Friday, 28 April 2006

I've got friday on my mind

Took Amy to dancing class today at the wonderful creative powerhouse that is Mangala studios. You can see she dressed for the ocassion (and you can see I didn't dress up my house for the photos). We get some great looks on the tram as we travel across a couple of suburbs to get there.

She's wearing a fairy outfit I made her a while ago - the skirt has buttons and beads sewn into pockets along the hem so she jingles when she walks, and the wings are made from thin perspex covered in organza and glitter pen with a rim of ostrich feather. They seriously look like they are flapping when she walks. It's almost spooky and has freaked out more than one person who has wondered if they are mechanical!

As usual I forgot to take my camera to the dance studio which is a darn shame because as usual this week the room was an absolute wonder.

Today the kids all made spaghetti and meatballs (lengths of thin rope with wool pom-poms mixed with big wooden spoons in big bowls). Last week it was their own houses in pop-up tents, the week before 4 Buddha images and 4 elements.

It never ceases to impress me how much work these guys put into coming up with new imaginary worlds for the kids to explore each and every week. And their props are really very special too - 30 giant river rocks all smooth and peaceful, a 15 meter swath of bright blue silk for a river, a pile of the softest pure wool blankets in strong vibrant colours, 30 Indian silk sari's in all colours of the rainbow.

But I am also constantly amazed that with such an airy fairy hippy outlook the teachers are also increadibly disciplined and do not allow for any kind of bad behaviour. How do they do it? It's like magic the way the kids are so expressive and free, and yet so extraordinarily cooperative. I want to go live there if the truth be known.

And hey how would you like to get involved in a swap or two? You can swap a pack of materials in your stash, or a made item like a bag or softie. Over at use what you have swaps for May there's a bunch of swaps to choose from. Sign ups have been extended till next week because we want this to be HUGE!

The swaps from April have been AWESOME - did you see those bags I showed you yesterday? How cool were they? And the paper stuff I posted about a few days before that? Don't you want a piece of the action? And because it all comes out of your existing stash it won't cost you an arm and a leg either. So come on over and sign up to join in the fun.

Thursday, 27 April 2006

craft weekend!!

Hey we've had a last minute cancellation for our crafting weekend so we have a vacancy! If anyone in or near the Melbourne area would like to come away for two nights and days of crafting, eating and log fire watching fun with 9 other crafty types then please send me an email (soozs@bigpond.com). The weekend accommodation will cost $110 for two nights in shared rooms in an old stone farm house near Castlemaine. The weekend starts on Friday May 5 (yes tomorrow week) and ends Sunday May 7. You certainly don't need to be a crafty expert (we have one participant who is a self confessed craft VIRGIN) to join. Anyway if you're interested we can talk. Or email. Whatever.

more delicious postieness and a great new idea

The shopping sherpa read my last post on the yo-yos and has suggested a swap with a childhood faves theme. I'm liking it. Stay tuned for details as soon as we work them out!

Perhaps in the meantime we could start a meme on childhood favourites:

  1. Favourite special treat food - Violet crumble. That's a chocolate coated honeycomb bar to non-aussies.
  2. Favourite real food - Toasted tomato sandwiches. Scarily boring but it was my favourite thing on a friday night at home with my mum to get two pieces of hot buttered toast, slap on slices of cold tasty salted tomato and eat it. Mum must have been rapt I wasn't asking for something more complicated!
  3. Favourite thing to wear - The Spanish layered dancing dress in lemon crepe with a black velvet trim that was in the dress up box. Don't ask me where it came from but I loved the heavy drape of the crepe and the exoticness of it.
  4. Favourite place to go - Anywhere small. I was a total cubby house freak - who would have thought I would grow up to be claustrophobic?
  5. Favourite person - my mum. Am I dag or what? I was a real mummy's girl. Plus all my grandparents lived a long way away.
  6. Favourite event/occasion - First day of school. All that virgin stationary! Heaven!
  7. Favourite pet - Our dog snoopy. I bought him from another kid at kinder for 20cents and my mother was totally shocked that the other kid's parent thought the deal was solid.
  8. Favourite thing to do - Finding the buttons in the big button tin when mum was sewing, or cooking.
  9. Favourite TV show - Lost in space. Amongst others.
  10. Favourite book - The very hungry caterpiilar then later the wrinkle in time series.
Tell us about your faves and let me know when you do so I can read them too.

And I got another delivery today - my made thing swap from the use what you have group. This fantastic collection of bags was sent by Blossom's special orange. What a fantastic pack! A bag for every occasion in a range of black and red fabrics. What an impressive stash you must have! Thanks so much Marianne for such a wonderful gift, I just love all these fabrics and designs.

