Friday, October 31, 2014

Our Halloween Gnome

We have our very own woodland gnome. Here she is: 


Inspired by her role in her school's Michaelmas pageant (here is a short introduction to Michaelmas), HG decided to be a gnome for Halloween. She and her classmates all sewed their own wool felt hats for the pageant, so she already had that part of her costume complete. Since she wanted the tunic to look the same as the one she wore at Michaelmas, I borrowed the one from school and made a (very rough) pattern from it. How did I do that? Well, I took a lot of pictures, traced the basic shape of the tunic, and then read through a similar store-bought pattern I already had to make sure I sewed  the pieces together in a sensible order. When it came to drawing out the actual pattern, I made one pattern piece. For the front sections I cut out one piece of fabric using one side of the pattern and then the other piece using the reverse side. For the back, I folded the fabric in half before cutting along the same lines, so I had one piece that extended from one shoulder to the other. Make sense? You'll see there is also a collar of sorts with buttons attached. This I did completely free hand, no pattern, no measuring. It worked well enough, though the two sides are a little bit different. I am not one to go to extremes in Halloween costume making, so if it's not perfect I am not bothered.

We searched high and low for the perfect fabric, and in the end we had to go with polyester velour from Joann Fabrics which wasn't ideal but it looks great. I don't like working with synthetics because they feel pretty yucky and they are always causing some problem or other for the sewing machine. Plus you really can't iron them, which makes sewing just that much harder, though the rocketship was able to overcome all the issues it was presented with. We also did a thorough search for just the right wooden buttons. The sisal rope was easy to come by at our local hardware store. 

HG did not have school today (the teachers always schedule fall conferences around Halloween so the children are not bonkers in school), so together we made her loot sack out of some of the leftover velour. Keeping with the rustic gnome look, we used twine for drawstring. I know it looks kind of small, but I assure you it held plenty of candy for one six-year-old. 

Here she is above singing the gnome song from the pageant, which is all about using our wills to work hard and overcome obstacles. HG also remembered that gnomes often carry lanterns, so she scurried off and brought outside the one she made a year ago for Martinmas (yes, another Waldorf school ceremony).

I like how we are able to incorporate HG's school life into our home and how all these celebrations are wonderful opportunities for creativity. What about you? Did you have a special Halloween this year? Have you ever tried to make your children's Halloween costumes? 

Thursday, October 30, 2014

My Overflowing Idea List

When I first started my shop a good friend from college, who is very creative, told me that I would find the creativity part easy--I would never be at a loss for ideas because once you get in the habit of thinking creatively, it turns out you can't stop. I thought she was just being very supportive, but it's so, so true!

Below the photo is a selection from my current list of new products to develop. This list gets bigger every week; it's almost frightening all the spectacularly interesting and fun projects there are out there.

Just one of my newest fabrics. This is the one I thought would make perfect soft storage buckets. 
yoga mat carriers
covered cork/bulletin boards
coffee cup cozies
glasses cases
table runners
little fabric baskets
floor storage buckets
drawstring bags
kid backpacks
gardening aprons
craft or half aprons
mug coasters
mouse pads
matching/concentration game with fabrics
embroidery hoop sets with coordinating fabrics (wall decor)
bike bags
doll teepees and blankets
kleenex box covers
yoga mat carriers
over door toy organizers
kids/travel placemats
give/save/spend pouches
baby stuff like bibs and play mats
little girl purses
key fobs
dog leashes/collars
drawstring backpacks
grocery/farmer's market tote bags

Is that a long enough list for you? If anyone wants to give me a hand and tell me which are your top three you'd like to see me tackle, that would be super! Maybe I'll write a post on how I get from an idea on a written list to a new product available. It's a long, rewarding process!! 

Thursday, October 23, 2014

Lila Giveaway on Wooly Moss Roots

Please head over to Wooly Moss Roots starting on Saturday October 25th. Blogger Taryn is hosting a giveaway of one snack sack set, one zipper clutch, or one pencil/crochet hook roll from Lila. The lucky winner will get to work with me on fabric choices, gaining access to all the fabrics I have on hand, not just those currently represented in the shop.

some pencil/crochet hook roll fabrics to drool over. 
This is a terrific opportunity to treat yourself or have something special made--and made early!--for holiday gift giving.

Lunch Bag Luv
Do not miss out on your chance to walk away with one of these goodies for free! Mark your calendar! If you'd like a reminder on Saturday, send me a note with your email address so I can add you to my list. Don't worry, I only send out emails once a season and for giveaway opportunities like this. You can remove yourself from the list at any time.

One of many zipper clutch options.

