Thursday, April 23, 2020

Parenting, Perfection, and Perseverance

Patchwork Pencil Pouch by Heidi Staples of Fabric Mutt

A pair of cardinals has set up housekeeping in the small sago palm tree beside our backyard swimming pool. James spotted three speckled eggs in a tiny nest almost a week ago, and several days later they were replaced by a trio of fluffy chicks that look so much like miniature plucked turkeys to me that I grin every time I see them. Since we've had a sudden run of summer weather, we've been taking a dip in the pool every evening before dinner, careful not to bother the new family while we do it. I was worried that maybe our presence would scare the parents away, but a few nights ago as the girls were taking turns doing handstands in the shallow end, we suddenly saw the father swoop down to check on the babies. He lingered for a few seconds, flew back up into the nearby oak tree, and was immediately replaced by the mama bird who did the same thing. For the next ten minutes or so, I couldn't take my eyes away from watching those two birds take turns looking after their little ones. It reminded me so much of James and I as we shepherd our girls through this strange time together at home. There are moments when he picks up the burdens because I'm feeling weak, and then I turn around a few hours later and do the same for him. Sometimes we tackle frustrations at the same time with grit-your-teeth determination, and other times it's all so ridiculous that we can't stop laughing. But we're facing it together, and I love that. Teamwork: it's a good idea whether you're parenting cardinals or strong young women, and we're getting a little better at it each day.

Nest of Baby Cardinals by Heidi Staples of Fabric Mutt

Yesterday I spent almost two hours working on a new pattern I've been wanting to write, and it ended in failure. I walked away from it until later in the evening, started from scratch, and promptly failed again. Sigh . . . it's all part of the creative process, of course, and you can't let it get you down. So I put that new pattern away for another day, and this afternoon I'll be working on something that I know I'll enjoy. Because that's part of the creative process too. You have to know when you're up to a challenge and when you need something pleasantly simple, and today is a day for comfort sewing, I think.

For the past few days, I've been working on cleaning out my guest room/office which has been in desperate need of some purging for some time now. Going through the stuffed drawers of the dresser in there feels something like conducting an archaeological dig of my life, and the various piles that I've been sorting read the same way: here lies Heidi the fabric designer, the artist, the antique collector, the writer, the interior designer, the teacher, the quilter. I look at all the pieces of myself spread out across the guest room bed, and I'm reminded again of one of the character traits that I constantly struggle with in myself: that dreaded perfectionism. I want to try absolutely everything, but I want to do it all really well. And this stubborn streak often paralyzes me so that I can't get past the excitement of the planning and into the actual doing, turning me into a first class procrastinator. Hence the gouache paints that have never been opened and the journals that have only a few pages of writing and the stack of sewing patterns that I've never started. So I'm choosing to see this time at home as a chance to grow, to play with some things that I normally wouldn't have had the guts to try. Step one: some day in the next week I'm going to break out those paints and see what happens.

Patchwork Pencil Pouch by Heidi Staples of Fabric Mutt

Part of my cleaning in the office has been going through the book samples and props that have been stored in containers for so long. I always like to spread the quilts and pillows around the house, but a lot of the small things wind up in storage for future trunk shows. Well, no more of that. I'm saving a few items for future gifting, but it's nice to pull more of these happy little pieces out into the open where I can enjoy them. For instance, the pencil cases in the photos above were designed for Carnival of Patchwork, and I love seeing them out on my desk. I wanted a mix of fabrics that was both cheerful and a little bit vintage, and it turned out just the way I hoped it would. Incidentally, that red print is from the Lola Dutch collection by Sarah Jane for Michael Miller Fabrics, which my girls adore. My mother bought them all the picture books in that series for Easter this year, and they've been taking online drawing classes with Sarah Jane ever since the quarantine started. I love watching my daughters not only develop their artistic talents but also start to gain a creative fearlessness that I want more of myself. It's so easy to encourage them to just have fun and enjoy it without getting hung up on perfection, (funny how it's always easier to speak those words to others than it is to say them to ourselves), and seeing them do that makes me want to do it too. We may be stuck at home for now, but it doesn't mean we can't still find ways to spread our wings and fly.

