Monthly Archives: July 2014

Thirteen

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M turns 13 today. My recall of some of the early years are getting a bit fuzzier over time, but my memories of the day he was born are crystal clear. It was 3:13 pm on a hot Saturday afternoon. The medical staff whisked him away the minute he emerged from me and after a few minutes, I asked if I could see my baby and there he was – tiny and wrinkled with hands and feet almost too big for his little body. From that moment on, he’s been my sweet boy.

In celebration of his 13th birthday, here are 13 of the attributes that make M so unique:

1) he’s patient with his younger cousins and shows them how to play Pokemon games on the DS

2) he take tennis lessons all year round

3) he still sleeps with the blue fleece blanket his grandmother gave him when he was a baby

4) he has a brown belt in karate

5) he would eat home-made pizza every night if he was allowed

6) he taught me how to set-up the closed captioning on the TV and patiently shows me how to do it when I forget

7) he loves rainbow chocolate chip cookies and Ghiradelli chocolate brownies

8) he takes his socks off the minute he gets home from school or camp (and leaves them on the sofa – eww!)

9) his favourite soccer team is Manchester United

10) he reads (and re-reads) Japanese manga

11) he eats almost everything with ketchup, including baby carrots

12) he listens to Top 40 dance music in the car and sings out loud

13) he still gives me hugs and kisses

Happy Birthday M!

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More adventures in sewing – upcycled laptop case

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About a year ago, I bought myself a MacBook Air. I take my little beauty with me to the cottage, to visit my mother, or any where there’s WiFi. I don’t have a sleeve or a bag for it, so I usually stuff it in a bag and carry it with me, sometimes wrapped in a t-shirt.

Not anymore. Fresh off my Staples dress success, I have been busy at my sewing machine and now have a funky zippered case that fits my laptop perfectly.

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Making a case for my laptop was one of my goals for 2014 (and the year’s barely half over). Plus, I added another skill to my sewing repertoire – putting in a zipper. Hitherto having previously avoided any pattern that involved any type of closing, I’m pretty chuffed that I managed to put in a zipper by myself (still a few kinks to work out – more on that later).

For the laptop case, I used a tutorial by Char from Crap I’ve Made that was featured on Skip to My Lou, as part of the 2010 Holiday Bake, Craft and Sew Along. I came across the tutorial on Top Dreamer – Easy DIY Laptop Case Projects. I liked it because the directions were relatively straight forward and the case itself is pretty simple. The outside fabric is an old pair of cords of my husband’s, while the lining is made from 2 fat quarters of Acacia Pixel Dot in Honey from Tula Pink. While I’m not a big fan of yellow, I love dots; plus the colours go really well with the grey/green colour of the corduroy.

My laptop measured 26-3/4 inches (long edge) by 19 inches (short edge). As the tutorial indicated, I divided these measurements in half and added 1.5 inches for seam allowance – 14-3/4 by 11 inches. I cut a section off each leg of the pants, somewhere below the knee, where the material was worn and shin and then cut open each piece along one leg seam and removed the side seam and the hem.

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This left me with two rectangles of fabric with a seam running from across the short side of each piece. I trimmed the rectangles so they were approximately the right measurements and the same size, making sure the seam was closer to the top of the fabric. One of the seams wasn’t lying very flat, so I decided to cover it with a 2 inch strip of the lining fabric, which I top stitched to the outside of the corduroy, right along the seam line, so it wouldn’t be lumpy (totally optional, but I haven’t totally given up my perfectionism). I rooted through my big jar of vintage buttons and found a gorgeous big green one that I sewed on the outside front.

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Up until this point, I had more or less been following the directions in the tutorial and had already attached the fusible fleece lining to the wrong side of the corduroy. I could have sewed the button on through the lining or after the bag was assembled but I wanted to avoid any lumpiness where the button was stitched on (that perfectionism thing again), I pulled up the fleece a little bit, just enough to I could get the needle and thread through comfortably – when I was finished, I re-ironed the fleece back onto the corduroy.

