Sunday, September 28, 2014

Review: Hank Has a Dream

Hello, lovely people! I've got a delightful book to share with you today, one totally out of the norm from what I usually get asked to review. This one is called Hank Has a Dream, by Rebecca Dudley. 

The unique thing about this book is truly the artwork. It's not drawn, not painted, not doodled, but photographed. And photographed in an amazing way--she creates the miniature world that Hank (an adorable bear) lives in, from trees and bridges, to birds and grass, and then sets a miniature scene that is photographed. It reminds me of looking into a Viewmaster (remember those? I still have mine. I used to love that thing). 

Every one of those leaves was created in miniature just for this scene. I mean...geez. It blows my mind to think of the time it took to create this book.

I do love the way this book is laid out. When Hank is telling his little bird friend about his dream, the photo on the left shows his little reenactment--

While the photo on the right shows what his dream looked like--

And look at this adorable little face--

Even the frontispiece is cute, and reminds me a little of Winnie the Pooh and the Hundred Acre Wood--

About two seconds after I closed this I hopped on Amazon and ordered the first book, Hank Finds an Egg. Photographed in the same way, this story lacks words, but the photos do a wonderful job of telling the story. 


Plus you get to see how Hank becomes friends with that adorable little bird with whom he shares his dream :)

I know we're not supposed to talk about Christmas yet, but if you've got some little ones to buy gifts for (books make excellent gifts) these would be delightful. You could keep your kids busy with these too--for those of writing age they could write their own story. They could create their own story scenes to photograph and write about. For family reading, the kids could take part in telling the story by taking on the roles of the characters in the photos. So many opportunities to take these books further than just flipping the pages (and that's not a common thing in children's literature--so many things are contrived or forced or written just to sell instead of to provide a quality reading experience).

I'd like to say "But you don't have to take my word for it..." a la Reading Rainbow, but I don't have any kids to segue to, so you will  have to take my word for it.

I was not financially compensated for this post. I received the book at no charge in exchange for an honest review. The opinions are completely my own based on my own experience. For my complete disclosure policy, click here.

Thursday, September 25, 2014

A Teeny Confession About a Conflict of Total Unimportance

Fine. FINE. You've dragged it out of me. I confess. I bought a handbag.

Fun fact: I kind of made exactly this face about twenty seconds ago when Tim Gunn told Alexander his design was butt ugly on Project Runway. 

Background info. Normally in the winter I wear one coat, and it's usually a ski jacket/parka kind of thing, that's in a bright color and all that jazz. The problem comes in when I need something a little more subdued and...I guess grown-up? (blech!) and I'm all "Well, I've got this turquoise and lime jacket." In the past I have had a beast of a time finding something like a pea coat because I need a tall size for my long torso and long arms so I don't look like I'm wearing a three-quarter sleeve in the dead of winter. A few weeks ago I found one--it's a hunter and navy plaid, sized tall, fits great!! with perfect sleeves, and I got it on super-clearance so I feel like I got it for free. 

BUT, ever since I bought it I have been trying to think of what fabric would work with it for a new handbag. I love plaid, but couldn't overdo it. And many other prints would just not look good. I was seriously vexed (because for someone who could live in her yoga pants and oversized tees I do get slightly neurotic about small things like this). So I was in Target the other day and saw a bag that I liked. Wait until you see it--it's totally not what you'd expect of me.

It looks gray (the actual color is 'mushroom') but it's really that cross between gray and brown where it will look like either depending on what you pair it with. It's fabulously slouchy but also a bit chic. 

I know, I KNOW, how weird to post something like "I bought a handbag." But let me tell you--I don't know the last time I bought a handbag. If I look through my bags every one of them is handmade (except a red polka dot cross-body affair I bought last year because red polka dots). I don't know how many times I've looked at bags in stores and lingered, and walked away, telling myself that I make bags, therefore I don't need to buy them. But sometimes you just want to buy one, y'know? If I had been able to find fabrics that made my heart skip around the room I would surely have made one, though. Old habits are hard to break. 

How about you? Do you have weird conflicts about buying things you could make? Or are you over it? I hope this is the biggest problem I ever have to face, haha. 

