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Post #1980: This little frog is a bit of garden magic

Someone left a frog on the edge of our front yard pond and for a moment this morning, my partner thought it was a real frog. Hooray! Isn’t that a little bit of fun :) The pond is very small, but it is a fascination to the little kids on walks with their moms – probably it’s the turtle fountain that shoots water – but it could just be that our yard feels cozy and inviting. I want to do a lot more planting in it come this spring – plus add some more little features. The front yard has been a long work in progress – I sometimes wish I had a few thousand dollars to throw at it and just get it done – but instead I pick away at it a bit year by year.  I see that one of the houses on our block is slated to be torn down and I’ve got a mind to knock on the door and ask if I can dig up the plants in the front yard to fill mine with.

 

 

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Post #1979: Sometimes it is very hard not to buy new yarn

I’m 80% of the way to finishing a cardigan crocheted with the above pictured yarn and I am already thinking about buy new yarn for the next project. Thing is, I have at least two sweater-quantities of yarn in my stash and I am attempting to stay on my stash-busting track to use those before purchasing anything new. As I mentioned yesterday, I have the same goal for fabric – I simply do not need to stockpile anymore. And yet I still find myself perusing and pinning items that I would like to have, that I plan on making something with. I’m lucky this week that the Canadian dollar has taken such a significant tumble

I have to admit, probably the only thing which has held me back from buying new yarn or fabric this week is the collapsing Canadian dollar. which makes online purchasing way less attractive. As the prices on imported goods start to climb (and they will, it’s only a matter of time), all purchasing of non-necessities is going to look pretty unattractive…. (and that is the sound of a contracting Canadian economy, right there).

This is helpful to me at the moment, it really is, because one of my big focal points at the moment is to pay down the line of credit that we’ve racked up over the last two years with our land purchase and cabin building project. Going back to work full time has definitely been helping with that, but also since November I’ve been strictly budgeting myself (not counting the new violin purchase) each month using a program called You Need a Budget which my friend Emily introduced me to. Using this system, I set all spending allotments on the home computer, and then track incoming and outgoing money using a simple phone app which helps me notice what (junk) I am spending my money on as well as how much I have left in each of my budget line items. While I think the budgeting system has some flaws, it’s the best one I’ve found to date and I’ve found that I’m able to use it consistently which is the point.

I know I said that I wasn’t going to go on a tracking kick this year, but this is one of my concessions. Since using the app I have managed to pay off my credit card entirely and make a few decent payments onto the line of credit – which I wasn’t doing before, even at the same income level. YNAB is at least partially responsible for this shift – though I have to say that another aspect is that outside of fabric and yarn for making things, I have experienced a serious decline in my interest in stuff over the past few years. Not that I have ever been much for shopping, but I’ve become increasingly stressed by just owning things even if they come into my life for free.

This sounds hypocritical, coming from someone building a second dwelling structure (shared, but still, not a necessity by a long shot), but it’s not! (Or maybe it is, but hear me out). One thing that budgeting and thinking about consumption patterns has really helped me to think about (and I know my partner has similar feelings about this which is why we do so well together) is how and when I do like to spend money. While I absolutely *hate* purchasing clothing, I love doing a big, bulk grocery shop that ensures my family and friends will be able to eat well even if there is an emergency. I can’t stand household knick-knacks, but it’s imperative that I have enough dishes to feet thirty people at one sitting. That cabin is somewhat similar in that I will forgo a whole lot of mindless going out, driving around, purchasing new household items, etc – in order to create a space for people to gather outside of the city. It’s pretty much all I envision doing outside of making things – insuring that the space is there for friends to gather, rest, recharge and face the world again. And of course one can do that without owning property – but my dreams always include a place to which people add on as the years go by – their footsteps and photographs, the cracks and the scrapes which come along the way. That we come to know a place by all the people who dwell there and pass through over time.