Wednesday, 26 April 2006

yo-yos

I seem to be doing a lot of rediscovery lately - especially in the kitchen. I haven't made these for many years. Most definitely a childhood thing. It tells me a lot that I have the recipe in imperial measures instead of metric! Jeepers I'm old.

I seem to recall trying to convert it once but they came out all wrong. Now I have scales that have a switch for metric or imperial so I don't need to worry. Saved by technology yet again. Thanks to David for such a wonderfully far-sighted present so many years ago.

I know some people call these (or something very like them) melting moments. We've always called them yo-yos because you are supposed to stick them together with icing and make them look like a yo-yo. But I don't see the point of ruining a perfectly good bickie with a glob of sugary icing.

These ones are quite good - a little chalky crispness on the edges with a soft cakey texture towards the centre. The secret ingredient is custard powder, and to be honest I was quite shocked to find some in the cupboard. It's probably ten years beyond its use-by date. If you never hear from me again, it was the custard powder.

6oz of butter (softened)
6oz plain flour
2oz icing sugar
2oz custard powder

Beat it all together. Feel free to use mechanical assistance. Spoon it on to trays and bake at 180oC for 10 mins. People who are neater than I roll them into smooth balls and flatten them with a fork in a particularly uniform fashion. I don't. And they still taste great!

finished again

I am really digging this.

I knitted the hat again for Amy, this time it took a day. Admittedly we did have a few hours in the car but I was still impressed. Such a long way from the months I used to spend knitting jumpers and the 20 balls per project commitment. This one used less than a ball!

I used 80 stitches (rather than the 100 I used for mine) and decreased in 6 rounds (instead of the 10 I used for mine) to give it a more gnomey look.

I started the decrease after 8.5cm of straight knitting (mine was 12.5). I probably should have gone a bit further with the straight and a few more stitches would not have resulted in the skin tight look it has on Amy, but I'm really happy with the decrease rate.

I also added a little tassle on the top although I had a total mental phase out on how to make a proper tassle so I made that bit up too.

We had a fantastic day yesterday, taking our Thai friends for a picnic at hanging rock, as per the famous film and book of the same name. A great spread of Middle Eastern food - including my first attempt at Turkish bread which was quite good - followed by some very funny attempts at badminton and finally the climb to the summit. Amy had a ball and fearlessly tried to climb every rock face, giving me multiple nervous fits. Sorry no photos because I needed both hands to keep climbing.

It's a wonderful thing to host friends from overseas because it gives you new eyes for the things you've grown up with. We used to go to hanging rock for school excursions and family picnics and it seemed like a kind of ordinary place. But yesterday it seemed really magical, a geological wonder surrounded by crsip clear skies and amazing views.

We also stopped at the Mount Macedon war memorial in homage to Anzac Day and I felt uncharacteristically emotional. The older I get and the more I learn and think about what goes on in war, the harder it is to not feel overwhelmed by the sadness of it. Thinking of the countless young men sweltering in a foreign land just waiting to be sent to their deaths chills me to the bone. What must it have been like for them? For their wives and mothers back home waiting to hear the worst of all possible news.

Lest we forget the madness of war is with us still.

Monday, 24 April 2006

finished!

Is this cool or what? I'm really surprised how quick this was and how few mistakes I made (only 3). Considering it's the first hat I've ever done, I'm seriously excited. I used the gnomey hat pattern from here, although I used 100 stitches instead of 50, and 5mm pins instead of 3.25mm and did an extra couple of rows of decrease at the end. I didn't bother with the earflaps, since I've already got one of those thanks to liesl. Amy is already lining up for hers. Lucky we have a long drive ahead of us tomorrow.

Saturday, 22 April 2006

in praise of the magimix

Made tamarind fishcakes for dinner. I had forgotten how darn good these little suckers are. I went for a year or two there with no food processor and a whole lot of recipes fell in the no food processor black hole. They're coming back now though.

These are really easy and just fantastic, sorry no photo we were too busy eating and fighting over the last one. If you don't have one or more ingredients press on regardless or be creative with substitution. Leave out chilies if you don't like them, or add more if you do, or use red if you don't have green. They're a pretty approximate affair. Serve as a nibble for before dinner or as a main with a side of steamed or stir fried greens (add plenty of garlic and dark soy). Rice too if you'd like - preferably Jasmine.

