Saturday, November 29, 2014

The Secret Lives of Teachers

Now that I spend so many hours a day (and night) sitting around feeding SHB, I've had lots of time to read random articles on my phone (I would rather read actual books, but my local library has an abundance of giant hardbacks, and reading in the dark in the middle of the night doesn't work so well anyway), and I've been loving NPR's series on the secret lives of teachers. When I first got into sewing and costume-making, we had just moved to TCOCC and I was taking a year off of teaching, so those two parts of my life didn't intersect. When I started teaching again, at first I tried keeping those two parts of my life separate. Then I became friends with some of them on Facebook, got an Instagram account, students started following me, which led them to my blog here, and suddenly it became known that I made not only my own clothes (which they already knew about), but crazy costumes as well. Finally, I decided to just out with it and showed up to school last Halloween dressed as a firebender for our fiery hand demo. It was a little weird, because some of my costumes, while not NSFW, still show more skin than I would show at work, of course, but generally I don't mind my students knowing about this part of my life because I think it makes me seem cooler...um, I mean it helps them realize that teachers have a life outside of teaching.

A couple of weeks ago, the highlight of my short costuming career (can it be called a career if I don't make any money from it and only do it part time?) occurred. Lee Pace, the actor who plays Thranduil, tweeted my wacky cosplay from last year:



When a cosplay friend alerted me to this, I was in shock for a good while (Is that the real Lee Pace, and not just a fan account? Hmmm, Richard Armitage/Thorin replied, I guess it's real), then I was excited (The. Real. Thranduil. Saw my cosplay of him. And liked it enough to tweet it. I am, however briefly, Internet famous!!!), and then to my surprise, I got slightly depressed.





The last two months with SHB have been a learning experience, and there have been moments of joy, but there have also been a lot (dare I say more) of moments of frustration: why won't he stop crying, why won't he sleep for more than thirty minutes, why does he have to be held all day? I was expecting to be able to do my own thing during those legendary 1.5-2 hour naps that babies supposedly take, but it seems like they're just that -- legendary. And not in a Barney Stinson way, unless you count the part where I'm waiting for it to happen. It's been hard not to compare last year, when I put together a full-blown costume what felt like every two weeks, and got to inspire and teach students (who are capable of expressing their wants with real words!), to this year, when I didn't even get to dress up for Halloween, arguably a costumer's favorite holiday, and have only sewn some Christmas stockings and a couple of tops and bibs for SHB. Like I lamented to Mr. Cation, I feel like my days of doing cool things are over, and I'm just this boring zombie-type person who doesn't get dressed or out of the house most days, whose only function is to produce milk, only to have it all just spit up back over me. Sometimes I look back at my old blog posts, just to remind myself that I used to do things.

Now that SHB is a spit up monster, not unlike the Jurassic Park version of Dilophosaurus, he is going through bibs faster than our laundry schedule can handle. Solution? Make new ones when he needs them, from Mr. Cation's old t-shirts.
Man, it's a good thing he's so cute and charming when he needs to be. 


When that mournful feeling seizes me particularly hard, I have to remind myself that this is a passing phase, and one day I'll do cool things again. SHB will get bigger and more independent (and sleep better) and I'll have time to sew for myself again, and one day he'll see my costuming pictures and realize that Mommy has a secret life outside of mothering.

In the meantime, I've been slowly, ever so slowly, pulling together a costume for the last Hobbit movie, Battle of the Five Armies. I don't even know if I'll get to see it at the midnight showing, much less dress up for it in as grand of a costume as I'm envisioning, but I think I need to at least make the costume, just for my own pleasure.

Sunday, November 23, 2014

The Geekiest Baby: Underwater Themed Art


I originally meant to have this post done in the beginning of August, but then we ended up moving into our new house. So I told myself I would finish it when we were done unpacking and decorating, because then I could show off the art in its proper place, but then the school year started. So then I decided to wait until I went on maternity leave, but wouldn't you know it, my last day of school was a Thursday and SHB arrived the following Monday...

Anyway, once we had decided on a nautical/marine theme for SHB, I decided I should acquire some appropriate wall decor. We went to Babies-R-Us and came across this gem:

$19.98?!?

