Feeding the Creative Monster

Is the creative me really a monster?  Sometimes she is as insatiable as the sea monster who threatened Andromeda… but not as vengeful as the mother Beowulf slew.  But last week, which had me in the office more than at home, awakened her with a roar.

On the needles: J’s micro triceratops.  This is a frustrating project because it’s all stops and starts and weird bits and pieces that shout “You’ll have to weave in all these ends later!! nah nah nah!” every time I pick it up.  I started some wash cloths, because I needed a project that could be continued, without loose ends, without any pattern-checking or casting on and off.  And could be done without the children wondering if I’m knitting it for them.  (None of them would ever think a wash cloth was for him.  Or her.)

In the sewing room: T-shirts waiting for freezer-paper stencils.  J had some sadness a few weeks ago when Sam culled the drawers of all that was too small, and O inherited his wyvern shirt.  I can’t find the same wyvern silhouette, though, and I’m wondering if a T. Rex will be a good enough substitute.  (I’m leaning toward Yes.)
On the laptop: I’m working on a WWI-period novel.  I wrote the first fifty-thousand words in the spring and summer and then had to lay it down for a bit.  A bit turned into weeks, then months, and now I find myself thinking about it every waking moment.  I can’t focus on the children’s questions, or Uno, or spelling , because I’m wondering how many hours the American Red Cross Home Hygiene and Care of the Sick class took.

In the kitchen: swimming always throws a wrench in my cooking creativity, because on days I try something new, they eat very little.  (They always make it up at breakfast, though.)  So I try to cook favorites on their swimming days, which also happen to be the days I’m home.  How many days a week can we eat pizza?  Five? Great.

In Which I Finish the Red Sweater. Again.


You’ll be thrilled to hear that the red sweater is done, and after this post you never have to hear about it again.


Remember the red sweater?  It was my Knitting Olympics sweater.

The sweater that was so huge on me I finally frogged the whole thing and started over?


That was really a low point for my knitting career, but I’m so glad I did it. Last month I was knitting at my friend Ruth’s house, and we spent a while looking at what I had left to knit (two sleeves and the button bands) and the wool I had left (three small balls) and weren’t sure I was going to make it. Happily, I found another two miniscule balls (like 8 rows of sleeve on each one– not much!) and just made it with scraps to spare. For a moment, I thought I was going to have to use the ends I trimmed (after weaving them in a bit) to finish the button band.


But it fits well, and I love it, and I enjoyed the yarn as much the second time through as much as I did the first.
Do you have a Finished Object to show off?

Sleeping Bag Tutorial

I wanted to show you how easy making a sleeping bag can be.

Before we begin, remember that I sew by the seat of my pants, so if you want something that looks like someone over the age of nine made it, find a different tutorial.  This is a light-weight, sleep-in-the-living-room kind of sleeping bag.  It’s not waterproof, or even super-warm.  But it’s fun, and my children love them, and they are very cozy when Mommy won’t turn the heat higher than 68 in the winter.

First: I bought two pieces of fleece, measuring 1.5 yds by 60″ wide.  (This will yield a sleeping bag 30″ wide and 1.5 yds long if you fold it the right way.)

Second: I use Dritz (I’m sure there are other brands) zipper-by-the-yard.  That’s product #310, and the zipper pulls are #311 (see in the upper-right hand corner?)  I bought 2 3/8 yards of zipper.  Note: the directions for the zipper-by-the-foot come with the ZIPPER, not with the pulls, so make sure the lady at the fabric store cuts you a piece of the paper in the box that has the directions on it.


Third: I bought 1 yard of elastic.  This is not necessary, but it makes nice bands which will secure the sleeping bag in a nice roll.

Wash the fleece, elastic and the zipper and dry them however you plan to, so that nothing will shrink later.

Lay out the fleece with the right sides together.   Put the fabric you want to use as the OUTSIDE of the sleeping bag on the top but with the right side of the fabric DOWN.


Decide which side of your sleeping bag is the top (meaning the side from which you slide in).  We won’t be sewing this side till the end.  Find the middle of your fabric, so that you see an imaginary line between the top and bottom of the sleeping bag.  This will be the fold.  Mark it with a pin. In this photo, the GREEN pin marks my halfway point.


