Wednesday, 31 October 2012


Return of the mummy... plus a princess

I have always enjoyed fancy dress. Perhaps this is what inspired me to go trick-or-treating as a young child, despite the fact that Halloween wasn't widely celebrated at the time (which meant that almost no one whose door we knocked on had any sweets to give us). My friend and her little brother would join me and my little sister, all of us wearing costumes put together from whatever was in the dress-up box, and we would wander off down the street after dark with (to the best of my memory) no parental supervision whatsoever. Afterwards we would return home and inspect our loot, which was usually comprised of a few sweets, some coins, biscuits and an assortment of non-edibles (I distinctly remember being given candles, stickers and once, by the family of a boy from our school, some Japanese salty plums in lolly-like wrappers. Our classmate stood in the doorway giggling as we left, presumably anticipating the nasty surprise we would receive when we tasted them).

Decades later, Halloween has become more popular here and many children go trick-or-treating in their neighbourhoods. It's hard to resist a pagan festival combining dress-ups and sweets... so I did a letterbox drop in our street asking children to join us for some trick or treating, and for parents to tie balloons on their letterboxes if they would like us to knock on their door (R got to be 'postie' and thoroughly enjoyed it. Since that day, letter posting games have been very popular around here).

Today was the big day and although I had spoken to a few neighbours whose kids were planning to dress up, I was worried we might end up with only a couple of homes to visit. So it was wonderfully exciting, come evening, to see balloons on several houses up the street. And there was a real buzz in the air when the children gathered outside our house dressed as witches, fairies and superheroes, lolly bags at the ready. I kicked off proceedings by handing out chocolate frogs and silly bandz, then we made our way up the street as a group. At every house we went to I was amazed to see how thoughtful people had been, preparing little bags and packets of sweets, or offering bowls and jars of mixed lollies for children to choose from. We all met neighbours we had never spoken to or seen before. It was really lovely.

And although I'd worried that our street of 20 houses (half of which participated) was a little small for trick-or-treating, I'm so glad it isn't bigger because K somehow managed to wind up with the most ridiculously large collection of sweets...

And R was very happy with her (much more modest) haul too.

R looking dazed as the evening comes to an end

 After a sweet-eating session it was bedtime for the mummy and the princess. But the little lantern I made (just a bit of black paper around a jar with a candle in it) was apparently so terrifying to R that I not only had to remove it from the hallway but was also made to promise that I would blow out the candle, scrunch up the paper and dispose of it.

Never mind - I'll make another one next year. Sweet sugar-fuelled dreams, kids!

Thursday, 25 October 2012

Tomorrow... little girl is going to hospital. After months of doctors' visits and audiology tests we have confirmed that her hearing in both ears is poor due to fluid build-up behind the eardrums ('glue ear'). Tomorrow she will have grommets put in her ears to help the fluid drain away and restore her hearing.

I have learned two lessons (so far) from this experience. One: I can't rely on the public health system. Had we chosen to go public we would have been waiting at least a year to have this procedure, despite the audiologists' reports stating that R's hearing is insufficient for normal language and development. Two: Trust your instincts. For a long time I suspected that R's hearing was bad - she often ignored me when I spoke to her, or said what? when I asked her a question - but as no one else had any concerns about it, I put it down to her just being difficult and contrary.

So while I don't look forward to tomorrow's procedure (minor though it is), I am relieved that R's hearing issues have been identified and action is being taken at last. Recently I have noticed her withdrawing socially and have wondered whether this is due to her inability to hear what children are saying. I imagine she can't hear too much of what her kindergarten teacher says when the children are all sitting on the mat. In the car it is very difficult to carry on a conversation with her, perhaps because we're not face to face. I feel sad that she has been disadvantaged in this way for so long.

I wanted to do something nice with her today. So this afternoon, when it was just me and R at home, we had a hot chocolate in my special teacups that my mum gave me for my birthday and that R has been desperate to drink from. I bought her a blueberry plant at Bunnings. And we watched some of Aladdin together.