I have been missing our land and our cabin all winter, since we are not built to a state where the cabin is usable and the winter has been somewhat cold and snowy (not to mention the fact our woodstove never did get installed in the spring). I’m hoping we will get up there as soon as March, even though work won’t begin again until we are firmly in the spring. This gives me at least three more months of payments before we start spending off the line of credit again…..

 

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Post 1978: After a bit of an absence

I’ve been here all along, but things have been busy what with my boss quitting the day after I last posted January and me taking on his job temporarily while they search out a replacement. Not to mention the fact that this week I wrote my last significant piece of writing for my graduate program and now simply must attend two more months of classes in order to finish this spring. And I’m reading Proust, leading weekly meditation, attempting to go to the Zendo regularly , and spending more intentional time with my partner – all of which has short-circuited my ability to just sit down here and say hello, how is it going out there?

What is true, however, is that my boss’s absence has given me a reprieve from a certain kind of stress that was crushing me in December, and in fact I’ve come to know that I actually have been doing his job in all its facets for the past six months, which gives rise to a certain satisfaction but also a certain anger. I feel most outraged at the fact that while he was doing no work (and collecting a large salary), literally closing his door and pretending to be in meetings or on the phone when he wasn’t, he would routinely call me into the office to critique the members of my team who were performing their job duties – for not being “ambitious” enough, for thinking too much about their life outside of work and not being focused on advancement, and so on. And then he would tell me how hard he had worked to get to where he was, which wasn’t at all true, as evidenced by the fact that when he left our office a few weeks ago there wasn’t a single file handed over in transition. It’s more than a little shocking – despite all the jokes about public servants not working, I don’t find that to be at all true – though obviously this manager believed it should be.

In any case, I am in three roles at the same time, but it is actually very quiet at the moment and so my team is in a state of calming recovery after the boss’s departure. I just hope that our next director will be a stronger leader with a better work ethic. You never really do know what’s coming next in these situations.

amy_butler_violette_home_dec_sateen_idyll_sateen_in_roseThe photo up above is the shawl that I finished earlier this month, and I am currently working on a sweater that I hope to pair with a new dress (fabric still to be chosen). The dress that I posted about last time has become my favourite meditating and lounging staple – being too shapeless for much of an out and about dress – I love it so much I am going to make another in solid black for a more formal meditation garment. As noted in my year-end post I started off 2015 with a vow that this would be the year of no lists, no tracking, no sweating over what I am and am not doing – and so I am choosing projects as I feel the need for them rather than making big lists of what I am going to do. These lists just cause pressure in my life and I have seen how often they do not facilitate getting more done or in a more organized fashion. I am also trying to use up fabric and yarn in my stash so as to clear out the old and be more intentional about what comes in. I did just buy some of the Amy Butler print pictured at right – out of which I will make a new spring coat. I fear it might be too garish for me – but I do love the colours. We’ll have to see how that turns out.

It feels like spring here today, which it most decidedly is not! We often get a false spring just before the second phase of winter kicks in…. but I will be using this reprieve from the rain to get a bit of tidy-up done in the garden on the weekend. I was occupied with other things in the fall and I didn’t get as tidied up as I would have liked. It will be good to get my hands in the dirt again.

 

 

 

Post #1977: In which a vaccine reaction gives me an excuse to stay home and sew.

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On Monday night I got myself vaccinated against the flu, something I have been meaning to do since October, but has now become a necessity since I will be travelling to Ottawa on Sunday. Nothing like an airplane to breed illness after all.

But because I have a super-good immune system, vaccinations pretty much always knock me out. That is, the immune system goes into overdrive making the antibodies and then I get tired (and) in the case of the flu vaccine – achy. Not terribly so of course, nothing like having the actual flu – but enough that on Tuesday I stayed home, took a lot of ibuprofen, and lounged around the house.

For the first time early December I had a quiet house to myself all day – and it was glorious! I spent at least half of my day listening to an audiobook and sewing – I’ve had an itch to make some new clothes lately.

