Sunday, September 30, 2012

Toy Sewing Machines and Learning to Sew

I didn't learn how to sew on a toy machine, but my mother did.  She had a metal hand-crank machine when she was a child, that was later destroyed by her nieces along with the dollhouse her grandfather made her.  I learned under the watchful eye of my mother on her big sewing machine... which I use the just-newer model today.  My mother's sewing machine is a Pfaff 1222.   (The picture is one currently on sale on ebay)  My Dad bought it for my mom in about 1974, but it had been on the market for a while then--my machine, a 1222E, was state-of-the-art in 1965, and the 1222 predates it.  The 1222 and the 1222E were the last all-metal sewing machines that Pfaff made.  The only plastic bit in the whole thing is the gear assembly that controls the fancy stitching... which we've had to replace in my mom's old machine. 

While I did just fine learning to sew dolly clothes on a real machine, I wasn't all that interested at Gracie's age.  And, well, I've sewn through my fingers enough myself to no be wary of giving a four-year-old a powered machine... and like most new-model sewing machines that don't cost an arm and a leg, toy sewing machines just aren't all that functional--it's a case of newer not being better.

Since Mom's first machine was a hand-crank, I started looking around for one and I've discovered some weird things in my search.  Like a toy tractor made from a vintage sewing machine.  (That one almost made me cry!)  and sculptures made from toy machines. (After the tractor, I wasn't shocked anymore!)  And then there's the true toys that don't actually function.  While the actual toy might be good for, say, Nicole or Lizzy, it would just frustrate Grace.  Because she wants one that works, dangit!  So since Christmas is coming, I'm going to keep looking.  I'm hoping for a nice, simple, metal, hand-crank sewing machine in good condition.  I figure that hand-crank will keep her out of trouble when I'm not there to watch.

And, well, if I can work a kick wheel, I'm fairly certain that I can learn to use a hand-crank machine to teach her.  Next birthday, I'll find an 18-inch doll for her so that we can learn to make dolly clothing.  I guess slow but sure is the way to go... in the meantime, I do have baby doll clothes patterns we can work with... and the best part of dolly clothes is that they use up some of my scraps!

So wish me luck... so many seem to think that old=valuable.  And well, with things like metal toys, they last virtually forever!

Friday, September 28, 2012


This year, for Halloween, I'm only making one costume.  Grace is excited about being a bat--my SIL picked up the costume last year on clearance.  With her employee discount, she got it 90% off!  What's really making her excited is the fact that it lights up.  Remember, she's four, so anything that lights up is amazingly cool!  In the meantime, Joanna sent me a pic from Pinterest. Which you can find here. That's the blog it originally came from!

 She wanted to know if I could make a cute owl costume, too, for Nicole.  So I went to the pattern company websites to look around and lucky for me, Simplicity just came out with a brand-new owl costume pattern this year--Simplicity 1766.

It's view A... and while the owl face is cuter, I knew I'd need to make changes.  So when I had coupons, and the felt was on sale, we made a trip to the most dangerous place on earth--the fabric store!

I ordered some pink stripey tights for the bottom, and while I considered perhaps making some owl feet slippers, we eventually decided that her ivory mary janes ('fraid this was the closest I could find!) or brown boots would work better.  (Both were bought via ebay... brand new second hand.  My favorite way to get the girls shoes!)  I changed the crotch to a snap crotch and ditched the velcro fastening for a zipper.  I sewed hooks and eyes into the collar, added a tab so that the cape would button, and lengthened the hat and added a button so that it could button under her chin.

See, Nikki can untie things and undo velcro (and zippers, for that matter, but that's on her back!)  So I wanted to make sure that she couldn't strip herself naked--she tries enough as it is! (I'm starting to dread the twos... she's only 17 months next week and already spends almost all her time getting into things and into trouble!)

I also used a leaf template for the felt "feathers"  I printed twenty of them so I could cut out the feathers assembly-line fashion and spent the cutting time watching a movie while I did it.  All-in-all, there are 120 "feathers"  in Nikki's costume, and she's super excited about wearing it!  She even likes the jumpsuit and the feather cape!