Yeah, no. One look at this questionably overpriced mass-produced piece (that was nautical colors but not actually all nautical objects) and I realized it would be more economical (financially, but not time-investment-wise) and meaningful to make my own. I started with making little pen and color pencil drawings to fill up these IKEA frames that I'd had sitting around for six years:

I was honestly really afraid my baby wouldn't be cute, but thankfully this has proven to be true. 
This is a statement that I need to remind myself of (and attempt to live out) everyday around 6 pm when I still have one more hour to go before Mr. Cation gets home from work and SHB is being exceptionally fussy).

It felt so good to finally find a use for those frames, I got on a roll and pulled out three canvases that I'd been carting around from apartment to apartment for *gasp* thirteen years (and as many moves!). I had originally bought them at the UCSD bookstore my freshmen year of college, for the purpose of making dorm-room decor, and now that I've finally used them, I feel justified in hoarding craft supplies because they might get used one day no longer feel guilty about them hanging out in various closets, taking up space. Even better, I used acrylic paints that I've had for ten years to paint them.

I love a good whale pun. 

Let's count the marine animals!

A classic alphabet painting, from anemone to zooplankton.

Some close-ups of the alphabet and number pieces:

Everyone's who's come by has tried to guess what each of the letters stand for. While some, like J is for jellyfish, are pretty obvious, others, like B, C, and I have been stumpers. 

Q is also commonly missed. My favorite animal is the narwhal. 

I am especially proud of how my five nudibranchs turned out!

I must confess, I borrowed heavily from these art pieces in making mine, which is why I don't feel comfortable selling prints, although people have asked. But I feel totally comfortable using stolen ideas to decorate SHB's room! I had so much fun painting these, even though they took dozens of hours. Thankfully, I painted them in the summer, when I had plenty of time. It was admittedly a bit of a challenge, though, working around my belly at the time (it made it difficult to bend over the canvas, and I don't have an easel). But worth the trouble, because look how nice they look hanging over the diaper changing station!

The garland is made by stitching together paint chips. Also props to IKEA for making a non-pink cat changing pad cover!

Two days before SHB arrived, during the one weekend of baby-free maternity leave I had, I was seized with another fit of craft supply purging, and made some faux taxidermy pieces to go with a couple of wood plaques that I'd been saving for eleven years (goodness, these numbers are just embarrassing). I started with a narwhal:


It was so ridiculously cute that I had to go for the other end of the spectrum and make everyone's favorite hideous creature, the much-maligned blobfish:



Both were made from fleece scraps and stuffed with polyfil, then hot-glued onto painted wooden plaques. They made a nice addition to the drawings and a painting that my sister made for SHB:



The last craft-bust was this door hanger:



So there you have it -- the geekiest baby series, marine edition, is now (finally) complete! However, the nice thing about waiting this long to blog these pieces is that I can actually report on how SHB feels about it. At first, the paintings above his changing table were more entertainment for me as I waited for SHB to do his business (he's a fan of waiting until I change him before pooping into the fresh diaper, so I've taken to standing around the changing table fanning his butt with the old diaper in hopes of not "wasting" another diaper...oh, the ridiculous things parents are quickly reduced to doing!). Lately, though, his vision and attention span have been getting better and he is absolutely enamored with (I imagine) the bright colors and interesting shapes above him, and he stares at the paintings for long (for a baby) periods of time.


Look at that face of intense concentration! Also, note that somebody at the bib factory got bored and never finished embroidering the second N in dinner on his bib. 
Some of you have asked how Walnut has been doing with SHB. Generally he pretends that SHB doesn't exist, but occasionally he will surprise us by being interested, usually during the most inopportune moments, like in the middle of dealing with a diaper change or spit up of epic proportions. He also likes sitting on me when I feed SHB in the middle of the night, which is simultaneously sweet and slightly annoying.  

The paintings, then, are an unequivocal success. As for the taxidermy, they're currently located behind his swing, so he can't see them. Perhaps that's for the best, though, since Mr. Cation contends that the blobfish would give anybody nightmares.

IT'S WATCHING YOU.