Between Tuesday and two evenings I finished the Capuccino Dress pictured here… even handpicking the hem so it would be invisible. This is a muslin project really, to test the pattern and the fit, and as such it cost me approximately $15 in materials. Although it turns out that the fit is just fine, I don’t love the cut on me – too shapeless for my figure (unfortunately because what a cute dress)! Also, I should know better than to wear anything with gathers at the neckline with my bust!

Even so, I wore it to work today with a cardigan – because all dresses look better with a cardigan in my opinion.

I’m just feeling glad that for the first time in ages I got a chance to make something, even if it didn’t turn out to be something that I love. Each thing I make is one more set of learning tools for the next thing – and without a doubt, clothing is the most challenging of all. This project taught me invisible hemming and properly turned cuffs – and those are both pretty versatile skills.

Pretty soon I will be turning a work corner which should mean – more time for other things – and as I am itching for new clothes, sewing must definitely be on that agenda.

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Post #1976: Taking a whole lunch hour

I took a lunch break today and worked on the shawl pictured with this post – an afghany thing made of flower motifs that I’ve been working on through the holidays. It felt good to take my scheduled hour off, even in the midst of a long to-do list, because I’ve realized that if I truly am going to make space in my life so that I don’t go crazy, it means taking my entitled breaks. This is not quite a first during my job life – I used to go to the gym on my lunch hours – but once I stopped doing that, it seemed wrong to take time off mid-day at all.

I’m going to try to make this a habit for the next little while, see if it helps me with this focus on time and space for other things (like crochet, and walks, and meditation classes).

 

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Post #1975: Five (six) favourite makes from 2014

dalahorsedetailThis might very well be my favourite make of 2014 – a Dala horse, hand sewn for my 3-year-old (horse-crazy) niece Grace. While she is much too young to appreciate such an endeavour – I will point out to you that the saddle is English-paper-pieced hand-piecing and took me about 8 hours to do… but that’s not my favourite part. What I fell in love with is the embellished “straps” crafted from felt, ribbon, buttons and red embroidery thread. Something about that piece makes this little treat all the more lovable to me.

The pattern for this came from Love Patchwork and Quilting out of the UK – same folks who publish Mollie Makes and a host of other great magazines for makers.

2014 was a pretty good year for making things all around – despite the fact that work and other things (like cabin-building) have kept me very busy. I haven’t always been good about posting the handmade things here, unfortunately, as it wasn’t a really great year for blogging and I often just threw photos up on Facebook instead of logging in here. (Part of that was related to a firewall issue at work that made it difficult to post photos to my wordpress posts – this seems to have been resolved recently).

A few of my other favourite makes from the year are posted below – these are the items that I fell in love with – but not an exhaustive list of them. As I winnow away at my disappointment at not being “perfect” in my hand work (because I am not, will never be, don’t need to be) I find a great deal of enjoyment in most of the articles I complete. Probably the area where I feel the least satisfied in the last year is on the clothing front. I just didn’t give myself enough space to make clothing which requires nitpicking with sizing and patterns – and thus aside from one sweater and a tank top, most of the garments were pretty forgettable.

So what were my top five makes from 2014 aside from the Dala horse?

tonicsyrup

This isn’t a fabric make – but something that came to me at the end of the year in a flurry of Christmas inspiration – why not make my own tonic syrup? And so I did, and it is lovely. One bottle got polished off the first day I mixed it up and I’ve got another couple awaiting me for new year’s eve! Cinchona bark is the active/main ingredient here, which I had to order a pound of from the wholesale supply. What that means is that I now have enough raw material for a hundred litres of syrup!

curtains

Every time I look at these curtains on either end of our large and bright bedroom, I am so pleased with them – the lightness, the fit with our space and the landscape outside, and the atypical nature of half-curtains in a bedroom (we can’t block the light from outside due to skylights anyway). These replaced some falling apart blinds and sheers on the other window and were exactly the right choice.

myquilt

Of course the new quilt and pillow shams made early in the year have to go on my favourites list – we have slept with these items ever since they first went on the bed!

weddingquilt

This quilt was a gift for our friends Sam and Caelie who got married in the summer. I love having friends who inspire me to make a quilt for them. It doesn’t happen very often – only very special people can encourage such an urge.

owlbags

These owl totes have been in continuous use ever since I stitched them up in the summer. Denim and canvas – they are sturdy and large (plus I made the handles large enough to sling across my body). I carry one of these to work everyday, two on shopping day.

