Category Archives: crafts

Would she give away her green doll?

My sewing room is also my prayer room and ironing room, and where I keep a big tub of knitting supplies, and my secret packages before they are wrapped as presents. And my big gym bag for when I swim. Of course it has to accommodate all the piles of fabric I’ve saved, and old clothes that I’m saving to use for the fabric when I make doll clothes or quilts. Ha! I so seldom sew anymore, much of this is largely theoretical.

Sometimes I have the thought that I should give away everything having to do with needle arts and fabric. But that doesn’t feel right, and I keep saving patterns I find online, and pictures of the sort of quilt I would like to make, and tutorials for making Waldorf dolls.

My most recent investment in the sewingly creative side of me was some gorgeous fabric from Weir Crafts. They have all kinds of things one could want for dollmaking, and as soon as I picked out my favorite colors and received my order of cotton velour, I wanted to take its picture. At first I restrained myself, thinking I should actually sew something with the fabric and take a picture of that, but all it took was Frances posting a photo of pretty fabric to weaken my resolve.

In addition to these colors I have some green that I didn’t wash yet. It’s the most delicious stuff to handle, and will make a nice First Doll for Ivy. Ah, but which color shall I start with? I picked out a pattern for the doll, something appropriate for a first-birthday girl, and then in the chapter on “Soft Dolls” I read,

A young child just emerging from babyhood needs gentle colours: white, cream, pink, lilac or pale blue….

A doll made for an older toddler can be sewn from fabric with a colour which appeals to the child’s temperament and general mood….

An outgoing or strong willed child will respond to a red doll because red energises, stimulates and gives confidence.

Blue is relaxing and peaceful; it will be appreciated by a thoughtful boy or girl.

Green is a harmonious colour and can encourage giving and sharing, while pink or lilac is restful and calming.

Yellow often excites and animates children, which is not too good for a quiet bedtime.

My most favoritest colors

Thank the Lord I didn’t read this before ordering my fabric, or I’d still be deliberating over whether I should be choosing for a young or old toddler, or over which moods and behaviors I want to encourage in my grandchild. If I give her a green doll she might give it away, and then I would need to sew her another!

Mostly what I think about is that if Ivy likes the doll she ends up with — and I’m quite content knowing that she may not — it could get dragged around a lot, and I really can’t see sewing it in white or cream, which would soon be just dirty.

Lilac sounds safe, and I plan to use it for this first doll, called Baggy Doll in the book. Baggy Doll has a hat, which I hope to make from some recycled wool sweater material in a different color.

It’s a lot of creative effort I’m putting in just making these plans. There was no place in my super-cluttered sewing room to lay out all the possibilities with enough space for me to think, so I have temporarily taken over two other currently unused bedrooms, one for the doll decisions and materials, and one for the ironing and laundry. Just getting that sewing room in order is a project in itself, which may have to wait. But at least I will be able to uncover the sewing machine.

Susan at Sun Pours Down Like Honey posted a good thought today,  oh-so applicable to me and my stuff:

It’s not a group activity. It’s what you do or don’t do, what you do with your days, your time,
to move towards your goals.
Choose hourly, daily. It’s entirely your deal.
Discipline is remembering what you really want.

Wish me luck!

I pose my nest among flowers.

When the latest birthday package came in the mail I was alone in the house. I unwrapped the tissue paper knowing already that the gift inside had been handmade by my daughter-in-law Joy. It appeared to be something very small and lightweight….and then out came a knitted nest of eggs! The beauty of them and the love that had been expressed by the patient labor…my hands actually began to shake — lucky these eggs are soft and comfortable and not brittle.

I began to pose my new toys around the house, and then went outdoors to find a natural setting too. Every day it seems there is a new flower somewhere, so I had lots of choices of where to plant my nest.

I don’t remember what these tall spiky flowers are; they grow from bulbs I planted a few years ago. They are striking for a couple of weeks, but then the flowers get too heavy and the stalks lie down on the sidewalk by the front door.

So we should enjoy them right now at their peak, before they get annoying. If you enlarge the photo above you might see Mr. Glad’s bent back, beyond the rosemary bush at the top.

And a glimpse of Johnny Jump-Ups and various other little blooms behind this close-up.

