Wednesday, October 31, 2012

Wednesday, October 24, 2012

Through the Patch

Time and again I am reminded of how powerful traditions are in shaping our lives; and ever more so when your family includes small children. For these beings, who do not yet register the meaning of "October 24th", for whom a single calendar year may span a lifetime, seasons, holidays, and traditions literally provide the framework for the year, for their lives. They exist in a magical state in which every morning awakes with wonder of "what adventures will today bring"? 

In her lifetime, Ava has been to the pumpkin patch twice before. But this year she has a new recognition, an understanding, of what we do there and what it signifies. These traditions are markers not just for the little ones, but for us parents too as we think back to previous years and consider how much our little loved ones are blossoming, filling in their skin and becoming with every day more of who they are. So many pumpkins in a patch, each one unique. I observed the other families who were at the patch with our same intentions this past weekend. The air was surprisingly warm, the sky hazy and bright. Their cameras, too, clicked away trying to capture this moment. Because we adults are so familiar with time and how it passes. How it accelerates.

Even this sweater, knit when baby Eli was in my belly and I could only wonder about him, this sweater that seemed so enormous when I finished it - as if he'd never grow big enough to wear it. This sweater is another physical marker of the passage of time. One that he will too soon outgrow and leave limp and neatly folded in the back of the closet as he moves on, stretching further and further.

We snap a picture and freeze a moment. A moment so brief it was over just as soon as it began. And we hold on to that image, a reminder of a time that will never be again - for these little ones are already bigger than they were two minutes ago. And, yes, so are we; though the change in us is so much less perceptible. 

Somehow bringing home a trunkful of orange and green orbs makes it feel official. With Halloween a week away we have entered this glorious time of year so filled with celebration. The decorations go up and stay up, rotating as the months turn through to the final days of the cold season. The pace of making speeds unrelenting, with ideas for projects, gifts, crafts, decorations churning in my head. Oh, how I love this time of year and these traditions that give us the sense that, yes, we have been here before; though everything, really, is different.  I wish you happy and productive days leading up to Halloween. And remind myself (and perhaps you as well) to savor these very special days ahead.

Wednesday, October 17, 2012

KCWC Finale - Mittens

After my little battle with Eli's knit shirt, I thought it might be wise to restore my sewing ego and close out KCWC with something quick and easy. These Oliver + S mittens from Little Things to Sew were just the project I was ready to take on.

They are made of thick fleece that I think will work well to keep those little fingers warm in the cold months ahead. Ava has her heavy duty, zipper up to the elbow, gortex mega-gloves all ready to go for the Minnesota winter (hey, we'll actually have winter - and snow - this year, right?), but I wanted these to keep her paws toasty in those in-between days when fall is still transitioning to the crisp frostiness of deep winter.

If you couldn't already tell by her head-to-toe suit of monochrome, Ava is a big fan of the color purple. She has informed me that this year her winter coat will be "dark purple" - note to self: find a purple coat stat. So when she saw these mittens she immediately insisted that her hands were cold (despite the fact that it's hovering around 60 degrees outside right now) and that she needed to wear them right away.

While this was, just as I was hoping, a quick and easy project, it was not without it's hitches. In my KCWC induced sewing furor I insisted on sewing the elastic casings on when I was a tad delirious (our boy has decided that he enjoys nursing every other hour throughout the night) and misinterpreted what was up and what was down. So the elastic is a bit lower than it should be. After mentally agonizing over this for a night I figured I'd just finish this pair - and if they fall off too easily perhaps I will make another after our household has recuperated from KCWC (it seems when mama spends all her free time sewing, things like folding laundry and recycling newspapers fall by the wayside - and accumulate fast).

It's been a fun, busy week (and a half - yes, I know it's already Wednesday). I have enjoyed and been so inspired by the ever growing KCWC flickr pool. And I am left brimming with future project ideas dancing in my head. Now, a little breather and some tidying around the abode...

Sunday, October 14, 2012

KCWC Days 4 - 6 - My First Knit Shirt (aka my little disaster)

I've been wanting to try sewing with knits for a while now, but I'd been scared away from trying by others' recounted fear and warnings of how challenging it can be. I am not usually one to engage in any formal instruction when trying something new, preferring instead to jump right in and learn as I go. So once I'd heard from enough people that sewing with knits is "no big deal", I mustered up enough courage and (equipped with the vast resource that is the internet and all of the helpful, lovely tips that you crafty bloggers offer out to the cloud) set out to repurpose some of my old t-shirts that were in the donate pile. My goal: to make a long sleeve t-shirt for Eli.

