handcrafts

little things

booties for my friend's baby girl

Oh, it's SO good to be back! Hello to all of you sweet people. Your words of congratulations and encouragement fill me with gratitude for this technology that connects us, despite the temptation to use it to escape from reality. It is my hope to continue to use this space to share our family's committment to (and often, our struggle with!) enjoying the present moment with our children. That the future is uncertain was branded on our hearts the moment we received Lachlan's diagnosis, but it has, in some ways, been a bittersweet gift. I hope to write a bit more about our healing journey in the coming months. I feel ready to open up about that and put down in words some of the mess of emotions which has characterized these last three years for me. 

In the meantime, there's a jar of sequins that has just been spilled on the floor of the kitchen that needs to be dealt with, and another request to help sound out a word. You know - the reality! 

A few things:

- I made the above booties for my friend's baby daughter who was born last month with HLHS. Baby Annie will be home very soon, thank goodness. I'm sure I'll have to knit another set for our little girl! The yarn is Madeleinetosh sock in the Night Bloom colorway, and the pattern is called Stay-On Booties. Dude, I'm going to have to start keeping up with things on my Ravelry account. It's amazing what opens up to you, crafting-wise, when you're expecting a little girl! It's ridiculous, really.

- I'm now on Instagram! Follow along at instagram.com/meghanmcelwee 


projects in progress

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:: Second Milo on the needles :: Snow Pixie hats on the cutting table ::

:: Other project-themed books ::

These handful of days have been off-kilter. Following an unprecedented string of good days, in which everything seemed to flow, the boys (and myself, no doubt) trudged through the last two days with low energy, sapped patience, and a general grumpy malaise. 

This time, though, I have a peace about it. I've come to expect these days, just as I expect the perfect ones. It even feels, dare I say ... comforting. I feel grateful to pass through very human situations together as a family; grateful to learn about each other and let each other experience a full spectrum of feelings. 

It also feels good to hop into a project in the creative space that opens up after a patch of ho-humness. There's plenty to do in the studio between now and Christmas, and the gift-making is kicking into gear. I'm also really liking my circular saw, and have my eyes on some of the projects in this book once the chicken coop is done.

And - I can't recommend highly enough Project-Based Homeschooling: Mentoring Self-Directed Learners by Lori Pickert. It speaks to me right where I am as parent just starting off on the homeshooling journey, which can be totally daunting if you see all the ideas that can be done out there on the internet and all of the facts that can be passed on to a child. Here's an exceprt:

"Try to avoid pulling attention away from your child's project (his deepest interest) with random, one-off activities. Save casual field trips and similar activities for times between projects. The less you distract your child with random activities and interruptions, the more engaged and focused he'll be. You're giving him the opportunity to stay longer with what he cares about most; you're giving him the chance to build something really meaningful." 

Love.

Back to my projects. Have a wonderful weekend!


this is wool

Hey all! Meg here, popping in to share with you the work of a dear, long-time reader, Mary Jo of Five Green Acres. Shepherdess and fiber afficionada, wonderful mama and all-around cool person, Mary Jo is launching her This is Wool yarn tour today to coincide with the debut of her hand-spun, plant dyed fibers from her backyard flock of sheep. Take a moment to watch this beautiful video she put together documenting the "birth" of her yarn.

This is wool. First Harvest: Backyard from Mary Jo, FiveGreenAcres on Vimeo.

Meg: That video makes me want sheep in baaaad way, Mary Jo! :) Puns aside, what have you found to be the most rewarding and most difficult aspect of shepherding a flock in your own backyard?