Monday, April 13, 2020

Over 20 Fun Ideas for Organizing Your Sewing Space

Over 20 Fun Ideas for Organizing Your Sewing Space by Heidi Staples of Fabric Mutt

One of the big projects I wanted to tackle during this time at home has been reorganizing my sewing area. After months of going full speed on one project after the next, my work space was a complete disaster area, and it's taken me weeks to get things back into shape. I'm not finished yet, but the changes I've been able to make so far have already made me ten times happier every time I walk in the room. It's always amazing to me how a pretty space makes me feel so much more excited about sewing. I know that some of you are working on organizing your creative space too, so today I'm sharing some of my favorite tips with you.

Over 20 Fun Ideas for Organizing Your Sewing Space by Heidi Staples of Fabric Mutt

Your sewing space and how you organize it are completely dependent on who you are, how you sew, and what you love to make. If you want a detailed plan on how to give your room a total overhaul, check out my book Sew Organized for the Busy Girl, but if you just need a quick refresh, making one or two changes can be enough to make a real difference. When it comes to any of the organizational ideas you pick up from me or anyone else, I can’t stress enough how important it is to:
  • Be honest about what your organizational needs are and what you can actually maintain given your time and situation.
  • Find a solution that looks like a good fit.
  • Give that system a test run of at least a week or two.
  • Be willing to adjust or start from scratch if it isn’t working.
It’s tempting to give up when something you try doesn’t work the way you thought it would, but you probably just haven’t hit on the right answer yet. Don’t stop looking for it. The time you take to find the best solution for your situation is more than worth the satisfaction you’ll have when sewing becomes a pleasure instead of a chore.

Over 20 Fun Ideas for Organizing Your Sewing Space by Heidi Staples of Fabric Mutt

A sewing space is usually divided into four main stations: storage, cutting, sewing, and pressing. The more room you have, the more clearly separate these stations probably are. If you’re working with a small area, however -- maybe in the corner of your family room or on a desk in your bedroom -- things get tricky. It’s even more difficult if you have no real space to call your own. I remember my early days of sewing on the dining room table, timing myself so that everything could be cleared away in time for dinner and scrubbing the table after each meal so that my fabric wouldn’t end up with spaghetti sauce all over it!

Challenging situations are always a great opportunity to see how creative you can be. I’ve learned that it’s helpful to have some portable options for organizing your sewing materials whether you have a lot of room to work with or not. Listed below are some ideas for making your work space more organized and, yes, more fun. A lot of these can be done using things you already have around the house, so there's no need to buy something new unless you really want to. I personally like to use family antiques and vintage finds in my sewing room because I love them so much Wherever I can, though, I've included links to special items that I've bought myself and found useful. Ideas are classified according to the four stations above, but there’s definitely overlap, so adjust these as needed to make them work for you in any part of your creative space.