Figure out which side of the zipper is the poochy-side.  (The side that bows slightly toward you.)  Now lay the zipper along one side of the fleece at the edge so that the zipper is at the edge, but HIDDEN between the layers.  (We will turn it all right-side out so you can see how it works later.)  Your zipper should run out very near the pin you used to mark the halfway point at the bottom of the sleeping bag.  This is good.


Cut the elastic in half and fold each half in half, so that you have two loops.  Lay these on TOP of the zipper, but toward the right side of your half-way point.  Also, the loops need to be hidden in the fleece sandwich.  (Note that in my photo, I put the zipper on top.  Later this messed me up.  Trust me.  Put the zipper under the elastic.)


Pin the zipper between the two layers of fleece.  Please put your pins how I did the the photo BELOW, not the photos ABOVE, or they’ll get trapped between your layers and you have to stop every six inches to pull them out.


Let’s review: this is a sandwich.  In order from top to bottom, the layers are: outside-of-the-sleeping-bag fleece, elastic, zipper (poochy-side up), inside-of-the-sleeping-bag fleece.

A word about the corner.  Don’t try to do any sort of fancy mitered corner or anything, because you really just want your zipper to work.  It’s okay if your corner is a little rounded, because this is just a sleeping bag.

Now sew your sandwich together.  Make sure you are using your heavyweight needle, or you’ll be sad.  For the Singer needles I use, the purple band indicates heavyweight.

Remove your pins and turn it right side out for a minute so you can see how it works.  Cool, eh?  Mark the TOP of your zipper with a pin so you know which side is the poochy side, and which end is the top-of-the-sleeping-bag end of your zipper.  Now separate the zipper.


Note: in your process, you won’t have the zipper pull on yet, but I forgot to mark the top of my zipper before I pulled it apart,, and then I had to re-connect the zipper to figure out which way was up.

We’re going to make a sandwich again on the other side of the sleeping bag.  Turn your fleece back to the wrong side out and pin your zipper in, making sure that the poochy side is up.  I began at the center of the foot of the bag and went around toward the top of the bag, ending with your marked zipper-top.


All right.  Good job.  Now remove the pins (all of them, or you’ll be an unhappy camper– literally!) and turn your bag right-side out.  Fold it in half just like it’s a real sleeping bag, with two little elastic bands on one side of the foot so you can tie it up when it’s rolled.

Take one of your trusty #310 zipper pulls and put the two foot-ends of the zipper into the grabber.  (This takes a little waggling.)  Zip it up a little ways, and admire the fact that you made a sleeping bag with a zipper.  Now tuck the end of the zipper toward the inside of the sleeping bag and sew it in there so that your excited 6 year-old doesn’t unzip it all the way.  Ever.


This is where my sleeping bag went awry.  (Yours won’t, I’m sure, because you’re not trying to finish it and have the car packed to go camping in an hour and a half.) 

I had put my elastics UNDER the zipper, so that they faced the inside of the sleeping bag.  But you put your next to the fleece that was the outside, so you didn’t have that problem.


Okay.  Now we have to finish the top.  You can choose any stitch you’d like to finish it.  To make it look more finished, I’d recommend folding the cut edges in and pinning it so that you can do a nice finished seam.  In fact, this looks really nice if you do it all the way around the edges of the bag, including by the zipper.  (It also cuts back on the amount of fabric that gets stuck in the zipper while zipping.)  But I didn’t do this.


I took advantage of the fact that fleece doesn’t fray (and the fact that my daughter is only 3 and doesn’t know any better) and used a zig-zag stitch.  Voila!  Feel free to adapt this in any way that suits you.  If you try it and find an error, please let me know.  And if you make on, please add a link to your photo in the comments!  Happy sewing.


Mother’s Day Photojournal

I am so grateful for my mother.  Not only did she bring me up (and sometimes had to drag me up kicking and screaming), but now she and my dad share in the care and education of my children.

I am grateful for the many people– elders and contemporaries– who have mothered me, and continue to do so.  And I am also so grateful for my children, who make me a mother.  But on Mother’s Day, when Sam asked me what I wanted for the day, I didn’t say, “Oh, I’d like time with my mom.”  Or, “I’d love to plant the garden with the children.”  Or, “I’d love to have an outing as a family.”

No.  I said, “I’d like to be alone.”

