Thursday, July 17, 2014

Tested: Claire PJs by Cottage Mama

This week The Cottage Mama released her newest pattern: The Claire Pajamas. I tested these a couple of weeks ago and want to share my (Eliza's) version with you.

Here's the pattern's description:
The Claire Pajamas are the quintessential classic sleepwear pattern. The pattern includes several options such as a full-length nightgown with long or short sleeves, as well as a two-piece pajama ensemble, including a top with long or short sleeves paired with pants. This pattern also contains a matching 18″ doll pattern for all design options.

I sewed up the short-sleeved top and pants option.

Sewing for Eliza is so hit-and-miss these days. I'm getting better at predicting what she'll like, but I'm still reluctant to spend copious time on an ensemble that I have to beg her to wear.

This time we went together to pick out fabric for her pajamas to allow her to feel involved in the process. It was a lot of fun. She's such a hoot, and listening to her "ooh" and "ahh" over trims and fabrics was super amusing. I told her it needed to be from the flannel row, and she immediately landed on the tiny stars. With a bit of help from me guiding her to all the coordinating larger-scale prints, she picked the rabbits. She also chose the flower buttons. Girl's got style.

Lindsay narrowed the shoulders, narrowed the width of the top, and shrank the bibs on the smaller sizes after testing. I sewed the 3T for Eliza (she was at the smaller end of the chart for this size), and the lengths were exactly what I'd expect. With the minor tweaks Lindsay made, I think the fit will be spot on in the final version.

Isn't this design adorable? Someone described it as "Little House on the Prairie-style." I know we'll use this pattern over and over, especially if Eliza gets an American Girl doll and wants matching outfits. (Oh, the cuteness possibilities. I die.)

My favorite parts: the tiny ruffle around the bib, the cuffs on the pants, the elastic sleeves, and the contrasting fabric inside the elastic waistband. 

As always, it was a pleasure testing for Lindsay. She designs adorable clothes, sure, but more importantly she is open to suggestions and truly appreciates the time and financial commitment of testers and those who purchase and sew her patterns.

Monday, July 14, 2014

Summer Reading - Book Reviews

It's time for another installment of Michelle's (Mediocre) Book Reviews. Great news! Recently I've read/listened to books that weren't clunkers!

Also great news -- I joined GoodReads after a recommendation from my friend Emilee. I'd been a member of LibraryThing and just transferred my stuff over. 

Aaaand, we forked over the $50 (pilfered from the kids' activity fund) to join the city's library. We live in the suburb of a medium-sized city with an incredible library system. (Our suburban library system is pretty stellar, too.) For that bargain price, we get access to tons more materials, including digital selections. 

(You can find my last blogged book reports here.)

Orange is the New Black
by Piper Kerman

First up, Orange is the New Black. 

There's a Netflix series by the same name, and currently the second season is available. While I enjoyed most of the first season (warning: it's raunchy), I stopped watching the second season after one episode. Perhaps it's because I'd read the book between seasons. Perhaps it's because Season 2 is bad.

The premise is this: Piper Kerman -- a WASPy girl from the northeast -- lands in prison for a decade-old drug crime she committed during a rebellious phase. She's engaged (to a man named Larry) when she surrenders for incarceration, and the memoir details the impact serving her sentence has on her, her fiancé, and her family. It also describes the different women she meets while locked up, as well as the guards and other prison officials.

There are a few things I liked about this book. First, Kerman doesn't make excuses for her crime, although it's clear she doesn't believe long prison sentences for drug crimes are always appropriate punishments. Also, I like that I was surprised by her description of prison life. It's less antagonistic than I expected. Granted, she's in a minimum security prison. Generally she gets along with everyone and there aren't fights and riots and stuff. That's not to say it's easy, especially when she is transferred to another facility -- but still, no shivs or major hair pulling in this book.

In short, it's not at all like the TV series.

