Wednesday, December 30, 2009

the gift of a totebag

I had been wanting to make this bag for months. It is called the Apple Picking Tote, which is a free pattern on the Purl Bee blog. It is made from this gorgeously thick, soft, and strong linen, and with cotton binding for straps that go all the way around and under the bag. It is unlined but has finished seams, which makes it charmingly rustic and elegant. I found the pattern to be very clear and well-conceived. My only issue was that the linen shrunk a LOT, so although I thought I purchased enough for two bags, I was left with not nearly enough. I gave this one away, but really want to make more!

I created my own pattern for this totebag, also a gift. The exterior consists of a Japanese heavyweight printed cotton as a main fabric, with a basic linen on the base. The lining of the bag and handles is a lightweight cotton print.

This last bag was made with same basic pattern I drafted for the bag above. This is also made with a Japanese heavyweight cotton with small animal motifs, and on the base and handles, some of the same thick linen as the Apple-Picking Tote. It is lined with lightweight cotton.

For both of these self-patterned bags, I double-stitched (or even triple-stitched) all the seams for long-lasting durability. I will be curious to see how well they hold up over time. For now, I love how all of these bags turned out!

Tuesday, December 29, 2009


These buckets are currently my favorite thing to sew. You've seen one here before, and for holiday gifts I made three more. They come together relatively quickly and easily, and there's something really satisfying about how useful and cute they look when completed. The pattern is from Mayamade, one of the amazing sewing bloggers I follow.

This one with the seedling fabric I made for Sam on Christmas eve, seriously pushing my deadline for Christmas day prep! After weeks of diverted attention from Sam to sewing projects, I just couldn't NOT have something for him under the tree. Wondering what to use a bucket for? Sam's will hold all the little musical instruments he got for Hanukkah and in his Christmas stocking.

This bucket pattern was originally conceived by Maya to be made with upcycled burlap coffee sacks, an idea I just love and plan to do someday. But I also love making them with these decorative heavyweight cotton fabrics.

I really want to make one for myself next!

Monday, December 28, 2009

handmade coasters

Just look at these cute coasters! I had some precut squares of these country red fabrics, the perfect size for coasters. I sewed them with batting inside, then topstitched with three free-hand lines of stitching around the edges. Each one has different coordinating front and back fabrics.

Then I did another (also reversible) set by fussy-cutting some fabric with Swedish motifs:

And then another set with some cool blue fabrics from my stash. One side is dark blue starbursts, and the other side is the light blue stars. I liked that, in my opinion, all of these coaster gifts could go just as well for men as for women, which is always a challenge.

Next up, buckets!

Sunday, December 27, 2009

santa's workshop

We were so busy cooking, eating, and enjoying ourselves on Christmas that we only took a handful of photos, including this one. Denis insisted on documenting our tradition of reading my old 60's era copy of "The Night Before Christmas." Maybe it's the old-school language, like calling Santa Claus St. Nick or sleeping in a kerchief, but Sam doesn't quite appreciate this story as much as I do. Oh well.

I did, however, take lots of pictures of the products of "Santa's workshop," which took over our dining room the past few weeks. Today I'll share a couple sets of potholders I made.

Above is a pair (front and back sides each shown) made from a pattern found in Amy Butler's book In Stitches. This was a skill-building project for me: it was my first time "quilting" something with my walking foot attachment. You can see the diamond-shaped quilting stitch lines which run through the double layer of batting inside the potholder. This was also my first time making and attaching my own bias binding (the checked-print fabric that wraps around and encloses all the edges). After a wonky attempt at sewing on the binding by machine, I ended up hand-sewing it for a neater (and more traditional) finish. I'm pretty pleased with the result!

Below is a pair of potholders made with cheery Christmas fabric. For these I reverse-engineered (as Denis puts it) a pattern from a set of handmade potholders I own. I think the piecing of the three different fabrics makes these otherwise simple potholders nice and interesting. I have a feeling I'll be making a few of these for myself.

Stay tuned for tote bags and coasters!

Wednesday, December 23, 2009

merry and frosty

We may not have a white Christmas here, but a little morning frost on the broccoli and kale out front invites me to pause and enjoy the sparkle, if only for a moment. Wishing everyone a Merry Christmas!

Sunday, December 20, 2009

holiday outtakes

This photo is an outtake from our last minute holiday-card photo session the other day. It was so last minute, and the chosen photo so awesome, that I decided it wouldn't be lame at all to make them New Year cards. So there you go: no cards from us until after Christmas, ha!

