Friday, 28 September 2007

The Best Laid Plans...

It wasn't meant to turn out this way. I said I wanted to reduce the piles of fabric around here to manageable levels, but I don't think I really knew what that meant. It means that your fabric gets used up! Gone! Just little itty bitty pieces left. This is not good.

When a piece comes home, it is because it is loved. There are very few strictly utilitarian fabrics around here. Somebody at one time put a lot of thought into the pattern, the colours, the effect of each of these pieces, and I really do regard them as a kind of art collection. The swatches above are some of the last bits of favourites of mine, and so I'm starting an ark. A fabric ark of squares. I just can't bear to part with them.

Maybe I'll make an ark quilt someday. What do you do with your favourites?

Wednesday, 26 September 2007

I Should Have Known Better (Or, A Funny Thing Happened on the Way to the Office)

(This post accompanied by scenes of the mess in my "office" :-)

What's your pleasure? To "get some me-time" or "get some time to myself" or "feel like a person again" or "feel normal" or "feel like an adult"...and the list goes on. We all use a variation on that theme, usually in reference to why we stay up until the wee hours, past our children's bedtimes, crafting merrily away. Myself, I used "just to get some time to myself". And we are justified. The media tells us so, the magazines tell us so, and our girlfriends enable us ;-) This drive for personal satisfaction will make us happy. And yet the fulfillment of said drive usually doesn't happen until the hours of between, say 9pm and 1am?

Two nights ago I made the conscience decision to stay up past my bedtime. Waaaay past my bedtime, which conflicted with a little experiment that Mr. S. and I had been playing around with. After hearing about segmented sleep a while back and reading about how night-time light interferes with sleep patterns, we started turning down the lights in the evening and going to bed around 9:30pm.........Cra-zy, eh? (And it took some time to start letting go.)

So, still mindful of sleep patterns, I decided to stay up until my next sleep "cycle"; until about 1am. And man, did I have fun. There was that initial wave of sleepiness at about 10:30, but once I got past that I didn't look back. In the middle of it I actually thought "What a waste all this sleeping has been - look at all the stuff I'm getting done!" Which was great, as I have a three day fair rapidly approaching.

Now, the thing I haven't mentioned yet is that the by-product of the past month of early-to-bed has been: better mood, near nil levels of impatience, no PMS (so much so that Mr. S. noticed - ha!), and just general happiness. I mean happiness. Frankly, part of what motivated me to start this creative journey, to start crafting, girl number twenty, and my work, was the belief that it would make me happy. And it is wonderful, and the past month has been even better. The best way to describe it is to say that whereas before I needed "just a little me-time", during the past month all day was me-time. Even though I was tired at the end of the day, I didn't feel that I needed a little escape or to unwind, because I wasn't wound up to begin with, I suppose. And the only thing that had changed was sleep.

Something that has been painfully highlighted the past two days as a result of my folly. Remind me to never, never do that again.

Monday, 24 September 2007

A Conundrum

This could be one of the most intriguing fabric thrift finds to find a home here:

Isn't it beautiful? I've never seen rabbits rendered in such a non-cloying manner before. More Watership Down than D!#ney, thank goodness...

So, do I cut it? Yea or nay?

Saturday, 22 September 2007

Stash Happens

Poor, poor Violet. She posted a question on whipup recently about advice on how to start a fabric stash. Alright. Here are a couple of tips:
  1. You have a new interest! It's something vintage and potentially collectible. That this interest is vintage aprons or tablecloths or curtains from obscure French restaurants from the 40's has nothing to do with your fabric stash.
  2. Rekindle your friendship with your Great-Aunt who, now in her 90's, sips tea in her genteel way under towers of fabric teetering in what once was her dining room. Express concern for her safety.
  3. Your clothing donation bag has become too heavy to carry. The load needs to be lightened, if only you could think of a way...
  4. In the middle of looking for a mid-century credenza on ebay, mistakenly hit the "crafts" category....and then mistakenly hit the "fabric" category...
  5. Frequent thrift shops to look for that last missing piece of your Mom's china set, which is in the housewares section. Unfortunately, the only way to the housewares section is through the assorted textiles section.
And last, but not least:

If you see a fabric sale, no matter how enticing, run in the opposite direction: run woman! don't walk!

And no matter how hard you try, no matter how well you steel yourself against temptation and follow these rules, somehow,
somehow, your house will still be over-run with fabric.

Violet, I wish you luck...

Thursday, 20 September 2007


It happened. It happened today. I was wondering, not impatiently mind you, just wondering, if and when it would happen, and then all of the sudden.....