I wasn't uplifted after reading this. I'm sure we've all got opinions about the prison system (educational system, healthcare system, etc. etc. etc.), and I'm sure some folks believe prisoners get what they deserve. But it's impossible for me to read personal stories and see Right and Wrong as black and white and hard-lined.

While it didn't leave me warm and fuzzy, and while there were times I thought I'd slap Kerman if she mentioned her "blond hair" one more time, it was a good memoir.

The Invention of Wings
by Sue Monk Kidd

Next up is The Invention of Wings.

Disclaimer: I am a very big  Sue Monk Kidd fan. Her other two books -- The Mermaid Chair  and The Secret Life of Bees are both on my top 25 list. When I worked at the library, I recommended them to just about anyone who would listen. Even 73-year-old men who were Lee Childs fans. Just kidding. But I do feel like I should admit to being a fangirl when I review an author's book.

Sarah Grimke and her sister Angelina were real-life sisters who spoke out in favor of equal rights for African Americans and women in the early 1800s. This was revolutionary for many reasons: first, even abolitionists weren't advocating equality for the races. Add to that the sister's family roots in the planter class in Charleston, SC, and their parents' ownership of slaves, and well. People were ticked at the ladies, as you can imagine.

Sue Monk Kidd uses their life as inspiration for her novel. She takes liberties in some places and sticks to actual events in others -- all of which she details at the end of the novel. She creates slave characters and makes their lives equally central to the story.

If you want my short review it's this: This book is awesome.

Kidd has a way of turning a phrase and describing an emotion that slays me. (For my next review, I'll take notes while I'm reading. You see, I rarely buy books and instead borrow them from the library. This version was an ebook so POOF! It disappeared from my nook and I can't give you specific examples of the stellar phrase turns.) She also has a way of describing characters so fully that the reader feels connected and invested in their despair, joy, and future.

In truth, I didn't know anything about this book until I read it. I didn't know it was based on a true story or true characters. I'd read a brief synopsis when it was first released, but because my brain has limited space these days, I'd forgotten.

I trusted the advice of Anne Bogel. And Oprah, of course. (It's an Oprah Book Club selection.)

So, don't trust me. Trust Modern Mrs. Darcy and Lady O. It's worth reading.

The Signature of All Things
by Elizabeth Gilbert

Lastly, there's The Signature of All Things. I will start this review by admitting I am not an Elizabeth Gilbert fan. Eat, Pray, Love didn't do it for me. Now I realize I am one of 10 people on the planet who feels that way, but so be it. (I was a librarian too long to let differences in opinions on books affect friendships. Otherwise I'd have no friends.) 

Brief synopsis: (FOR THE LOVE, this is the only time you will read "brief" in this review as there is nothing "brief" about this novel.) We follow the Whittaker family across two generations and dozens of countries in their adventures, relationships, fortunes, and misfortunes. It begins with Henry, the patriarch of the family whose scrappy determination propels him from poverty into one of the wealthiest Americans in the New World. (Oh, did I mention this novel takes place in the late 18th and early 19th centuries? I sense a pattern here.) Henry's daughter Alma is the main subject for the majority of the novel. She's a brilliant botanist, and we are graced with details of her life from birth to near death. (She's in her 90s at book end, so I'm assuming near death. However, given the length of this book and how many times I wondered if it would end, I wouldn't have been surprised if she lived to 150.)

For me, Signature of All Things started out marvelously. Truly. I loved the description of Henry Whittaker's adventures. He is spunky and resourceful. Gilbert's dialogue writing is a definite strength of hers. I enjoyed Alma's early years, the strange dynamic between Alma and her adopted sister, and the complicated character of Alma's mother. Gilbert introduces new characters effectively, but doesn't bog the reader down with too many characters to remember or flesh out adequately.

