Thursday, April 26, 2007

The white-throated sparrows will soon leave Baltimore for points north -- this little guy was the last to visit my feeder so far. I'd never had one at my feeder before this year, but when I heard one of them singing in the neighbor's tree, I scattered some seeds on the ground hoping to entice them. It worked, and they quickly learned to eat from the tube feeder, though their preference is still to eat from the ground. I love these little guys! Finch's favorite birds are the fat and somewhat stupid mourning doves who peck about the ground below my feeder looking for dropped seeds - they've benefitted enormously from my sparrow feeding and I've come to enjoy them for their comical gait and posture. Finch is determined to pet one, and crawls determinedly toward them time and again, only to have them fly away at the last possible moment. He laughs at the whistling of their wings as they flutter off, and reaches his baby arms up, as though to gather them to himself. Robin was a pigeon-fancier at much the same age, and loved to chase them along the downtown sidewalks. He also laughed to see and hear them take flight. I am glad and grateful that all of my children have so far shown great love for and interest in the natural world, and that even here in a tired old city, among the soot, broken whiskey bottles, and discarded syringes, we have an abundance of life to nurture and enjoy.

dinner tonight: Spaghetti with Bolognese Sauce and Cucumber Orange Salad, both a la Marcella Hazan

Thursday, April 19, 2007

Wren had a lovely time today as Alice, a young scholar at Seneca Schoolhouse in 1880. I think her pinafore turned out well, but I definitely need to improve my sewing skills. While Wren joined in her first historical re-enactment, the boys and I walked along the C&O Canal (at Swain's Lock -- roughly mile 17) during Wren's historical re-enactment, where we saw many cardinals, canada geese, mallards, and titmice, as well as a downy woodpecker -- all birds we see pretty regularly. I didn't see any lifers, but we were very excited to see a red-headed woodpecker, a great blue heron very close-up, a bald eagle, and two species of turtle that we couldn't identify -- maybe it's time for a field guide to reptiles and amphibians!

Monday, April 16, 2007

I've attempted to sew some dozen garments over the years, but only 3 turned out to be really wearable, all of them children's clothes. This skirt, from Sew What! Skirts is my 4th success, and I'm nearly done a pinafore for Wren that will make the 5th. I'm especially proud of this skirt because I drafted the pattern myself. True, 'drafted' is rather grandiose considering how easy it was, but I learned some important things about sewing that I don't think I would have had I simply followed a commercial pattern. For instance, I never knew that I had my choice of cutting 'on grain' (with the length of the skirt along the warp of the fabric) or on the 'bias' or diagonal. Commercial patterns come with a cutting layout, but none of the ones I've followed explained why the pieces were laid out as they were, which is partly to conserve fabric, but also to ensure that all the pieces are cut 'on grain'. In fact one of my early failures included two halves of a sleeveless dress, one cut on-grain and one cut crosswise because I was working with spare bits of fabric. Now I know why it looked so awful and puckery! Something the book didn't warn me about was that the hem of a flared skirt will bunch unless one does something about the extra fabric. I guess it's sort of obvious that the circumference of the bottom edge of a flared skirt is greater than the circumference and inch or so from the bottom, but it didn't occur to me that the extra fabric would cause trouble. My solution was to sort of ease the extra fabric in as I sewed, and I have some ideas for how to manage if I ever make a fuller skirt. For now, I'd like to make a duplicate of the above pattern in nicer fabric and with an elastic waist rather than a drawstring -- Wren flips the waistband over to keep the drawstring on the outside where she won't feel it, but it looks sort of silly.

Dinner tonight: Cannelini beans with turkey sausage, parsley, feta, and olives

Monday, April 09, 2007

I stitched this guy, from a Sublime Stitching transfer, with a dear friend in mind. I'd intended sewing it onto mulberry paper, then affixing it to cardstock, but I think the traditional muslin I turned to in frustration was a better choice. Stitching onto paper was a fiddly, fussy process, and it didn't look half as good as I wanted after spending twice as much time as I'd intended. I like how the rat turned out on fabric, but I wish I'd taken greater care over the blanket stitch. I meant for it to look crudely charming, or charmingly crude, or something l ike that, but I'm afraid it just looks amateurish.

The children were intrigued by the possibilities of what Robin called 'picture sewing' so we had a grand time looking through some vintage and new embroidery transfers together. Both were astonished when I told them they could also draw their own pattern, using tracing paper and a heat transfer pencil. While I finished up all but the hem of Wren's pinafore, they worked on their embroidery designs. We talked about some basic design issues, such as how very intricate details would be difficult to execute in embroidery thread and might in any case get 'lost in translation'. We also talked about the advantages and disadvantages of very large and very small designs, and about the quirky charm of an original, freehand drawing as compared to a copied, symmetrical rendition of the Jolly Roger (Wren's choice).

Robin began with a pretty standard 6 yr. old's version of the human body -- large round head with stringy hair, smiley-face mouth, circle eyes and nose, rectangles for arms and legs, and a dot for a belly button. I asked him if 'that was all' and, hyper-sensitive to the slightest implication that all was not perfect, he started counting off body parts to be sure he'd included them all. I explained that I merely wanted to know if he was well and truly done, but he decided he'd better embellish a bit, and ended up with a 6-armed, 4-legged and very adorable alien. Happily, I have two heat-transfer pencils, so they both could work on tracing their designs right away. I ironed them onto muslin for them and Robin has commenced stitching. He's not keen on outline stitch, but his backstitch is remarkably even and he intends using that for most of his work. Wren, as expected, has lost interest for now, but I know she'll pick it up again eventually, probably at our next handwork club meeting.

dinner tonight: cornmeal-crusted tilapia, spicy black beans and corn, salad

Monday, April 02, 2007

DMC embroidery floss comes in a kaleidoscopic range of pastels, brights, rich, earth, and jewel tones, and neutrals, and it can be mighty addictive at a mere 25 c per skein. Choosing among them is like opening that brand-new pack of Crayolas and deciding which of 64 "Different, Brilliant Colors" to use first -- an embarassment of riches. As I've expanded my crafting beyond knitting, and spent more and more time at general crafting stores, I've known one of my kids would eventually be enchanted by something, and I'm glad it turned out to be dmc floss. It was Robin who spied the stuff on a recent trip to JoAnn's and we walked out with the sewing machine needles I needed, plus some 14 count Aida, 2 embroidery hoops, a packet of needles, and 8 skeins of dmc each. I was thrilled to rediscover embroidery -- that's my little sampler on the right -- and delighted to teach the children (Robin's work is in the hoop.) Wren lost interest after a single row of running stitch, but Robin is as enchanted with embroidery as he is with knitting. He's such a craftsmen -- every stitch has to be perfect, and he picks out his mistakes immediately. Such a contrast to my sloppy habits! I suppose he gets his artistic bent from me and his craftsmanship from his father -- a fortunate combination!

Dinner tonight: White bean salad with tomato, olives, feta, and parsley, with a lemony, garlicky vinaigrette