A word about fusible fleece lining: in anticipation of making a laptop case, I had already bought double-sided fusible fleece lining. It adhered very nicely to the cord fabric, but also to anything on the other side. Through trial and error, I discovered that covering the fleece lining with an old t-shirt and then ironing worked best. While the fleece will stick lightly to the t-shirt, it’s easy to pull off and will protect your iron from getting crap all over it. If you forget and put heat directly on the fleece, rub the sticky residue off your iron with the t-shirt while it’s still hot (in the interest of discovery, I tested the effectiveness of technique more than once). If you’re using single-sided fusible fleece, it’s probably a good idea to do a test swatch to make sure you know which side will stick.

I deviated from the tutorial by installing the zipper along the short, rather than long edge.Although the tutorial recommends using a zipper that is 4 inches longer than your laptop, I used a 16 inch zipper which gave me 5 inches extra, 2.5 on either side. On the advice of the lady at the big box fabric store, I used a heavy-duty zipper. I chose orange for the contrast with the exterior and lining fabric (I originally wanted a zipper in dark turquoise but it wasn’t available in the right length – the orange adds just the right amount of pop).

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Next time, I would use a regular zipper, as they aren’t as bulky and would be easier to sew down (plus they come in a wider range of colours).

The tutorial’s directions for inserting the zipper into the laptop case are probably fine for someone who’s actually done this before. Since I had no idea how to put in a zipper, I didn’t find the instructions or the pictures in the tutorial to be very helpful, except for the part about snipping the edges of the zipper so it will curve around on each side.

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I couldn’t find another tutorial that explained how to insert the zipper so it extends down each side of the bag for a couple of inches (the wider opening makes it easy to get the laptop in and out of the case). In the end, I followed the directions for using the zipper foot in my sewing machine manual and winged it. The first time I sewed the zipper in backwards. With a little help from my husband (I’m a bit spatially challenged), I figured out how to position the zipper so the raw edges were captured under the seam. I ended up sewing too close to the outside edge of the teeth on both sides, with the result that the lining fabric has a tendency to get caught when I zip and unzip the case.

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I could fix this by top sewing along the outside top edge of the case – I did a text and didn’t like the results (could change my mind if it starts driving me crazy).

I found it hard to sew down both ends of the zipper with the machine (the industrial strength zipper is very bulky). I fixed this issue by hand sewing the edges of the outside fabric together on both sides.

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While I measured it before I put it in, the zipper isn’t perfectly centred and extends a bit further down on one side. But it opens and shuts (with at little attention to make sure the lining doesn’t get caught). Not too shabby for my first ever zipper installation.

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I ran into a couple of challenges sewing the outside and the lining together. I discovered that I’d trimmed a bit too much fabric off the bottom of the front piece of the corduroy and I had to add a couple of inches to the bottom. I had to do the same to the lining, but it ended up being too long and I had to turn it inside out and trim and re-sew it several times so there wasn’t a lot of extra fabric wallowing around the bottom of the case.

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Sewing the fleece into the seams will make them thick and lumpy, but I found manouevering around it to sew to be a pain; next time, I would iron on the fleece lining after I had the zipper in and the sides sewn up. I’d moved the fleece on one side around so much that it was loosing its shape and stickiness, so I tore it out and ironed on a new piece – you can’t tell from the outside.

 

I also learned that sewing when I’m tired is totally not worth it. One night I had to rip out the same seams three times; it took me only a few minutes to sew it properly the next morning.  Now when I feel my energy flagging, I tell myself: WALK AWAY FROM THE MACHINE. Words to live by.

In addition to being thrifty, the old pair of corduroy pants was a good choice for the exterior fabric. Not only is it a sturdy material, it’s a neutral colour, which means it will never show the dirt. If I was to use corduroy again, I would add a seam allowance of 2 inches to take into account for the fact that corduroy frays like crazy (I kept a pair of scissors handy to trim off the loose threads) and it makes for a thicker seam when it’s turned. However, it’s easier to trim the edges after you’ve sewn it rather than having to sew a narrow side/bottom seam and run the risk that it will tear out (I minimized the likelihood of this happening by double stitching the side seams in the exterior fabric). Although the tutorial doesn’t mention it, cutting away the excess material on each corner as close to the stitched seam as possible will help minimize the thickness of the seam and ensure a smooth looking corner when you turn the case inside out (exterior fabric showing and the lining tucked inside.

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This is more important when you’re using a heavier fabric, like corduroy or canvas, as opposed to a quilting weight cotton. I used the end of my stitch ripper (a chop stick works too) to poke out the corners.