400gm white boneless fish, cubed
3 cloves of garlic
3cm peeled and grated ginger
2 small green chilies seeded and chopped (I used a mild red for Amy's benefit)
1/4 cup tamarind water*
1 egg (just the white if you feel inclined to separate it, which I am not)
1/2 cup ground roast peanuts
1/2 cup chopped coriander (I used 1tbs coriander seeds)

Process the lot in a food processor. With damp hands shape into cakes, or if you are a slacker like me just drop spoonfuls into a hot pan and shallow fry in peanut oil. Eat with a dipping sauce made from equal parts tamarind water, soy, sweet chilli sauce, fish sauce and chopped coriander. Washed down with lots of beer is even better.

*Tamarind comes in a range of forms - in Thailand there are actually very different varieties from sour to sweet and it is used for savory dishes and sauces and sweet drinks, as well as eaten as a dried fruit. In Australia you can usually find tamarind pulp sold in jars, which is thicker and stronger than water, and sometimes in a block of solid tamarind which needs to be broken off and soaked for a while in hot water. The more you prod it the thicker and stronger it gets. It's actually the fleshy fibrous stuff that lines the tamarind seed pod.

Friday, 21 April 2006

yum

Thanks to this, we did this.

A really really good recipe. I felt absolutely no need to ice them - they were prefect as they were, though I did have to double the recipe to produce these 12. Is that just me?

Am also struggling with developing an obsession with my new foray into knitting. Arms hurt. Must stop. Must must must...

Thursday, 20 April 2006

all hail

OK when I said invented fire, I meant I started by inventing fire. Clearly I went on to do other even more fabulous things. Lots of other fabulous things. David is home from work this week and he's beginning to think there's something dodgy going on ...

After my last post, the postie arrived again. I didn't even know they did more than one delivery a day.And woaw, what a pack! I must say I suspected where it came from as soon as I saw the fantastic envelope. The paper goodies in Asia are just so fantastic - an Astro boy envelope?! How cute is that?

Inside was Julie K in Taiwan's parcel of paper delights for my April use what you have materials swap. Chock-a-block with collage materials, paper stock, stickers and an example and instructions for making a star book. There was also a pooh bear baggie for Amy from Julie's daughter and a whole stack of other little bits and pieces.

I used to love paper work, but I have to say I've let that particular craft slide a bit in the last few years. Not anymore! It's especially welcome since Amy's most overused phrase right now is 'mummy can you do collage with me?' There'll be a whole lot of snipping and pasting for quite some time.

So that was Tuesday. Then yesterday I got home to find ANOTHER package. Yep you read right. And not just any old stuff. My much anticipated and very excited about pack from Leslie.

It's the return parcel for the Max I sent her a little while ago. The photos aren't great because it was late when Amy and I got home, but it was so exciting we whipped it open and took a few pics.

Amy was dead impressed that there was something inside with her name on it and she quickly undid the lace tie and unfolded the gorgeous floral flanelette to reveal her special present (more on her in a moment).

Meanwhile I undid my cashmere wrap to reveal a gorgeous leather bound journal (wow!!). Love the mushroom card which impressed Amy twice - firstly because she thought it was a bike and then again when I said it was mushrooms because they are her favourite food. And who knew kool aid could be used as a dye?! Another fun project in the wings.

So Amy's present was one of Leslie's fantastic oobees, made in a gorgeous soft pink cotton with a fantastic crochet scarf in green. Amy and I are both in love with her. Thanks so much Leslie!!!

Last night she had to sit with Amy while we had dinner, had to come to the bath (though not in), because 'oobee wants to be where I am' says Amy. Needless to say she slept with her in bed and has taken her to kinder today. I'm kind of bummed about that because I was hoping to sneak in some cuddles when no one was looking because although I'm a grown up and should be able to graciously hand over toys to Amy I secretly wish oobee was MINE. I've got a bad case of unrequited love for this little critter. It's kind of pathetic, but oobee just screams cuddles at me as she flies past in Amy's arms, and I miss out every time. Sigh.

(I'd love to know what you use for stuffing Leslie - oobee has such a nice squishy feel and the beads in the limbs are a nice touch, what are they??)

Feel completely overwhelmed by the generosity of my swappees this last week - thank you all so much for making me feel really special. And for freaking David out. I think he's worried I've started or joined a cult. The cult of making stuff and giving it all to sooz.

Meanwhile, in my crafting world, the hat has inspired me to take up knitting again. I'm not a great or sophisticated knitter, and the pattern I am using is already morphing into something I'm making up as I go along, but I'm making an effort. With the help of Ang, my knitting and crochet instructor, I'm making progress.

I'd love to hear from any aussie knitters about where you get good yarn here, since all the places I used to shop when I knitted no longer exist. When I read knitters blogs they are always posting such gorgeous looking skeins I'd hate to rely on the 1 or 2 boring commercial producers I see in Spotlight.

