Friday, January 14, 2011

Favorite Things Friday: Podcasts

I am not old. But every day - every day - I can't help but think about how technology has changed the world, radically, over the past five years. Five years!

It's easy to believe that we've always had the Internet, always had blogs, always had iTunes...but as I constantly tell my students, "back in the day" when I was in college, doing research meant going to the library (physically going there, trudging through the snow, paying for parking), checking out books, getting reading material off reserve (reserve? what's the Reserve Desk?), and actually reading the material, not on your time, but during the hours that the library was open, while you're at the library. Then, of course, there was citing the material, not using a plug-in source citation machine that you found online (because, remember, the Internet does not exist yet), but by looking at another book, finding an example of the material you needed to cite, and doing the labor. It was time-intensive. Along the same lines, sitting through a class meant sitting through a class, probably listening to a professor talk, maybe, once in a blue moon, watching a video to enrich the class discussion...

I am only 39.


Before I start going into a dark hole of How the World has Changed and Ways the World is Different and Why We're Going to Hell in a Handbasket (that one's for you, Gramma), let me talk about ways in which I love technology. One of my favorite pieces of technology to emerge over the past few years has been the podcast. I love me a good podcast. I love that information is out there, free, just for the taking, about any topic imaginable. What's even more amazing is that people take the time to write, record, and post their podcasts, which is often no easy feat. Still, they have enriched my life (and, by extension, my teaching) in amazing ways. Thank you, Podcasters of the World. Your efforts are not ignored.

Some of my favorite podcasts have become my companions as I drive to school in the mornings, which are currently very dark and very cold. Our new car has the capability of playing iPod selections through the car speakers, so I can just call up the podcasts and drive in peace for thirty minutes, all the while listening to a comforting voice talk about topics that interest me and keep my mind occupied. It is a luxury I do not take for granted.

My husband is always amazed that I listen to craft-themed podcasts. "How can you listen to someone talk about sewing?" he asks. "How much is there to say without you actually just seeing it or even doing it yourself?"

Gee, I don't know. How can you listen to someone talk about football on sports talk radio? Wouldn't you rather see a guy throw a football or, better yet, actually throw one with the guys? How entertaining can it be to just listen to someone talk about it? We all have our own thing. I cannot set up my sewing machine and sew while I'm driving to school, so the next best thing is to listen to a podcast about it. There isn't a (non-Sirius, at least) radio station totally devoted to crafting. There is no Craft Talk Radio (although I'm getting goosebumps just thinking about it). But crafty podcasts? They're awesome.

Some of my current favorites, along with the links to their blogs and/or the podcast itself, so you can listen yourself. You don't need an iPod to listen; many of them stream right from their websites, and even for the ones that don't, iTunes is free. You can listen to it right on your computer.

1. Greenstitch. This podcast is Many of the Things I Adore, all rolled into one podcast. It's about sewing. It's about being eco-friendly. Anne is articulate, knowledgeable, and timely with her podcasts. I have learned about sewing, upcycling and recycling, all topics delivered in her soothing, calming voice. I look forward to her podcasts the way I look forward to having actual time at my sewing machine, which is saying a lot. I check for updates frequently.

2. Quilted Cupcake. You never knew a podcast about sewing and thrifting and quilting could be so entertaining, but it is.

3. CNN Student News. Surprise! This one is not a craft-related podcast. But if you can only listen to 10 minutes of news a day, make them these 10 minutes. Carl Azuz delivers the headlines in a way that even high schoolers love, which is no small task. He's a master of delivery, and you'll learn a lot. It's not dumbed-down; adults will get just as much out of this as students do. And I dare you not to laugh at his puns. Hats off to CNN for delivering this every day. You can download the video podcast every day from their website or directly from iTunes.

4. Craftypod. Anyone who delivers a podcast of this quality is a friend of mine. In-depth interviews, funny commentary...this one has it all. You'll learn a ton and have fun doing it.

5. Yarncraft. By Lion Brand Yarn. It's nice to know that other people have lots of Unfinished Objects, can take months to finish a project that is supposed to take "a few days," and have more ideas for crochet than they have time to actually tackle. Listening to this is like cozying up with my actual yarn basket.

If I had a podcast, my sign-off for each episode would be: When you can't actually craft yourself, the next best thing is to listen to someone else talk about doing it. That fits for listening to podcasts, too.

Monday, January 10, 2011

Love Note Pillows

I did not plan on continuing my fascination with pillowmaking, but when inspiration calls, I try to listen. So...what do you get when you cross a snow day with a mom who is craving time to sew with two kids who are busy playing with neighbors outside in the winter wonderland?

How about Love Note Pillows?