Thursday, November 20, 2014

Introducing SHB

Wow, I took quite a break there, didn't I? I didn't even finish up my Geekiest Baby series, but in my defense A Lot of Things happened right after my previous blog post: we bought and moved into our first house, the school year started, and I birthed a SHB! I do plan on blogging more about that first item (although you can see a sneak peek of my new sewing area on Instagram!), the second item is irrelevant for now since I'm on maternity leave, and here I am to briefly discuss the third!

5 days old, sleeping in the Totoro bouncer.

8 days old, getting eaten by a whale shark.

It seems a little pathetic that it took me almost two months to get around to introducing SHB, but I think you'll all forgive me when I say that it wasn't really high on my priority list. Pretty sure that keeping said SHB alive (and myself, too) is more important, and my goodness gracious, they weren't kidding when they all said how demanding newborns are! I feel like the first month and half was just one incredibly long, sleepless day involving constant feeding/diapering/rocking/attempting to eat one-handed. It wasn't until a couple of weeks ago that SHB started settling into more of a routine and babywearing made it possible to ease back into sewing.

They say (goodness, I'm quoting "them" a lot) that parenthood is all about taking back your pre-parenting "I will nevers," e.g. "I will never cosleep" or "I will never drive around aimlessly just to get my baby to sleep." Well, I've ended up succumbing to the first and will probably do so to the second, too, so I guess I shouldn't be surprised that I've reneged on my promise to never sew baby clothes, previous reasoning being that 1) they're unnecessarily small and fiddly (you can't even fit the armsyce around the free arm of a sewing machine!) and 2) the returns are low (baby will never appreciate or express gratitude for handmade clothes, they'll be outgrown before they even have a chance to get worn twice, everything ends up covered in spit up anyway).

However...it's been getting colder and our house has spotty heating, and SHB has needed more cardigan/sweatshirt/non-hooded outerwear to keep him warm. And it is ridiculously hard to find said items in stores, so the solution is, of course, to *sigh* sew it myself. I quickly drew up a basic pattern based on one of his hoodies, then set about making a cardigan-y thing out of the fuzzy fabric leftover from lining this jacket. Unfortunately, my sewing skills are apparently a little rusty, because I cut two right front pieces. *headdesk*

See how the left side isn't as fuzzy as the rest of the jacket? Also note that I didn't even attempt plaid-matching.

There wasn't enough fabric to cut another piece (stashbusting at its finest!), so I just sighed and told myself that babies thankfully don't care if their clothing is sewn wrong, then went ahead and finished the garment. Since the front was already messed up, I didn't even bother finishing my edges properly and just left the serged edges from the original piece of fabric. Things got super dicey at the neckline, where laziness (and impending baby-waking-up-from-nap) took over and I settled for a quick zigzag to stop fraying. Not the finest return to sewing, but hey, at this point function over form is my modus operandi.

Serged edges at the sleeves.

You can see the questionable neckline finish up top. I did French seam the sides and shoulders, though. 
Rather than dealing with snaps or buttonholes (whose bright idea was it, anyway, to put such fiddly closures on clothing intended for wiggly squirming babies?), I settled for non-aesthetically-pleasing Velcro.

At least SHB seems happy about wearing it!

Testing out the mobility of the sleeve cap with some punches...
This face could persuade me to sew a lot more tiny garments...

I may or may not end up making more of these, depending on how cold it gets/how much spitting up happens/how fast SHB grows, but for now I'm just happy to be back! One of the things I remember from reading some mommy blog years ago was to do something irreversible everyday. That is, being a mom involves so much that seems to get "undone," like I just fed the baby and now I have to feed it again, I just changed that diaper, I just washed those dishes, I just did the laundry, etc., that it's important to do irreversible things just to save your sanity. Even though it took a whole week to sew this simple garment, I can attest to the truth of that statement. I feel more like me and less like a zombie cow when I'm able to sew, even it it's just sewing a stitch here and a stitch there. Of course, one could argue that even sewing isn't quite irreversible since one can always wield a seam ripper...

