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how handmade makes the best holiday

handmade xmas

Oh December. You are happening so fast.

Yet, the final sewing classes have occurred, holiday markets are complete and the last handmade gifts and custom orders are done and done.  Our family has been really busy but we are starting to feel the great slowing-down as the long stretch of winter break approaches.

When I was growing up, life was never really stable enough for family traditions to form and stick from one year to the next so I am fierce about making sure we have our own.  There is no Martha Stewart-style perfection about it. Not a lick.  These are our traditions and our family magic, nobody else’s.  I treasure all of it, so much.  Despite the stresses and the hurrying about, December in our house is everything I wanted it to be and more than I imagined.  Making it handmade is a huge part of the traditions we are building.   Such as our stockings and the peace banner (it says ‘joy’ on the other side) up above.   I made those a few years back and it’s nice to see them this time of year.  In a few days, after the kids go to sleep, my husband and I will open some wine and turn on our favorite Dry the River and make mince pies until the wee hours of the night.  The boys are in love with our advent calendar. There is just so much heart in hand-cooked and handmade.

advent calendar

advent activities

The advent calendar is hung up on two dowel rods that are taped together.  It makes the middle of the advent droop and sit unevenly.  Nobody cares.  Each little mitten holds an easy activity….simple stuff like ‘hug a friend’ or ‘sing a Christmas song to your grandparents’.  Nothing that creates a massive hassle for our day or a stressful time-crunch for me. Easy stuff that is somehow really exciting for C & J to accomplish every day.  Today we played in the snow.  This weekend we will head into NYC to see Rockefeller Center and grab a cupcake at Magnolia Bakery…the advent will tell us to do it but we would have done it anyway, we do it every year.  The boys think it’s pure magic and wake up dying to find out what is in the day’s mitten.

boys in snow

Under our Christmas tree is a tree skirt sewn by my grandmother.  After my grandparents stopped farming and gave up cold, bitter Minnesota mornings on the farm for a cozy home in a small town they started quilting together. My grandmother sewing and my grandfather helping to stretch out and tie the quilts.  The fact that they are both gone now makes this tree skirt priceless.  It’s as close as I get to their hands.

grandmas tree skirtDangling on our tree is the ornament my Aunt handmade for me when I was born.  I never get to see her, she lives far away, so it’s great to catch glances of this ornament all month long and share stories about her with C & J.

cindy's ornamentSame thing with this ornament from my mother.   She painted it for me from when I was little from some kind of kit.  My mother was a talented artist who had to give it up to raise me and my siblings but she managed to carry her artistic sense with her into everything she did.  Only now in her retirement is she finding little ways to explore getting back into making art herself.   It takes so much courage to do jump back into something like that.

kit house

I love how December ushers all of these stories into my home and I’m watching my boys and wondering what memories they are making and how those will turn into their stories.  I’m late in saying this because you are also crazy busy but welcome December…it’s nice to have you here.

best summer list ever

every summer we make a list of all the things we want to do and get all amped up about how fun summer is going to be.  the boys love it and they love thinking up things to do and then checking them off the list.  usually it’s just on a simple piece of paper.  often we draw pictures since not everyone is a reader, you know.  well, with one boy done with school and another nearly done it was time for the summer list. this year we turned it into a huge rainbow!! it’s hanging on our dining room wall.  and personally I think it’s our best ever. summer list in a rainbow babywe all worked on it together.  I decided on the grand scheme and then we started writing and drawing.

rainbow before

J decided to just make a big green drawing and contributed little drawings here and there.  C practiced writing his words and came up with the brilliant idea to color over the words after we had done the activity.  isn’t that genius?  so at the end of the summer we will have a colored-in rainbow! I love these little people.

rainbow in perspective

this picture shows its size a little better.  by the end of the summer the hope it to have a full color rainbow on the wall!  the boys keep adding things to the list, even totally ordinary things like ‘buy new shoes’.  bless them.  I would like to add ‘boys will stop wrestling incessantly’ but it’s a summer list not a wish list, sadly.

love stories in minnesota

we just got back from a visit with my family in Minnesota for a week.  it wasn’t exactly spontaneous as we knew we were going to go there at some point this spring or summer.

duluth boysthe timing for our visit got a little bit more urgent a few weeks ago, though, when a doctor delivered some difficult news.  my wonderful, funny, supportive grandmother (who is  91 and whip-smart) is in danger of some serious heart complications.  it made me really want to sit and be with her.  so, off we went.

my grandmother is not like anyone else I know.  she is serious when she needs to be but has a great sense of fun, too.  one of my fondest childhood memories is of watching her dance the chicken while wearing a pair of those fake eyeglasses with a big nose.  she grew up the oldest of five and has always worked hard and worked with her hands.  her mother, my great-grandmother, was a seamstress for the Pendleton wool company and my grandmother insists her mother is the magic seamstress behind the Pendleton Turnabout: the reversible wool skirt.  I have no doubt this is true.  especially given my grandmother’s own immense sewing talent, making jackets and wool dresses for her whole family for years.

