After I mentioned in a previous post that I wanted to learn to knit, a kind reader commented: "If you're serious about the knitting thing, send me an e-mail - I can give you lots of good tips on which books to buy (and not) and what type of yarn/needles to start on. There's a lot of variety out there and it can seem veeeerrrry intimidating."

Of course I emailed her immediately, saying, "Yes, I'm serious! I've been taught the basic stitches a few times and even made a scarf once, but it never stuck and the knitting needles always ended up stuffed back in the closest. Any tips you have on where to start would be really appreciated, since all the choices are overwhelming."

The kind reader -- DW -- wrote me back an 800+ word email. She told me everything someone in my position would need to know about knitting. She told me which books to buy (this one), what websites to check out (ravelry), and what to stay away from (synthetic yarn, overly complicated lace work). She suggested that I find a simple, small project to start on, and most importantly offered to do a knit-along with me, walking me through a project and helping me interpret the knitting instructions. I told her I wanted to make Gram a sweater, and she suggested that we knit Joelle Hoverson's Child's Placket-neck Pullover Sweater, from her book Last Minute Knitted Gifts.

DW sent me a shopping list, and I bought everything I needed and started watching youtube videos explaining how to cast on, knit, and purl. My first knitting projects were a few 6-inch squares for a local fundraiser (the squares were sewn together to make large blankets).

After a few dozen of those, I had the stitches down and DW prepared an instructional PDF explaining how to start the sweater. Seriously, can you believe how nice that is? She even took pictures of herself doing each step, and broke down the knitting instructions into plain English. Then, magically, after I'd completed the first step, she sent me the next installment. My sweater started to take shape:

Over the course of a month, I knit a sweater. Here is the final result:

And here's the best part: she took every one of our emails and every one of the instructional pdfs she made (there are 9!) and put them up on her own blog. You guys: she is so awesome. If you ever wanted to learn to knit, and if you happen to have a child you could make a sweater for, you really have no excuse now. I tried to learn to knit twice before, and failed both times. In the summer of 2001 I was in China, and one of my major goals that summer was to learn to knit from one of the countless old ladies I saw knitting every single day. One was kind enough to try to teach me, but I think she'd never encountered someone with fingers as giant and clumsy as mine. Despite her kindness and multiple attempts to explain knitting to me, I couldn't even cast on. A few years later, when we were living in San Francisco, I paid a fair sum of money to take an introductory knitting class at a gorgeous independent yarn store in Hayes Valley. After spending all that money on the class and expensive yarn, all I had was a pretty goofy looking scarf with lots of gaps and holes that I never wore.

But, as DW has pointed out to me, my conversion to a knitter is now complete. I have totally joined their club, and as evidenced by my tendency to buy yarn and expect my husband to engage in a conversation with me about how beautiful it is, and how awesome it is that its from a Michigan fiber mill. He refuses to talk about yarn, and luckily for me, DW has not stopped answering my emails yet. He is also a bit annoyed because now when I sit next to him on the couch I knit rather than scratch his head or rub his back. Tough luck, dude, scratches don't keep your kids' hands warm (next project: mittens).

I think the reason I finally learned how to knit this time is because I made something I really wanted to make, and something that Gram needed. It is cold here, and wool sweaters truly keep babies much warmer than cotton or acrylic ones. I loved the design of the sweater, and I was thrilled to see it take shape before my eyes. DW breaks the pattern down into easy steps, and the process was so satisfying that I started on another project the same night that I finished the sweater.

(If you use DW's instructions and make a sweater, please email me! I'd love to hear from you and see the final product.)

[EDITED TO ADD: The comments weren't working, so that's why they are turned off. It's not because I don't want to hear from you -- I totally do. Email me, or leave a comment on DW's site. My user name on ravelry is sjwood -- you can also contact me there.)

