Tuesday, May 26, 2015

Childhood Toys

I got a custom order recently, asking for a very specific stuffed animal.  The buyer wanted me to make this green gingham mouse for her sister, who is about to have her first baby.

Sister's favorite toy as a child was a green gingham mouse, named "Mousie."  Mousie was lost on a family vacation when she was 10, and she still talks about it, and refers to any lost item as a "Mousie incident."

Childhood toys loom large.  They really do.  I still remember a lost teddy bear named, for some reason, Blue Raspberry.  (I think it was my favorite flavor of water ice that summer).

Well, this is what I came up with.  A recommendation on Facebook sent me to a vintage pattern on Ebay.  The pattern looked very much like the original (which I suspect was handmade), so I might have actually duplicated it entirely.

It's not exact -- the original had two different gingham prints, and the eyes were felt -- but I think it's close enough for my buyer to get the Sister of the Year Award for even trying.

In other news, I got a call this morning from my temp agency asking if I wanted to work the rest of this week.  I already have a job lined up for the first week of June, but it's hard to turn down -- these are the same people who I left early last year to pick up a longer term assignment at my friend's office, so it's nice to know there are no hard feelings.

Besides, I spent a good portion of my holiday weekend doing frantic prep work for the Christmas season, so if I have this level of organization going on, I should be able to step away from the workroom for a few weeks, continuing to work in the evenings, and not get behind.

When I think about whining, or turning down an assignment, I just have to remind myself how lucky I am that I'm managing to work the way I want, and that temporary work is just that: temporary.  I'm not signing on for the long haul; the agency knows that 1-2 weeks is the maximum stretch I'm willing to serve, at least right now.

Now back into the newly reorganized sewing cave to start work on another batch of microwave bowls for this Saturday's show.  They sell out as quickly as I can make them, so I need to have at least 30 completed by Friday night.

More later!

Monday, May 18, 2015

Spring Garden

After this past winter, it's almost unbelievable that it's finally spring.

And in true Philadelphia fashion, it's spring by way of mid-August.  I did an outdoor show on Saturday and it was almost 90, muggy and humid and sticky.  And lovely, after the excesses of February.  I'll take sticky any day of the week; it's a lot less expensive to get through comfortably, and I'm really, really tired of wool.

When I bought my house 15 years ago, I put a few rose bushes in the front yard.  Not because I particularly wanted them at that point, but I unexpectedly had a patch of dirt out there and I knew that I couldn't kill roses, especially those waxy ones that are sold in plastic bags at places like Aldi.  My mom had a black thumb with outdoor plants, but even she never killed rose bushes.  (On the other hand, she grew a mean African violet, and I kill every house plant I've ever met).

So I planted roses, and they did okay.  And then I got into them, and started buying more expensive, unusual ones.  Own root roses, as opposed to the grafted ones, which means they came in little 6" pots, grown from cuttings.  More fragile when young, but sturdier when older because they've grown on their own rootstock instead of being grafted.

The red roses on the front fence are grafted "bag" roses, and they've almost been completely overtaken by the original dark red rootstock rose, which is pretty, but only blooms once a year.  I haven't decided what I'm going to do about those, because at least right now, they look good.

The multicolor roses in the back, climbing the porch, are a variety called Mutabilis, which I was told wasn't hardy in this zone, at least not as an own root rose.  I bought 2 of them because I liked them, and because if they didn't survive, I'd get to try something new the next year.

Gardening makes you cold-blooded sometimes -- grow, or don't grow.  If you fail, I'll plant something more interesting next time.  I have only so much ground, and there are so many plants.

Perversely, because I didn't care if they made it, these roses thrive.  Every winter they look awful.  Some years, when the snow is heavy, they fall flat on their faces in the yard.  This year, they stayed upright but there was about 3' of dead wood on them.  I was really afraid I was going to lose the section at the porch center, but other than cutting out some dead, it came through really well.  Go figure.

On the ground: about 5 years ago, I put in 6 lily of the valley shoots.  For the first few years, they grew and bloomed, and about 2 years ago, they started to slowly spread.  This year, they're halfway to the fence.  You can smell them down the street.

Now back to sewing.  And scratching.  I spent a half hour pulling sticky weed out of the front yard (you can see a little of it in the far right of the lily of the valley photo).  Generally I'm impervious to things that make everyone else itch, but that stuff breaks me out in a rash unless I get inside and wash up right away.  Which I did, but I'm still a little itchy.  Sewing will provide a distraction until the itch goes away.

Monday, May 11, 2015

What I've been up to

I got a custom order a while back, a referral from a previous customer.  She wanted a set of 8 bears made from some of her late father's things -- a denim shirt, a tan t-shirt and a plaid fleece blanket.  She has 3 siblings, and they each have a child, so everyone would get a bear.

I got them cut out and stitched pretty swiftly, then craft shows intervened for a bit.  This past week I finally got them closed up and threaded, and I didn't think I would survive the threading process.

Putting the bears together involves a large doll needle, hemp cord and a pair of pliers, but generally it's not too bad.  Right now I'm hoping to never work with fleece again because even though it cuts and sews easily, it was nearly impossible to thread because it doesn't act like fabric, it acts like fuzzy plastic sheeting.  You can poke a hole in it, but the hole won't expand like it does with fabric.

There was much pulling and hauling and swearing.  But they're done, and I think they came out well.

The original referring customer also wanted another bear, from a sweater of her dad's.  I actually had some of her original accent fabric left from her first bear back in December, so I mixed that in.  I think he looks snazzy with his argyle body, plaid trim and black bow tie.