Mary Jo: Ah, there are so many answers to this question.  Lambing is an obvious answer, as it's easily the most rewarding and by far the most difficult.  This spring left us with an orphan bottle lamb - Munson - and he surely fits the bill, entering our lives while we struggled, unsuccessfully,  to keep from losing his mother.  He's become so deeply bonded to us that he's now more like a pet dog than a sheep.  But this year, I'm inclined to answer this question with regards to the drought that defined our summer.  Our sheep normally spend more than half the year out on pasture, eating the grass and weeds that grow effortlessly, for free.  I strategically move them through the couple of acres, enclosed in a portable electric net fence, to let them chew down the grasses just far enough to stimulate their lush regrowth.  By the time they've made the first pass through the entire pasture, the grasses have cycled back and the loop continues, unless, of course, the grass doesn't grow back, due to a lack of rain.  This was the situation I found myself in this summer.  By the beginning of July, I had to locate some hay to buy (a very expensive alternative to feeding them free grass all summer) and worry about the impending shortage of hay to get them through the winter.  The basic question of how to feed my sheep consumed me all summer, and I took to watching the sky like a farmer, cursing the dry heat as it burned my pasture to a crisp.  The mounting stress and added expense called a lot of this endeavor into question and I found myself wondering more than once what it all was for.  Just as we were down to the last bales of hay we had for July, some friends called with an offer to let our sheep graze their back lot, overgrown and not accessible by mower.  "YES!" I shrieked, "ABSOLUTELY!"   So off they went, and we all heaved a sigh of relief, knowing they'd be fed for a few weeks at least.  But an eerie quiet descended on our Acres with them gone; it felt empty here.  I visited them every two days to move them to new grass, and we were mutually thrilled to see each other.

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A few weeks into this arrangement, I spent the weekend at a Sheep and Wool festival.  That weekend was steeped in all things fiber - I took classes each day, and the booths upon booths of gorgeous wool and fiber were tremendous inspiration.  But I found myself lingering the most near the sheep barns, strolling through each morning to visit the show sheep, whose baa-ing was the first sound I heard upon waking.  It made me tremendously homesick - not for home as it was, but our home with the flock intact, grazing out back.  I meandered without realizing where I was headed and found myself in the festival's lambing barn during each break between classes, and I felt that pang of longing for more lambs the way women feel the calling to have another baby.  It became abundantly clear that weekend that I wasn't interested in living without sheep, drought or not.  Soon after, the flock had finished their contracted work at the friends'  lot, and were blissfully reinstated at home.  Their first night back was euphoric - we enjoyed one of the last picnic suppers of the season with them milling about in our backyard. 

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Meg: How is daily life different for a family raising sheep? What do you do to care for them, and in what ways are your children involved?

Mary Jo: The day-to-day of keeping sheep is simple; I'd contend more so than having dogs.  Moving the fence or tossing a bale of hay,  providing fresh water are about all they need.  I was most surprised to learn that they don't need a barn to keep them comfortable through the winter - their wool is more than adequate - but that barns are more for the convenience of the shepherd.  There's shearing time, usually during the spring, which also includes some grooming, and lambing time, which is quite involved but for a short duration.  We include the kids in small ways wherever we can - Isadora (7 yo) has made it a personal goal to befriend and "train" (whatever that means) each of the sheep personally.  She's begun to understand how they think and move, and has become instrumental in helping us get them corralled when needed.  The firsthand exposure to the life (and death) process of our sheep emerged as a valuable experiential learning opportunity, and a great asset to us as newly-minted homeschoolers. Errol, a scant month older than Finn (3), seems to have a natural affinity for animals; the careful attention and tenderness he displays towards the sheep, in particular, makes my heart smile.

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Meg: Tell us a little more about how you learned to process that amazing fleece - did you learn how to card, spin, and dye before or after you welcomed your sheep?


Mary Jo: Oh, the fiber/sheep learning curve seems steep at times!  There is SO. MUCH. to learn, and so many filters to process the information through - i.e. distinguishing "conventional" practices from holistic.  The grace of keeping sheep, however, is that the information need not be all in place before getting them.  We brought home our four starter ewe lambs and while they contentedly mowed down the grass and casually grew their wool, I steeped myself in books, classes, and local connections to other sheep people.  Even after this First Harvest shearing, I took my time deciding what to do with it and how.  There's no rush - wool keeps indefinitely if stored properly.  It's all been quite experimental, and will continue to be, but this level of learning would not be possible without having the sheep physically here.  Fiber festivals like the one I mentioned abound and were the best way for me to learn how to spin and card.  There are also many local guilds for spinning and knitting.  Ravelry has several boards on keeping sheep as well as in processing the fleece, but many folks utilize small mills to do a lot of the processing, which is also a great option.

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Whatever the mode of instruction, from class to guild to youtube tutorial, I have found "fiber people" to be, without exception, exceedingly generous in sharing their knowledge and genuinely devoted to perpetuating their craft.  They are among the nicest people I have ever met!