A happy discovery was that the helianthemum I have been nursing along for almost two years has finally bloomed! I know it does still look a bit scraggly but I am greatly encouraged. I think it is named Henfield Brilliant.

Eventually I took a picture of my birthday eggs nestled among the simple alyssum flowers. Then I brought them back indoors to be the near-perfect springtime table decoration. They would be completely perfect if they didn’t make me miss the dear gift-giver herself. Thank you, Joy!

A New Apron for Bird

The beloved apron.

From about 1930 my friend Bird spent a lot of time in a closet turned into a sewing room, stitching away at shirts and dresses and whatever was needed to keep her twelve children clothed. All of them were born before I was, and Bird is now 99 years old. I didn’t get to see her on her birthday last September, but shortly before that I paid a visit and was concerned when I saw that Bird wasn’t wearing an apron.

New and old fabric compared.

She doesn’t do much cooking or cleaning anymore, though she lives by herself in an apartment. She wears an apron because she has tied one on every morning for most of her life and she doesn’t feel right without that part of her attire. I knew all that, so when she was lacking the essential garment I asked what was wrong.

Her apron was so tattered, she said, she didn’t want to wear it when she was having company. Oh, yes, she did have a newer apron that her children had bought her, but it didn’t fit right. She brought it out of a drawer, and I could see that it was way too large, made to accommodate the great number of our generation who fill more of an apron than our grandmothers did. Though I didn’t have a measuring tape, I took some measurements from the old favorite, using a sheet of paper for the ruler, and when I went home I drew up a proper design, thinking I could make her one. But nothing came of my idea for a long time.

Without shame, I returned to visit last month and found Bird in the oversized apron. But knowing that I would be returning to her city in about three weeks, I asked if I could take her old apron with me this time, to use for a pattern. She took it out of a drawer, clean and neatly folded, though unusable, as the neck strap was broken through.

When I returned with the old apron, I looked among my stacks of fabrics and was amazed to find something that resembled what I imagined the old apron had looked like before it faded. My piece of Guatemalan fabric had been bought to fix a mistake I made in measuring for a tablecloth fifteen years ago, a tablecloth that never got made at all. So the fabric waited around, being the perfect replacement for the old apron, until all the parts of this story came together.

Today was the end of the story, or the beginning of the life of the new apron. I managed to meet my own deadline of this day, when I went to an appointment in her town and dropped the apron off beforehand. Bird was very pleased. She tied the apron on immediately and said that she felt properly put together again.

A botanical theme has emerged.

Decorating is a homemaking job that I wish I could get over and done with and on to other things. This post is about how the realization of that wish is a long time coming. On one level the story bores me to death, even though it’s my own house I’m writing about, the house I’ve been investing in for 20 years. That should warn most of my readers to leave right now and go read something more entertaining.

What makes me want to tell this too-long tale anyway is the way it illustrates how an incredible amount of mental and physical labor can go into what seems a simple project. I suppose I’m not used to this precisely because I’m not into home decorating and haven’t applied my perfectionistic creative energies to it so much before. In a way it’s a larger-scale version of my doll clothes effort: what I envision doesn’t come in a kit.

If I could make a kit out of it no one would buy it. It’s just the best that we could do given our priorities, and with a tract house that doesn’t have enough walls to be cozy or enough windows to brighten the view. The story I tell is also amusing if one considers the output of my mental energies compared to the mediocrity of the results.

G.K. Chesterton said,

It is the main earthly business of a human being to make his home, and the immediate surroundings of his home, as symbolic and significant to his own imagination as he can. 

I’m not sure what all G.K. meant by that, but he does seem to give me liberty, and even to tell me it is my duty, to spend time on my house and property with the purely physical and aesthetic aspects in mind.

One year ago

So, I push on. Last year we changed the arrangement of the living room furniture so that the pictures on the wall didn’t work anymore. It seemed that the painting that used to be above a couch was too “heavy” after we moved the piano under it. It was then the largest wall item above the largest piece of furniture. Also, the TV had come out of the closet and found a new and permanent place in a corner, and the emptiness above it bothered me for months while I tried to figure out what to put there.

