Saturday, February 27, 2010


I feel like part of me is missing. Two of my sewing machines went into the shop for service because they were having issues of one kind and another. In truth, the Kenmore machine is long overdue for a tune-up and it was no wonder it was acting up. The featherweight was having problems, though, and that bothered me because I hadn't used it in 3 years at least, and I thought I had it serviced before we moved to Germany. Hmmm.

Anyway, I dragged the 3 kids down to the sewing machine repair place on Wednesday - first time I've ever been there - and was hoping to speak to the repair technician directly, so that I could explain the problem I was having with the Kenmore. He wasn't there but the shop manager/vacuum cleaner repair technician assured me that he would have the man look at them in the morning and call me.

I should say that I've never left my machines to be repaired overnight anywhere, but it didn't even cross my mind. But when I got home I felt weird, as though I'd left one of my kids overnight with a new babysitter. I'm actually missing my sewing machines. I think most of this was concern over how much it was going to cost me to service them, but I did catch myself looking at the dining room table where I'd had the Kenmore set up, so that Tallon could be in his jumperoo and I could sew but still be in the same room as he was. He likes company and fusses if I'm not in the room with him while he's jumping.

I waited as long as I could on Thursday to call, but by 2:00 pm I hadn't heard from the repair shop so I called them. It turns out he had just finished checking the Kenmore and was looking at the Featherweight. He sort of got snippy with me about the Kenmore, saying that it didn't look like I'd ever had it serviced. I had to explain that I'd lived overseas for 5 years and no one would service it for me while I was there. He sort of grunted, so I'm not sure he believed me. Granted, I've been back in the States for almost 3 years, but he doesn't know that. He said there was nothing wrong with it, that it just needed a tune-up. Since I suspected it just needed a general cleaning and tension adjustment, I was glad. We'll see what happens when I try to make a buttonhole, though.

The Featherweight he said had some kind of problem because it was running way too slow. Frankly, I don't mind that it runs slowly - I was planning on having Maeve use it for making doll clothes for her American Girl dolls, so a slow pace would have been fine. He said that he really likes Featherweights and wanted to get it running well for me, so it would take him a day or so, but that they both should be ready by Saturday and that he would call me. Then he told me the price - $99 each!!! I almost choked, but decided that it really needed to be done and I'd figure out how to work it into the budget. Payday is Monday, after all.

So now I'm waiting for my machines to be done. I don't want to start anything new until I have my current project done, since I'm so prone to stopping mid-project and then taking forever to finish it later on. The current project requires buttonholes, and the Kenmore is the only machine I have that makes them. Actually, my Singer 505 could do them, if I had the right attachment. I had it, but the gears didn't work any more and I can't find a replacement one as of yet. So that machine is a straight-stitch-only machine, much like my Featherweight. Not to mention that at some point during our move here about 7 months ago, the power cord got separated from the machine and I can't find it, so I couldn't use it if I wanted to.

Now I'm sitting here waiting and feeling like a nervous mother hen. I hope the machines are ready in the morning, because I have a hair appointment at 3:45 that I don't want to reschedule and the repair shop will be closed before I'm done at the salon, which would mean that I'd have to wait until Monday to pick up my machines. I might go a little crazy by then.

Update: I was able to pick up my machines on Saturday morning before I went to my hair appointment but didn't have a chance to check them out. Today (Sunday) I got the Kenmore out to repair an appliqué on a shirt of Gwyn's and discovered that I couldn't access my stretch stitches! Somehow the wheel that adjusts my stitch length won't go past 0 now to the stretch stitch mark. Tomorrow (Monday) is gymnastics in the morning and I have to pass the sewing machine repair on my way there. I will be bringing my machine with instructions that it should be ready for me when I come back and free of charge. Sheesh!

Thursday, February 25, 2010

Mea culpa

Okay, I've stirred up a hornet's nest without really intending to. I got the book, Sewing Clothes Kids Love about a week or so ago and I find it to be a beautiful, colorful book full of inspiring photographs. We talked about it on the yahoo Ottobre sewing group this past weekend and there are 2 schools of thought: the first is that the book is amazing and that it's incredibly inspiring; the second is that the book lacks appeal because (while the written content may be great) the photographs are so overwhelming due to the mixes of color and pattern that it's too harsh to look at and is difficult to read because of that.

