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Archive for the ‘sewing’ Category

When I was pregnant with my second son, I spent many hours alone with my first son, reading boring baby books and playing repetitive baby games, and feeling deep ambivalence about doing it all over again. I wanted two kids, but in an abstract sense; I envisioned a future with two kids in it. But the thought of raising a second baby, that often led me into deep despondency. Now, I live in the early years of that shining future I had envisioned. My two boys play together for hours at a stretch, with no intervention from me. I read to them, usually at least an hour each day, but beyond that, they play with each other and away from me, and that is a very great wonder indeed.

This semester, my teaching schedule worked out that I have no classes on Fridays. To save money, we pulled my younger son, Simon, out of preschool that day as well, so he and I are on our own a full day each week. Sometimes, I take him on little enriching experiences to the library or the art museum. Other times, he watches two and a half movies back to back while I do other things. Sometimes he plays on his own, punctuated by occasional games of Guess Who? or Candyland with me, under duress.

Caring for young children is about the most boring job I can imagine, so when I’m playing Candyland, I am often thinking of how lovely it would be to be vacuuming or folding laundry, able to think my thoughts without being interrupted by indignant shouts of, “Mom! Did you hear me? I said, ‘I got Princess Frostine!” The other day, I mentioned to someone that I often fantasize about just disappearing. Driving off without a word to anyone. “Oh,” she said, “Me too. Like to the Caribbean? Or Costa Rica? And lie on the beach and get away from the cold…” I looked at her in a mild state of confusion. The cold? The cold isn’t even on my radar of things to flee. My escape fantasies rarely take me farther than a meagerly furnished room on the outer reaches of the Cape, or a cabin in the wooded border between Maine and Canada. It’s not the cold, it’s the need I dream of leaving sometimes.

_MG_8257Coming home after work, or being home on the weekends is not unpleasant, and I have no babies anymore, so the intensity of my children’s needs is thankfully more bearable now. But there is still never a day where I am responsible only for brushing my own teeth, or finding my own socks or feeding my own self. I don’t need a warm beach, and I’m not looking to do nothing. I’m just looking to be able to choose vacuuming, or tooth-brushing, or laundry folding on my own time, and without interruption.

On our most recent Friday together, Simon was playing by himself while I stitched a hem onto some curtains I was making as a wedding present for my sister. It was, for a short span, quiet, aside from intermittent sounds he was making as his action figures crashed into things or were dissolved in a river of lava. For a moment, I was choosing to sew. Then Simon came in and asked me to play something with him. Feeling put upon, I sighed and told him to wait. “Just let me do this line.” I said to him. “Of stitches,” I said in my head. I’m doing a line of stitches. And suddenly I was feeling much better. Some days he may watch too much tv or play computer games too long before I remember to stop him. But sometimes I take him to the museum, and we read a long time everyday, and I feed him good food. And above all, I’m not snorting coke.

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I shop almost exclusively at thrift stores. Aside from running clothes, I cannot remember the last time I bought an item of clothing new. Likewise for home decor. All from thrift stores, yard sales and second hand shops. When one frequents thrift stores, one notes certain immutable laws like “the shoes will all be trashed, but a lot of the clothes still have tags on them or are barely worn.” After a while musing about this, I figured out why. It’s partly that shoes are a bit more basic, less faddish than clothes can be. But it’s mostly that, no matter how much your weight wildly vacillates, your shoes will probably still fit, with the notable exception of pre- versus post-pregnancy. I became a half size larger and the bones of my toes spread into froggish paddles, a state from which they will never recover. More delights of motherhood.

Other than that, your shoes will usually stay with you for years, until they have holes in them and are water-stained and completely dated, at which point they finally appear at the thrift store. Most other things at thrift stores tend to be less threadbare. The clothes, especially, speak of other, imagined lives. The dress bought in the hopes of fitting into it after losing a few pounds and finally relinquished in a bout of despair. The slouchy, silky tunic bought in a misguided vision of oneself, cocktail in hand, tossing one’s graceful head back on its willowy neck in elegant mirth, only to realize, months or years later that one is 5’1″ and will never be either willowy or particularly elegant. And that the silky tunic actually makes one look like an adolescent boy in a fancy feed sack.