As a little present to give R tomorrow I made a cute bracelet purse using this tutorial, and bought her a tiara (will come in handy for Halloween, when she plans to dress as a princess) and some body glitter and lip gloss. For the purse I used lovely Indian bangles I'd bought many years ago - it was very satisfying to find a good use for them, because although I love them, the jangly noise they make when worn is a bit much for me. But here's to all life's noises - the loud ones, like the jingles and jangles, and the quiet ones, like birds twittering and leaves rustling. All of which, I hope, will soon be that much more audible to my little one.

Sunday, 21 October 2012

Spring gardening

Spent much of this weekend working on our veggie garden. In addition to our lettuces (which we're growing year-round - we eat a lot of salad) this season we are growing:

Tomatoes. M is very proud of his home-made tomato cages - these Tommy Toes are self-seeded and we wanted to give them a chance to get some sunlight, since they're surrounded by lettuces. We are also growing Rouge de Marmandes (just because we like the name).

Strawberries, which I grew from runners (hadn't tried that before but they are looking promising).

Peas (one of the varieties with an edible pod; I like the kids to be able to munch them straight off the plant, although realistically K will probably refuse to try them and R will eat them all).

The pot above is a collection of herbs and random seedlings that were left over after sowing the veggie patch and the other large pots (including French beans and some chilli plants). Speaking of chilli plants, M is crazy about them. This year he has planted several different types (jalapeno, birds eye and habanero, among others) and still has a few from last year that survived the winter.

Basil (not pictured), which was a star performer last year. Hoping for loads of delicious pesto this summer, accompanied, of course, by some tommy toe tomatoes. We also have some garlic growing, but I have no idea when I planted it and therefore no idea when to harvest. Hmm...

Also planted last year was this amazing artichoke which grew from a fragment of root after I'd pulled the plant up because it was being destroyed by insects. Suddenly it's taken off and has two artichokes growing on it - so beautiful. I don't know if I will eat them, though, because I've seen artichokes flowering and they are stunning.

The less glamorous side of gardening is dealing with snails and slugs, but I've had to force myself to take action as my seedlings are under attack. Tonight I am trialling a 'beer trap' (thanks for the suggestion, mum) and will also be going out with a torch to see what I can catch, having vetoed the use of snail pellets where the vegies are growing. Any tips on protecting plants from predators will be gratefully accepted!

Monday, 15 October 2012

Playgroup art and craft: Bubble wrap printing

Once again the plastic tubs came in handy. A few blobs of paint spread out with a bit of cardboard; some pieces of bubble-wrap cut into manageable sizes...

You lay the bubble wrap in the paint to coat it, then press it gently onto the paper. The result is a dotty, multicoloured pattern with colours that blend gently into each other.

After some painting, R did a drawing. This is the first time she has drawn a house in this  way, with a triangular roof, a chimney and a neat little pair of windows. Previously her houses have been vaguely rectangular but have been much more higgledy piggledy. I love it most when she draws things from observation or imagination, but I was impressed by her mastery of the convential 'house' form. In case you're wondering, the thing to the right of the door is 'where the ding-dong goes' - a very important feature of the house, as R loves ringing our doorbell (it must, of course, be rung repeatedly - much as the button at the traffic lights must be pressed at least twenty times). What is it about kids and buttons?

Sunday, 14 October 2012

KCWC - Day 7: beach robes and a skirt

I managed to finish off three garments just in time for the end of Kids' Clothes Week, and even fitted in a little gardening, too. Now it's time to tidy my sewing table, sweep the floor and pick all the little bits of thread off my clothes. But hang on - I have a couple of projects still unfinished! Maybe the tidy-up will have to wait. Anyway, I'm too tired to do anything that can't be done while sitting down. I wonder how all you other KCWC participants are feeling - exhilarated or exhausted? I have enjoyed the sewing, but I don't think I could continue at such a mad pace for much longer. I'm looking forward to a return to my usual routine of sewing things bit by bit over several days (or sometimes weeks) without a deadline.

