Dec 31, 2012

a story about my sewing machine

I sew on my great-grandmother's sewing machine, a 1974 or 75 Kenmore 1813. I love it, mainly because I am a sentimental sap, but also because it works like a charm most of the time.  I have a few issues with the tension every now and then--I attribute that more to me than to the machine.  I actually feel really fortunate to have a vintage machine.  There's no computer system to worry about and the insides are full of metal.  I think I also have most of the necessary accessories, like the manual, a few extra feet, and a buttonholer, and some extra goodies, like all of the original pattern cams for decorative stitches.

Unfortunately, the cams gave me a bit of trouble.  Even though I followed the instructions in the manual, the darn things would never actually change the stitches.  I chalked it up to my poor machine's original diagnosis of "broken stitch control" and moved on.  After all, my machine worked fine for pretty much anything else; clearly, that stitch control wasn't that important.  But, every now and then, I get the urge for a second opinion.  Surely, I think to myself, someone out there knows how to get whatever part needs to be replaced and knows how to fix it.

The other day, PJ and I were driving down a road that we have driven down a million times before when I spotted an Oreck/Singer dealership.  I have never noticed this place before, but I squealed for him to turn into the parking lot.  When we went in, we met a man in his 70s who patiently listened to me babble on about how my machine wasn't actually even a Singer, was probably 40 years old, worked fine except for one thing...blah, blah, blah.  He told me to bring it in sometime and offered to look at it for me.  I made PJ take me to pick up my machine, and we were back within the hour.  He opened up my machine and showed PJ (my own personal repairman) how all the parts worked together--PJ said he was surprised that it looked so much like a car engine.  The old man had not seen a machine like mine in a while, and he wasn't sure exactly what was going on.  We all wondered together if there was a spring or something missing and he noticed that my knob that controls the type of stitch (this is probably that crazy, broken stitch control) was a little off, but nothing stuck out to him as a glaring problem.  He offered lots of advice and expertise, but no definitive solution.  And in this age of internet, where do we go when actual people don't offer a definitive solution?  Google.

I'm not sure what I was expecting or wanting to find, but I searched on.  I eventually landed on My Sewing Machine Obsession, a blog about finding and fixing vintage sewing machines, and to my delight, there was a post or two about my exact model of machine.  Score!  I emailed the author of the blog asking if she might be willing to take some pictures of the inside of her machine so that we could compare hers to mine.  We would be able to tell pretty quickly if there was something missing on mine. Elizabeth did one better than email me a picture; she gave me an entire post!  Her pictures were so detailed and clear, and we easily confirmed that my machine is not missing any parts.

Now that we knew that my machine was not missing any parts or broken on the inside, my last hope for using my pattern cams seemed to be the knob that was a little off.  PJ and I read and re-read the instructions in the manual, and we tried making very slight adjustments to the stitch control knob until we figured out that instead of lining the stitch label straight up and down, we needed to turn the knob until the label was slightly left of straight.  Pattern cam success!

You'd better believe I tried out all 30 cams.  And yes, you are seeing fish, flowers, Christmas trees, hearts, ducks and swans.  

There is something so satisfying about knowing the my machine is essentially in perfect working order after I had thought it was damaged for so long.  I cannot wait to add some hearts and flowers to Cara's handmade goodies!

Dec 28, 2012

in syndication

One of my posts has been syndicated on BlogHer!  If you have a minute, you can check it out here.  Thanks, BlogHer!

(Ed: broken link fixed!  Hooray!)

a "Merry Christmas!" instadump

I know I already posted this picture, but I just HAD to put it up again.

We heart other people's Christmas lights.

Salt dough ornaments!

Big boy playing at Bitsy's house

Santa brought my brother home from overseas!  He snuck in around 1:30 Christmas morning.  Best. Present. Ever.

My brother Josh, PJ, and my sister's boyfriend Clay

Holiday travel means that every now and then, I have to squeeze into the back seat with the kiddos.  They were thrilled. 

holiday hangover

Dec 22, 2012

two renfrews and some thoughts on sewing with knits

Until recently, I was too scared to bother much with knit fabric.  In fact, I stuck to quilting cotton for the most part, and that works great for little girl dresses.  When I decided that I wanted to learn to sew a bit for myself, I realized that I had to branch out.  I'm still making plenty of bad fabric choices, but I am learning along the way, and that's what really counts, right?