Sometimes these first endeavors result in miraculously beautiful results, like with my first quilting project. Other times, however, the results are not so glamorous. As you can guess from the title of this post, this one fell into the latter category. Ok, calling this a disaster is a bit of a misnomer because it fails to acknowledge all that I learned in making this shirt; but I will get to that in a moment.

the 'right' side of the shirt - the pattern calls for exposed seams, which look kind of cool and are extra comfy for baby
When I first showed the shirt to Will he looked at me with a confused look that said, "you call this a disaster?" Ah, but "look closer", I said. The first problem was that my machine refused to feed the fabric without bunching and gobbling it up. When I tried to rip out the horribly puckered and distorted seam I tore a hole in the fabric. At this point I lost my cool, even patience that we mamas cultivate and learn to invoke when our toddlers begin their screaming, flailing fits, and the cursing began. Just as I was about to throw in the towel I had the idea to try my walking foot. Apparently it is fairly common knowledge that a walking foot can be helpful when sewing with knits - perhaps if I had done a bit more research I would have tried it earlier. In any case, this made all the difference for me and suddenly I was sewing knit seams like a dream.

With this issue solved it seemed the shirt could have been salvaged; however I had complicated things further by trying to modify the pattern I was using. Originally I wanted to make the raglan tee from Sewing For Boys, but despite what it says in the instructions the pattern does not go down to 12-18 months. Somewhere in the blogosphere I had seen someone modify the "R" is for Romper pattern from the same book into a simple t-shirt, so I figured I could do this too. Here's what I learned - when trying something new (if you want to succeed) don't unnecessarily complicate things. Take on one new challenge at a time - either try sewing with knits or try modifying a pattern, but not both. Ultimately the neckline turned out wonky because the romper calls for two snap panels, which I chose not to include. This resulted in two strange seams along the collar band and a neck opening that is about an inch too wide. In addition, the lengths of the arms and body of the shirt are arbitrary since the romper pattern had neither long sleeves nor a hemline at the waist - they may turn out to be just fine, but I won't know until the boy grows big enough to try this thing on.

the ' wrong side of the shirt, which in this case looks a bit neater, I think
So Eli may not be wearing this shirt to the ball anytime soon. But no, it is not a complete disaster because:
  • though it may not be so pretty, I made my first knit shirt!
  • I learned that for sewing knits on my machine, the walking foot is the key to success
  • the fabric was from repurposed old shirts - no loss there
  • I now feel more confident that with the right patterns I can produce some knit cuteness - yes, I can!
I'll keep you posted when I try for redemption. I'm thinking I'll attempt Rae's Flashback Skinny Tee next. If anyone has tips on where to find cute knit fabric, I'm all ears - it seems to be hard to come by.

Thursday, October 11, 2012

KCWC Days 2 & 3 - Halloween Hats

For days two and three of Kids Clothes Challenge Week I fed two birds with one seed so to speak and worked on the kids' hallloween hats. As I've mentioned before, Ava has known for months (without wavering) what she will be for halloween this year. I won't give away her secret yet, but I'll say that she will be a feline character from a classic series of books - and that her costume has required me to go hunting through local antique stores to find a pinafore and tucker that fits her. I'm certain that few people will have any idea who she is dressed up as when she goes trick-or-treating, but hopefully that doesn't deter her or dampen her spirits. She is quite excited about her choice.

For both hats I used Oliver + S's Cozy Winter Hood pattern from Little Things to Sew. If you love sewing for kids and don't know about this book, you are missing out. It is beautifully put together with a variety of useful and creative projects, and the patterns are so well written. Every pattern that I've used from this book has resulted in a high quality product. And I usually learn at least one new thing with every pattern of Liesl's that I follow. 

For both hats I used wool for the outside fabric and flannel for the lining. I really would have preferred velveteen for the lining, but - get this - Joanne only stocks velveteen in dark colors. Why?? I'm not blown away by the fabrics I chose, but I do think they work and are, most importantly, true to the color of the characters we are portraying. My girl is a stickler for details. Both hats sewed up quickly and easily.

two little kittens

Given his inability to speak intelligibly as of yet, the boy surrendered his power of authority to his big sister and she chose his halloween costume (yes, months ago) for him. I suspect she will enjoy making many other major life decisions for him in the future - at least until he grows bigger than her. Without giving it away, I will say that Eli is going to be a rabbit from a classic story who has a penchant for stealing vegetables from his neighbor's garden and wears a blue jacket with brass buttons, "quite new." For all those who have no idea who Ava is, I'm certain many will recognize him.