Oh and I had a couple of people asked me about my pattern drafting class from my post on sewing. I did it at the CAE (Council for Adult Education) and heartily recommend it. It was held at night over a number of weeks and taught by a guy who used to design patterns for Fletcher Jones. I also bought a book (Creative cutting by Diana Hawkins) which covers all the basic techniques in a scarily 80s kind of way, but I found the book largely impossible to conceptualise until after I did the class. For me it was too big a leap to make without some guidance, though I am sure many can learn from a book like I can't.

Tuesday, 18 April 2006

karmic balance sheet

This is the only way I can explain this - clearly I did something really good in a past life. Like acted as a human shield to protect small and completely innocent children, invented antibiotics or discovered the wheel. Maybe fire. Yeah, I think it was fire.

Just when I thought liesl had ruined me for swaps for ever (yes, I'm still wearing the hat and yes I still love it in an almost unnatural way) along comes Gwen.

You might remember I felt a bit sad about sending off young Visha, well let me say no more do I concern myself. Ooooh no. Visha, you are better off without me, you have most definitely gone to a better place. No three year old good morning jam toast fingers all over you. No getting stood on in the overcrowded and seriously filthy lounge room. I suspect a life of blissful adoration is yours. You lucky little bugger.

Visha was my part in a swap with Gwen. Gwen hasn't done her part of the swap so she sent me this. Just to like, keep me going.

First off, it all came in a box. And it had lots of bubble wrap and packing beads and fragile stickers and all the stuff to get you really excited. (When will I learn to get my camera first?)

And all so gorgeously packed up with these signs and some little notepaper.


I had to stop half way through - I think I was actually hyperventilating. It was pathetic, like I never get to leave the house or am kept in a cupboard and fed on table scraps. Anybody would think I didn't have a life or something.

There was these fabulous pyrex bowls from Gwen's give away Monday.

And the cuter than cute hand knitted and felted egg cozies for Amy and me. Luckily David likes to sleep late.


And then, and then, this beautiful felted green wool and this fantastic book.

I actually saw this book once in a store, but I had to leave quickly because I left drool marks on one of the pages and when I went back (in full disguise) the book was gone and I never saw it again.

How amazing is all of that? Gwen, wow. You have blown me away with your creativity, your care and your increadible generosity. Good things should be coming to you in spades baby.

tales of disgraceful hoarding

Let me start by saying in most aspects of life I am not a hoarder. I am happy to pass on the things I no longer need or hold dear. If I don't wear things I give them away, if I don't use it I pass it on to someone who will. Neither am I tremendous shopper. Mostly.

But I have a shocking weakness for fabric. Well, all craft supplies, but fabric is the killer. I just can't throw out anything, and can't go past a fabric bargain - though of course because it's use what you have month I am staying away from the shops.

In fact the use what you have theme was so enthusiastically pursued by me for this very reason - I could clothe several small villages in the fabric I have. Like most fabric lovers I sometimes find it hard to part with a piece I have, to cut the virgin cloth so to speak. I'm always worried a project more worthy will pop up tomorrow or the next day. Or perhaps ten years hence. If the end of fossil fuels comes in my lifetime and they stop manufacture I aim to be prepared.

I usually do use stuff though, I don't cling to pieces forever, just a while. I am happy to fight my urge to save it for another day, I kind of perversely enjoy the inner dialogue of treasure and save versus use and move on. But I have this amazing treasure I just can't seem to work out what to do with.

David's grandmother was a very talented sewer, and for many years taught seamstresses at technical college. She was also a champion hoarder. Although I didn't know her for long before she passed away, we really clicked. I had total admiration for her depression era make do and save philosophy and cleaning out her cupboards after she died was revelatory. Great swathes of fabric and blankets and tins of buttons and packs of cards never openned and boxes of glasses and jars of bobbins and every other conceivable thing.

Quite a bit of sewing paraphernalia (including whole suitcases of fabric) was passed on to David's mother and sister and over the next few years a bit of it gradually made its way to me. The most amazing thing in the collection was a set of fabric samples from 1962. I guess it was part of her teaching that she came to possess sample cards for the year's seasonal fabrics - perhaps students even ordered their yardage directly from her.

The samples are small and when they came into my posession were even still stapled to the original cardboard backing. Each print has one larger sample (around 30cm2) and then a smaller one for each colour in the range. Some of the prints are absolutely divine, others much less to my taste, but they are all undeniably vintage. I have used one or two of the pieces to make dolls clothes, but I feel the need to somehow do something really special with the collection. And now, I feel April should perhaps be the month to you know, use what I have.

