Tuesday, February 6, 2018

The Blabberwockies Learn to Sew (I Sew for Fun Tour)

It's been almost a year since the Blabberwockies first entered my life. My three girls were goofing off in the back of the car, moving their hands as if they were wearing invisible puppets and talking to each other in funny voices. "What's going on back there?" I asked as I glanced in the rear view mirror.

"Oh, it's just our Blabberwockies," they answered nonchalantly.

"Your what?" I glanced again in the mirror.

"Our Blabberwockies."

"You mean Jabberwockies," I corrected, "from Alice in Wonderland." The girls looked baffled, shook their heads no, and tried to explain.

Apparently one day my oldest came up with the idea of having their hands move (walk) as they talked to each other (blabber) -- they're "all mouth" as she says -- and the Blabberwockies were born: Tommy, Stuart, Sarah, Sylvester, Millie, Dude, Edison, Sammy & Hannah -- just to name a few of the characters they love to play. How my girls keep all those personalities straight is beyond me. It's a blessing and curse at the same time, of course. On the one hand (pun intended), they can bring their own entertainment with them wherever they go, but when things get wild, I can't take their toys away from them since they're permanently attached to their bodies.

So when I was contacted by Nancy Zieman Productions to see if I'd be interested in joining their I Sew for Fun Tour, which encourages grownups and kids to sew together, I immediately went to my daughters and said, "How about if we teach the Blabberwockies to sew?"

And there was great rejoicing.

I've shared with you several times on this blog -- and in my book Sew Organized for the Busy Girl -- about sewing with my daughters, who (for any newcomers) are affectionately referred to as Bunny, Bear, and Mouse to preserve their privacy. It's something I love to do, but it takes lots of preparation and a very different mindset from sewing by myself. I really wish I had owned a copy of Nancy's book back when I got started. I own several books about sewing with kids, and this one is definitely my favorite. It's so practical, easy to follow, and especially helpful for sewing with very young children. Even though my girls are getting older (Mouse is 7, Bear is 8, and Bunny turns 11 this month), they got a kick out of the fun names that Nancy and her granddaughters came up with for the different parts of the sewing machine, and since they're a little more advanced, we were able to go into more depth about the features of my machine and how everything works.

Along with the book, we received a package of notions from Clover that Nancy developed to go along with the book. There are some fabulous goodies in here. My favorite is the retractable seam ripper which turns into a thread cutter -- something I'll definitely be using myself. My daughters loved the large seam guide that makes it super easy for them to keep a straight seam allowance. Having their own set of Clover clips which we kept in the lid for the heart shaped pincushion was also a big hit. Adding or collecting clips is the perfect job for little kids, and it's probably what Mouse loves doing most. "This heart is all filled up with joy," she chirped happily as she kept adding clips to the lid while we were sewing together.

The projects in the book are each awarded a 1, 2, or 3 button difficulty rating (1 being easiest) to help you pick the right challenge for your child. My girls could probably have handled a 2 or 3, but everyone immediately went crazy over the cuteness of the stuffed animal sleeping bag, so we decided to go with that.

I let the girls choose their fabrics from my stash, and they had such a great time going through my color bins, which leads me to another lesson I've learned about sewing with kids: let them use the pretty fabric. The things they sew will be sitting around your house for the whole world to see, after all, so they might as well look good. I always make sure that the girls run their choices past me in case I'm saving a print for something special, otherwise everything is fair game. After the girls chose their combinations, I cut out the pieces for each sleeping bag, and then I had an appointment with each of my girls to sew their projects.

I had originally used the idea of teaching their Blabberwockies to sew as a gimmick to get the girls excited -- not that they need any help with that when it comes to sewing -- but it wound up being surprisingly helpful. Instead of saying, "Keep your right hand here and your left hand there," it's so much more fun to say, "Let Tommy hold that side and Stuart can hold the edge by the seam guide." And while my girls might be distracted at times from paying attention, they had a great time making their Blabberwockies the most diligent students in the sewing room. "Sylvester's asking all my questions for me!" Bear laughed.

It's important to remember that sewing with kids is completely different from sewing by yourself. Everything takes at least four times longer with kids...at least...so be sure that you budget enough time rather than become frustrated because you're in a hurry. You can do almost everything more quickly or easily by yourself, but fight that urge and let the kids do it. The seam allowances aren't going to be perfectly straight and the points won't all match up. It will drive you crazy, but I promise, the kids won't care. They'll look at it and say, "I love it!" Because what matters isn't getting it done quickly or perfectly. You're making a special memory by sewing something with your child.