And even though he’d been alone with the kids all of Saturday, he smiled and said, “All right!  Everybody outside!”  I am so very grateful for him.

I sewed.  It’s something I enjoy and do rarely now, as there isn’t a good place for me to leave everything out and can’t think the last time I had enough time to complete a project, start to finish.  I bought Heather Ross’s lovely book Weekend Sewing several years ago and had yet to make anything from it, so I chose the “Flower Girl Dress” and had at it.  For hours.  When I finished it, I made another.  Here’s the first one, finished.

Oh wait.  I’ll ask her to stand still.

As an aside, I would never let my children jump on the furniture.  What was I thinking (ten years ago) when I decided to be the cool mom and let them do that?  Now, almost eleven years later  it’s too late, and I’m not so cool with it.

All right, just because I like it so much…

Thanks for letting me use all your band-width on a dress.  I feel much better now.  (P.S. This dress should be stepped into from the top, not pulled over the head, or you’ll hear shrieking that it doesn’t fit.  When clearly, it fits.)

And then after I was all sewed out and the children were hot and sweaty and covered in sand and bug bites, Sam made me a feast.  (Although there are 5 people who claim to have made the carrot cake– my favorite.)

As a final note to the evening, I gave a little concert.

How those bugs love him– almost as much as I do!

I hope your time planting a garden or going for an outing– or just being alone– was a time of  blessing for you.  Thanks for mothering me in all the ways you do!

"These are the worst pajama pants! Ever!"

A few of you may remember my tutorial on making pajama pants.  For the record, the girls’ pants fit great.  But the boys pants… not so much.

I wasn’t even off the plane from Haiti for 2 hours when O put his on and shouted the above [really grateful] statement.  And welcome home.

Both boys’ pants fit terribly– too tight in the hips.  I have no idea what happened, but if you copied my tutorial and ended up with “the worst pajama pants!  Ever!” instead of the girls’ well-fitting pants, I’m sorry.  So sorry.

My theory is that because the boys’ measurements were opposite (the inseam and waist measurements were directly converse: 21 x 24, v 24 x 21, or something like that) I goofed when I double-checked the casement.

Anyway, now I’ve fixed them.  We’ll see if the pants are actually worn, or if the experience thus far has tainted the pants past redemption.  I hope this is one of those moments when Sam’s question, “Seriously, why don’t you just order some?” becomes an “I told you so.”  (He wouldn’t do that, would he?)

Gray Sweater

It’s done.  I’m wearing it.  I love it, and not only because knitting it gave me hours in which to watch the new Emma done by Masterpiece Theater.  (Sam gave it to me for Christmas.  Not only does he give me costume dramas– he watches them with me.  More than once.  He’s so good to me.)

After the gauge fiasco, I am thrilled that it fits, even though the roll at the V-neck isn’t perfect.  It’s Heidi Kirrmaier’s Simple Summer Top-Down V-Neck, knit in Knit Pick’s Swish Worsted, which is 100% Merino superwash.  It’s soft and washable– although I may never take it off again.  Or at least, not until summer.  Here’s the Ravelry Link.

Are you making anything for yourself?

A Few Craft Gift Ideas

In case you have a few spare hours to whip up some gifts, here are a few ideas:

Handmade Homeschool has always has fabulous inspiration for me, and this year is no exception.

Sew, Mama, Sew spends November focusing on tutorials and gift ideas.

I offer these as encouragement– a few hours and a little creativity go a long way, but I’m sure your family would rather have a peaceful mommy without pickled beets or a handmade backpack, than a frazzled, grumpy mommy bearing hand-knit hats.

I hope you have a chance for you creativity to express itself!

Beginning Christmas Gifts: Pajama Pants

Last weekend Sam took the kids to the park (I’m sure it had nothing to do with my eye rolling when he proposed to go for a long run alone) and I had an hour to sew.

I started the kids’ Christmas jammies.  The surprise was already spoiled when SweetP found the fabric, dragged it into the hallway, wrapped herself in it, and began shouting, “My jammies!  My jammies!”  But the fact of the jammies won’t be spoiled.

When my sewing machine is cooperating (let’s say that’s about 60% of the time), it takes me about an hour and a half to make 4 pairs of (very plain) pajama pants.

Here’s a mini-tutorial.