To be fair, I think most of the people who adore the book are already die-hard Farbenmix and Studio Tantrum fans and of the so-called "euro-style" way of mixing colors and patterns of fabric. The people who are turned off by the book are obviously not big fans of such a mix, and I certainly don't expect it to appeal to everyone. And it's definitely a style that can cause a strong initial reaction, as evidenced by the 1 star review on Amazon, whence comes the hornet's nest.

I was going to buy this book in the store but nobody local had it in stock, so I went ahead and ordered it from Amazon. I read the reviews before I placed my order, just to see how well it had been received, and was shocked to see a review with 1 star. I was surprised, mainly because it was extremely popular before it even came out. Since Farbenmix and Studio Tantrum aren't sold in mainstream stores, I (obviously wrongly) thought that the people who were buying and therefore, reviewing it, were already fans of the patterns. Those of us who like these patterns usually already have seen the mixed-color, mixed-pattern finished products from the patterns that can be seen on the Farbenmix website or on Sabine's photo website, and so the photos in the book would be - and are - nothing new or shocking.

The author of the 1 star review basically said that it only gets 1 star because she doesn't like the clothes in the book, specifically because she thinks that the mix of colors and patterns is way too loud and isn't her taste at all. Okay, so maybe she's never seen any of the Farbenmix or Studio Tantrum finished looks before and wasn't aware that these clothes are almost always made in the "Euro Style" with the mix of fabrics and colors. Maybe it's my fault that I happen to know that the word 'farbenmix' means color mix, so obviously things are going to be colorful. Whatever the assumptions that I made, the review made me want to ask the reviewer why the book gets only 1 star if she has nothing else to say about the book than she doesn't like it because it's not her taste.

So I commented on her review, pointing out that yes, the colormix isn't for everyone, and that her description of the clothes as being 'clown-like' was unnecessary. I also went so far as to say that the idea behind the book and the authors' personal theory is that kids like clothes that are colorful and make them feel happy and that it shouldn't matter if the style is to the parent's taste but rather to the child's, since the clothes are for the child to wear and not the adult.

I would have left it at that, I think, had I not looked back to see if there were any more comments. Several other comments were made and some were in support of my comment, saying that the patterns were good and could be made up in solid colors and still look great. But... there was a response from the original reviewer, saying that she at first assumed that I was the author of the book (hello - my name is Jen, not Nancy and it says as much on the comment), but then came to the conclusion that I must be one of the Farbenmix "team". Maybe I should have just let it go, but, of course, I had to reply.

I started out nice, I think. I'm not sure where I went off into a no-so-nice tone. I didn't intend to. I asserted to her that I've nothing to do with Farbenmix and Studio Tantrum, other than I like and use their patterns. I offered that I didn't think it was accurate to write a book review giving only 1 star when she didn't list any specific problems with the book that didn't deal with her own personal taste and made no suggestions as to how to better the book. She offered no critique of the work itself at all and that was my main issue. It was as though she had a gut reaction and didn't allow any time to think about the fact that the patterns might be ones that she could use if sewn with her taste in mind. This obviously colored her whole perception of the book.

I pointed out that the patterns were the main point and that the idea of the book was to make the patterns your own - whether by making them in solid colors or by eliminating embellishment, etc. I suggested that she trace the line drawings and try coloring them with colored pencils to see how they'd look in solids, unadorned. I think the journey away from being nice happened when I said that if she couldn't do that then maybe the book was beyond her creative abilities in this regard. In hindsight, this was too catty, though it wasn't meant to be at the time. There are some people who just can't see the possibilities in drawings and who are too influenced by photos when they are as dynamic as the ones in this book. And they are dynamic.

I also addressed the issue of the fact that the reviewer claims that the clothing isn't 'normal' except for maybe in California or Miami, and that no normal child would wear them. Basically I said that saying that means that those of us who don't live in those locations and like the patterns are abnormal and that anyone in those locations must be abnormal for considering the clothes normal, according to her 'normal' standards.

So maybe I crossed the line in terms of making a personal attack. There's no excuse for it, even if she did do it first. I should have stuck to the main point, which was that her review was lacking in any kind of critique of the book. I'll say that I was wrong to go into the catty area. But I won't apologize for my point of view on the lack of critique.

Tuesday, February 16, 2010

More thankfulness

I've been wanting to sew for a week. Really. And this time I have a legitimate excuse for not sewing.

We all have heard on the news about this huge snowstorms that hit the DC metro area last week. I experienced it firsthand. And in any state where the average annual snowfall is more than 8" this amount of snow would probably have not been a problem. Unfortunately, this area is not accustomed to heavy amounts of snow in a very short span of time, so they don't have the knowledge and/or resources to handle it the way that I'm used to - remember, I'm from Michigan and snow doesn't scare me.

