Monday, September 22, 2008

How much pink and blue linen is left?

A few months ago I bought some v-e-r-y w-i-d-e linen for making curtains. I *did* make a set of bathroom curtains with the pink, but the blue isn't as pretty in "real life" as it was online, and both shades are so wrinkle-prone that I've opted not to make any clothes with them. (Really, the only time I iron is when I'm sewing.....I think I ironed a shirt for Elliot last year, when he celebrated his first Sacrament of Reconciliation at church....).

So we're been using the linen a little square at a time, as the foundation for our embroidery experiments. Here are two that I've finished over the past couple of weeks. They're a little small, so I'm not sure what I'll do with them--perhaps applique them onto a pillow. The bigger ones we've made have turned into pillow covers in their own rights (we posted Elliot's little partridge pillow a few weeks ago.) Most of those haven't been posted here because they are likely to end up under certain people's Christmas trees.

I'm pretty pleased with both of them. The Fire Chief (not a great photo--sorry) was based on an image in a very early book that Richard Scarry illustrated for Little Golden Books--Cars and Trucks (and see the updated posting about the bowdlerized early-70s version of the book--it's the one I have, and boy is it weird!). The bright primary colors of Scarry's illustration don't come through in this simple embroidered rendition, but I think the spirit is there.

The Young Pioneer design took a lot longer. It's based on a teeny part of a very complicated textile design in Jill Kachurin's 2006 book Soviet Textiles. (What a great book--I'm so glad I bought it! I sure wish some of the textile patterns she curated for her 2006 exhibit at the MFA in Boston would show up in someone's quilting line.)

Sunday, September 21, 2008

Concentric circles from my belly

Today's highlight was me sobbing on the phone to my mother, in full view of my five-year-old daughter, who later claimed never to have seen me cry before that moment. Hurray for rites of passage!

I was just starting to get over my chest cold when some viral evil sneaked into my tummy, and I am sick-sick-sick. The worst part, as I have already confessed, is that I am also full of self-pity. No stiff upper lip for me. And no sense of perspective, either--as my mother gently (but correctly) reminded me.

As a way of celebrating my own self-absorption, I offer this excellent news item from The Onion. The reporter doesn't know where the dot is, but I do.

Breaking News: Series Of Concentric Circles Emanating From Glowing Red Dot

Wednesday, September 17, 2008

Rough week....

I'm sitting in the living room with Astrid, who is watching Curious George on PBS. I had just arrived at my Chicago Loop office this morning when I got a call from her school--she was in the nurse's office, about to throw up. I said I'd be there within 45 minutes (the usual time getting home on the El); today, of course, the subway was broken down, and I ended up taking the scenic route--75 minutes by bus--and then walking 15 minutes to her school--only to find her sitting cheerfully in the nurse's office. (Did I mention that I have bronchitis, and that between this chest cold and Astrid's stomach virus last week, I've been to work twice in the last eight weekdays?)

We walked the rest of the way home, with lots of singing and joking from Astrid, all of which stopped when I told her that she couldn't watch TV once we arrived at the house---at least not until the official school day was finished. This seemed outrageous to her. After arguing with me a bit, and hearing that she was "addicted to TV--like a smoker is addicted to cigarettes," though, she became very sober and independent. She read, did homework, ran an errand with me--then, when we were back and it was 3:30, I told her she could watch some TV.

In the meantime, I am worrying about work, wondering when this parenting-while-employed thing ever gets easier (not that I've known parenting any other way), and feeling cruddy. I got a reminder from an editor about a revision of an essay that was due one month ago; I do not feel equipped at the moment to think and write, but when will I be? Instead I am ripping out the button-down collar from a Lands End men's dress shirt that I hope to refashion (but how? no clue right now....). An un-constructive act for a day with not much to show for it. Blah.