My laptop case is not perfect. Not only is the zipper not centred properly, it isn’t lying completely flat on one side.

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Thankfully, no one will ever be able to see my inside seams – even uglier than the pockets in my Staples dress.

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However, the case fulfills it’s intended purpose – to protect my laptop when I travel. It cost about $10 to make (zipper, lining material and the fusible interfacing). I haven’t seen a lot of cases for the MacBook Air and the ones I’ve found were ugly and/or  expensive (often both). Mine has just the right amount of functionality and detail, not to mention a pop of colour.

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It’s fun, but not too cute. Perfect for me.

Links for this post include: Think Pink Sundays at Flamingo Toes ; Monday Link Party at Craft-O-Maniac; Motivate Me Monday at Keeping It Simple; Making Monday Marvelous at C.R.A.F.T. ; Made by You Mondays at Skip to My Lou ; Market Yourself Monday at Sumo’s Sweet Stuff; Get Your Craft on Tuesday at Today’s Creative Blog; Tuesday To Do Part at The Blackberry Vine: Take-a-Look Tuesdays at Sugar Bee Crafts; Wednesday Wowzers at oopsy daisy; Flaunt It Fridays at Dotted Line Crafts; The Cure for the Common Monday at Lines Across My FaceSix Sisters Stuff – Strut Your Stuff Saturday

 

Middle school – one year down

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 Before M started Grade 7, I was told repeatedly that the transition to middle school could be challenging, especially for a child with ADHD – larger school, more responsibility, and more demands. Since transitions of any sort can often be difficult for M, I was continually on the outlook for signs that he was struggling: increased anxiety, calls from the school about his behaviour, etc. Based on our elementary school experience, I fully expected to be on a first name basis with the principal by no later than the end of the first month.

Looking back over the last 10 months, I can unequivocally say that M had a successful year. Full credit to him – he adapted to and navigated a new environment. There were some bumps. But these were generally one-offs and relatively minor. I didn’t actually meet the principal until after Christmas and I had one call from her all year. My blood pressure didn’t automatically spike whenever my office phone rang.

Probably the biggest change was in terms of his behaviour. M didn’t get as angry and aggressive whenever things didn’t go his way. I thought he might be overwhelmed by the social complexities of middle school, but he made friends with different groups of kids, not just the students who had come from his elementary school. He certainly enjoyed having more freedom and responsibility – he and some of his buddies would occasionally go for pizza or to a nearby discount store for candy during lunch. On the whole, he was much happier than in previous years. This is a huge win for M.

He still had some challenges, in terms of getting along with people he didn’t like, particularly supply teachers. Early in the year, he took it upon himself to “tell the supply teachers what everyone else in the class was thinking.” This strategy probably netted him a few visits to the hallway and/or the office. We had a numerous conversations at home about respecting authority, recognizing that M has never accepted “because” as a reason to do anything, even at home. While M may be more extreme than the average child, according Anthony E Wolfe, a child psychologist who writes extensively on parent/teen relationships, adults can’t count on absolute compliance from adolescents – they need to earn it. M gave the supply teacher who told the class to sit down and read a text book a hard time, as his classroom teacher always spoke to the materials, rather than having the kids read on their own. My sympathy for this particular substitute took a nose dive when M reported that she’d told him “she was glad she wasn’t his mother.” Not all teachers are good ones.

Another reality that M had to confront this year – you won’t always like all your teachers. He was very fortunate to have had great teachers in elementary school and developed close relationships with them. He didn’t bond with his homeroom teacher and was often frustrated by his teaching style. His relationship with the Art teacher was a constant source of anxiety and frustration. Not only did she have a much more traditional teaching style than he’s used to – she expected the class to sit quietly for the full 50 minutes and not talk to each other – she wasn’t flexible in terms of her expectations. M spent several weeks working to finish an assignment at home and when he took it into to class, she told him it wasn’t finished. As much as I’d prefer that M not have to deal with this teacher next year, difficult people are a fact of life and he needs to figure out how to manage these types of relationships. I certainly wish I learned this skill earlier in life.