Sunday, October 19, 2014

Being an Artful Parent

I would not say I am particularly good at art. I did not like art class very much at school, I really can't draw, and I surely cannot paint. But I do believe in having fun while doing art projects, and I definitely can do that.

Coming up with those fun ideas is not always easy for me, so when HG was little I turned to the internet. A wonderful blog called The Artful Parent was fairly new at that point and offered many terrific, easy ideas for things to do with kids. It also introduced me to some books on doing art with kids, to the concept of "process art," and to the idea of having an art play group. A couple of friends and I made a date to get together every month or so with our three toddlers, and each time I'd come up with a simple activity for the girls to do while we grown-ups chatted. It was totally brilliant.

Now the Artful Parent blogger, Jean, has published a book that shares all of her wonderful ideas. I took it out from the library one day and barely opened it during my three week stint because I got busy. When I tried to renew it I found there was a hold on it, so I did what I never do these days as I am trying to reduce the number of books in my life: I went and bought it.

I wanted to share one idea from the book, and then you can go look for it in your library to get the rest. This great idea hinges on art--or creativity--being something you can do for short periods. It does not have to be complicated, and it does not have to be messy, and you can squeeze it into your (or your kids') day, every day. Jean suggests, among other ideas on this theme, that you set up a little creativity space (kitchen table, designated art space, front porch...) for your kids to find after school or when they wake up on Saturday morning or whatever. Just put out a pad of paper and a few crayons one day, or some yarn and sticks on another day, or a couple of boxes from the recycling bin and a glue gun, or a bunch of different dried beans and rice and stuff in little cups and some elmers and cardboard, or toothpicks and marshmallows, or some felt pieces and needle and thread. See how none of that is very complicated? And guess how long it takes to set each of those things up? I especially love the idea of just leaving the tools and the space for the children to find. They can dream up whatever they want to with the tools you've provided, and they are not overwhelmed by so many choices that they can't move.

Here are a selection of tools and inspiration in green that I set up a few days ago.
This is the kind of creativity that Waldorf schools (and other schools too) try to encourage. By reducing the volume of "stuff," and increasing the possible outcomes through providing open-ended experiences, little ones (and big ones!) can create in freedom. In my view, when you give kids more rigid parameters, such as showing them an end product you hope they'll emulate, or setting down some sort of already finished product for them to simply embellish (I'm thinking particularly of all those little wooden objects and figures people get at craft stores for kids to take home and paint), their creativity isn't really involved. This is not to say that doing those kinds of activities is wrong--I've done them, and my kids have done them, and we've all had a smashing good time--but when you only do coloring books and craft kits you are limiting their imagination.

The other day HG came down to dinner having made a dinner bell with a stick she found outside, some string, and a few little Christmastime crafting bells we had in some box in the art cabinet. Now that's what I'm talking about! My hat goes off to Jean and her blog (and her book, The Artful Parent), for introducing me to art and creativity as process activities, and to how simple it all can be.

Our new dinner bell.

Monday, October 13, 2014

Simple Advice from a First Grade Teacher

Summer rain fun. 
You've heard about "everything I need to know I learned in kindergarten," right? Well, I was struck by something so very simple that HG's first grade teacher included in one of her parent emails. This teacher is in her first year of guiding a Waldorf class on her own. HG and her classmates enjoy her very much and we parents are glad to have her in our lives.

Here is what she passed along:
Look behind and be grateful
Look ahead and be hopeful
Look around and be helpful
I'm pretty sure if everyone followed that simple advice we'd find ourselves much less stressed out, much more connected to one another, and much happier. Anybody with me?

One of our four garden sunflowers, earlier in the summer. 

Friday, October 10, 2014

Giving My Shop a Boost

Over the summer I took a class on Etsy called "Boost Your Shop." Actually, I took half of it. I still haven't finished the other half, though I think about completing it every day. I really do.

Our Nature Table. Just a nice photo. Not really related to the content of this post. 
How does one take a class on Etsy? Well, just like going to school, there are worksheets and readings. The difference is all the work is homework because it all takes place on your computer, at home. The class was supposed to take eight weeks. Each week Etsy sent out a worksheet and some directions for completing the lesson. I'm sure there was an opportunity for discussion and sharing and chatting with other people in the class, but I never looked into that and just did everything on my own.