Pegasus and Griffin Costumes

Posted by jdg | Friday, October 30, 2009 | ,

[note this is Jim, not Wood writing]

Halloween is definitely the favorite holiday around here. I kind of hated it during the whole sexy/clever period of our mid 20s, but now that we have kids, I just can't imagine a better holiday experience than dressing up AS WHATEVER YOU WANT TO BE with all your friends and then going out in the dark to get a bunch of candy. Beats Hanukkah by a mile.

This was my year to do the Halloween costumes, and if my kid wants to be Pegasus for Halloween, I am going to make sure she really feels like Pegasus. The kid and I have been talking about and planning this costume together for six months. Maybe longer. We have drawn sketches. Diagrams. At some point she got it in her head that the costume would really fly so we went to Greenfield Village and went to the Wright Bros bicycle shop, "to learn about how to make things fly." We learned that it is really hard to make things fly but she figured that if we used enough feathers it just might work.

The boy is still too young to make big decisions, but he likes to roar, loves wild things, loves the lions and eagles at the zoo, and he carries around his griffin toy all the time. With a last name that means "griffin" in Dutch, we thought we could incorporate a lot of the ideas from the Pegasus costume into a griffin costume for him, and we liked the idea of two mythological hybrids on Halloween. Next year, when he cares, he can be a power ranger or whatever. Today I still have control (moo-hoo-ha-ha-ha).

The Pegasus costume started with the idea of having wings she could control with her hands (she really thought she was going to be able to fly). I rigged up some wire in the shape of two large wings and strengthened them with quarter-inch dowels, creating a wooden handle in the middle of each wing for her to grip. I ordered a box of feather boas from some sketchy website that came up in google shopping (how can they charge $6 for 50 boas? I am guessing these weren't free-range fowl feathers; I am totally waiting for my credit card number to be used in an order for $4,000 worth of poultry hormones to be shipped to Qinshan, China). I braided the boas through the wings, hot-gluing them when necessary. They are pretty heavy.

For a tail, we bought a $3 weave from the wig store in our neighborhood.

The mane is the beard from Gram's 2008 Halloween costume, which I originally made by gutting a stuffed goat we bought at the thrift store. 

Because she was going to be using her arms for the wings, I had to construct two fake horselegs to come out of her chest area to simulate the look of Pegasus just taking flight or rearing up on her hind legs. For that I took two dry cleaning hangers and twisted them together, hand-sewed the fabric around them and connected the bare end to a third in the tunic so that they wouldn't droop. We experimented using one of Wood's old bras, but it worked out best just to sew a "pocket" for the wire.

They really stuck out well, and because they're wire she can adjust them to look however she wants.

Wood sewed the tunic and the pants from her own pattern. I think they look amazing. We bought the furry fabric months ago and when we originally started working I felt like it was a little off with all that ribbing, but it looks fine in the finished product I think. The hooves and the booties are felt.

The head was the trickiest part. I came up with the idea to have it on top of her head attached to a hood and Wood executed it perfectly. She used part of an old fleece blanket for the mouth, nostril, and eyelashes, and we sacrificed an old stuffed frog in the Salvation Army pile for the eyes. This photo (click to make it larger) gives a much better view of the head, which we based on the simple idea that a horse's head is like two triangles attached at one end.

Gram's costume was challenging because he really didn't seem to want to try anything on. Wood did a beautiful job on the pants, using a wire (like the front horse legs) for the tail. It's really flexible. I added a bit of Juniper's 2006 Panda costume to the tail (I liked the idea of creating a sense of continuity with the materials from year to year).

For the Griffin, we just attached boas to an old fisherman's sweater he'd nearly outgrown (we wanted to make sure these costumes would be warm enough for trick-or-treating), and Wood sewed on the hood she made from the cool lion fabric I picked up many months ago. I took the eyes from a stuffed animal that no one cared about anymore, and glued black fur and feather over them to give him an eagle scowl. The beak was a $2 mask thing that I sewed to the hood. I knew he would never actually wear it on his face. I wanted the kids to be comfortable in these costumes. I built wings for Gram that draped across his back and stuck out like a heraldic griffin's, but he really hated them and I thought his arms made pretty good wings. I may figure out a way to make them work before trick-or-treating. I know the griffin costume focuses more on the bird elements than the lion, but I think the lion tail is a cool surprise. We used Maurice Sendak's griffin from The Griffin and the Minor Canon as inspiration.