Monday, September 15, 2008

Some songs just need a little more....cowbell

Since I've just started my two-month Wardrobe Refashion pledge, I thought it might be appropriate to "refashion" one of my favorite songs about style. Whenever I hear Cake's "Short Skirt, Long Jacket," I picture Astrid in about 13 years. She certainly seems like someone who might someday "use a machete to cut through red tape."

What better way to take a great song "to the next level" (god, I hate that phrase) by mixing in a little--OK, a *lot*--of cowbell?

If you want to try it yourself--with this great song or another of your choosing--go to

(Two confessions: I tried to embed the code from the site onto this blog, but there's an error in the code, and I'm not HTML literate enough to fix it, plus all the copyright legalese sort of scared me, in a way that my husband's disapproval and tsk-tsking usually doesn't. So I'm giving you a thoroughly public-domain picture of a cowbell instead.)

(Another confession: our family [husband included] also greatly enjoyed cowbelling songs like The Modern Lovers' "Modern World" and Velvet Underground's "I'm Waiting for the Man," though Mo Tucker's drumming on the latter tune actually make the cowbell seem a bit redundant. Is that possible?)

Saturday, September 13, 2008

A favorite dress lives on

Over the past two weeks, I've been refashioning one of my all-time favorite early-90s dresses into two new pieces of clothing. I wish there had been digital cameras back when I used to wear this dress, because my memories of it are so happy: I wore it to my nephew Sam's 1st birthday party (he's now a sophomore in high school!), and I wore it a lot when my husband and I were teaching in SW Oklahoma. My students thought I was very bohemian (though I don't think that's the word they used....). I bought it in a deadhead shop in Colorado Springs during a short stint teaching at Colorado College (where I also got my degree). It was a knee length sundress with an empire waist.

The dress has been too small for me since before Astrid was born, but I didn't have the heart to give it away, and I felt sad every time I saw it hanging in my closet. Now that it's a top and a little jumper, I can see (parts of) it all the time.

I used the skirt to make the top for me. I drafted the pattern myself: it has darts in the front and side panels, so that it's loose but not shapeless, and it has plenty of room for my tummy. I used scraps of store-bought bias tape for the neck and armholes (I didn't mean for the bias tape to show in front, but I was too tired to rip it out when I noticed my it's now a design feature.) So far, I've worn it to work with my favorite black, bias-cut crepe skirt. I've been drafting/altering test versions of Kwik Sew 3338 to wear underneath this blouse (and others--now that I have a pattern I'm happy with, I'll make more of these woven tops--I have a couple more batik dresses that I'd love to rework).

The top part of Astrid's dress was the bodice of the batik dress. I took out about four inches from the center front, and made two deep tucks near the shoulder-blades. With scraps from my blouse, I appliqued fish onto the cotton/lycra skirt, and I added rick-rack seaweed on the back. Carrie's applique tutorial at Whole Cloth Designs showed me how to use freezer paper to make appliques lie flat. I was able to keep the binding on the armholes and neckline in place, so the whole thing was very quick to put together. This was good, because I decided not to be lazy about the hem: I fused it with Stitch Witchery and used a double needle so it would be really neat. (I usually just zig zag the hems on Astrid's knit clothes--doing it the nice way takes me twice or three times as long.)

I have one of my extra-special chest colds right now, so I've promised myself that I'll be very sedate sewing, and *definitely* no cleaning (last weekend I scrubbed the dining room floor--it took three hours....). I'm going to sit, embroider, and maybe paint a bit with Astrid. Oh, yeah, and cough a lot.

Friday, September 5, 2008

Maria Von Trapp and Betty Ford?

I just remembered something that one of the PBS presidential historians said last night after Cindy McCain's treacly tribute to her husband. I was not listening *all* that closely, but I am quite sure that one of them reported this bit of historical weirdness: apparently, after the RNC Convention in 1976, Maria Von Trapp (of The Sound of Music) contacted Gerald Ford so that she could urge him to publicly silence his wife, Betty. She told him that he might have a chance of beating Jimmy Carter if he would just shut Betty up.

