Sunday, March 20, 2016

A Macrame Plant Hanger, window shelves, and some tips for happy houseplants!

I love houseplants. Steve recently counted all of our houseplants and determined that we currently have 32! Which is no where near enough, in my opinion - I wish our whole house looked like a jungle. I (not so) secretly wish that my house looked like one of those awesome 70s pads full of plants, like these:

Gah, I love that kitchen! Seriously! Anyway, houseplants are totally in right now, but being a snob, I feel that I must tell you that I am no fair weather fan of houseplants. Or 1970s decor. Oh wait, you probably know that by now, huh? Sometimes it's a little annoying when everyone on the planet decides that your favorite thing is the latest trend. On the one hand, it's vindicating: "I told you macrame was cool!!" On the other hand, it means it will be going out of style before long, and that's a little sad.

Anyhoo. I made a macrame plant hanger!

I bought a book about macrame a while ago and taught myself the basic knots. To be honest, it turned out I already knew what I was doing, because one of my very first expeditions into crafting, as an 11 year old, was making friendship bracelets. At age 11, I was pretty awkward, and didn't have that many friends (I know, I know, feel sorry for me!), so it was a little ironic that I was amazing at making friendship bracelets, which I mostly gave to my family members because you know, no one liked me at school. I taught myself how to make them and spent long hours with a bracelet pinned to my jeans, knotting away. At the height of my powers, I could make thick, wide, bracelets with complex chevron and diamond patterns. I don't think I'm bragging here, although I don't have any actual examples to show off anymore, but I was really darn good at it! (And thank goodness I found my tribe of fellow misfits in college.)

So macrame turns out to be a total piece of cake! The motions of square knotting came back to me immediately, and the thick cord or jute is so fast and easy to work compared to the embroidery thread I used to make bracelets. This kind of macrame is really three-dimensional and fun to do. I had put off learning how to macrame because I felt like I was maxed out on hobbies, but this is so easy and fast, I don't know that it even qualifies as a new hobby! I am not sure if it's because it's just plain easy, or because I learned the basic skills at a time in my life when my brain was especially fresh and open to learning new kinesthetic skills, but it just came very easy and naturally to me once I got into it.

For this hanger, I used some heavy cotton rope/cording I found at Michaels. I am looking forward to trying out some actual Macrame cords and jute/hemp. Did you know there is a Macrame Super Store? As much as I love the 70s, I can't imagine life without the internet!  

To make this hanger, I combined techniques from several DIY instructions I found online (if you'd like more information, let me know, and I'll send you some links), changing things out along the way. Basically, the top starts with alternating square knots, then switches to one-sided square knots, which naturally spiral around in a pleasing way. When you've reached a good length, you split the strands up, skip down a bit, knot, add beads, knot, skip some more, and do alternating square knots.

Once I got to the pot part, I started working around my little planter so that the final hanger would be the right size, and did square knots where it made sense. It was all very intuitive and fun! I finished the bottom with some square knots and a little tassel. This is definitely not the last macrame object you will be seeing from me - this is FUN!! - but Steve has indicated that there is a limit to how many macrame hangers he can tolerate around the house. Apparently he is not completely on board with turning our house into a groovy jungle pad? And surreptitiously installing hanging plants all over the house would be difficult due to the height of our ceilings and the noise of the equipment! So some kind of compromise will have to be struck.

In the meantime ... I am getting excited about macrame wall hangings (check out my Pinterest board)!! Steve will surely live to regret forbidding me more hanging planters!

Speaking of my large collection of houseplants and my wonderfully tolerant (slightly martyred) husband, I ordered these acrylic window shelves from this totally awesome Etsy shop so that I could turn a small, non-functional kitchen window into a lovely place for plants and knick-knacks. I can't recommend this small family business enough. They custom made shelves to fit this awkward small window, and because the shelves were so small, gave me a great price on the set. (Overall, their shelves are not super cheap, but they are custom made!) We just had to install the shelves with hardware that was included. These shelves turned an ugly window with a crappy view of my neighbor's driveway into something I love to look at! The little bottles, by the way, are things we've dug up in our back garden in the years we've lived in this house.

Steve actually got me the tiny orchid in the bottom right for our anniversary, and it fits perfectly beneath the bottom shelf. Isn't it the cutest thing in the universe? He may not love the 70s like I do, but he knows what I like.

Little touches like this go a long ways towards reconciling me with my surroundings, imperfect and messy as they are. I love pretty things, and one of my rules of life is that loving beauty is not shallow. Sometimes it's easy to write off home decoration or pretty things as an unnecessary luxury, and certainly spending a heap of money on matching furniture is unnecessary for most of us, but a few pretty things can really help a place feel like home. That's how I feel about houseplants. In addition to cleaning the air, they really add life and beauty to a room.