And this is for all of you crafty mamas with small babes around.

This morning while Safiya was playing and I was puttering, things got quiet....really quiet. Checking in, I saw her in the garden, picking leaves and talking away. A few more little chores got done, I checked in on her again and she was in the exact same spot....busy. Usually this goes on for a maximum of ten minutes and then I hear "Mama!" and she has something to tell me. And that continues back and forth, a little bit of play on her own, some together with me, a little rhythm that we have. But today she seemed focused. So much so that I was tempted to go over there and say "Whatchya doin'?" (crazy, I know). Her busy-ness, her play, lasted for a good hour. This has never ever happened before. And when she finally came over to find me, she had stories to tell about what the mama dinosaur (that's which toy she had been talking to) had been eating in the garden.

We've never said "go play". A lot of this blog has documented my struggle to weave my creative life with my family life. There has been parallel play or how I've tried to integrate Safiya into what I'm doing, and it's a path that I hold dear now. I've been trying to trust that "treat your child as you would like them to treat you" and "nurture and attachment in the early years gives them the strength and stability to be independent as they get older" are truths that will reveal themselves with a little bit (o.k. sometimes a whole lot) of patience.

And now in return she's given me Time.

So, even if it's just for today, enough time catch up on some WIP such as this:

The following is the other side (Recognise the fabric? That's right! One of the aprons has been sacrificed, and happily - in fact, just took the pocket right off :-)

Also these, part of a much overdue order for a friend:

I wonder what's going to happen tomorrow....

Wednesday, 19 September 2007

Following Light

Soulemama had a post today in which she talked about following light. So I went wandering about our house this morning:

It's funny, sometimes I think that my whole life has been spent following light...

Tuesday, 18 September 2007

Mini Hemp Field Trip

After I wrote the hemp post, I realised that I had made a major omission: you can't talk about hemp in Toronto without talking about the Toronto Hemp Company! So, having never been, Safiya and I went on a field trip.

It was only a 10 minute subway ride, but still, it had the air of a field trip! THC (pun intended, I'm sure), does have, among other things, hemp fabric. The guys were really helpful and really tolerant of the fact that I just wanted to handle the fabric and not buy any (the price wasn't in my range at this point).

They had a couple of bolts of the pure hemp, the rest being blended with cotton or silk. Hemp has a lovely hand; I find it silkier than cotton, more similar to linen in weight and weave. Their fabric is supplied by Effort Industries and is unfortunately neither local nor organic.

Having met it, I definitely want to work with it!

p.s. they sell their swatch cards too!

Before Breakfast, Or Ode to a Walking Foot

When I woke up this morning, I couldn't remember at first why I was so happy? And then it came back to me.....ahhhh, yes......the walking foot!

Actually sewing the felt from my felted sweater adventures has always been a bit of a challenge. My sewing machine is very basic, so I've tried different combinations of needles, tensions, and stitches, and was getting pretty good at it, but if I wasn't careful, the following would happen when I tried to zig-zag or satin stitch two pieces of felt together (if you are at all craft-disaster-queasy, I beg you to look away):

Behold the ugly puckering, behold the holes in all their horrific defiance!

Frustrated, I fished around for advice from a friend (thanks Johanna!) and from the lovely lady who sold me my machine. Maybe a walking foot?

Yesterday Safiya and I sat at the machine for an hour, just sewing scraps of felt together for the fun of it. This morning she wanted to make a blanket for her doll. Before breakfast. Compared to before, it went sooo much faster. And easier. And look, look at the seams!

It is ridiculous how happy I am about this.

Sunday, 16 September 2007

After All That Talking, I Need Something to Eat....

We made crackers. For two reasons. One: we've been buying a crazy amount of crackers to eat with hummus. When processed food starts getting bought at that level, I can't help but think "this is ridiculous, these can't be that hard to make". Two: at the mere mention of crackers, Safiya got a gleam in her eye, saying "goldfish! crackers! yay!" Thank goodness for Shmooed Food's vegan goldfish crackers. (I started the search for cracker recipes with Martha - silly me - butter and more butter, anyone?) We made hearts, and I didn't roll them nearly thin enough, but they were very very yummy.

And then the lovelies in the above picture were turned into the Seriously Best Cake Ever. We took the method from epicurious' Upside-Down Pear Gingerbread Cake and subbed The Vegan Chef's Gingerbread Snack Cake for the cake part (I kept the butter for the caramelizing of the pears - has anyone caramelized anything with oil before?). I'm not good at taking pictures of end products of food, and now it's gone, but the recipe's so good it's not hard to imagine :-)

A good friend of mine called in the midst of baking and asked what we were making. I told her, and then she laughed "Of course you are!" I'd love to keep the illusion going, and her idea of me was lovely for the ego, but the truth?