Wednesday, August 6, 2014

The Geekiest Baby: Underwater Themed Quilts

Each year that I've blogged, I've sewn a giant sea animal. No such adventures this year, but I have sewn a couple of nautical/sea animal quilts for SHB. It's my first foray into quilting, and I've gotta say, it's pretty addicting. I used to look at quilters' blogs and quilt shops and wonder why on earth anyone would be into cutting up perfectly cute fabric into lots of tiny pieces that had to be measured and sewn exactly right, and then deal with all the hassle of trying to shove yards of fabric under and around on a sewing machine...and now I can say I (kind of) get the appeal. It's kind of fun to be able to get so many different prints into one object, and you really can't argue with the functionality (and cuddliness) of a finished quilt. I'm still not convinced about the fun of the actual quilting process (my walking foot has been acting up, and I can't adjust the pressure of my presser foot on my cheap sewing machine), and I'm purposely choosing quilt designs that don't require a lot of meticulous attention to detail, but generally I like it! First up, a not-overtly-babyish nautical quilt:

Included in this quilt are fabrics from several of the garments I've made in the past few years (Victorian bathing dress, Alice in Wonderland, pencil skirt, Father's Day shirtdress, nautical shorts, lobster dress, Belle cosplay)  plus a couple of fabrics from the stash of a friend's late MIL, who was a seamstress. I really love all the history and meaning carried in this quilt. 
Since this was my first foray into quilting, I opted to omit the batting and go for a fleece backing. This gray and navy chevron from Joann's was perfect for the nautical theme. 
Of course, since this was my first quilt, my stitch lines pretty wavy and my squares don't match perfectly at the corners...

I actually made this first quilt for SHB with very little planning -- it was just a spur of the moment project because I was sorting my remnant stash, and I noticed how much blue fabric I had that would all coordinate nicely -- just some quick sketches on post-it notes, and I suddenly found myself cutting out several squares. That first quilt was so gratifying, I immediately went out and OD-ed on cute sea animal prints at the closest indie fabric store (absolutely amazing store, BTW...excellent curation of quilting cottons, Japanese fabrics, and apparel fabrics!).

There's so much cute in this, I might die. If I weren't so pregnant mature, I would make (and wear) dresses from all of these fabrics.
The whale fabric wasn't quite wide enough to span the whole quilt, but I think I did a pretty good job of piecing it semi-unobtrusively!
These sharks were my favorite. 
For this quilt, I used real batting in between two layers of quilting cotton, which was much harder to work with than the fleece backing/no batting option. I quilted this one with wavy lines because of the ocean. Actually, it's because I didn't trust myself to sew straight lines. 
Unfortunately, the wavy quilting lines accidentally made the backing (also from Joann's) pretty wavy too. But that's just part of the character of home-made quilts, right? Right? And in the spirit of honesty, that teal strip is there only because the polka dot fabric wasn't quite wide enough on its own. 

And then just as a bonus, because sports team fabrics were on sale at Joann's, I made a concession to Mr. Cation's love of a certain baseball team:

Wanna take a wild guess as to why there's a strip of orange fabric in the middle? If you said it's because I was stingy and didn't want to pay for more than a third of a yard of licensed fabric, you would be correct! Thankfully, I had a perfectly coordinating orange fleece remnant at home. 
Since the top was fleece, I left out the batting again and just used part of a thrifted sheet (from the same sheet as the Totoro bouncer cover!) for the backing. I went for a more abstract straight line design this time. 
I got really good at mitered corners by the third quilt. My favorite detail? The fact that I was able to use the same gray and white striped sheet to make the binding for all the quilts! It coordinated so well with each, and it's a nice detail that ties the three of them together. 

Just to prove how into quilting I got, these three quilts were all made in the span of oh, 2.5 weeks? I had to take a break after that quilting frenzy, though, and make some other stuff. I still am slowly collecting fabric for a geeky science quilt though, so that's coming up eventually...


Summary (boring stats, just for my own record-keeping)

Quilt #1:
Fabric: 100% cotton scraps, cut into squares, all prewashed, and a yard of 100% polyester anti-pill fleece for backing
Pattern: None
Hours: Twelve or so...I spent a lot of time playing around with square placement.
Total cost: $5 for the fleece, everything else was stash

Quilt #2:
Fabric: 1/4 yard each of the prints, 1.5 yards of the polka dot, and 2/3 yard of the teal, all un-pre-washed...we'll see how it looks after washing! I used a 50/50 bamboo rayon/cotton batting, too.
Pattern: Loosely based off of this easy baby quilt
Hours: Twenty? It was much larger and harder to manipulate, plus more print placement and trying to deal with grainlines on the teal borders
Total cost: About $45, all bought new specifically for this quilt (except for the border)