 

There are, of course, many things that took much time and did not make it up here today (like the lace table runner I spent four months crocheting) – and it’s not because they are lesser projects. Just that some things catch me with a particular appreciation – and they do tend to be the things I use everyday – the marriage of utility and aesthetics striking a deeper chord in me. I feel very lucky that I fell into this form of hobby almost ten years ago (spring of 2005 to be exact) – something I never could have envisioned that has brought me a more comforting home and a more aesthetic life.

Happy New Year to all of you! I encourage you to find beauty and new projects in 2015 – light in a sometimes dark world. xo

 

Post #1974: In 2015, let there be air.

I came to work this morning and I cried. I want to say that I don’t know why that happened, but I do — it’s because I’m working two jobs at the same time and I’ve got a crazy to-do list full of things I don’t feel like doing. Also, I always feel crappy post-Christmas – too much sugar and not enough good sleeps. I am hoping that despite hosting a big NYE party this week, I will rediscover my equilibrium shortly and enter 2015 with good feelings instead of the dread that comes with being overbooked and overworked.

Don’t get me wrong – it’s not that I want to stop doing things! I am one of those people who likes to do things, see people, get involved in my community – and so on. But I’ve felt recently like I’m doing too much of the wrong things – things which burn me out and leave me frustrated (like work) – instead of enjoying time with myself and others.

For 2015 I want my focus to be on finding space – in my words, my actions, and my life. Not space so that I can do more, track more, be more – but space, for the sake of space. I plan to attend a meditation retreat in May, take more long weekends this summer to work on the cabin, and allow myself time to go to the zendo for formal meditation practice. I have recently realized that being outside frequently is not a “luxury” but a necessity, and in 2015 I intend to take my activities out of doors when they allow for it. And I also intend the space for making – music, clothing, quilts and art – not forced into the corners of my existence as though unimportant or frivolous. Once I finish my Master’s degree in April – I’m sure I’ll also find some brain space for thinking about new things.

What I will not do in 2015 is track myself.  I will not write down my exercise days, the foods that I eat, the number of minutes that I meditate each day or how often I go for walks. I have a tendency to track as though it makes me a better person, but really I think it becomes one more thing that I am doing (or not doing) and is neurosis inducing.

In fact, I think it would be grand if I set no trackable goals for 2015 at all – they seem really the antithesis of my focus on space after all – and instead a prayer: Let 2015 be a simple year of being and accepting instead of doing and wanting.

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Post #1973: A new fiddle for me

I have to admit that I feel.somewhat ridiculous about the fact that two days ago Brian and I had a big discussion about budgeting and getting focused on paying down the big cabin debts…. And then yesterday I went out and purchased a new violin on a layaway plan. But there it is. That’s exactly what I did. I’ve been pondering a new instrument for a long time with various motivations.

At first I wanted to get a cheap instrument for taking camping, then I liked the idea of five-string, then I wanted to upgrade and get another classic violin like my Stainer copy, but an older/higher quality version, and then I was confronted by the fact that I need to be able to plug in at shows and I really dislike most of the attachable pickups on the market (and mini-mics aren’t an option because they cause feedback on my vocal mic). I had read about these Gage Realist 5-string Violins on the Internet and listened to all the audio reviews of them – liking what I heard about and from these instruments. It’s one of the only electric-acoustics on the market at a non-custom price which was also attractive to me since I wasn’t prepared to spend more an a couple thousand dollars. Because I am taking the week off work to complete my term paper (very close to done!) and Brian took yesterday to hang out with me – we decided to go down to Long and McQuade and check out the Realist 5-string that they had in stock. Needless to say, I didn’t just try it out – but decided instead to purchase it on a lay-away plan (Brian offered up a decent downpayment towards it). I was far too attracted to the hassle-free pick-up with phantom power and the ability to get by without a pre-amp – to just walk away from the thing once I picked it up!

