Lately I’ve been feeling down about the state of farming in America. And down is an understatement.
Our reliance on big agriculture, lack of crop diversity, our acceptance and support of GMOs (check out the recently signed Farmer’s Assurance Act) and the disappearing bees and butterflies all make me feel pretty helpless. Normally this would be the point at which I get heart palpitations and start subsisting on only the volunteer heirloom organic sprouts that are cropping up in our back bed instead of visiting the grocery store, but the world is bigger than I am and I have to learn to live within it.
But while I learn to live within it without anxiety, I want to do something — even if it’s small. So this is what my south-facing window sill looks like:
Actually, this is what our south-facing window sill looks like every season. The difference this year is that we’re focusing more on the pollinators this year as we garden. The little sprouts that are reaching for the sun and filling our window sill — and soon our garden — will be for us, but they’ll mostly be for the butterflies and bees. Along with the herbs that are sprouting, nectar flowers and host plants are starting to make their way into our yard as well. We’re creating our own little haven for these pollinators in the front yard and back.
If big farming is going to fill so much of our land with pesticide-filled crops that crowd out and kill those diverse plants that allow these pollinators to feed and reproduce, we should rethink our yards and give the bees and the butterflies a fighting chance. I know lots of people are doing much bigger things to try to fix these problems. My bee and butterfly gardening efforts alone aren’t going to impact the state of things, but at least making pesticide-free habitable yards, full of nectar flowers, host plants like milkweed, fennel and lupine, and water sources is something everyone can do.
Don’t have a yard? Fill some planters with some nectar flowers. Get your kids on board by helping them build a mini-butterfly and bee garden of their very own, making it a family affair. Start lots of extra seedlings or buy some extra host and nectar plants to share with your neighbors so that these butterfly and bee attracting plants make their way into yards around yours and maybe encourage your neighbors to do the same, creating a viable area for these pollinators to do their thing.
Like I said, nothing earth shattering , but it’s something small enough for me to focus on so I don’t go crazy thinking about all the other things I can’t change. Are you with me?
Helpful links for creating a space for bees and butterflies in your yard:
One of my best friends just had baby number two. Baby number one is no longer a baby, but is still young enough to be a bit confused by all the change going on around her and so I wanted to make something special for her. She is into organizing, stacking and carrying things with her, and so I created a little purse just the right size for a three-year-old embarking on the adventure of being a new big sister.
This box bag is pretty simple to whip up. In my haste to make it, I didn’t take a picture each step of the way, but I think these instructions should help you if you’d like to make a similar bag.
The finished product is approximately 5 inches tall, 8 inches wide and 4 inches deep. To make the above bag, I created the pattern below which measures 14″ long and 11″ inches tall with a 3″ by 3″ square cut from each corner.
- 9 inch zipper
- about 1/3 yard for the lining
- about 1/3 yard exterior fabric for bag bottom and handles
- about 1/3 yard exterior fabric for bag top
- coordinating thread
Cutting in out:
1. Using the full pattern piece, you’ll cut two pieces – one from the lining fabric and one from the bottom exterior fabric.
2. After cutting these first two pieces, you’ll fold the paper pattern in half where the pattern is marked in the image above, then add a 1/2 inch to the folded edge. The half inch extension will act as the seam allowance when sewing in the zipper. With this folded pattern piece, cut two pieces in the lining fabric and two pieces in the exterior fabric that you are using for the top of the bag.
3. Once the body and lining of the bag are cut, cut out the handles. For this you’ll cut two strips that are 15″ by 4″.
Sewing it up:
1. First the handles. Make the first handle by ironing it in half length ways, wrong sides of fabric facing in. Unfold, then press each raw edge inward, meeting at the center crease you created. Press. The handle should now measure 15″ by 1″ and no raw edges should be visible. Top stitch along each side. Make the second handle in the same way and set both handles aside.
2. Now for the body of the bag. Sew the zipper to the two exterior fabric pieces you created using the folded pattern piece.
3. Once the zipper is sew in place, using a 1/2 inch seam allowance, stitch the remainder of the top pieces together, from the end of the zipper to the edge of the fabric.
4. Attach the handles to the top of the bag by pinning the bottom ends of each handle along the 8 inch edge, two inches in from the edge of the fabric. Make sure the handles are parallel to one another. Stop pinning after three inches.