Any ideas?

does this look like a beaver to you?

in another stunning overstatement of my capability I agreed to make a beaver softie, despite living many thousands of kilometres from the narest beaver and never having laid eyes on one even once.

I agreed because I love a challenge. And perhaps because I'm an idiot.

So this is what I've come up with as my prototype. I am not super happy with it, but operating out of a position of almost total ignorance, what would I know?

Seems to me he should have a thicker neck and bigger head, perhaps smaller ears, definitely a black rather than brown face. Perhaps too his forearms should be longer?

Please tell me all those of you who know beavers - what's wrong with this beaver?

**Update - thanks for all the comments! Don't worry bugheart - I think he looks like a squirrel too!

All these comments are really interesting - there is quite a wide margin for perceptions of beaverishness, and several of them directly contradict photos I have! I have a photo of a pale brown beaver, and the head size seems really big in all the photos and not one photo where the teeth are visible! But that's the problem of creating softies from photos - they don't necessarily capture what make a beaver a beaver if you know what I mean. Clearly the teeth are a must have. And while lots of you called for a bigger tail, I can assure the one I put on is ENORMOUS - it's only my poor photography that makes it seem small. But don't worry I'll make it even huger. So I really thank you all for helping me out in getting this fella right!**

Saturday, 15 April 2006

using more of what I have

Just a quick post - gosh Easter is proving to be really busy! The shop is going really well - better than I expected I must say. It's very starnge though to be getting orders from people I don't know. I'm still stuck in the mindset of expecting every customer to be someone with whom I do/should have a personal and ongoing relationship.

These floppy bunnys are my newest item for sale. Just because it's, you know, Easter and all.

Also very pleased with this dress I made for Amy. To make it I used one piece of purple corduroy, a tiny green remnant I picked up a while ago for 20 cents (can you believe they bothered?), two of the odd button collection we made in Thailand (one green, one purple), some of the cute green rick-rack Teresa sent me in my purple and green April colourifficswaporama swap and the fabulous gocco horse patch Rose sent me (thanks again Rose - we love it!).

She wore it to her kinder easter bonnet parade and although I upstaged her on the hat front (thanks to my gorgeous hat by Liesl), the dress was a complete winner.

And to all the kind folk who have left comments recently I've been a complete slacker about getting back to you and I unreservedly apologise. I've just been stupidly busy. I really appreciate comments, and if blogger gave me your email addresses I might be a bit better about getting back to you. See a good blogger always blames their host...anyway, please persist and I promise I'll get better.

Wednesday, 12 April 2006

oh my

Gush alert.

The postman arrived bearing gifts a-plenty. Aside from the new VCR and cordless phones, which weren't exactly gifts since they are part of a very overdue insurance settlement, there was the package divine from liesl. How was it divine? Let me count the ways.

1. The hat. Which is perfect in every way. Colour, workpersonship, pattern. Exactly what I wanted, executed with finesse. Starting today I am never taking it off. She even pre-washed it for me in case I needed to wear it right away which is perhaps the most thoughtful thing anyoen has ever done for me yet, especially since yes, I did need to wear it right away. And I am.

2. The fabric. Four perfectly coordinated pieces with interesting prints in gorgeous colours. The one in the top left corner is may favourite (I think). I love that there is a mix of print scales, themes and styles as well as colours. I would never have picked these out, but they are so good together I'll now have to think up a special project for them.

3. The bits of stuff. It's like someone read my mind! The bits from the inside of watches - watches! Bits with technical names I will never know *sigh* and three little wrapped watch glasses. And stamps from far away and the wrapper bands from cigars. Is this woman an artist's angel or what?!

4. The card. Now liesl has never been to my house, never seen my garden, nor listened to me rave about it. But she knows. She knows. I love my garden so much that I do almost channel someone who does their hair like this and has blooms like this peeking over their shoulder. But mostly I talk like someone like this.

5. The extra special, coveted Australians denied new and improved speedy cut. I'd love it even if it wasn't new and improved. I'm breaking out in perspiration just thinking about using this and it's not just because I'm wearing my new hat with ear flaps down and it's 25oC.

6. Kids magazine. Now this may not seem a likely object of my gushing, but by total and almost spooky coincidence, I have been commissioned to make a beaver. This is something of a challenge, seeing as how we don't have them here in Oz, so I've never actually seen one in real life. In the last few days I've looked at lots of photos, but this is the best beaver face shot I've seen so far. I'll just add that in Australia, 'Beaver shot' has absolutely no connotations.