The amplified sound on this instrument is great, but as it’s a new wood instrument, I expect the acoustic sound to get somewhat better with regular playing over the next few weeks. Unplayed violins always sound a bit “crunchy” to me, attributed to the tightness of a wooden body that hasn’t had much resonance. If I had a stereo with a big speaker, I would simply put the instrument on top of it for a week or two to loosen it up, but given the fact that I don’t have much of a stereo setup, I’ve got to play the life into the thing. Still and all, this violin has a really resonant, almost reverberant sound – and the extra low string (which gives it the range of the viola) is pretty fabulous.

Unlike my lifetime violin (I’ve been playing my Stainer copy for 30 years), the low range on the Gage is really rich. Also unlike my lifetime violin, this instrument is full-sized and it’s got a significantly wider neck and body (my Stainer is a 7/8 and those violins are known for their slender build). So it’s going to take some regular playing to get used to and build up the musculature in my shoulders for a bulkier instrument. Since there is a 30-day return policy, I’m aiming to play as much as possible between now and early January to ensure that it is the right sound and feel for me. But so far, so good – I’m pretty excited about its tone quality and feel already. I’ve got a gig in two weeks time and my goal is to play this on stage – so I’ve got a lot of playing to do between now and then! (not to mention three sets of song lyrics to memorize – yikes!)

Post #1972: In which I work on my creative learning process.

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I spent my weekend in a creative process workshop which was the last event of the 2014 Maiwa Textile Symposium this year.  The class, taught by the fabulous Natalie Grambow, was an exploration of various techniques for stimulating creativity, and a small dip into some specifics such as colour-theory, design elements, surface design (stamp, block and mono printing), photo transfer, and collage. Although the class finished on Sunday (with the creation of the book cover pictured last in this series of photos), I took some of my monoprinted fabric that was leftover from the class last night to do a final piece in my block shape which I felt was the culminating piece in some ways (it was what I would have done for the cover had I had more time).

As someone who has never indulged in much *art* process outside of basic textile/basic quilt work – I found a freedom in working with all new materials that was a lot of fun – pastels, paints, printing blocks, lino cuts – because I had no expectation of having to be a certain way about the work. As you can see from the photos below, I carried a colour and a shape theme throughout the three days (which arose from exercises that Natalie had us do) which was helpful in that I didn’t have to think up a new *thing* each time – I could simply take the form/colour and work with it in a different medium.

I really have an affinity for mixed media textile work – and all the pieces I have envisioned thus far are of that variety. Taking the weekend class was a great introduction to some of the ways in which I might work – as well as materials to incorporate – but it was also a reminder to slow down on the pieces I *want* to make for the time being, and just enjoy learning about how different things work together (or not).

This was my first Maiwa Textile Symposium workshop but I am certain it will not be my last. As I finish my degree this spring, I look forward to signing up for more symposium classes next fall.

(Click on any of the below photos for a larger view)

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Post #1971: Many handmade things

Over the last few months I have made many things but haven’t been showing them off here. These include:

Boxy zip bag #2

A cosmetic zip-bag for my step-daughter’s birthday present (coming up)

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Sashiko handstitched placemats for our table.

Boxy zip pouch #1.

A “test” boxy zip pouch which worked out well enough for me to use.

Carry-all made for a friend's birthday.

A carry-all made for a friend’s birthday.

Potholders

Patchwork potholders.

Lace table runner - crochet - worked all summer long.

A crochet lace table runner which I worked on from May until July.

I have come to realize that despite the lack of perfection in everything I make – it all gets a lot of use and over time I grow to love the small oddities of the items that grace our lives in this house.