The best thing about sewing with your kids is the conversations you have together while you do it. We talked about why caterpillars shouldn't smoke (thank you, Alice in Wonderland fabric), weighed possible fabric options for the Jet-Set Case (from my book) that Bunny wants to make for our summer road trip, and discussed all the plans for Edison and Hannah's upcoming wedding reception in the dollhouse this spring. And in between listening to their Blabberwockies crack their little jokes ("I had an extremely fun time, but the fabric tasted awful.") and stitching away at our projects, I get to see more of my daughters' hearts. I get to hear what they're feeling and doing and hoping for the year ahead. I've heard it said before that when children spell "love" they use the letters T-I-M-E. I truly believe that. My girls appreciate that I'm choosing to spend my time with them because I want to. They know that I enjoy sharing my fabric, knowledge and tools with them so that they can do what I do, and it means a lot . . . to all of us.

I was heartbroken when I heard that Nancy passed away last year, partly because I missed the chance to know her. I never had the opportunity to take a class from her or talk with her, even though we both designed fabric for Riley Blake Designs. It was only a month later that I got the invitation for this blog hop, and I can't tell you how grateful I was to finally meet her through the pages of this beautiful book. Her heart is so obviously in every chapter, reminding us that no matter what age, we all sew for the same reasons: for the love of it . . . for the love of the people we sew for and with . . . for the fun.

I can't think of a more fitting legacy for her to leave behind than that.

Friday, January 19, 2018

Sewing Saves the Day

"What if," I said as I pulled a tearful Mouse into my lap, "we made a pillow together? Would you like that?"

She lifted one hand to knuckle away the tears...sniffed...nodded.

"You could pick out the fabric, choose a pillow size, the whole thing. Sound good?"

Another sniffle...another nod...the beginnings of a smile.

My 7-year-old had come wandering into the loft while I was sewing one night last week, looking for a special stuffed friend that she hadn't seen in a while. I took a deep breath and broke the news to her that the friend had been in the line of fire during Mouse's bout of flu several months back, and I hadn't been able to save it. A torrent of tears and several long hugs later, I had done my best to salvage the situation with the offer of a mommy-daughter sewing project. To see my girl move through the stages of grief in approximately 3 minutes flat and then start chattering away about her new pillow...it was reason #347 why I'm so thankful that I sew.

So Mouse picked out a pillow form at Joann Fabrics and a Rifle Paper Co. linen print from my stash, and soon we were stitching away at my machine. I fleetingly wondered how many more times she'll be able to sit on my lap while we sew together, as she -- like her sisters -- is growing up so quickly these days. It took all of ten minutes before she was trying to hug her finished pillow and me at the same time. And with a quick, "Thank you, Mommy! Thank you so much!" she was off and running to share her new friend with the rest of the house.

And there you have it, I thought. Sewing saves the day again.

Tuesday, January 9, 2018

The Crochet Foray

For some time now I've wanted to be a "quilter and." Many a friend I've met in the past few years is not just a quilter; she is a "quilter and knitter" or a "quilter and crocheter." How I've envied these people who fill their Instagram feeds with beautiful quilting projects, yet every now and then suddenly pop in a stunning picture of yarny goodness, saying, "Oh, and here's a little thing I just finished on the side." I love taking time off from one hobby to refresh with another. Fabric design has been a wonderful switch for me when I need a break from quilting, but of course, I'm not allowed to show you 95% of what I'm working on at any time. So a voyage into the world of yarn arts seemed like a good idea.

I've attempted knitting before with dubious results -- and by dubious I mean that I haven't actually finished a knitting project yet. One day after being emboldened by taking an online video course, I was traipsing through the aisles at Joann Fabrics and suddenly told the girls, "Pick out your favorite color of yarn, and I'll knit you a scarf!" They were thrilled and so was I...until I found myself knitting at the speed of a three-toed sloth, which frankly could have probably made better time with three toes than I was making with ten fingers. My husband, who is a wonderful knitter, spent several days quietly watching my agonizingly slow progress before he sweetly offered to knit one of the other scarves to help out. By then I was worried enough that our Southern California "winter" would be over before the girls had the chance to even try on their scarves, so I agreed. In the end, he wrapped up the first and second scarves before I was even halfway done with the third, and I wound up giving him that one to finish as well so that my last daughter didn't have to go around scarf-less while her sisters basked in my husband's handiwork. Since then I've only used my knitting needles as first-class turning tools when I'm sewing.