I'm pretty sure I saw this project first (or one similar to it) in Amanda Blake Soule's Handmade Home book last spring. I don't own the book, but when I checked it out from the library I think I saw it in there. At the time, I had no need or desire to make the pillows. If I recall, hers were made from an upcycled wool blanket (like the banners I love) and were meant for families to leave little notes to each other in the pocket.

Until recently, my little people were not into leaving me notes. Suddenly, a few months ago, K, who loves to write, started writing notes to me and really wanted me to write her back. I remembered this project and knew it would be perfect for us.

Also, it gave me an opportunity to use the old, beautiful quilt that I procured from my gramma back when I was 12.

I used the quilt for years as a bedspread. It wasn't made by my gramma, but it belonged to her, and it brought me great comfort after she died. She was a big part of our lives; when she was gone, I really felt adrift, like one of the few normal adults in my life, and certainly the one who was my anchor, had left. The quilt was made by one of her sisters. I'm pretty sure it was made from pieces of other projects and scraps of "upcycled" fabric, way before upcycling was fashionable or even had a name. I love to think about where all of that fabric came from. Plus, I'm fairly certain that the entire quilt was sewn by hand, since I don't remember seeing a sewing machine in my great aunt's home during any of my visits. How long it must have taken to make this!

Unfortunately, until fairly recently I knew very little about caring for and preserving a quilt, so I just used to wash it with the normal clothes loads. As a result, it became threadbare and sorry-looking after many years, way beyond the help of even the most skilled quilt restorer. So it sat in our linen closet for the past several years, until I got the idea to use it for my Love Note Pillows.

I made a heart template from the newspaper (how fitting that it featured an article about how we were going to experience a pretty bitter cold spell...). Then I took the quilt, two pieces of ribbon, and a scrap of an upcycled sheet from my scrap basket:

My husband was surprised that I cut up the quilt, since he knows how much I love it, but I really had no qualms about it. It was either cut it up and make it into something else, or fold it up and put it into storage. It was an easy decision. Plus, I'm pretty fearless regarding taking scissors to things. I will cut up and re-do almost anything. The dogs better watch out if their hair gets too scraggly.

I simply made a pocket from the sheet scrap, sewed it on the front of one of the hearts, then sewed the hearts together, making sure I caught two pieces of ribbon at the top so I could hang it. I stuffed it, sewed the opening up with a whipstitch, and now they're ready to go:

The quilt was already pretty shabby-looking (in a good way!), so any imperfections in my whipstitching look like they're just part of the quilt.

Now one of these is hanging on my daughter's doorknob, and one is on my bedpost, waiting for the pocket to be filled with a note. I get to see K's writing every day, tell her how much I adore her, and look at this beautiful quilt, which is so important to me in so many ways. I love that it has been recycled into something to be filled with love; it won't sit in a dark linen closet for the next several years. It has a new life, in more ways than one.

Even J wants one of his own, which I'll get to tonight. When your 8-year-old son tells you he wants a special pillow so he can write you notes, you don't procrastinate. I've been told that he will grow up all too quickly. And if he wants his mom to make him a Love Note Pillow right now so he can tell her how much he loves her...I'm going to do it.

Saturday, January 8, 2011

More Upcycled Pillow Power

A thrift store near us sells fabric by the bag - the bag! - for $3.98. It's a giant bag, the size of a trash bag, packed with all sorts of goodness. Besides the fact that I love creating with recycled materials, it is a beautiful treasure hunt to go through those bags. I have found yards and yards of gorgeous cotton prints, half-finished fabric projects, quilt tops, curtains...everything. It's amazing. In one bag, there was a giant piece (3 yards? maybe more) of blue felt. Perfect for a project that required a lot of felt, so I didn't have to buy multiples of the small rectangles they sell at the craft store.

Last Sunday, my daughter spent time doing this for me

She cut dozens of felt scallops for me on the BigKick machine, which I got for Christmas, and which I adore. It makes cutting out shapes so much easier, since it cuts felt and fabric and even, according to the directions, thin sheet metal (which I have not tried). We used the scallope die. Anyhoo, she cut me a nice big pile

which I love seeing in a stack, too

I cut each felt scallop in half and pinned them in circles around a square of felt that was exactly the same size (14") as my Ikea pillow insert. I made a few rows of petals that way. For the center, I made some small buds with the same scallops (see this post from honeyscrap for a better description of that process) and hand-sewed 3 of them to the center. Then I finished my envelope pillow (see this post from Sparkle Power! for a great tutorial on how to do that) and PRESTO

You can't even tell this photo was taken in our cold, blustery backyard just this afternoon, as we await a winter storm and it is downright frigid and it is windier than I have seen it here in quite some time.