Quilt #3:
Fabric: 1/3 yard of SF Giants' fleece, a scrap of anti-pill orange fleece, 100% cotton sheet, thrifted, for backing
Pattern: None
Hours: Five
Total cost: $5, again, only the Giants' fleece was bought new, everything else was stash

Final thoughts on all three: Quilts are so satisfying to look at when they're done, and it's refreshing to make something that doesn't really require fitting. Even if I make a mistake in measuring or cutting, it doesn't really affect the final product other than to give it more um, quirky individuality. I don't think I'll ever get more complicated than these simple tops and straightforward quilting "designs" (if you can even call them designs!), but it's nice to make something cozy for SHB that has my love sewn into every stitch, or some such nonsense...

Thursday, July 31, 2014

The Geekiest Baby: A Brain-Stimulating Mobile

Earlier this week, I shared my frustration with gender-ified, bland baby things and did my best to rectify the situation. Well, another pet peeve I have is how baby things tend to be so pastel. It's like somebody took a normal room or item and then turned the color saturation dial waaaay down. This strikes me as silly for a couple of reasons:

1) Babies are dirty (so I hear). If they're going to be spitting up and pooping on things, shouldn't we be going for darker colors and busier patterns to camouflage those suspicious stains? This is exactly why I got a dark gray car: so that it's less obvious that I haven't washed it in over half a year. (Unfortunately, this doesn't work as well for dark clothing, since it just serves to better show off all the cat hair I've got on me.)

2) Babies don't register all those washed-out colors very well. Child development research shows that a baby's visual development is best stimulated by high contrast patterns, specifically with the colors black, white, and red. Of course, by that token, the ideal nursery theme would be Tim Burton's Sweeney Todd or Alice in Wonderland costume wardrobe. Unfortunately, I don't think a murdering barber who promotes cannibalism is the most appropriate role model for a Small Human Being...

Anyway, as I said, SHB's nursery theme is "Enchantment Under the Sea," so rather than spend money on a pastel mobile that couldn't even be bothered to include more than one type of sea animal (although the coordinating bedding *is* awfully cute, I must admit), I figured I could just make my own. There are lots of tutorials out there showing how to make a mobile with varying levels of complexity, and there are templates out there with high-contrast black and white patterns, so with the help of this tutorial, I came up with my own low-budget, under the sea themed mobile. 

Featuring waves, a starfish, a sailboat, bubbles, coral, a generic fish, and a crab with the wrong number of legs...

All dangling from an embroidery hoop!

The shapes were free-handed onto some stash felt and fleece scraps, then I sewed some twill tape to the backs for hanging. I thought about painting the hoop and getting black and white ribbon, but decided that I didn't care enough, so I left the hoop alone and just used leftover wedding ribbon for hanging everything.

It's not as clean and pretty as some of the tutorials, but it's functional (as long as you're not expecting it to play music and twirl around).

The patterned squares can theoretically be switched out for other ones. I don't think I'll be making more, though...


Now that I look at it some more, I find the crab's smile really creepy. 

I WILL HAUNT YOUR DREAMS, SEARCHING ENDLESSLY FOR MY MISSING LEGS. 

Next up: under the sea themed art!

Sunday, July 27, 2014

The Geekiest Baby: Totoro-Themed Bouncer

As Mr. Cation and I have been preparing for SHB's arrival, we've noticed a couple of things:


1) Cat-themed baby things are inevitably pink. It's like baby item designers/manufacturers all think cats = girls and dogs = boys. Even if SHB were a girl, I don't like pink that much, nor do I want to financially support the erroneous idea that only females can love cats.* So a cat-themed nursery is out. (While I could make quite a few cat-themed baby things myself, namely the textile-based items, I don't feel like making an entire baby arsenal.)

2) Since we're not going cat-themed, we decided to go with an "under the sea" theme instead, for no reason other than that it seemed gender-neutral and with geek-potential (I mean, how cool are hagfish, blobfish, and anglerfish!) without buying into lots of licensed merchandise (e.g. Star Wars or superheroes). Also, whale-themed baby bath things are both plentiful and ridiculously cute.