 We're not really into posing for pictures, though.  This was the best one I managed to get... after over an hour of trying!

The feathers were sewn onto the cape and hat in long rows.  The whole thing is made out of cotton out of the nursery prints at Joanns.  Really, once I sewed, turned, and topstitched the hat and cape, according to the pattern, I was finished.  But what is an owl without feathers?

She had her little white sneakers with her, so that's what she's wearing, but her ivory shoes or brown boots will match the feathers and owl face mask a little better.  The beak is made from a scrap of donated pleather (I have a yard or so of it that's been being used up in drips and drabs for years) and the eyes are buttons off a dress and had lost some.  I salvaged the old buttons and sewed on new, so it's salvaged button as the eyes. 
 Despite how this picture looks, she's excited about being an owl, and tries to "hoot".  Next, we have to teach her to say "Trick or Treat"!

Yeah, I know it's early.  We've got a whole month until Halloween.  But to be honest, I expected the whole feather thing to take forever.  It was actually surprisingly fast.  It only took about oh, ten-fifteen hours to do the whole thing start to finish! 

So what are your Halloween plans?

Saturday, September 22, 2012

Finally! McCalls 4424

Three years ago, I fell in love with McCalls 4424.  But Gracie was a big baby, and by the time I found it, she was almost grown out of it, so making it just wasn't worth the effort.  Nikki is a smaller baby, so she still has a few pounds to gain before she outgrows this pattern!

I've had this dress cut out for three weeks, but it's been one thing after another.  And Nicole kept bringing me the pieces... until I started sewing it together yesterday and she started throwing pieces in the trash can!

 The weather seems to be getting unpredictable this year, so I snitched the shrug from Simplicity 2375 and made it in matching colors.  Normally, she'd be fine this time of year, but we seem to be seesawing between chilly and hot, so I thought a bit more coverage wouldn't hurt.  Hopefully, she won't grow out of this before fall and winter truly arrive!  (And if she waits to grow more, and it gets cold, we can always pop a blouse underneath.)

As I said before, I used the green and white leftovers from Richard's frog.  The shrug helps.  Honestly, the back is the cutest part of this pattern--the front is a bit blah... which is why I added a frog applique!

I really think the dark green of the shrug balances out all of the white, and the pop of bright green from the frog applique works pretty well.  The worst part of this was that Nicole was having a mischievous day.  She's such a sweet baby normally, but yesterday the sweetness was overruled by that imp known as curiosity!    All kids have their days, and yesterday was hers!  I was just lucky that the straps and bows were easy to get out of the top of the kitchen trash and didn't get any ick on them because we took out the trash right before she got here!

I'm afraid I don't have any pictures of her wearing this one, though.  I finished it at ten last night and she was home asleep.  See what I mean about the shrug, though?  It needs that block of color.

The diaper cover is green, and it was pretty much the only challenge here.  I've seen complaints about the pattern on Pattern Review, but it seemed straightforward to me.  :)  My biggest problem was that I, um, cut creatively to make the most of my fabric and fell about 1/2" short on the diaper cover.  So it's got a slightly shorter rise and is a little less poofy that then original pattern.

That's what the big bit of green is in this picture.  I also wanted the bows to stand out instead of blend in, so it was green for those!  I considered making the centers white, but decided that if it was a tied bow, it would be all one color, so these needed to be one color, too.  I was lucky enough to dig out four matching white buttons from my stash.  I've got about $10 in this one, and most of it is from the applique!

Friday, September 21, 2012

Mischief or 'Satiable Curiosity

I swear, I'm going to have to take a page from Katy Dill's book and do a Once Upon a Thread after Christmas (sewing until then is pretty much booked).  Nikki is our Elephant's Child.  you know, the story of how the elephant got his trunk from Kipling's Just So Stories?

