Sew: ball of confusion

Like many women of a certain age, my love affair with Pinterest waxes and wains. It’s directly proportional to the amount of time that I need to spend waiting for something or someone. It is a major time vortex. If I’m not careful, I can be in there for hours, pinning recipes I’ll never make and holiday crafts that I’ll remember long after Christmas is past. It’s a late night guilty pleasure, much like some lovely chocolate or some nice leftover snagged out of the fridge.

Pinterest is also my messy filing cabinet. My armchair travel agent. My restaurant critic. My dreams of crafty magnificence. My tentative plans for the big 50th birthday trip I’m planning for Bruce. And of course, a slew of sewing projects for the day when I finally allow myself to get onto the sewing machine and mess around.

There’s also a board devoted to the Gs. And to this blog, though I am massively behind on my pinning (sorry, Frances, and everyone else who loves Pinterest and would prefer to find my updates there).


Gidget the black and white dog with her partner-in-crime George • photo by Bruce

As you may have gathered, Gidget, the newest G, is the youngest and remains to this day a “handful”. We thought we were done with her  crate (which takes up far too much space in our office/tv room), but every time we put it in the attic, she shows us that she really needs to be in solitary confinement when there are no humans in the house. I assume her four legged siblings are too busy napping to administer any discipline or tell her that she’s an idiot if she pisses off the two-leggeds with the opposable thumbs that can open the magic cold food box, the treat cabinet and the food bin.

In any case, Gidget needs to be busy. And don’t let that sweet and innocent look fool you, she likes to tear stuff apart. Maybe “de-stuff” is more accurate. Dog beds. Dog toys. Stuffed animals. She loves to make it snow fluff all over the house.

So I decided that a ball of confusion might help her with her drive for mayhem. While it’s not really a “sew” project, it’s as close as I’ve gotten in a while:

8. For a dog who loves to tear apart stuffed animals, make a durable activity ball with a Hol-ee rubber ball, scraps of fabric, and treats.

So first, you get a Hol-ee rubber ball (thanks, Bruce!):



Then you need strips of fleece or some other durable-ish fabric that Gidget won’t destroy immediately. I chose my funky dotted (yet extremely hole-y) bathrobe that I got for free from Ulta when I purchased a whackload of ever-so-necessary cosmetic products around Mother’s Day, Christmas or another important retail holiday.




Next I broke out the wedding gift sewing box that truthfully hasn’t gotten much use in 19 years, except when Bruce needs to fix something of his (sorry, Mom, you know I’m hopeless as a housewife):





Then I started shredding up the bathrobe. The good thing is the sash was already cut to desired thinness. It just needed to be cut into more manageable pieces. The rest of the robe was another story. Let’s just say, we have enough bathrobe to make another ball or restful with clean strips once the current strips are too slobber covered to restuff.



First strip is wound up and inserted into the Hol-ee ball:




Crammed full of carefully coiled bathrobe strips, ready for Gidget to rip out:


Once the ball was ready to go, everyone except Guinness seemed very interested because it was a new toy:



Gidget seemed interested:

But in the end, the leader of the pack decided to test it out first to make sure it was suitable:


She was pretty proud of herself:IMG_5286

Since Sunday, there have been strips of cloth all over the house. I keep stuffing them back in. And sweeping up the fringes. While Gidget is interested in this ball of confusion, it appears that Godiva and George are the biggest fans. (Guinness does not play with toys at all.)

And if you’re expecting a gratuitous dog photo today, I’m afraid that you’ve gotten so many in this post that you’re not going to appreciate another. So instead, I leave you with a gratuitous garden photo that’s foreshadowing:


Black eyed peas: they’re what’s up next



Sew: 1970s

I’ve been sort of sewing tonight. Tomorrow night, Bruce and I will be helping the rescue group that saved George raise money for their veterinary clinic devoted to serving the rescue community.

