Sow: spring garden phase 1

Today I was literally outside from sun up to just before sundown. Today was Presidents’ Day in the U.S. and for some reason, my agency had it off for the second year in a row. (Hey, I’m not complaining. There aren’t nearly enough mandatory holidays in this country and I’ll take whatever I can get).

I’ve been planning today in my head for weeks: Phase 1 of the 2013 spring garden. It’s Phase 1 since there are still many winter crops that are not all done and there are still transplants that need to come in — like tomatoes and peppers.

One caveat: like most of my “project” plans, I did not plan that it would take as long as it did. At least it was a beautiful sunny day, slightly breezy and I had no real plans for later on in the evening.

I started out this morning by making radish seed tape. Bigger seeds, faster making time.Remind me next time I bring this great idea up, not to bother. It really didn’t  make planting any easier or faster. And I have quite a lot remaining. Hopefully I can use it for second and third crops. Or this fall. Or give it away. Sigh.

I also upcycled an empty plastic bottle and some plastic skewers from one of those Edible Arrangements into name tags for the plants. I used my trusty Sharpie collection on the plastic. It seemed like a good idea and it shouldn’t get wrecked by the rain so we’ll see how well they hold up in the coming months.


a tag made from a skewer and a piece of a club soda bottle, radish seeds in the background

After that, it was time to weed the front flower beds. Actually I should say “de-grass” since the type of grass that grows here runs sideways like a centipede. I spent a couple hours pulling out long strips trying to eat the little perrennials and become part of the landscaping.

don't worry, I was supervised while performing all of this manual labor

Don’t worry, I was supervised while performing the manual labor (if you look carefully, you’ll see also George in the window)

invading grass + a flower the previous owners planted

invading grass + a flower the previous owners planted (it’s the tiny white thing)

Once all of that was done, the 3G Network and I headed to the backyard to dig in the dirt. I was surprised that I was the only one who actually stayed outside the whole time. Lazy animals wanted to sleep on their comfy beds not the driveway or grass.

Lots of winter crop clean up. Harvesting (lots of spinach, collards, kale, mixed lettuce, fennel). Moving herbs to a window box off the kitchen so they survive the heat of spring and summer. Cleaning up tools, yard waste, dog waste, and just generally puttering around. It was an excellent day.

Here’s the end result (and no, I didn’t take a photo of my aching back!):


Raised Bed #4: Tomato bed prepped and ready for 8 tomato plants, plus basil once it gets a bit warmer. I added the mini rose bush at the end to help with pollination.


the whole operation minus the peach, plum and fig trees


Stock Tank #3: This is the stock tank where a few of the carrot and radish seed tapes now live. I unfortunately planted it the wrong way. I planted long rows and should have planted width rows for a larger yield. I may dig up what I planted today tomorrow before work and start over.


Raised Bed #3: thyme and oregano are growing just fine so they’re staying put. This bed contains beets as well as the still growing fine collards, cilantro and some spinach (the “fence” is to keep George from digging and/or napping in the nice warm composty dirt)


Stock Tank #2: mint in the pot in front, spinach in the front and back, red romaine lettuce in the dirt


Raised Bed #2: another fence for George, this one has the remainder of the salad greens and the parsley I planted last fall. today’s seeds included: mache, more mesculin, a fancy lettuce called red velvet, bok choi and snow peas


Stock Tank #1: has a drainage issue so it’s drying out for now before I add anything else to it. I moved the washtub full of greens in front of it for now and you’ll see there’s some bright green leaf lettuce, a fancy kale and some spinach at the front and back.


Raised Bed #1: the one that started this whole thing — beets where the George fence is, kale still going strong, chard, brussels sprouts (I’m hoping to harvest very soon), English peas at the back.

Whew! Truly a great day in the sun. I wished I had time for a nap once I got everything done, but I didn’t. No rest for the wicked I suppose. It’s almost guaranteed I’ll sleep through the night tonight. I just hope I can move at work tomorrow!