The Renfrew top is probably the most perfect t-shirt pattern ever.  There are three necklines and three sleeve lengths to choose from, so it can work year round.  I bought this one a few months ago and immediately went to work on my first top.  It didn't make the blog back then because I felt like it didn't turn out all that awesome, although I still wore it a few times.  The more I wore it though, the more I didn't really like it, but I refuse to be defeated.  After a close inspect, I realized that I made a few bad decisions with my first Renfrew, so I made another one, and I WIN.

Renfrew #1:
Yeah, I do look a little strange.  I was probably talking about how annoyed I was with that shirt.

Mistake #1: My first mistake was due to my own ignorance and laziness.  I didn't research anything about shoulder stabilizers, nor did I go to a fabric store and look for stabilizers.  I dug around in my box of notions and came up with bias tape.  Bias tape is a bad idea.  I should have known that...bias tape is meant to stretch.  And it will not keep shoulder seams from stretching (see shoulder slippage in the picture above).

Mistake #2: I didn't have any dark purple thread in my stash, so I used light purple.  I also used a zigzag stitch to sew my seams, which is what most people recommend to allow the seam to stretch a bit.  Light purple thread plus a zigzag stitch equals visible stitches and all around ickiness.

That is just bad.

Mistake #3: I chose a really cheap, awful knit.  You can see in the picture above that it is already pilling up, and I haven't worn this shirt that much.  The fabric stretches as it is worn so that by the end of the day, I was swimming in this shirt.  And, it is thin and clingy, which meant that it created a post-two-babies belly pooch...which, obviously, isn't there normally...(*cough*cough*ahem

The fabric was the major culprit for this failed Renfrew.  I didn't really know what I should look for at first, so I just picked out a few different knits to experiment with.  That solid purple didn't work, but I also bought a thicker, more stable pink and purple houndstooth that worked beautifully as an Oliver and S Sailboat Top for Cara:

This top has gotten a ton of wear, and it has held up really well.  I used a zigzag stitch for the seams on this one too, and none of the stitches showed on the outside.

Seam success!

Anyway, lessons learned.  For my new top, I bought a bright pink cotton pique knit that had a lot more weight and stability.  I also bought matching thread and stay tape for the shoulder seams.  And look at the awesomeness of Renfrew #2:

The heavier fabric works better with the cowl collar too--it stands on its own just a bit without being floppy. I decided to try out a regular straight stitch for the seams this time, and I think it works fine.  

smooth shoulder seam--no stitches peeking through this time!

yay Renfrew!

Dec 21, 2012

more Christmas sewing

I love making Christmas dresses for Cara.  It feels like a tradition now, one that I hope to continue for many more years.  (See previous Christmas dresses here and here.)  This year's dress is made from the same pattern as this dress, but I just LOVE it.  There's a twirly skirt and a big bow in the back, and Cara and I picked out the perfect fabric.  Sparkly Christmas fairies!

Sparkly Christmas fairies??  Nothing could have been more perfect.

Look at that sweet girl!

Dec 20, 2012

silly day

Yesterday was silly day in Cara's class at school.  We went all out.

silly outfits deserve silly poses

Colin's hair was silly too.

Everyone was silly.

And then the sillies attacked Daddy.

Dec 19, 2012

on intentional parenting

I don't think anyone will argue with me when I say that parenting is a really tough job.  It's a rewarding job, but far tougher than anyone realizes.  There are so many decisions, conscious and unconscious, that parents must make on an almost minute-to-minute basis.  I'm afraid that most of my parenting decisions lately have been of the unconscious variety, and that's not because life has been easy-breezy.  I guess there are golden periods when the unconscious decisionmaking works.  The twos were a golden period for Cara.  Granted, I stressed through some of the decisions we had to make (like potty training and transitioning to a big girl bed), but for the most part, I was able to follow my gut and do what felt right in the moment.  I have to give a lot of credit to Cara too--she was an easy two-year-old.  She was spunky and sweet, brave but not too brave.  She helped me build my parenting confidence, and I'm so grateful for that.

Since Colin was born, I feel like I have been in parenting survival mode.  Working plus a baby plus a preschooler has made life so very busy, and busy is the enemy of intentional parenting.  Busy makes me blind to the little things because I become so focused on the what-must-be-done-right-now-and-also-what-comes-next.  Soon, those little things that were overlooked grow into major issues.  We're not there yet, thank the Lord, but we were on the way.

