Monday, October 26, 2009

Halloween - A Maker's Delight

I went to a costume and party store today, to buy a balloon reward for a job well done. That's all I wanted, a balloon. Being that it is Halloween week, however, we couldn't resist a look around at all the costumes and junk on offer for this years' festivities. There was an amazing selection of costumes, masks and wigs. Everything for kids, adults, I think I even saw some dog costumes in there. All great fun, of course, but really, isn't buying a ready made costume missing the whole point?

When we were kids more than half the fun was tearing the house apart looking for old clothes, tea towels, cardboard, tin foil, Styrofoam and poster paint to put together some monstrous outfit, some hilarious get up or some perplexing accouterments to wear on Halloween. Also part of the fun where we grew up was figuring out how to winterize the costume, since we regularly treat or treated in the snow. Just how many pairs of tights can one wear under a gypsy skirt anyway?

One year my mum helped me make a lion costume; my friends were Tin Man, Scarecrow and Dorothy. Then the next year, I found a yellow unitard, sewed fabric swatches to a belt and a hat and was a jester. Another year I wore all my red clothes, made a tail out of old red tights and horns out of paper mache. With a made up face I was a totally convincing devil, a look I still resurrect from time to time. One year I altered a pair of palazzo pants of my mother’s, added a velvet vest, cobbled together a fez type arrangement out of a yogurt tub and put bells on my ballet slippers. The resulting genie was so good that I won a bookstore gift voucher from a radio station that broadcast from my school. My mum liked it so much, she wore it to a fancy dress party later that year!

As I got older, treat or treating gave way to going to parties, then bars. Over the years I perfected the “vampire slut” look so much that it became quite legendary among my friends. Occasionally I paired up with my sister or my roommate and did a “twin vampire slut” act. I often dyed my hair black just to perfect the effect. But always the costumes were homemade. I even made vampire teeth out of a piece of white plastic.

Last year, I confess, I bought Lucy a costume. It was on sale and she loved it so much that we created a superhero theme for her birthday party in April so she could wear it again. This year, since I’m on a making kick, I could hardly buy an off the rack costume again, could I? Even though the costumes, inspired by the movie Hairspray, are readily available, I was determined to make them.

By now I shouldn’t be surprised at how rewarding this whole experience was. I took both my daughter and my niece to the fabric store to choose fabrics, finding some perfect and well priced options. I altered patterns I already had to put the dresses together, and even styled the girl’s hair myself (Although I wore a wig)! As you can see from the pictures we all looked adorable, and the girls loved them.

I was on a roll. Next my husband decided he wanted to be Captain Jack Sparrow, from Pirates of the Caribbean. “No problem!” said I and set about fashioning him not only a costume, but a wig made from an old fleece scarf! I found everything I needed either in my house, or at thrift stores. We were sensational at our pre-Halloween party.

It’s still five days until Halloween; Lucy has four more costume wearing opportunities, in addition to Treat or Treating. Lucy will wear a semi handmade Wordgirl costume for Trick or Treating, and miscellaneous princess/fairy dresses for all the other events. Enough time has elapsed since I made the costumes that I’ve cleaned up the sewing room. It looks orderly and nice for a change.

But I’ve got an itch, an itch to stitch…Christmas here we come.

Tuesday, October 13, 2009

Making the time for “Making Time”

So I finally finished, with the help of my mother, two of my sisters, the niece of literally my oldest friend, two newer friends, and someone I haven’t seen since high school. My fourth charity quilt and my second community quilt is finished and on it’s way to being auctioned for Grandmothers to Grandmothers, a favorite charity of my mother’s.
I love making these quilts and already have plans for my next one. One thing I need to address in some way is—what can I call it—the drop out rate. As I said in a previous post, a lot of women said they wanted to help, but didn’t sew, which of course is one of the things that inspired this blog. But something that has happened both times I’ve attempted a community quilt is that quilters have signed up and then not submitted a block. Now, again, no big deal really, the quilt got finished and looks great that’s all that matters. But I’d like more quilters to take part. Some just didn’t get back to me. Some said they just didn’t have the time. This got me thinking. What are we spending our time on?
I often feel like I “don’t have the time” to read, to write, to sew, to cook. Sure I have a child and I work (occasionally) but let’s get real here. My mother had a fulltime job, FOUR kids, a husband, did all her own housework, volunteered at a homeless shelter, was going to night school AND still had time to sew up a storm AND make home-cooked food every night. How the heck did she do it?
Well…she didn’t have Facebook, that’s for sure.
See the thing about computer based pastimes as opposed to watching TV for example, is that they require all your attention and both your hands. Ever tried to read a book while you chat on MSN? Ever tried to knit while you play Vampire Wars? I knit while I watch TV. I’m not a big knitter so I don’t do this often but I have friend who, if it weren’t for cheesy TV dramas probably would never have become the professional knitter she is now. My mother listened to the radio as she sewed, deep into the wee hours, not even noticing that CBC radio had switched from classical to “Brave New Waves” at midnight. I’ll never forget seeing her stitch obliviously along to Skinny Puppy at 1AM.
Video games and web surfing and Facebooking and texting don’t allow for real multi tasking. Sure you can play Vampire Wars while Facebooking, but you’re trapped at your keyboard, so you’re really only semi-multi tasking, since the two tasks are really just different versions of the same pointless thing. The question is, how much time are we putting into computer based entertainments and pastimes, and what do we have to show for it at the end of the day?
The home computer was supposed to be this great tool for us that would simplify and streamline our lives leaving us with more free time to …what? Sew? Paint? Build bookshelves? But somehow it has ended up eating up all that extra time, and then some, leaving us no time to do anything at all except maybe order some bookshelves from At least when we watch TV we can do something with our hands. Shuck peas maybe, or make origami.
I can’t believe it but I think I’m suggesting we all watch more TV

