Wednesday, October 12, 2016

Eleventy-One Blessings

There is a wonderful tradition in northern China, where our daughter Mei-Mei lives. When a couple is expecting a baby, they invite their friends and relatives to contribute to a Bai Jia Bei quilt, or "One Hundred Good Wishes" quilt. Each contributor gives a piece of fabric, along with their good wishes for the baby. When assembled the quilt, containing all these good wishes, is considered a family heirloom and is passed down from generation to generation.

When I read about this I immediately knew I wanted to make one for Mei-Mei. Such a precious, tangible symbol of the love, care and prayers of the many, many people who are part of Mei-Mei's extended family.

I worried a bit over the desired 100 pieces. Did we even know that many people? Well, it turns out we did. We knew at least 111, in fact, because I had to make the quilt bigger than expected to contain the 111 pieces we received.

The Chinese characters mean "Beloved," or "Treasure." 

There are so many people who are a part of this quilt and a part of Mei-Mei's life. Taking these pictures, I was nearly brought to tears, thinking about the wonderful village of people that are going to surround this girl, this little girl who has been so alone in the world.

Thank you, all of you.

These pictures were taken at Treetop Hideaways, Chattanooga's only treehouse boutique hotel. To follow them on Facebook, go here

In case you're wondering, one box of these fruit treats is how this mama managed to get all these pictures without the pint-sized humans going stir crazy. One box of treats + one medium sized wilderness to explore = enough time to take lots of pictures! 

Thursday, September 15, 2016

The Winter of No Sleeves

This winter (joyfully!) I will have three kids who are all old enough to want to get dressed by themselves but not old enough to actually manage all the details themselves. Details like putting the right arm into the right sleeve, managing to get their hand all the way through the sleeve without getting tangled up, connecting the bottom parts of the zipper - it's all very complicated when you're three or four. Complicated and likely to completely derail a mom's morning.

Hence, I give you ... The Winter of No Sleeves.

This year, the kiddos (so weird to not just say "the boys") are going to have no outerwear that has sleeves and zippers. Usually, I get one light jacket and one heavy coat for each of the them. Sometimes if I'm able to find a really good quality formal coat, I'll get that too, but we don't have a lot of formal occasions to look sleek for, and our church is pretty casual. This year, we're doing cloaks. One fleece, one wool.

I made the fleece versions this week. I wanted to test out the pattern and fleece is a lot cheaper than wool. Also, the wool cloaks will need to be lined, so that's another level of trouble that I don't want to waste if the pattern isn't right.

Buying the fleece was fun. Twinkle instantly landed on his choice. Munchkin took more guidance. His favorite color is pink, so I wanted him to have a pink cloak, but I didn't want it to look like he was wearing a girl's cloak. ("Excuse me, saleslady, can you show me where you're keeping the non-feminine pinks?") We considered several different options and landed on a fabric that mostly reads BRIGHT!!! rather than just pink.

Beautiful as I know Munchkin to be, it's possible he's not a born model.
I made Munchkin's cloak using M6431, view F except that I didn't use the neckline cutout. I didn't really think it through before cutting it out. Not including the hood, Munchkin's cloak has 6 pieces: front, back, 2 side fronts and 2 side backs. With Twinkle's and Mei-Mei's, I streamlined the pattern so that it only has 2 cloak pieces: front and back.

The original pattern had no option that only used 2 pieces. The simplest option (view C) had a zipper up the front, which I didn't want because obviously, zippers complicate life. So I used the back pattern piece for this view and cut it out twice. To make the front piece, I recut the neckline using the front pattern piece as a guide. Clear as mud?

After the fact, I wish that I hadn't used the front cutout, because the cloaks run a smidge big and I didn't need the extra room that the cutout gives. Also, I cut 2" off the bottom of Twinkle's cloak so that it would be the right length and I cut 1.5" off the bottom of Munchkin's hood because it was oddly oversize. But overall, I'm pretty happy with the first Winter of No Sleeves experiment, and I think I'll be able to tweak the pattern satisfactorily later when I do the wool versions.

But what really makes me happy?

I had to make 3 cloaks. Three.

Wednesday, September 14, 2016

Randomly on Wednesday

It's been a while since I blogged, so here is a whole lot of random news and observations.

1. We have LOA!! This is a super important step in the adoption process where we specifically commit to adopt a specific child, our little Mei-Mei. It seemed a little redundant, since we've been working towards adopting Mei-Mei specifically for almost a year, but this is the point where the CCCWA (China Center for Children's Welfare and Adoption) considers us officially committed. Which means now we can ...

2. ... share pictures!

We think she's just about the cutest thing ever. I particularly love the little nevus spot on her nose.