Sow: seed tape

Tomorrow is President’s Day in the U.S. and Family Day in Canada. In Canada, it’s a statutory holiday so everyone will have a long weekend. In the U.S., the banks, some schools and apparently a few advertising agencies have the day off. Bruce does not (yes, he is bitter).

Tomorrow is also a big gardening day for the spring 2013 Mortroski Midcentury Urban Farm. Seeds are getting planted. Including so very tiny seeds.

The snow and shelling pea seeds are nice and big.  Mache and the various lettuce seeds can be scattered and still look nice and grow just fine.

But I want to have better carrot, radish and beet crops than I had in 2012. I just threw seeds in the ground and hoped for the best (ok, I did read the packets a bit, but honestly not well enough). Surprisingly, we actually had produce to pick and eat. But this go around, I really want to have TOO MANY carrots, radish and beets to eat. I want to have plenty to eat and give away.


Beet type #1: soaking for 24 hours


Beet type #2: soaking for 24 hours


So I tried something new this time: I made seed tape.


Well, I made carrot seed tape, the radish seed tape will have to wait until tomorrow.

First thing I learned was that I should have started making all of seed tapes months ago when I first bought the seeds and was dreaming of the spring garden, not the day before I planned on planting. A lesson to apply for the 2014 spring garden I guess!

I had looked online to get advice on how to do it. Several sites recommended one-ply toilet paper. Since we use a fancier product, that wasn’t really feasible without going out to purchase special t-p for the garden. Seemed a little silly.

Then others recommended newspaper strips. One problem there: few people I know, including myself, actually read a paper newspaper these days. I thought about asking the guy in the red SUV that delivers the newspaper when we’re walking the 3G Network, but he really seems like he’s in a hurry in the morning for some reason. Then I remembered one of my coworkers gets the Sunday paper because he likes to hang out and drink coffee and get inky fingers. I got him to donate some newspaper to the cause (thanks, Wardo!).


this stuff is newspaper. I’m going to save what I have in case it becomes more difficult to find next time i need to make seed tape.


I cut the newspaper up in thin-ish strips. Then I measured off 1 inch marks since carrot seeds need to be planted 1 inch apart.

After that, I made some homemade paste:


1/4 cup regular old white flour and enough water to make a paste. I thought the pastry brush would be a good idea but it was not. neither was the spoon.

Basically planting carrot seeds (very small! a big pain to count! hopefully worth the effort!), requires 4 seeds every inch. Each row needs to be 6 inches apart, although apparently you can plant radish seeds between each row.

My first efforts used too much paste and once the newspaper strips dried, they curled up:


don’t worry, I got better at making seed tape

The 3G Network was curious since I was sitting at the dining room table doing this and I’m guessing the flour/water paste smelled like human food. First, Guinness showed up, though not because he was hungry:

Guinness is feeling much better and insisted on a short walk while I was making seed tape

Guinness is feeling much better and insisted on a short walk while I was making seed tape. So we went.

Post-walk, George wanted in on the action:

George in his supervisory role

George in his supervisory role

He was mostly looking for handouts. When he realized that I wasn’t baking cookies or something equally delicious, he finally laid down. Boring!

Here you can see me working to perfect my tape making method. I really don’t know what I ever did without Sharpies. I really love them and they were a big help today marking 1 inch increments. Notice my paste applicator. Yes, a finger worked best for making a nice little blob of paste to hold four tiny seeds. No need for fancy tools.


Applying glue

Did I mention how small the carrot seeds are? I think that is the #1 reason the fall carrot crop ended up so crappy. Because the seeds were so small I put more than 4 seeds every 1 inch. And because it makes me sad to thin out three carrot seedlings and only keep one, I had a low yield. Not this spring. I will be ruthless with my scissors and to make one beautiful carrot, I will eliminate three seedlings. I know better now.

tiny carrot seeds, tweezers to help move them around

tiny carrot seeds, tweezers to help move them around

using tweezers to get the optimum number of seeds/glue blob

using tweezers to get the optimum number of seeds/glue blob (I am about to reduce the number of seeds in the blob to 4)

So I have made a ton of carrot seed tape, probably more than I need for tomorrow. Supposedly I can roll it up or put it in a plastic bag and it will keep until fall planting.