Sunday, September 21, 2014

Spectrum Tote

Happy Sunday morning to you! It's gray and gloomy here, so I hope it's nice and smiley wherever you are. A few weeks ago I was asked to test a bag for Sarah of Cozy Nest Designs (the designer of this highly versatile bag). I agreed immediately, because I loved the sample photos she sent (in case you haven't notice I happen to adore color :)  Inspired by a paint chip (!) this roomy tote has endless options for color and fabric play. I had a wicked hard time deciding on fabrics. Nothing was jumping out at me and I was seriously fretting over it. When I went through my stash I found a big chunk of fabric I've had for a long time, so I decided to make mine out of one fabric with contrasting strips, instead of various colors and patterns. I thought I was being super original, until I saw some of the other testers' bags. And yes, I do notice the irony of stating that I love color and then showing you a bag entirely devoid of it.

Anyway, here is my finished version of this bag:

I was thinking I might use this as a handbag, but it's a little too roomy (even for me, and I gravitate towards larger bags, even if I don't carry much). Any problems I had were purely of my own creation (you know how sometimes I like to pretend I know everything?), as Sarah's instructions were spot on. If you do what she says, you won't need to rip a stitch out. I've never tested a bag before, so I had a bit of a time following the instructions as I see "zippered pocket" and go rogue, instead of following the directions to make sure they make sense (as I was asked to do...ahem...). Once I got into the groove, though, all was well.

One of the key things with this bag is labeling the pieces (and there are handy labeling sheets included in the pattern). I got my pieces confused and caused myself some trouble that way, so use the labels! I was also super excited with this as I was going to use a generic version of the recommended Soft and Stable (generic version meaning headliner fabric (like what's in your car's ceiling?) that you can buy off the roll at Joann's. I underestimated my measurements and didn't have enough, so I used Thermolam Plus fusible. It has nice body and structure but I was a bit disappointed in my miscalculation (does anyone else get excited about new interfacings? It's a very unique kind of geekery). Luckily I've got another bag to test that calls for it, so interfacing joy shall hopefully be mine in the near future :)

You can see the inside peeking out a bit--it's a light tan with wee white polka dots on it. There's a zipper pocket in there, and the pattern includes directions for slip pockets but I didn't include those. There is a fair bit of cutting time involved between the pattern and the fabric, but the assembly really is quite easy breezy. I'm looking forward to making this in more summery colors and fabrics, but I'm going to wait until the fabric lines change up in the stores and I need some color in my life to get over what will become the winter doldrums in about February.

If you're interested in making these (it's really a great size for a tote--I'm going to use mine for my supplies for a garment sewing class I'm taking) you can find the pattern here. Happy sewing!

Monday, September 15, 2014

Things I Don't Get Tired Of


Fun times with people I love--

And rainbows :)

I know I've been a bit absent from my blog lately. At first I thought it was due to summer, but I've realized it's just me settling into a different routine. A few months ago I got completely disgusted with the weight I've slowly accumulated, and decided to really buckle down and improve myself by cleaning up my diet and exercising like I mean it. The numbers aren't decreasing as quickly as I'd like, but I'm definitely more toned and feeling and looking better. I've also gone on this yarn kick where I feel compelled to make lots of sweaters. That's an extravagant kick, but I've already made one and have a good bit done on another. It was originally going to be a cable-knit, but I know I'm going to despise where the single wide cable falls on my body so I'm making it a very simple tunic length sweater that hopefully fits the right amount of snug. The thing with knitting a sweater is it takes a while. Like a lot more 'while' than I had originally anticipated.

Another thing I don't get tired of is sharing with all of you. So if you're interested in bits of this or that here and there, you can follow me on Instagram (link at the top of the sidebar). See you around!

Tuesday, September 9, 2014

A Day in the Park

Ahoy, ahoy! As I mentioned at the end of this post, this week is Restaurant Week in Center City, Philadelphia. As my parents' anniversary is coming up, my siblings thought this would be a great opportunity to go to a restaurant that would normally be a little too pricey as well as spend some time downtown (I didn't even know it was Restaurant Week so I just nodded and agreed). After a sweltering Saturday, Sunday was warm and mostly clear and sunny. Unbeknownst to me, but beknownst (that's not a word but it should be--if something can be un-something it logically follows that it has to be something too, right?) to Alicia, there have been these pop-up parks showing up around the city throughout the summer. It sounded fun, so we went to the Spruce Street Harbor Park down by the river for the afternoon.