Got as far as mixing the dry goods the first day. One batch of peeled and cut pears forgotten overnight on the counter the next day. Damn thing took three days to make!

These Fingers Were Built for Googling...

I have yet to get my hands on some hemp, and I don't have enough room in our yard to grow some (although I've got a lovely stinging nettle in the back somewhere...)

There are many organisations out there with good summeries and articles of interest regarding hemp. Just go for a Google-walk. But make sure you remember to come back.....I mean, sometimes it never ends, does it?

Last year at the International Straw Bale Building Conference (we had to go, I mean, how often does Canada get to host that, and practically in our backyard? Obviously it was worth dragging Safiya, who was 2, out camping in October......actually, it really was worth it - it was wonderful. But I digress.....) I had the opportunity to hold (o.k., fondle) some hemp felt. It was lovely, thick stuff, and craft projects whizzed through my head as I stood there. The farmer had started up a couple of years ago, and was still experimenting with the processing. When I mentioned making fabric, he reacted as if I'd asked to go to the moon. There was no capacity and no interest, he said.

So, we can grow it (well!) and we can cut it, but getting from A to C?

First, capacity. It seems that the only mill in Canada that was trying to process hemp for fibre, Fibrex Quebec, is no longer around. The Canadian National Resource Council seems to have entered into a partnership with Hemptown Clothing to manufacture hemp fabric, but I haven't found where the actual mill is...yet.

The fun part of it is that growing hemp in Canada is actually regulated by Health Canada, under the auspices of the Controlled Drugs and Substances Act, so I imagine that things are a little bit more complicated than for the average farmer, eh? (Here's a good primer on growing industrial hemp in Ontario, just in case you get a hankering for a new endeavour, you know, in your spare time....)

Those politics waaaay aside, what about interest? What about demand? And here my links fail me. Is this where we as crafters, independent designers, artists, can get things rolling? (No pun intended! There's no THC in hemp :-) We want consumers to support local talent, local designers, which is fantastic. When will it be important enough to us that most of the raw materials that we use come locally made and only a few exotics, such as cotton (ha!), are available at a premium? Granted, you cannot produce fabric on principle alone. It has to be of good quality, or no one will buy it. I think it would be slightly terrifying to be the first to try to mill hemp fabric in Canada (risk! cost! both things I'm not very good at). And I'll freely admit that one of the reasons that I personally use recycled goods is cost.

However, I'm on the brink. When my polyester thread runs out, I think I'll switch to organic cotton (Locally produced machine-ready thread? step at a time here). When my stash of white cotton and linen runs out? If I can't find second-hand, it might be fun to order some hemp. I just wish it were from my backyard. Sometimes the view from the brink looks a bit bleak, sometimes it looks hopeful.

Hopefully this teeter-totter lands somewhere a pile of hemp.

This is Not Hemp

On our way home from camping, we stopped in at the Rose Haven Farm Store. The owner, Linda Swaine, was at a trade show and had thus taken all her best locally made, naturally dyed wool with her, and all her hemp, much to my dismay. But I did find this:

For me, this is practically the holy grail of my nascent fiber journey. When I was a girl, I read the fairy tale The Wild Swans over and over again and marvelled at making cloth from a weed. That fascination suddenly came back to me as I was meandering through the All Fiber Arts Library a while back and found some articles on stinging nettle. And then this! Poor Mr. S. had to endure a two-hour drive back to Toronto, me babbling on about textiles and mills and he with no escape.

Now that it's in my eager hands, I'm not sure what to do with it. It's fairly friable, and smells a bit of coal-tar (I wonder how they processed it?). While I was in the shop, I had a good chat with the lovely, very knowledgeable woman who was minding the shop about wool and local goods and mills and production. The end point being that if a small farmer wants their wool processed without the usual chemicals, the mill charges a premium for doing this "special order" separately, thus driving up the price of the end product and making it hard for the organic or "natural" farmer to make a living as people are generally not yet ready to pay the price for such yarn.

This seems to be the case for so many things. Chemicals are subsidized, the conventional ways are ingrained, oil is still cheap and so local markets are saturated with cheaply made, massed produced items. Holding hands with these obstacles is the lack of a deeply rooted fibre industry in Canada, such as linen in France or silk in China. I am unfortunately not familiar with First Nations' fibre history, and the rest of us are a couple generations' of immigrants, each bringing with them different fibre traditions.