Thank you for sharing your passion and your craft with us, Mary Jo!


what's today?

Here's my answer to Finn's question:

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Turns out, our days are pretty simple. Simple enough to be described by one or two main activities a day, in three year-old terms. In my terms, it's more like "wakeupprocessphotosbloggoforarunshowerpacklunchremembertoscrubthepoopoffofthatdiaperetc ..."

You know.

But isn't it nice to look at it like this instead? I think so, too.

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I've edited out the name of Finn's Waldorf nursery as well as a friend's name, but here's the low-down:

- Everything I used here was found either in my scrap fabric pile or in my art closet, except for the metal clasps - I think they're called findings? - which I found at Michael's and hot-glued to the activity squares.

What you'll need:

-smooth stones, one for each child

-mat board. I found mine a while back at the Scrap Exchange, a creative reuse center

-fabric and paper scraps

-one larger piece of fabric (brown linen in my case)

-thin cardboard - cereal box thin (this is for the brown labels)

-hot glue gun

-metal findings, both rings and clasps

-Mod Podge

-acrylic paints or other paints if you wish

-Micron pen for little details

-random stuff around the house

-felted wool sweater for the "day" pockets for the stones

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Go at it! I can't really give you any specific instructions other than I used collage, got crazy with the Mod Podge and hot glue, and had a lot of fun doing it!

Happy weekending, y'all.


doodle tee

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I almost forgot to show you Finn's handmade birthday gift for Lachlan! I know you would have seen the shirt in photos eventually, and you would have wondered what the deal was with that crazy shirt, so I think an official show-and-tell is called for.

We used a basic white onesie and Finn drew all over it with fabric markers. I did need to hold the fabric taut while he drew to prevent it from stretching and bunching under the pressure of the marker. It turned out to be an activity well-suited for a two year-old. I think it's one of those gift projects that's perfect for all ages and all occasions - Mother's Day, Father's Day, sibling's and friend's birthdays, etc. I'm sure we'll do it again one of these days.


sheepish

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Sheep! Seventy of them. The boys and I had a grand time at Stoney Mountain Farm during their sheep shearing festivities. The gracious owners opened their home to a good bunch of people, offering entertainment in the way of wool harvesting and sustenance in the form of a tasty home-cooked lunch.

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Having never seen a sheep get shorn before, I was amazed at how accommodating and docile the animals were through the ordeal. Look at the adoring eyes of that sheep up there! He looked like he was getting a spa treatment. 

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In preparation for the big shearing day, I checked out some shearing-related books from the library. Pelle's New Suit will have to be added to our own collection. Not only does Finn adore the book, but he looks exactly like Pelle. Who knew? The boy with just a drop of Swedish blood in him (there's more Mexican in there than Swedish) would come out looking like the spittin' image of a turn-of-the-century Swedish boy. 

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In addition to Pelle's New Suit , we've also enjoyed Feeding the Sheep and Weaving the Rainbow - all of which are about the process of shearing the sheep, making yarn, and then weaving or knitting clothing from the sheep's wool. 

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We've been shearing some of our own sheep right in our living room. I love observing how new experiences come out in imaginative play, and how they are understood and written in the memory of a child through prolonged and repetitive play or games. 

Do you have a local farm that makes an event of shearing day?


baby rain pants

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There's no such thing as bad weather - only bad clothes.

Very true. Since moving to our house in the country this past summer, we spend so much time exploring and working our land. Early morning is a favorite time to be outside; watching the sun rise, noticing the dew collect in the cup of a leaf, searching for frogs in our small pond. 

I already knew the importance of dressing children in layers of long johns if the weather is even slightly cool, but somehow I didn't figure out until this year the paramount importance of rain pants. 

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Finn has had his pair since Fall (they're from REI) and they are our most-used piece of clothing. Even if it's not raining, the grass is damp in the morning, and there's always a puddle to explore. Rain pants give us the freedom to let him explore without a litany of parental cautions, most of which focus on our desire to keep him dry (because we know that clothes are washable, but we also know that being wet can be very uncomfortable and can spoil any well-intentioned nature walk.)

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But what about Mr. Red-headed Crawly McCutie Pie? The REI pants only went down to a size 2T.