1. Wash and dry your fabric.  If you’re a stickler, iron it flat.  If “good enough” is good enough, skip the ironing.

1. Take your child’s pants and fold them inside-out, with one leg inside the other.

2. Fold your fabric and put the outside of the pants leg on the fold.  Cut around the pants with about half an inch extra on the new fabric for your seam allowance on the inseam.  Cut two inches above the waist and below the hem (longer if your child is growing, so you can let down the hem.)  Cut two of this shape.  (It’s easier if you cut the second from the first, instead of from the pants, so you can match the shape exactly.)

3.With the fabric INSIDE OUT, sew the inseam (from the crotch to the ankle) on each leg (but do it one leg at a time.)

4. Turn one leg right side out and tuck it in the inside-out leg, matching the crotch seam and waistband exactly.  Pin the seam from waistband, down through the crotch, to the waistband again.

5. Sew the right sides together, from the center of the FRONT of the waistband, down between the legs, and up the BACK of the waistband.

6. Pull the pants wrong-side out (but legs apart.)

7. Fold down the waistband 1/2 inch, then another 2 inches.  Sew this down except for 2 inches (so you can put the elastic in.)

8. Fold up the hem 1/2 inch, then another inch (or more, if you cut room to grow.)  Sew this down.

9.  Measure your child’s waist.  Cut the elastic one inch longer, then with a safety pin, slide the elastic into the waistband.  Overlap it by one inch, and sew the elastic.  Now sew down the last two inches of waistband.

10. Turn right side out.  Voila!


I’ve mentioned before that I knit huge.  My Olympics sweater is so big (even though I checked my gauge before knitting) that I’m considering lengthening the sleeves a little and trying to felt it just a little.  Lately I’ve been knitting a (size medium) casual v-neck sweater for myself.  Because really, who would appreciate a hand-knit sweater as much as I would?

I’d already knit up 5 balls (that’s 550 yards) of this really soft superwash Merino wool from Knitpicks when I looked at the sweater and thought, “Man, this is huge.” 

N.B.  In September I knit three different gauge swatches until I found my gauge, and then my Medium still knit into Large proportions.  (It was only minimally reassuring that all the measurements matched the Large sweater.)

I asked Sam– who’s not a sweater guy– if he would wear it if I finished knitting it.  I’m pretty sure I love him enough to knit him a sweater. He said, “I’d have to see what it looked like on.”  Well.  Apparently I don’t love him enough to knit him a sweater he won’t commit to wear.  I need my commitment up front.

So: frog.  Frog.  Frog.  I’m going to knit the Small size on the next-smaller size needle , since the measurements for the Medium are a little generous.

And can anyone (Bueller, Bueller) tell me what’s wrong with how I’m measuring my gauge?

Felt animals

I have tried in the past to interest my children in sewing and handiworks, but my set-up is too cumbersome, and it’s a pain to try to get everything out and everyone settled.  I love Soule Mama’s website because she inspires me to create with my children (or alongside them) and makes it look so easy.  But it’s not easy at my house– partially because I’m such a control freak.  I want them to do it MY WAY, and so they lose interest, because I’ve just walked all over their creative process.

(If you look closely, you can see O crying in frustration at the far right of this photo.)

So anyway… we keep trying.  This week, it’s felt animals.  I suggested it as the day’s activity because M (age 6) is a dawdler.  She has about thirty minutes of work a day and can make it drag on for about seven hours if she isn’t feeling inspired.  (O, on the other hand, always tries to get all his work done in 5 minutes so he can have the rest of the day for “fun”.)  Charlotte Mason’s cure for dawdling is always to have some fabulous, fun activity in your back pocket, and when your dawdler starts dawdling, say, “Well, take as long as you like, but we’re all going to ___________ in five minutes, and I guess you’re going to miss that today.”

So it was felt stuffed animals.  And– imagine this– my dawdler’s work was done in three minutes flat!

I gave minimal directions: draw a creature of your choice, with as few pointy parts as possible.  Cut it out and pin it on two pieces of felt, then cut the felt out.  Then choose a color of embroidery floss and sew most of it together.  (Everyone opted for lots of button eyes– I was afraid J was going to make Argus, but he opted for Medusa instead.)  Stuff.  Love.

We’re starting small, but I hope that this will translate into more sewing skills and more creative opportunities. 

What handiworks are going on at your house?  And what’s your solution to dawdling?