Tuesday, April 8, 2014

Spring infinity scarf

Now that we're on the subject of clothes, let's talk big-girl (i.e., for me) clothing for a few minutes.

Lately I have been pondering a bit the idea of a "spring wardrobe." This is a new one for me, in the past I've basically thought of my closet as 10 months of cold-weather clothing and 2 months of warm-weather clothing. It will probably be somewhat chilly and wet here in Seattle until late June and I run cold, so I will continue to need two layers of long sleeves and wool sweaters on most days until true summer weather arrives. I've thought in the past that it is difficult in this climate to dress appropriately for the weather and for the season at the same time. But this year I'd like to do something about it.

Looking at my closet, I see a LOT of black and gray, stuff that feels cozy and subtle in January but looks dreary to me now. I don't see a lot of items that look "springy." One thought I had was that a little more pink might be in order. (Now there is a sentence that has never before been typed by the mother of a six-year-old girl.)

So, last weekend, I made myself a scarf.

The outer print fabric is from Anna Maria Horner's Little Folks voile collection, and the inner fabric is a crinkled cotton gauze that I've had in my stash for a while. (I'm a little embarrassed to say that making this scarf did not actually require a trip to the fabric store.)

The pattern is this free tutorial from Pink Chalk Fabrics (PDF link). Most other tutorials for infinity scarves simply have you make a continuous loop of fabric, but this method introduces a twist in the loop so that the scarf actually resembles an infinity symbol -- my not-so-inner nerd was instantly sold.

The tutorial has you cut two pieces of 54"-wide fabric from selvage to selvage. That was the width of my voile but the crinkle cotton was only 42-44" wide, so I cut two strips along my yardage and pieced them together to match the length of the voile. (I cut along the length of the yardage so that the crinkles in the cotton would run the long way along the scarf.)

I found the instructions very clear and reliable, and I got a good result on the first try without any missteps. The whole thing took about an hour and a half total, from pressing the fabric all the way through the little bit of hand sewing required to stitch the opening closed. I'm a slow sewist (say that three times fast), so I consider that a pretty quick project.

Here are a few ways I'm looking forward to wearing my new scarf:

With coral cords, an ivory long-sleeve tee, tweedy olive-green cardi, and tan/black ballet flats.

With gray jeans, a Breton-stripe tee, ivory Aran cardi, and Navy blue clogs.

With mustard cords, a gray tunic sweater, and Wellies.

Happy Spring!

Sunday, April 6, 2014

How to build a wardrobe of secondhand kids' clothing that works

I don't mind admitting that ever since she was an infant my girl has worn mostly secondhand clothes. She gets hand-me-downs from her cousin, who is a year and a half older, and I buy from thrift stores, children's consignment stores, and eBay. Generally I shop about one size ahead and toss items as I buy them here and there into a bin in the attic.

The problem with this strategy is that it is all too easy to wind up with too many clothes, duplicates (two plain black long-sleeve tees for a kid who rarely wears plain tees), and clothes that don't mix and match (adorable pair of printed leggings that go with zero dresses in the closet).

For a while I was keeping a tally of pants, shirts, etc. in each size on an index card that I slipped into my wallet. This helped a bit to keep from overbuying in any given category, but because I was just keeping track of numbers I still wound up with too many similar clothes, "missing" basics, and items that didn't go with anything else.

I have a new approach I have been trying out that seems very promising so I thought I would share.

The first step was to decide how big I wanted my girl's wardrobe to be overall. I decided on two weeks' worth of clothing -- about 14 bottoms and 14 tops for each season (cold weather and warm weather). This is substantially less minimal than the suggestions I found when I googled "how much clothing does a child need?" Most other sources recommend around one week's worth of clothing. I decided two weeks' worth is better for us because I do laundry once a week and especially in mud season (which around here lasts roughly forever) it's not unusual for her to go through two or even three outfits a day.  
Next I tried to be honest about what kinds of clothing my girl actually likes to wear. For example she only likes "soft pants" so that brand-new, tags still attached pair of corduroy pants at the Goodwill is frankly a $4.99 waste. She doesn't like tights so there is no point in accumulating a drawerful of skirts to wear with them, no matter how adorable and inexpensive. Mostly she wears knit dress + leggings or knit pants + long-sleeve tee, so I planned around those outfit formulas (for cold-weather clothing, that is).

I realize, of course, that her preferences could change on a dime and a lot of this effort will have been wasted. But, my girl doesn't happen to care much about clothes in a fashiony sense, her main concern is comfort, and her preferences have been pretty stable over time, so I think this kind of planning is worth the risk in her case. And I think some of the ideas I'm sharing here could still be adapted for kids who have more definite and specific opinions about what they wear.

Step three was to come up with a rough strategy about colors etc. to buy in each category. Basically, for leggings and pants I'm looking for darker colors (practical, don't you think?) and solids. Dresses and tops get brighter colors and prints, patterns, or some kind of appliqué or embellishment. She's down with flowers, stripes, polka dots, and animals but (tragically) hates plaid. Purple, blues, and pinks are the most loved colors.

Then, I made a little chart with a square for each piece of clothing needed. When I buy something I fill in a square with the color(s) of the item. This way, I can purchase things gradually as I find them, but make sure my girl ends up with a mix of clothes that works together well.

The final step is to STOP BUYING THINGS. (The all caps are because I'm shouting at myself, not you.) I admit that sometimes a few extra, especially adorable items have snuck in but I think I've been about 90 percent disciplined in sticking to the plan. You can see I've got her pretty well kitted out for the summer to come, and I'm looking forward to seeing how it all works out.

