Monday, June 1, 2020

The Definitely, Most Certainly, Absolutely Not a Dress Birthday Outfit

My honorary niece Olivia has just turned four, and this momentous occasion called for a special outfit. Which mustn't be a dress, as Olivia absolutely will not wear dresses. I have made her two dresses previously before I knew she'd taken such a scunner to dresses after learning to talk, and I suspect she never wore either of them. Her mom and dad have at least gotten her to the point that she will wear a dress if they pair it with coordinating leggings and call it a shirt, but if they use the "d-word", it's game over. So this fourth birthday outfit would definitely not be a dress.

I searched for a suitable tunic and leggings pattern, and found one in Butterick 5877. I decided I'd make the top in view A with the cap sleeves of view B, and would make the leggings in the full length. It would be a totally cute outfit on any little girl, but I must say that redheaded child model has gone all out in selling it, with attitude to burn. I bought a pretty cotton print, thread, buttons, and jersey to coordinate with the print.

Of course, there was the matching purse to consider (Olivia does love her purses), which I would be making out of leftover fabric from the top. There was no need to buy a pattern for it as I have had this Vogue 9893 pattern with its five different evening bag options for what must be close to 20 years, and I have used it many times -- and not because I have an active night life. They're all small enough to make properly scaled purses for a little girl. Strangely, I had never before used option F, but I went with it this time because I had very little fabric left after I squeezed the cap sleeves into the fabric requirement for view A, and it used the least fabric. I will be using this purse pattern again in the future. It makes up so easily and looks good.

The completed outfit. The cotton print was so fresh and crisp and the pattern so cute that they proved a nice combination. The leggings made up very quickly, and so did the purse.

This fabric was a difficult colour match -- it's an odd shade of red. I did find buttons that went with it perfectly, though I have my reservations about how practical they were for the back of a dress. Olivia may find those round, shank buttons uncomfortable when leaning back against a seat.

The purse. There was no way I was going to be able to find trim for this purse, but I made a little rosette out of some grosgrain ribbon and a few beads that I had on hand, and it works well enough.

A few dollar store things I bought to go with the outfit, so that Olivia would have something to play with, something she appreciates more than clothes at this point: an activity book, a box of crayons, a book of Hans Christian Andersen's fairy tales, and a cupcake coin bank.

I wasn't able to make my usual two-day spring visit to the little town where my friend's family lives due to the COVID19 pandemic, and had to ship the gift. Olivia's mother suggested that I just hang onto the gift until I can visit, but I insisted on mailing it. As I hinted to her (in an effort to avoid saying what specifically was in the gift), children's clothing is time sensitive. Olivia only has this one season to wear a size four spring/summer outfit -- next fall will be too cold for it, and next spring it probably won't fit. And I wanted Olivia to have her birthday present reasonably on time. I ended up not sending the coin bank because it didn't fit in the box I had, and I also had reservations about whether it might get broken in transit. It can be part of Olivia's Christmas present, given that it will still fit her at that time.:D

The "12 Days of Christmas" Collection

Circa 2010, I realized I had several Christmas decorations that fit the "12 Days of Christmas" theme, and decided it would be a nice idea to collect Christmas ornaments on that theme. I've always liked the Christmas carol, as it's fun and secular (no, the song did not originate as a coded way for persecuted Christians to celebrate Christmas), and I thought it would be a fun challenge to translate the theme into beautiful Christmas decorations.

I mentioned this plan to my mother and sister, and they've been helping me out with this collection via their subsequent Christmas gifts to me, especially my sister, who has never really gotten past the beginner levels of needlework and crafting but is what I would call a creative shopper. And with this post I'm stepping a little outside the format for this blog so I can show off my collection -- though I will say that some of the items are handmade so the collection is still reasonably appropriate for a Modwardian post. The collection is incomplete as of this post's original post date with five items missing, but I will add the remaining items as I get them.

The photo above is a counted cross-stitch piece that I made from a kit I received from my sister-in-law for Christmas 2011. I stitched it the next year, setting myself the task of working certain areas each month for ten months, with November reserved for getting it professionally framed. Then when December 1st arrived, it was all ready to hang for Christmas 2012. It's probably one of my most treasured Christmas ornaments, and it's certainly the one that took the most work.

A "partridge in a pear tree" stocking. I bought the needlepoint kit from a thrift shop for $5 years ago, and once I'd worked the canvas, sewed the stocking together. The instructions didn't call for a lining, but I had some red satin lining on hand and lined it with that as I thought it made it look more finished.

Two turtledoves. My sister gave me these many years back. She painted them herself.

Three French hens. These were another gift from my sister. I've often thought that perhaps I ought to paint fleur-de-lis on their sides, to make them truly French.

Four calling birds. This one was also a gift from my sister. It's a Wedgwood ornament. Alas, I have never had a Christmas tree since I've been living on my own (it seems silly to get one given that there's just me here and I go home to my parents' place for Christmas), and every year when I'm unpacking the Christmas ornaments, I see it in its blue box, sigh over its exquisite beauty, and think that at some point I really must find a way to display it without a tree.

Seven swans a-swimming. This was a $5 thrift shop swan candelabra that sits on my piano all year, and in December it becomes a Christmas ornament. Of course there are only four swans on it, but I do have more than three swans elsewhere in the room, given that I collect swans too.

Nine ladies dancing. This photo was a gift from my sister too. She has definitely been persistent in her effort to help me complete my collection -- she's bought more of these items than I have.

My mother gave me a "12 drummers drumming" centrepiece that she had made for me some years back. It, uh, does not quite look the way it originally did when she made it and gave it to me, because I reworked it a little in 2020.