I ran out of steam in the seed tape making after all those carrot seeds and moved on to helping Bruce with other things. So tomorrow morning first thing, I really need to do some seed tapes for the radish seeds. They are bigger so it shouldn’t be as difficult. Same goes for the soaked beet seeds.

It’s time consuming, but I hope it will be worth it because I really want to do all I can to make the crops successful. And make the raised beds look pretty this spring. Tomorrow, I plant!

So: started with fabric 2


Today we continued work on the Mortroski Midcentury Lounge. First order of the day was to install the firescreen/doors. We really haven’t used our fireplace at all since we moved here, partially because we weren’t sure if the tree limb over the chimney was ok, but also because we were not comfortable with just a chain screen separating curious dogs and dog toys from the flame.

The tree has been examined and adjusted by an arborist so we are green lighted to turn on the gas!

We’re very happy with this solution. It should also help with energy efficiency by adding an additional barrier against the surface of the sun heat we get here.


Next we hung the rod and curtains. Happily we do not have to hem the bottom but we do still need to attach the panels in twos (we have 4). On tomorrow’s to-do list!



The Gs were good supervisors. Even stoned Guinness wanted to be near the action. (He’s doing much better and even mustered a run to the front window and some barking at a neighbor dog this afternoon. Thank you for your wishes–the medicine and rest are working well for him.)

Tomorrow we have fine tuning to do: caulking, touching up, cleaning, pillow fluffing. And we’ll have a whole new room by the end of the weekend.

So: Guinness scare


Today I had a big scare. Guinness, the stoic one, was crying in pain. Yelping. Whining. Acting very strange. Crouched down low. Tail tucked. Shaking.

We couldn’t get an appointment at the vet until 3 but I couldn’t leave him alone. Was the shaking a seizure? Was he hurt? Were his organs messed up?

Of course I discovered all this as I was running out the door for work. I had an important 8:30 am meeting.

My coworkers and boss got emails and calls that I was working from home and why. I took my meeting via cell with Guinness’ head resting on my leg. I answered email, wrote copy, solved a few challenges, offered naming suggestions, and who knows what else while sitting on the floor next to him.
He wasn’t getting worse on my watch!

I consulted his pet sitter and a friend who is a vet tech.

And I was ready to drive him to the vet in a flash if things took a bad turn.

We were early for our appointment. Bruce came too in case almost 80 pounds of black lab couldn’t walk from the car to the clinic. He did fine, a few squeaks, but fine.

The vet poked and prodded. Moved and grabbed. Lifted and pinched. We know its definitely not an infection because he didn’t have a fever. But that’s the only definite.

It may be his neck vertebrae as the main issue and it’s causing pain in his entire spine. He’s on rimadyl and novox, rest, no walks, no playing for 3 days for now. If he gets worse overnight, they will do X-rays and reassess tomorrow.

It could also be a nervous system issue given his existing issues. (He has a parasympathetic nervous system issue and cannot void his bladder on his own unless he has 10 mg of phenoxybenzamine a day. Bruce and I also know how to cath him.) Not sure what that could mean.

If would be so much easier if dogs could talk and just say, “my neck is killing me”. Or if people could understand dog language.

George and Godiva know something’s up. They guarded Guinness this morning with me. They freaked out when I put him in the car but let them out to pee. Godiva’s seen sick Guinness at many times (identifying his nervous system issues, heartworm treatment x 2, TPLO surgery) since he moved in and she doesn’t like it at all.

Guinness ate several treats and wagged his tail for the vet and the tech which is always a good sign. He also made sure to make his mark on the clinic’s bushes on the way to the car, another good sign.