After inserting the zipper and pinning the handles in place, your piece should look similar to the image below. (Your handles, however, should be even with the edge of the fabric, not hanging over as mine are. I simply made mine too long to begin with.)
5. Now you want to stitch the handle straps in place. You’ll want to repeat the following step four times, once for each place the handle straps attach to the bag. When attaching the first strap, stitch from the edge of the fabric towards the zipper three inches. Put the needle down, swivel fabric 90 degrees and stitch straight across to the other side of the handle strap, put the pin down, swivel fabric 90 degrees, then stitch back down to the edge of the fabric. Do this for the remaining handle straps.
6. Once the handle straps in are in place, take your your exterior bottom fabric pattern piece and place it on the piece you just created, wrong sides facing. First stitch along both of the 8″ lengths, then along the 5″ lengths. Do not sew the 3″ by 3″ cut outs yet. You will stitch those a different direction.
7. Once you have completed the step above, you’ll now want to make your bag into a cube by pulling the top and the bottom fabrics apart, pinning each corner together perpendicular to the seams you just sewed. When pinning each squared corner together, make sure to match the seams.
Below is a closeup of what the previous three steps should look like when the bag is turned right side out. At this point the exterior of the bag should be complete. Now for the lining.
8. To make the lining of the bag, take the two lining pieces that go on either side of the zipper and place them right sides together. On the longest side, using a 1/2″ seam allowance, stitch 2.5″ from each edge, reinforcing at both ends and leaving a 9″ opening for the zipper between. Unfold and press the seams open, ironing a 1/2″ crease along both sides. What you have just created will be stitched along the zipper on the interior of the bag in a later step.
9. Follow steps 6 & 7 above to sew the lining top to the lining bottom.
The lining of the bag should look like the purple dot fabric in the image below.
10. Turn the lining of the bag right side out and turn the exterior of the bag inside out, setting it inside the lining as in the image below. Pin the folded edges of the lining along the zipper.
11. Hand stitch in place using the stitch of your choice.
Once the zipper is stitched in place, turn the bag right side out and give it to your favorite toddler (or keep it for yourself).
Also, thanks for reading if you made it this far. This post was kind of tedious.
I come from a long line of soft-skinned, creamy-complected women. As a kid I used to sit on the arm of my great grandmother’s cushioned chair, my body curled along her left side and head rested on her shoulder as I listened to her read to me. I’d absentmindedly play with the silky skin that hung from the back of her arms while I faded happily in and out whatever story she was telling. I’m not so sure that I’d be so patient and loving if someone was playing with my arm fat, but somehow she let it slide. Add patience and kindness to the list of traits owned by those women who came before me.
Growing up I thought I could just rely on genetics and minimal care to get my skin to age gracefully. I have always embraced sunblock and washed my face (almost) every night, but moisturizing, steaming or other skin care regimes are not anything I’ve been very good about maintaining. It doesn’t help that I steer clear of most products due to chemicals and am usually too lazy to find a natural replacement. And I didn’t really think anything of my lack of skin discipline or its impact on my appearance until last winter when I looked at my face and thought, “You are aging horribly.”
Really, I’m not really aging all that horribly, but for a few stray grey hairs and wrinkles that have popped up in my 30s. It’s just that hyperbole, particularly as it relates to weight and appearance, is largely embraced by my family. You’ll probably never meet a group of such average looking folks who think they have as many physical flaws as they do. This is not one of the traits I embrace being passed down to me.
But I digress. Back to skin. I’ve been refining a vitamin C serum that works for my skin for a while. It’s a simple little solution that really refreshes my face and keeps it looking bright and even. This recipe utilizes ascorbic acid powder, distilled water and vegetable glycerin.
Vitamin C Serum
• Blue or brown glass bottle
• 1/2 ounce distilled water
• 1/2 teaspoon Vitamin C Crystals (ascorbic acid)
• 4 drops vegetable glycerin
Mix together the water and the vitamin C in the bottle until fully dissolved (using a funnel in this step will make it much easier). Add the drops of vegetable glycerin and swirl together.
Store in a cool, dry place and apply with your fingertips at night.
Notes: I only use the serum at night because I like to play it safe. Vitamin C can be phototoxic, which means it can render the skin sensitive to sunlight.
This solution also oxidizes rapidly due to the interaction of the vitamin C with water so only make very small portions and store in a tinted glass bottle to slow oxidation. This recipe has a shelf life of about 7 days. Do not use when the serum turns yellow. If it has yellowed it means that it has oxidized and it not beneficial for your skin; in fact it can be harmful to your skin and may promote free radical formation.