So there were no patterns, we just used stuff that was already around the house (unwanted clothes, toys, wires, hangers, etc.) and re-purposed them for the costumes. Total cost was about $28 for both together (not including shipping on the boas). The Pegasus was the more expensive of the two because we bought almost a full yard of fabric (the Griffin needed less than half a yard). There were probably four nights of work put into these costumes.

I know that seems like a lot of work to go into a Halloween costume, but we'll use these for imagination games until they grow out of them.  I was a little worried that she was going to be disappointed that she couldn't actually fly, but when she got into that costume, stopped talking, and started communicating only in whinnies and neighs, running around with her arms outstretched, and smiling nonstop, I knew the whole flying thing was just part of the fun, an imagination that doesn't need boundaries right yet. And when I showed her that photo at the top of today's post, she said, "See, I told you I'd be able to really fly."

Previous Project: Picnic Blanket

Picnic Blanket

Posted by Wood | Thursday, October 08, 2009 | , , | 0 comments »

I have been searching for a perfect picnic blanket for years. I've looked in stores and online, and I've never found one that was just right (at the right price). I wanted something pretty, lightweight, and easy to carry that I could bring to the beach or playground or just put down in the backyard for an afternoon snack.

It didn't occur to me to make my own blanket until I was drooling over the book Last Minute Patchwork + Quilted Gifts. Luisa kindly sent me the book a few months ago, and as soon as I saw the picnic blanket featured in the book, I knew I wanted to make it. It was a great combination of something that I really needed -- the perfect afternoon playground blanket -- with a project that would challenge me but that I also knew I could finish. It was my first chance to make a pretty large quilt (twin size), but the instructions called for tying instead of quilting (I'm still intimidated by the idea of trying to maneuver a huge quilt sandwich through my machine) so it was perfect.

I love how it came out, and we've been using it nearly every day since I finished it last month, from our own backyard to the beach. I even brought it with me to the apple orchard this morning.

So long, summer projects

Posted by Wood | Sunday, September 13, 2009 | 2 comments »

Jim finally uploaded all the pictures that have been sitting on my camera for the last few months. I am amazed when I see all these other bloggers taking these beautiful photos and getting them online within seconds. Even when I do manage to take pictures, I'm pretty incompetent when it comes to getting them onto the computer. After a few months of trying to force me to figure it out on my own, Jim has finally caved and seems to be willing to do it for me. Success!

Unfortunately, for more than a month I haven't shared a project even though I've been working on tons of stuff. I loved making summer clothes for the kids this year, and when I packed to go on our recent vacation, I realized that almost all of the clothes our daughter wore this summer were things I'd made. I could be wrong, but I'm guessing that four-year-old girls are the perfect client for a sewing mom --- years from now she is going to stick up her nose at my handmade creations and beg me to just buy her some clothes at the mall already, GOD. But for now, she prefers a wardrobe sewn by mom:

I'm full of ideas for fall and winter clothes for both kids, and I am tempted to finally learn to knit. I think we have a few more days left for the summer wardrobe, but soon I'll be putting all this into boxes.

(These pictures are also on flickr, and I wrote some notes for each of the items there.)

Unicorn Shirt and Skirt

Posted by Wood | Tuesday, July 28, 2009 | , , | 2 comments »

Some nights, after the kids are in bed, before the dishes are put away or the toys are picked up, if my husband is watching the baseball game I sneak down to the basement where I keep all of my sewing supplies. I pull out fabric, push aside the scraps from my last project, and start cutting. I should only sew for 2 or 3 hours, but mostly I push past that, heading upstairs well past the time I should have gone to bed. On the nights where I stop at a reasonable hour and don't finish something that I've started, I usually have fitful dreams about the project I was working on.