3. We're working hard on visas right now. Way back when we got approved for a general bring-your-kid-home visa, now we have to get a bring-Mei-Mei-home visa and a take-Mama-and-Daddy-to-China visa. So many visas! It's been an interesting process. For reasons I don't understand, your visa application must be hand delivered to a Chinese consulate (rather than mailed), but it doesn't have to be your hand that delivers it. Fortunately there are courier services set up for such things.

4. I made a Morse code quilt! It was very simple and looked pretty cool, so I'm thinking of writing a tutorial. Pictures coming soon ...

5. I've collected and assembled all the pieces for Mei-Mei's Blessing quilt. This is a Chinese tradition where you make your baby a quilt using pieces from your friends and relatives. It makes me tear up, thinking of Mei-Mei wrapped up in the love of all these people. She is coming home to such a wonderful extended family and church family.

6. Someone needs to design language courses for adoptive parents. I've been learning Chinese using the Pimsleur course, which I like, but so far it's been strictly tourist stuff:

Are you Chinese? Nǐ shì zhōngguó rén ma?
I am not Chinese. Wǒ bùshì zhōngguó rén. (I'm really, really sure that I won't have to point this out.)

The course seems fairly keen on consent:

I would not like to go to your place to drink beer. xiǎng qù nǐ nǎr hē píjiǔ. (Thanks for looking out for me, Pimsleur. I'll be sure to party responsibly.)

There are a few phrases seem helpful:

Would you like to eat something? Nǐ xiǎng chī yīdiǎnr dōngxī ma?
What would you like to do?  xiǎng zuò shénme? 

But nowhere (so far) is that very necessary phrase for entering a shopping center with a toddler: Hold my hand. What about It's time to sleep or Wait a minute, food is coming?

7. I have discovered Poshmark, which is a pretty great way to buy clothes for someone who doesn't actually like shopping for clothes, who wants to buy quality but also who can't always pay for quality. People buy clothes, wear them a few times, decide they aren't as crazy about them as they thought but they've lost the receipts, so they put them up for sale on Poshmark. The highest prices I saw were about 2/3 of the original prices, but I also saw some rock-bottom prices, too. I got a Eddie Bauer waffle weave shirt for just $5 plus shipping. It came in the mail today and like the previous owner said, it's just like new. You can buy stuff on the spot or you can negotiate with the seller. It's set up well and you can search by brand, size and type of garment.

And best of all: you can shop in your PJ's after the kids are asleep. I'm a fan.

8. Last Saturday Munchkin and I went to an English tea room. I politely refused the waitress's offer of a child size cup, and he drank 3 full cups of tea, no sugar, no cream. (In fact, after the 3rd cup, I offered him a cup of tea with cream and he hated it.) Other than refusing to eat Digestive biscuits (can't blame you there, kid) or short bread cookies (that was a mistake, buddy), it was a very pleasant outing. We discussed Thomas and Friends nearly the whole time.

The key, for future tea outings: when you are ordering your tea, also order a dish of ice so you can cool your child's piping hot tea down to a temperature that won't scald them if they gulp it. Because, they will gulp it.

9. I'm knitting a scarf made from a mixture of wool, silk and Australian possum. It is delightfully soft and cushy and the mistake rib stitch that I'm using makes it even more so.

I am 98% over the fact that there is possum in it. Australian possums are only slightly less gross than American ones.

Wednesday, August 10, 2016

Letter to Munchkin

Dear Munchkin,

You are an irresistible bundle of sweet thoughtfulness, cheerful observations and big brown eyes, with just a pinch (ok, we'll call it a dash) of intractable stubbornness thrown in to keep it real. However, these days, according to the blog and Facebook, you're being underrepresented. Twinkle is definitely showing up in the lion's share of anecdotes, quotes and cute pictures.

As an oldest child myself, I know someday you're going to catalogue all my media outlets and then accuse me of partiality and dual standards and imply that you got the short end of the parenting stick.

This is simply untrue.

I adore you to bits, but all the motherly adoration in the world is not going to make up for the fact that you are notoriously camera shy

and your brother is a giant ham.

also the fact that your brother clearly loves nothing more than to have the camera lens turned on him

and you would much prefer to wield the camera yourself, producing such masterpieces as:

and this*:

*Actually, these ARE the masterpieces of your photography collection being both A: of a subject and B: more or less in focus.

And while I don't have any awesome quotes to share from you right now (your conversation swinging between taciturn silence and a monologue on the unique characteristics of all the trains on Thomas and Friends and their pertinent plot points) I do want to record for posterity that right now, instead of saying "Clarabelle," the name of one of Thomas's coaches, you call both of the coaches / kleəbelz/ and it is the cutest thing ever. My knowledge of IPA is insufficient to render the gentle lisp that you give the word and your concern over the Clarabelles' fate is equally gentle and sweet.

