23 December 2014

Practising kindness

This time of year can be hard for many people for so many different reasons. There is the stress of added financial pressures, of keeping up appearances, adjusting to the end of another school year (at least in our part of the world) and the uncertainty of the year ahead. Perhaps we are spending Christmas apart from our nearest and dearest or we have lost someone close to us and it is felt more keenly at a time when traditionally, family comes together. If you're feeling overwhelmed, whatever your reason, be kind to yourself, and if you are able to, surround yourself with people you love and those who love you back, who value your friendship and who's company you treasure. Be grateful to have this choice. If you know someone who lives alone or is just feeling lonely, reach out. Just reach out. You may not know exactly what is going on in their lives yet a simple act of kindness is a great gift if it comes from a place of selflessness - and it costs nothing. Be kind. Always be kind. We cannot control the thoughts and actions of other people, but we can control how we choose to treat others. And I choose kindness. Every time.

I chose this photo to share with you so you can see how Christmas Day is going to look at our place. It must be strange to people reading this on the other side of the world to see that it is summer here. It has been such a gloriously hot day today that I have the doors flung wide open at the moment to let in some of the breeze.
Those photos up on the shelf are special to us, not least of all because two of the people in them are no longer with us and I think having them with us in our little dining area makes me feel like they are not forgotten.

Don't let the tranquility of this photo fool you though. My husband's extended family and some family friends are coming to spend the afternoon and evening with us on Thursday and with around 25 people here, this place will be filled with wonderful food, noise, mess and chaos (and probably a broken glass or plate if my sister keeps up her record - heehee) which is how we do Christmas. This is our first time hosting for Christmas so we've had to do a little bit of furniture rearranging to accommodate everyone, but we love the idea of having everyone all together at the one table. See all the gaps on the kitchen shelves? That's not due to tidiness - we have reached our crockery and cutlery (and seating) threshold hosting this number of guests and every plate and glass we own is on the table.
Our family went on a little outing up into the hills a few weeks ago to collect some pinecones to decorate our table. Spray-painting them was a fun little activity for my husband and the girls. The hydrangea were foraged on another little outing yesterday. I did have a little laugh to myself while gathering them as some other people must have had the same idea since it was quite obvious that the bush we chose had already been "pruned" and only the topmost, hard-to-reach heads were left.

Merry Christmas, dear readers. Thank you for reading. Thank you for your comments, support and advice throughout the year. I have loved sharing parts of my creative and family life with you this past year. You can expect more of the same from me for as long as I feel I have a voice to lend to this community of bloggers. This is my last post for 2014 as I will be devoting my time and attention to my family and friends over Christmas and the summer holidays. I will still pop in and read your blogs when I can and will no doubt share a few pictures of my view on the world over the next six weeks on Instagram. Or I may not. In any case, I won't be far away and I will see you all again in 2015.

19 December 2014

Fleur - a vintage-style cloth doll

In a complete departure from my usual sewing projects, I got to pattern-test Big Little's newest creation, Fleur, a vintage-style cloth doll. She is simply too beautiful for words. I don't think the photos do her justice to be honest. She is so robust yet lovely to hold and at around 38cm tall, she is an amazing size. My 5 and 7 year old daughters just love her to pieces.

If you are visiting here from Big Little's blog tour this week, you may notice that my version is a little different to the lovely ones that have been showcased so far. It was not because I disliked the original pattern, but simply because she was created based on what materials I already had in my stash.

I've sewed one other doll before, but I just made it up as I went along and it was very rudimentary. This doll has quite a number of components to her, including jointed limbs, and the pattern has a very comprehensive tutorial to accompany it; to see it all in one file may actually a little overwhelming for a beginner or inexperienced sewer. The testers were dripfed the tutorial, which I think was a really good approach so it felt more manageable.

I think to do it in stages and only when you have complete focus on the task at hand is key. I had a little bit on my plate last month when I worked on this doll and so I snuck a few hours here and there and always with the nagging in my head that I really ought to have been doing something else, so I think I rushed her a bit and lost enjoyment because she didn't come together as well I had hoped she would. I really struggled with a number of areas, and my frustration only grew when I could not achieve a nice, balanced look to her face. I don't even know why - all the other pattern testers seemed to manage it without a problem. Perhaps it was because I used polyester fill where others had used natural fibres? I just could not achieve the lovely rounded look in the example pictures when I started stuffing her and it caused so much frustration! She had no other features at that point, she was just a bald-headed, faceless creature with no arms or legs and I just wasn't feeling it.

I also found stitching and turning out the ears and making clothes that are this small an issue - I must have man-sized hands or something but finesse is required to work with these little details and plenty of patience is needed because you cannot rush through the stages unless you want it to show in your craftsmanship.

I had a ball of sea foam green wool in my stash and this is what guided me in the colour choices for the doll clothes. I followed Lisa's tutorial to braid the hair, which was surprisingly easy, and then I decided  my doll needed a more relaxed hairstyle, so I rolled the hair at the side, swept it around to the other side and then braided it.

Having struggled to stuff the doll, I made the decision to tackle the clothes instead. I figured it would be a good idea to have a break from the doll and play with some pretty fabrics instead to rekindle the enjoyment. For me, there is no point sewing if I'm not having fun doing it. I made a kimono dress and regretted my fabric choices so I opted for separates instead. I love how it all turned out, with her little leggings made from a pair of one of my daughter's old holey leggings. They are simply longer French knickers without the elastic in the legs and sewn with a tapered leg so they fit more snugly. The denim jacket is adapted from the bodice pattern and made using a pair of old jeans and I snuck in some of Sarah Jane's florals for the lining. The teeshirt is made from a stretch knit and I handstamped it with one of the girls' stamps for a street wear look.
So fash-un.