Wouldn't it be lovely? A dirt-to-fabric source of pride? Wool we can do, and there are still wool mills in Canada, but mostly not in Ontario. (Although I did find Belle Vallee Wools, for example - and it seems they're doing it the old ways...) We don't have the climate for flax and linen except in Quebec. Cotton's right out. So....nettle and hemp, anybody?

Oh yes, hemp.....

Monday, 3 September 2007

Night-time Corners and Polyester Thoughts

That little bag in the corner is my bag of scraps. Of thread, of cuttings, the detritus of waves of crafting creativity. This little bag is becoming more significant as time goes on, not only in size but in consequence. Cotton, linen, and wool feel lovely in hand and are so much better for our skin than polyester blends that I try to avoid the latter wherever possible. And the former will break down in the environment long after I'm long gone. Still, many of the rockin' prints of the past are polyester-cotton blends. Since I'm getting them second-hand and not using them in things to wear or cuddle with, I feel pretty good about giving them a second life, but what to do with the scraps?

Why does this matter? A couple of months ago, No Impact Man had a nice little post (oh wait, no, actually horrifying...) about plastic in the food chain. It's unsettled me, and that little bag of scraps has been weighing on my mind. Polyester is plastic. Sure, my scraps aren't significant, but they're my responsibility, eh? And somehow I don't feel right having my crafting life exist on a separate wavelength than the rest of my life (which is not perfect, but that's neither here nor there - it just doesn't jive, is what I mean - the plastic is without feeling - it follows me even to happy-craft-land). So, I figure I can use them to stuff stuffies and that will keep them out of the environment for a while.

What about not buying polyester blends to begin with? Well, I guess that means I'll have to find out what happens to stuff that never sells at second-hand stores. Does everything eventually sell? Do they dump it if it doesn't? (this seems unlikely) Not purchasing polyester at the second-hand level has no impact on first-tier shopping, does it? It's not like I can boycott polyester manufacturers by not buying polyester second-hand items. So a little leg-work is in order.

That just leaves thread. All my thread is polyester. When those run out, what next? Conventional cotton and it's spectre of pesticide use? I think I'll have to bite the cost bullet and order organic cotton thread, maybe from Near Sea Naturals. Maybe delve into plant-based dyeing? Or get really good at knitting ;-)

Ah, from a problem comes another crafting opportunity, perhaps?

As far as sourcing organic textiles in Toronto, I've come up with far! (Maybe I should open a store? Hmmm...) On-line seems to have more options, clearly (although I haven't ordered from any as these sites yet):

Near Sea Naturals: everything including natural rubber elastic!
Shepherd's Dream: wool batting, cotton and wool textiles (our bed was made by these folks - this is not a paid advertisement :-) they're just lovely people with lovely product)
KidBean: organic cotton batting
Rawganique: hemp textiles
GreenSage Store: natural fabrics
Tenfold Organic Textiles
earth friendly goods: hemp fabric
Aurora Silk (these guys fascinate me)

Coming up on another post (after camping!), the holy grail of textiles: "100-mile" fabric and the search for hemp in Canada.

Whew! Now I'm going to go pack for camping! Have a great week!

My Daughter is a Ninety-Year-Old Granny

This is not a knitting bag. It is our well-worn baby knapsack that has turned into a toddler knapsack into a little kid knapsack masquerading as a knitting bag. It is clearly on its last legs. Unfortunately, I do not have any spiffy pictures of a new, improved, and oh-so-chic-take-to-the-park bag made by moi simply because there is no such thing...yet. I'm eyeing those Amy Butler patterns...

Of all the outdoor, portable craft options, the other day I decided that crochet was probably the easiest. Embroidery? Too worried about the dirt. Knitting? Too many needles and I'm not good enough yet to not have to con...cen...trate!

Conversation with Safiya whilst placing the balls of yarn in the bag:
"Why are you bringing your sewing, Mama?"
"I'm not, actually - it's crochet..."
...long pause, I go to get something in the kitchen, and then I hear her little voice matter-of-factly:
"I think I need to bring some crochet to the park too, Mama."

To humour/encourage/enable her ;-) we pack up extra yarn and a hook (I figure a minute or two and then she'll be off and running, right?)

After at least 40 minutes of sitting in the shade on a rise in the park:
"Honey, do you want to go and play on the jungle gym?"
"Not right now, Mama, I'm busy with my crochet."

This is good, right?