As a person with a houseful of plants, I often hear from a lot of friends that they have "brown" or "black" thumbs and "kill everything." This tends to get me on a bit of a high horse, because I love plants and have gardened most of my life. It triggers one of my favorite lectures: "Learning how to take care of plants is not something that comes naturally to some people but not to others - like most things in life, it's a skill, and anyone can learn it!"

I think some people say that they have black thumbs when what they really mean is "I don't care that much about plants, and I'm not willing to put the effort into keeping them in my house." To them, my lecture above is probably annoying, and I just want to say, if that's how you feel, that is so COMPLETELY FINE. For heaven's sake, none of us can learn or be interested in everything! Some people love having a great-looking, clean, detailed car. They purchase a car that reflects their personality and they spend time taking care of it. I am not one of those people. I buy my car based on gas-mileage and reliability, not looks. I wash my car once every couple months at most, and the inside tends to be littered with sweaters and toys and the floor is covered in squashed cheerios. And as long as I can give someone a ride someplace without extreme shame (and I am not very easily embarrassed), I really don't care!

Maybe you sew and knit and bake cakes, but don't do plants. Totally fine. That doesn't mean you have a black thumb, it just means you have other priorities.

But if you are one of those people who says they have a black thumb, but you wish you had a green thumb, then listen up! It's not magic! There's no such thing as a "black thumb" (although there are certainly forgetful people, or people who don't have time for plant maintenance), and most "green thumbs" kill a lot of plants! A friend recently mentioned that she is coming to see houseplants as "long term flowers." If they don't survive for years, no big deal, they were still a good deal for something that adds a little life and interest to her house for a few months. I love this, and I think it highlights a difference between gardeners and non-gardeners - gardeners know that some plants are going to die, and they don't take it personally or assume that because they couldn't keep a specific plant alive, that they have a black thumb. In short, they take failures as par for the course rather than a sign that they should not be gardening.

You know, it's quite a lot like sewing that way ...

So, after growing houseplants for years, I have a couple of pointers, which I hope you will find refreshing and labor-saving!
  • Rule Number One: Most people kill houseplants with too much water (or by putting them in pots that don't drain). Put your plant in a pot that has good drainage, don't let them sit in water, and don't overwater. I water my plants once a week (less for succulents). Don't love your plants to death! Most plants (not all, but most) do better with neglect than over-attention. Yes, you heard that right: You will kill less plants by forgetting to water than by watering overzealously. 
  • One of my rules for my outdoor garden is "Figure out what grows well in your climate, and then grow lots of that." I mean, if you want to spend hours everyday babying your brussel sprouts, have at it. I'd rather sit and drink a beer and watch the plants take over the back yard, myself. This rule holds indoors as well. While I like to keep some more "difficult" houseplants around because I enjoy a challenge, most of my plants are practically neglect-proof: Spider plants, pothos, succulents, umbrella plant, philodendron. If I catch the flu and miss a week of watering, they will survive. If you like pretty coffee table books, check out The Indestructible Houseplant - it's beautiful to look at and full of really sturdy plants.
  •  Brown spots on the leaves are almost always a sign of overwatering, see above.  
  • Make plant care part of your regular routine. I water plants on Saturday, when we clean the house. It's easy to remember because it's part of a routine. If you can't remember when you last watered, that is going to make it a lot easier to overwater plants or forget to water them altogether. When in doubt, don't water unless the top couple inches of soil are dry. I only have a couple of plants that would probably like to be watered more frequently than once a week, and mostly, I just make them wait.
  • In general, I have the best luck indoors with glazed-outside, unglazed-inside ceramic pots that have a separate dish or saucer to catch the water. Unglazed ceramic dries out too quickly, and plastic tends to stay too wet. If you do use ceramic pots (which are also really pretty) you might want to use a little cork coaster underneath the saucer to protect your surfaces, because ceramic is porous. I put gravel or pot shards at the bottom of my pots under the soil so that the soil doesn't drain out as well as the water.
  • For looks, I also like plastic pots and a saucer inside a basket weave planter. Pots and planters are a great thrift store score (I wash pots in scalding hot water if they've been used before hoping to kill any disease or bugs.) Garage sale or free plants are a more risky score because of the possibility of bringing disease or bugs home where they could hurt your other plants.
  • Beware the kind of pots that have the dish attached to the pot. Unless you're careful, your plant will end up sitting in water. I have a few of these, and I pick them up and tilt them over the sink to empty out the tray every time I water. They seem really practical, but actually they are more work!
  •  If a plant is not doing well despite appropriate watering, chances are good the issue is light. Try moving your plants around the house and try out different spots. My living room windows are really hot and tend to burn all but the sturdiest plants, but the dining room windows are perfect for almost anything. The kitchen is better for lower light plants. The funny thing is, all of these windows face the same side of the house, it's all about the shade cast by our neighbor's house. One thing I enjoy about gardening, indoors and out, is that it makes me a lot more aware of natural light patterns. It goes without saying, if you have houseplants you need to open your curtains during the day so that they get some light. Just this tends to cheer the house up, so the plants are a good reminder.
  • If you move your houseplants outdoors, put them in a pretty dark, shady area. Most houseplants will fry in outdoor light or sun. Ask me how I know! 
  • If a plant still isn't doing well after some changes, consider tossing it and moving on. Life is too short to sit on your couch looking at a dying plant that makes you feel bad. If a plant appears to have bugs or disease, toss it immediately. Unless it's a really prized member of your collection and you know what the problem is and immediately start treatment, the risk it poses to the rest of your plants is not worth the effort of trying to cure it. (Just ask me about the black fly epidemic of 2013 sometime if you want to hear a tale of woe. I thought I could bring that buggy plant home from the office and save it! End result: Many of my house plants had to be tossed.)
  •  With the exception of African Violet, which doesn't do well with water on the leaves, I like to give my plants a bath in the sink every once in a while, to wash dust off the leaves and give them a thorough watering (I leave them in the sink to completely drain before putting them back in their spot). This is optional and you don't need to do it, but I really like seeing my sink filled with green plants - it's kind of 70s jungle-pad - and the plants look nicer if they aren't dusty.