I never leave any time for cleaning up, and I make giant messes on the guest bed we've pushed into a corner of our basement. When Jim wanders down to my sewing area, he always shakes his head in disbelief at how someone can create such a huge mess from thread and fabric scraps.

If I'm bad about cleaning up, and I'm even worse at taking pictures of what I make. I envy the craft bloggers who are as good at photographing their work as they are at sewing, and I love the way they're able to make everything look so beautiful. I don't have that skill, and I don't even have a nice place to take pictures of what I'm working on. I usually don't take any shots until my projects are already on the kids. And I don't know why my husband doesn't do this for me. I guess he's off photographing ivy or rabid dogs or some shit.

When Zan was in town a couple weeks ago, not only was she gracious enough not to complain about sleeping on a bed in the basement covered with errant threads, she also took some lovely pictures of the kids wearing clothes I made. Juniper spent most of the visit wearing her current favorite outfit: a skirt and shirt featuring unicorns from Heather Ross' Far Far Away in blue. I made a basic linen skirt with a large pocket featuring a sweet unicorn standing under a tree, and then hemmed the skirt with a trim from the same fabric. I appliqued a second unicorn onto a plain white teeshirt (zigzag stitching around the edges to make it secure enough for a four-year old's playground adventures), and Juniper loves the outfit so much that more than once I've washed it at night so she could wear it again in the morning. The Heather Ross Far Far Away line is double gauze and lovely, but also quite expensive. This project was a great way to use just a little fabric, and I was surprised to find that I could appreciate the unicorns more this way than if I'd made an entire skirt from this fabric.

These photos are Zan's:

Okay, maybe Jim does still take some pictures of the kids. How meta is this?

I do have a dozen more completed projects to share, and I'm working on the photos. Meanwhile, Jim is in the other room with Juniper and I keep hearing the words "Pegasus farm." This is going to be trouble.

Welcome, little Metta

Posted by Wood | Wednesday, July 08, 2009 | , ,

Our niece Metta was born last Friday. Like our Gram, she made her parents wait a week past her due date. I was itching to sew something for her, but I wanted to wait until she was born. I wasn't sure exactly what I'd make, but once she was born and I saw the adorable pictures of her during her first moments I knew I wanted to make her the kimono shirt from Heather Ross' Weekend Sewing. Kimono-style shirts are great for newborns, because you don't have to pull them over their fragile little heads and necks, and they leave space for the healing umbilical cord.

I made baby Metta a shirt from the same fabric I used to make her sister a smocked dress a few weeks ago. Instead of using the bias tape called for in the pattern, I made the trim with pink floral fabric. Heather calls the pattern the easiest one in her book, and I'm not sure if that's true, or if I was just having off day. Either way, this tiny shirt took me longer to assemble than the smocked dress, but as with all patterns, now that I know how it comes together, in theory it should be quicker next time.

Welcome, little Metta! I can't wait to introduce you to your Detroit cousins.

(p.s. I've been doing a lot of sewing lately, so I'll have more to share soon.)

The Memories Quilt

Posted by Wood | Tuesday, June 30, 2009 | | 16 comments »

A few nights ago I finally walked down into the basement to open up the giant plastic bag that I’d been avoiding for nearly a month. A familiar smell floated out as soon as I untwisted the top: a smell of stillness, of clothes long unworn, but also under it all the laundry detergent my mom's been using since I was in high school, the smell I'd bring back to California after a long trip home where she washed all my dirty laundry while I lazed around on the couch. I began to pull out men's t-shirts and sweatshirts, pausing to look at each one. There were several from Toronto, one of his favorite places. A shirt from the factory where he worked as an engineer. A couple from the restaurant he started with his best friend back in the late 1990s, one of the most exhilarating and exhausting times of his life. Then I pulled out a shirt he bought at the coffee shop that opened in a hard-luck spot just a block from the apartment Jim and I shared in San Francisco.