To be honest, I'm not entirely satisfied with how Eli's bunny ears turned out. The Oliver + S pattern includes bear ears, so I had to draft both sets of ears for these hats. Mainly, I wish Eli's ears weren't quite so floppy and would stick up more. If I was thinking clearly at the start of this project I would have used interfacing or some stiff batting to perk them up. But, I'm going to let it go and won't blame anyone for mistakenly calling him a dog. He won't know the difference anyway, right?

Assuming he keeps his costume on, this boy will be a cute one hopping around the neighborhood.

For day four, I'm hoping to experiment with knits. It will be my first time, so wish me luck. I hope you all are feeling good about your progress and having fun with your sewing!

Tuesday, October 9, 2012

KCWC Day 1 - Big Butt Baby Car Jeans

I decided at the last minute (though truth be told, I had been considering it for a while) to join in on Elsie Marley's Kids Clothes Week Challenge. I'm certain I won't be able to spend as much time devoted to sewing as I'd like to this week, but I figure if I make it official the support and motivation of the group will keep me sewing when I can. At the very least, it will be fun to gather inspiration from all the others who really will be able to throw themselves into some serious sewing. 

For day one I completed another pair of Big Butt Baby Pants (pattern by Rae), but this time in heavier fabrics for the cooler weather. I used a denim from Joanne and canvas Trefle by Kokka, which I was lucky enough to get from a small remnant in the sale section at Crafty Planet. I love this fabric and love love the ways the pants turned out. I had actually started the pants last week, but completion is half the battle around here - so, no, this is not cheating.

Let me just add, that never before have I had such a hard time getting a photograph of pants - or anything for that matter. Our boy is seriously on the move and getting into all sorts of baby trouble. In the course of our photo shoot books were kicked over, rugs were pulled up from the floor and wrapped around his little bod burrito style, dolls were pulled at and made soggy with baby spittle and my camera was in jeopardy of being yanked from my grasp (perhaps you weren't aware that those bulky neck straps are actually made to soothe the sore gums of teething babies). It would be embarrassing to tell you how many photos I took, most of which were blurs of wagging feet and shuffling butts. 

He thought this was all very funny.

lunging for mama's camera strap
Yes, our boy is on the move, keeping us on our toes - and getting underneath our toes. Now back to chasing these characters around - and hopefully getting to work as soon as they hit the sack. Happy sewing to you all!

Monday, October 8, 2012

Apple Picking

As summer heat cools and our gardens start to wither, we begin our gradual contraction into the cooler seasons. The return to school and acceleration in our schedules that this time of year brings help shift us out of the daze of summer as we embrace fall. For our family, in which birthdays and anniversaries begin in October and continue monthly through the onset of spring, fall is a time when holidays and celebration begin again after a long spring and summer lull. Beyond these once-a-year celebrations, there are the more regular shifts in what we do, how we live, how we dress, that reflect and remind us of where we are in the year. Traditions add meaning and color to our days, helping us orient within this cycle of seasons, of time.

One tradition that helps me really register the shift to autumn is our trip to the apple orchard. As the weather cools, I start to feel it. Yes, it is almost time to go picking. I check the calendar and reminisce about our previous year's trip. Who came with us? What kind of apples did we pick? What did we do with our harvest? How long did it last? Because if there is anything more autumnal than apples (there isn't), then at the very least those amazing golds, reds and oranges that color the drive to the orchard will fill you to the brim with the feeling that, yes, it is finally fall.

We were so lucky last year to happen upon Sweetland Orchard when searching for a place to pick apples in our new state. It is the antithesis to corn mazing, petting zooing, hay riding, inflatable castle jumping apple orchards - a pastoral retreat. A professor at a local college and her husband, a chemist, moved out here and bought an orchard where they raise their young daughter, dog and chickens. They keep it simple and lovely. Come. Wander through the orchard. Pick apples. Have a picnic among the trees. Take home some cider (apparently the best in Minnesota), and super yummy donuts. And have a good year until we see you next time.