For those with sensitive skin, the amount of ascorbic acid may be too much and may need to be watered down. For me, this ratio of ascorbic acid to water stings lightly for a few seconds after applying, but does not burn. I’ve had to play a lot with the vegetable glycerine amount in order to create some moisturizing effects without making my skin sticky or cause it to break out. As with all recipes, it’s fun to customize to your specific needs. However, you should always buy good quality ingredients and be aware of each ingredient’s purpose, the shelf life and potential interactions ingredients might have with other elements.
Now that I’ve issued only warnings and not touted all the glowing properties of vitamin C (antioxidant, free-radical fighter, essential to the synthesis of collagen), I’m sure you are eager to dive in.
February is a busy time. It’s full of grant deadlines and collection deadlines. And the flu. February is also filled with the flu. So I’ve been quiet here, but wanted to pop in to post the bag I made for Indianapolis International Film Festival’s silent auction and Oscar viewing party this Sunday, February 24th at Ralston’s DraftHouse. Indy Film Fest brings so much to the city. They are young, hip, accessible and, most importantly, know good film. For this reason I’m always happy to help them out, whether doing some in-kind grant writing, guest blogging for the Festival or sewing up something special for them in the hopes someone (anyone) will bid on it. The people who run this great Fest are some of the most dedicated I know, building something that adds to arts and culture in Indianapolis in such a tremendous way and doing it all without pay.
This giant hobo uses Amy Butler’s Cosmo Bag pattern from her book Style Stitches. I’ve mentioned before how Amy Butler patterns make me want to scream, yet I make them anyway. It seemed like a better option than me making up a pattern and failing miserably. It all came together fairly well and has some sweet little details that hopefully will make someone happy.
The bag has two exterior side pockets that have a nice contrast band at the top.
The interior is made with reinforced shot cotton, a cloth that uses differently dyed strands for the warp and the weft, which creates a nice depth and mirrors the exterior linen nicely. It also has a roomy interior pocket.
And it fastens with a button closure.
It’s sweet, simple and will carry more stuff than one should reasonably carry with her. But big bags are in, right?
I am not an adventurous type, but I really wish I were. I see the (made up) repercussions of things well before I attempt anything, harmless or otherwise. It’s always been that way. Get a tattoo, get disowned by my parents. Have fun like most high school students, get my father fired because someone he works with might find out I’m not a good kid. Flash forward to the years where I’ve grown past the fear of ruining my parent’s lives. Now I worry that if I write a paragraph for a grant that a client doesn’t like I’ll lose my contract and we’ll starve. If I travel somewhere beautiful I’ll fall off a cliff while enjoying the view (no, seriously). And if I make a project for someone other than myself, a project that is requested, I will fail miserably and ruin their perception of me.
So this year I’m trying to do more things that scare me, even though those things are clearly not scary for 99.9% of the population.
My first scary thing this year was agreeing to shorten my friend’s wedding dress. It was an empire waisted Grecian style gown made of two layers. A slinky knit lining fell to the floor under a sheer bias cut layer. Really, hemming things isn’t a big deal, but this was a wedding dress and a new material. When I’m sewing for myself it’s only basic knits and wovens; nothing so flimsy as wedding dress material. When I’m not writing for clients I’m helping this designer and dealing only with leather. Thanks to the Internet I learned a few tricks to deal with these new fabrics and hemmed away with nary a heart palpitation.
The slinky knit lining gave me trouble because it required a 1/4 inch hem in keeping with the original construction of the dress. There was no way to iron it or fold it or even pin it in place, and so I had to get creative. Knowing it would be hidden under the flowing exterior fabric I decided I’d use a trick I’d seen on making lamé edging. Clearly I knew this would change the flow of the bottom of the dress slightly, but I wanted a clean and even hem most of all so I had to make some choices (plus I didn’t totally know exactly what I was doing).
See what I did there? I ran to Staples and bought some adding machine tape, sewed it to the exterior of the dress right along the raw edge of the fabric needing to be hemmed. Once stitched in place I folded it under and pinned in place again. The adding machine tape gave just enough structure to the fabric that I was able to create an even hem. And it’s such a lightweight paper so the excess can be torn away easily once everything is stitched in place.