Last but not least was another bear from a former co-worker.  She and her husband have a place in the Pocono Mountains, and this was her favorite sweater that she kept up there.  At least it was until her husband washed it.  Now it's a chocolate brown teddy bear with a snowflake on his belly, who will sit on the mountain house couch and remind him never to do laundry again.

I'm dropping them all off tomorrow, if I can figure a way to get 10 bears packed up and onto the train.  Forecast says rain; my fingers and toes are crossed that it won't happen until later in the day.

Friday, May 1, 2015

Book news. Acting like a grown up

I almost missed tulip season!
You may remember that I did revisions to the book a while back and sent the final version in to my agent to re-read prior to pitching to publishers.

Well, on Monday, I got an email from her with the manuscript attached, saying there were a few "suggested edits."

At first, I did what any grown up, adult writer would do.  I had a small tantrum.  Even though I was expecting to hear from her (she's an editorial agent, and why not accept her help to tighten the book before it reaches an editor?), I wasn't ready to hear "suggested edits."

Wasn't it perfect?

Apparently not.  But after my 15 minutes of stomping around the living room, complaining to the cats, I opened the Word document and actually looked at her highlights and read her comments.  She seems to specialize in what I call "tactful bluntness," something I've gotten fairly good at myself and respect in others.

Every one of her comments was spot on.  There were very few bits she thought worth deleting, and when she did, she clearly explained why.  There were highlighted sections with notes about what needed tightening up there, and again, why.  The whys all made sense.

So after a few deep breaths, I realized that the book wasn't "perfect" -- and probably never will be, but with her help, it just got a whole lot better.

I emailed this "final final" version to my friend Dianne, who had read the book chapter by chapter, and she already got back to me, four chapters in, and said she can't tell what was removed, but that it feels like a tighter, smoother read.

Also, best part: the changes were only to the first section of the book.  Sections 2 and 3 were left as written.  I'm not assuming they are "perfect" either, just that I wielded my own scalpel a little more effectively later on.

Pitching began yesterday.  It takes 2-3 months to hear back from an editor, so right now I'm sewing and selling and thinking about the next project (which is already in progress, but now I can think about it as the current project, not the next one).


Wednesday, April 29, 2015

Day Out

Second floor gallery; Washington on far left

This weekend was the official start of craft show craziness, but I want to talk about Friday.

Friday was Mario's birthday and, unusual for him, he decided to take the day off work so we could do something.  We started out by taking the bus downtown to have breakfast at our favorite diner, which is being threatened with closure because they want to build a luxury hotel on the site.  (Across the street from another luxury hotel which isn't always full, and down the street from two more.  Don't get me started).

My favorite painting from the American
Impressionists in the Garden exhibit
Then we went to the Pennsylvania Academy of Fine Arts.  The original plan was to go to the Philadelphia Museum of Art down on the Parkway, but they didn't have any special exhibits on that were intriguing, and neither of us had been to PAFA in ages.  For anyone living in or planning to visit Philly, this is one amazing -- and seriously under-advertised and under-appreciated museum!  It was started in 1805 as an art school and museum, and the building itself is a work of art.  The collections are all American, starting with a trio of Gilbert Stuart and Peale portraits of George Washington, and going all the way to the present.

"Salon" style.  I love the painting in the center.
They had a beautiful exhibit of American Impressionist garden paintings, some drool-worthy Tiffany windows, an entire gallery hung "salon" style, with no labels on the paintings (but gallery guides on the benches).  The theory was that the owner of the paintings would know them all by heart and would guide visitors through, explaining each one.  It looks like a really high end version of the way I cover my walls -- paint is good, but you don't need to see much of it!

Tiffany windows
They also had a few pieces by Maxfield Parrish.  We both have a serious soft spot for Parrish, so we stood in front of the painting of Dream Garden for a while, and then remembered that the Tiffany glass mosaic of Dream Garden is also in town, located at 6th and Walnut Streets.  After we got done at the museum, we walked down there and sat in front of the enormous mosaic for a while.

Stuffed full of art and slightly dizzy with it, we took the bus back home and rested for a bit, because we had dinner reservations (back in town again) at Parc.  Mario's sister always gives us restaurant gift cards for birthdays and holidays, and we'd been stockpiling for a while so that we could have a blow-out dinner.

This was that dinner.  It's a wonder we were able to roll out of bed the next day to start the craft show insanity, but we managed.  The rest of the weekend was sunshine, selling and several forms of exhaustion, all of which were good, and nearly as much fun as our day out on Friday.

Dream Garden - painting by Maxfield Parrish

Dream Garden - glass mosaic by Tiffany Studios

And then there was this.  She's covered in rhinestones.

Tuesday, April 21, 2015

Monday, April 13, 2015


It's that time again!
Today is the beginning of my third year of non-traditional employment, and I can't say I've once regretted my decision to walk away from life in an office.

I occasionally regret the lack of money in my bank account, but that's not the same thing.

Progress notes:  I finished my edits Saturday, did a last review and sent the book off to the agent yesterday.  I got the manuscript down by a little over 25,000 words, which surprised the hell out of me.  Having someone else potentially take a red pen to your work makes you far more able to see things you ignored the first (ten) times around.  This was possibly the best writing lesson I've ever had.

My first craft show of the season also happened Saturday, small and fairly short, but a good practice run for the two big ones coming up.  Pulling everything together at midnight the night before is not recommended; you're bound to forget something.  At least it wasn't anything important.

It was also half price day at the thrift store on Saturday, and I found a bunch of fabulous print scrubs tops which will soon be turned into fabulous print toddler dresses with ridiculous amounts of rickrack or other trim.  I'm looking forward to getting reacquainted with my sewing machine.

Oh, and by the way, IT'S FINALLY SPRING!!