Tuesday, 30 November 2010

the return

As always I have returned from craft camp full of energy and enthusiasm. As always the to do list has been pruned but somehow sprouted back stronger than ever.
It threatens to crush me under the weight of possibility.

I could just sew and knit and make until the end of time.
Although I took the machine knitting to camp this time (and knit a whole cardigan, oright!) I realised that all this MK love in the last few months had relegated the sewing machine to the back bench. But after some very successful and (for me) exploratory work, she's back. And oh how I love her.
I am also basking in the glow of radiated energy from lovely lovely people, some old favourites and some new kids on the block. So many good people! So many good ideas, new tips and takes to observe and learn from - new recipes, new tools, new materials, cool stuff. Already planning for the next one.
Today the D man is off to the wilds of PNG for a bit, Amy is recovering from gastro and I am planning of doing some major cleaning up of the workroom between mopping her brow, switching DVDs and getting her lemonade.
The whole packing up and unpacking for mobile crafting is a major investment and I am determined to think about organising the workroom around easing future expeditions. I'm envisaging a bunch of modular bag/tool boxes you can pick up and go with.
I am also envisaging an entire new wardrobe for the family and I can't see where that will fit into the schedule either.

And I can't stop singing this - it's a Lancefield groove thang.

Saturday, 20 November 2010

there's always more

Next in line after the lovely GP is the lovely chiropractor* #. He's a legend as they say. He once made a house call when I did my back in so badly I couldn't get off the bed. Even a locum GP who injected my back with all manner of scary shit couldn't make my legs work when I was in the upright position but Frank got me walking with the aid of a sarong and a large piece of elastic. You gotta love a practical man, and nothing beats going to the toilet under your own steam.

So Frank the man greeted me in his office today with a aren't you meant to be in New Zealand and looked entirely unsurprised when I told him what had happened. He then regaled me with stories - as he does - about the hospital system and why it works the way it does and did a little jiggery pokery. Like this was it? and with a well placed pinch he managed to bring on the full experience of the so called stroke.

So a tear in a muscle in my neck is his explanation and given his ability to locate the problem and address it, I have no doubt he's right. A few extra chiro visits, a little massage, a little being a bit more careful with my neck and a little less exhaustion and adrenaline and things should be perfectly fine.

He said it's when the adrenaline tapers off that things go wrong - and it was as soon as we got in the taxi and I went ahh, we're off that I stopped pumping out that miracle masker of problems and suddenly felt the injury I most likely did wheeling a suitcase off a curb and twisting my trap muscle up to my neck attachment. In the days leading up to it I got more and more tired and tense and thus made myself much more prone to injury and much more adrenaline fuelled.

It all makes perfect sense.

So stand down code orange, it's business as usual (what colour is that?).

And my note to self is not to bust a gut to get out the door for a holiday with the idea that any stress incurred in the getting away will be offset by the relaxation later. It won't. I will also book a chiro appointment before I depart anywhere in future.

*and for those who feel a bit dubious about chiros I will just say I used to be a bit meh about them too. I went to Frank from a place of sheer desperation and in my pre driving days I chose him by location alone. After 2 visits way back then he gave me my first clear run of weeks without a migraine for years and he has since proved his worth countless times. And while I am no pusher for chiros or anything else my experience with Frank has proved to me yet again that an open mind is king.

#and as one commenter said, that his name is Frank only makes me love him more. As does his recent purchase of a knitting machine, based on what he saw me bringing into the waiting room (and his desire to impress him mum and aunties), his decision to work part time to spend time at home with his family and build his own extension, his commitment to making his own wine and the way he treats my kids (somewhere between healer and big brother). L O V E. Oh and he employs the best masseuse evah, as my fellow craft campers can attest.

Friday, 19 November 2010

so and so

So I saw my GP yesterday. My lovely, sensible, thorough GP. She agrees with me that I most likely didn't have a stroke.

[That's the short story. If you want the long story with all the details, read on...]

Yes, I will go on and have all the tests, even the horrible yukky scary and invasive ones. It is worth being sure as sure can be that I don't have something that needs dealing with. Like maybe my dodgy heart valve is getting really dodgy and needs to be replaced, or my anatomically narrow arteries are getting narrower. A stitch in time saves major life threatening illness and all that.

And it is always worth heading the signs to try and rest more and eat better and generally be as healthy as you can.