When I took that shirt out and unfolded it I saw that someone had meticulously cut open along one side and sewn in velcro closures so that he could fit it over his swollen arm: the arm where he took all his IVs, where they constantly searched for veins, battering it with needles until he could no longer fit his arms through the sleeves of his favorite t-shirts, even as chemotherapy whithered the rest of his body. That was when I started to cry.

And once I started crying, I couldn’t stop. Further into the bag was a University of Michigan Law School shirt that Doug loved to wear so that he could beam proudly whenever someone took notice of it and gave him the opportunity to say that his daughter was a student there. Below that was a Detroit Tigers shirt he bought when the Tigers made the World Series in 2006, a few weeks after we moved to Detroit, and a few short months before he was diagnosed with leukemia. We walked around Comerica Park with him and my mom during one of those games, so happy to all be finally living in the same state. He carried Juniper on his head as he made small talk with homeless guys about Kenny Rogers’ pitching. He referred to the hard-throwing lefthander knowingly as "The Gambler," even though he'd only recently taken an interest in the Tigers, mostly because we'd moved within walking distance of the games and talked about them during visits. That's how Doug was. He might not have given a hoot about something for most of his life, but the second his daughter showed even the slightest interest, he became an expert. He surrounded himself with the knowledge of it. And he never would let on that a month earlier all this might have bored him to tears.

Kenny Rogers and the Tigers won that game. My stepfather lost his battle with leukemia a year and a half ago, but my mother continues to fight the grief that sometimes threatens to swallow her up. And while I miss Doug, my own grief often takes a backseat to the heartache I feel when I navigate the difficult waters of comforting my mom. I’m her daughter – she is the one who is supposed to make me feel better, and she is the one who has always fixed my problems. Hearing her express her grief makes me feel helpless, and no matter how many times I call her each week, or how many weekends I bring her grandchildren to her house, nothing I can do can fill the loss she feels when she goes to bed each night without her husband.

Through her grief it has been difficult for me to come to terms with my own grief. But I am the kind of person who wants to do something. To make something. So I decided to sew. I’m making my mother a quilt from Doug’s trademark t-shirts and beloved sweatshirts: the clothes of his that she can't bear to give away but that serve no purpose sitting in a bag at the bottom of his old closet. Making my daughter’s quilt from her baby clothes so many months ago planted this seed, but I wasn’t sure that it would have the meaning I hoped until I finally got around to opening up the bag of old shirts, and was instantly reminded of each and every trip my mom and Doug had taken together. When I was younger and foolish, I often scoffed at the way he and my mom always purchased a shirt from every cheesy Irish pub or museum they visited on vacation, and I even laughed at the way a rotating menagerie of these shirts became the entirety of my stepfather's wardrobe. I was the kind of snotty tourist who would never stop in a t-shirt shop, never buy a souvenir to commemorate that I had been somewhere. But opening this bag full of shirts, I faced many of my own memories with Doug. Our vacation to Colorado when I was fourteen. All the trips he made to dull midwestern cities for my gymnastics career. All the places I'd lived around the world where Doug and my mom had come to visit me. Now that I'm older, I have to admire the way they found something that interested in them in every city we visited: the art museum in Milwaukee. The colleges that made some of the towns I competed in "college towns." They weren't snobs. They understood that every place, like every person, has its virtues, and its value.

Like the mysterious friend who'd opened Doug's sleeves on his favorite shirts while he fought the cruel disease in the hospital, that night I took a scissor to those beloved shirts. And I cried. I cried at the sewing machine as I started to make something warm for my mother to keep in her bedroom, to remember and honor the man she traveled with through so many years of her life.