Can you imagine my thrill at finding this for two dollars?!

Can you imagine my thrill at finding this for two dollars?!

One of my favorite sections of thrift stores are the dusty and mostly ignored craft bins. Yarn and needles bought in an optimistic moment, embroidery kits one quarter finished, quilts partially pieced: these discarded projects used to depress me. They made me think of people dejectedly abandoning their dreams of being self-sufficient, crafty folk who delight in handmade goods and a world where people still knew how to do things. But as I have scooped up half-finished blankets, and crewelwork on linen, and this time, a completely untouched kit for making a pillow in the shape of a pheasant (!), I have come to see it differently. All these projects in these bins, they now seem to me evidence of liberation.

The people who donated these items critically evaluated them, there at the back of the closet and decided, “I will never finish this. Perhaps someone else will.” Whether they would like to finish it, but have decided they don’t wish to spend the time, or whether they’ve realized they don’t actually enjoy crewelwork on linen, or making pheasant pillows, these people have freed themselves from the reproachful presence at the back of the closet. I think most of these people are women, and anytime a woman can realistically assess her days and decide what’s worth doing and what isn’t, I applaud her. I know a lot of women who feel a great pressure to be the right kind of woman or the right kind of mom; one who cooks her own farm-to-table meals, and crochets her kids little animals just for fun, and sews whimsical clothes for them.  I get a lot of sighs and raised eyebrows when fellow moms learn that, yes, I did make that cable-knit sweater my son is wearing. But I find making things like that fun. I do not, however, find cooking fun. Which is unfortunate, because we do have to eat. But still, I try to limit my cooking to under 30 minutes three times a week. I hate it. If I could leave cooking in the unfinished project bin at the thrift store, I would.

So let us all be gentle with each other. For though I may have made that pheasant pillow myself, tonight we will probably be eating frozen waffles and a can of refried beans. Every woman according to her ability, and her wish.

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At the behest of Malcolm’s awesome Pre-K teacher, Miss Sue, I worked up some simple fleece collars for the upcoming Dr. Seuss themed “Week of the Young Child.” I maintain that every week around here is “of the young child,” but any excuse to make something.
The fact is, I will never be a mom that makes cookies or cupcakes or any such thing for my kids’ classmates. I can think of no torture more exquisite than being forced to bake. Frankly, even cooking is something I do out of strict necessity and my fondness for eating. But if I could get away with it, I would just leave a box of cereal and a bucket of soymilk on the floor for me and my kids to graze on all day. But I digress.
The collars requested were inspired by a lesser known Seuss work. Beft are a sort of species that apparently only ever go left. And these Beft sport fuzzy, high necked collars. So, I set to work replicating this aspect of Beft.

To make a Beft collar, get yourself some absurdly colored fleece. Fleece is ideal because it will not unravel when cut, and it also has some structure to it. You can usually pick up a piece of remnant fleece at your local fabric store for cheap money. Once you have your fleece, measure around your kid’s neck and add an inch or two. Cut out a rectangle of the fleece that wide, and about 8-10 inches high (this need not be precise).

The rectangle of fleece.

Now, cut a sawtooth pattern into both long edges of your fleece rectangle. (The pile of little triangular fleece bits generated from this snipping can be used in some later project. Or, as my son Simon suggested, “Feed it to spiders for spider food.”)

The last step is to sew on two little squares of velcro, which you can also get at your local fabric store. If you are totally sew-phobic, I suspect you can get iron on velcro or something like that. Cut about a 1.5 inch long piece of the loop side of the velcro, and an identically sized piece of the hook side of the velcro. Using a zigzag stitch, sew one of these at the edge of the fleece, just at the base of the sawtooth pattern you cut. Then, flip the fleece over and sew the second velcro piece at the base of the sawteeth at the opposite edge of the fleece.