Thank you liesl, thank you, thank you thank you. I owe you some serious fun and I will deliver.

I was planning on posting about my own crafty adventures today, but I am a bit tuckered out after all that. It might have to wait. I'm going out tonight - yes out, like a grown up. I'm going to see a show at the Comedy Festival about a guy who rides his bike from Bombay to Beijing, and have drinks afterwards. And I plan to pretend for an hour or two that I do this kind of thing all the time. Let's see if anyone picks me up on it.

Tuesday, 11 April 2006

good times

Here in Melbourne there's no doubt Autumn's definitely arrived. This is what I see out the window as I shower each morning. Just a few weeks ago this was a carpet of green grape vine leaves and now it's fiery red.

We had an absolute ball on Sunday at the annual Thai culture festival in Federation square. I stupidly didn't take a camera, so no pics. You'll just have to take my word for it and if you are in Melbourne, plan to be here this time next year. Chanting monks, jazz bands playing great tunes of the 40s written by the Thai king, beauty pageants, regional dancing and the obligatory Thai food stalls. We danced and ate and had a great time. It was nice to hear people speaking in Thai again.

When we got home I did some sewing, finishing off another Max (the best yet I think, as the pattern is slowly evolving and improving). It's going off for a toddler, so no tag or bell for this little guy.

Also finished off a swap I've been working on for weeks for little munki. I've made a lot of these puppets lately and I must say I am kind of looking forward to a break from them. In fact I plan to try out something new today, I'll post on this when things are a bit more advanced.

Saturday, 8 April 2006

i'm in heaven

So I'm going to brag about this. Tonight I overcame a long time phobia and made gnocchi. From scratch. Until now I have been surrounded by two schools of thought - those that inspire fear in the face of this project and those that seem all too blase. It's so easy! It's impossible! It's just potato and flour! It turns into mush instantly!

But the gorgeous Maria lent me a potato ricer (such an excellent kitchen device) and put the mozz on my denial. I am now firmly, firmly, in the easy peasy lemon squeezy camp. It is just potato and flour and they did not turn to mush or come out like stodgy cricket balls.

They were light pillows of delectable sauce gripping flavour. I am a convert. I feel evangelical.

I thank Armando Percuoco and his fabulous tutorial and tips in the September 2005 issue of delicious, the world's most informative, useful and mouthwatering food magazine with around 60 new recipes every month for a paltry $6.50. Subscribe right now. Praise be.

great photo upload project

I get a few questions and comments about my time in Thailand last year. I realise that all the photos I took are on my old blog and I never bothered getting them up on Flickr. So I am starting to upload some of my old pics. It's a big job, and some of them go back a few years, but just thought I'd let you know in case you were wondering what the heck was going on. I'll post a few favourites here as I get my act together. Stay tuned.

Friday, 7 April 2006

a sewing journey

It always amazes me when people freak out about the sewing I do, and express their utter conviction they could never come even close to matching my skills. I always rush in to say how easy it is, how anyone could do it, how I am not that great a sewer. I actually offer to teach them in my fervor to prove them wrong.

I started sewing when I was young, and before that I watched my mother, and her mother, work their machines and needles and threads to create the clothes we wore, the quilts on our beds, the stitches on our cushion covers and the embroidery hanging on our walls. I used to go with my mum to choose the fabric for my next summer dress, used to sort through the button tin for the ones that matched, used to wait in excited anticipation till it was finished.

A lot of what went on then was about economy - it was still cheaper to sew than buy - and watching the dollars was an important part of our lives. I admit that I came to covet store bought goods because like most kids I wanted what everyone else had, the status symbols of being up with the latest trends and brands.

But my mum was very smart woman, and when I was barely a teenager she put me and my sister on an allowance system. We got a monthly payment and were then responsible for all our purchasing choices - clothes, shoes, entertainment, toys, the whole kit and caboodle. I don't remember bumpy patches, though I'm sure they were there, when I couldn't make ends meet or some really basic need was overlooked in favour of a passing whim.

But it cemented two things that have been invaluable through my life - saving and learning to sew. I wasn't a sophisticated sewer by any means, but I could make a T-shirt, a skirt, a range of basics to act as a backdrop for the few treasured brand items I bought. Because I didn't know how to use patterns and was guided largely by instinct, I had a lot of disasters. There were periods I sewed nothing in a slump of despair. But every now and then I'd find myself in a fix and pulled out the machine to get me through. A party on a Saturday night often started a sewing frenzy on Saturday afternoon. A new waitressing job prompted a new black skirt and white top. Sewing successes bolstered my confidence and I'd be off on a string of productivity before the next disaster, the next slump and so on.

