Sunday, February 21, 2016

Beautiful Girls

A long, long time ago, I made clothes for these girls.

It seems like ages ago, and it probably was about 20 years, now that I think about it.  The dolls are all older, pre-WWI German bisque for the most part.  One I had from the family, and others I've accumulated over the years.  All of them, with the exception of one (the flowered dress right of center), came to me either with no clothing at all, or with her original garments in such tatters they couldn't even be used to make a pattern for new ones.

I do remember that this was done pre-Internet, because I spent some happy hours in libraries and bookstores, researching this type of doll, what they would have worn and what children of the era would have worn as well.  There are still a few books on my shelves from this period that I just can't bear to give away.

Each of these outfits was made by hand.  In saying by hand, I'm not just saying by me, but really "by hand," not by machine.  I tried using the machine, and while it was okay for some of the heavier fabrics, like the green striped cotton, it just chewed up the cotton lawn and China silks that I used most of the time, and I wasn't putting 100 year old vintage lace anywhere near the machine.

The hats are mine, too, made of bits of buckram and milliner's wire, covered in layers of gathered silk.

Several of the girls are re-wigged (the blonde with the long curls being the most obvious example), but other than that I've left their physical flaws alone.  Several are missing some fingers and a few are wobbly in the joints, but their stands hold them up, at least until I can get around to restringing them.

The girls are displayed on the top of the fabric shelves in my workroom.  They keep a watchful eye on my work, and occasionally, I think, a judgmental one.  If I ever look up and see them holding score cards -- 5.8, 5.8, 6.0, 5.6 -- they're moving to another room.

And yes, my entire workroom is painted that obnoxious shade of grass green.  I love it.

Sunday, February 14, 2016

A visit to the coop

A few people have asked me how Bonnie is faring during the winter.

Most of the time, the cold doesn't bother her in the slightest.  It really is easier to keep a chicken alive in winter than in summer, where they can die of heat very easily -- that's how I lost Gilda, Bonnie's original coopmate.

Since Bonnie prefers not to be a flock animal, keeping her warm is a little more complicated.  She has her coop, with a smallish attached run, and a roost/nest box area upstairs in the coop.  The upstairs portion is fully enclosed except for a door.

Until the weather hits the 30s, I leave things alone, other than adding a light in the downstairs portion of the coop.  This is more to give her some artificial light to persuade her to lay more frequently than to actually provide warmth.

When temps really dip, I break out a tarp for the roof, and pull out a folding plexiglas window to block the wind.  This is normally the top of my cold frame, but it works well for Bonnie because it blocks air while still letting in light.  Up until last year I used two old wooden-framed storm windows that I trashpicked, but those either blew over or were flipped by some of the local wildlife, so now I use plastic.  It's what's available.

Two weeks ago, we had a cold spell and some snow, and I noticed that the window ended right at the corner, where her water is located.  Not wanting her water to freeze or too much snow to blow in there, I recycled a pizza box, fitting it behind the window and under the roof ledge.  It seemed to work; she's been relatively draft-free and as happy as an unpleasant bird can be.

Yesterday we were out from 8:00 a.m. until after 4:00 p.m. for a family funeral in NJ.  I knew the water would be frozen when we got home.  Since it was getting dark, I wasn't so concerned about replacing it then, because she'd already gone to roost.  But later, I looked out the back door and saw that the coop was dark.  I went out to look further, and the window had blown free, the pizza box was on the back fence and the bulb had burned out.  Damn.

I told Mario there was a very good chance we had a chicken-sicle out there, but there wasn't much I could do in 10 degree dark other than to replace the wind barriers. Today, I got up early and went out to check on her, and when I pulled the window aside, I heard the faint clucks of a very annoyed bird.  I gave her fresh water and some canned cat food with corn sprinkled on it (her favorite, and a nice boost of protein for cold weather), and went back in until it was light enough to work.

Later I replaced her light, gave her more straw, fresh water and more food, and saw that while she was awaiting maid service, she'd attempted to eat an egg she'd laid in the nest box.  This didn't work out well, because as soon as she cracked the shell, the egg started to freeze solid.  Hopefully what she pecked at so little resembled an egg that she won't remember it later and start eating her own eggs; that would be a direct route to the crockpot, and I haven't kept her alive through the winter to turn her into coq au vin when spring is nearly in sight.

Friday, February 12, 2016


Hibernating "ski sweater" bear.  If I hadn't cut it up,
I would totally wear this.
The last week or so, I've had a problem.  I usually get up around 6:30 - 7:00 a.m., depending on how cold it is (need to make sure that the chicken's water isn't frozen).  Then I make coffee for us, have a cup with Mario before he leaves for work and usually - though  not lately - I have a second cup and get into my day.

But lately, I've been going back to bed.  Or, to be more accurate, I've been going to couch.  Lately, when I wake up, my low back is stiff, and my solution is to flop on the couch with the heating pad until it "loosens up."  By which point I'm out cold again with a cat or two on my chest.  When I wake up, the only thing that's tight is my head, all wound up because I've lost an hour or two of my usually productive morning.

Now I don't generally do creative stuff in the a.m., that's beyond the scope of how my brain works.  But the household stuff - throwing in laundry, doing the dishes, vacuuming - that gets done then.  Also the computer stuff that has to be done for the Etsy shops, which is always more than expected, and includes Facebook marketing, dropping in on a couple of sellers' groups to see what's going on, reading the latest entrepreneurial article and questioning everything . . . that also gets done before noon.