Once you’ve done that, just fold the row of sawteeth above the velcro out towards you, and fasten around your Beft’s neck. If you wanted the collar to sit a bit higher, you could easily reinforce it with a bit of fusible interfacing, or even cardboard. But I had to make 13 of these, and it just wasn’t going to happen.
If you would like to learn more about the elusive Beft, please watch the following short film:

Click on the image to learn about Beft.

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The Zombiekins dolls listen to Malcolm read Zombiekins. What narcissists.

We have finished reading Zombiekins the book, and have completed 1.3 Zombiekins dolls. The fictional Zombiekins turns almost an entire elementary school population into zombies and is cute but life-threatening. Our real life Zombiekins dolls are less dangerous and have been a hit wherever we go. Simon has taken to bringing his everywhere, including, I confess, for a brief dip in the pond out back. But that is the beauty of Zombiekins: the uglier he gets, the more authentic his patina.

He looks perfectly innocent...until the full moon.

For anyone new to sewing, or with a sewing machine collecting dust, this is really a fine beginner’s project. Crookedness, uneven seams, and limbs hanging off at ghastly angles are all desirable features in a Zombiekins, so just hack up some old fabric and give it a try; you can’t really go wrong.

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Zombiekins the book and companion severed head (under construction).

We just started reading Kevin Bolger’s Zombiekins (may I point out that he is also the author of Sir Fartsalot Hunts the Booger) and it was immediately clear that a companion project was in order. The danger of sewing, even a little, is that your kids think you can make anything. So, we hauled out the fabric scrap bin and set to work making the world’s cutest killer zombie stuffed bear/rabbit/lizard?/fish. I’m improvising and just hacking fabric apart and piecing it back together, but that’s the beauty of making a reanimated undead stuffed animal; it’s meant to look a little off-putting. The boys are pleased with the progress, and so am I. I’ll post a shot of the finished creature shortly before it begins consuming our brains. Or replacing them with poly-fil, whichever these things usually do.

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New projects!

The newest cosmetic bag.

Last summer, I stopped at the fabulously old school sewing and knitting store Yardgoods Center in Waterville, Maine with my dear old mom. We were perusing the clearance bin out on the sidewalk, and came across several upholstery samples of now discontinued patterns. We speculated about potential uses for these pieces, but at a few dollars a piece, I couldn’t pass them up. Now, here’s the first completed project involving these once unwanted fabric scraps: a new cosmetics bag I just posted on etsy.

Still in the works, a prototype Aran sweater with asymmetrical Celtic braid motif. Sounds fancy, but we’ll see if I can actually make it work. Here it is as it has progressed thus far.

The start of the front of a sweater.

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The Cloakmen

The cloakmen acquiesce to a rare photo.

A popular item in the Courchesne household these days: the cloak. This is a sewing project that requires substantially more fabric than my usual endeavors, but the techniques are relatively simple. As a result, we’ve been churning these cloaks out left and right. Fully lined in custom fabrics reflecting the refined and subtle tastes of the wearer (robots? sure. Licensed character prints? absolutely.) these cloaks lend a measure of dark dignity to any toddler or child.

Yesterday, we bestowed a cloak on Malcolm’s friend, Birthday Boy Will, whose parents, Melissa and Christian, threw one of those excellent, unscheduled, non-venue, home birthday parties that have grown increasingly rare these days. We hung out in their newly finished basement recreation cavern and had a truly good time. Thanks guys!

I have been contemplating offering these cloaks custom-made on etsy.com, but I confess to a fear that the geekiverse of role-playing adults would start requesting them. That would be a lot of fabric, and I decline to envision the types of role-playing in which cloaked adults might engage. So for now, let’s leave it to the kids.

Action sequence: 1

Action sequence:2

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