I realized how blind I have been on Saturday during Cara's Christmas performance for her school.  Cara's free spirited nature sort of took over, and she goofed off on stage instead of singing and standing with her classmates.  It wasn't really a major thing, but I was almost paralyzed with indecision.  Should I go get her off the stage and risk a screaming tantrum?  Just leave her there like it's no big deal?  I hated that I couldn't make a decision about what to do, and the more I thought about it, the more I realized that the whole situation was really more my fault than hers.

It is true that at three and a half years old, Cara knows full well what is expected of her and how to behave.  She has many more good days at school than bad days, and I am confident that when I take her out in public, she will behave appropriately.  However, I remembered that back in her two-year-old toddler days, I almost always needed to talk her through an outing before we got there.  If we were going to the grocery store together, I had to prepare her to ride in the cart or I knew she would refuse to get in. By now, going to the grocery store is routine, just like going to school.  She is comfortable with what she's doing and where she's going.  I don't think Cara was comfortable on that stage Saturday morning, and I had not prepared her for what was going to happen and how she needed to behave.  It's like I forgot what I was doing.

In most situations of misbehavior, I tend to think that, while we should hold children accountable for their behavior, there is also some responsibility on the parent.  I've been through this process of reflection several times when Cara has been disobedient or naughty, and I usually realize that there is somewhere that I dropped the ball.  My survival mode parenting has meant that I have not been deliberate and intentional.  Taking care of Colin is definitely a top priority, and babies are a needy bunch, but that doesn't mean that Cara doesn't deserve my best and my full attention too.  It's the splitting of myself, evenly and fairly, that's so tough.  Oh, and the guilt when I fall short. 

Fortunately, I don't have to be perfect, but I still want to do the best job I can with these kiddos.  I want them to learn compassion and empathy and gratitude (oh my goodness, read this post from Jami Nato), and I don't want them to just "be good" because Santa or some Elf on a Shelf is watching (not that Santa and Elf on the Shelf are bad; I think they can be a fun part of the Christmas tradition, but I don't want to use them as external motivators).  I want them to love God and love people and desire to do the right thing because it's the right thing.  I want them to understand the nature of sinful hearts and offer grace to others and to themselves.  But also to me.  Because no matter how hard I try, I will drop the ball, I will fail, I will fall short.  I will need love and grace and forgiveness from them just as much as they will need it from me.


Dec 9, 2012

it's time for a Christmas skirt!

We've hit a sort of sewing/childhood milestone around here.  Cara now has opinions about what I make for her.  I knew this day would come eventually, the day when Cara would refuse to wear what I make unless I make it based on her preferences.  Fortunately, our preferences are pretty much the same right now.  I pulled out my scraps of Christmas fabric from past years, and when I asked Cara about a twirly skirt, she agreed wholeheartedly, especially if I could make the skirt hit her ankles.  No problems there.

I whipped up a double layer skirt with the fabric from last year's Christmas dress plus a few scraps from this year's dress (which is still not quite finished).  I sort of invented this one as I went along, and I made a few things more difficult, but that's how you learn, I suppose.

I believe this one is Cara-approved.

Dec 5, 2012

the same but different

 Sometimes, I look at Colin and marvel at how much he and his sister look alike.  For example:

Granted, this picture was taken several months ago, but I love that they are even making the same expression!

In terms of personality, these two are pretty different.  Cara has always been spunky and animated, but she is also incredibly independent.  Starting very early on, she wanted to do everything herself, and she is rarely afraid to strike out on her own (as long as we are in view but even sometimes when we're not).  Colin, on the other hand, seems like more of a watcher and a thinker.  He examines things carefully, turning toys over in his hands and quickly figuring out how they work.  He loves to be carried around on your hip, but when he's put down, he always on the move these days.  I think I spend a lot of time looking for similarities, but in reality, these are two very different little people in every way, and yet, they are the perfect complement to each other.  

While I was tossing a frozen pizza in the oven cooking dinner tonight, Colin stood up next to the dishwasher, and I flashed back to Cara doing the very same thing around the same age.  Thank goodness for my husband and his wonderful camera.

They barely even look related!

Dec 2, 2012

lazy and forgetful

This picture makes me laugh, and his face is a perfect fit for the title of this post.