I was fine until 2/3 of the way through the novel, and then I just got bored. There are a few reasons for this, I think. First, I was listening to the book on audio, which means I couldn't skim through the boring parts. You know what I mean. Also, Alma and her husband have problems in their relationship, the reasons for which are obvious to the reader long before they're obvious to her. Or so one would think. After listening to this book for hours and hours and HOURS, I'm not even sure what caused the problems in their marriage. And I guess that's the idea. As much as Alma wants answers and definitive proof -- as she's able to find in her beloved botany and science -- human relations baffle her.

It's a beautifully written novel. I'd be more inclined to recommend it if it were shorter by 200 pages.

Oh, and a word to the wise. Before you borrow an audio book in digital form from the library, you may want to hop on Amazon and find out how many pages it is or how long the audio recording is. I saw 21 parts, but had no idea. That's 21 hours and 44 minutes of my life I'll never get back.

Up next on my list:

Dear Mr. Knightley 
by Katherine Reay
(I'm reading this one on the nook)

Wolf Hall
by Hilary Mantel
(I'm listening to this one, and it's even longer than The Signature of All Things. BUT it's about Tudor England, which happens to be one of my favorite topics EVAH. A cousin recommended it years ago, and I'm shocked it's taken this long to get around to it.)

Your turn! What are you reading? Anything you'd recommend? (I lost all your comments on my last post as IntenseDebate flaked out on me. A couple of you made recommendations, and I didn't write them down. Can you tell me again? I remember one or two of them really excited me.) 

(P.S. Linking up to Modern Mrs. Darcy's Twitterature party.)

Monday, June 30, 2014

Challenge Create: A Patriotic Ensemble

I’m so excited to share with you today for Challenge Create: Fabric Swap Edition! 

About the fabric I sent:
A couple of years ago Sew Mama Sew’s shop closed, and fabric was offered at a steep discount. I snagged some Amy Butler fabric that I adored, but when I sewed through my stash last year, that beautiful fabric lingered. Finally I’d decided to make it into a big sun hat. However, when I was invited to be a part of Challenge Create, I knew immediately I’d send it off to someone else.

Still I was stuck on the hat idea, so I still planned to make a hat with whatever red, white, and/or blue fabric I received. Then this arrived from Amy and Tasha:

It took me a while to get over my mental block (HAT! HAT! HAT!) and come up with something new, but once I did, the vision was pretty solid. Inspired by photos on my Pinterest board, I knew this beautiful floral fabric would make a lovely smocked popover top. And I’ve had my eye on denim with tiny hearts; Eliza needed a pair of denim shorts, and I knew she’s love the little hearts! I was right — she loves them!

For the tunic, I started with the free Oliver + S Popover dress. I added 14” to the center of the top to allow for pleating (I wanted it super full) and shortened it to tunic length. Then I pleated it and got to work smocking. 

I used Ellen McCarn's "April" smocking plate for the design. This was only my second time smocking a substantial piece, so it took for-ev-ah! But I feel like the concept of smocking "clicked" for me this time, and I'm already looking forward to my next smocking project.

For the smocking, I used solid blue thread because I felt it would stand out more against the busy patterned fabric. (Instead of whipstitching the neck binding, I edgestitched it for a couple of reasons: my patience wore thin from so much hand work and my time was running very short.) I've still got a lot to learn about the art, but overall I'm pleased with the result. 

To finish the tunic, I added eyelet to the bottom of the hem.

The shorts are made using the free Oliver + S Sunny Days shorts. Using the front and pocket pieces from the Blank Slate Patterns Clean Slate Pants, I added pockets lined with the third fabric I received. 

This outfit fits her perfectly! She likes it, too, which is always a plus. It’ll be great for heading down to the river to watch fireworks and picnic for Independence Day. 

Thanks for having me, ladies, and thanks Amy and Tasha for the fabric!

Challenge Create and a Very Sick Cat

Skirt Fixation
Audrey and the girls over at Skirt Fixation have created a fun challenge for sewing bloggers: Challenge Create: Fabric Swap Edition. The premise is that participants send each other fabric that fits a theme, and we can use the fabric we receive to create anything we want -- clothes, home decor, quilt -- anything. We sent/received two yards total, and I cannot wait to show you what I've created from the beautiful fabric I received from Amy and Tasha. My post goes live tomorrow. 