We celebrated Hanukkah with candles most nights, and amazing latkes Denis made on the second night. Sam made sure to remind us each time that we don't blow out Hanukkah candles like candles on a cake, you know, in case we forgot.

He received a few little Hanukkah gifts: a small drum and a triangle (both just like the ones we play in music class), a book, and a black cat minute timer.

Meanwhile, packages from afar are piling up, and I will make my final post office trip tomorrow. Or as Sam would say, tomorrio.

strawberry hues

Time for writing is scarce while holiday sewing and celebrating fill our days. I did, however, stop to notice all the colors on the strawberries post-frost in the backyard the other day. So pretty.

Sunday, December 6, 2009

still green

You might be wondering how I could possibly write another post about tomatoes this year, but what can I say? They don't call me Solanaceae for nothing-- I just love these plants! Sam and I picked these still-green tomatoes at dusk the other day, anticipating a killing frost that night. Sure enough, by this morning most of our garden finally looked like winter, and we'll be happily ripening these babies indoors and digging up some green tomato recipes. If all else fails, at least we had fun picking tomatoes one last time.

Taking these pictures I was reminded of my year in graduate school, just before Sam was born, working towards a Masters of Science in Botany. As an undergraduate I did not take a single hard science class, so to qualify for my program I took over a year's worth of Biology and Chemistry courses, including, I am proud to say, the dreaded Organic Chemistry. Once I was a grad student, I was really turned on by Evolutionary Botany, and chose a thesis project that my advisor had already started and funded. We were to determine the phylogeny, basically the genetically-based family history, of a couple dozen species of closely related plants from tropical areas around the world. I spent hours and hours in a lab extracting and analyzing strings of DNA from plant material that other research partners had collected.

I was also taking a course with my advisor titled Species and Speciation, which explored the many concepts and studies concerning the definition of a species and how different species arise from common ancestors. I loved this class because it was basically a philosophy of life class, in the language of biology and evolution. As a final paper, we had to design a research project and write a project proposal exploring something about how species become species.

To get technical for just a moment, the classic definition of a species states that accumulated genetic changes in geographically segregated populations driven by advantageous adaptations to new environments can have the effect of reproductive incompatibility and isolation, thus generating new species. (I lifted that sentence straight from the paper I wrote 4 years ago.) Basically what that means is that a population of organisms migrates and encounters some kind of geographical barrier, like a mountain range or an island, with some of the population going one way and others going the other way. Over time, each group adapts to their new and different environment, causing an overall genetic change. Once these groups have diverged genetically from each other, they can no longer mate, which defines them now (many many many generations later) as different species. Fascinating, isn't it?

Which brings me back to tomatoes, because for the final assignment I designed a project looking at two species from the Solanaceae family, relatives of our beloved tomato. Earlier in the semester I had read a tiny reference about these plants from some obscure dissertation, and I was fascinated. I am quite sure that my fascination was at least partially due to the fact that these were Solanum species; however, to me they also were great potential study subjects because of a particularly controversial phenomenon within speciation called character displacement. I'd love to write about it but I'm sure nobody is reading anymore anyway, so I'll just finish this up by saying that I wrote that paper with more passion than I ever felt for my actual research project. My professor loved it and told me that I had gone above and beyond the scope of the assignment, basically writing a proposal worthy of Ph.D. research.

As most of you know, I never ended up finishing my graduate program. Marriage, a job offer, a rough pregnancy, and wanting to return to California all drove me to leave my research and my advisor and not look back. If I ever do try again for a Masters in Botany, I won't sign up for years of research with plants that don't fascinate me. I won't be studying anything that somebody else decided was important. I will study something awesome and interesting and relevant to me, something like tomatoes. Or their very cool relatives.

Wednesday, December 2, 2009

can't pick just one

this little boy, now three years old

loves to ask questions, likes being busy,

gets whiney sometimes and doesn't listen,

and the cuteness just does. not. stop.

in fact, coming back to look at these photos repeatedly today reminds me of when Sam was a newborn... everything was crazy, spending every other hour nursing, waking up several times a night, trying to calm the colic, wondering if I was going to make it... I was exhausted and barely taking care of myself... and during those rare moments of Sam quietly napping, what did I do? I was transfixed in front of the computer, scrolling through photos of my beautiful baby. I just could. not. stop.

Tuesday, December 1, 2009

this one is for the grandparents

Cousin love was flowing strong this past week. The age difference seems smaller and smaller as they get older. I know next time they see each other, we'll get to witness actual conversations between them in addition to all the admiring looks, hugs, smiles, and kisses we see now. Of course there will probably be even more refusals to share sometimes as well, but it's all good. Ever since she left, Sam has been calling out "stuck!" just like Sofia, and insisting on sitting in "her" highchair for meals.