Sadly the children displayed a total lack of interest in their new clothes today, and refused point blank to model. Despite eventually negotiating a modelling contract with them ('put these on now, eat this lollybag after') several threats were required to obtain their cooperation (no dessert tonight! no playstation! no toys!). And whether you can call running around making silly faces 'cooperating' is another matter altogether...

So here are today's offerings:


Pattern: Beach robe by Made

Fabric: Towelling from Spotlight; home-made bias tape in seersucker and spotty cotton fabric, both from Spotlight.

Sewing: These have been sitting unfinished on my sewing table for a while now. R's, which I put together first, was a straightforward sew - Dana's pattern is simple and easy to construct, with many photos to accompany the instructions. I opted for a lined hood (if it were unlined the inside seams would show, which I didn't think would be very attractive), a full tie and long sleeves. I sewed the sleeves using the 'alternative method', which worked well.

K's was more complicated as I had to upsize the pattern, which only goes up to size 4, to fit a tall 8-year-old. I don't think I got it 100% right - the arms are a little tight where they meet the body of the robe, and the hood is maybe a little small - but it fits OK and K loves it.

I would happily make one of these again in one of the sizes included in the pattern - it's a really nice garment. And just in time for the Australian summer.


Pattern: Burda 'sweet as sugar' skirt from Burda Style 5/2012. Another tracing ordeal, but I'm a little more accomplished at it now. 

Fabric: Red cotton gingham and cotton batiste lining, exactly as used in the magazine (40% off fabrics at Lincraft this month; nice timing guys!). Cotton lace trim from Darn Cheap - don't you love sewing puns? No other fabric store cuts it like they do - or so it says on their window.

Sewing: I'm not ready to swear allegiance to Burda Style magazine, but it was a lot easier than the dress. The pockets were the only part that confused me; I had to wrap my head around how they ought to be constructed in order to understand the (not terribly clear) directions. The waist ended up way too big for R, but despite lingering irritation with the folks up at Burda HQ I can't lay the blame for that one on them. I put elastic inside the waistband casing, but having run out of the right size I had to improvise with something narrow (temporarily! I will sort it out tomorrow) so at the moment it looks terribly bunchy. I also found myself short of two white buttons for the pocket flaps and could not find appropriate ones anywhere in the house - very frustrating. I came this close to debuttoning one of my husband's shirts - I actually started to rifle through his wardrobe, then decided it was a bit of an unwise move, given that I'd like to stay married for the time being. So that detail, too, will have to wait.

The skirt is flouncy and gorgeous, with plenty of ruffles and lace. I really love it, even if I did a rather rushed job of sewing it and the finish is not quite as nice as I would like it to be. Getting R to try it on was a challenge so the photos aren't that great. But never mind, it's done and it's cute. Happy last day of KCWC, everyone!

Friday, 12 October 2012

KCWC - Day 5 and about time I finished something!


Pattern: 'Sandy Games' dress, Burda Style May 2012. Borrowed it from the library and have been feverishly tracing patterns as they cruelly give you only one week's loan.

Fabric: Linen-cotton blend from Spotlight.

Sewing: I hardly know where to begin. I'll skip past the trauma of tracing the pattern from a giant sheet of paper with ten thousand multicoloured lines on it and go straight to the flawed fabric, which turned out to have two pale lines running through it, only one of which I noticed before starting so that - despite fussy-cutting - I ended up with a front dress piece adorned with a vertical white line. Returned fabric to Spotlight, they gave me an extra metre and I started the process again. Wash, dry, iron, cut. Not happy.