I took a lot of pictures, and could have taken more, but I already felt like a tourist in my own city so I restrained myself. As we walked in, there were brightly woven hammocks, and tables and chairs of every color you can imagine, in case you needed to take a load off. There were light sticks hanging in the trees (which didn't show great in the pictures as it was a sunny day but would have been awesome at night), and things for little kids to do (giant legos, giant chess pieces which were more fun to move in any fashion than in a chess-like fashion apparently, cornhole, and so on). There was also ping-pong, bocce, shuffleboard, and I feel like there was something else I can't remember.... On Saturdays there are arts and crafts sellers, but not on Sundays (which I was a little bummed about). If you felt like doing nothing the view over the river was beautiful.

The only bad part is that it's New Jersey you're looking at there. Hahahaha, I'm kidding (not really kidding).

For those unfamiliar with the game of bocce, you throw a small ball (see the white one?) and then each team has larger balls that they toss to try and get close to it. Each ball closer than the other team's is worth a point. I'm sharing this picture just so you can see that the red ball really close to the little one is mine :)  In the interest of full disclosure I have to tell you my brother knocked it far away with his shot (which was happening literally as I snapped this photo, but I have the picture for proof).

So if you can't decided who is closest you use the age-old trick of using your feet as a measuring stick (look at how intently the men are watching my brother's girlfriend Ashley measure). I always have a tape measure on me--they could have just asked :)

They had one of those giiiiaannnnt chairs down there, and I almost had to pay Z-man to take his picture with me and A-train. Both of them were being equally uncooperative in alternate shots so I had to go for one that met in the middle. My brother in law Matt has the one with the entire family in it, but he's been negligent in his duty of sending it to me (ahem...Matt...). I think this may be the only photo I have of me with both nephews.

This boat was an exhibition for the Fringe Festival. It's supposed to be what Philly could be like if it became inundated with water and we all had to live in houseboats. The artist actually lived on the boat for six weeks. There's a floating garden and some chickens, and is supposed to be a combination of art, home, and farm. 

There were also hives in the windows. It was really hard to get a decent shot, but I had to try because bees.

If people were so inclined they could have rented a kayak or a rowboat. We were not those people, as we would also be the people who would have to cancel dinner reservations because anywhere from one to all of those people fell in the river.

I fell totally in love with this fence. And I took the sign as a directive for what I should do at dinner.

Each section of the fence had different hexie designs in them. My favorite in this section is that hummingbird at the far left.

It was very nice and shady and even a bit breezy in the park, but the sun was actually quite warm.

I didn't pay attention to if you could tour this boat, but it was massive. It's one of those things I can't conjure up in my mind, I have to see it to believe the size.

I didn't take a single picture in the restaurant (I was really hungry and very focused on my food) but we finished up just around sunset. This is the view on Race Street at around 7:30. The sun is going down earlier and earlier...

It was definitely a day for these babies.

I do love when we have our little family outings like this. My sisters need to plan more days like this (because I am not good at it. I make things--I can't be expected to plan them, too :)

Sunday, September 7, 2014

What's This Decision: Blocks 25-28

Hello! I just realized that it's been a week since I've posted here. I don't think that's ever happened before! If you follow me on Instagram (icon to the right) you'll know I've been working on a sweater and finished said sweater and that the aforementioned sweater fits, and I love it! However, summer waited until September to show up here in Philly, and if you think I'm prancing around in a toasty sweater in the heat while trying not to let you see in the pics the sweating I'd surely be doing I'd have to tell you that you are mistaken. The sweater is perfectly soft and squishy (and did I mention it fits?) but cooler weather will have to prevail before I cajole someone into taking some pics of me in it to show you.

I just laid out the fabrics on my dining room table to keep on going with this quilt, so I figured I should show you the final four blocks that I made a few months ago now on this quilt.

"I'd surely rather be dusting than sewing!" said no woman ever.

"Ma! Do we have any stamps?"
"Check the junk drawer!" (which is the name of the red fabric).
"I did!! We only have leftover Christmas stamps with a creepy Santa on them!"
(Seriously--isn't that Santa kind of scary?)