I think that's it! Instead of poring over books about how to grow exotic houseplants and address the many possible fungi and insects and disease that can afflict them, I've decided to grow mostly easy houseplants, toss ones that aren't working out, let things dry out between watering, and just not worry that much!

For the record, there is a limit to how many plants I can take care of - there is a limit to how much I can take care of, period! When I had two dogs, and a toddler, and a newborn - let's just say only my hardiest plants survived that period of my life (an aloe and an umbrella plant were among them, fyi). It turns out that my ability to nurture living things is in fact finite (one of several reasons I will not be having 19 children!). If your nurturing capacities are currently maxed out, don't worry. Keep your kids and animals (and yourself) alive as best you can, and don't worry about plants. There will be time later.  No pressure. I have a suspicion that the 70s pads shown above (at least the top two) were childless pads!

But when you realize that most plants can actually survive a lot of neglect, and that you're most likely to kill them by paying too much attention to them, and even if they do die, who cares, it's just a houseplant! - It is rather freeing, I think!

I am by no means an expert in any kind of gardening - I'm a lazy person who likes looking at plants. So I hope these tips help you relax and enjoy your houseplants rather than having them become yet another stress in your life.

This ended up being a long post!! Are you a lover of all things green and growing, or one of those people who believes they have a black thumb?

Saturday, March 12, 2016

Wind-blown Lisette top.

 Hi friends! We're in the middle of another wave of El NiƱo storms, but I took advantage of a break in the rain to take a few pictures of this simple new top I made for myself. This is Butterick 6182, a great Lisette pattern with a boxy top and pleated a-line skirt. I've made this top once before and I really love the boxy shape in a flowy fabric.

My first version was in a bold print, so I wanted to try this pattern in a solid fabric that would show off the center seam and little centered darts better. I picked this tomato red drapey rayon twill up from the remnant bin at Hart's Fabric in when I stopped by Santa Cruz almost a year ago now. It has been ear-marked for this pattern since the beginning but I only got around to making it now!

Like my first version, I cut this out in a size 12, grading to a 14 at the waist (it's a loose top, so I'm not sure this makes much difference). Like my first version, I cut the back on the fold rather than having a center-back seam as well as a center-front seam. But this time I scooped out the neckline a bit more (my first is so high in the front it bothers me a little), and added a lot of length. I cut the hem near the hip marking on the dress pattern piece, and then turned it up and made a two inch hem. I like the extra weight this gives the hem and the longer length is still a bit cropped but easier to wear than the very cropped length marked on the pattern.

 The top looks like it has a slight hi-lo hem in these pictures, but I think the real issue is that it could use a full bust adjustment (sigh). Oh well, it's cute with the fake hi-low hem, right? No way I am going to do an FBA on a top this simple and boxy! Not going to happen!

Of all of the items I sew for myself, I wear the tops the most, hands down. I tend to wear separates more than dresses, and I always need nice blouses to pair with pants, skirts, and blazers or sweaters for work. This isn't the most exciting make on the planet, but it is exactly the sort of thing I love to wear! I am not sure I would call it Flattering with a capital "F" worn like this, but that's what blazers are for!

It was a little too windy for a photo shoot!

Haha! Glamorous, right?!