But the reality is I don't read like a person who has had a stroke, even a minor one. I had no cognitive or memory loss, I didn't lose my balance, the ability to walk, talk, lift my arms, smile, hold a pen or conversation. I remained witty and good humoured throughout the whole episode (I like to think). My ECG was normal and my blood pressure barely made it out of the normal range even after the nurse putting in the cannula hit a nerve and then did the same thing in the other arm. Any normal person would be alarmed to get triaged ahead of a girl in a wheelchair sucking on a morphine inhaler and a guy with his arm crushed by a falling steel beam just because they said I have pins and needles down my left side. You'd expect sky rocketing blood pressure from the diagnosis of stroke alone. Never mind that I don't have a family history or blood pressure problems or high cholesterol or diabetes or heart disease. And that I am not, like, old.

But of course strokes happen to all kinds of people, young and old, healthy and not, those with risk factors and those without. So maybe I did have one. If it was a mini stroke I also stand an excellent chance of getting a full blown follow up in the next week - mini strokes being kind of like dress rehearsals for the real thing - so I guess that will be a fairly definitive diagnosis.

I feel pretty confident that what I have is a series of other things that simply all smashed up together on the day to produce enough stroke like symptoms to put the risk averse public health system into stroke mode.

Firstly, I have an underlying problem with my neck resulting from an injury from grade 3 in primary school that I general manage reasonably well with massage, chiro visits and pain killers. It gives me the occasional migraine, and sometimes I get pins in needles in my right hand or the right side of my face. I also get displaced ribs from it and these give me chest pains not unlike what you would get from a heart attack because all the little muscles and ligaments across the front of the chest get stretched and very irritated. Perhaps I somehow jarred my neck in a new and exciting way resulting in a sever nerve reaction and a shift to the left side.

I also have a recurrent problem with magnesium and potassium deficiency, some quirky thing about my blood chemistry, and while I often take supplements, sometimes I sort of forget about them. I usually get reminded again when I start getting a bit of irregularity in my heart beat, leg cramps and restless leg syndrome - magnesium has a big influence over how your muscles (including your heart) work. I took a supplement on the morning of the incident precisely because I was feeling those symptoms so maybe a nerve related thing out of my neck had a much bigger impact on my muscles because they were already in crap form, or maybe I was more likely to jar my neck in new and interesting ways because my muscles weren't doing as good a job or protecting me as they should have.

Into the mix add that a medication I have taken regularly for over a year had just been withdrawn off the market and after a day's gap between I had taken the first dose of a replacement drug the day before. The drug had given me intense nausea and a generalised feeling of unwellness, so much so I had decided not to continue taking it thinking I would talk to me GP when I got back from NZ about an alternative.

And let us not forget I was even more than usually tired and stressed, trying to get us all on to an early morning flight with over excited kids demanding care and attention while I juggled a long list of must not forgets in my head.

It seems to me in this context perhaps my body just went oh fuck it, enough already. Perhaps it didn't  need a blood cot to the brain to shut it down just long enough to prevent me from taking on the next thing.

And really, this was absolutely my instinctive belief when I was at the hospital and right up until about 5pm I was telling D to book tickets to NZ for the next day, the blip was over. And then the Doc came in and said they were booking me into the stroke outpatients clinic and I should know that if I fly and have a stroke no one can do anything to help you. And here were the forms for an MRI and eccocardiagram and halter heart monitor and so on and so forth and their diagnosis was that a stroke had occurred.

I will be off to the chiro tomorrow and I will be taking it easy. I will have all the tests and I will ask for help if I think I need it and I will be alert to any signs that something more is up. I have no desire, none at all, for this to happen again. But I think you can all stop worrying about me because I think I am fine. Really.

Thursday, 18 November 2010


I'm not in New Zealand.

I haven't got jet lag, I'm not exploring a new country, I'm not enjoying a quiet family holiday.

I got as far as the airport before the last few days of feeling a bit unwell turned into something more substantial. A whole left side of my body going weird kind of thing.

So a whole day in casualty instead, with all manner of indignities (including two canullas gone wrong and blood on the floor), and while nothing definitive can be established it seems most likely that I had a small stroke. A mini stroke.

There are more tests to be had of course, no doubt months of diagnostic shenanigans lays ahead to try and establish if there is something underlying that needs to be dealt with. The long haul part.