Tuesday, October 6, 2009

Chicken Soup for the Maker's Soul

My daughter has a book of crafts for kids. Spontaneously, after she had been told what it was (she was only 3 at the time) and tried out a couple of the crafts, she starting calling it a “Making Book”. I like that, a making book. It’s a broader concept than crafts of course, which is why it’s so satisfying to me. A making book can be a woodworking or home repairs book, a sewing or knitting book, even a cookbook. It is different than other books in that it has expectations of you. It wants you to give back; input then output.
Now, I confess, I own a lot of making books, from some of which I have never made anything. But I do make things, as much as I can. Some people ask “why make something when you buy something for less money that’s just as good?” It’s true; most things can be bought cheaply these days, saving time and money over handmade. And in many cases the quality is good. So why make things? Why not just buy them?
What I and other “makers” know is that the making is the point, not necessarily what is made. When I make something I get more out of it than just the handmade item. The journey is more important than the destination. I can think of no better example than the chicken soup I made the other day.
My friend Jane recently learned she has breast cancer. Many in my family and friends have faced this frightening diagnosis and I was determined to do what I could to help Jane through it. Just before her surgery I jested, “I’m coming over with soup when you get home”. “What kind?” said Jane. “Chicken noodle,” I answered, without hesitation. I had seen Jane consume copious quantities of the packet variety over the years.
When Jane got back from the hospital I went to see her. She was pale and tired, but walking around and positive about the outcome. “I’m making the soup this afternoon,” said I. “I will call you when it’s done.” That afternoon I set to it. Now the interesting thing about this is that I didn’t shop for this soup. I had some chicken thighs in the freezer and a few vegetables so I thought I would just use what I had. I can’t give you the recipe because I don’t remember. I didn’t measure anything. I started with sautéed onions in butter, added some chopped baby carrots then covered that with organic chicken stock. I sautéed the chicken in olive oil and garlic and threw that in. Then my visual esthetic sense wanted something green so I headed out to my half dead herb garden and picked some thyme, parsley and sage. Washed and chopped, that added just the right amount of color. I seasoned it with salt, pepper and a bit of lemon juice. Finally I added frozen peas and penne noodles, cooked until tender.
When I was happy with the result, I called Jane. As she lives next door, she said she felt up to coming over. A few minutes later she came to the door, looking tired and in pain. She was stiff from not being about to move well, and she’d just had the drain taken out, which was also painful. She wasn’t allowed to have a shower until the incisions were closed and she hadn’t washed her hair in a week. In short, she felt like crap. I sat her down at the table and set out a bowl of hot soup in front of her. “Wow,” she exclaimed, “This has real chicken in it!” While she ate it, I rubbed her shoulders and brushed and braided her hair. Jane went home with two Tupperware containers of soup for later.
The best part of this soup story is what came later that day. I had kept a serving of the soup for my daughter’s dinner. My daughter is not a fussy eater; she’ll eat anything but it’s hard to get her to eat a whole meal. She usually gets bored about a quarter of the way in. Not so this soup. She devoured it, marveling at the plump noodles and copious chicken. When I told her I had made it for Jane, she was delighted and asked many questions. When she left the table there wasn’t a scrap left in her bowl. The soup was all gone and I personally had eaten only a few tastes as I made it.
Chicken soup is an amazing thing. It is actually scientifically shown to improve immunity. In one form or another, folk wisdom from many cultures imbue it with medicinal or even magical qualities. Eating it is almost universally believed to be beneficial. Even vegans, who of course never eat chicken, believe in the powers of vegetable or bean soup. But what I discovered that day were the benefits of MAKING soup. I went to bed that night feeling not only like a good “maker” but a good friend and an excellent mother.