It started on Friday, the 5th. School was let out early. I'd already been shopping and was prepared for not being able to go anywhere for a week or so. It snowed pretty hard the entire afternoon and evening and the street was silent and white - very pretty. I couldn't sleep because the streetlights were reflecting off of all of that snow, making it very light outside. Then, around 3:00 am, I saw flashes of multi-colored light in the sky outside that lit up my room. It was the transformer for the neighborhood. Almost immediately the light show ended the power in the house went out and all of the streetlights shut off. Not having anything else to do, I went to sleep, hoping that the power would be on when I woke up.

No such luck. When I woke up (Saturday, the 6th) the temperature in the house was 65 degrees. I can handle that because my father left our house hovering around 62 degrees when I was a kid. It's cold enough that you can wear a sweater indoors comfortably. I was slightly concerned about the baby, so I put some leggings on him under his fleece overalls. He generally doesn't get cold easily - he's like his dad. We went about the day as usual, although it was hard to wash hands at all because the water was too cold. Thank goodness for hand sanitizer! I managed to get the front walk and part of the driveway shoveled out in little bits between going back inside to check on the kids, who were constantly at each other. Gwyneth had no concept of 'we have no electricity' so she couldn't understand why she was unable to watch a DVD or play on the Wii or why the lights in the bathroom wouldn't turn on.

I kept hoping for the power to come back on, because in Michigan I'd never experienced a power outage during a snowstorm and when we did lose power at all it always came back on pretty quickly. By late afternoon it looked like we were going to be without power overnight, so I got the fireplace going in the family room and told the girls we'd be camping in there for the night. I managed to scrounge up some dinner that was pretty good, thanks to my Girl Scout camp skills. With chicken breast (hey, it was already thawing!), carrots, and potatoes I was able to make some foil dinners that the kids actually ate. I let them have the last of the thawing vanilla ice cream for dessert. Thankfully, we had enough wood courtesy of the neighbor's woodpile and I had a ton of candles, so we could see and we were pretty warm.

My main concern was how cold it would get overnight and I called Scott. We'd been in contact throughout the day and he was concerned about the temperature inside, too. He reminded me of our friend, Ron, who lives nearby and told me to call Ron in the morning to see if he still had power.

Next morning (Sunday, the 7th) was freezing! We woke up to a temperature of 47 degrees and it only went up to 48 degrees after a roaring fire was going. We ate breakfast bundled in blankets and quilts and then I called Ron. Thankfully (again), he had power and when I told him how cold it was in the house he said he'd be right over. I was ecstatic! I should add that it was my birthday and this rescue was really the highlight of the weekend so far, although my girls gave me some yummy bath products from Lush and a bear that they made a Build-a-Bear when my sister-in-law took them shopping the previous weekend.

Ron took us to his house, where I was able to get a shower finally and the kids were able to get warm. Ron's wife, Kelly, and stepson made me a delicious chocolate cake to celebrate my birthday that evening, so I couldn't have asked for better. The weather was so bad and the snow was so copious that we ended up staying at Ron's house until Saturday morning (yes, that's the 13th and yes, the power was already back on) and when we came back the road still wasn't plowed out, even though it had been a week since all of the snow had started. Ron shoveled out the drive for me again and then took off to PA to pick up Kelly's kids who were visiting their grandparents.

One last thing to be thankful for: Scott came home on Sunday - Valentine's Day! - which was just about the best Valentine's Day present I could have gotten.

So, lots of things to be thankful for. I'm thankful that I had the skills to survive a day and night without power. I'm especially thankful for my Girl Scout-y skills at campfire cooking. I'm thankful that Scott came home. But most importantly, I'm extremely thankful for good friends like Kelly and Ron, who put us up for a week, fed us and rescued us from freezing conditions. Once again, I'm humbled by the goodness of people around me. Ron, you're truly a friend.

Thursday, February 4, 2010


This is my new term for the problem my sewing machine is having. I don't mind that it has a few quirks but why does it always have to be buttonholes, and why does it always happen when I'm really knocking out the sewing, especially when something looks really good?