The dictionary defines a foray as "a sudden attack or incursion into enemy territory, especially to obtain something; a raid." Except for the whole "enemy territory" thing (I've always thought that crochet and patchwork were quite friendly together), this pretty much describes how aggressively I throw myself into any new hobbies I attempt. For the past few days I've been crocheting during every free minute. I absolutely love that this is a craft I can do anywhere. Granny squares are something I always wanted to try, so I found a good video tutorial (this one really clicked for me) and off I went. I made a larger version to go on a coffee table in the living room, and then a stack of tiny ones to form a garland for the family room.

I don't know if I can officially call myself a "quilter and crocheter" yet -- it feels a little early and presumptuous for that -- but I've definitely found myself a new hobby to love. I'll admit, though, that I've felt a bit as if I was cheating on my fabric and sewing machine over the past few days. It may be time to give them some love...

Monday, January 8, 2018

Pinnie Pennant, Enamel Pin Edition

I picked up a few enamel pins at Quilt Market this fall and immediately had the start of a brand new addiction...er...collection. It took me a few months, but last week I finally made a larger version of my Pinnie Pennant tutorial so that I could display my new beauties, with plenty of room for more friends as they come along.

I tripled the size of the original pattern, leaving off the felt landing spot. The colored fabrics are all scraps of Liberty from my small stash, paired with some favorite black and white text prints. Since the larger version needs more stability, I swapped out the hanging string for a pair of twill tape loops and a thin wooden dowel. It's everything I wanted it to be and looks perfectly charming hanging over my cutting table.

I've decided that I might just need my own grown-up reward system involving a new enamel pin every time I accomplish something significant. Now I just have to haggle with my conscience over what constitutes significance. I'm guessing that one pin for each load of laundry folded might be pushing it a bit...

Thursday, January 4, 2018

Recycled Storage Solutions

I've learned to follow my own personal shopping rule when I spot something I like in the store: if you really love it, buy it -- even if you don't know how you're going to use it. I know the experts say that's a no-no, but I've found that I almost always find a use for that object sooner or later.

Fortunately, I didn't need to justify my rule when I spotted this vintage style soda crate at Michael's, because I knew exactly what I wanted to put inside it: the gorgeous stack of Confetti Cotton solids that Riley Blake sent me last week. I actually own several authentic soda crates from the last century which I inherited from my grandmother, but I'd be worried about storing fabric in them with all the accumulated grime inside that's hard to remove with cleaning products yet would undoubtedly rub off on my precious fat quarters. So instead I stack those boxes on the shelf above my teacher desk where I can look at the great typography on the outside. This reproduction crate, however, works perfectly because a) there's nothing on the inside that could come off on my fabric and b) the sections inside are exactly the right width for my folded fabric pieces.

It's always important to keep this sort of thing in mind when you're recycling truly old things to hold new ones. I love using containers of all sorts for corralling sewing notions, home office supplies, or any number of little things around the house, and antique items have so much personality. Depending on what you want to put inside them, though, you might want to consider whether vintage or vintage inspired pieces will work better for the situation.

I'll be sharing some of my favorite repurposed organizational containers with you over the next few months so that you can see how I use them in my sewing room and other parts of the house. Once you start looking for ways to work fun objects into your storage solutions, it's hard to stop!

Thursday, December 28, 2017

After Christmas

I'm one of those people who likes to take the Christmas stuff down on December 26th. It seems heartless, I know, yet I've always felt that when it's over, it's over. We spent all of Tuesday morning packing everything away for next year, and as sad as it was, I can't tell you how wonderful it feels to have all the clutter gone. Even my daughters noticed how clean and neat everything looks again in our house.

It was time for a refresh on my blog too. For years now I've been wanting to add an illustrated header to Fabric Mutt, featuring Naomi the dachshund, who was my official mascot way back in 2012. I haven't had the chance or the technology to do things the way I wanted to before now, but I'm hoping that this will be a fun addition to the blog that will change with the seasons. Spending this last year designing fabric collections for Riley Blake has reminded me how much I love doing illustration, and it's something I want to share in this space more often.

The past three years have been filled with enormous challenges and adventures for me and my family. I wrote a book, moved from California to Texas, walked through some family health issues, started designing fabric, and intensified my work as a homeschooling teacher for my three daughters, who are all growing up so fast that I can hardly stand it. Looking back, it feels as if the blog has been in survival mode for a while now. What was once a relaxed place to drop in often for a chat with all of you about what was going on in my life, both creatively and personally, has become more like an occasional business meeting to inform you about assigned projects. I regret that.