Nicole has always been a curious baby.  While Grace was fairly easy, Nicole wants to know everything and is into everything!  But today, today was the worst day we've had in a long time.  If it was something she's not supposed to do (and she knows it) she was into it.  (And then giving ups the "'I'm cute so you're going to let me do this smiles!) She tried to play with my sewing shears (I was using them at the time) the sewing machine, pins, the computer, climbing and standing on chairs...  Well, you get the picture.

My four-year-old nephew has spent his life climbing and falling off things and ending up hurt and having stitches.  None so far this year, thank goodness, but he's been for stitches five times before his fourth birthday.  I suppose my "No standing on the furniture" rule is directly related to that.  In the four years I've been taking care of Grace and the year and four months I've had Nicole we've had zero serious accidents.  Scraped knees and bug bites are the extent of our owies, and I prefer to keep it that way.  They're not allowed to touch my sewing shears, either, and both of them know it.  When Jared was around Nicole's age (I was about seven) I found him in my parents' bedroom.  He'd escaped Mom and found some lost knitting needles somewhere and had been trying to eat them.

When I found him, he was spitting up blood.

After freaking out, and yelling for my mom before calling 911, the ambulance was sent and he had to go in to get patched up.  I'm just a bit paranoid about babies and sharpish objects.

I know what's going through Nikki's mind.  Scissors, pins, and sewing machines are shiny and in the case of the pins, brightly colored.  The pins also sound nice when rattled in their box.  Add to those facts that we purposely set the sewing machines up in the living room so I'm not shut up in my room where the rest of the supplies live and so that (bear in mind that my Mom is here, too) I can sew and keep an eye on her as she plays.

In some ways, Mom and I are just the (unpaid) babysitters, but I wouldn't do this for anybody else.  I keep telling myself that "this, too, will pass".  It'll just take time to teach her that the rules we've set are for her safety and not to ruin her fun!

Monday, September 17, 2012

illness and explanations

How do you explain chronic illness to a four-year-old?  When Grace was a baby, telling her that Aunt Laura's legs were big boo-boos worked.  But she's older now and wants to know why.

I have lymphedema in both legs.  When I was nineteen, I had ACL replacement surgery--college musical auditions went horribly wrong and I shredded my original one.  See, when a lymph node gets damaged, your body can't repair it.  Neither can doctors.  Nobody knows why or how, but sometimes this leads to lymphatic fluid leaking into tissues, which leads to chronic swelling, paper thin skin, problems with dead skin sloughing off, infections, and in about 10% of lymphedema cases, a depressed immune system.  The affected limb also doesn't heal easily.  And to make matters worse, there are only about two schools in the US that even teach about the disease.  There are no drugs, no surgery, and no way to tell how long I have.  In my case, it started in my left leg, and it didn't get bad until I was scratched by a cat.  What started as a simple scratch ended up a huge, weeping ulcer covering the bottom of my leg.  It took two years after the weeping started and seven doctors to find out what the problem was, and then lots of compression and physical therapy to get it to heal.  I can't even count the number of times it got infected.  My leg is covered in thick scar tissue from it.  (which lends credence to the 'it's a booboo')  The lymphedema spread to the other leg, too.

If I'm not careful, it breaks open again.  Infections can land me in the hospital and there's a real risk that someday I'll end up a double amputee.  And that's if it doesn't spread.  There's about a 90% chance that I won't be around to watch the girls grow up.  I may not be there when they graduate from high school and college and get married.

Unfortunately, I'm one of the 10% with a depressed immune system.  Which means that I spend a lot of time fighting off minor illnesses.  Which I usually get from the girls.  So as much as I love 'em, they really do make me sick!  ;) But I'll take the trade off.  Sure, it's not fair, but I'll take what I can get.  Things like pregnancy are a horrific risk for someone with my disease.  It isn't communicable.  It's just a broken bit of my body that can't be fixed.  Bad luck--not everyone with damaged or missing lymph nodes develops lymphedema.  Medical science isn't far enough advanced to know why some people develop this.  It's usually a disease people develop when they're old...  But I was in my early twenties when we found out.

