Tuesday, May 11, 2021

The Lovely Orchard Quilt

Last year, when I had a lot of Thinsulate to use up, I made a Coronvirus quilt. When I finished that queen-sized quilt, I estimated that I had enough pieces of Thinsulate left to make a 4' x 6' quilt, and I decided I'd make that second throw-sized quilt up for my friend Lindsie's daughter -- my honorary niece, Olivia -- as I thought she would enjoy having her own special little quilt that was made for her by her Auntie Beth. And after all, she has outgrown the last blanket I made for her

In April 2021, after I finished Olivia's dress and purse for her 5th birthday, I decided I might as well get the quilt out of the way too, so I got out the Thinsulate and my fabric. The fabric I chose for this project was the one you see in the photo above. It's called Lovely Orchard, and was designed by Suling Wang for Camelot Cottons, and I was very taken with it at first sight. This quilt will probably last at least ten years, so I didn't want to use a cutesy, juvenile fabric for it, but rather to choose something that would both appeal to Olivia now and that she could grow up to. This simple, pretty print seemed to fit the bill. I like that the fabric is probably going to prove very much to Lindsie's taste too -- she has contemporary taste and especially loves the Japanese aesthetic, which this print is similar to. I'd hate to saddle her with something she considers an eyesore and that will be in her house for years to come.  

The finished quilt. It turned out very well and I am pleased with it. The 42" x 79" size was not quite what I had expected at the outset, but it will do. It can be used as a blanket on Olivia's single bed.

Making the coronavirus quilt felt like a herculean effort and it took me ten months to take the project from start to finish last year, though of course I wasn't working at it at all regularly during those months, but only in starts and fits. That wasn't at all my experience this time. Olivia's quilt took me just thirteen days start to finish, and I worked at it an average of two hours a day. On day one, I pieced the leftover pieces of Thinsulate together, cut two lengths of the print, and pinned the layers together. On days two to eight, I stitched the body of the quilt in vertical lines a half-inch apart. On day nine, I prepared the binding and squared the quilt by trimming the edges evenly. On day ten, I machine stitched the binding in place, flipped it over and pinned it to be hand-sewn on the other side of the quilt, and began the hand sewing. On days eleven through thirteen, I did the remaining hand sewing.  

The whole process was so straightforward and unproblematic that it amazed me. When I was making the first quilt, I struggled a lot with having to laboriously rip out lines of quilting because the fabric had puckered or folded on the underside. That never happened while I was stitching the body of this quilt -- not even once. Of course, this was an easier project because it was far less work. The coronavirus quilt had a finished size of 78" x 83.5", its quilting lines were 3/8" apart, and I put in over 240 vertical lines of stitching into its body. This quilt has a finished size of 42" x 79", its quilting lines are 1/2" apart (or a hair less), and I think there were 92 vertical lines of stitching in it. This second quilted blanket required not only well under half the actual sewing of the first, but was also far lighter, which made it considerably easier for me to physically control the fabric as I ran it through the machine. But I think the experience I gained in working on the first one contributed just as much to making this second project go so much more smoothly and efficiently. I knew exactly how to hold the quilt so that it wouldn't pucker on the underside, and there was no months' long stall of the project while I put off the task of binding the finished body because I was intimidated by the prospect of  learning how to make binding and put it on. 

When I finished the coronovirus quilt, while I knew I would be making the second smaller quilted blanket for Olivia in order to get that Thinsulate used up, I thought I would probably never make a third. Now I find I'm open to making another quilted blanket at some point. I've had that coronavirus quilt on my bed since last October, and I have been so grateful for it all through Toronto's 2020/2021 winter weather. One of my physical quirks is that I am extraordinarily cold resistant during the day -- strangers sometimes approach me on the street, look significantly at what I'm wearing, or rather not wearing, and say, "Aren't you cold?!" -- but that seems to change radically as soon as I get into bed at night, when I turn into some kind of freak icicle-human hybrid. Before this past year, during the winter, I would have on my bed a top sheet, a quilt, two wool blankets, a fleece blanket, and a duvet in a velvet cover... and it still wasn't enough to keep me from shivering miserably. During the coldest months I would have to spread on top of my duvet not only the afghan from the foot of my bed but also the afghan from the guest room and the faux fur throw and woven throw from the living room couch. This year I had on my bed the top sheet, the old quilt, the new coronavirus quilt, two wool blankets, and the duvet, and sometimes the afghan from the foot of my bed, and that was sufficient. The fleece blanket remained on a shelf in the linen closet and the guest room afghan and living room throws stayed in their places. In other words, that one lightweight Thinsulate quilt took the place of four other layers.       