Like Juniper's quilt, I'm sewing each t-shirt square with a square of muslin behind it, so that the quilt top will be uniformly stretchy (each teeshirt is a different consistency and some are much thicker or stretchier than others). I'm thinking of putting a strip of dark gray fabric between each row of shirts to finish the quilt top, and maybe a border of the same color. I plan on tying the layers together rather than quilting it. If you have any thoughts or suggestions on how to finish this (I still have another bag of shirts to go through), I would love your thoughts. And eventually I'll post pictures of this finished project. Even in its current state as a work-in-progress, someone thinks Grandpa Doug's quilt is pretty cozy:

Like Jim’s post, this one was sponsored by the American Cancer Society. I feel indebted to that organization because their work is not just about fighting cancer -- they also provide cancer survivors and those who've fought cancer alongside their loved ones meaningful ways to grieve and honor those who've lost the battle. My mom participated ACS’s Relay for Life recently, and I joined her for a few hours. I wasn’t really sure what to expect when I pulled up to the local high school’s track at 10:00 p.m. The Relay for Life is a 24 hour fundraising event similar to those walk-a-thons or a dance-a-thons you do in college. At the one I attended, there were giant bouncy castles and tons of kids running around, screaming their heads off at nearly midnight, obviously having a great time. There were musical performances, and there was a special time when all the survivors did a lap together, and seeing them all fill the track was breathtaking. But my favorite part was the paper bag votive candles that lined the track, each one decorated in honor of someone who had fought cancer. The track was completely lined on both sides with these candles. This gave my mom an opportunity to make something in Doug's honor. She decorated several for him, and she squeezed my hand as we neared the corner of the track where she’d placed them. She even made one dedicated to Doug from Gram, the grandson he never had the chance to meet. Next time we do the Relay for Life – next year – I’m bringing the kids. And the only t-shirt I'm putting in this quilt that wasn't worn by my stepfather is one worn by my mother at the Relay for Life.

The Perfect Summer Dress

Posted by Wood | Wednesday, June 24, 2009 | , | 3 comments »

After a cold and rainy first half of June, it is finally so hot in Michigan that the kids are spending a good portion of each day in their bathing suits. But when Juniper isn't wearing a bathing suit, she is wearing a sundress.

You can sew a girls' sundress in a little over an hour, making it a ridiculously easy project perfect for this weather (it's always better to be outside than cooped up behind a sewing machine). I've been using a pattern from Heather Ross' book Weekend Sewing, and her instructions are also available on the Martha Stewart website.

The first one I made was with Heather Ross' Underwater Sisters Blush from her Mendocino line:

Juniper asked me to make one for her cousin the night before they had their first sleep over together at their grandma's house, and when my daughter asks me to sew something, I am in her thrall (especially when the request is for someone else). So I made this one for her cousin, who has big blue eyes:

A note about smocking: Heather describes in her book and in the online instructions how to sew with elastic thread, and I tried it at least three different times on different days with different fabrics before I finally got it right. Once I figured it out, I was so thrilled I felt like smocking everything in sight. My children and the dog run away from me for fear of being smocked.

To create smocking, hand wind elastic thread onto your bobbin without stretching it. Then put the bobbin in your machine, and make sure that you put the elastic thread through the thread slot in the bobbin compartment before you pull it up with your top thread. When you pull the elastic thread up, it will feel like it is pulled tight, and that's okay. The first few times I tried, I was so careful to make sure that the elastic thread didn't have any tension, that I didn't make sure it went through the thread slot, and when I sewed, the elastic thread was really loose and loopy and completely wrong. When you've got it right, your fabric will gather a little bit as you go. When you're finished sewing the lines across (I did 8 lines, 1/2 inch apart), spray the fabric with water and iron it on a very hot setting. The smocked portion will shrink right up, just like magic. You might let out a little squeal, it's just that exciting.

My favorite thing about making this dress for girls Juniper's size is that the 44'' width of most quilting fabrics is the perfect size, which means that you can use the whole width of the fabric, from selvedge to selvedge, and you don't have to finish the seam allowances. (Just like the oliver + s lazy days skirt pattern). I don't have a serger, and even though I've gotten pretty good at using a tight zig-zag to finish my seam allowances, I love it when I don't have to, and it gives the dress a professional quality that most of the things I make don't have.