  • Picnic baskets and small suitcases can hold a surprising amount of fabric, and some even come with special pockets where you can store your notions. Best of all, they have a handle for carrying and a lid that shuts everything away from view. These can be really helpful if you're working in a smaller space.
Over 20 Fun Ideas for Organizing Your Sewing Space by Heidi Staples of Fabric Mutt
  • Spice jars are the perfect size for storing buttons and small pieces of hardware like magnetic clasps, rings, snaps, and zipper pulls. (Bonus points if you store them in a cute spice rack!) I also like to repurpose our jam jars for this job too, because who can resist a red and white gingham lid?
  • Old photo drawers or card catalogs are a great fit for fabric scraps, notions, and small precuts. I use one for my charm squares, and it's the perfect size. You can easily label the drawers too, giving you the chance to sort materials by style, color, designer, or manufacturer.
  • Mason jars and clear candy or cookie jars will store anything from scissors to thread, and they will always look beautiful while doing it. Best of all, you can see at a glance what supplies you have on hand.
Over 20 Fun Ideas for Organizing Your Sewing Space by Heidi Staples of Fabric Mutt
  • It took me years to find the best system for storing and organizing my quilting fabric, but I couldn’t be happier with the results. I prefer to organize my quilting cotton prints by color in identical tall woven plastic baskets measuring approximately 15” x 12” x 9”. Every print (usually half a yard or less) is folded to a width of about 5” and placed in the basket with other prints of the same color (red, orange, yellow, etc.). I can fit 2 layers of 2 long rows in each container, and I can always start a new basket if one fills up. The containers are stored on a pair of long, double shelf carts in my sewing room right beside my cutting table. It’s like having my own personal fabric shop right there whenever I need it! I also keep a reproduction soda crate for storing my solid fabrics, a metal cart with drawers for my linen and canvas prints, and a larger drawer unit for quilt backings and other special substrates like rayon and lawn. Almost all of my fabrics are arranged by color because that’s how I like to choose fabrics for my projects. This system makes finding what I need easy and fun, and that’s exactly how I like it.
Over 20 Fun Ideas for Organizing Your Sewing Space by Heidi Staples of Fabric Mutt

  • A desktop office supply organizer makes a fabulous tool center for your cutting station. Rulers can be sorted by size in the larger sections, and there’s usually a small compartment that’s just right for your rotary cutter and extra blades.
Over 20 Fun Ideas for Organizing Your Sewing Space by Heidi Staples of Fabric Mutt
  • Have a return basket for your cutting table. Once you finish cutting what you need from a larger piece of fabric, fold it and place it in the basket. Take five minutes each week -- or every other day, depending on how often the basket gets full -- to return all the folded fabrics to their proper spots in your fabric stash.
  • Keep a scrap basket on your cutting table for all the little pieces that are too small to stash but too big to throw away. Whenever the basket gets full, find a home for the contents. Share them with a friend who loves scraps, hold a giveaway on social media or at your sewing guild, or celebrate a full basket by using them to make a scrappy project of your own.
Over 20 Fun Ideas for Organizing Your Sewing Space by Heidi Staples of Fabric Mutt

  • Wire baskets are a wonderful way to showcase bundles of fabric that you don’t want to separate. I also love using them to hold sets of fabric that I want to keep together for upcoming projects, including ones that are labeled by number so I can easily organize them in the order that I need to finish them. Just recently I ordered a rolling cart with removable wire trays that I can slide out and set on my sewing table while I'm working, and I absolutely love it. When it’s time to start working on a project, I just grab the tray and get to work. If I need to take a break, everything goes back in the tray so I don’t lose anything while the work is in progress, and it slides easily back into the cart, leaving my sewing table clean.
  • Ceramic containers for kitchen utensils are the perfect place to store packaged zippers.
  • I keep a small cutting mat just to the left of my sewing machine so that I can do quick seam trimming without having to get up and walk over to my main cutting table. This really comes in handy when I’m working on blocks like half square triangles.
Over 20 Fun Ideas for Organizing Your Sewing Space by Heidi Staples of Fabric Mutt
  • Tins and lunch boxes make fantastic travel sewing kits. The hard sides of the box keep everything inside from being crushed, and there’s plenty of room for all your supplies. 
  • I keep a small ceramic basket filled with stuffing next to my machine for projects like pincushions and stuffed animals. It takes up less room than a full bag of stuffing (which I store elsewhere), but is nice to have at hand when I need it.
  • A pretty soap dish makes a quick landing spot for embroidery scissors and binding clips next to your machine.
  • A lap desk with a lid is the perfect organizational accessory for English paper piecing or hand quilting. I keep one in my bedroom so that in the evenings I can pull out my latest project, have a nice flat surface in my lap for sewing while I watch a movie with my husband, and then slip everything back inside when it’s time for bed. A small serving tray will work just as well in a pinch when balanced on a pillow in my lap.
Over 20 Fun Ideas for Organizing Your Sewing Space by Heidi Staples of Fabric Mutt
  • Trays of all kinds are wonderful for organizing block pieces or small notions. My daughters gave me a retro cafeteria lunch tray for Christmas, and I keep it stocked with all the little things that I want to be able to find in a hurry when I'm at my machine.
  • Vintage glass measuring cups are wonderful places to corral binding clips or basting pins, and I love that they come with a handle that's easy to grab when I'm working.
  • I love using a tin picnic utensil caddy to store larger tools like scissors, chopsticks, pencils, notepads, and my sewing machine accessory kit.
Over 20 Fun Ideas for Organizing Your Sewing Space by Heidi Staples of Fabric Mutt