Look at how it pulls away after the hem is finished. And the paper is so lightweight that even though a small amount remains in the hem, it doesn’t change the stiffness of the fabric too much. Obviously I wouldn’t recommend it for flowing, exterior hemlines, but for hidden linings it might work if nothing else is coming together for you.
Then you get a really clean, crisp and even hem.
So after that first success, I moved on to the sheer, bias cut exterior fabric. I knew this would be more difficult only because of the whole bias cut bit. It was fairly easy to roll in place and control with my finger tips as I sewed away, but first I had to get my sewing machine to accept this lighter fabric. Smaller needle, check. Lighter thread, check. But somehow my sewing machine still wanted to eat the fabric. And so after some searching I realized the fabric was so light it was getting pushed by the needle into the machine and jamming each time. So out came the painter’s tape to cover up that hole and we were on a roll.
Then the dress was done with quarter inch hems sewn evenly all around. And you know what? It wasn’t absolutely perfect because the dress dipped slightly lower in front and I didn’t realize that until I’d cut and hemmed everything evenly, but she got married this weekend, looked beautiful and she didn’t trip once. And more than that, we’re still friends.
Now bring on some more scary (but not scary at all) stuff.
Also, for all you sewing experts out there, feel free to tell me how I should have done this because I’m pretty sure there was a better way to do things.
I feel like January should be recorded, not by days or weeks or projects accomplished, but simply by cups of tea consumed by me. That’s what I’ve been up to. I’ve been fighting the gloom wrapped in a blanket, drinking tea and writing grants. I’ve taken some breaks to make some pasta. Okay. Actually, I’ve taken some breaks to make lots of pasta: spaghetti, fettuccine, lasagna and even soba noodles.
And just when the gloom seems too overwhelming to ward off with tea or pasta-making alone, I have some daifuku mochi, which in my experience is a no fail way to bring a bit of sunshine into the day.
What’s your go-to for warding off the January gloom?
I’m the first to admit I’m a very bad consumer. If I think I can make something I will avoid buying it, even when it makes a lot more sense to just spend the money. But I’m stubborn. Earlier this month I hosted a baby shower and, even though we were working on the house up to the last-minute, I decided that I was going to make as many of the items I could for one of the shower games. You’ll be proud that I decided against making the onesie or even attempting to make a bottle, but I did decide the bib, the hat and the baby booties were fair game, even though I had no patterns on hand for any of them.
Thanks to the Internet and this size chart from Bev’s Country Cottage, I was able to draft some basic patterns and whip up some baby items just in time for the shower.
First up is this little bib. The front is echino laminate fabric and the back is made from two layers of an old t-shirt. The neck closes with a strip of Velcro cut into a circle and machine stitched to the bib. It measures approximately 8″ wide by 10″ long. It turned out to be pretty precious even though it took me two attempts to figure out the best construction. You might note the needle holes left over from attempt number one. Some fabrics are less forgiving than others.
Next is this little hat made from a knit fabric that has been in my stash for years, but that I’ve never found a project for. It can be styled by tying each ear into a separate knot or tying the two ears as above, which is what I prefer. The interior is seamed with my serger and the hem is finished with a zigzag stitch on my sewing machine. It was surprisingly simple to pull together. After I do a test fitting of it on an actual child, I may end up solidifying a pattern for it. Same with the bib.
The baby booties are another story. With 1/2 hour before my co-hosts were to arrive I was creating a simple baby booty pattern which is clearly easier said than done without a baby foot nearby for scale. As my co-hosts arrived I was still sewing and eventually decided that the semblance of a booty (a single, unfinished booty with raw edges) I’d created was good enough for our purposes. No body seemed to notice.
And while we’re on baby projects, I’ll just throw in the stuffed owl I made for my niece this Christmas. Made with fabric scraps that I used for her quilt, an old sweater and some leftover Minky fabric it came together quite nicely. Funny what a fat oval with points drawn onto it can turn into with just a little embellishment.
What simple projects have you been up to?
I have a thing about zippers. And it’s more than just a thing, it’s pure disdain. But this echino laminate sat in my fabric stash for years, waiting for the perfect project. And it turns out all reasonable contenders for the perfect project involved zippers. So with Christmas nearing and my younger sister having commented more than once on this neat fabric, I decided a little zippered pouch for her was in store.