Then the yoke. It took me four tries (and one destroyed yoke) to get the damn thing attached to the dress front. Bits kept catching in the seam, whichever side I sewed it from. My unpicker got its best workout in years; the whole project came perilously close to being thrown in the bin. But I persevered, despite the fact that the instructions in the magazine might as well just have said 'assemble dress' for all the detail they gave. At a certain point I began to wonder how on earth the back of the dress was going to be done up, since there didn't seem to be an instruction to sew it and the pattern called for only one button. Eventually the penny dropped - this thing is supposed to be open at the back! Hence the 'underdress', which I thought was optional! I'm still not sure if I'm going to make the underdress or just give up and sew up the back of the 'overdress'. Underdress, overdress... I'm over it.

To summarise, this simple dress has caused a lot of grief around here. In the time it took me to cut it out and sew it I could have flown to Germany, located the Burda headquarters, found the people responsible and strangled them. Still, the children's clothes in this edition are incredibly cute... so I might have to try just one more pattern before I buy my plane ticket.


Pattern: Oliver + S reversible bucket hat (free download here)

Fabric: Linen-cotton blend from Spotlight (managed to avoid the dreaded white lines this time, hooray!) and red flowery voile left over from a blouse I made a while back.

Sewing: I love patterns that come together easily and well. And it's my second time making one of these so it was extra-easy (although it still took hours). Plus I figured out why the last one I made was too small: the PDF had opened in 'preview' instead of Acrobat and had printed off-scale. This time I made a medium, took care that the 2" squares on the pattern pages were to scale, and it fits R fine with plenty of room to spare. Not sure if I will still add some straps later or not.

Here in Australia a hat with a narrow brim is pretty useless, so I widened the brim by 1.5 inches. Because my hand-sewing is terrible I used Jessica's tutorial to sew the hat entirely by machine - I think this method is way better than the one called for in the original pattern. Oh, and I interfaced all the voile pieces because the hat would have been overly floppy otherwise.

It felt very satisfying to finish something in one evening. Now watch this space for my two beach robes...

Tuesday, 9 October 2012

KCWC: Day 1

Day 1 of Kids' Clothes Week Challenge and I have to show for it so far is... well, I don't think I'll even bother showing the half-finished garment that is responsible for my unhinged state of mind this evening. I had a fairly ambitious to-do list, but in the light of my lack of progress so far I may have to be satisfied with a little less. The dress I'm working on - the fabric for which somehow escaped the above photo call yesterday - has just about driven me crazy, to the point that I almost abandoned it last night after attempting to join the yoke to the dress front for the fourth time. I could probably crack (ha!) all sorts of bad jokes* using homophonic puns (yolk! yoke!) and rhymes (joke! yoke!) if I weren't half-demented due to sleep deprivation. Which is partly the fault of the stupid dress and partly the fault of daylight savings starting at the same time as school resuming and messing up everyone's sleep patterns. Damn you, faceless bureaucrats messing with our clocks! And while I'm at it, damn you, poorly-explained Burda Style patterns!

I would love to be posting some beautifully-finished garment in the flickr group (how is there so much amazing stuff in there already? I must be the world's slowest sewer!) but as things stand I have no idea when this dress will be finished and whether it will even fit R properly. I have done a bit of work on the beach robes and don't have too far to go with them, but time is so limited as my sewing day really only starts after 9.30pm when the kids are asleep and we've had our dinner.

Oh well, onward and upward...

* My husband is a copywriter, so puns are our bread and butter. At least, that's my excuse.

Monday, 8 October 2012

Playgroup art and craft: Marble painting

K's school was throwing out a pile of shallow plastic tubs so I took a few for playgroup. Today we used them to do marble painting (not to be confused with marbling, which is much more complicated - although this kid-friendly version looks good). Marble painting simply involves putting some blobs of paint on a large sheet of paper placed inside a plastic tub, dropping a few marbles on top and tipping it this way and that to let the marbles run through the paint. It works best if you thin the paint with a little water, so the marbles can move through it more easily.

As the marbles roll they leave tracks and lines on the paper, mixing up the colours in interesting ways. The children enjoyed manoeuvring the tubs and watching the lines appear.

It's a fun and novel art activity, and you don't even need to wear a smock!