Now that I know I am confident I can turn out a quilted blanket in such good time, and that a Thinsulate blanket is an excellent thing to have, I am open to making more in future, should I have need for another quilt for my household, or want to make one for a gift. Twenty-six hours of work does not seem to me like an unreasonable amount of effort to put into such a practical item that will last a decade or more. 

I'd originally planned to give Olivia the quilt as part of her Christmas 2021 present, but when I finished it in time for her 5th birthday, which is today, I decided it would become part of her birthday present instead. Of course the rest of her birthday present was more geared to the tastes and interests of a 5-year-old girl than this quilt is. Childless old maid as I may be, I'm not so out of touch as to think a child her age is going to find a quilt an exciting birthday present.   

I have something like 1.3 metres of the Lovely Orchard fabric left, and I've tucked it carefully away in my remnant fabric drawer. I don't have a plan for its use yet, but knowing me I am sure inspiration will strike at some point. And I'm looking forward to working with such a charming print again. As for the Thinsulate... I have just two small pieces left, and they've been tucked away in my drawer of interfacings and linings. Maybe I'll make a pair of mittens out of them sometime. 

Something to Wear, Something to Read, Something to Play With


My honorary niece Olivia turns 5 years old today, and of course this momentous occasion called for a present. My formula for her gifts is "something to wear, something to read, and something to play with". Let's begin with the something to wear.

I wanted to make Olivia a dress, and I searched for a nice summer dress pattern for her until I found this adorable little sundress pattern (Butterick 3477, View A), and another pattern that I liked just as much. I wavered between the two, but the sizes on the sundress pattern ran only to size 5 while the other design came in larger sizes than that, so that settled it. I ordered both patterns, with the plan that I would make the size 5 sundress this year and the other pattern for Olivia's sixth birthday.  

I had some difficulty finding two fabrics that worked together, but I eventually settled on this pink rosebud print and green polka dot combo. I love pink and green as a colour scheme, and this combination has an especially fresh, pretty, spring-like appeal. The dress itself was quite easy to make and worked up very quickly. I'm pleased with it.  

Then came the all-important matching purse. I used Vogue Pattern 9893, View F for that -- I've had that pattern for many years now and used it lots of times. As to the trim, I had a piece of very crumpled green ribbon and a slightly damaged length of pink ribbon in my ribbon cannister that I thought would do for finishing off the purse. A steam pressing restored the green ribbon to good as new, and the damage on the pink ribbon ceased to show once the ribbon was made into a pink satin rosebud. Dress and purse together made the "something to wear" component of the present. 

As for the "something to read" and "something to play with" part of the gift, I bought Olivia a thrift shop copy of Beverly Cleary's Ramona the Pest, a dollar store colouring book, and a dollar store coin bank that is shaped like a big cupcake. I think coin banks make a good teaching tool for children, and can help them learn how to manage/save money, and this particular coin bank is super cute. I put a toonie in it to help Olivia get the idea.  

The gift as a whole (er, except for the quilt). Not a bad set up for a 5-year-old's birthday, I think.   

Sunday, May 9, 2021

Brave New Bag

In the fall of 2020, I faced the fact that my beloved Everlane backpack that I had been using nearly daily since I bought it in late 2014 was getting so much the worse for the wear that I was embarrassed to be seen with it. One of the snaps that fastened the top flap was broken, and I couldn't find any snaps of the right weight to replace it. The bottom was ragged. The canvas that formed the body was dirty, and though I would try to spot clean it, that wasn't doing the trick, and, as the bag had leather trim, it wasn't feasible to dry clean it. (When I made inquiries, the dry cleaner told me it would cost $100 to have my $75 bag cleaned, and that they couldn't guarantee the results.) I came up with the idea of taking the backpack apart and using it as a pattern to make a new bag, for which I could use all the buckles and leather straps and trim from the old one. My inability to find replacement snaps stymied that plan. I still hope to eventually find a way to remake my old Everlane backpack, but in the meantime, I needed a presentable bag for everyday wear. It was time for a new bag.