Monday, November 30, 2009

post-holiday quiet

After a full and happy week of cleaning, cooking, eating, playing, and photographing with three generations of guests, I am taking today to nurse my cold, nibble on leftovers, and enjoy a quiet day. Above is a view of our Thanksgiving table, covered in a tablecloth I sewed up the day before (and still need to hem), with some dishes brought out and some still in the kitchen, with the littlest eaters seated and the bigger ones still lending a hand. Our fabulous menu:
Roasted turkey and gravy
Herb Stuffing
Mashed Potatoes
Mashed Butternut Squash
Madhur Jaffrey Green Beans
Spicy Sweet Potatoes with Lime
Maple glazed Brussels sprouts with Pecan
Cranberry Ginger Sauce
Regular cranberry sauce
Corn Tomato Chutney
Dinner Rolls with Herb Butter made by Sam at school
Pumpkin Pie
Pecan Pie
Dutch Apple Pie
Fresh Whipped Cream

Hope your holiday was as nice and yummy as ours!

Saturday, November 21, 2009

rainy day sewing

Sam's other birthday gift from us was this beautiful handmade wooden toy sewing machine. He loves to play with my fabric scraps, rulers, and cutting mats while I am sewing, and he can spend an hour working with buttons: lining them up, piling them on the floor, sorting them into tins, and picking out special ones. He likes to stand by my machine while I am working, and play with the bobbin winder in front, or shove a fabric scrap under the needle, and tell me to sew it. So I thought it was time for a sewing machine of his own.

It doesn't really sew, but he can turn the crank and the needle goes up and down. I requested that extra spool dowel in the front because it matches the bobbin winder on my machine that Sam likes to play with. The craftsman was happy to oblige, not even charging me extra. I also love that he made this particular one with reclaimed wood. His etsy shop is called WoodClinic, and I just couldn't be happier with this cute toy. Sam was very excited when he opened it, and loves to sew alongside me.

It's a good thing because I have a lot of projects to complete in the next few weeks! I am endeavoring to make almost all of our holiday gifts this year. Here is a peek at just a few of my projects.

Wednesday, November 18, 2009

why I love living here

Our cherry tomato vines are withered and brown and on their way to becoming compost now, but I was able to pick a nice bowl full of still-delicious fruit before yanking them out of the ground yesterday. November 17 people! And the other tomatoes, peppers, and zucchini are all still green and fruit-laden! The cherry tomatoes added incredible flavor to a polenta casserole with peppers (fresh-picked), zucchini (also fresh-picked), and plum tomatoes (yup), corn, onions, refried beans, cheese, cumin, and chipotle powder. A bit summer garden, a bit fall casserole. Scrumtious!

Tuesday, November 17, 2009

birthday boy

Many thanks to everyone who made Sam's third birthday so sweet. From his tiny classmates singing happy birthday to his grandparents' and uncle's phonecalls to online birthday wishes to the big party at Grandma's, all of it made Sam feel loved on his special day and through the weekend. He received many wonderful cards and gifts, including, but not limited to, a yellow duck bike helmet (which he picked out himself), a huge box of rubber stamps, a preschooler magazine subscription, a solar car, a couple of games, and a generous college fund contribution. We parents got him a new bicycle, which Denis is converting to a balance bike. Welcome to 3 Sam!

Friday, November 13, 2009

birthday breakfast

Today Sam turns 3! We made these banana cupcakes for him to bring to school today. After eating oatmeal this morning, we lit candles on one of the extra cupcakes and sang Happy Birthday, Sam singing right along. He noticed something outside the front door, and sure enough we found a birthday balloon attached to a card and gift from our sweet neighbor. We also opened a few cards from family that had come in the mail. At 11 this morning, I will go back to school to take part in his birthday celebration there. Sam will hold a globe and walk around a candle three times, once for each year of his life. He will share photos of himself from babyhood to the present. Then they will eat yummy banana cupcakes! After that, more celebrating! Happy Birthday Sam!

Saturday, November 7, 2009

sewing round-up part 3

Behold my beloved sewing machine! It is a Singer model 401a from the late 1950s, which I've been told is the best machine Singer ever made. I purchased it in perfect condition for $25 at a retirement community yard sale about 10 years ago. I didn't realize what I was getting; I only picked this sewing machine out of dozens at the yard sale because the drawers were completely full of scissors, thread, and various attachments. The machine itself has all kinds of special functions, although not computerized like today's models. Just when I think I've found the limits of this machine and desire a new one, I find a way to overcome the problem. I recently found a used walking foot (a special attachment), and it's opened up a whole new world of sewing possibilities.