In the process of researching this odd morsel of information, I have found all kinds of icky information about the real Maria Von Trapp (and some more nuanced, sympathetic accounts of her life), but nothing about her antipathy toward Betty Ford. I guess I'd like to know if there's any truth to the story....then again, there's enough weirdness and bad behavior in my world. I probably don't need to welcome any more of it into my brain....

Thursday, September 4, 2008

When you've lived in a box, everything becomes clear

I gotta write a little while I watch John McCain's acceptance speech, or I'll probably lose it.

The hagiographic video before McCain's speech--narrated, of course, by Fred Thompson--made a lot of implied comparisons between JMc and Jesus. From the sound of it, McCain experienced multiple resurrections.

Of course, Guiliani's and Palin's speeches the night before were exercises in nastiness. Palin, in particular, is an excellent speaker--but what mean-spiritedness in both talks! By deriding Obama's work as a community organizer, both of them showed their fundamental opposition to all the kinds of progress that probably couldn't have happened without the work of grass-roots organizers. Civil rights movement, anyone? Not if these folks had had their way....

Wednesday, September 3, 2008

As promised, our Labor Day mural

It's a little messy this year, as Astrid and her friend Anaya decided to make handprints with paint made out of chalk and water....within 90 seconds they both looked like they'd just auditioned for Blue Man Group. But it also features some inventive job titles, including Iguana Petsitter (Elliot), Street Juggler (Terry), and Fashion Designer (Anaya).

It was supposed to rain last night, and didn't, and it was supposed to rain today, and so far it's dry---so our mural is very slowly being carried away on the soles of the many pedestrians--workers, students, and pleasure-seekers--who walk by our house on their ways to and from the train. Viva los trabajadores y las trabajadoras!

Monday, September 1, 2008

Labor Day and Hurricane News

So Hurricane Gustav didn't hit New Orleans directly....that's good. Watching the news tonight, I heard several people say that New Orleans had "dodged a bullet." That's a metaphor I've always disliked, mostly because, here in Chicago, when one person dodges a bullet, it seems like someone else is right there to get hurt (or killed) in that person's place. So I was interested in hearing how the news folks talked about the areas that are feeling the worst of the storm. While I was thinking about this, Elliot and I came across a very relevant story from The Onion :

Hurricane Bound For Texas Slowed By Large Land Mass To The South

Elliot was tickled by this story because of his friendships with people from Mexico (his best friend, Atzin, is Latino, as are most of his teachers); he is appalled by how little most adults (never mind other kids) know about Mexican culture and geography. (I suppose I'm sometimes included there....) It's fun to watch or read The Onion with Elliot because he *really* gets satire, but I also sort of wish that he wasn't so completely familiar with the many wrongheaded and hurtful U.S. blind spots that provide them with their material.

Now onto a more pleasant subject: Labor Day. Labor Day is one of my favorite holidays--I do generally try to relax, because the day *after* Labor Day usually marks the beginning of my semester. Today I ended up doing yard work for about 90 minutes, so it wasn't all rest. Once evening rolled around and there was shade on our sidewalk, all four of us (plus Anaya, our eight-year-old nextdoor neighbor, and her mother) headed out to make our annual sidewalk chalk mural honoring workers. I'm too tired right now to post the pictures we took after we were done drawing--but I can say that, in the nine years we've been doing these murals, this one is one of our best. Some of the workers we depicted include a farmer, chef, street juggler, roofer, home health aide, botanist, and sales associate. (We did the sales associate because just as we were almost done with our drawings, a tired but cheerful woman came walking down our block. I told her what we were doing, and she said that she was just getting off her shift as a sales associate at American Girl Place. I told her we'd include her in the drawing--she probably thought I was nuts, but I kept my word. If she walks down our block on her way to work tomorrow, she'll see herself!)

Our Labor Day mural is one of our family's happiest (and simplest) traditions. More than taking them to a parade or barbecue (not that there's anything wrong with those--we went to a barbecue today), I think this tradition helps them understand what Labor Day is for, why it matters.