To make matters worse, I can't leave my house to work, and I have to spend most of my time with my legs propped up to help the lymphatic fluid drain  (which makes me stinking nauseous most of the time.)  Lymphedema treatment is like having morning sickness... only you never get the baby and it never really goes away!  Your lymphatic system is part of what cleans your blood of the stuff your body can't process.  From there, it goes into the kidneys and then out.  But with lymphedema, all that garbage gets dumped below the damaged lymph nodes.

In some ways, it's a mixed blessing.  It's painful, uncomfortable, nauseating, and has caused me to put on a lot of weight because of immobility.  I have massive physical limitations now that I didn't used to have.  But because of it, I get to kiss owies, and give cuddles and tickles.  I get to be mommy for 40 hours a week when Joanna has to be at work.  I get to spend time making one-of-a-kind clothes for my girls and love and teach and spend more time with them than most aunts.  My disease has made my life a lot harder... but I'm not sure I'd change it.  After all, in a weird, twisted sort of way, it gave me the freedom to take care of my girls.

"And it is still true, no matter how old you are, when you go out in the world, it is best to hold hands and stick together." --Robert Fulghum

Sunday, September 16, 2012


First I have to say that I'm sorry it's been so long--I've been busy dealing with a leg infection, having to get new glasses, and the girls.  I have several posts in the works, I promise.

I don't know why I do this.  Every time consignment season rolls around and every once in a while, I dig around ebay looking for new-condition second hand clothes for Lizzy.  Unlike her parents, I can't afford to buy new, and her mother doesn't measure her for me, so I can't make them.  (I've asked.  It doesn't work.)  My sister is a stay-at-home mom.  She and her husband decided to do it that way, since he makes a really good salary--by that, I mean in excess of 100,000/year.  Yeah. They make more than the rest of the family put together.  Which is why I don't get why their kids look like they're homeless unless they're wearing clothes that Mom and I buy or make.

I have nothing against good quality second hand.  But I'm picky about what I buy.  I want stuff that looks like it's new or nearly new... not something that looks like it's been through four kids.  Not faded, not pilly, not stained.  Sarah has no such compunctions and prefers to buy in bulk or to get 'em from Freecycle.  And around here, nine times out of ten, Freecycled stuff is barely one step above garbage.  Don't get me wrong--I have gotten a few nice things from Freecycle.  But more people seem to utilize it as a free garbage haul away service than anything!  As a result, her kids are dressed in barely better than rags!

I'm all for stretching a dollar, but the pinch penny attitude of my brother in law and sister really get me.  Yes, kids grow fast.  Yes, they're going to spend time playing and probably ruining some of their clothes.  But if you put Gracie and Nikki next to Ricky and Lizzy, you'd think that Gracie and Nikki come from a family that has more money or something.  I mean, my sister's kids aren't neglected or anythign--they've got what they need, it's just not nice stuff--it's not even nice, but disposable Wal-Mart, Kmart, or Target clothes. 

We bought Lizzy's pretty dresses and Ricky's Sunday slacks, shirt, vest, and tie.  I'm looking for nice shoes for them online because Sarah says she doesn't ever pay more than $5 for shoes for them.  I never pay more than Payless retail, but I'm getting the good ones for the kids. Because with shoes, you really do get what you pay for and they need good shoes for developing feet.  (We're big fans of Stride Rite and Pediped here and retail they're both expensive brands.)

I have five dresses, one play outfit, and a sweater sitting her for Lizzy.  One of those dresses has a matching coat, and another still has the tags on it (that's to be her Christmas dress) and so does the sweater.  And since Sarah won't come and see us and with having to be here to pick up Gracie, it's a hard thing to get to her house and back in time and have some visiting time, we're going to have to mail it.  I guess it's because I can't stand to see the kids in the by-the-pound-thrift-store clothes she buys for them.  I've found some fantastic things in thrift stores...  but I've done it by being picky, not taking whatever they've got!