I had ripped the seam so many times. Talk about a pain in the ass. I started to get a sinking sensation - a "this project is going to look like crap" feeling - you know what I'm talking about here. It makes me really grouchy! I went to bed in a foul mood.

A day or two later, it came to me: The bottom doesn't really need piping at all. I literally just sewed it right into the seam, burying the piping inside (that seam is going to be uber-sturdy, what with the many lines of stitching, five hundred layers, and buried piping!). I mean, gimme a freaking break! No one (except me, and now you) is ever look at the backpack and think "why doesn't the piping extend all around the panel?" And by that time, I just could not rip that seam even one more time. That's how frustrated I was.

Squid backpack

In retrospect, I can't believe that Joe's backpack was my first try with piping, because it is definitely a harder-than average application of piping. And it actually turned out really well on Joe's backpack, which is amazing! (I did use softer interfacing and fewer layers for his version, which is a bit slouchier, but it was a little embarrassing to struggle so much with the piping on this backpack when I've become a piping fiend in the two years since I sewed my first one!)

But once I got past that hurdle, I have to admit, the results are so cute! The piping really does make this bag. (But if you're struggling with the bottom, you don't need it there!) Even after two years of piping all the things, I still find sharp corners and piping seams with multiple layers to be challenging.

Side pocket

As with Joe's backpack, I added a little gathered and elasticized side water-bottle pocket. Joe rarely uses his for a water bottle, but it happens to be a good size for plastic dinosaurs and toy cars, and isn't it cute? I simply eyeballed a wider rectangle, gathered the bottom, and used (yet another shade of) orange bias tape to create a channel for the elastic on the pocket. Easy.


And believe me, if you make this pattern, you're gonna want to line it, because the inside is gonna look like a hot mess! But with a lining, no one will ever know! Yay! I used an awesome orange hatched print I have had in the stash for a while to line this bag and added a name tag (although I think it's safe to assume that most kids don't have an orange and turquoise squid backpack so the likelihood of confusion is low). I skipped the internal pockets that I included in Joe's backpack just because Joe never uses his.

Whew!! That was a lot of work! I won't lie, I may have grumbled "I'm never making another backpack again" and "after this, the kids can buy their own damn backpacks" more than once during this sewing project, but having finished it, I love it so much I am already starting to forget the pain. By next year, when Joe starts kindergarten, I may have forgotten it entirely. Or I may tell him to buy his own (damn) backpack. We'll see.

And here are Maggie and Joe this morning, all ready for school!

This was the least grumpy-looking photo of several grumpy photos! Haha! Let's just say: My children are not morning people. But they really love school. Joe has been complaining for a month "I don't like 'summer break.' Why can't I go to Peter Pan?"

Maggie's first day was yesterday and she had a blast! Being a younger sibling of a big kid, she knows her way around and already feels perfectly comfortable there. Joe showed her around and even sat down with her to eat snack! I think that the hardest part of both of them attending Peter Pan this year is that Maggie isn't going to understand that Joe goes four days a week, while she only gets to attend two days! Sorry, Maggie!