I'm trying not to think about the trip we almost had, the presentation D was supposed to give, the lost chance to meet my almost sister in law, the meetings I had set up for my work, the trip we'd paid for and looked forward to. The tears the kids shed in their disappointment and the plaintive voice in the dark last night when Amy asked if we could go to New Zealand tomorrow instead.

For now it is time to take things a bit easy. To try and reign in my usual pace, to do a little less and sleep a little more. For me that's a substantial challenge.

Thanks to all those who sent good wishes via Twitter yesterday, I hope you will understand that I'm not sending out lots of individual messages. I figure a little less online life may be in order for a while at least. But it is lovely to know you are there and being so kind.

Tuesday, 16 November 2010

up up and away

Like the proverbial bride's nightie, I'm off.

First to New Zealand for our first international travel experience with two kids. I pity our fellow passengers on flights, apologies in advance.

And then when I get back it's straight off to craft camp with nary a pause to catch my breath. Needless to say I don't expect you will hear from me in the interim. Too busy loading the car up with unrealistic quantities of projects, tools and materials and trying to wash and dry some clothes in a 12 hour window of opportunity.

See you in a few weeks when I am back, at home and solo parenting. Should be a blast once I come up for air.

Sunday, 7 November 2010

things I've learned about making bags

I am by no means a professional when it comes to making bags, and I'd encourage anyone who wants to get to that level to go and learn a thing or two from the bag lady herself, who blogs a lot of great tips, sells really detailed and instructive bag patterns and runs the occasional workshop. For the rest of you, the ones who aren't expecting schmick, but want to be able to make a bag that works, that doesn't fall apart or otherwise behave in ways you wish it didn't, here's a few things I've learned the long way round. There's also a few tutorials over there in my sidebar you might find helpful too.

It's easier to get a good finish if you keep your basic shapes simple. The further you go from the basic tube with a bottom concept the more variables there are to challenge your precision. Keep curves to a minimum and don't make them the centre piece. My favourite basic shape at the moment is a tube with a squarish oval base. I've varied the height and proportions of the base over time, but for ease of construction as well as overall polish this is my tried and true. It forms the basis for my shoulder bag pattern and fabric kit over at Ink and Spindle as well as several of my own handbags in recent years. I simple squared off base on a flap top messenger bag is also a good one, especially for kids.

Leather is the most durable material for making bags and despite what you may assume, it is quite feasible to sew leather on a regular garden variety sewing machine. But I can't say sewing leather is much fun. You can't use pins and you can't unpick which does create a certain pressure. For this reason I prefer using fabrics, but tend to sturdier ones - canvass, linen, hemp. I've also worked out that I am a serial monogamist when it comes to handbags and I tend to start thinking about a new one on pretty much an annual basis, less because the old has worn out than because I just get bored so longevity isn't my absolute criteria.
The outer fabric needs more durability and structure than the lining, but I like a solid lining too (nothing worse than losing stuff into space between outer and lining). Bitter experience has also taught me to think pretty carefully about how it will look after a bit of wear and tear. I will never again make a bag where the print features distinct areas of white for example. In fact very large scale prints while bold and appealing can be hard to work into a bag effectively, so you need to think very carefully before you cut out about where print features will end up and you may need extra fabric to ensure you can work around details.
I like lining that isn't too dark because it makes it easier to find things if you have a lot of stuff rattling around the bottom of your bag. I'm not stressed about a bit of grubbiness in there so my concerns about pale outers does not apply to pale inners. I also like a pattern that makes me smile when I look inside - a bit of cute or sweet or clever. I like my outers to be bold and interesting but also go with everything and stand up in a corporate as well as casual environment, but the inners can speak to my personal quirks.
I will also never again make up a bag without testing interfacing on the outer fabric first. I'll talk about interfacing more in a minute but since its the number one critical feature to good structure, a fabric that doesn't take interfacing well will always look crap. Ask me how I know that. A special mention here goes to the wonderful canvas fabrics you can get from Ikea. They look fantastic, they are inexpensive and sturdy but in my experience, they do not like stick. Washing might help, but either way if you can't get interfacing to stick solidly, uniformly and stand up to a bit of scrunching and pulling without bubbling, don't use it.