At lunch today, as I watched Colin shovel fistfuls of Mexican rice into his face, I wondered to myself if I had any memories of Cara doing the same thing at the same age.  I tried to dig around in what is left of my brain--I feel like I remember more of what I wouldn't let her eat than what I would.  It took a few hours, but I pulled out those memories of my girl at 8 months (*pause--HOLY CRAP, COLIN IS EIGHT MONTHS OLD!!  WHAT IS THAT ALL ABOUT??), and they are mostly of homemade baby food.  I had a list of foods that Cara could not have before she turned one, and I know that those lists are there for a reason.  Food allergies and all that.  It's probably a good thing that we don't have a family history of food allergies because I conveniently forgot about those lists this go around.  Colin has been eating pretty much everything in sight for the past few months.  Except peanuts.  I have to draw the line somewhere.

I guess it's typical for parents to be more laid back with subsequent children, but sometimes, I wonder if I'm crossing over from "laid back" to "lazy and forgetful." Is it just lazy to give Colin a few spoonfuls of rice and a cheese quesadilla and call it lunch?  In my defense, he is practicing his fine motor skills picking up the rice off the table and shoving it into his mouth.  We could call the Mexican cuisine "adventurous" for an 8 month old, right?

Look at how happy he is when I let him eat whatever he wants!

This whole "lazy and forgetful" thing applies to more than just food.  I also realized this weekend that Colin has never worn a pair of shoes.  In fact, he doesn't even own a pair of shoes.  We took the kids to the park on Saturday when it was a glorious 75 degrees, and of course, Cara ran off to climb the biggest slide she could find, but Colin is still semi-stationary.  I wanted to let him do something, so I put him down so that he could stand and hold on to a step.  No socks, no shoes, just those pudgy bare feet on recycled tires.  He didn't really care, but I did happen to notice that everyone else at the park was wearing shoes.

perfectly happy standing at the park sans shoes

I felt like a slack mom, so this morning, I dug around until I found a random pair of shoes that I think might have been hand-me-downs.  They looked like they should fit, so PJ grabbed one foot and I grabbed the other, but Colin was not having it.  He curled his toes up and mutinied. And we gave up.  We're wimps.  I can't remember when we first started putting shoes on Cara, but I know it was way before she actually needed them.  I'm sure she had a million little shoes to complement her million little outfits.  And by the way, do you think Colin has a million little outfits?  Did you notice that he's not even wearing any pants in that very first picture?  If this is what happens to our second-born, I'm afraid to even think about what might happen to our poor, hypothetical third child.

Nov 18, 2012

30 days of gratitude--twelve days worth

  1. Krispy Kreme.  I am not ashamed to admit that PJ and I just spent at least 35 minutes in a drive through line waiting on some of the most heavenly donuts ever made.  Thank you, Krispy Kreme, for bringing your HOT NOW sign to RH.
  2. Thank you, PJ, for lowering the crib mattress just. in. time.  When I went to get Colin out of bed Saturday morning, he had pulled up to his knees in his crib, and my sweet husband immediately took that whole dang crib apart (of course, there's no easy way) to drop the mattress.  Colin was standing up by nap time.
  3. And also, YAY for pulling up!  Go, Colin!
  4. I'm so thankful to work in a place where people care for others.  I'm offering up a custom version of this dress in a silent auction at my school tomorrow; the proceeds will go towards providing Christmas for needy students.
  5. Scarves.  Because I'm not really a fan of sweaters or boots or cold weather in general.  
  6. Thank you to my awesome friend who recommended that I read The Vanishing Act of Esme Lennox by Maggie O'Farrell.  I couldn't put it down, and I couldn't stop thinking about it after I finished.
  7. My dad also deserves a big THANKS for babysitting on Friday night so that PJ and I could go on a date.  We had pumpkin beer and fried black eyed peas for dinner (fried black eyed peas?  who knew?) and went to see...
  8. BREAKING DAWN PART II!!!  I am a Twilight nerd.  I have seen all the movies and read all the books (and I might also own them...all of them...), but I am really thankful that the screenwriters broke away from the plot of the book a bit.  It made the movie so much more exciting and suspenseful.
  9. I am very thankful that I caught a 40% off sale at my local fabric store today because I scored some Tinkerbell and Rapunzel flannel that will make perfect nightgowns for a sweet fairy-and-princess-loving three-year-old.
  10. Speaking of a certain three-year-old, I am really thankful for the songs and stories she makes up on the way to school every morning.  Nothing like a jazzed up Cara version of "Deep and Wide" to put me in a good mood for work. 
  11. I am really looking forward to the upcoming breaks from school.  I am expecting a relaxing, low-key Thanksgiving with extra naps and snuggles.
  12. I am so very thankful for my brother and his service to our country.  I am also really looking forward to him being home very, very soon! :-)