  • Use a small homemade ironing board for most of your pressing needs. There are great tutorials online for making both tabletop and TV tray versions of this little gem, and it allows you to keep your full size ironing board stored away unless you need it for a larger project. All you need is a board, batting, fabric, and a staple gun.
  • I like to keep a small tray or basket next to my pressing board filled with spray starch, the small flask I use to pour water into my iron, a seam ripper, a hera marker, and fabric pens. It’s amazing how much time you can save when you get in the habit of grouping items together that you use at each station so that you can find them when you need them.
Over 20 Fun Ideas for Organizing Your Sewing Space by Heidi Staples of Fabric Mutt
  • After I finish pressing my strips of fabric for quilt binding and sewing them together, I wind the long strip into a small circle and place it into a heavy, clear glass cookie jar, pulling one end out of the jar to start sewing. The jar keeps the binding from unrolling and spilling all over the floor under my feet as I slowly feed it out and sew it onto the quilt. When I’m done, I put the leftover binding back in the jar. It’s not only a great storage spot for these extra pieces (which make fantastic scrappy binding), but it also makes a colorful display on my shelf. 
Finally, always remember that spotless and organized are not the same thing. We often think that our space isn't organized unless everything in it is perfectly clean, but a workspace is actually organized if it's arranged so that you can find everything you need quickly and easily. Discovering new creative ways to do it is just part of the fun!

Monday, April 6, 2020

Nine Patch Bunting Tutorial

Nine Patch Bunting Tutorial by Heidi Staples of Fabric Mutt

There’s nothing so happy as a little string of bunting. It’s my favorite sort of party decoration, and it makes a sweet addition to any space -- especially a sewing room. With Easter coming in a week and all of us stuck inside, I thought it was just the right time for this Nine Patch Bunting Tutorial to give us something pretty to decorate our indoor spaces. The pattern will give you a short length of bunting as written (a little less than a yard), but double or triple the materials to make your string of patchwork happiness as long as you like!

Nine Patch Bunting Tutorial by Heidi Staples of Fabric Mutt

This is a wonderful project for fussy cutting, especially for the tiny little details in a print that can be overlooked. I chose to pair light and dark shades of the same color in my 5 nine patch blocks, but you could also match up low volume and colored prints. Linen makes a sturdy backing and string, but you can also substitute different prints for the backing squares to make your bunting reversible. If you want to make the project even simpler, just use 3 1/2" x 3 1/2" squares for both sides of each flag on the bunting strips.

This is a great pattern to make with kids if you're looking for something to add to your homeschool activities this week. It also makes a sweet party or holiday decoration. Try making a different string for each month of the year to hang somewhere special in your house. It's a fun way to celebrate a new month and bring a little extra handmade love to your home.

Nine Patch Bunting Tutorial 
Finished Size: 29 1/2" x 3 3/8"

From a 5’’ square each of 10 Prints in 5 color pairings (light blue/dark blue, pink/red, light green/dark green, pale yellow/gold, lavender/purple), cut:
(5) 1 1/2’’ x 1 1/2’’ squares from the dark prints for nine patch blocks (A)
(4) 1 1/2’’ x 1 1/2’’ squares from the light prints for nine patch blocks (B)

From 1/4 yard Natural Linen, cut:
(5) 3 1/2’’ x 3 1/2’’ squares for block backings (C)
(1) 30’’ x 1 1/2’’ strip for hanging string (D)

Additional Supplies: matching thread, embroidery floss (optional), binding clips, chopstick

Nine Patch Bunting Tutorial by Heidi Staples of Fabric Mutt

1. Sort the A and B squares into five groups, one for each block. Arrange the squares as shown. Sew the squares into rows, pressing toward the darker fabric, and then sew the rows together, pressing the seams open.