We arrived home from vacation last week, and a day later VBS began for the boys at their grandparents' church. It was nighttime VBS, so they didn't get to bed until 9:30 five nights in a row (1.5 hours later than their regular summer bedtime). Our routine was severely out of whack, which is why it took us several days to realize our 14-year-old cat, Mozart, was very sick. (Our cats hide while the kids are awake. Really, who can blame them?)

He didn't eat anything for at least three days. (I suspect it was closer to four or five in hindsight.) Friday night I stayed up with him and held him. Neither of us slept, and although he didn't seem to be in any pain, he struggled to even hold his head up. It was pitiful. Saturday afternoon he couldn't even stand. He lay under the bed, completely still. Our other cat lay beside him the whole time; she didn't eat either. 

We all said our goodbyes. I was a MESS. 

I don't consider myself an animal person. A pet is a pet. A human is a human. I don't treat our cats like people, and while we feed them, clean them, and give them attention, the truth is there is a pecking order in our family and they are not at the top. Dressing pets in clothing confounds me. (LeeAnn is rolling her eyes.)

So imagine my surprise when this all started and I sobbed for two days straight. My heart was broken. As much as I gripe about the puking (which he loves to do immediately after I mop), sweeping up their messes, and cleaning cat hair from every available surface -- the truth is he's been with me for 14 years and I couldn't look at any spot in the house without imagining him there. He sits by me every single night, and if I'm sewing, he's in there with me. I couldn't bring myself to even go in the sewing room. If I'm blogging, he's lying across my lap, so typing on the computer was out of the question. (Which created a challenge for the deadline for the first part of this post, as you can imagine.)

14 years ago I was in a new city in a new career far from my family. Ryan was a poor graduate student in another city, and when a friend told him his wife was allergic to her new cat, Ryan offered to take the tabby home as my Christmas gift. One weekend when I arrived at his apartment in the wee hours of the morning to visit (my schedule was GRODY), I sneaked into Ryan's room to wake him. Suddenly a huge rat skittered across the floor! I screamed, and Ryan said, "Merry Christmas!" 

I certainly wasn't a cat person. My apartment complex (nor his) allowed pets without a deposit we couldn't afford. Mozart was a MEAN kitten. I was not thrilled. 

But Mo kept me company. He kept my secrets and listened to my dreams. He cuddled with me when I was lonely, homesick, or overwhelmed. He didn't mind that I stunk from smoking or stumbled in at all hours of the night. He knocked over my Christmas tree the first year I celebrated the holiday without my family. He rode shotgun with me every time I went home to Memphis to visit. (It gave the drive-thru workers a thrill to see a cat hanging his head out the window, meowing loudly at anyone who'd listen.) He stalked me, and slid down my legs when I'd get out of the shower. (He almost didn't survive that feat.) Ryan and I got married and added another cat to the mix. Mo reluctantly adjusted to that and our adding kids to the mix, too. He attacked me while I was breastfeeding Lee, and after a visit to the vet where I was instructed to "assert my dominance," we had a mutual understanding. We've gotten along swimmingly since.

He's moved six times in 14 years. He's a tough cat.

Late Saturday night I brought food to him again and begged him to eat. He stood up, wobbled over the bowl, and ate three bites. Later when I checked on him he did it again. Then he emptied the bowl. (Our youngest cat still didn't eat to allow him to fill up. If you've seen her -- all 25 pounds of her -- you know that in itself is a miracle.) He's very, very slowly working his way back. He's alert again and moving more easily. The vet recommended watching and waiting -- taking him in could set him back again. 

So we wait. And watch. And hope and pray for just a little more time. And really, I'm also praying for a second chance to show him that even though I'll never put him in a tutu or call him my "baby," he's a pretty important part of our family and I'm glad he's here. Puke and shedding hair and bad breath and all.

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