If you want a bag that looks like something more than a sack of fabric, whether its a stand up or a slouchy version, then I can't say it enough - interfacing, interfacing, interfacing. And not that cardboardy fused junk from spotlight. The first time I used a really good quality fabric interfacing was a revelation, it gives substance, strength, structure without taking away the fluidity and fabric characteristics of the outer.  And there's no need to stop at one either, combining the individual characteristics of different interfacings allows you to add the exact combination of stiffness, strength, softness, fluidity etc that you want. My latest bag has no less than four different kinds of interfacing and structure - an all over treatment with a medium weight iron on fabric, some stiffening with Vilene to make the bag stand up well, some wadding to add softness and protect my ipad and some template plastic in the base to make it super sturdy on the bottom.
 Make sure your interfacing is absolutely and completely attached - I use a pressing cloth so I can crank the heat right up and really press hard and then I leave the fabric until it is cold before I start moving it about. It goes without saying that you should press all your seams really well as you go too. Once the bag is complete you won't find pressing so easy since pockets and closures get in the way and you need to be very very sure you keep your iron well away from any plastic hardware or webbing straps you may be using. Yeah, ask me how I know about that one too. Oh and you put your structure on your outer, not your lining.
As a general rule I cut my interfacing to the exact size of my intended bag, iron it on to my fabric and then cut the fabric with seam allowances added. I think this helps me be more precise when I sew it up later. I use 1cm seam allowances and top stitch open any straight seams for strength but I don't bother finishing off seams unless the fabric is very fraying - in which case I would add a bit extra on the seam allowance and double stitch or overlock

When it comes to lined bags there seems to me to be two basic construction methods - making a single piece out of lining and outer that you then turn right side out through a hole in the lining, and the make an outer and inner as separate pieces and join them through top stitching. The former is a must if your opening has a curve (like this), but the latter allows you to use much firmer structure without needing to scrunch it all up to turn it out through a small hole. It's also easier to my way of thinking.

If you join everything using top stitching you can put pockets and so on in your lining and adjust it  knowing exactly where everything will be in the finished product. You can also use the join between inner and outer to place a flap to close the top of the bag if you want one, or even your straps (though I tend to sew my straps onto the outer as a separate exercise because I think for a larger bag carrying lots of stuff this hangs better). For the record I'm also a fan of top stitching as many of your seams as you can doing construction it adds strength and helps everything sit nice and flat.

You may have noticed I'm a real big fan of pockets and internal organisation. I love that a quick glance can tell me if I have all my critical things - an empty pocket alerts me to something that's missing.
I've played with this aspect of bag making and while each new bag seems to have more and more complicated add ons, I haven't yet gotten tired of a super organised system. This is absolutely a personal thing so if you want to go the pocket-o-rama route you really need to work out what stuff you always carry, how big everything is and your preferred balance between security and ease of access.

I don't like zip closures, or anything that requires two hands to open, but there are some things that can drop out when you bend over so I have a few pockets with simple press studs or elastic across the top. My latest discovery is the slot pocket - a slot opening in the lining with a pocket bag in the space between the inner and outer. This is what I did for the ipad and ipod pockets - and the former I added an extra layer of batting to both sides to keep it super snug. I don't add structure to any other pockets - they don't need much int eh way of strength and I don't want to add unnecessary weight. I also now add a length of cotton tape into the lining side seam with a swivel catch to hold my keys.
The placement of pockets is also important - if they are too close to the top and they carry much stuff they will pull even a firm structure down and prevent the bag from standing up on its own. You can see from the picture above (the lining after I have attached all the pockets but before I have sewn it up) that I tend to have most of mine finish close to the bottom, with a few critical and light ones near the top.

I am a fan of the webbing adjustable strap for my everyday handbags. I wear my bags messenger style most of the time but sometimes switch to shoulder bag style. Webbing can't be beat for ease of use and strength, and you can buy all the slides and loops in numerous styles for whatever width you want. Too easy. For softer bags (like the beach sling bag) I use an all in one outer and strap with a bit of interfacing for strength. I also like magnetic fasteners if I want a bag closure because they are easy to fit, strong and and can be opened and closed with one hand (though try not to have them too close to electronic equipment like phones and ipods/ipads since they can fritz the system).

I think that's it for my collected wisdom, such as it is. Do shoot questions through but I will answer them here in the post if I think they might be useful to others. If you want a personal answer just send me an email rather than leave a comment.

Thursday, 4 November 2010

made stuff

linen bag

Another bag, the best yet. Is it worth doing a post on all the stuff I've learned about making bags?

shades of red

More machine knitting. Oh yeah.