Monday, March 30, 2015

Practical Things

Sometimes you just need to make something useful.

I stitched up these microwave-safe bowl potholders the other day because I'm tired of scorching my fingers every time I take leftovers out of the microwave, or heat the soup too hot and then have to carry the bowl upstairs.  (They're also nice for ice cream).

They're 100% cotton fabric with 100% cotton batting inside, so they won't set themselves on fire in the microwave -- something definitely in their favor.

I was thinking about making a few more sets to offer at craft shows this summer.  What do you all think?

Friday, March 27, 2015

A Monkey for Maria

I didn't have a picture of a monkey - but there are
crocuses blooming in Philly, and that's almost as good.
This post is inspired by a blog post written by my friend, Maria Wulf, a few days ago.  She's going to be getting a horse soon, and talked in her post about the relationship that girls/women have had with horses.  She wanted a horse as a child, but so did many of us, and it's not really a practical - or possible - gift for most parents.

This quote reminded me of something from my own childhood:

"I wanted a monkey too when I saw it in a pet store and believed my mother would let me have it if I could only convince her how much I really wanted it."

I had a monkey as a pet when I was about 7 years old, only my mom was the one who really wanted it.

I've talked about my mom before. She was . . . unusual. She had certain ideas that she couldn't be talked out of, and weird enthusiasms that had no basis in any reality the rest of us could see.

When she was a little girl, in the 1930s, my great-grandmother used to tell her not to stay out after dark because the Gypsies would steal her. Most children would have been cowed. My mother? She packed up the classic bandanna-on-a-stick parcel and fell asleep on the curb, waiting for them to come for her.

She grew up (mostly), but she never lost her fascination with them. There were a couple of Gypsy kids in my grade school. Their families would come and go each year, generally leaving in June when school let out. One year, Mom happened to be nearby when they were packing their cars. (Was it deliberate? Even as a 40-something, did she want them to take her away?)

They got to talking, and somehow, my mom came home with a monkey.

I came home to find a tall metal cage on the kitchen table, with said monkey inside. His name, of course, was Gypsy. He was small and skinny and made a lot of noise, and had very bad manners. My poor aunt Margaret, who lived with us, didn't understand what he was doing until my mom explained to her that monkeys were a lot like small boys who'd just found out that they were carrying the best toy in the world around on their bodies.

He also threw food. And poop.  And anything else he could find. (Can't say I blame him; it wasn't a huge cage and he was probably bored silly and wondered who this crazy blonde woman was who kept cooing at him).

And then my dad got home from work.

My dad was a patient man. He had to be, with my mom. She got away with everything short of murder, but the monkey crossed a line. As a fireman, my dad had almost no sense of smell, but he could smell monkey, and it wasn't good. The fact that Gypsy was on the kitchen table meant that he took his dinner in the living room that night and fell asleep in the recliner.

Gypsy moved to the back porch, Mom called the local pet store, and she and my aunt spent the night scrubbing and airing out the kitchen. Gypsy moved on to the pet store the following day, chattering and flinging poop all the way, and peace was restored.

Years later, Mom said she was sorry she hadn't had time to take a picture with him, but she wanted to dye her hair black and find a good pair of hoop earrings, and just didn't have time before he left for the pet store.

I can only imagine the legend that would have grown up around that photograph.  

Wednesday, March 25, 2015

Long and Winding Road

Taken from a bad angle - it actually is rectangular!
Well, the scary part is over.

I cut the t-shirts up almost immediately on receiving them, because I knew otherwise I'd lose my nerve.  I didn't use a template or anything, just took my best scissors to them and cut around the images.  I knew if there were a few small gaps (and there are, but not many), they would be covered by the next step.

The buyer and I agreed that since nothing goes better with t-shirts than jeans, the images would all be bordered by strips of denim.  I'm using a few pair of old jeans I got from the dollar rack at the thrift store, because even though I have a ton of new denim -- all those jeans I intended to make for myself! -- I think the aged denim suits the shirts far better.

The arrangement on this really came together pretty easily.  After I cut the shirts apart, I looked at them all for a few minutes, started feeling overwhelmed and grabbed a cat to take an hour nap.

After I woke up, I rolled out the 4' x 5' piece of batting on my bedroom carpet, grabbed the images and just started placing them.  The multi-color one had to go in the middle; I didn't want it to sit in a corner and pull the eye too far off.  Since there were quite a few white shirts, I had to scatter those around as well.  One dull purple shirt up near the top almost looks gray.

A few shirts had text or images on the back, and I used them as well.  The buyer asked that I use the word "Imagine" from the back of the Beatle caricature shirt, and another shirt had the lyrics to "Imagine"on it as well.  Those made it in up at the top.

I like the few shirts that feature not the Beatles themselves, but places they played in Liverpool and Hamburg.  Makes a nice change.

And the "Working Class Hero" shirt, frustratingly, wouldn't fit anywhere in its entirety, so I cut it down and strung the words along a particularly annoying gap near the top.

Right now everything is just pinned.  I'm going to look at this for a few more days to make sure I don't want to make any changes, and then it will meet the machine.

Sunday, March 22, 2015


So yesterday the Beatles invaded West Philadelphia.  Literally.

Let me back up a bit.  In October, I was contacted on Etsy about some custom pillows made from old concert t-shirts.  The buyer was moving shortly and most of her shirts were packed, so after some back and forth, she asked me to contact her after the new year when she would (hopefully) be settled in her new place.  It took longer than expected, but the job also grew a bit -- instead of a few pillows, we worked out that she would order a wall hanging/couch-sized quilt made from 16 of her treasured Beatles t-shirts.