This one is simply because I like aprons. And sewing. 

I'm dating myself here, but "Let's talk about [quilts], baby..."
Get it? Salt-n-Pepa? Because of the center and the sheet music and the cassettes? 
I think there were some teachers cringing when this was a hit when I was in seventh grade, as there was a group of girls who would just randomly sing songs in homeroom, and when they learned this particular song bugged our more prim teachers they made this their encore...

It's Restaurant Week here in Philadelphia (wherein participating restaurants that are usually quite pricey offer limited menus at more affordable prices), and we're headed out for that later today, so I guess I'd best get dressed if I want to cast my next sweater onto my knitting needles before I have to get ready. I'm nervous as it's cable-knit and the sweater I just made was crocheted, so the idea of making a mistake and having the whole thing come undone has me feeling a little wiggly, but I'm also bolstered by the fact that the last sweater fit (I don't know if I mentioned that at all).

Have a happy Sunday! 

Monday, September 1, 2014

Around the World Blog Tour

Hello, and welcome! And if you're a regular, welcome back! Last week I was tagged by the super-stitch-talented Maria from Mia's Creations to take part in the Around the World Blog Hop. Maria is primarily a bag maker, and she does some of the most beautiful work--her stitching is drool-worthy, and I love seeing what fabrics she uses as she lives in a land far, far away and they're very different from what I find here in my corner of the world (in Philadelphia). 

I have to answer a series of questions for you folks, and then tag a few others to take part. So I'll just get started, then.

What am I working on?

I used to be the person who'd say "I'm only working on this one project, and then I'll start another." But I've been hopping all over with my crafts and have a few things going right now. I have all the bits for three wristlets laid out and ready for stitching on my sewing table. I have about half of a quilt made (or maybe less than half--I haven't decided yet). I've got half a dishcloth on my knitting needles. And I'm also working on a crocheted sweater. When I have a list of orders from customers (i.e. stuff my friends/family have asked me to make) it's almost always bags and purses. Here's the most recent bag I completed--an overnighter for a benefit event.

And my most recent post was about this lovely copy-cat shawl I made:

I do like to keep things varied, or else I do see myself getting bored with everything. Variety is delightful when it comes to creating.

When and why did you start your blog?

OK, I will forgive you completely and without question if you laugh at this notion (because I sure do). I started sewing in 2008. In 2009 I decided I would take part in a craft fair. I thought I was just the business, and that I would sell everything in five minutes ( I had so much stuff left over I decided to open an Artfire shop to sell things. I was going to get rich overnight and quit my job and be in high demand for my creations ( So I sat back and thought about who I am and how I am and decided that while I do love to create, high volume is not a love of mine. I keep my little shop open for some bits and bobs I come across that I think might be of interest, as well as the things I have time to create (but certainly don't need a gazillion of for myself) that I think someone might be interested in. It puts gas in the car, and that's just fine with me.

As far as my blog, I started that in 2009 as well. I had read that if you have an online shop that you should have a blog, so I started one (remember the getting rich? I also thought I'd have a gazillion followers overnight. :)  But I found that I love to blog and share what I'm making as well as any other little life bits. Sometimes I'll go back and reread my blog--I chuckle at my early attempts at photography, sometimes wonder what I was thinking when I wrote something, and check my own tutorials for a reminder on how to do something or what measurements I used. I certainly do laugh when I look at what I can do now as compared to what I did then and what I thought would sell like cakes that are hot just a few short years ago. But I love looking back on the vacations and birthdays and picnics and family events, seeing how my nephews have grown and remembering just how good a certain day felt from pictures I forgot I had taken. It's a fabulous way to catalog life.

This was the first picture I posted on my blog. It was my second post, which was a tutorial for how to make a toaster cover. I had so much to learn then, hahaha. 

Why do I make what I make?