This year Minnesota's apple crop had a pretty rough time. With a frost following warm temperatures in early spring, much of the crop was lost. Mike, one of the owners of Sweetland Orchard, estimated that they had lost 90 percent of their crop. But we had no trouble finding what we desired - apples, certainly, but more than that. Our yearly tradition. Our official step into fall. And we will be reminded daily, as we eat our way through our harvest, of Ava's grin as she picked the first apples off the tree herself, of Eli's first taste of apple, of the warm sun as we picnicked among the trees - for I know that warmth is fleeting, and I will be hard pressed to remember it in just a month or so from now.

Monday, October 1, 2012

all the pretty (little) horses

Sometime within the last couple weeks Ava decided that when she grows up she will be an 'animal doctor'. Though the word sounds more like 'vegetarian' in her toddler lingo, if her love for and connection with animals is any indication, I do believe she would be an amazing veterinarian. This girl, who at times seems more comfortable with animals than she does with humans, whose imaginary friends are four baby ospreys, two cardinals and one caribou (because she can only carry one), whose very favorite toys have been (for over a year now) five miniature farm animals that accompany us on many of our adventures, who opts for bird field guides as bedtime stories, who interacts with and manipulates our feisty calico in a way that Lola would never tolerate from another human, this girl is  innately a lover and nurturer of animals.

Who knows how long she will hold onto this dream. We all remember (or recall stories retold to us by our elders) our early ideas of what we wanted to be when we grew up. Perhaps they were passing dreams, improbable dreams (as in, "I want to be a superhero"), dreams fulfilled, or dreams we are still pursuing. I don't know how many of these childhood dreams manifest in reality, though I do know Ava's ideas tend to have staying power. She is decisive and unwavering. Alarmingly so, actually, to this mama who often wavers back and forth between options in my mind for extended periods before making a decision. I find I must hold myself back from questioning her immediate decisiveness with an 'are you sure you want this over that?' I see how easy it is to pass down our own insecurities and neuroses in these daily moments of life. But I sense that this girl, who decides with finality months in advance who she will be for Halloween, may very well follow through on this idea of hers as well. 

All summer we had been meaning to head out to Two Pony Gardens, where we visited once before last year. Fresh baked pizza, good people, flowers, tomatoes, chickens and two erroneously named 'ponies' who will take you for a carriage ride through the surrounding trails in the woods. With warm, glowing sun, and fall colors blazing around us, we finally made true on our intentions and headed out there this weekend. Getting there a bit earlier, both in the season and in the evening, afforded us the opportunity to explore the farm a bit while it was still light out. 

We strolled through the maze-like dahlia garden with flowers topping out over our heads and children making waves of plant limbs as they raced through the narrow garden paths. We walked through the woods among rich colors of fall to the tucked-away yurt, visited with chickens, peeked at the farm store and chatted with others who were spread out among picnic blankets dotting the land around the farmhouse.

The highlight of the evening (particularly for our future 'vegetarian') was undoubtedly the carriage ride. Two stunning Shire horses - really I can't emphasize how impressively BIG these creatures are - appeared from the dirt road in the woods pulling a beautiful carriage and waited for us humans to hop on. This 20 minute ride through the woods with Mickey and Pete has fueled Ava's imagination and play since, it being the very first thing she talked about upon waking the morning after.

I am amazed by how deeply our children feel these experiences, how they integrate them into all aspects of their minds and activities. All they experience literally shapes them through their senses and stays vivid with them, becoming more elaborate over time, for days, weeks, months and longer. When Ava responds so strongly and deeply like this I am reminded of how important it is to be mindful of what she is exposed to. Not that I wish to or think it would be beneficial to shelter her entirely, no no. But I am reminded that she and all children, I believe, are not small adults, nor do they understand and process reality as we do. They are literally soaking up what is around them with their entire being and forming an understanding of themselves and the world with it. They are becoming, in some sense, what they see, what they hear, what they eat, what they feel.

After the ride, we shared our pizza and cider as the sun was setting, giving rise to a gloriously bright Harvest Moon. The air grew cooler and it was nearing time to return home.

I ask myself what I want my children to be reenacting through their play? filling their dreams? informing their sense of the world, the earth, the humanity around them? The magic of riding through woods of gold, green and red on a carriage drawn by enormous horses. Strangers converging to celebrate good food and a beautiful evening on the farm. Stone oven baked pizza with veggies grown in a garden only a few yards away. That delicious smell of country air that we just can't get back in the city. I want more moments like these.