I've been working on the "olivia" puffed-sleeve blouse from the 6/2007 issue of Ottobre. I love this little blouse for many reasons, but I particularly love the version that I've made for Maeve. First, there's the fabric: it's a Liberty of London lawn and I think the colors are scrumptious. The yoke is made from a very fine calico. Maeve actually picked both of these out herself, and I think the colors and fabrics are pretty sophisticated for a 9 year-old. Second, there's the way it went together. I was scared that it wouldn't look nice, that something would go horribly wrong as I sewed, something that I couldn't correct. But up to this point it has gone together like a dream, and the lawn holds the gathers so nicely. Right now I have 3 things left to do in order to finish it: the sleeves need elastic, the buttonholes must be made, and the buttons need to be sewn on. Maeve is asleep and I need to measure her arm to make sure the elastic is long enough, so that has to wait. But I could do the buttonholes. Except the machine is being picky. I did a test buttonhole and it was fine, but as soon as I tried to do one on the blouse, my machine jammed. I've tried rethreading it, a new needle, adjusting the tension - everything. Nothing seems to help.

What it needs is a trip to the repairman. Yes, I had planned on doing that earlier but I didn't get around to it. It really needs to get a checkup, though, since I haven't taken it in for one since 2001. Yes, shame me for not taking better care of it. It's not my fault. I couldn't find anyone in Germany who would work on it, since it's not a 220v machine. I'm sure there is probably someone somewhere in Germany who could have done it, but not where I was. I have tried to care for it myself by cleaning the dust out frequently and making sure that I don't sew with bent needles, etc. But I can't take it apart, so I'm stuck with doing only the basics.

I hope I can coax it to let go of its fear of buttonholes this weekend. We're supposed to have a snow storm and I know I won't be getting it to a repairman while that's going on.

Tuesday, February 2, 2010

Wait, Mr. Postman!

At the risk of side-tracking myself from my Ottobre sewing, I need to talk about hats. As I may have mentioned, Maeve and her Girl Scout troop were earning their sewing badge and are in the process of sewing hats for kids who have lost their hair due to cancer treatment, which they will be donating to a hospital somewhere in the area.

Maeve decided that it is necessary for the hats to be cute as well as functional, so we are making them reversible, as an upgrade from the basic hat pattern. But I got to thinking that maybe it would be nice to try some really cool-looking hats. In the back of my head I remembered seeing a really cool hat pattern made by Nancy Langdon of Studio Tantrum. I looked online but couldn't remember where I'd seen it so I decided to email her to see if she could tell me where to find it and also to ask if it was okay to make a bunch of the hats to give away, since you're not really allowed to mass produce and sell from a home pattern.

To my great surprise and pleasure, she responded to my email right away and offered to have them sent from Germany, where they were in the Farbenmix store. Yes, they're written in German, but it shouldn't be too difficult for me to translate it since I've done that with other patterns. She offered to write a tutorial for me if I needed one, but I don't think it will be necessary - I've used her patterns before and her directions are usually very clear. As a side note: Sabine (of Farbenmix patterns) and Nancy's book came out yesterday and I can't wait to buy it. It looks amazing.

So how happy was I to find an envelope from Germany in my mailbox today, after a particularly stressful day? I felt like I was opening a birthday present and my birthday isn't until Sunday. Yes, I'll probably make one of these for Maeve as a test hat to make sure I've got the hang of it, but the pictures of them look so cool that I was really more excited about the prospect of making them with her to give away. I bet the kids who end up with these hats will be thrilled. Nancy recommends using old sweaters to make the hats, so I may have to go out and scrounge at the Goodwill, but I think the finished products will be fantastic. It may seem silly that I'm so excited about making something that I'm going to give away, but for me that's the best part of sewing - giving it to someone who will love it. I promise to post some photos of them when they're made, before they head off to warm up the heads of the kids who will get them. Hopefully the hats will warm their hearts, as well, and maybe even help them feel better.


I very rarely get any time to myself. Right now Scott is in Hawaii and I'm here with the 3 kids. 3 kids and only me = 1 big mess. Seriously. And just when I thought the house couldn't possibly get any messier, that I would never get the Christmas decorations taken down and put away, that no matter how many times I nagged at Maeve to clean her room it would never get done, just when I was about to despair of ever finding a single moment of sanity, I got a phone call. My sister-in-law. And she offered to come down from Pittsburgh for a weekend.

To most, and maybe even to me, this would seem odd. K. is a neonatologist with 5 year-old twin girls. She is currently married to another doctor but is in the beginning of a divorce process. Additionally, she's not working at the moment because she's between contracts while she studies for board certification. In a nutshell, she's a pretty busy woman and we aren't that close that she comes to visit me, or even to visit Scott. But what was even more amazing was her reason for coming: to help me.