I made Juniper another dress just a few days ago, and I suspect I'll put together a few more before the summer is over. The ritual of sneaking into her room and hanging the dress on the back of her door while she is sleeping has become a tradition. That way, when she sneaks into our room in first thing in the morning I turn around to smile at the sight of her so happy already in her new dress, no matter how early it is.

My wife is really busy at work lately so I'm doing the craft post this week.

We fell in love with Owly Shadow Puppets when we met Andrea at the Detroit Urban Craft Fair last winter, and we bought mermaid, fairy, and robot puppets. They're so beautiful we put them in the flower vase sometimes when we don't have any fresh flowers.

The kid and I wanted to try to make some for ourselves to tell the story of the Birth of Pegasus, her favorite story right now (Perseus cuts off Medusa's head, Pegasus leaps from Medusa's blood: kids are awesome). Our puppets were not nearly as nice as the Owly ones (Andrea uses a precision laser cutter for her designs) but they work. Owly posts a how-to on the site, and I'll also walk you through what we did:

We started with a huge piece of black cardboard that we bought at the local art store (Utrecht). It's significantly thicker than ordinary poster board and can be a bit pricey (I've seen it anywhere from $6-$9 for a huge sheet). You definitely want the thick, expensive stuff. One sheet should be enough to make at least twenty puppets.

We also used the following:

*Strong scissors (in our case, kitchen shears). A box or x-acto knife is also useful for more precise cuts.
*hot glue gun
*wooden skewer
*2-3 feet of thin wire
*nail scissors, or anything really sharp and pointy (and small)
*handful of brass fasteners (brads)
*a couple clamps (optional)

We started by making a sketch of the desired puppet on the cardboard. Remember that the side with the pencil marks will be the rear of the puppet, so sketch it facing the opposite of the way you want it be in the puppet show.

When I pulled the camera out for this tutorial, we had already made Pegasus, Perseus, Medusa, and Athena, but the kid really wanted to make a puppet of Urania, the muse of Astronomy, who apparently took care of Pegasus when he was little or something (she saw this in a video my wife bought her at CVS). She's memorized the story which is narrated by Urania. To hear your 4-year-old daughter correctly pronouncing the words Terpsichore, Polyhymnia, and Melpomene? Classicist cockles: warmed.

Urania is just a chick in a Greek dress; I sketched her like this:

In retrospect, she's a bit busty and shortlegged, but I like to sketch it a little bigger so I can trim the edges neatly if I need to. The kid drew Urania for me on her easel while I was doing this "so I would know what she looks like." I made her without arms because I knew we'd attach moveable arms later. Then I cut her out.

We wanted her to have some motion for the puppet show, and the kid wanted her to be able to dance. I gave the arms nice wide shoulders to accommodate the brad (the shoulders would be hidden behind her). I pierced the torso and the shoulders with nail scissors and fastened them to the back of the puppet:

Owly puppets have these wonderful cut outs that really enhance the whole shadow effect, but wasn't able to do cutouts neat enough with the x-acto or the scissors, so I just trimmed a bit along the hairline and the skirt to give the shadow a little more texture. After I was satisfied with the cutting, I attached the wooden skewer with hot glue and clamped it for a minute or so.

The last step is attaching the wire that will make the arms move. I punctured the hands with the nail scissors and twisted a length of wire in each, connecting both at the base of the skewer and twisting them into a ring to pull the arms up and down:

That's it. You're ready for the puppet show. We did this with the lousy camera in the MacBook, so apologies for the quality:

Nothing fancy, but a lot of fun. Next maybe we'll do Ulysses and the Cyclops or some pirates. Wood has made the kid three or four new dresses so I'm pretty sure there will be a new post about that any day now.