The class was extremely useful, which is why I keep saying I'll finish it. It started with an evaluation of one's business brand. This was a super long lesson that I completed while flying overseas. I can't remember why, but I didn't have the computer, so I read the worksheets I had downloaded on my phone and hand wrote out my answers on the little sheets of recycled paper I had brought for HG to draw on. She listened to books instead.
No, also not related. 
The worksheet for that branding lesson began by asking us to write down the 20 words or phrases that describe our brand. "Brand" includes everything--items themselves, customer service, history of the business, everything about one's shop. Here's the list I came up with for Lila, in the order I wrote them down:
  1. detailed
  2. quick
  3. friendly
  4. unique fabric
  5. family-oriented
  6. durable
  7. beautiful
  8. well made
  9. contemporary
  10. not cutesy
  11. clever
  12. customizable
  13. researched/thoughtful
  14. clean lines
  15. simple
  16. upscale
  17. lasting design
  18. proven
  19. easy
  20. responsible
Coming up with 20 things was fairly difficult, actually, and I'm glad they asked for 20, since #17, "lasting design," has become a phrase I use quite a bit now in my descriptions. I'd love to know if you have other items you'd put on my list too! 

After a couple more exercises we were asked to write a "brand promise." We had to fill in the following sentence: 

"Every experience with Lila will convey ____________________ and ____________________ to my customers."  

What two phrases went in there for me? Lasting design and friendliness. So that's what I promise! 

All these little worksheets led up to the Big Job of rewriting our "Aboutthe Artist" pages on the Etsy website, which was Lesson 2. I had thought mine was pretty good before, but Lesson 1 of Boost Your Shop helped me discover some ways to improve it. I made all those changes, and you can read my revamped About page here. It took several drafts before I was happy enough to publish, but I think it was well worth the time as I now am able to articulate what values I hope to convey with my shop and even what products to offer. I've said before that the development of my shop has been so organic that these important questions--the ones most businesses address much earlier in their development--hadn't really been answered before. Doing just these first two lessons of Boost Your Shop gave Lila greater cohesion and much improved definition. 

The next two lessons involved tweaking copy and photographs, both of which, I believe, absolutely every shop out there can improve. I went through a couple dozen of my item descriptions and made small, useful changes which focussed mostly on the fabrics and the concept of lasting design. While I am quite comfortable with editing words, thanks to a life-long education in writing, taking and editing photos is often a struggle for me and my patience with myself in this area does wear thin. This is where I stopped working on the class, because the idea of trying to reshoot dozens of photographs just does not make me happy. I am continuously working on taking pictures, and my photos are miles better than they were when I first started, but I know there is plenty more I could do. The next lessons in the class have to do with social media, so I do hope to finish them. Maybe after the puppet theaters. But then there is a Halloween costume to make. And new wristlet clutches. And capes. And floor buckets!! It never ends!! 

Wednesday, October 8, 2014

Puppet Theaters Are Back!

In time for winter play in the northern hemisphere, I'm working on more puppet theaters. I have some new, phenomenal fabrics to work with, so keep your eyes peeled. Sister Parish curtains are next and an entire theater made with canvas from Hable Construction will follow.

Here is the first one, featuring that fantastic funky purple from Unison. You can find it here.

This theater is made from a purple and white ticking stripe. It's soft and very durable. The border around the stage has mitered corners, which are not that easy to do on inside corners, mind you. The bird applique at the bottom is super cute, I think. Other theaters have a fox looking up at the stage and I think I might tackle a hedgehog somewhere down the line. It was my husband HM who came up with the animal applique idea, so good for him. Here's a close up of the bird.

And a nice wide shot of the curtain area.

These theaters take a full seven hours to construct. While that is a long time, it is not nearly as long as the kids will spend playing with them! They can use their theaters with hand or finger puppets, or set them up as a stage for belting out tunes from Frozen. They even work as pretend storefronts! Don't you love toys that work for so many different activities?

Each theater comes in a drawstring bag for storage. I make those too. Oh, and I include the dowel as well that slides into place just below the window to stabilize the theater. OK, I'm off to work on the next one!

Friday, October 3, 2014

The Benefits of Owning a Rocketship

First off, there is less swearing. This is a benefit to all. At first I thought that my new machine didn't actually make things go faster, but I realized last week that indeed when I am swearing less and fixing things less, projects do get done more quickly. Imagine that!

This is the promised post about how very cool my new rocketship is.

Its major benefit is this thing in the photo below, called the Acu-Feed Foot. A sewing machine "foot" is whatever piece of metal or plastic is holding your fabric from the top and pressing it against the metal plate below. These feet are removable, and depending on how they are designed, they can achieve different things, like attach a zipper, darn a hole in something, or sew crazy fun stitches. This one here has little guiding grabbers that pull the fabric from the top and help it to feed evenly along under the needle. You can't really see the top grabbers in this photo but you can see the ones that grab the bottom layer of your fabric. Those are the teeth-like metal parts you see running vertically in the middle of the picture. They're called feed dogs but I don't know why. I get that they feed the fabric but I don't get the dog part.