Nov 6, 2012

30 days of gratitude--a day off

I know I should probably say that I'm thankful for the opportunity to vote today, and I most definitely am, but in the short term, I'm really just thankful that I had today off.  Taking care of my little sickie has put me way behind at work, so I'm spending my free time grading today.  It's amazing how much work piles up when I take a day off, and the piles really stress me out.  Watching those piles disappear, however slowly, is quite rewarding.

Day 6:  I'm thankful for democracy and time off.

Nov 5, 2012

30 days of gratitude--the one in which I talk about my boobs

One of the things I have really enjoyed about having little babies, besides the obvious heart-overflowing love and cuteness, is breastfeeding.  There is something so special about the bond created there, and I am so very thankful that I was able to easily nurse both of my little ones.  It's like liquid love, an instant stop-the-crying miracle, a rare moment of peace and calm.  It made taking care of my newborns a little easier, and maybe even a little cheaper.

That's not to say that nursing is without its challenges.  It can be a bit painful, especially right at the beginning (but I'm also very thankful that the uncomfortable part only lasted for a day or two for me), and I'm sure that one of the reasons it took Colin almost seven months to sleep through the night is that I nursed him every time he woke up.  And that whole pumping business?  Not the most fun way to spend a lunch break.  But I'm so glad I was able to work all it all out.  When I went back to work full time, it was nice to think that I was able to "take care of my baby" even though I wasn't with him.

However, (I feel like I'm not supposed to say this out loud, but...) I'm really thankful to be almost done with breastfeeding.  I thought I would be sad to see it go, and honestly, it takes very little to make me feel all sappy and sentimental about my babies, but I realized that Colin still likes to cuddle with me even when we're not nursing.  And he's totally okay with formula.  And he's got two little teeth now, and those little teeth are NO JOKE.

We're taking it slowly, so I don't think we'll be completely done for another month or so.  I have to admit that I'm really excited to have my body to myself soon.  I'm looking forward to adding some regular exercise to my almost-full-night-of-sleep so that I can start to feel like me again.  But what I'm really excited about are those new bras I am most definitely getting fitted for. :-)

Nov 4, 2012

30 days of gratitude--an extra hour

Colin has been under the weather this weekend, poor baby.  He had a fever when I picked him up from daycare on Friday, and he's been running at least a low grade fever ever since.  Last night, his fever felt like it spiked pretty high, and he was obviously so miserable.  PJ and I took turns snuggling him, rocking him, and walking him up and down the hallway for a few hours until his fever broke and was able to fall asleep.  He's still not 100%, but he's definitely on the mend today.  I'm so thankful that he seems to be getting better, and I'm especially thankful for that extra hour last night.

Nov 2, 2012

30 days of gratitude--sweet friends

Cara has formed a very sweet friendship with one of our neighbors.  This neighbor is a single lady of retirement age, but Cara thinks she's one of the coolest friends she could ever have.  A few weeks ago, I got suckered into buying a box of frozen cookie dough from a student (yay, fundraisers!), and when I told Cara about my box of cookie dough, her first thought was "we will make cookies for our neighbor and take them over on a pink plate!"  And so we did.

Our sweet neighbor was overjoyed to have a little visitor, and I was overjoyed too.  It warms my heart in the best way to see Cara develop a caring, generous little spirit.  Of course, our neighbor left Cara a thank-you card the next day.  And the day after that, she happened to be in the yard raking leaves when we pulled in the driveway, and I couldn't get Cara unbuckled fast enough.  "I have to go visit!!!!"  Seriously, it's adorable.

The weekend before Halloween, we came home from a birthday party to find a very special gift on the steps.  

It's a little Halloween house with trick-or-treaters and a note.  Cara was thrilled, especially because it was her turn to write and deliver a thank-you note.

Day 3:  I am thankful for sweet friends who love on my children.

These folks are thankful too:

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