Through all those years I learned a lot through trial and error. I might have learned things far more efficiently through a structured class, but back then I just didn't learn that way. Trial and error can only go so far and there were many things still beyond me - anything tailored was a pipe dream, trousers fundamentally flawed, a lined jacket completely out of the question. I started earning more money and got fussier and could afford to buy my clothes.

But then I started needing serious working clothes. Suits, shirts, nice overcoats. The ones I liked, when I could find ones I liked, cost a fortune. I was completely uninterested in the cheap suits that showed their age after a season, it seemed like a false economy to fork out $200 for a cheap suit, but at $1000 I just couldn't afford the tailored pure wool flannel that would last for 10 years.

So I went to night school for a short stint and studied pattern drafting. What a revelation! Over three or so months I learned how to turn the 3-D into the 2-D on the page, and how to use my fairly simple sewing skills to turn those patterns into clothes. I now understood how to make space for my lumps and bumps, how to change the look of something at the cutting stage, not fixing after the sewing stage. I started pumping out fantastic suits and tailored pants, I even designed patterns for David and other friends from their measurements like a real tailor. I would absolutely thoroughly recommend to anyone to learn this skill (there's books on it if you can't get to a class).

When Amy was born I (a) didn't need suits and nice clothes and (b) no longer had whole weekends to devote to large scale sewing projects. I all but stopped and the sewing machine was idle. I tried a few baby clothes, but with pretty limited success from a lifestyle as well as product point of view. I picked up handiwork - dollies and toys I could stitch in short bursts without getting out a whole stack of stuff and needing to pack it all away.

I'm getting back to the machine these days now that Amy is a bit older. I find making her clothes easier, and I'm getting into different styles of softies as well as bags and quilts. Increasingly I see the machine sewing as one of a repertoire of textile skills and I try to think beyond my previous utilitarianism and economising.

I now think homemade is most definitely better and I have a new respect for the work my mother and grandmother did. I get tremendous satisfaction from being able to do these things and it makes me sad how in just a few generations these once commonplace skills have slipped right out of the mainstream. That's why when people say how amazing it is that I can sew I say not at all - why don't you sew too? Trust me, the will to sew is all it takes to get you started on the journey.

more sewing adventures

I finally finished this visha bear for Gwen. Completion was held up while I waited for delivery of a new batch of stuffing. Thank god for Sandra at Winterwood supplies is all I can say. She's trying to get a web site running and when she does she'll be getting a rave write up from me - and lots of orders from you folk I'll bet. But I'll save that gush for another time when talk of her exquisite wares can be more than just a tease :-)

Anyway, I am absolutely in LOVE with this bear! It's not often I feel particularly attached to one of my critters, but there's something about his woolly coat that just does me in. I think too I invested lots of love because Gwen seems like such a lovely person . I can't believe the generosity of her give away Mondays and her felted purses, hats and egg cozies are the very best of what felt can be. *sigh* Just love your work baby. I was darn sorry to see Visha go, but I think Gwen will be a great surrogate.

And I got down to using what I have yesterday by making this jumper from the offcuts of Amy's dress. It still takes me by surprise that sewing stuff for kids takes so much less fabric than for grown ups and a great big fat old me in particular.

It doesn't look like much laid out flat here but it fits Amy exactly perfectly right. She paraded around in it today on the way to dancing class. She insisted on wearing her sleeveless fairy dress so we had to shore the whole deal up with thick leggings, a jumper and a hat.

It's cold and grey and windy today and I have a shocker head cold, so it's lucky for everyone that dancing class was a success and Amy is sleeping right now. If she wasn't it would be ugly. Particularly ugly.

Oh, and to all those kind folk who have me listed in their blog links lists - can you update to my new blog? (I've been kind of surprised that readership for my old blog still far outstrips my new blog and when I checked the where from sheet I see lots are coming from you.) That would be just dandy, thanks.

Thursday, 6 April 2006

dress fest

Had a productive day yesterday making this dress for Amy. She's so into dresses at the moment that I can't get her into anything else. As the weather turns colder this is something of a challenge! So I made up this simple pinafore from ribbed polar fleece to keep her warm.

Though I generally steer clear of the artificial fibres in favour of the natural cottons and wools, you just can't beat polar fleece for warmth and low maintenance - a must for a messy three year old who demands a quick turn around time in the laundry for her favourite garments!

It really made me laugh when she put her hands in the front pocket and exclaimed - "I can feel my fingertips!"

I can see a few more of these rolling off the production line! And perhaps a little jacket or jumper form the remnants...