It only takes a few minutes of reading online about blog trends for 2018 to see that the bar is being raised higher and higher. Blogs are now expected to have the staffing, content, and appearance that was once expected only of magazines, and the competition is stiffer than ever before. The hamster wheel of Make! Publish! Sell! Repeat! gets overwhelming pretty fast, and I've seen more than a few bloggers sharing their keen desire to find a way back to authenticity again.

Heading toward her 40th birthday and the start of a new decade in life makes a girl -- ahem, a woman -- think...a lot. As I've been counting down the days until Saturday with both anticipation and a bit of melancholy over the last few weeks, I've decided that I've reached an age where I need to believe in what I'm doing, to find the fun in it, to be myself. So this year I'll be walking into the future by way of the past, mixing the lessons I've learned over the past 6 years (Yes, Fabric Mutt celebrates it's 6th birthday this week!) with a return to the joy that got me here in the first place, that love of sewing that captured my heart from the start. I'll be stopping by this space more often, probably with shorter posts and fewer photos, but with more of the day-to-day details that go into my personal creative journey. I hope that you'll feel free to share back with me about your own goings on in the comments so that we can truly make this a place to chat about what we're making and doing and why.

Starting over has never felt so right. See you again soon, dear friends...

Monday, December 4, 2017

Cabin Pillow (with Utility-Style Quilts Book Giveaway!)

Cabin Pillow by Heidi Staples of Fabric Mutt from Utility-Style Quilts for Everyday Living by Sharon Holland

My dear friend Sharon Holland has published a book, and I'm so happy to share it with all of you today!

Photo courtesy of Sharon Holland

Utility-Style Quilts for Everyday Living is full of simple, lovely patterns that are somehow both modern and timeless. I particularly love Sharon's emphasis on enjoying the process without getting stuck on perfectionism. She really wants to inspire us to make quilts that will be used and loved.

Cabin Pillow by Heidi Staples of Fabric Mutt from Utility-Style Quilts for Everyday Living by Sharon Holland

I shrank the Cabin quilt pattern, which is featured on the front of the book, down to make an 18" pillow cover. As many of you know, I'm a huge fan of the log cabin block. It's easy to sew, wonderfully forgiving, and always looks fabulous. Using prints instead of solids and reversing the order of colored and low volume stripes, I made a patchwork cover that fits my style perfectly.

Cabin Pillow by Heidi Staples of Fabric Mutt from Utility-Style Quilts for Everyday Living by Sharon Holland

The pillow is backed in a cheery Lotta Jansdotter print dotted with yellow flowers. It looks great on our family room couch, and my girls love the cupcakes featured in the center of the pillow!

Photo courtesy of Sharon Holland

Along with the book, Sharon has a free pattern available for the Roman Stripe Quilt. It's a beauty, and you can download it right here.

Photo courtesy of Sharon Holland

She's also giving me a copy of her book to give away to one of my readers. Just leave a comment below, and you'll be entered into the drawing. This one is only available to U.S. residents due to shipping costs. (Sorry international readers -- you know we love you!) I'll choose a random winner on Wednesday night.

***Edited to add: Giveaway now closed. Congratulations Jodi/usairdoll!***

Sharon has put together a fantastic book tour. You'll definitely want to visit Amy tomorrow. She is such an amazing quilter! Here's the full schedule:

Monday 12/4  Heidi Staples - Fabric Mutt
Tuesday 12/5  Amy Friend - During Quiet Time
Wednesday 12/6  Maureen Cracknell - Maureen Cracknell Handmade
Thursday 12/7  Amber Johnson - Gigi's Thimble
Friday 12/8  Karen O'Connor - Lady K Quilts Designs
Saturday 12/9  Kori Turner-Goodhart - Olive Grace Studios
Sunday 12/10  Silvia Sutters - A Stranger View
Monday 12/11  Sarah Maxwell - Designs by Sarah J
Tuesday 12/12  Jessica Swift - Jessica Swift
Wednesday 12/13  Lisa Ruble - Love to Color My World
Thursday 12/14  Cindy Wiens - Live a Colorfullife
Friday 12/15  Eleri Kerian - Sew and Tell Project
Saturday 12/16  Anjeanette Klinder - Anjeanette K
Sunday 12/17  Stephanie Kendron - Modern Sewciety
Monday 12/18  Christopher Thompson - The Tattooed Quilter
Tuesday 12/19  Susan Playsted - Hopewood Home

Have a beautiful week, friends!
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