With all the shops closed for in-store shopping, I searched online. I soon learned for the first time that there is such a wonderful thing as a convertible bag, which is a bag that is designed to "convert" from backpack to handbag and vice versa as desired, via a simple adjustment of the straps. O brave new world, that has such bags in 't! I do need a backpack. I do a lot of walking and lugging stuff around because I can't afford even to take public transit, let alone keep a car. I also have chronic fatigue issues, and carrying things in a backpack is so much more ergonomic than carrying them in a handbag, and tires me out a lot less. However, I am 47, and I don't really like wearing a backpack all the time like some kid. And while a backpack is what I want when I have serious distance to cover or things to carry, when I'm actually at my destination, I prefer a handbag, as it's easier to access my wallet and other things I might need. It's also easier to keep my eye on my bag when it's a handbag that is beside me rather than a backpack that's behind me. In March 2019, some SHITHEAD stole my wallet out of my backpack while I was shopping in Value Village on one particularly crowded sale day, and I want to be sure nothing like that ever happens to me again.

A convertible handbag would allow me to have either a backpack or a handbag whenever I wanted it. It's the spork of handbags. I toyed with the idea of making one, but soon decided that it would be difficult to find the right kind of buckles and straps and zippers and other bits I needed. And the bag I eventually bought -- which of course is the one you see depicted above, in both its handbag (on the left) and backpack (on the right) modes -- was just $38(CDN). It is extremely unlikely that I would have been able to make a similar bag for $38 or less.

The bag I bought was just what I wanted. I liked the look of it, and it was so practical. It had two zippered outer pockets, and several more compartments and two more zippered pockets on the inside. It goes with the dark brown yoga pants and hoodies I tend to wear for around home and running errands, and also with somewhat nicer but still casual clothes, such as jeans or a khaki skirt or a jersey dress. It goes with both my dark brown and caramel leather shoes. It doesn't go with dressy clothes, but of course I have other purses and handbags for those outfits. So this isn't a post about how I made a new bag, but rather a post about how I assembled the things I needed to go into it, which felt like a project in itself, and I did make some of those things. 

While I was waiting for my new bag to arrive, I began to plan what I was going to put in it, and where in the bag it would go. One of the upsides of being 47 is that I know exactly what I want and need in my bag, so it wasn't so much a question of what items I wanted to put in the bag as whether I had the right versions of those items. I wanted all the contents of my bag to not only stow away neatly, but to also be attractive enough to be a pleasure to use and to coordinate with the bag itself. 

First I made a list of all the things I keep in my daily wear bag (you don't see a cellphone on there because I don't have one):
  • wallet
  • keys
  • a small notebook and pen
  • my planner (usually)
  • camera (sometimes)
  • a measuring tape
  • a folded tote bag
  • compact umbrella
  • sunglasses
  • cough drops
  • tissues
  • a water bottle (in summer)
  • a vanity case containing a manicure kit, compact, pill box, hand lotion, lip balm, hair pins, a comb, and tampons 
I did indeed have all these things, but while some the things I already had would go perfectly well with the new bag, in some cases I decided it was time for an upgrade.

This is my brown leather wallet. My sister gave it to me for Christmas 2019. Alas, it turned out to not have a zippered compartment for change, even though its online product description had said that it did. I got a 7" brown zipper out of my zipper box and sewed it in myself, by hand. I was pleased with the outcome. I don't think anyone would ever guess that the wallet didn't come with a zipper.