me and irene

when she moved from her house to an apartment recently, she handed down loads of Pendleton wool and other fabric to me.  I most definitely get my desire to make things by hand from her. she is definitely my biggest (in quantity of support not physical stature obviously) and loudest cheerleader for all my sewing endeavors.

she doesn’t sew much these days but that is just about the only thing she doesn’t do.  she is so full of life and wit and love.  one evening, over her modest brandy and 7, after watching my sister struggle to unscrew a wine cork, she quipped “you just don’t know how to screw, do you?” in her gentle, mischievous, angel voice.  the woman is 91! (sorry grandma, I had to share…it was too good!)  she’s funnier than most and more loving and beautiful, too.  and, hasn’t slowed down one bit.  it did my heart much good to see her.  I’m really hoping that I will grow up to be a 91 year old just like her.

we saw the whole family while we were there…grandparents, aunt, uncle, second cousins and visited one really important place, Lake Superior.

the boys and the lake

something about this lake and this beach.  for me, lake superior brings an immediate peace.  it’s true that Minnesota is chock full of lakes but this one is so majestic and yet welcoming.  too many of my younger days (years?) were spent in front of this lake trying to fruitlessly figure out the details of the future.  gotta love those angst-y teen years, huh?   these days nothing is better than watching my boys fall in love with this lake. I like knowing they know it.  if you have never visited the beach at Park Point in Duluth, MN you should do that.  and soon…possibly right now.

me in the canal

being with family also gave me a chance to pass on some belated Mother’s day/birthday gifts.  I’ve been playing around with a new bag pattern and made a bag for both my mother and my grandmother in some new fabrics.

for my grandmother I used oilcloth in an amy butler pattern.  on the front good-sized pockets I added a strip of bias tape and the handles are made using d-rings.  paired with a matching little wallet (just like these) I’m hoping she can use it for little shopping trips.

grandmas shopper

the base of the bag is made with a kind of oval shape that gives the bag a bit of structure.

for my mother, I used a thick wool I got at a yard sale and added medium weight interfacing and made the same bag.  using fabric scraps I made her a little wallet, too.

wool shopperfor the bag lining I used some liberty of london fabric that I scored in the sew mama sew sale.  this is the very first time I have cut into liberty of london.  it is just like everyone says…butter soft, easy to work with…it’s basically a dream.  it was hard to cut it but I’m glad I did.  there is not point in just having fabric, it exists to be used!!

peek! there is liberty inside.mmm…so pretty.

there is more to report from our little sojourn to the midwest but I’m saving that for later.  best to keep it to one big emotional story per post, don’t you think?

moving into the sun :: the family art room

last weekend we moved my sewing space from the basement up two flights of stairs into an upstairs bedroom and transformed the room into a family art room.  it’s huge. it is still soaking in for me.  I will be honest, this is a big deal.

now, I have talked a lot about how important it is to make space for creative endeavors.  when you make physical space, you make space in your life…making things becomes easy and accessible and it integrates into your everyday.  I really believe this and I also believe that making things by hand can be life-changing.  so, making space is a big deal.  but our house is small and the basement (you can see the old basement studio here) was the only place I could commandeer.  and, I was honestly ok with that.  in fact, I was thrilled.  it was the first time I’d made room for my creativity in a permanent way.

but the fact is I returned from the makerie with a renewed enthusiasm for making things in a beautiful and inspired space.  amy butler is particularly to blame for my new yearning; her workshop included a slideshow with some stunning photos of her home and studio.  it is so beautiful and she emphasized that the world around her keeps her attuned to inspiration and color ideas and essentially full of life.  amy is undoubtedly a passionate and alive person, it is difficult NOT to catch her enthusiasm and be swept up in it.  she is a woman living with great joy and passion.  it was impossible not to catch some of it.  and, I’m so glad I did.

for my part, teaching and sewing is, after parenting, what I spend much of my time focusing on.  shouldn’t I treat it like that?  the basement just wasn’t cutting it anymore. it was time to move into the sun.

so, I suggested that for mother’s day I might take over the playroom and turn it into a home office for me.  this might sound kind of bad.  steal the kids playroom?  but trust me, it is not bad.  it is actually quite beautiful.