The academic expectations in Grade 7 were higher than they had been in elementary school and M certainly did more work in class than he had in previous years. But according to his homeroom teacher, M often checked out, especially if he found the assignment to be uninteresting or difficult. I tried to explain to M that we all have to do things we don’t particularly like from time to time (like clean out our in boxes or attend long meetings), but that’s part of life. M tends to give up if he doesn’t get the answer right away. He doesn’t like to ask for help, which makes it harder for him when he doesn’t understand something.

M’s grades for the year were mostly below the class average. We didn’t talk about it very much, but I think he was a little disappointed. His dad and I don’t care about his grades. They don’t tell the whole picture, especially where M’s concerned. He could easily improve his grades by paying attention in class and doing the work. As I told him one day as he complaining about school, unfortunately for him, his teachers know he’s smart and capable of doing the work. If they thought he was doing his very best, they wouldn’t challenge him to do more. He grudgingly agreed that this was probably true. There are times when I’ve been frustrated by his lack of effort, but he’s got to figure it out for himself. He’s got another full year before (shudder) he starts high school.

Hat’s off to M for conquering Grade 7. Next step: Grade 8.

Avocado chocolate pudding (it’s yummy – really!)

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Since I don’t eat dairy or sugar, I rarely eat dessert. While I don’t really miss it, from time to time, I get a craving for something sweet. When those moments hit, avocado chocolate pudding hits the spot.

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It only takes a few minutes to make. It’s vegan – no dairy or refined sugars. Despite its high fat content, avocados contain monounsaturated fat, which has been shown to lower cholesterol and improve heart health. Plus, the fats contained in avocados have anti-inflammatory properties. Unlike cheesecake, avocado chocolate pudding is really good for you (like cheesecake, it’s probably best consumed in moderation).

The recipe is really simple:

1 very ripe avocado (the riper the better; otherwise, your pudding will have a vaguely avocado taste)

1/2 tsp to 1 tsp soy milk (I use unsweetened; almond or rice milk would work too)

3-5 generous tsp pure cocoa powder (depends on your personal taste)

1 tsp agave syrup or other liquid sweetener (again, to taste)

Peel the avocado and cut into rough chunks. Throw the pieces into a blender or a food processor. Add a small amount of the soy milk and combine. Add more soy milk, as required – enough so the blades of the blender or food processor mix up the avocado. Add cocoa powder and agave to taste. Combine well, using a spatula to scrap the mixture off the sides/bottom of your machine (this helps ensure all the avocado is well-combined with the other ingredients), until it’s very smooth. Pour/scrape into a bowl and chill for 5-10 minutes. If you want a thicker consistency, put the bowl in the freezer for 15-20 mins – the mixture will have the texture soft ice cream.

Using an average size avocado, this recipe makes a generous serving of pudding. Enough for second helpings or sharing.

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Bracelet inspiration – memory wire with leather tassels

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One of my favourite on-line beading stores/websites is Ornamenta, in Raleigh, NC. The cost of shipping from the US to Canada means I’ve never bought actually anything from them, but the selection is both eclectic and comprehensive. Plus, the owner sends out regular newsletters that include both ideas and tutorials. Recently, I saw a tutorial for a funky memory wire bracelet with tassels, the Guitar and Bass Bangle, designed by Erin Siegel.

http://store.ornamentea.com/store/product/30170/Guitar-and-Bass-Bangle/

I love this bracelet, but I was looking to make a birthday gift for my niece and black and gold aren’t her colours. A quick visit to my local bead store (LBS) for purple and turquoise seed beads, 1.5 mm leather cording in contrasting colours and I was in business.

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I (mostly) followed the directions for Erin’s version. I used 8mm seed beads rather than charlotte beads. Had I read the directions properly before I went to my LBS, I probably would have bought suede cord. But the leader cord worked fine. Rather than cutting it into individual strips and then tying it together (missed that step in the directions too), I folded a metre-long length of leather into approximately 2 inch sections until the tassel would fit tightly into the bead cap. Tip: I tied each tassel with matching waxed linen cord from my stash and used a wooden skewer to poke the cord under the bead cap as I was glueing it (the skewer is handy for removing excess glue too). I cut the tassels to the desired length as I was finishing the bracelet (a sharp pair of scissors will help cut the leather evenly).