Once we got home, I fed him his pills in chunks of cheese while Bruce took a conference call. Then I covered him with a blanket. He’s snoring next to me.

So, we’ll wait and see.

So: stupid Hallmark holiday

Woman holding heart, close upIn the Mortroski Midcentury, we’re not big fans of today’s Hallmark holiday. As I mentioned yesterday, it’s cards only between us.

That doesn’t mean we don’t share the love with a whole lot of other people.

For me, it’s not a party without cupcakes. And if you check out my LinkedIn profile, my coworkers expect me to show up with them. So holidays mean cupcake baking the night before the “party” (and when I say party, realize that it’s a bunch of art directors and writers with beers and snacks, nothing fancy).

So, I got to work:


I spent part of last evening with Duncan and some friends…


(my secret to fluffy white cupcakes is high speed mixing for exactly 2 minutes)


(my other secret weapon: a cupcake portioner so I get the 24 cupcakes out of the batter that I need)


getting baked

Bruce was also busy last night. Because of our other projects around the house, we didn’t get the wine bag we needed to get done started or finished last weekend. So Bruce decided to take on that task and it wasn’t very easy (Bravo, Bruce!):


Bruce had lots of supervision: Godiva (brown), George (yellow), Guinness (black)


Cursing at Morty and the fabric


the final product — a bag of wine from the 3G Network for their pal Tracy (isn’t it pretty?)

Meanwhile, I got the cupcakes out of the oven so they could cool off.


24 plain old white cupcakes. boring!

And iced them up, knowing they would disappear in mere moments.


festive sprinkling and finished product. fun!

Today’s creative department Anti V-D Gathering was a smashing success. However, unlike some parties we have had or attended, no cupcakes were thrown or actually smashed. Most were in fact eaten as everyone complained about the stupid Hallmark holiday and all the chocolate around the office that was causing them to break their New Year’s resolutions and/or Lenten sacrifices.

After all of that frivolity, what’s on the schedule for tonight? An elegant dinner of leftover chili with a side of festive home projects! The ordered online curtain rod arrived today so perhaps we will have a Valentine’s Day curtain rod hanging! Or maybe a Valentine’s Day fireplace caulking! Yeeeeeeehaaaaawwwww!

In the Mortroski Midcentury, we do Hallmark holidays right!

So: Valentine’s Eve confession


February love letters for

On this Valentine’s Day eve, I’m going to share a big secret with you: I write love letters. They’re to someone other than my husband, Bruce.

I write them frequently too. Usually once a month, but several times a month if I’m asked. And sometimes, when the spirit moves me, I write them and leave them places. In those annoying pockets on an airplane. In restaurants. In a dressing room. In a magazine I abandon at the airport. In a hotel lobby. Sometimes even at work. And I always have some sort of notecard or paper plus my trusty assortment of Sharpies on hand for emergencies. Shhh. Please don’t tell or you’ll blow my cover.

You see, I’m a secret (love letter) agent. I enlisted back in September during a typical dining al desko lunch break. I watched a TED talk featuring a woman named Hannah Brencher. She founded an organization of love letter writers called So I joined it.

Once a month, Hannah’s team asks me (and scores of other people all over the globe) to share words of love, hope, support, friendship, inspiration, motivation, and care with people we don’t even know and will never meet.

Here’s what Hannah says about her organization:

“We’re going to tell you that we write and mail love letters, handwritten love letters, to strangers in need all over the world. We’re going to invite you to request a love letter for someone in your life who needs one. And we’re going to insist that you step out of your own shoes of Comfort & join us. You are going to think we are a bit crazy. A tad loopy. But you’ve been looking for a website that leaks love all this time… so we aren’t worried you’ll leave us.”

You’ll probably want to check out on your own if you want more details. No point in cutting and pasting their content here.

I’d like to say I’m not in this for myself and that my heart is completely pure and selfless while I write. But it’s not. What I really liked about joining was that it was an easy way to take a few minutes out of my busy month and do something nice for someone who really needs to a boost.