Good thing I have my cozy flower pillows to get me through the winter blast that's coming. What's that? You say spring is on the way? I'm good with that.

Friday, January 7, 2011

These are a few of my favorite things...

I know this post won't generate nearly as much excitement as when Oprah does her Favorite Things show. I am not giving away cars. People won't pass out or get free piles of stuff. Nobody will become a bestselling author if I endorse her book on here. But there are a few things - blogs, in particular - that make me happy lately, and I want to make a list.

I used to make a Gratitude List every day; I would list at least five things for which I was grateful on that day. It really helped me through some dark times, and the simple exercise of writing down something positive really seemed to lift my spirits. I'm not necessarily doing this for that reason, but it can't hurt. Here, in no particular order, are my picks for Favorite Five Friday (theme: BLOGS):

1. Honeyscrap Crafts. Ever since I found this blog a couple of weeks ago, I check it every day. I don't just check it; I look forward to snuggling into bed, slathered in Vicks (ah, memories of my Gramma), and cozying up to this blog. I started reading it for the crafts (which are awesome - inexpensive, well-made, and well-explained) and ended up reading further for so much more. Plus, it's literally well-written. I don't mean to sound like a total grammar snob, but I am an English teacher, so it is important to me that the stuff I read not be so full of errors that it's distracting. Honeyscrap Crafts is good stuff.


I love Sparkle Power! for many of the same reasons I like Honeyscrap Crafts. Just read Sparkle Power! and you'll see what I mean. I think it's honest and simple and forthright. I love that.


MADE is the kind of craft blog to which we all aspire: incredible photography, great writing, and awesome projects. It makes me want to be a better craftsperson. Plus, Dana is funny and sincere, and I never feel like she's pretending to be someone she's not. She's the Real Deal.

4. New Dress A Day. The concept is amazing: the author refashioned a different dress every day for 365 days (only spending $365!), much in the same fashion that Julie cooked every recipe from Julia Childs' cookbook in Julie & Julia. The 365 days are over, but she is still going strong, and I can't wait to see where else this blog goes. Her dedication is amazing. Every day for 365 days she refashioned, photographed, detailed, and wrote about a garment she refashioned. She offers tutorials and instructions for a huge number of them. It puts part-time crafters to shame.

5. Crafterhours. The projects are great, but the writing is so sharp and funny that it's the real reason I read it. The fact that she's often writing about sewing is just an added bonus.

There's my Must List. That's how I spend most of my time on the Interwebs, looking at something from one of these blogs (or something they've linked to). Now if you'll excuse me, there's a tub of Vapo Rub upstairs with my name on it, and it's calling to me.

Wednesday, January 5, 2011

Green, in every way

Inspired by this post on the Wardrobe Refashion blog, I knew I wanted to make myself a sweatshirt skirt right away. After school, the first thing I want to do when I get home is change into comfy, warm clothes. A skirt made from a sweatshirt is exactly the thing. Plus, since the knit jersey of a sweatshirt won't fray, I knew it would be relatively simple to sew.

I also knew one of my favorite thrift stores would be having a 50% off sale on New Year's Day, so I waited until then to pick up this little number:

I love that it's literally green, and that I'd be refashioning it into a new garment, so it would be ironic and perfectly fitting that it would also be eco-friendly, too. Plus, it had that adorable M&Ms applique on the front:

I didn't take pictures of my process, but here's what I did, in a nutshell:

1. Cut four equal-size trapezoid shapes (thank you, 2nd-grade math) from the sweatshirt. I used the front, the back, and each arm to get my four pieces. The top of each trapezoid was my waist size, divided by four. I did not leave any extra for ease or seam allowance, since this is a knit and I knew it would stretch, which it did. I even had extra room when I was done, which is why I added a drawstring later. The bottom of each trapezoid was about 2" wider than the top.

2. Serged the four trapezoid pieces together, into a circle. I heart you, serger.

3. Took what used to be the waistband, cut it to the size of the top of the skirt, and serged it on (again, let's hear some serger love). The waistband is still a double-thickness, which is important for the next step. It needs to be a tube.

4. Took some scraps and sewed them together to make a drawstring, about 36" long. Stretched it out and threaded it through that "waistband" casing at the top. I cut two small slits in the front of the skirt so the waistband could come out each side and I could tie it into a bow.

5. Cut the skirt to the length I wanted, and serged the bottom edge (have I mentioned how much I love that machine?).

5. Paired it with the leggings that I also got for 50% off (so I paid 50 cents for them), and here you go:

The whole process took a little over an hour, and I was so inspired to do it that I completed it the very day I bought the sweatshirt. I know I'll get a lot of wear out of it. I bet I'll even make a more lightweight one for the summer, to wear without leggings. But it will be hard to top Miss Green.