Since she's now local, Mario and I swung past her condo yesterday and picked them up.  It's quite a bundle, 16 t-shirts, and when I spread them out, I could already feel the ideas start to percolate.

The only thing I've done so far is to cut them up, because I knew that if I didn't do that immediately, I would start feeling like they were too "good" to cut up.  Some of these shirts were bought new when she did a Beatles pilgrimage to Liverpool, London and Hamburg years ago, and a few of them were old, and almost sheer with wear (I'm especially touched that she was able to give those up).

There will be something more concrete to show soon.  I love the varying sizes of the images, and some of them have text on the backs -- the words to "Imagine," etc.  I'm looking forward to trying to include all these things into one (hopefully) cohesive piece.

Wednesday, March 18, 2015


Haven't had a custom bear request in a while, and just got this one last week.

I always enjoy the custom requests, and the stories that go with them.

This one didn't come with much of a story, just a USAF camo jacket and a t-shirt, with a request to make a memorial bear.

So, putting two and two together, this is not a bear for a happy occasion and I really wanted to do my best with him.

The buyer did ask that I use the name tag from the jacket somewhere, so since I've done "bibs" before with names, I took the provided t-shirt and used that for the bib, along with the ears and feet.

The back of the bear has his senior airman rank, which looks enough like wings to seem appropriate on the back of a memorial bear.

Monday, March 9, 2015

It's Coming

When nature's ready, she's ready

Saturday, March 7, 2015

That's what I'm working toward

I know I've mentioned that I’m trying to clean out the house of all the family and previous-owner related stuff, and also a lot of what I've accumulated over my 15 years in this too-large pile of bricks. I have vague yearnings toward a smaller house with more ground attached, and even if that doesn't come to pass (as it well might not, reality and jobs and things being what they are), I'm still moving forward as if moving were in our future, just to give us a little more space in the space that we have.

Whatever you want to call it – decluttering, destashing, minimizing, downsizing, decrapifying – it's all really hard.

And it shouldn't be this hard. Why are we so attached to our stuff? And so much of it? I can see my attachment to certain things that have sentimental value, or that I've made, or that were given to me by someone I care about, but some of it . . . why was it so hard to clean out the junk drawer in the kitchen? Why did I get sweaty palms thinking that someday, I might need that pack of thumbtacks, that box of toothpicks (both never opened), that extra, extra, extra Phillips head screwdriver (in spite of having 2 full tool boxes already)?  If I throw it out, and I need it, I probably will still have one, and if not, I’ll find something else that will do.

In the last couple of months, I've taken about 10 shopping carts worth of crap to the thrift store, including a small, square black-and-white TV. Really? Why was that still deep in a closet? It worked, but who cares if it does? I don’t replace technology just because it gets a little outdated, but a black-and-white TV with tubes – even I have to draw the line there.

The closet's going to be the hardest part yet. Almost everything left in it is something I've made, and even if it doesn't fit, or it’s not flattering on me, I remember how much work went into it, or how much the fabric cost, or where I was when I bought it.

 But I think I'll feel better once I do it. Every time I take another load out of the house, I feel like I've lost weight, and I have, even if it's just off the joists and in my head. Sometimes I think less can be more.

And that’s what I’m working toward.

Friday, March 6, 2015

Works in Progress

Last week.  Wonder where he is today?
It's been pretty quiet around here lately -- cold, snow, more cold, more snow.  Sewing, not sewing, writing, not writing.  Bingeing on the first season of Outlander with a good friend in front of her husband's enormous TV.  Thinking about spring projects.

Sometimes it feels like I have more ideas in my head than I can effectively get done, and other times it feels like I'm doing nothing, wasting time.  On days like that, though, sometimes I go to bed and something wanders into my brain that's the answer to the question I didn't know I'd been thinking about for days, so maybe wasting time isn't really; it's giving your brain enough white noise to do important stuff in the background.  I just wish it would let me know that it was working, so I could stop worrying that I wasn't.

I've been writing a fair bit lately.  The cold keeps me out of the sewing room except in the afternoons, so there's been a lot of evening cutting, but mornings (after the first 2 cups of coffee to get my sludgy blood moving in my veins), I've been able to settle down and put words on paper.  Or on screen, depending on my location.  I actually like to write longhand, but my handwriting has gotten so foul over the years that if I don't transcribe it while the ideas are still fresh in my head, there's a good chance I won't be able to read it all.

Icicle roses - must be a new variety
There are a couple of shows lined up already  -- three in April and one in June, and the possibility of getting my work in a new bricks-and-mortar shop in the city.  A friend is having an open house at her farm in June with an art/craft gallery space, and I've promised to send her a dozen handmade dresses.  (I'd love to send some bears, but the cost of shipping would kill just about any profit I'd make, so I've settled on dresses, which flat pack and won't be as much of an ordeal).

So I'm cutting out lots of little cute things all over the dining room table.  Yesterday I spent almost an hour looking for a lost back facing piece that dropped somewhere between that table and the upstairs sewing table, and which couldn't be duplicated because I was out of the shirt I'd cut up.  There are some limitations to recycling!  (And I did find the facing, eventually).

Today is a run to the post office through the fresh snow -- we got almost 10" yesterday -- and then home to the sewing machine.  Even though it looks like January out there, it feels like March.   And that robin I saw the other day wasn't a hallucination . . .