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.