2. If desired, use embroidery floss to sew a cross stitch at the 4 corners of the center square on each block.

3. Place a nine patch block right sides together with a C square. Sew around the sides and lower edge, leaving the top open. Turn the piece right side out, gently pushing out the corners with a chopstick, and press. Topstitch 1/8’’ from the edge around the sides and lower edge. Repeat with the remaining 4 blocks.

4. Fold the short edges of the D strip toward the wrong side of the fabric about 1/4" and press. Next, fold the strip in half lengthwise and press. Unfold and then fold the long edges to meet at the centerfold line, press, and then fold along the center fold again with the long raw edges sandwiched in the middle.

5. Slip the upper edges of the 5 nine patch blocks inside the folded D strip as shown, starting with the center block in the middle of the D strip, and then spacing the remaining blocks 1’’ apart from the others as you go. Hold the blocks in place with binding clips.

6. Sew just inside the edge of the fold closest to the blocks on the D strip, stitching the blocks in place and sealing the folded edges together. Backstitch at the start and finish to secure everything in place.

Nine Patch Bunting Tutorial by Heidi Staples of Fabric Mutt

If you make one of these, be sure to share your photos with the hashtag #ninepatchbunting and tag me @fabricmutt. I hope this will bring some happiness to your homes this week!

Thursday, April 2, 2020

Staying with Grace

I've been trying to write a blog post for over a week now, but the words keep escaping me. What can I say to you, friends, that you're not already experiencing yourselves? Yes, it's hard to stay home all the time. No, nothing much has changed in the past few weeks. Yes, some days are harder than others. No, I'm not handling everything well either.

Sometimes I think we're doing great. We already homeschool, so that was something stable in our little world. I'm grateful that we can stay in touch with friends and family through technology, and I'm so thankful that we can still get together with our church family on Sunday mornings online. Having James here with us, teaching from home, has been an absolute joy. He brings encouragement to all of us every day -- playing board games with the girls, giving my parents a hand when they need it, and always there to listen to me and make me laugh.

Other days I can feel myself coming apart a little bit. I give in to tears or make frequent visits to the bowl of cookie dough in the refrigerator when I'm frustrated or discouraged. I stay up too late at night and struggle to get out of bed in the morning. I had a near panic attack sitting in my car at the Walgreen's drive-thru last Monday as I watched the clerk bag up my dad's medication and place my change into an envelope, suddenly wondering if both were covered with the virus. James and I are the only ones who run errands right now so that my parents can stay safe, both of them being in the high risk group due to their age and health issues. I've had nights when I couldn't sleep for worrying over whether we're doing enough.

And then this passage from Present Over Perfect by Shauna Niequist spoke to me last weekend:

"It's easy to be liked by strangers. It's very hard to be loved and connected to the people in your home when you're always bringing them your most exhausted self and resenting the fact that the scraps you're giving them aren't cutting it....It seems to me that one of the great hazards is quick love, which is actually charm. We get used to smiling, hugging, bantering, practicing good eye contact. And it's easier than true, slow, awkward, painful connection with someone who sees all the worst parts of you. Your act is easy. Being with you, deeply with, is difficult. It is better to be loved than admired. It is better to be truly known and seen and taken care of by a small tribe than adored by strangers who think they know you in a meaningful way. We know that's true. But many of us, functionally, have gotten that math wrong in one season or another....Quick charm will always be easier for me than deep connection. People out there are easier than the ones in here. But quick charm is like sugar -- it rots us. It winds us up and leaves us jonesing, but it doesn't feed us. Only love feeds us. And love happens over years, repetitive motions, staying, staying, staying. Showing up again. Coming clean again, being seen again. That's how love is built....It's all in here, not out there."