2) But unfortunately, baby things are expensive! If we thought wedding planning was bad, baby planning is even worse. Slap the word "wedding" or "baby" on anything and the price goes up. So buying everything new is out of the question, not to mention very consumeristic and unnecessary. I'm trying to make what I can (but I'm also giving myself permission to not feel like I have to make everything just because I can), but some things we are buying used.

Like this bouncer:

I got a great deal on a used one in good condition, but I was bothered for a really superficial reason: the "Snugabunny" theme. I have no sentimental attachment to bunnies or birds, but even if I could change up the textile portions of the bouncer, there's still that plastic leaf that is decidedly not marine in nature. I know, I know, SHB won't care and it certainly doesn't matter in the long run if all the baby things coordinate...but a tiny part of me still cares! As soon as I brought the bouncer back home, I started wracking my brain trying to think of how I could, if not marine-ify it, at least geek it up some so that it wasn't so...bland. As I thought more about that annoying leaf, though, I was reminded of all the times you see Totoro and his fellow forest spirits holding or wearing leaves.

A quick rummage through the stash, some frenzied measuring and sketching, and a couple of late night sewing sessions later, I had this:



Sometimes I impress even myself. I'm sorry, was that too self-congratulatory? It's the truth, though! I really am quite pleased with myself for figuring out how to make a unique cover that fits with the bouncer's green leaf elements. And the soot sprite dangly things are high-contrast black and white shapes to boot!



It was actually pretty easy to make this Totoro cover, since he's a fairly simple shape oval shape. The trickiest parts were probably trying to decide how I wanted to 1) make the holes for the straps, and 2) how to make the cover fit over the existing cushion.

The main shape is simple enough. I did manage to put the V's on slightly off-center though. Not so consummate after all, I guess. 
I decided on this arrangement on the back so that I could just slip the cover over the existing cushion. I underlined the front piece with some anti-pill fleece so that the lumps from the original cushion would show through the thinner gray fabric, and also to provide some stability for sewing on the facial features.  
Its face from the underside looks a little creepy, doesn't it? Like some weird Sith Lord wearing a hood.

The grosgrain ribbon strap helps it stay on the existing cushion. 
I ended up just making rectangles with a zig-zag stitch and then cutting a slit in the middle (like really huge buttonholes) for the straps to come through. 

The soot sprites seemed like the perfect way to complete the Totoro theme; they were just little circles of black fleece that I cut out with my pinking shears (for the fuzzy sooty outline, you know) and sewed and stuffed.

Ignore the creepy wide-eyed Totoro stare in the background...

I sewed a piece of twill tape to the back so that I could tie the sprites to the plastic arm of the leaf. 

Summary:
Fabric: Less than a quarter of a gray sheet, yellow fleece for underlining, and scraps of cream-colored rayon jersey knit, white fleece, and black fleece
Notions: Steam-A-Seam to fuse the gray V's to the Totoro's tummy, grosgrain ribbon and velcro for the strap in the back
Hours: About seven? I took my time handstitching the facial features, but everything else was quick to do on the machine.
Will you make it again? Not unless I have a really good reason to.
Total cost: Considering that this was all made with stash fabrics leftover from other projects, I'm going to say that this cost less than $5.
Final thoughts: I'm really pleased with how much more personalized this bouncer is now! Mr. Cation suggested that I make a Totoro outfit for SHB and a hoodie for him, then we can do family pictures with this bouncer and Walnut the Catbus (he certainly has the right coloring!).

What's this? Who are you?

I'm not too sure about this guy and his unblinking stare...

Me and my buddy the soot sprite are just gonna hang out on your face, if that's okay with you, Mr. Totoro. I guess you're alright.


This is just the start of what I hope will be the geekiest set of baby things ever. I've been nesting like crazy, so I've got some other cool crafts to show off (if you follow me on Instagram, you've already seen some previews!) in the coming week(s).

A more pinnable image, in case anyone else needs geeky nursery inspiration!


*Apparently, as early as 2008, it was becoming more okay for men to love cats! I'm so glad that Mr. Cation loves Walnut as much as I do. I think men who love cats really are better, and I certainly hope SHB becomes one!