Mazie’s Mission was founded by veterinarian Dr. Erin Schults to bring a self-sustaining, focused approach to animal welfare with the purpose of eliminating unnecessary euthanasia. They provide medical care, expert forensic evidence and adoption assistance to shelters, rescue groups, first responders and other non-profit animal welfare groups. The ultimate goal of Mazie’s Mission will be to establish a world class hospital and lifetime sanctuary for the care of those animals that cannot find a home.

It’s an all volunteer organization, with all proceeds going directly toward animal care. And they are amazing people with a sense of fun despite their important work.

Their annual BARC (build a rescue clinic) Gala is a 1970s themed disco party where everyone dresses up and dances to all the awesome music by Donna Summer, the Bee Gees, Village People, ABBA, you get the idea.

This is a night when we are all resplendent in polyester. Bruce will have big hair.

But first, I had to prevent possible wardrobe malfunctions tonight. While my dress fits, I didn’t like how the buttons were not closing securely (and I thought there was the potential for opening while I’d be flailing around on the dance floor).

Here’s the dress:

Pretty, isn’t it?

Here’s what I did to reinforce it and prevent accidental flashing:

It’s kind of like sewing when you use all those safety pins.

I tried a number of pinning techniques and this is the best for the desired result. I can dance the night away and be able to attend next year’s gala without being the chick with the dress that fell apart.

I considered sewing it, but it is a real vintage dress. I didn’t want to wreck it since I love the pattern:


My shoes are somewhat authentic in term of being a nod to the 1970s, although they are from last summer:

I never wore this style the first time around (parents didn’t let me wear heels in elementary school) so it’s definitely fun to wear these wedges.

Tomorrow it’s unlikely that I’ll have time to write a full post. But I will post photos!

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.

Sew: lesson #1

Yesterday was a milestone day in domesticity at the Mortroski Midcentury. After purchasing a fancy sewing machine for Christmas (made possible by pooling multiple  Christmas gift checks, Bruce’s company holiday gift, plus anniversary gifts), we finally learned how to use it.

the sewing machine

the sewing machine (that’s my head behind it)

When you purchase a machine at Joann (a US-based fabric/crafting store), you also can take a few lessons for free. Despite our good intentions, once we picked up the machine on the last day of the holiday sale, we never even turned it on, nor read the manual. At all. Oops. We took it out of the box and put it on the dining room table though.

When we headed towards the class, we heard excited chatter. But then when we arrived, sewing machine in hand, silence. Why? A male entered the sanctity of the intro class! But of course, my sweet husband, the youngest of 4 with three older sisters didn’t even notice and made himself at home right away. Our classmates were all women from 8 years old to their late 40s. Most had been sewing for a while in some capacity, even the kids.

Um, not me. If the machine wasn’t a computerized dream with a screen and switches and plugs similar to every other electronic device in the Mortroski Midcentury, I doubt I would have even known how to turn it on or set it up. As a complete novice, I was a bit intimidated as we went around the room, introducing ourselves, our machines (because they were all different), and explaining what projects necessitated getting a new machine. Most of the women were planning to make clothing. The theatrical teen was planning to make a steampunk wardrobe (good for her), the 8 year old clothes for her dogs, the others were going to make clothes for their kids.

Not me. I was there to tackle a personal demon. A failure to learn how to sew at age 10 when my mother sat me down in front of her Singer. Despite being a professional early-childhood educator, her style of lessons managed to make me never EVER want to learn how to sew. And I didn’t. Until yesterday, I did everything in my power to avoid sewing (and ironing but that’s another post). When we lived in Toronto, we would bring our sewing needs along with us to Bruce’s parents’ house. Marge (Bruce’s mom) has a Singer and Bruce would get on it and fix whatever we needed. Yep, I’m lucky.