My "sewing corner" exists in our bedroom and pretty much takes over the whole room whenever I've got a work in progress. Poor Denis has to wrestle with the ironing board just to reach his dresser, and even walking into the room is an obstacle course of cutting mats, rulers, and piles of scraps. Someday I will have a bigger space, but for now I'm just grateful I don't have to sew in the living room like in our last house. Anyway, over the summer I made a little dust cover for the sewing machine, much prettier than the vinyl thing it came with.

And finally, bringing us up to date on my completed projects (except the 2 headscarves I just couldn't photograph well), I made this camo bucket last weekend as a (late) birthday present for my brother.

The pattern is from the etsy shop of the blogger maya*made. She envisioned the bucket made out of upcycled burlap coffee sacks, which I would also like to try making. Actually I have plans to make a whole bunch of these in different heavyweight fabrics. I just love things that are beautiful as well as utilitarian.

Tuesday, November 3, 2009

candy? what candy?

Wrapping up Halloween coverage 2009, I bring you the awesome jack-o-lanterns carved by Denis, with creative input from Sam Giraffe.

Also an action shot of Sam ringing our neighbor's doorbell. We went to about a dozen houses in our neighborhood for tricks-or-treats.

There were also a few houses where nobody answered the door (our neighborhood is not big on Halloween apparently--we only got 3 groups at our door), and Sam generously suggested that the inhabitants were "sleeping." Sam's favorite neighbor presented him with a glowing ghost and goldfish crackers.

His costume was a hit, and despite the many sewing flaws, I'm pretty happy with it (another view here). I couldn't find a giraffe sewing pattern, so I had to adapt a lion pattern and improvise those giraffe antlers (or whatever they're called) as well as the tail. I know, I know, where's the long neck, right? Whatever... I'm not that good and everyone knew what he was just fine.

All in all, it was a great Halloween. Sam loved trick-or-treating! In fact, though he's asked a couple times if we could go trick-or-treating again, he hasn't once asked for more candy! We let him pick out one piece to eat on Halloween night before bed (he chose M&Ms, which he recognized as an early potty-training reward [we now use yogurt raisins]), but he seemed to forget all about candy after that. Today I took pity on him and showed him what he was missing. The glowing ghost just observed.

Saturday, October 31, 2009

Happy Halloween!

another fall crop

Leeks! Nights this week have been downright cold, so it was quite appropriate to have our first fireplace fires of the season, as well as our first fall soup. Potato Leek Soup, made with homegrown leeks, some yukon gold potatoes, onion, garlic, celery, carrot, homegrown red bell pepper, dino kale, thyme, bay, white pepper, salt, oil, lemon juice, butter and whole milk, all mixed up with an immersion blender. All three of us, plus our dinner guest, had second helpings. Delicious!

Tuesday, October 27, 2009

great-grandma's piano

Here Sam plays his great-grandma's piano, which now graces our living room. She was a piano teacher in San Francisco in the 40's and 50's, and we inherited a boxful of wonderful sheet music from her as well. Sam not only enjoys "playing" piano, he also likes to play a single note before singing a song, just like our teacher does on her violin before a song in class. Denis informs me that he and Sam have jam sessions on piano and guitar together, usually songs about animals, with elephants represented by the lowest notes, and a mouse represented by the highest notes. Today I was treated to many verses of 'Crawdad', a catchy bluegrass tune from our music class.

Friday, October 23, 2009

embracing fall

Today was a beautiful California fall day: warm enough to hang out laundry, with the smell of fallen leaves in the air, and golden fall colors all around. I recently harvested most of our butternut squash to save it from drowning in the 2.74" rain that fell in our first storm. I hadn't grown winter squash--apart from pumpkins--since I worked on farms managed by other people. This year, my butternuts are reminding me of my grandfather, who grew these in his backyard every year for us to eat over the holidays. Butternut squash was my favorite vegetable when I was a kid, and my grandfather made sure I had some homegrown every fall. At 94 he hasn't gardened in several years, but I think he will be pleased to hear that the tradition continues.

I'm really a summer person, but there are at least a couple things to love about fall besides butternut squash...such as comfy sweaters and corduroys,

boots left on the porch, the angle of sunlight in our backyard,

and the feeling of things slowing down, just a little bit.