Wednesday, December 27, 2006

Scarfing on school time

Along with about ten other kids at his (very tiny) school, Elliot decided that his winter craft would be a scarf (the rest of the kids painted ceramic figures or made papier mache masks). He told me about it a couple of times while he was working on it, but I could not visualize it from his descriptions---he didn't know what to call the cloth that they were using, and didn't know words for the kinds of stitching they were learning.

This past Friday, the last day of school before the winter break, Elliot brought his scarf home--how beautiful it is! It's polarfleece, in a deep olive that is actually very close to the color of my nephew (Elliot and Astrid's cousin) Sam's eyes. The scarf has a beaded pocket at one end (according to Elliot, two of his classmates, identical twin girls, announced that their pockets would be for the IPod Nanos they expected to receive for Christmas....I groaned--not inwardly, either).

My favorite thing about the scarf, apart from the color, is the process that shows through the blanket stitching that Elliot learned how to do as he went around the scarf. It's easy to see where he began---some of the stitches are big, while others are tiny, and they are inconsistently placed. Then, about a quarter of the way around, they become much more even and confident. A little before the end, they start getting kind of ragged again---I didn't ask him, but I bet that Elliot was running out of time, or needed to finish so he could head outside to play kickball at the neighborhood park his school uses for recess time.

I didn't get to see any of the other kids' scarves; I wonder if their creators' personalities show through them as clearly as Elliot's shows through his.

Thursday, December 21, 2006

Let the cleanup begin....

I finished my semester's grading today (not a huge task these days, as I teach only one class per term). To celebrate, and to clear my palate from all the little holiday gifts I've been making (and messing up my sewing table with), I cleaned up my sewing corner in the dining room.

Back when we had just Elliot, I sewed in our basement, so that he could play with his Thomas trains or watch TV while I worked. Then he got bigger, and I moved my sewing stuff up to the (unheated) tandem bedroom on our second floor. He'd still spend time with me in that little room, but he could also play in his own bedroom....togetherness with space. I sewed *lots* of baby clothes up there while I was pregnant with Astrid. Then she was born, and at first I wasn't sure if I'd ever sew anything again.

Baby time passes quickly, and though Astrid was the fussiest baby *I've* ever met (small sample, to be sure), she eventually let me sew for very short periods....then a little longer....then a little longer....just as long as I did whatever I was doing in the relatively wide-open space of our dining room (really one big room with the living room). I try really hard to keep my cloth and patterns contained in and around my sewing desk (an old children's desk), but it has a tendency to seep outward....something that I know bugs my husband, though he's very kind about it. I think he's glad that I don't hide away in the basement or upstairs.

Anyway, since our crayon disaster, I actually have a really good reason to be very busy sewing, and now my work area is practically pristine.

Thursday, December 7, 2006

Crafting with Ibsen

Students in the class I'm teaching were puzzled (and in some cases kind of tickled) by this very weird passage in Act III of Ibsen's play A Doll House, which I taught for the first time this week. In this passage, the self-righteous and controlling husband, Torvald Helmer, tells his wife's friend, Mrs. Linde (a poor widow), that, instead of knitting, she "should embroider....because it's a lot prettier. See here, one holds the embroidery so, in the left hand, and then one guides the needle with the right--so--in an easy, sweeping curve--right?" Mrs. Linde, seeming confused about Helmer's sudden interest in women's handwork, lets him continue: "But, on the other hand, knitting--it can never be anything but ugly. Look, see here, the arms tucked in, the knitting needles going up and down--there's something Chinese about it."

If you've read the play, you know that Helmer's wife, Nora, has a serious problem with "embroidering" the truth---her husband has no idea that, several years earlier, she forged her father's signature in order to get a big loan. She's been lying ever since about where her money goes. Helmer's a micromanager who won't even let Nora munch on macaroons (she does it behind his back).

I didn't ask my students (most of them are female) if any of them were knitters or other kinds of needleworkers. But it was clear to me that they understood the different use values and class statuses of knitting and embroidery in the 1870s.....and they understood that Helmer would just as soon see Mrs. Linde's children go cold in the Norwegian winter than have to watch her act "Chinese" (whatever that's supposed to mean....).

Do people today have similar "crafting hierarchies"? I suppose many people think there are more-cool and less-cool aisles at their local Michael's store....but I don't think I've heard anything as blatantly weird and elitist as Helmer's comment in A Doll House.

Wednesday, November 29, 2006

Beading on the job

Once in a while I print art or sewing-related stuff on my office computer (shhh!), but otherwise, I don't mix the kinds of work (paid and unpaid) I do.* Today I had to attend a conference-type event at a big hotel in the way far-west suburbs. I dreaded driving to the hotel and sitting through the sessions [long story--I'm usually okay with this stuff], until I decided to pack something to do with my hands while I was there. I told myself that I probably wouldn't even take the stuff out of my backpack, but ten minutes into the first session, I whipped out the Zip-loc back with my bead embroidery, and I happily, happily worked on a beaded button cover. Somebody else at the meeting was knitting, so I didn't feel bad at all. (Actually, I still felt pretty guilty, but my whole being so resisted sitting there at all that the trade-off [looking inattentive versus running out of the room screaming] seemed worthwhile.)

(Okay, this is a goofy thing to say. I wear the clothes I've sewn to work almost every day, and I cartoon in any meeting where I don't have to talk or make sense, so I'm constantly mixing the two. But I don't sew in my office.)