Between 2006 and 2020 I had a keychain that was a brown leather fob. It had become the worse for the wear in those fourteen years, and I decided I was justified in treating myself to a new one. I searched online for a keychain that both appealed to me aesthetically and had some sort of symbolic meaning for me. I searched for "swan keyring", and "Art Nouveau keyring", and probably some other things, and waded through all the search results for every term I tried before I came across the one depicted above, which is a Celtic tree of life keychain. This is a symbol that's developed a lot of appeal for me over the past several years, as it reminds me that, though I am aging, I can remain strong and fruitful and keep growing for as long as I live, as trees do. It's also beautiful.

I have allergies and need to make frequent recourse to tissues and cough drops when I'm out and about. Tissues get dirty and crumpled before they're even used if they're stuffed into a bag unprotected, and I didn't like the ugly plastic bag my dollar store cough drops come in. I made a set of two tissue cases (they only hold six tissues each) and a little snap pouch, all out of supplies I had on hand. Ordinarily I'd put the tissues and the cough drops in my vanity case, but I need them too often and too suddenly to want to be bothered getting them out of the vanity case, which goes inside the bag. So, one of the tissue cases I made went into my vanity case, and the other
 tissue case and the cough drop case go in the front pocket of my bag with my keys, where I can get at them quickly and easily. 

In the back outside pocket of my bag, I carry a little notebook and a pen for those moments when I need to jot something down right away. The notebook was a dollar store purchase, and it's such a lovely little thing and such a perfect accessory for this bag that I almost hated to write in it. Where was I ever going to find another as nice? I went back to the store and bought two more of these notebooks, so I won't have to worry about finding another perfect little notebook for my bag for quite some time.   

This is my ARC planner, with the pen -- a refillable wooden one made for me by my father -- that I keep in its pen slot. I've been using the ARC system since 2013, and am still so glad I discovered it. It was the good-looking, durable, customizable, re-fillable  planner I'd been looking for for since I was a teenager. I did run into one snag in that Staples Canada doesn't carry the annual calendar refills that make the system useful, but I got around that, first by making arrangements with one of my American friends to buy and ship me one every year, and then in late 2019 I invested in an ARC hole punch, made a set of laminated monthly tab dividers, and began printing my own refills. So even this planner is partially handmade. And of course, it goes with my bag.

I have a digital camera, and when I bought it some years back, I hated the ugly case that came with it. I soon got this $3 PVC cigarette case to keep it in instead. My camera is not actually in the case in this photo for obvious reasons, but it fits in perfectly. 

I like to keep a measuring tape in my bag for measuring my knitting project if I have one with me, or sometimes possible purchases, to be sure they'll fit in the space for which I intend them. The measuring tape I had been carrying with me was an ordinary white dressmaker's tape. It had become grubby and tatty looking and I had always found it a pain to wind and tie it into a tidy coil, especially given that it would never stay wound up. I searched online and found this little number, which retracts automatically when its centre is pressed. It's both aesthetically and functionally perfect for my bag. The old measuring tape went in the odds and ends drawer in my kitchen, where it has already come in handy a score of times.

My compact umbrella, and folded tote bag in its case. I like to routinely carry an umbrella to use in case of rain, snow, and sometimes as a sunshade, rather than checking the weather forecast before I venture out. This umbrella was such a find. I like a dark brown umbrella, and they are hard to come by as black is the standard. I would occasionally find a cheap brown one, but it would never last long. Sometimes I'd buy a $3 umbrella at Dollarama and it would break the very first time I used it. Then nearly two years ago Dollarama got in a lot of excellent quality automatic umbrellas in assorted solid colours, one of which was brown. For $4, it was a wonderful score. (Pro-tip for Dollarama shoppers: The most they ever charge is $4 per item, so their $4 items are the ones to keep an eye out for, as they are the most likely to be underpriced.)  I went to every Dollarama within walking distance and bought every brown umbrella they had, winding up with five of them. Nearly two years later, I am still using the first one and it's in perfect condition, so I'm not likely to have to scour the market for a new brown umbrella anytime soon.