I've wondered if one reason why this temporary life change is so difficult is because all the coping mechanisms that we've used for so long are being stripped away. When you're confined to your house with your family for days on end, there's no room for quick charm. Even worse, your quirks and irritations and insecurities have nowhere to hide. You have to deal with them and so do the people you love. And though right now we have no choice except to stay where we are, there's a big difference between staying resentfully and staying with grace. I can be a very generous, patient person on social media . . . over the phone . . . when I'm all by myself. It's harder to be any of that when the dogs are barking incessantly and the sink is full of dirty dishes and the girls are fighting with me and each other. My family needs my love, and the truth is that sometimes I feel so worn out that it seems like I can't even muster the will to try. But I have to keep trying, even when the best I can say is, "I'm cranky and tired and not happy with you right now, but I'm going to love you anyway because you're mine." I've told my girls so many times that love isn't a feeling; it's what we choose to do. I'm learning that lesson over and over again these days.

But like I said, there are good things happening at our house too. So let's talk about some of them...

1. Quarantine is delicious. I've been cooking so much more and making a greater variety of food. We've also been eating more meals together as a family which is wonderful. Preparing food for seven people each day can quickly become an endless job, so I've started making a large meal at lunch which can then be stretched for leftovers at dinner. Mom makes a loaf of her famous oatmeal bread in our bread machine almost every day, and we use any stale slices that don't get eaten to make croutons for salad. A big pot of soup or stew can last us for two days or more, and every now and then I'll make extra pans of pasta bake or enchiladas that can go in the freezer to be pulled out on a day when I'm too tired or busy to cook. All in all, I think we're wasting less food and making better use of our groceries than we have in ages, and that feels pretty great.

2. Time stuck at home is the perfect chance to tackle all the jobs that we've been putting off because we didn't have the time. James has been working on replacing old sink drains in the upstairs bathrooms. I'm deep cleaning our closet for the first time since we moved in five years ago and slowly getting my sewing space reorganized. It feels fantastic to get some of these jobs finished after they've been on my to-do list for so long. On the other hand, though, I'm not freaking out over dog hair on the floor and a cluttered pantry stuffed full of food and paper products right now because nobody's going to see it but us. So it's good to walk that balance between taking on some long overdue organizational projects while not going crazy over the day-to-day stuff.

3. Being together as a family is the best. For a few days the pool was (just barely) warm enough to go swimming, so we made the most of it. James has been taking the girls outside after lunch or in the afternoon to play basketball, soccer, foursquare, or just walk laps around the front circle. Sometimes we go for walks as a family, and sometimes my husband and I go out for a "date walk" while my parents stay home with the girls. Almost every night we watch a show or movie together. Since my eighth grader is studying World War II, we've been introducing the girls to some old movies from the time period that are favorites of ours. The girls have enjoyed To Be or Not to Be and Casablanca, and we had some great discussions about both films. I've also been reading The Long Winter by Laura Ingalls Wilder aloud to the family while the girls take turns practicing hairstyles on me in the evenings before bed. It's been interesting to talk about the Ingalls family's isolation brought on by blizzards versus our quarantine due to the virus. We all agree that we definitely have it better than they did.

4. Quiet time is good for the soul. I find that I make it through the day much better when I start and end with some simple encouragement. So before I face the news on my laptop in the morning, I read my Bible for a few minutes as I drink my coffee. And each night before I head to bed, I spend some time at my desk writing my thoughts down in a journal and reading a short devotion from Each New Day by Corrie ten Boom, a woman of deep faith whose writings have meant so much to me over the years (read her book The Hiding Place if you haven't already -- it's unforgettable). These small, quiet moments have been anchors for my soul. Some days they're the only thing keeping me from flying all to pieces, and they're habits I want to keep even after this crazy time is over.

5. Sewing still makes me happy. The days are busier than I would have expected, but I still try to sneak off to my sewing machine when I can. Making pretty little things just because I want to is such a wonderful way to spend an hour, and it always lifts my spirits.

I'm thinking of you often, friends. You're always in my prayers. Be safe and well, and know that you're loved.
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