My nails just happened to match my top! Totally unplanned! (Jamberry nail wraps! Have you tried them? I like have "done" nails but I don't like the smell or mess of nail polish or supporting a troubling industry, so Jamberries are perfect for me! I'm a weirdo and prefer solid colors though.)

A couple hours after this photo was taken, rain is coming down in sheets. Again. All this rain is great for California, but it does make it hard for me to record and blog my makes in a timely manner! 

And here it is with the requisite cardigan and my best "resting bitch face." Haha! Posing for blog photos is such a challenge, right? I mean, some people just have that modeling thing. I am not one of those people but I force myself to do this for you, lovely friends, because I know I like to see garments on an actual person! So here you go! Y'all should know by now that awesome modeling in front of enviably lovely and impeccably clean backgrounds is just not my bag. If you see this face in real life, I'm probably trying to smile politely but thinking "are you freaking kidding me right now?" Now you know.

This is such a great, basic top!

Have you embraced the loose and boxy top trend?

Sunday, March 6, 2016

Gaptoothed Creeper.

Over the space of two weeks, Joe lost both his front teeth. He's not a fan of this whole teeth falling out business. He thinks tooth fairy money is poor consolation and would rather just keep his teeth, thank you very much. Even though we felt so bad for him we gave him $10 for each front tooth!

(I never realized how much variety there was in tooth fairy practices until I asked my Facebook friends "What is the going rate for the tooth fairy these days?" and got answers varying from "small items from nature" to $20 per tooth, with most people falling around $1 per tooth. Now, I got $1/tooth back in 1982, and even then it wasn't enough to buy anything except candy. So I decided that the tooth fairy would  recognize CPI/inflationary increases in our household, and Joe has gotten between $5 and $10 per tooth. I realize this is on the very high end of normal and I probably couldn't keep it up if I had five kids, but as it happened I still ended up having to subsidize the Lego set he really wanted, and it hopefully distracts him from how much he hates this whole teeth falling out thing. Nonetheless, he would have happily skipped the Legos if he could have kept his teeth.)

The only thing worse than the teeth falling out is the part where they are loose, so at least we're past that with the front two. You should've seen this poor child trying to maneuver a grilled cheese sandwich past his wiggly front teeth. It was a hard couple of weeks!

Mostly, this is how he feels about it:

But he does find it mildly amusing that he can slip a whole Cheerio through his front gap now.

Anyway, yesterday I had a sewing buddy over and she recently got a serger and is learning to sew with knits. She brought a bunch of this navy ponte knit she picked up at Joanns. She had originally planned to sew leggings for her daughter with it, but I told her it wasn't stretchy enough for that and gave her some rainbow chevron cotton lycra to make leggings with instead, as well as a beginning serger lesson. In exchange, she let me take enough blue knit to make a Field Trip Raglan sweatshirt for Joe (she still has tons left to make a sweatshirt for her daughter!).

So I whipped up this quick and dirty "Creeper" sweatshirt for Joe. Like many six year olds, Joe is currently obsessed with Minecraft, and I just happened to have some apple green french terry hanging around for an applique. To make the Creeper face, I cut out and sewed on the square of green first. Then I traced the face on tissue paper and pinned it over the fabric, and sewed the details through the tissue paper and two layers of fabric underneath. Then I tore the tissue paper off and snipped away only the green layer to make the face. So it's a bit of applique and reverse applique in the same shirt!
I did exposed raw seams on the raglan, mostly because I didn't want to change my serger thread for this project in between two nicer and matchy projects. For the same reason, the neckline and waistband aren't as nice as they could be, because I did them on my sewing machine (no walking foot) instead of the serger. Sometimes I feel really lazy about a project, and later I look back and think, "would it have been that big a deal to do it right?" But I think I have to do that occasionally, to remind myself that doing it right is worth the little bit of extra effort for most projects. And I still like whipping up a quick item now and then and don't mind if it's obviously homemade.

Sometimes I neglect to blog my "quick and dirty" makes, because they don't seem nice enough to share. But they are often the most popular things I make for the kids! Neither the kids nor I view them as precious or not-to-be-worn. And in this case, Joe is a seriously happy customer! He said the sweatshirt feels nice and warm and hasn't taken it off since.

Speaking of quick and dirty makes, I made these pajama pants for Joe last year, when he still wasn't wearing pants, even PJ pants, and they sat in his bin unworn for a long time. With the chilly weather and return of the long trousers this year, Joe has taken a belated liking to these and wears them any chance he can now! He's discovered the joy of flannel pajama pants!  Again, not my finest work as a seamstress (check out my total disregard for the concept of pattern matching!) and nothing fancy, but a regular favorite. Joe doesn't seem to mind that they are "floods"!

Happy gaptoothed customer.

What does the toothfairy leave in your household?