And last night my old friend John came to dinner. He lives in England now, so it's a rare thing to lay eyes on him, though I read his blog when I get the chance. And he bought these cool finger puppets for Amy. Nothing like having dinner with Trotsky, Che, Ghandi and Mandela! Never too young to start learning about revolutionaries and what they stood for.


I made a stir fry with kangaroo meat (sorry no photos, all gone), one of those things that divides people right down the middle. Some people are horrified we eat something that appears on our national coat of arms, something so cute and cuddly. But the rest of us say its a great tasting lean and healthy meat and kangaroos aren't any more cute than a cow or pig. Have you eaten it? Do you like it?

And for dessert a delicious rhubarb and strawbery pie. This recipe is really easy when you get the hang of it because you don't prebake the pastry or pre stew the fruit. You just bung it all together and bake it. There is something really unique about the flavour too - sour from the rhubarb, sweet from the berries and you throw some rice flour and sugar in with the fruit so you get a really nice texture in the fruit as well. And the pasrty isn't sweetened, but has a sprinkling of sugar on the glaze. Excuse me, I think I might have to go and have a slice of the left overs now!

Update: Kangaroo does not taste like chicken! It is a dark red meat like beef, but has a stronger more 'gamey' flavour. I think some may compare it to venison?? It has an almost zero fat content coz the little hoppers as so darn active and perhaps because of this is also low in pesticides and other chemicals. We usually just BBQ it with a marinade or rub of spices or soy and honey. It takes on other strong flavours well and is incredibly tender, much more so than beef. It is by far at its best when served rare.

Wednesday, 5 April 2006

hilltribe textile crafts

When I read this post on Whip up it brought back memories of discovering the amazing textile handicrafts that come from this region of South East Asia. I realise I kind of take this knowledge for granted. I first started learning about the handicraft cottage industry of the various hill tribes and marginalised peoples when I visited Northern Thailand as long as 17 years ago. I have been back many times since, and each trip deepens my understanding and appreciation of the work I see there.

As a tourist it can be hard to get past the buying and selling thing - everyone wants you to buy and your dollars are worth so much, it is hard to make a real connection with crafters. Women from various ethnic groups congregate at markets and spread their wares on blankets on the ground, more organised and commercialised enterprises are showcased at stalls and sometimes even shops. Even when they have passed through the hands of one or more middle men, the crafts are still rediculously cheap for western foreigners.

It is easy to see supeficial things about these women and feel very distanced - their poverty, the juxtaposition between their traditional dress and their more modern trapings (like mobile phones), the way they keep their children with them late into the night as they go from place to place trying to sell their wares. In Northern Thailand too there is a big industry in visiting 'traditional villages' an experience which can be as voyeuristic and commercial as a visit to a zoo.

There is also a large number of hill tribes, some better known than others. The Hmong, Mien, Karen, Kayah, Shan, Lisu, Lahu and Akha also each have their own stories and origins in Tibet, Burma, Laos, and Thailand. What they share is a history of non-beloging and persecution - moving between different parts of different countries as conditions change. Many are fleeing war and religious persecution and have been doing so for many generations.

The other thing they share is a strong and resiliant tradition of crafting. Part of this is because their crafts are incorporated into the everyday and are useful, from elaborate clothing to quilts, bags, head dresses and furnishings. Tribes are instantly recognisable by their style of dress and handiwork for sale is also easily typed by maker. You can imagine these might be important if your entire ethnic group is semi nomadic and need to create their identities using things other than geography.

When we were living in Chiang Mai last year I was lucky enough to visit a few villages on the Burmese border and see some crafters at work. I am sure there was a bit of commercial aspiration to our meeting, but I felt things went quite differently when Amy pulled out one of the toys I had made her. The women I was sitting and talking to were very interested in the toy, checking out my stitching and materials, keen to understand a different crafter's work. Instead of rich Western tourist and money chasing sellers we were suddenly mums together, crafting to make our domestic world a little more fun, a little more beautiful.

At another villiage I saw a gandmother at work on a traditional skirt for her grand-daughter. The work was so detailed and ornate, it was absolutely divine. She was quite happy for me to stand in her backyard along with the chooks and dogs and pigs and watch her work, and was keen to tell me (via a translator) how she had been working on it for 6 months already. She was justifiably proud of her work. It was a really wonderful moment for me.

My appreciation for this work now extends beyond the aesthetic - although I do love the look of these pieces. I now delight in the feeling of being connected to their history, of supporting people to make a livelihood from their craft, of helping to keep if not a traditional lifestyle alive then ceratinly keeping traditional skills from dying out.