I had originally learned to sew because I wanted to make clothes, but I was dissatisfied with my early attempts (even with taking sewing lessons) and felt a little deflated. But then I made my first bag and loved it. And with each ensuing bag I loved sewing them more and more and more. The fabric choices were endless, as were the shapes and styles. And best of all--nothing had to fit! No darts, no gathers, no adjustments for high waists or low waists or buxomy buxomness. Just sweet sweet stitching. And that's where I honed my stitch skills. It's very very different from garment sewing, of which I have a renewed interest (Project Runway will do that to a person) and hope to take another shot at that sewing genre. I also love making quilts but I don't do it often. I generally fall in love with a fabric line, get the whole line, and then cobble something together. By the time I've finished I'm annoyed with the whole process, so I tend to take a while between projects (it's really just the basting that I dread). 

While I've logged a gazillion hours at my sewing machine, the first crafts I learned were knitting and crocheting. I am not a great knitter, but I do loooove me some crochet. That's what I do when I'm binge watching TV, or chilling on the porch. It truly soothes me. I learned those at the side of my grandmother one Christmas vacation, and have been steadily creating things ever since. My other grandmother is deceased, and I regretted not asking her to teach me to sew (she was an accomplished seamstress). So what this looong answer boils down to is that the reason I make any of the things I make is it feels like a connection to the past. Down through generations women have cut and stitched and clothed their families and kept them warm and made things look pretty. Not much has changed for the most part, and I like feeling that connection to the past as my knitting needles click or as I thread a needle.

How does my work differ from others?

I don't think it does, really. There are oodles of folks out there making very similar things--bags, purses, accessories, quilts, and so on. There really isn't anything new under the sun, except for that moment when we discover it for ourselves. You can find a million zip pouch tutorials out there, all mind-numbingly similar. But the difference comes in with what you do with those. I recently took part in a blog hop for a new bag design. The thing that struck me was that even though we all used the exact same pattern, our fabric choices and little modifications we made along the way made each item truly unique. So while we all may be sitting around creating essentially the same things, we're bringing pieces of ourselves to it, depending on who we're making it for, why we're making it, or what we've got available to do so. It's the 'me' (or the 'you') in it that makes the piece unique, no matter what it is.

This crocheted 'wreath' on canvas is one of my favorite things. It hangs in the bedroom and I smile every morning when I wake up and see it.

This recent paper-piecing project is a bit of a fail, but it looks so cheery hanging up (also in the bedroom). 

These baseball jersey pillows remain the most popular thing I've ever posted on my blog.

What would you like to learn next?

Garment sewing. I can make tee-shirts and pajama pants, sometimes a cute top or skirt, but I generally stick to things that don't have precise fit as one of the requirements for success. I'd like to change that. True, if you handed me fabric and a pattern I could technically make it. But whether it would fit or look good? I'm thinking that would be more on the side of not-a-chance.

I'd also love to get better at free motion quilting. I love the look of it, and the endless variety of stitch designs you can create. I seem to have issues with it when I make a feeble attempt that put me off of trying harder, but it is something I'd like to achieve (even if it's only table runners and pot holders for a little while). 

I mentioned that I have a crochet sweater in the works. But I also have pattern and yarn for a very ambitious cable knit sweater. I have stitch anxiety over it, lol. But I'm going to go for it. I am hell-bent on knitting a sweater that fits and looks good (it's always been one or the other :)


Now that I've blathered on for a while, I'd like to introduce you to my three tagg-ees. Since this is an around-the-world hop, I decided on three from around the world that I thought would play along.

Esther blogs over at Happy in Red. She's a delightful lady who crochets in yarns I drool over and travels the world, sharing her adventures afterwards. She also sews, and quite often shares pictures of yummy-looking food. Her blog is bright, yet calming, and I always love whatever project she is working on at the moment. 

Jane (from Projects by Jane) is a bag-maker who hails from Singapore. Not only does she sew, she occasionally beads and tats. My mind is blown by the tatting--I tried it and ended up with a beautifully knotted ball of thread. Jane is quite funny, and will often regale us readers with her adventures around town. I love when she describes the 'customers' she encounters at her craft markets.

Eleni is from lovely Greece. Although her blogging is infrequent, she very often provides lovely peeks of what she is up to on Facebook and Instagram. Her quilts and pillows and other items are so whimsical and well-made and pretty, I love when her posts show up in my feed.

They're due to post on Monday, September 8th, so I do hope you'll hop over there and show them some love. If you're new here I hope you'll stick around a bit and follow along. You can catch me in all the social media places as well (check the top of the sidebar for the links). Thanks for stopping by!


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