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Note: pictures were taken at night, so colour is a bit off, especially on the purple tassel

The rest of the bracelet came together quickly. When working with memory wire, it’s important to keep the coils in order, rather than letting them get tangled up in each other. I used about 4 coils for the bracelet and eye-balled the half-way point to add the second colour.

While the original bracelet is really striking, I think my version is fun and bright – a perfect summer bracelet. Thanks to the Birthday Girl for being such a great (and patient) hand model.

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The Staples dress – week 3 (say yes to my new dress)

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My Staples dress is done! It’s really cute. I will definitely wear it once I cut off  some extra threads and trim/press inside seam (and get my legs waxed).  I was concerned that the dress would be a little too short for me. so I decided to add a solid colour hem. I lucked out at the fabric store and found some green lawn that matched the colour of the dress. After discussing it with Megan, I added about 8 inches of the solid green to the bottom of the dress, to give it a colour block effect. While I like the printed material, the contrast with the solid colour makes a big impact. A little less “sewing project 101” and more “fun summer dress”.   P1040384 My idea was to cut a strip of the green and add it to the bottom of the dress. However, Megan set me straight and walked me through the steps. She also made sure the front and back pieces of the solid colour were the same size – I would have gotten there eventually, but with Megan’s help, I didn’t fall too far behind the rest of the class (having properly calculated the amount of material required for the dress, the other ladies didn’t need to fiddle with the length). Left to my own devices, I would have sewn the two pieces together so the seam was on the inside, but Megan suggested an outside seam to enhance the colour blocking. It was easy to do and a useful technique for future use. I sewed and pinned the bias edgings onto the neck and arm holes without incidence. Once again, I found the Bernina very easy to sew with, particularly in terms of sewing straight(ish). When I’m sewing with my Kenmore, I tend to go slowly to ensure I maintain the requisite seam allowance. Even though I was rushing to keep up with everyone else, my outside seams are straight and tidy. P1040386 Adding the shirring was super simple. The trick to getting it to bunch up nicely is to back-stitch at the beginning and end, so the elastic thread doesn’t slip. I added a second row of shirring to give the waist a bit more definition, which had the added effect of improving the fit of the top of the dress.Since it doesn’t have a zipper or buttons, the top needs to be fairly loose so you can pull the dress over your head. There’s a big difference between “loose” and “baggy” – with only a single row of shirring, the dress looked a bit more “paper bag princess” than I liked. (note to self: in the future, patterns will likely need to be adjusted to take into account my narrow shoulders, slumpy shoulders and small bust).

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Taken with an iPhone at the end of the class (a bit blurry)

The dress got a thumbs up from my mother (the Queen of Seams). Ever the sewer, she turned the dress inside out and examined the construction. She pointed out a couple of minor issues, like the fact that I didn’t iron out the side seams before I attached the arm holes binding and my binding isn’t folded the same width all the way around on the inside of the neck. P1040387   The little imperfections don’t bother me – it makes the dress mine (pretty bold talk coming from a perfectionist!). It’s also the first garment I’ve ever made without my mother’s supervision – sad, but also explains why I haven’t sewn much since I left home. Through the process of making the Staples dress, I’ve discovered that my mother’s sewing machine casts a long shadow and I’ve been letting it follow me around for years. I realize now that I’ve learned a lot from watching my mother sew over the years, but there’s no rule that says I have to use her techniques. I was never so taken with sewing that I bothered exploring how I could make it my own. So now, at the age of 55, I’m finally figuring it out. I’m still not sure if I love sewing enough to seriously take it up. I do know that if I want to get better at sewing, I need to practice (i.e. make stuff). To sum up, the Staples dress is an easy beginner project. The pattern directions are well-written and easy to follow. Even better, the pattern is fairly forgiving – witness my pocket mishap. If you’re at all nervous about sewing, I highly recommend taking a class to make the dress. While I probably could have sewn it on my own, having an instructor on hand to explain the pattern and trouble shoot for me, helped boost my confidence level about sewing. I’m already planning on making another Staples dress, using a light-weight purple rayon. P1040430 Megan is teaching another class later this summer, featuring the Wiksten tank.   Image of Wiksten Tank Sewing Pattern Downloadable PDF I’m thinking it would look cute in this pink polka-dot fabric I picked up on sale recently. P1040427The world is my (sewing) oyster.