The shoes are made from a small piece of suede and were really quite fun to make. I cut out the soles from the supplied shoe pattern and to make the boots, I drafted a slightly wider pattern using the contour of the doll's leg as a guide.

I was especially hesitant to embroider her eyes; having come so far through the doll-making process and lacking confidence in my embroidery skills, I feared I would completely ruin the doll and not be able to disguise any mistakes. Lisa came to the rescue with a simplified eye design, which is just perfect on this doll.

There were so many emotions at play constructing her. I oscillated between excitement, to frustration to ambivalence and finally to falling completely in love with my creation. It was a total incarnation of the creative process diagram I wrote about last month. I could never give this girl up, so I am so glad that my children play with her and adore her too. As soon as her face was stitched on, it was my eureka moment and I just fell in love with her.

If you are ever given a doll that someone has carefully laboured over for hours, feel special because these dolls are definitely not a five minute project and if someone has carefully crafted something as detailed and beautiful as a Big Little Fleur doll for you, know that you are loved.

Lisa was incredibly patient with me as I worked through the various stages asking a barrage of questions along the way. She has also generously offered 15% off the pattern until this Saturday 20 December only which is now listed here in her Etsy store. Just enter the code FLEUR15 at checkout.

Unless you put all the dolls being showcased this week side by side, you mightn't realize that they were created from the same pattern, which is the beauty of it - it is such a versatile pattern and you are only limited by your imagination. I am having all manner of difficulty adding links and uploading photos to my blog at the moment, so if you would like to see more versions of this doll and to visit the remaining blogs in the hop, please do click through to Lisa's blog for a list of all the participants.

Aimee from Small Steps Big Noises has made a doll to give away to one lucky little person. Knowing how much work goes into creating these dolls, this is such a generous thing to do and captures nicely the spirit of this time of year. Please do go and enter for your chance to own your very own Fleur doll.

14 December 2014

Dr Seuss novelty prints winner

You do realize that the odds of winning something in the Sew Mama Sew Giveaway Day are pretty slim, don't you? Just think, of the 245 prizes up for grabs for international participants, there were hundreds more people in the group that missed out. But still, you gave it a shot and I admire that. If it's any consolation, you're in some fine company. Natalie Portman didn't win anything either.
Better luck next time, Nat.

My last giveaway winner was from the United States. This time, the fabrics will be winging their way across to western Australia. Congratulations, Janeta!  Thank you so much to you all for taking the time to enter my giveaway. A big hello to my new readers and likers on Facebook and Instagram, it is a good feeling to know people think I am worth a follow. I've also found one or two new (to me) blogs which is a nice bonus (that's just something us losers like to say).

Only six months until the next Sew Mama Sew Giveaway Day, maybe some of us will be lucky next time round.

08 December 2014

{Giveaway} Obseussed with Dr Seuss

Oh the places you'll go!
There is fun to be done!
There are blogs to visit and fabric to be won.
And the magical things you can do with this haul will make you the winning-est winner of all.

Go on, just leave me a comment telling me what you would do with this set of five Dr Seuss cotton fabrics. That's it. These are "Dr Seuss fat quarters", meaning they are slightly wonkily cut, but they are more or less 44x55cm/18x22" - and you may end up winning them all for free so who's going to complain about that?

Existing followers of my blog will qualify for two chances to win. New followers are always welcome, but this is not a requirement to enter the giveaway. If you are a follower (and I have come to know many of you quite well through our behind-the-scenes chats), please just leave a second comment telling me how you follow - (i.e. Instagram, Facebook and/or via Bloglovin or Google Friend Connect. As you can see from my GFC tally, this is an extraordinarily popular blog so why would you want to miss out on all the action?

A winner at the close of the Giveaway Day will be drawn randomly and announced on my blog. In the unlikely event of being unable to reach the winner after three days, I will redraw.

Open to international entries.

Giveaway closes at 2pm Saturday 13 December (NZDST)/5pm Friday 12 December (PST).

if you comment anonymously, I will be unable to contact you and your entry will be invalid so please leave an email address in your message. I reply to everyone who gets in touch with me, provided there is an email address link in their profile, but Giveaway Day can get a little crazy, so please take this as my personal acknowledgement to all you fabric hounds for stopping by.

Giveaway Day runs for the whole week so there is plenty of time for you to head to the other participating blogs and enter their giveaways. To view them all, go here. Have fun!

03 December 2014

Dairy | Egg | Nut-free recipe: Banana muffins

Here's a handy recipe to have to use up all those bananas. This can easily be made soy and gluten-free too without any trouble and they also taste great. Another variation I have made with success is adding chopped up chunks of Whittaker's dark chocolate to the mixture after the vanilla essence and milk has been added.

2 mashed bananas
1/3 cup brown sugar
1/4 cup oil
2 tsp baking powder
1/2 tsp cinnamon
1 1/4 cups flour
1/2 tsp baking soda
1/2 tsp vanilla essence
1/3-1/2 cup milk alternative

Line muffin tin with oiled paper liners or spray oil on non-stick muffin tins.
Combine mashed banana, sugar and oil together. Mix well.
Sift baking powder, cinnamon, flour and baking soda together.
Add dry ingredients to banana mixture alternately with combined vanilla essence and milk. Mix well.
Pour into muffin cases. Bake at 180°C for 20-25 mins (15 minutes is sufficient with the muffin tray size I use, so when making these for the first time, test your muffins with a skewer at this point).
Makes 12.

I dust my cupcakes with icing sugar once cooled but they are just as tasty plain, or you could add your own icing if preferred.

Recipe adapted from The NZ Food Allergy Cookbook and printed with permission from Allergy New Zealand. The cookbook retails for $40 and is available to purchase here.