It was a simple project made from a 9″ zipper and four 9″x”6 rectangles (2 exterior fabric pieces and 2 lining pieces) sewn together with the bottom corners squared off to create depth. Maybe it was a little too simple. After sewing the zipper in place with no problem I felt like such a champion that I finished up the rest of the clutch, snapped some pictures, then wrapped it up and presented it to my sister on Christmas.
Christmas evening she unwrapped it, smiled and then tried to open it. And then she tried again and again…. and again. It opened eventually, but just not easily. In my rush to mark a zippered project off my list, I had skipped some crucial steps — steps that I know, but just didn’t think about. Steps like top stitching along the zipper to keep the interior fabric away from the zipper teeth. I’d kind of like to blame this problem on the zipper, but I can’t. This one is all on me.
Luckily, I think I have just enough fabric left to make a functioning replacement for my sister. In the meantime she can at least look at it. This echino laminate is lovely, at least.
What have been some of your gift making and gift giving failures?
I used to work in an office building in downtown Indianapolis, nestled among restaurants and coffee shops. Nordstrom Café was on one side of me and the Omni Severin coffee and sweets counter was on the other. I usually grabbed a coffee and a muffin from one of these places before getting settled in each morning. Or I’d grab a scone. Or a croissant. Maybe I’d grab an afternoon treat too. It got a little out of control.
After I started working from home I managed to kick my muffin habit and replaced ridiculous quantities of caffeine and sugar with things my body actually needed. And I’d love to say that now all I eat are organic salads and raw broccoli, but that’s never going to happen. Sometimes a girl just needs a muffin. And so after much searching and experimenting I came up with a recipe that we find kind of awesome. If we aren’t grabbing a hard-boiled egg for breakfast, we’re grabbing one of these Spelt & Honey Banana muffins.
This recipe is a result of trying to make banana bread healthier without tasting healthy. I think it’s a winner.
Spelt & Honey Banana Muffins
- 1/3 cup applesauce (I use homemade applesauce, puréed with no sugar added)
- 1/2 cup honey (I use local raw honey)
- 1 teaspoon vanilla extract
- 2 eggs
- 3 bananas, mashed thoroughly
- 2 cups spelt flour
- 1/2 teaspoon salt
- 1 teaspoon baking soda
- 1/2 cup of walnuts
- 1/2 cup of bittersweet chocolate chips
1. Preheat the oven to 325 degrees Fahrenheit. Grease a muffin tin and set aside.
2. Mix applesauce, honey, vanilla, eggs and bananas together thoroughly. Then mix in spelt flour, salt and baking soda until ingredients are well incorporated.
3. Fold in walnuts and chocolate chips. Then drop mixture into a heavily greased muffin tin.
4. Bake 28 – 30 minutes until golden brown. Cool on rack.
One of my best friends lives about 200 miles away so we make a point each year to get together a few times for marathon weekends of crafting, baking and just catching up. On one of our weekends she showed up with a screen printing kit she’d found for me at Michael’s for one cent. She presented it to me proudly, and then we laughed, confused by this little cardboard contraption. Its flimsy packaging also served as the processing box and it came with some small screens, a light bulb and some fabric paint. Obviously, even if I used it and it didn’t work at all, this one cent gadget was a steal.
We weren’t able to experiment with the kit during our weekend, but I broke it out the weekend before Christmas as I put together the last of my gifts. It only worked on my first attempt (and even then, not perfectly), but I can’t complain. For a one cent product, it actually provided me with one more success than I’d imagined I’d have, and I ended up with a gift for my brother’s girlfriend.
The quote is, of course, from the song Home by Edward Sharpe & The Magnetic Zeros. The fonts are Eccentric STD and Lullaby, which is a free font for personal use by Gravual which you can find at dafont.com.
With the first pillow complete I tried to make some more screens, but all my other attempts failed. I think the first 30 minute screen burn used all the juice in my little light bulb. Luckily I always have plenty of fabric on hand for when my planned projects fail, and so my mother-in-law and Grandma received pieced pillows instead, which seemed to go over just as well.
The pillows are 16″x16″ with envelope backs in a contrast fabric. The backs are lined with interfacing, the stitching is reinforced at the opening, and the raw edges from the piecing on the front is covered on the interior with muslin that is held in place by stitching in the ditch between each front piece.
They came together painlessly and made for cuddly little packages under the tree.
When you craft for the holidays do you make multiples or do you make totally unique gifts for everyone on your list each year?