So while I'm still getting stuff made in the afternoons, the housework has gone to crap and I'm way behind on virtual "paperwork."

Bleh.  I think it just needs to warm up and get a little sunnier.  Even if things are a bit creaky in the a.m., if I wake up and see sun, I'm much more likely to stay up and function.  Going outside in weather freezing or below to feed and water an ungrateful bird is enough to send me back to my warm covers anyway.

This morning I stretched for a while after getting up, and I've managed to stay vertical (and at my desk with the heating pad on my chair).  Any other suggestions on how to deal with the winter blahs would be most welcome, though.

Saturday, February 6, 2016

I have class

This summer's embroidery class
A class, anyway.

For the past two summers I've taught an embroidery class at a kids history camp.  They have a weaving segment but they wanted another colonial-era craft and that's how I got in.

Last fall, the arts league in my neighborhood (which is apparently the it place to send your kids after school) decided to add a sewing class on Tuesday afternoons.  Actually, they decided to add evening classes as well, but since I was the only applicant with daytime availability, guess who got the kids?

Yep, the one who's not totally comfortable with them.

Though they're actually a pretty good bunch.  I'm having more difficulty adjusting to the adults in charge and the other teachers, all of whom are So. Very. Serious.  Agreed, teaching is serious work but does it have to feel like a trip to the dentist?

The kids are all from the local public school, which isn't just any Philly public school - it's partly supported by the University of Pennsylvania, which means that there's dire competition to get the kids in, and lines of parents camping on the sidewalk when they open kindergarten registration.  The year they went to a lottery system in the middle of day 2 of the camp-out almost led to rioting.  Well bred rioting, but still . . .

So these kids are being well educated.  They're for the most part comfortable financially (this place ain't cheap).  They're smart.  And they're being squashed into little, tiny boxes that leave no room for being a kid.

I've got a group of 8 girls, from 3rd to 6th grade.  I started them off on embroidery, rather than sewing, because (a) I was more familiar teaching it, and (b) I thought it was a good way to get them used to the idea of sewing, threading needles, taking time, etc.  I prefaced the lesson by saying, "Look, I'm self-taught.  I'll teach you the way I know how to do it, but if you know another way, or find one that works better for you, then do it.  So long as you get the end result you want, there's no right or wrong."

You'd have thought I stripped naked and danced on the table.  "There's always a right way."  "If you do it wrong, you're done."  "Things can only work one way."  "Can you come teach our math class?"

Math may have only one right answer, kids, but art is its own thing.  Considering that all they take at this place is art-related classes, it kind of disturbs me that no one has ever mentioned this before.

In addition to believing firmly in "rules," they also firmly believe that the world is a very nice place, that bullying has been eliminated and that life will always run smoothly.  I almost feel like I'm performing a public service by teaching this class and exposing them to a different viewpoint.

I remember this age.  I was in third grade when I lost my dad, and by sixth, I had completely lost whatever self-esteem I might have been born with, believing that I was shy and unattractive.  However, and this is a big one, I never doubted that I was smarter than most of the kids who tormented me, and I needed the safe haven of coming home to books and making things, both of which were a place where my mind could go and rest from the stress of school.

I hope for their sakes that bullying is a thing of the past, but I doubt it.  Kids are going to be kids, no matter what.  I'd just like to get them to realize, before I'm done, that they need to have something that's theirs, that they know they're good at, that gives them a calm mental place to retreat to when they need it.

Just in case I can't manage it all in one semester, I just signed on to teach the spring class as well.

Wednesday, February 3, 2016

Month-End Review: January

Annie & Katie - enemies 99% of the time
Once upon a time, I used to do these for the garments sewn for myself each month.  I can't believe how long ago that feels.

Now, I'm going to try to do a quick review post here each month, just to tally what I've gotten up to and keep myself accountable for the production goals I've set myself.

January was pretty good, considering there were more than a few days where it was uncomfortably cold in the workroom.  Instead of bringing the machine to another room, I just worked quickly and in short spurts, filling in with housework (which needs doing anyway) and doing a lot of finish work on the couch in the evenings.  It worked.

January totals:  8 toddler dresses, 10 teddy bears, 44 microwave bowls, 14 potholders, 7 new product (still not quite tweaked to my liking, so no description yet).

Two of the stores that carry my work are closing, both of them a little ahead of their time for their locations, so I need to look for a few new venues.  Shops aren't big money-makers, because they generally sell on consignment, but I like having my work out in places where I don't frequently do shows.

I started teaching an afternoon sewing class at the arts league in my neighborhood.  Yesterday was the 5th class, though the week 4 was canceled due to snow.  It's going pretty well, though the vintage sewing machines (which are lovely) are complicating things because each one is different and the kids are having trouble adapting to different methods when they have to change machines.  It's a work in progress.

Nicky, turning the couch gray, one hair at a time
I'm looking forward to the start of spring show season, just to get out of the house a little more.  There are two booked already, one on April 24th in Bala Cynwyd and another in West Philly on April 30th, but not many places schedule this early.  I'm haunting all the local handmade crafters' groups on Facebook for new venues.

Now it's February, and I'm back to the machine.  This week is mixed projects - I need a few more size 2 dresses, and I had to drop off a half dozen bears at a shop, so there need to be a few more of those as well.  We'll see what else happens by the end of the week.