Sunday, November 26, 2006

Beading Boy

My mother is visiting us from Olympia, Washington--near Shipwreck Beads, the hugest and most intimidating bead store I've ever seen. Mom loves beads but doesn't like Shipwreck (neither do I, but not because of the size), so whenever she comes to Oak Park, we go to our neighborhood bead store, Bead in Hand. This time I dragged her and Elliot to the new, much fancier bead store in the next town over, just to see what it was like. I felt guilty going there, because I'm worried that they'll put Bead in Hand out of business; I promised myself that I'd just look there and then buy what I wanted at Bead in Hand. As it turned out, the new place was no great shakes, and the prices were considerably higher than at "our" store. I did pick up some French coil, something I hadn't seen at Bead in Hand, and some paper that would work for origami.

As we were shopping at the new store, Elliot kept asking whether we could go directly to Bead in Hand when we were done at the new place, something I hadn't planned on doing. I finally got him to tell me why he was so eager: he wanted to make himself a necklace.

Now, Elliot is a magpie of the first order: he has been buying beads since he was about four, and he's almost always reluctant to make anything with them (though he has made some lovely things for me over the years). He mostly likes looking at beads, touching beads, and imagining what he could do with them--but then not doing what he imagines. He also pores over the Shipwreck catalog the way I used to memorize the Penney's Christmas catalog. It's a little obsessive. I was surprised, then, to hear that he wanted to make something for himself to wear. Turns out his schoolfriend Luke, who is a couple of years older than Elliot and the athletic hero of the kids at their Montessori school, has been wearing a choker with greyish beads and lots of little skulls.

Curious to see what Elliot would put together, I told him he could spend $3. A minute into the shopping process, I saw that he wouldn't be able to buy much for that, so I upped his limit to $5. He was able to get just two little skulls (but they were really cool) and a bunch of miscellaneous bone and glass beads. He wanted to get letters spelling out "El Loco," but he didn't have enough money. I picked up 50 mauve pearls to string together with the French coil, and we headed home.

The next day, it became clear that Elliot didn't have nearly enough beads to make his necklace (is his neck bigger than either of us realized? He is growing so fast....). I also realized that I would never be able to work on my own project if I didn't buy a lot of plastic beads with holes big enough for Astrid's blunt needle. She was driving me crazy because the beads she had were too small. (I was not going to make the mistake I'd made early last summer, when I gave her a smaller, sharper needle. If I was sitting right next to her, what trouble could she get into? This was my brilliant question to myself right before she pierced the skin between her thumb and index finger. "And the award for Mother of the Year goes to....")

So we headed back to Bead in Hand for $5 worth of plastic pony beads for Astrid, another $4 of ponies and colored letter cubes for Elliot, and some sterling clamshells and S-hooks for the necklaces I was working on. We got home and beaded happily for about 90 minutes, long enough for Elliot to finish his necklace (which he's been wearing nonstop) and for me to complete two necklaces with hardware for opening and closing (a first for me, as I always make things that are stretchy and go over the wearer's head.)

I felt a little surprised that Elliot wanted a necklace, but when I thought about his friends (all of whom are between 7-11 years old), I realized that he's one of the few boys who *hasn't* been wearing a necklace or rings. His best friend, Atzin, wears two or three rings at a time. So I guess it's not the landmark that it feels like. He seems happy, both with his handiwork, and with his "look," so I feel happy, too.

Thursday, November 23, 2006


I bought a big box of terracotta-colored Sculpey last month, thinking that I was going to make Elliot a chess set for Christmas. (I don't play chess--I have tried to learn it several times over the years, but I always get bored and frustrated. Elliot loves chess, so my good-will gesture was going to be a themed set for him....I couldn't even get as far as settling on a theme, so I gave up on the idea a couple of weeks ago. Sorry, El.) In the meantime, I have let Elliot and Astrid loose on the terracotta Sculpey, and I have made *way* more buttons out of it than I will ever be able to use.

During my long commute to work last week, I got the idea to recreate (in terracotta Sculpey) the Cliff Dwellings at Mesa Verde, Colorado, on some kind of glassware.

Before I admit that I know Mesa Verde isn't really terracotta-colored, some history: I grew up in Denver. My family visited Mesa Verde when I was about ten, before I developed a moderate fear of heights--otherwise I never would have been able to climb the ladders up to the Cliff Dwellings. I don't remember what I thought of them at the time; I do remember being very hot and probably car sick from too many hours in our 1968 Chevy Malibu station wagon. Now that I live in Chicago, I have completely romanticized all of those family vacations in Colorado and New Mexico. Hence, my temporary obsession with recreating Mesa Verde on a little glass.

I work across the street from an IKEA store, the source for so, so many cheap and plain things made out of glass. We've already made several sets of Sculpey-draped salt and pepper shakers (some of them are very cool), so I picked up just a couple more sets of those. I got eight votive candle holders and eight little spice jars. I printed up some photos showing Mesa Verde from different angles (just to refresh my memory....that's when I realized that Mesa Verde isn't the color of terracotta).

My finished jar looks so little like Mesa Verde that I know I'll have to explain it to anyone who sees it, but Elliot was enthusiastic, which is usually enough to keep me going. I haven't put it in the oven yet--I'll wait until we have a whole cookiesheet's worth of stuff to cook. When it's done, I'm probably going to fill it with cumin or some other spice that's good in southwestern food. Somebody might get it for Christmas.

Tuesday, November 21, 2006

Halloween was a month ago, but I've been trying to think of ways of beginning this blog (feels so momentous), and I've decided that pictures of Elliot's and Astrid's costumes might make an auspicious debut. The name of this blog is "Seis Manos," which means "Six Hands," because so much of the sewing and making I do involves Elliot (age 9) and Astrid (almost 4), too. Elliot gave me lots of ideas for his knight costume, some of which showed how he overestimates my sewing skills (a form of flattery, right?). Astrid just knew how she wanted to look in her Zardo Zap costume (she's a space alien from a Wiggles DVD): shiny, shiny, shiny, and she wanted to wear green eyeshadow. I think her face in this picture shows that she got just what she wanted.