But I am not that interested in finding out, so we'll move on. When you are sewing through a lot of layers, or if you have to go over big bumps such as at the beginning of something thick, this foot will do it. My previous machine had to be coaxed, coerced, or just throttled into going over big bumps, and it always slid the top layer off the bottom layer, making things crooked. (For those of you who are sewers and want to know why I didn't own a walking foot, I did and it made very little difference.) This machine just slides right over those bumps, hallelujah.

Another extremely cool feature is the needle plate, which is that big flat piece of metal with grooves and holes on it. This machine comes with two needle plates. The one I have installed at the moment has two little holes right next to each other which you can see in the middle of the photo above. Those are the only places the needle will go with this plate--either in the middle or slightly to the left. Why does this matter? Well, first off any flimsy fabric you want to use will not be crushed into a wide hole by the powerful needle. Secondly, any narrow piece of fabric will not get smashed into a wide hole. This is what matters to me.

Above you see me sewing a narrow strip of fabric that's going to be a tie in the back of a smock. I've told the needle (in the photo the needle has a little red dot on it, and it is poking down through the fabric) to go in the left-hand hole so that the grabbers on the left of the foot will grab as much of the fabric strip as possible, thus guiding it straight and true. This whole set-up is a gigantic time saver. The narrow little strip does not get eaten from below, the bump at the end of the tie slides under smoothly, and the layers of fabric all line up correctly at both ends. It's truly stunning and makes me want to jump for joy. I realize that for most of the world, indeed for all of the people with whom I live, this is completely not interesting, but you are reading, so...keep reading. 

The other needle plate, which just pops in and out with a little lever, has a very wide hole in it to allow the needle to move side to side and make many, many different stitches. Here is a photo of all the stitches it can make. 

That's the lid of the machine propped open, showing what each stitch looks like and which number to punch into the computer so that it will sew the stitch you want. The computer is down there at the bottom right. There are a zillion stitches and I know I will never use them all. I tend not to be wowed by the different stitches a machine can make. I bought this machine because of its power, its precision, the enormous size of it, and the features I'm talking about now. Someday I might use many of those stitches but I haven't used any of them yet. Seriously, noting except the straight stitch so far.

You can see in the photo above some of the slots for the different feet the machine comes with. I think it came with about 15 or so; only the ones the manufacturer thinks you will use most often are stored in the top. The rest live in a compartment the fits under the machine. So far I have used the zipper foot and the regular foot but I've got some applique coming up shortly and I am sure in the distant future there will be some quilting.

Here's some of the handy features that entry-level machine's don't have. At the top of the photo above you see a scissors button. This cuts the threads when you are finished sewing and brings both the top and bottom threads to the bottom so you don't have to snip them later with your itty bitty snipping scissors. Another little convenience. The double arrow button allows you to decide whether you want the machine to stop with the needle up, out of the fabric, or down, in the fabric. I like it down because I am usually stopping just to make a turn, and if your needle comes out of the fabric and you try to turn your project it doesn't work--you lose the stitching line you were making and you basically create a hole in your seam. The target-looking button is very handy. It locks the beginning and end of the stitching line for you by having the machine make several stitches in place. Next down is the reverse button, which all machines have so it's not that special. But I do like how I can program this machine to make a lock stitch or a reverse stitch at the beginning and end of every line I sew. I definitely did not have that before.

Finally, a photo of the whole thing. See the area where my pin holder is? That area is called the harp and it matters to some people how big it is, because the bigger it is the larger the project you can work with. This one is eleven inches wide, which is the widest I have heard of. I love that much of the time my pin holder can just sit there being very convenient!

You can also see that the machine comes with a large clear table that slides on from the left, which is also great for resting big projects. When heavy fabrics are pulled by their own weight off the edge of a smaller table, the stitches can come out warped, or worse, you can hurt your machine by all that sideways pulling on the needle. This big table has eliminated any of those types of problems for me.

So these are the main reasons I bought this machine. I also just like the feel of it when sewing and how very quiet it is. I actually purchased a completely different machine at first, which after a couple of days I took back to the store. It was an even more expensive thing from Bernina and it worked a lot like a princess in my view. Demanding, dainty, and very picky. Every little thing involved pushing multiple buttons on the computer. And it was insanely loud. I know quilters love, love their Berninas, but my Janome is much more my style.

Nope, no one has paid me to say all these nice things about my machine. Janome does not know I exist and I don't think the sewing machine store knows I have a blog. I'm just pretty pleased that my months of research and lengthy test drives led me to just the right choice for me, and I am so, so grateful that my shop's success made it possible for me to get it! 

Wednesday, October 1, 2014

New Lunch Bags Are In!

I've just posted five new snack pouch sets in my Etsy shop. We've got green, we've got blue, black and white, and the promised funky purple!

Find them here!