I like to carry a tote bag in my bag for those extra items that won't fit in my bag, such as library books or purchases. I didn't much like the old brown with white polka dots tote bag I had been keeping in my backpack. I sewed a new, more stylish-looking tote bag to keep in my daily wear bag, and also made it a matching case. The tote bag would never have stayed neatly folded up in my bag, and it would have tangled with other things and been a pain. The case will keep it neat and clean and compact. The case needs a snap, but I didn't happen to have the right kind of snap on hand and can't easily get one right now. I'll just use the tote case the way it is until Fabricland reopens for instore shopping, much as it pains me to see it not quite finished and perfect [twitches].  I've reassigned the polka dot bag to a new job -- plastic bag holder -- and it hangs on a knob in my back kitchen.

The tote bag is a dark brown nylon on one side, and a lighter brown check on the other. It's a reversible bag, so I'll be able to use whatever side looks better with my outfit. This bag has such a nice stylish shape, too. I made it according to the pattern in this excellent tutorial. I've made this type of bag before and am certain I will make another at some time in the future. 

This is my vanity case. It's Ralph Lauren product. I've had it for at least seven or eight years. I bought it from Winners and it shocks me to think how much I paid for it -- I'd never pay that much for something I could so easily make for so little now. However, what's bought and paid for and used is... bought and paid for and used, and it at least seems to be holding up, and it goes with my bag. 

The contents of my vanity case. From left to right: a tissue case, a manicure kit, a mirror compact, a pill box, a comb, hand lotion, lip balm, hairpins and a couple of hair elastics, and little drawstring bag to keep the pins and elastics in. My old dollar store manicure case was falling to pieces, so I splurged on a new dollar store one that's much nicer and better equipped than the old one ever was. All the other items I've had for years. Not shown are the tampons, and no, I haven't sewn them little velvet or satin tampon cases so that they'll go with my convertible bag or anything ridiculous like that. Even I have my limits when it comes to obsessive coordination.

My little pill box, which I can't resist showing. Not that it holds anything exciting, alas -- just ibuprofen and allergy meds. 

My Art Nouveau mirror compact. I ordered this from Etsy many years ago, and still love it. I have a bit of a fetish for compacts, and also have a vintage gold tone one, and contemporary silver tone one with my initials engraved on it, but I tend to only get those out when I'm getting very dressed up, while this is the one I use for every day.



My water bottle. My old one was a freebie blue plastic number from a company I used to work for. This is a new one, and it's just a Dollarama purchase, but it's lovely and sleek and a definite upgrade.

Not shown (at least so far -- I'll probably update later on) is my sunglasses. My eyeglass cases look kind of beat up, and I'm going to keep an eye out for nice ones at the dollar store and thrift store when things open up again.

I'd also like to add a word about bag weight. Decades ago, I read in a women's magazine article that, according to medical recommendations, women shouldn't carry a bag that weighs more than 5% of their total body weight. The writer had taken a scale around to all the offices/desks of all the women she worked with, and done an on-the-spot weigh-in of their bags. As I recall, everyone's purse was over the limit, but the prize winner was a bag weighing in at a grand 26 pounds. Good heavens, the woman who owned that bag was carrying the equivalent of a toddler everywhere she went! (Not toddler-ist.) 

It's important to keep your daily use bag as light you reasonably can by editing it so that you're only carrying the most lightweight versions of what you'll realistically use. With modern life requiring the kind of paraphernalia it does, probably many women aren't going to be able to keep their bag to under 5% of their weight, but under 10 pounds seems like a reasonable goal for most women. I've done a moment of truth weigh-in with my bathroom scale, and I'm reasonably satisfied that my bag weighs in at 9 pounds even when it contains my planner (1.6 pounds), camera (0.4 pounds), and full water bottle (2 pounds), which I don't always carry, and a svelte 5 pounds without those three items. 

I've been carrying my new bag since December 2020, and gradually replacing a few last things since then, and I am very happy with it on the whole. It is smaller than my old backpack, which was so handy for bringing home groceries as it easily held a bag of milk plus some other things, but then again I may still eventually redo the backpack. 

Otherwise, I love my bag and all its little accessories. It is such a delight to have just the right bag with exactly what you want and need in it. Even my keychain gives me pleasure whenever I use it. My bag wouldn't suit anyone else, but then that was the point of this endeavour: to use my knowledge of myself and my skills and tastes to assemble a bag that was exactly right for me