I needed to make him some pants - he needed them more than anyone, because he's always crawling and sitting on the damp earth. But rain pants require fancy material. You can't get it at your local fabric store, and you can't get it in most fancy quilt/fashion fabric online store, either. You can't use oilcloth or laminated cotton for rain pants (nor should you for kids' raincoats, as the material is not breathable.)

After a long search, I found what I was looking for! Waterproof, breathable fabric that is easy to sew. Now you can turn any pants pattern into rain pants. You can get it at The Rain Shed, an outdoor fabric specialty store. I used item #3388, 40 dernier ripstop 3-layer. 

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You can use any basic, elastic-waisted pants pattern, although I like a design that also has elastic or velcro at the ankles to keep them snug against the body. Make sure you size up a bit, too, as these are meant to be an outer layer, worn over other pants.DSC_2662_4559

It's nice to be able to get right down there with them (I have rain pants, too) and not worry about soggy jeans. Just need to make a pair for Patrick, and we're all set!


little amigo doll papoose kit giveaway

Just a little bit more about dollies, please? ;) 

The Little Amigo in Growing Up Sew Liberated is accompanied by the oh-so-stellar doll papoose designed by Fabiola Perez-Sitko of Fig and Me. I'm not sure how I happened upon her Etsy shop a looong time ago, but I did, and the moment I saw her handmade doll papoose I knew I needed to ask her if she'd like to publish the design in Growing Up Sew Liberated

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I'm so happy I did.

You see, just the thought of Fabiola gives me a big grin. Not only is she a doll-making genius, but she is funny, lighthearted, and she and I share something else - a bit of Spanish back-and-forth. She's from Chihuahua, Mexico, where I lived for three years. In the Spanish language they have a word - chispa - which means a sparkle, twinkle-in-the-eye kind of spunk. Fabiola's got some chispa, folks. 

Love pulled her north to the boreal forest of Canada, where she's raising her two girls on the shore of Lake Superior.

I'm so happy to share the pages of my book with her, and I hope you'll check out her lovely blog and etsy shop, where she periodically lists beautiful dolls for sale. 

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Photo by Ginny of Small Things

Shortly after the book was released last summer, Ginny made a gorgeous pair of papooses for her daughters. She also has some tips on downsizing the papoose to fit a small child. 

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Photo by Ginny of Small Things

It just so happens that I have just enough Echino fabric (originally used in the Art Satchel kit) to make a papoose. I've paired it with some aqua blue corduroy from my stash, as well as the hardware and strap material that you'll need to make a papoose. Leave a comment to enter to win the doll papoose kit! I'll keep comments open until Monday morning, March 12th. Gook luck!

Comments are closed and we have a lucky papoose-maker - Sunny Loya! Congratulations!

doll papoose supplies

 


lachlan's little amigo doll

lachlan's little amigo doll

This little fellow was stitched together with so much love. Finn sat on my lap and helped trim threads, stuff wool, and guide the fabric through the sewing machine. I worked on him here and there for the week prior to Lachlan's birthday, taking those quiet moments to reflect upon the priviledge of having a little boy for whom I could make this red-headed doppelganger. 

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lachlan's little amigo doll

He's a Little Amigo from Growing Up Sew Liberated - the knitted cap is the one Lachlan wore as a tiny babe, and the hat is a retrofitted Huck Finn. The pants and shirt are on-the-fly mama-made patterns. And, thanks to this doll, I also have a doll wig tutorial for you that I've been promising for a long time - it will be live tomorrow afternoon.

lachlan's little amigo doll

lachlan's little amigo doll

Finn, of course, was the one who noticed. "He has a scar, Mama, just like Lachie!" I felt it was important that both Finn and Lachlan have a doll with a beautiful scar. Finn often asks about Lachlan's "ouch" while bathing, and this is a way to address their feelings and questions about it through play. It's just a normal thing in our lives, and the scar certainly doesn't define the doll (as the real scar doesn't define the boy), which is made in the Waldorf tradition of minimal facial expressions so that the child is free to pretend that the doll has all sorts of emotions, not just the bright-eyed, fixed smile so common in playthings. 

lachlan's little amigo doll

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Sweet boy. I'm glad you like your little friend.