{the old playroom}

the backstory is this: the playroom came to being when the boys decided they wanted to share a room.  so, the extra bedroom became their playroom.  except they never played in it.  or they played in it maybe once a week for an hour or so.  it was definitely underused. we made it as nice as we could and they still weren’t interested.

frankly, they wanted to play near us and that meant toys carefully arranged in the playroom would come bump, bump, bumping down the stairs and spread out all over the kitchen.  it frustrated me so much. “why is this big mess here in the kitchen when you have a whole playroom?”  yet, as soon as I considered using the playroom for my sewing space it became so obvious.  I LOVE that I have two sons so interested in being around their parents that they neglect a room full of toys.  it won’t always be like this.  I suppose soon they will be creating greater and greater distances between themselves and us.

now is the time.

besides, I want to start living my values with the boys.  I want them to see me take myself seriously and bring what I do and what I am passionate about more into their world.  and, then I happened to pick up the book side by side by tsia carson.  tsia believes that parents and children can work side by side on art projects even if they are working on different things….art with children doesn’t have to be centered around completing one project but it can branch out and move in a new, different direction for everyone involved.  her words resonated with me and suddenly the new room transformed into a family art room.  we can make things side by side, of course we can!    art room in playI am just getting started arranged the room, it is awfully scrappy looking at this point. but I have moved a lot of the standard kid art supplies up…googly eyes, pipe cleaners, markers, sketch paper, assorted buttons are all accessible to them.  and guess what they hang out there now!  ha!  in the last three days they have worked on two different projects in the family art room…both of their own design.  yesterday, C brought some legos upstairs and worked on a building a fire truck.  the irony is not lost on me that toys are now being brought up the stairs…scoot, scoot, scoot.

studioviews{a view of the fabric cabinet with plants (!) and the right hand wall with books and supplies}

it’s funny, I can’t figure out what took me so long! everyone is happier with this arrangement.  especially me.  I can’t help but wonder if it was my husband working from home, would have taken him as long to establish a sunny spot for himself?  I need to keep reminding myself that it’s ok to take up room.  why is that?  for his part, when I suggested I take over the playroom, he was all over the idea.  it seemed so natural to him.  of course I should do that!  It would be great!  my classes are above ground now, it only makes sense that everything else is, too.  between him, amy and tsia…I think I am in good hands.

As I settle in, I will be sharing the decorating and arranging of the room and reporting back on successes and failures.  I’ll let you know how the well the rules about “things that we don’t touch in the art room” are followed.

in the meantime, I’ll be in the sunshine making things!

march happy happenings

march is here, somewhere.  in these parts that has meant some rain, mud, and finally..snow.  um yeah, we were out building snowmen two days ago.  but the spring flowers are still working their way toward the sunshine.  and that means it is time for some happy happenings…my round-up of awesomeness living out there in the internet this month (or in prep for next month).  I was so happy to have stumbled on and can’t wait to share.



I am a huge fan of breaking bad and so I nearly flipped my lid when I saw this round up of breaking bad inspired crafts  over at make:craft.  I really want  need  the bald Walt softie. I mean, who doesn’t?




it is true that brooklynites are having the most arty-fartsy fun.  especially now that they have brooklyn craft camp on march 16th!  this day long camp-for-grown-ups is a d.i.y. heaven filled with good food, cocktails and craft workshops.


a full day (!!) with amazing teachers and making, making, making…everything from knitting to paper cutting to printmaking and even terrarium making.  the fact that I can’t make it only solidifies my long-standing belief that I need a clone.



my husband is Irish and ever since we started dating I have enjoyed St. Patricks Day just that little bit more.  it’s hard not to, considering how loudly and passionately he can sing the irish rover.  this martha stewart project seemed like a good one to get the kids into the spirit, too.  she uses a heart stamped in 3 directions and a green stamp pad to make easy decorations.  sometimes you gotta hand it to her.  so fantastic!




another kid project, this lovely paper egg bunting project from two straight lines has been on my to-do list for a long while.  just love the simple design and the pleasantness of it.  it’s a great easter project with the kids that doesn’t look overly Easter.




baseballs, puppies, cars, trucks and product placement…that pretty covers the options for boys clothing.  in short, it is nearly impossible to find funky, fun clothes for boys. even most sewing patterns are all girls, girls, girls.  and that is why it a good thing that dana met rae and together they created  celebrate the boy.  it’s a crazy, mind-blowing collection of handmade clothing for BOYS! it seems the whole world has joined in and the results are unreal.

celebrate the boy

things are really getting hopping in the boy world! three cheers for that!


the inimitable heather ross believes that anyone can learn to draw and she is holding  a contest to prove it.  sketch something every day for ten to twenty minutes for three weeks and send it to her…the person who improves the most wins some of her newest line of fabric. how sweet is that?!



this project is absolutely going to happen at my house and soon.  in fact, I  bought fabric dye today.  they are amazing hand-dyed tea towels with wax resist, basically writing with wax crayons on fabric and then dying it!  think of the possibilities…wedding day readings, song lyrics, quotes from kids books!  I am so excited to have found this idea from the lovely women behind a beautiful mess. a beautiful mess, indeed.