Hugs and kisses,

Sunday, July 10, 2016

Ice Dyeing

Quite a while ago, I had a sewing intensive week and make a number of clothes for myself. I used linen for all of them

(Ah, linen. How do I love thee? Thou art easy to sew and a good weight for clothing, allowing projects to look and feel professional. Thou art casual and comfortable when unironed and tossed into dryer for a quick fluff. Thou art classical beauty and simplicity itself. Also, dearest linen, thou wast on sale.)

and I used quite a bit of plain, unbleached linen, some of which I made into a tunic and a dress and some of which I ice-dyed.


Yes. It's lovely. Let me tell you about it.

First, I collected about a grocery bag's worth of ice. Being stingy, I took 2 days to make it in our ice trays instead of paying $2.50 for a bag of ice. Then I wet the fabric, squeezed out the excess, and then scrunched it into a rectangle. For this technique, it's better to scrunch (think of the fabric going up and down, hills and valleys) than layer or fold. Since I didn't know exactly how it would look, I dyed more fabric than I needed for the shirt so that I would have enough that I could pick and choose which parts I wanted. I used one package of Dylon fabric dye, in navy blue.

Then I poured the ice on top. You want enough ice to cover your fabric. Scrunch your fabric into a smaller area if necessary. (Twinkle was a very enthusiastic helper.)

Then I sprinkled the powdered dye on top of the ice. 

Twinkle got a little blue on his hands, but it could have been much, much worse.

Due to poor planning, we did this project just as the sun was going down. You're supposed to wait for the ice to melt, but it wasn't melting very fast. (Which tells you how long ago these pictures were taken, as it is now warm enough to melt a brass monkey at 10 o'clock at night.) We experimented some with a hair dryer, which Twinkle was very keen on, but it didn't seem to speed the process up much.

See? Still not melted. If I had thought of pouring hot water over the ice, that might have done some good.

Eventually we gave up and rinsed the fabric off in a bucket. After rinsing a lot of times, I ran it through the washer and dryer.

See how pretty?

I love how random the splotches are, which is pretty necessary for this project because - control? You have none. Which is a bit liberating, once you get used to it.

 I made a large, drapey shirt with turned back cuffs and a wide V-neck. I was mostly copying this picture, but I didn't use the measurements listed. (Also notice: that website is in Russian.) The effect isn't quite as dramatically drapey as I wanted, but for a first try, I'm very happy with it.

I sewed this top and my other linen projects with triple seams, which is where you take a French seam, iron it to one side and then topstitch it. French seams are necessary because linen frays like anything when you wash it in the machine, and the topstitching makes the seam lie flat, which looks nicer. 

This gives your project a very professional look and feel and I think it is well worth the extra time. Also it makes your garment last longer because the seams are stronger.

Another detail I like is the loops I put in to keep my bra straps hidden. These loops are sewn to the shirt on one side and snapped on the other, so they're easy to flip under my bra strap and fasten. I sewed the snaps to the neckline facing, so none of the stitches show on the outside. I like wide necklines, but since I have little boys who have only a tenuous grasp on the concept of personal space or appropriate behavior (and since I don't spend my days artfully reclining against a tree) the loops help a lot to keep my neckline where I want it. 

This was a really really simple dyeing project and such a fun technique. I love using the navy dye because it looks like traditional Japanese shibori, but it also looks really pretty when you use green, or pink, or even when you mix colors. This would be a lovely way to personalize a tablecloth or dish towels, if you're not inclined to sew. 

Much fun! 

A small amount of grass was killed in the making of this garment.

Monday, May 30, 2016

Still Not Tired of Half-Square Triangles

Today, when not hacking up a lung or wiping Twinkle's perpetually runny nose, I finished a project. 

If you make a Flying Geese block using a certain method*, you get two little Half-Square Triangle blocks as a side benefit. If you make about 388 Flying Geese blocks, like I did six months ago, you get about 775 little HST blocks. Which is enough to make 5 bags. (The first bag I made before Christmas and is packed with our Christmas stuff and was thus unavailable for photographing.) Each of the HST blocks is about 1.5" square, finished. 

 Something I love about HST blocks is that there are so many ways to arrange them:

The drawstring, lining and casing (that red and white strip) on this bag is a piece from my great-grandmother's stash. 

I'm pretty crazy about them. not gonna lie. Which is a good thing because as many hours as these took to piece, assemble and finish (Not to speak of the original Flying Geese/HST piecing!), I definitely wouldn't be able to sell them for a reasonable price! All of them have a different arrangement of HST blocks, and each one has a different color lining and matching drawstring.

The really incredible thing is, after 775 squares ... I'm still not tired of them.

*I intended to include a link to this method, but Google is failing me. I shall have to do a tutorial of my own sometime soon!