Thursday, April 3, 2014

Wednesday, February 26, 2014

WIP Wednesday*

*(Is this still a thing? Anyway, carrying on...)

I recently finished up a needlework piece (can't show you yet, it's a gift and I haven't gotten it sent off to intended recipient) so I am starting another. Fidelity, to one thing or another, is a work in progress for us all, isn't it?

Tuesday, February 4, 2014

A simple stenciled box for vacation memories


You might be wondering what we are going to do with our postcard travel journal once we tire of displaying it on the mantel. Well, I took about 30 minutes last weekend and made it a permanent home.

It's simply an unfinished cigar box with the year and destination of the trip stenciled in paint on the front. Here are the simple materials:

I chose gold paint because it blends in fairly well with the natural tone of the wood. I planned to display the box on a bookshelf and I wanted the lettering to be legible but not SUPER ASSERTIVE -- I wanted it to read like the spine of a book, if you will. The only gold paint I had on hand was actually fabric paint, but it worked just fine (acrylic craft paint would have been the obvious choice).

As for the play-by-play: Place the stencil for your first letter on the box:

Load up your foam brush with paint -- not too much now.

Dab paint on stencil. Don't worry, it's not rocket surgery.

It is a little fiddly, though -- those rubber stencils don't really stick to the wood, so some of my letters are a bit imperfect (I'm looking at you, D). No matter, it's not really noticeable from a couple feet away. And fortunately, one coat of paint turned out to be plenty, so I could remove each stencil right away and go on to the next letter.

You might notice in that picture up above a rubber band around the box near the top of the frame -- I used that to hold the box closed so I could flip the latch open and get a stencil underneath.

And that's it. You could put some kind of poly or varnish on the box to seal it, but I didn't bother -- I figured with the amount of handling it will get, the paint will hold up just fine. I gave the paint an hour or so to dry, then tossed the postcards and other trip ephemera inside.

(Yes, I did save tram tickets and the receipt from lunch at our favorite cafe, and I don't know why you're surprised; I've never pretended to be anything other than a sentimental fool.)

Anyway, here's to the future, may it hold a whole bookshelf full of cigar boxes.

Sunday, February 2, 2014

Having it both ways

So I took another pass at the mantel, using mostly the same objects as before but incorporating a couple of very basic styling tips: the idea of creating visual triangles, and the idea of creating arrangements with odd numbers of objects.

I switched out the white candles for green ones to add a little more color and contrast (yellow candles to match the daffodils would have been even better, but I don't have any on hand). Other than that, all I added was the two taller brass candlesticks on the right -- these belonged to my man's grandparents so you see I am still sticking to objects of significance.

I find our mantel really tricky to decorate because it is so shallow. A lot of tutorials recommend "layering" objects from back to front, but there is just not room for this strategy as far as i have been able to figure out.

Looking at these pictures today I can also see that the picture above the mantel is probably a bit undersized, but I'm not ready to move on from Big Raven yet.

You can probably also see that the surface of the mantel is uneven -- aside from the grooves between the bricks, the bricks themselves are not evenly laid and form hills and hollows that further limit how things can be placed without looking seriously wonky. Vexing!

All that said, I rather like the result and the hint that with a little extra thought maybe I can have it both ways -- meaningfulness and aesthetics. Though if you can see how to rearrange these things to improve the look, please do comment, I'm all ears!

Friday, January 31, 2014

On accidentally decorating a mantel

Have you noticed that decorating one's mantel is kind of A Thing in the home/design/decorating blogosphere?

I won't point to specific examples because I'm really not trying to knock the practice -- I'm just saying that it seems like everyone is forever decorating and redecorating their mantel.

I've done it myself, though I'll be the first to admit that I'm not very skilled at "styling" and I've never been terribly impressed by the results.

The other day I looked up from my perch on the couch (exactly the spot from which I'm typing this post right now, as it happens), and noticed that I had accidentally decorated the mantel.

I think I like it better than any of my previous efforts in this area.

Here's how it happened. After I put away the Christmas decorations a few weeks ago (which had covered the mantel in a very crowded, linear, shall we say six-year-old-ish, arrangement), the mantel was just about bare except for those two brass candlesticks. (I bought them at a secondhand shop in Stockholm, as a gift for my man back when we were dating.)

Our travel journal postcards were there too -- without giving it too much thought, I'd tucked each one up in that spot as they arrived in the mail.

At some point I added a pot of daffodil bulbs from the grocery store, for a little January cheer. They're rather past their prime in the photo above, but you get the idea.

The Delftware figurine belonged to my grandmother; I put it over here a little bit because I thought it would look nice with the daffodils but mostly because its previous position on the kitchen windowsill was starting to seem precarious to me.

The print above the mantel is a painting by Emily Carr. I've talked about her a bit before, but to recap, my man and I took a road trip to Vancouver soon after we started dating, and the print is from an exhibit we saw at the Vancouver Art Museum. (Ha, remembering this amuses me in light of my previous post -- perhaps I somehow recognized that this trip was going to be significant enough to require more than just a postcard souvenir.) A few months later, he spirited the poster away and had it framed to surprise me for my birthday -- the first and probably only time he has been grateful for my generalized packrattish chaos that enabled him to do this without my suspecting a thing.

Now, I'm not claiming my mantel arrangement is going to win any design awards--it's certainly not. I'm just taking note of the fact that this collection of things makes me happier to look at than other collections that were made with primarily aesthetics in mind. At a time when we're awash in a sea of disembodied inspiration images, it's good to be reminded that often, what pleases the heart is also what pleases the eye.