However, I didn’t ask him to shorten my pants. At 5’2″, I am no clothing manufacturer’s favorite leg length.Tailors love me and imagine putting their children through college on my tailoring needs when I arrive with my pile of recently purchased pants. Before you suggest trying the petite department, I do not have a “petite” body. The Petroskis come from hearty Russian peasant stock. Even with heels, I’m short. So as you might imagine, the sewing machine promises me much excitement: the ability to hem my own pants/skirts WHENEVER I want. No waiting a week to pick them up. We even learned how to do a blind hem yesterday. Fingers crossed that I will not screw up too many new pants in my attempts to tailor. Perhaps I need to pick up any new pant purchases from TJ Maxx or Marshalls until I get the hang of hemming.

Now, Bruce is very clear in what he wants to accomplish with the machine. To him, it’s just a new power tool to add to his arsenal. He is already planning a plethora of projects: patio door curtains for the “lounge” (what we call the Midcentury’s family room since it has a wet bar and an enormous sectional), all new cushions for our patio furniture since current cushions are looking tired, new covers for the 3G Network’s many beds scattered throughout the house, perhaps some throw pillows for the sectional in the lounge. He has no desire to make his own clothing.

I, on the other hand, was just thrilled to learn how to thread the thing, made much more simple than my mom’s 1970s Singer with the addition of an automatic threader. Who knew such a thing existed? We practiced on some small pieces of cloth and learned about which needles to use for which fabric (who knew?), when to replace needles (after every 6-8 hours of sewing), what kind of thread to use (I had no idea there were different types), different kinds of feet (again, who knew). Now, I feel confident in my ability to turn the machine on and perhaps thread it. I mumbled something about assisting with Bruce’s projects, but I was thinking about hemming my own pants.

On our way out of class, we purchased a number of needles, some thread, a mat and cutter, a couple of yards of fabric to practice with, and some bobbins. We also signed up for new owner class #2 which is next Sunday afternoon. But we’re on our way to curtains, cushions and more. And I’m no longer afraid of sewing. Maybe I’ll start by fixing my pajama bottoms—there’s a seam that’s coming apart.

Sow. Sew. So?

Summer Stocktank

2012 was start of the Mortroski Midcentury Urban Farm. We broke ground on St. Patrick’s Day, with one raised bed crammed full of the crops we thought we could handle: bell peppers, mild jalapeño peppers, tomatoes, radishes, cucumbers, radicchio, and a bit of lettuce. We didn’t know that we’d accidentally plant Ghost Peppers (naga bhut jolokia), the world’s hottest peppers. And we didn’t know that we were starting the garden about a month too late for the Texas weather.

Over the course of the summer we expanded. We now have three raised beds and two stock tanks and plan to add another raised bed and stock tank this spring.

What we didn’t know, we learned. And we learned that even if we knew, we didn’t. Even when we asked how to do something better, the most seasoned Texas gardeners would often shrug their shoulders and say, “I dunno, the weather’s the problem.” Or cabbage worm. Or squash borer. It’s really a combo of science, hard work, and miracles that anything grows here at all.

Our 2012 harvests were pretty good—certainly better than I expected since I had no idea what I was doing. Maybe it was naiveté. Maybe it was dumb luck. Not sure, but we’ve kept it up and even on December 30, 2012, we’re harvesting.Yesterday it was collards, mixed salad greens, and kale. And it snowed on Christmas and has been below freezing for at least 4 days. Today it was finally nice enough to uncover the farm.

We’ve been boring our Facebook friends with photos and updates on the urban farm for long enough so we decided to bring the adventures in gardening here. And we’ve decided to take gardening to another level and start sowing sees instead of purchasing transplants. We’ll let you know how that goes, but fingers crossed, it will go as well as this fall’s seed crops (mixed salad greens, baby bok choi, beets, carrots).

And then we decided that we needed another challenge and bought ourselves a sewing machine. We start our first sewing class next weekend. You’ll hear about that too.

It’s hard for us to be quiet about stuff that gets us riled. So, you’ll hear about whatever that ends up being too.

Thanks for reading!