Selfishly, I usually write the love letters during lunch at work when my day is going particularly wonky and I need to remind myself of what’s really important. On those days when I need to breathe. When I need to think and not speak.

Perhaps if I was a smoker, I’d take a smoke break. Instead, it’s a writing break. Taking those few minutes to pen some encouraging words and tell someone that they matter and that things will get better for them, makes me feel better too.

Writing the letters has also made me more aware of the power of the pen. Of course, people can write terrible, hateful things. Things that they’d never in a million years say to that person’s face. But you can also write wonderful things. Loving things. Hopeful things. Uplifting things. Joyful things. Comforting things.

So on this Valentine’s Day eve, I ask you to do one thing for me tomorrow. You love birds might not have a lot of time, but do it anyway. Even if your heart is hard because romance hasn’t gone your way lately, go about your day with love.

When you pick up your morning coffee, thank your barista with a smile.

Greet your coworkers like you’d want to be greeted by them.

Hug your kids and furry family members extra tight.


And on this silly Hallmark holiday, maybe consider leaving a little anonymous note where someone who really needs a boost can find it. You’d make someone’s day. And yours too.


PS: Please don’t worry about Bruce. He will get a real “from the wife” Valentine love note sometime tomorrow even though he hates this made up event. Remember, I like writing.

So: gratitude

IMG_0023Thank you.

I appreciate that you are reading my blog. There’s lots to read on WordPress and elsewhere on the Internet, so thank you for stopping here.

I really enjoy reading your comments. I enjoy reading your blogs too, although sometimes I can’t think of a witty comment or much more than a sincere “thanks for sharing”. Or a like. I’m learning a lot and I thank you for your wonderful writing.

As I covered the raised beds tonight in the Urban Farm (it’s going to be below 40° F tonight), I thought how nice it is that you’re interested enough in my adventures in gardening to  comment on the photos and words that I’m putting out there. And offer suggestions, comments and kudos.

I think it’s great you’re encouraging my evenings with Morty (the sewing machine) and that you think wine bags are a step in the right direction to develop some real sewing skills.

So thank you. I appreciate you!

So: started with fabric

"before": Bruce is removing trim, Guinness is looking on

“before”: Bruce is removing trim, Guinness is supervising

Friday seems like a very long time ago. Many things changed over the course of the weekend, including the weather that messed up our loud, dusty, chop saw action. But don’t worry: we found something else to do on Sunday.

It all started when after sewing class on Saturday, Bruce said, “You know that West Elm catalog that Tom gave you thinking you’d like that mid-century style bedroom set? I saw some curtains in it that could work for the Lounge.”

The family room (aka: the Lounge) is a big room with a high, beamed ceiling, a sliding glass patio door, a space for a television, a giant olive green sectional, a dark wood coffee table, a huge floor lamp that arches over the sectional, and the Mad Men favorite, a wet bar. It’s pretty groovy since we spruced up the white trim and previous owner’s beige walls with bright orange walls behind the tv and the wet bar. It’s bold and some might say, brave. In this house, we are not afraid of color at all, especially if it’s takes the brain back in time to somewhere around 1966.

We’ve been debating what to do about the patio door. When we moved into the Mortroski Midcentury, only one window had any covering and that was in our bedroom. We quickly put up paper blinds (slightly classier than sheets) and started shopping for something more permanent. Now, we have some non-descript, but very useful, blinds throughout the house. But we wanted something more special for the Lounge, especially since the window covering would be mostly for decoration (we plan to keep the curtains open most of the time).

Originally Bruce’s plan was to make the curtains from scratch. You know spin the thread,  hand dye it with plants we grew ourselves on the Urban Farm, weave the fabric, etc. Just kidding. We were going to look for some fabric, fire up Morty (that’s the sewing machine’s new name, thanks to Fransi), and get to it, hoping for the best.