My sister gave me this lovely little book as a stocking stuffer for Christmas 2018. I bought the little wrought iron stand it sits in so that I would have a way to display the book during the Christmas season. I try to remember to turn a page each day during December.

I also got this Indian cotton "Twelve Days of Christmas" tea towel one Christmas -- can't remember if it was my mother or my sister who gave it to me. Seriously, what would they give me for Christmas if it weren't for this endeavour of mine?

How a Centrepiece Came Out of the Closet

Some years back my mother gave me a Christmas centrepiece that she had made for me. I hope I don't sound like an ingrate here, but as soon as I unwrapped it on that Christmas morning, I privately and silently decided that I would rework it at some point. That centrepiece sat in its box in the back of my hall closet for I don't know how long, waiting for me to get to it. Last fall when I was cleaning out the closet I decided the time had arrived to redo it.

Incidentally, this was the same closet clean out that led to my upcycling the canopies from three old umbrellas, and also moving my yoga mat from the back of the hall closet to the front corner by the door, where it would be much more easily accessible. I started doing yoga just a few weeks later. Cleaning out your closets can change your life, people.

This is how the nutcracker centrepiece looked when I received it. My mother had glued what I suspect were dollar store nutcracker tree ornaments, some plastic greenery, and an LED candle encased in plastic, to a plain, unfinished board from my father's woodworking shop. The idea was that it was supposed to be the "12 drummers drumming" decoration for my "12 Days of Christmas" decoration collection, but while I liked the concept of the centrepiece, and appreciated the thought and effort that had gone into it, I didn't like the execution.

I'm not normally indecisive, but occasionally I do have a very difficult time coming up with a project plan. This was one of those times. It took me a ridiculously protracted amount of time to figure out exactly what I was going to do with this centrepiece. I'd never made one before and I seemed to have a lot of trouble envisioning it. The candle and greenery were definitely going... somewhere else. I decided I would get a new base -- a round or oval one would work -- and paint it red using some red paint I'd bought to paint a little cupboard I was planning to put up in my kitchen. I found a new base promptly: it was a $4.52 round cheese board from the dollar store. I thought the nutcrackers could be ranged around the edge, and I could put something else in the middle, but what?

At this point I did what I do when I can't figure out what to do with some decorating or craft project -- I turned to my two closest friends: Christine and Lindsie. They both have excellent taste and good ideas, and I can't tell you how many times I've been in an agony of indecision while at some crafting or home furnishing store and wished I had them with me. I emailed Lindsie a picture of the original centrepiece and said I was trying to figure out what to do with it -- what should form the new centre of this centrepiece? Lindsie suggested a tree. I got a 12" tree from Michaels for $8.14, as well as a box of 10 spools of Christmas ribbons for $10.13, and I bought a $5 piece of red felt for the bottom.

Then I pried the nutcrackers off the old base -- they were glued so firmly in place that I had to use a hammer and chisel for some of them. (Very thorough woman, my mother.) I put together a mockup of the centrepiece, arranging the nutcrackers on the base around the tree, and emailed a photo of it to Christine, saying I wondered if I should decorate the tree with tiny ornaments, perhaps sewn to a ribbon wound around the tree. Christine advised against decorating the tree, but suggested I paint the base of the nutcrackers, which were blue, red, and green, in a single colour to make it look "less folksy". I did take her advice about the nutcracker bases, but I couldn't get past the feeling that the tree needed something, and experimented with decorating the tree with ribbons and a gold star from my beading supplies before I finally figured out exactly what I was going to do.

This is the finished centrepiece.

One side of the cheese board had the word "CHEESE" and the names of various kinds of cheeses inlaid upon it, and the other side was plain. I painted the plain side, the rim of the board, and the edge of the under side in red, and then put two coats of acrylic finish on top of that. I glued a piece of red felt to the bottom, then a length of tartan ribbon to the edge. Two of the little drummers have adorable tiny tartan drums, and I thought it made for a nice touch to echo that tartan with a similar tartan ribbon.

So much for the base. I painted the bases of the nutcrackers in cream craft paint, to match the base of the tree -- a finicky job requiring numerous coats and touch ups, but worth it. I also did a little re-gluing where needed -- some of the nutcrackers were losing their drumsticks, helmets, or even arms. I think my mother snipped what appears to have been gold thread hanging loops off some of their helmets, so I clipped the remaining gold thread as closely as I could, and then touched up the remaining nubs in black craft paint to make them less noticeable. (I tried prying out the nubs, but was unable to get them to budge.)

As for the tree, I decided on a simple ribbon bow topper. I wanted to use the tartan ribbon I'd used on the base, but when it didn't stand out against the tree with the kind of definition the red satin ribbon did, I sewed the tartan and red ribbons together and then made two bows and stitched them in place. The resulting two-layer ribbon is quite stiff and holds its shape rather than drooping, which was an added bonus.

And, finally, I glued the tree and the nutcrackers in place, and my centrepiece was complete. I spent more on this project than I had hoped to, but I still have lots of Christmas ribbon and red felt left that can be used for other things. While the end result doesn't have quite the professionally designed look I wanted it to have, I think it turned out pretty well, and am looking forward to seeing it on my kitchen table this coming December.

I just hope my mother doesn't remember giving me a handmade nutcracker centrepiece that vaguely resembled this one. She's 81 and her memory is getting a little iffy, which can sometimes be to my advantage. There's a certain made-in-Scotland MacBeth tartan scarf in my possession that is not the same scarf as the made-in-Scotland MacBeth tartan scarf she brought me back from Scotland when she and my father travelled there years ago, and that I subsequently lost, and she has never noticed the difference, even though the closest replica I was able to find online wasn't that close.

Also, she has never used the internet in her life and wouldn't read my blog if she did, so I think I'm at least safe from giving myself away via this blog post.