The first thing that came to mind was a manzanita branch such as I remembered my grandmother having in her living room for a while, a natural curio of sorts. Hers had sat on the coffee table, I think, but mine would hang above the TV to fill some of that airspace and balance out the piano nearby. (We’d need to get a smaller something to put above the piano, too.)

I started looking online for manzanita, but I found only small and twiggy, pale specimens, for use in flower arrangements. So I gave up for a while and spent hours looking for a decorative mobile. Nothing pleased. By that time we were in the middle of the remodel, so it wasn’t urgent.

Then in April we went north to Pippin’s place, where the previous winter’s record-breaking amounts of snow had piled up everywhere. As we walked through her forest we saw several manzanita bushes with large branches broken off. My mind started twirling around the idea that I could prepare my own decorative branch. The others helped me choose a couple that might work and we hauled them home.

Nine months ago

I still didn’t know if I could accomplish what I envisioned; I’ve never been one to do woodworking of any sort. I knew enough to trim off the flowers and small twigs. Then it occurred to me that wood needs to dry out before one can work it. I read that manzanita tends to split, so people have trouble making furniture out of it. Maybe my branches would split too much as they dried?

I left them sitting around in the garage for a couple of months and they only split a little bit. On the Internet I read somewhere to paint them with Danish oil to preserve the wood, so I did that. And one of my children said I should stain the trimmed ends of the branch so the whiteness of the wood wouldn’t distract from the lovely smooth and dark bark.

I think this is the one I didn’t use.

It was B.’s upcoming birthday party that put the fire under me to get the chosen branch up in the corner. We bravely screwed two hooks into the smooth new ceiling, and I painted them white so they would fade into the background. Then three strands of fishing line were tied to those, and to the branch.

Soldier was here and helped me position it just so; he’s tall and strong and could stand there calmly holding it in midair while I fumbled with the almost invisible threads. Then voilà! At last, that one part of my decor was in place (now we only had to ignore the empty space above the piano) and all our party guests could admire it. I began brainstorming on a solution to that remaining space nearby.

Three weeks later I dusted the manzanita with a feather duster and the next morning it crashed onto the TV and to the floor. Nothing was harmed. Guess we needed stronger filament. It took me about two months to get to the store to buy it. Then it took another month before B. and I could make ourselves re-hang the branch. See what kind of do-it-yourself-ers we aren’t?

I was sure I knew how to orient the branch, the way Pippin had told me to, but after B. and I got it centered and hung and he’d gone bike-riding, I realized by looking at previous photos that I had it exactly backwards, and it truly didn’t look the best. I tried just flipping it over, and that sort of worked; I only had to re-tie one filament, and we were o.k….except that now the branch was a little closer to the ceiling than ideal, and the top of it was vaguely lined up with the curtain rod, which didn’t look right. I suffered with that all through Christmas, trying not to care. Of course most people said it was fine because no one wanted to go through the difficulty of doing it over.

I had to buy a piano lamp before I could decide what would go behind it; our old one was shot. Piano lamps are expensive! The cheapest one I could settle on was out of stock for a few weeks, so we waited on that. I had looked at so many paintings or other wall decorations, many hours of browsing over several months, and found nothing I wanted enough to spend money on.

So I thought I would saw and paint some wooden birds to hang up there…they needed to be warm and colorful, because the corner with a black TV and a stark naked branch turned out surprisingly modern and chilly. (Maybe what I need is a branch about five times that big, just sitting on the floor behind the TV and reaching toward the ceiling…and permanently trimmed with Christmas ornaments…? )

But then we must return to how I’m not a woodworker, or a painter for that matter. I think it was on New Year’s Day that I felt desperate to make some progress; I decided to spend money and get something. B. and I knew we needed color there, and we knew the parameters of what the measurements needed to be. I bookmarked some paintings, and when B. came home from watching a football game we chose one and ordered it. Whoopee!

The painting arrived and sat on the floor near its destination for over a week. I knew we needed to be in the right mood to even talk about putting it up. In the meantime, one day I got a burst of courage and all by myself re-did the lines supporting my manzanita. I think it might be as much as an inch lower. A most satisfying inch.

Last week we hung the picture. Those are giant poppies providing the splash of color. I hope Mr. Chesterton is happy and won’t mind if I get back to my sewing and reading now.