But then, Bruce saw what he thought would help to tie the room together—and secretly he knew that curtains would be the catalyst to convince me that painting the fireplace brick was a good idea. So Saturday afternoon we headed over to SMU-land to visit West Elm.

Guess what: the original curtain selection didn’t look so hot in person. But all the curtains and rods were on sale and they had a huge selection of curtains in store. We found a pattern that we really liked and would work well with the room color and furnishings…and a newly improved dark gray fireplace.


the chosen curtains, though not in our Lounge.
photo is courtesy of West Elm’s website

Morty is still going to get pressed into service. He’s going to have to help us to join two panels to make a larger curtain for each side of the patio door. And he’s probably going to be doing some hemming. But the rod we wanted was out of stock so I had to order it online when we got home. Hopefully it comes by the weekend and we can finish our Lounge upgrade.

Curtains in hand, we headed over to one of the big box home improvement stores that we should have purchased stock in several houses ago. Shockingly, we found several paint options for the brick very quickly—and a great paint option for our home office. We didn’t purchase paint, however; Bruce prefers to bring a canine companion to amuse the other patrons waiting for paint to get mixed and none of the 3G Network was along for the ride. Besides we had to tape the little sample card to the wall and look at it and make sure that we were ok with the big (and scary, to me anyway) thing we were about to do.

Sunday, Bruce and George (he’s yellow goofy one) headed off to Lowes to pick up the paint while I scrubbed at the brick and vacuumed up dust, debris and disgusting stuff I’d really rather not think about. If you have exposed bricks, you may want to take the vacuum and a brush to them occasionally. Or not.

You may be wondering, “Why the heck are they painting perfectly good brick?” Simple: it’s not perfect and it doesn’t look as good as I had hoped. We left it as it was for about 1.5 years as we decided what to do with it. Or rather as I decided that I’d go along with Bruce’s original plan that he mentioned the minute he saw it as our real estate agent escorted us around the inside.

It is the brick of many colors: red, gray, light gray, black. And as you can see from the photo below, there is no rhyme nor reason for its color pattern. I’d like to say it’s charming, but it’s not.


the brick of many colors starting to get covered

After Bruce cut in around the edges and rolled the first section, it was my job to paint the lines (the mortar). Definitely not as fast moving as you might think, especially with bricks with lots of chips and holes and nicks and mortar which sometimes also filled with chips/holes/nicks.


painting the mortar (yep, that’s me)

I don’t usually time our projects, mostly because as everyone who has ever done any DIY project, if you think it will take 2 hours, it will certainly take all day. I’ve done enough projects to know that you really shouldn’t have any plans later in the evening (although we did, doh!) because sometimes you won’t be showering off the sawdust/paint/grout/metal shavings/dirt/etc. until well past the normal dinner hour.

But in this case, despite running out of paint because I used up too much filling in the lines and Bruce having to make a run back over to Lowes, this time with Guinness (that lazy lab lays down majestically in the paint department like it’s his home away from home), we knocked the whole thing out in around 3 hours including prep. Give or take.


George, who is clearly bored with his humans’ DIY silliness, watching paint dry

Not bad for a Sunday afternoon that turned out to be fairly sunny and nice despite the weather folk’s best predictions. It would have actually been an ok day to execute our original plans.

We spent a fair chunk of last night admiring our handiwork as we flipped around the tv and tried to find anything to watch besides the horrible Grammys (sorry LL Cool J, I love you to pieces, but the show was awful). And when we woke up this morning, we still liked it so we know we did the right thing.

Tonight, there is still a bit of work to be done. We need to seal the edges, add a bit of insulating foam, and caulk. We’ll need to touch up the beige walls in a couple of places where we were overzealous with the gray paint. And of course, we need to get Morty out and get the curtains ready. But that can wait until next weekend: I have a wine bag to make before Thursday. Maybe tonight’s the night.