if you are a modern quilter then you were probably either at quiltcon or wishing you were at quiltcon.  I did not head to Austin, TX for this inspiring and amazing modern quilt guild event and, consequently, I was singing the ‘quiltcon blues’ but I was heartened to learn that there are highlight from the event and quiltcon lectures over on craftsy! yay! now, I can put down my banjo and watch away.



and last but not least is the covert robin, of course.   what kind of co-host would I be if I didn’t mention it!?  if you signed up, you should have your partner’s information and possibly even be doing some making.  if you need inspiration, check out this helpful blog post from clover and violet and the mega-tutorials list from made with moxie.

covert robin

enjoy! swapping handmade is like hatching goodness, little chicken.

happy valentines day

happy valentines everyone!  it has already been a pretty dreamy day over in my world.  we woke up and exchanged our handmade valentines including a few that were made on the fly by C.  he is my son after all.  he knows a little last minute ‘still in the pajamas’ card making is totally acceptable and a much higher priority than getting dressed.

heart strands

we’ve got chocolate fondue and pesto on the docket for dinner (hopefully not in that order but I’m not making any promises).  I got the sweetest email from my aunt who told me this little blog inspired her to handmake her cards and I was even able to sneak in a lunch with dear friends.  all of that before the evening review of cards from friends and the un-corking of some red wine has even begun!  there abounds much, much love of the best kind.  I am so lucky and really feeling it today.  (there is, of course, a little bit of kid-related heartache but it wouldn’t be real life without a piece of that now would it?  it’s nothing big, just a little niggle.)

there is also one final v-day craft project that was revealed today.  one which I haven’t yet shared here, just in case doing so ruined the secret.  the boys and I made a felt heart mobile for the much-loved Papa.  it used up the some final bits of felted sweaters.  I cut out hearts and sewed them together into strands.  then I got the boys input and they very adamantly voted to turn the heart strands into a mobile.

simple heart mobile

so, I did my very best.  using an embroidery hoop covered in bits of felt, I attached the heart strands as well as some ribbon to hang it from the top.  I am not wild about how this came out (thankfully, the boys are!).  the top is sloppy, it was harder than I expected to sew and clumsily deal with the wooden embroidery hoop at the same time.  along with that, the hearts droop a bit because they are too heavy.

felt heart mobile

and, you know what? I just could not care less.  something a very thoughtful friend wrote about reminded me that today isn’t easy for everyone.  it helped me realize that every sweet little surprise that came my way today was made by hand and heartfelt.  the extra hugs and ‘i love yous’ I got are beautiful reminders of everything I have to be grateful for.  and, I am indeed grateful.  so what if my hearts are drooping and the mobile is a little wonky?…nobody around here cares.   it’s not the hallmark shine that makes the day special; it is, as always, the beauty we find in our droopy, wonky, imperfect bits.

tonight I’m focusing on celebrating and loving all of that.  xoxo.


favorite blanket of all time

there is a clear winner for favorite blanket in our house and I am getting a little emotional about it.  I’m finding this blanket stuffed behind the couch and draped over the bunk bed; piled at the top of the stairs and giggled under on the porch. wool stripy with silly willy

I am an unashamed, honest-to-goodness sentimentalist and so it means a lot to me that this blanket is well loved.  this is because it’s made from a lovely, tightly-woven, lightweight wool I received from my grandmother.  she moved last summer and shipped me over 50 pounds of fabric that she saved from her days as a upholsterer and seamstress.  it’s not an exaggeration when I say that a piece of my family history is in every yard.  every single yard.

stripy blanket from irene

in fact, it was just that tug of heritage that kept me from using it after all these months; paradoxically, it felt too special to use.  but, in keeping with my goals for 2013 (use what I have!) I dug it up and made it into the blanket I had imagined it would be the first minute I saw it.  that’s right.  from the first moment I pulled this wool out of the 50 pound package I wanted it to be a blanket exactly like the blanket I made it into.  because, really…it could hardly be anything else! looks at those beautiful stripes!

stripy blanket in basketnow for the details: the back is blue flannel and the binding is an easy, self-made (this is a great tutorial, which I followed).  I didn’t do anything special working with the wool in terms of needles or thread.  the blanket is super cozy and warm but not too heavy owing to the fact that one side is wool and the other is flannel.  a unexpected but great combination for a blanket whether it’s with new or old fabric.  It’s perfect, if I do say so.

snuggly guy in stripy blanket

now that the blanket is well and truly done and being drug to and fro around the house, the fabric doesn’t feel so precious and fragile.  it feels special, for sure, but I cringe to think that I could have kept it hidden away in my fabric stash and never come across a scene like this…where wrapped in his great-grandmothers fabric, my feisty boy squeals and hides from his hand-making mama.  I’m not saying it but you could say that a scene like that could get a girl a little choked up.  (gulp).

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