I don't take help that readily because I'm so used to people not realizing that I might need it. And after living in Germany for so long where we weren't anywhere near family, I'm pretty used to getting by on my own. I've been through 3 deployments of various lengths and even once while pregnant and then after the baby was born. My motto is pretty much "I can handle it". It's been that way since we came back to the States, too. My mom lives in Maine, my brothers live in Michigan and Nebraska. I have no family here. Well, no family that I'm close to or could call on to ask for help. My father's cousin lives about an hour away and my mother's cousin lives about 35 minutes away. But they're both women in their mid-fifties or so whom I have never met in my life. I wouldn't feel comfortable asking one of them to watch the kids or anything. So I just deal with it. But K. said, "Jen, even Superwoman needs a break."

Anyway, after overcoming my initial shock at her offer, I told her she was welcome to come, though I didn't know what I could have her do. She said it didn't matter, that she was willing to clean or babysit or even take the girls out of the house so I could have some quiet. We picked a date and she arrived this past Friday, full of plans. I'd offered her what guest accommodations we have (futon in the family room) but she told me that she would stay at a hotel because she feels like everybody needs their own space. So she arrived when we were about to eat. She held and fed the baby so I could cook my dinner. She helped get Gwyneth's room cleaned and vacuumed while Gwyn was in the shower and I put Tallon to sleep. She put Gwyn to sleep so I could actually eat my dinner. Then she got Maeve started on cleaning her room. Miraculously, Maeve cleaned it without much fuss! Once it was clean she left and said she'd be back in the morning.

The next day she arrived around 10 am and proceeded to take down my Christmas tree and gather up the decorations to pack while I took a shower and got dressed. She vacuumed the family room. She helped Maeve change the sheets on her bed and bring her dirty laundry to the laundry room. Then she told me her plans for the rest of the day: she wanted to take us to lunch, then go to the mall, since I'd asked her to take the girls shopping for me for my birthday because Scott isn't here. I wouldn't have made a big deal about this but Maeve was upset that Scott wasn't here to do it and she wanted me to have presents on my birthday this coming Sunday. At the mall she wanted to take the girls and Tallon around while I did some shopping on my own. The plan was for me to go to JoAnn Fabrics to use up some of the gift cards I got for Christmas, but it was snowing pretty hard so I didn't think they'd stay open. We ended up going to Cheesecake Factory to eat because I'd never been there. That required braving unplowed roads but we managed to get there in one piece. Then we ventured out again into the snow to the mall. Fortunately I chose a route to the mall that was mostly on the emergency snow route, so it was plowed better. Once we got to the mall, she took charge of the kids and took them off to shop for me and to get the girls' nails painted. I hardly knew what to do with myself and window shopped and got myself the biggest Orange Julius in the world.

We met up when the mall was closing and I retrieved the baby and she took the girls back to the hotel with her to have a 'slumber party'. They had a wonderful time in the hotel pool the next morning and then went shopping at Target and had lunch out before coming back to the house. Gwyneth was quick to show me that she'd gotten both her finger and toe nails painted at the mall, and told me that Maeve opted for toes only. They both had picked purple nail polish. K. announced that she'd bought some organizing things and then showed me the fabric bins that she'd gotten for Gwyn's room and for Maeve's room, plus some colored adhesive hooks for the wall in Maeve's room, plus she'd gotten plastic bins for the shelves in the toy room, where she then headed to clean up.

By the time she left our house Sunday evening, she'd gone over almost every room with the vacuum, organized the girls' rooms and the toy room, taken down my Christmas tree and decorations and taken my kids shopping while I got to relax with no rascals to chase back into bed on Saturday night. She'd done a few other little things, too, but I'm so overwhelmed at the work she did in the toy room that I don't even know what else she did. We even were able to talk to each other in a more genuine, relaxed way than we've ever done before and that was nice. Maybe this is the beginning of a closer relationship than we've had the past 16 years or so. Maybe this was like a vacation for her, too. Her husband had the kids for the weekend, and since he often relies on her to 'rescue' him from daddy situations that he can't handle, it may have been refreshing for her to be able to say "Sorry, you'll have to deal with it. I'm out of town."

So I am touched. And thankful, oh so thankful. I had a weekend that I thoroughly enjoyed (yummy cheesecake!) and my children were remarkably good. And best of all, I got a little time to myself. And continue to get a little time, since I'm not wasting my breath on nagging Maeve about her room or asking Gwyn to put her socks in the hamper. At least, not for a little while. Thank you, K.