Sow: planning ahead

As I mentioned yesterday, many plans for this weekend got changed because of the weather. Yesterday’s dramatic temperature change and misty conditions stopped us from dragging the power tools out and setting up our dusty and noisy shop in the driveway and garage. The cart and bathroom wall will have to wait until conditions are better for electricity and humans.

The weather change also meant that what I had planned for the garden today had to happen yesterday afternoon, especially since at one point, the weather folks were reporting that last night was going to be cold enough to cover the garden.

Besides a freeze, I was also worried about the thunderstorm predicted during the night because hail was mentioned. Around here, hail is a typical occurrence and it’s usually golf ball-sized and plant smashing.

Next weekend is when tomato transplants need to get planted (I know FEBRUARY! Weird, eh?) and I’m going to plant a bunch of spring seeds (salad greens, carrots, beets, beans, peas, not sure what else) as well. I have next Monday off so it can be a completely awesome outside day.

One of the things I needed to do is say goodbye to my heirloom red romaine and pick the romanesco broccoli. Here’s the final product of the cool chartruse romanesco broccoli which I will not be growing again (low yield and also it’s cauliflower which I am very allergic to):



little but very pretty romanesco broccoli

little but very pretty romanesco broccoli

It’s fun to bring freshly harvested stuff to friends when they invite us over for dinner (no wine bag today, no time, that’s tomorrow’s blog), so I made sure to harvest plenty to share. Here are some of the photos that I took of the garden yesterday and some of the things I brought to our friend:


de pierre heirloom lettuce


the small kales


purple brussels sprouts


the second batch of chard after the first batch croaked


celery experiment: pinterest tells me if you plant your celery end, you can grow a new celery plant. tried it during the summer and well, it didn’t work, but this one looks like it’s gonna happen.


spinach plot #1


spinach plot #2


spinach plot #3




parsley, oregano, scallions, romanesco broccoli, collards, spinach, sage, kale


chard, kale, chives, red romaine, de pierre lettuce


mixed salad greens

So as I mentioned our weekend did not go as intended. Stay tuned for tomorrow’s blog and you’ll see our big completely unplanned project.



Sew: bagged

Today was class #2 for new sewing machine owners at our local JoAnn. We were scheduled to do it sooner but the flu got in the way. Now that we’re better, we have no excuses for not using our amazing new machine.

the amazing new machine

the amazing new machine

It has a handy dandy manual, but it’s been really helpful having Amy (the teacher and manager of the the sewing machine department) helping us learn how to use it. She’s incredibly patient and I think really amused by a couple coming to class together. After one woman in today’s class remarked, “I couldn’t drag my husband in here,” I realized how lucky I am to have someone to help me as I remember how to thread this bad boy and even change the needle (I broke one today — doh!).

Bruce making cute decorative stitches

Bruce making cute decorative stitches

Today’s class was really about learning how to use decorative stitches. We made a small bag.  Amy explained that once we mastered making this bag, we could make our own wine bags for gifts. SCORE! Again, something truly useful learned at sewing machine class. So, if you invite us over for dinner and we bring you wine in a decorative bag, please admire the bag despite any imperfections because I may have made it and I need positive reinforcement. If it looks perfect, Bruce made it.


Practicing decorative stitches

Our machine makes fun things like cars and campers in it’s decorative stitching library. I think we disappointed Amy by choosing blue embroidery thread versus following her pink Valentine’s day hearts and flowers bag. But we were pretty excited about the camper and some of the groovy 1960s style border-type stitches so that’s what we practiced. I have a feeling we’ll get more mileage out of that instead of the hearts.

Practice makes perfect!

Practice makes perfect!

Our machine really makes it easy to sew. In fact, Amy had to keep reminding us NOT to touch the fabric while the machine was making little cars or campers or the fun 1960s borders. After practicing, we decided to use the little cars and a sort of Egyptian looking repeating stitch just for shits and giggles. Let’s be real, this little bag may actually be pressed into service, but only to hold sewing stuff. We knew from the start we were just going to go for it and worry about finesse with the next attempt.

sewing the side so the bag won't unravel

sewing the side so the bag won’t unravel

Bruce and I just made one bag so we kept trading off — luckily the bag had two sides. We also learned how to make box corners which as Amy said make the difference between a $1 bag and a $10 bag.