Previous Project

A Morning Wood Surprise

Posted by Wood | Thursday, May 07, 2009 | , , , | 0 comments »

Amazingly, over a week later Juniper's favorite color is still yellow (though she tells me that soon it will be purple, but just not yet). The best thing about yellow is that it isn't pink, but it also looks great on her. To mark the momentous occasion of her first new favorite color in two years, I made her a yellow dress.

I used this tutorial for turning a men's dress shirt into a girl's dress. (Thanks for sending me the link, Mike!) I found one of Jim's old yellow shirts in a box full of biz-cas clothes, and from the looks of things, he never plans on wearing them under normal working conditions again anyway:

And then I spent an afternoon turning it into this:

I used an old cloth napkin for the waistband. I liked the scalloped edge, and it was also the only other fabric I had on hand that was yellow.

I put the finishing touches on the dress after Juniper was in bed. When I was done, I hung it up inside her room on the door knob. At 6:30 the next morning, I heard the sound of her feet pounding down the hallway and she climbed into our bed before I could even open my eyes. I covered her with the blanket, like I always do, and settled in for another ten minutes of sleep. A few minutes later, I heard a giggle, and opened my eyes for the first time to ask her if she'd seen the dress in her room. Her eyes were wide -- not a speck of sleepiness left -- and she just nodded. I closed my eyes again. A few minutes later I pulled back the blanket, and sure enough, there she was -- fully dressed, with white socks pulled up to her knees. She giggled some more and jumped out of bed, so proud of herself for surprising me and so happy with the dress.

I think purple might have to wait a while.

[there is a flickr group for this dress. It's so fun to see what everyone has done.]

This year's Easterwear

Posted by Wood | Monday, April 20, 2009 | , , | 1 comments »

In early March, I started sewing an Easter dress for Juniper. We worked on a sketch together, and I could picture in my head exactly what I wanted it to look like. She picked out the fabric, I supported her choice, and we headed to the basement where my sewing area is. And then I had one of those days where you keep making mistakes. I did my best to fix every mistake, but then when I finally tried the bodice of the dress on Juniper it was way too small.

So I did what everyone should do when you're having one of those days: turned off the sewing machine and just walked away.

When I was ready sit down at the machine again, I had less time and fabric than when I started. I couldn't afford to mess around again. So I cracked open an Oliver + s pattern I had stashed away, and in one afternoon, came up with a perfectly simple dress that both Juniper and I loved. The pattern called for buttons, so I finally pulled out my sewing machine manual and figured out how to do it. It turns out it isn't really hard at all.

I wanted to make a petticoat or slip to go under the dress, because the fabric in the dress is extremely lightweight. I rummaged through my closet and found an old dress from H&M that I must have only bought because it was $20, not because it was flattering or anything I normally wear: it was a scoop neck baby doll dress made out of lace. I think I was pregnant when I bought it, and maybe wore it once. It's the kind of thing that ordinarily would have gone right in the box for Salvation Army.

Instead, I made a skirt out of the lining, and then attached a layer of lace underneath to poke out from under the dress:

The Oliver + s pattern also includes a playsuit, which I made for Gram. The playsuit came together really quickly because I was already familiar with how the bodice was constructed. I made Gram's out of lightweight blue and white striped fabric:

Jim wants me to make more of these in bright primary colors, because Gram has already grown out of the beloved blue jumper.

The night before Easter, I made two bonnets from a pattern I bought on etsy. (Buying patterns on etsy is great: you never quite know what you're going to get, but it's cheap and you get the pattern emailed to you right away.) The pattern only when up to a 12 month size, so I made that size for Gram, and then enlarged the pattern and made one for Juniper.

Of course, the outfits were ridiculously lightweight for Michigan weather, so I had to cover them up in winter coats at the egg hunt. I really didn't mind though -- I made the clothes as a way to welcome spring, and I know they'll get a lot of use out them all spring and summer.

(more pictures on flickr.)