Don’t worry, friends. We’ll be giving you a $10 wine bag, it just might have 2 Buck Chuck chardonnay or pinot in it because box wines come in their own gift packaging. Just kidding, our wine selections for dinner parties are classier than what we drink on Friday nights when Godiva is sick (she’s absolutely fine now as she usually is the day after one of these episodes).

Making fancy corners

Making fancy corners

My job ended up being to finish the top edge of the bag so it would not unravel. This photo shows me trying to make sure that I actually sewed the bag, not the presser foot or any other part of the machine. And it was taken seconds before I broke the needle and Amy had the opportunity to teach us all how to replace a needle — and upsell us all a cool tool that helps with needle change out. We bought one of course because it was really neat. Good job, Amy!

look at the concentration

look at the concentration

New needle in place, I continued to sew. These new machines do not like their humans to help much. You’ll notice in the photos that I’m not really holding the fabric. Every time I held the fabric, I messed up the stitch! “Hands in the air,” is what Amy repeated to me more than once. More like trust the computer. It’s like sewing using my Macbook or iPhone.

All better now

all better now

Once I finished that part, Bruce got to finish off the bag with a pair of decorative stitches to hold the draw string. I thought this would involve sewing then cutting a little hole for the ribbon, but I was wrong! Bruce sewed a straight reinforcing stitch, then another right above it.


Bruce got to finish the bag by making the decorative stitches that would hold the ribbon for the draw string closure

Then we learned a big secret: you can insert a draw string using a double headed needle. Because I’m sure we’re going to be invited to a lot of dinner parties, we made sure to purchase this handy tool (good job once again, Amy).


double headed needle: the secret behind making good drawstrings for wine bags

Bruce threaded the blue ribbon on one end and pulled the ribbon through the space between the two decorative stitches and pulled out one side. Amy suggested knotting the two ends of the ribbon together, not only to make it look pretty but also to keep from losing the ends in the bag. You could get fancy and add a little charm or beads, but we just made a knot today. Adding a wine glass charm might be a good way to hint that our dinner host could collect a whole set of interesting charms in addition to getting our $10 bags and interesting wine choices. As you can see, the gears are churning from today’s class. I’m ready to turn the $10 bag into a $12 one.

Here’s what our little bag looked like:

The finished masterpiece

The finished masterpiece

If you look closely, you can see where we were definitely “learning”, but I think it’s pretty good for a first attempt. I’m thinking about taking the class again. Amy said I can take it as many times as I like — some people take it as many as 4 times to build their confidence.

Today’s class inspired me to make a “happy bag” for my 96 year old grandmother so I picked up some cheerful red microsuede remnant that was on sale (cost me less than $3 for 1/2 yard). I’ll pick up some inexpensive rice and she’ll have a lovely microwaveable heating pad for her neck in no time. I bet I could make it in under 1 hour.

So no date night last night, but today’s “date” was fun and we learned a lot together. Bruce was nice and patient with me when I forgot how to thread the machine’s needle. And he carried the machine to and from the car!

knowing the sewing machine will help George too

knowing the sewing machine will help George

The 3G Network will love my new-found sewing skills. Bruce picked up some toys for Godiva and George (Guinness doesn’t like toys much) yesterday and gave them to them this morning, post walk. As you can see, this one is coming unstuffed, thanks to the tug of war game Godiva and George had prior to this photo. I have the feeling I, or rather the machine (which I really need to name — suggestions?) will resew many a toy for them.

And like this weekend started, our best laid plans have changed again. Post sewing class, the weather changed dramatically. I spent time outside with the garden, but it was too windy and cold for the table and chop saw. Maybe next weekend.