Wednesday, October 31, 2012

Dancin' in the Rain

So what if it drizzles
And dribbles and drips?
I'll splash in the garden.
I'll dance on the roof.
Let it rain on my skin.
It can't get in - 
I'm waterproof.
~ Shel Silverstein

While I focused primarily on making the shirt for Ana's nephew, I did squeeze in a little bit of sewing this weekend on the raincoat.  :)

I was able to attach (or is it "insert"?) the lining!  

It makes the whole thing feel so much more substantial!  

Here is the coat turned inside out - you can see that it's a pretty nice fit:  

The laminate facing was wider than the strip down the front, which sets you up for a nice finish along the bottom of the coat:  

Obviously I still need to deal with the bottom hem.

I also need to do the hems in the lining of the sleeves:

I love the unusual animal choices on this fabric!  "C" doesn't stand for "cat" on this raincoat...  

Hopefully soon I will be able to show you a picture with a little boy inside!  :)

Tuesday, October 30, 2012

Gratuitous Kitten Photos

What is there in this world that makes living worthwhile?
Death thought about it.
CATS, he said eventually.  CATS ARE NICE.
~ Terry Pratchett

"What I don't get is why you are always fussing over Popeye - 
I think I'm pretty cute too..."
~ Oliver

Monday, October 29, 2012

Okay, sure. Wait... What?

When I was a kid, if a guy got killed in a western movie, 
I always wondered who got his horse.
~ George Carlin

I'm not exactly sure how it happened, but somehow, last June when we were in Mexico, I found myself agreeing to make Ana's nephew, Luis, a Hawaiian shirt.  

I think it started when I was proudly bragging about Ana's sewing skills to her family - but I'm fuzzy on the steps that led from here to me picking up another project...  

Anyways, I got right on the first bit of the project - helping him pick out the fabric.  He went for a western theme with herds of running, wild horses.  

The actual sewing part, however, languished in my sewing room for months.  Until this weekend.  With my trip to visit Ana right around the corner, this quick project took on a bit of urgency.  

I used a TNT (tried 'n true) pattern that is very simple.  Only 5 pattern pieces, including the pocket!  It's a great pattern for beginners - but now that I can do this one in my sleep, I probably should move up to one that is a bit more sophisticated - you know, maybe with a yoke and two piece collar...  

As usual, one fun bit is deciding how to handle the pocket.  

This time, I tried to match the image on the fabric underneath.  

In order to make it a bit special, I used french seams:  

It's finished except for the buttons and buttonholes - I need to make a quick run (ha!) to Joann's to find the perfect buttons.  

Fingers crossed that he likes it!  :)

Friday, October 26, 2012

Small Stones...

The man who removes a mountain begins by carrying away small stones.
~ Chinese proverb

Well last weekend wasn't as productive as I had hoped, but I did make some progress on the raincoat.  First, I got the sleeves inserted into the outer coat:

It was a bit stressful, as the laminate doesn't gather easily - plus those instructions kept warning me to be careful because the pin holes won't close up...  :(

Normally I would pin sleeves perpendicularly to the seam and use tons of pins.  But with this warning in mind, I decided to hand stitch them in place before machine stitching them.  

One sleeve set in perfectly.  The other has a small bubble, which I decided to live with - rather than add to the holes in the fabric by pulling out the stitches and re-sewing.  

I also assembled the lining.  Notice that there are lapels in the laminate and then the rest of it is in the soft, brown flannel that I picked out...  

Here's a close-up shot of the lining to show 2 things:  

First, the seam connecting the laminate and the lining is a bit of a princess seam.  As with the curved seams on the hood and the princess seam on the outer coat, I found it easier to clip into the laminate first, before fitting the 2 pieces together.  (Something I don't usually do...)  It wasn't quite as tricky as the hood as these curves aren't as sharp and the lining layer of fabric has some give in it.  

Second, the instructions had me take a 1 inch tuck down the center back of the lining.  Apparently I'm going to open it at the end and it will allow for some movement and give inside the coat?  I'm not 100% clear on how it's going to work, but we'll see...  

The next step is going to be a doozy - connecting the lining to the outer coat!    I'm kind of nervous - wish me luck!  :)

Thursday, October 25, 2012

Christmas Project Preview #2

All good and true book-lovers practice the pleasing and improving avocation of reading in bed...  No book can be appreciated until it has been slept with and dreamed over.
~ Eugene Field

The second requested Christmas gift from the One Yard Wonders book is the organized bed pocket:  

And here is the fabric, from Pink Chalk Fabrics, that my friend picked:  

The pattern calls for the addition of a no-stick mat, to hold the organizer securely in place under the mattress - that will be interesting...  

I could tell that this friend isn't used to sewing projects, because she was caught by surprise by the notion that she could decide how many pockets she wanted in the organizer, and the sizes of those pockets!  

Don't you just love that moment when someone's eyes get big as they realize just how much control they have with a handmade project!  :)

Wednesday, October 24, 2012

Gratuitous Kitten Photos

You cannot look at a sleeping cat and feel tense.
~ Jane Pauley

"Did I mention that I love my Daddy?"

Tuesday, October 23, 2012

Me? A Star?

"Once a king always a king, but once a knight is enough."

When I was a young girl, my parents had a small, plastic statue of a knight with this saying carved onto the base in their bedroom.  

It totally baffled me.  

I knew it was some kind of a joke.  

And I knew that it was a pun on the synonyms "knight" and "night." 

But I STILL didn't get it...  

Ah, the innocence of youth...  ;)

Anyways, speaking of "once" being enough - I am in a video.  

Now, I hate having my picture taken - so, as you can imagine, being in a video is exponentially worse...  

But Ginny, of Darling Adventures, offered me the most amazing opportunity to talk about The Original "How Much Fabric?" Reference Cards in one episode of her series of video tutorials on sewing.  

How could I say no?  

(Once I determined that Audrey Hepburn was "indisposed" and wouldn't be my stand-in...)  

Anyways, as much as I hate being in front of the camera, I think it came out okay.  

And it was a great opportunity to get to explain how to use the cards - especially the set for men's clothes, as that one is a little bit different from the others.

Ginny was wonderful!  She made me feel so welcome and comfortable!  :)

This is actually her 5th sewing video - check out her other titles:

3. First Steps - Buying and Cutting Fabric

And watch her blog (here) for new titles!  :)

Oh - but don't hold your breath for any more of me...  ;)
Once was definitely enough!  

Monday, October 22, 2012

Tell Me a Story...

Those who tell the stories rule the world.
~ Hopi American Indian Proverb

So, I tried something new in my ESL class last week...  You see, about half of my students show up for class 20-30 minutes early and I haven't been able to figure out exactly what to do with them.  They want to start the weekly quiz, but then they finish before class even starts and are impatient when the students who arrive on time are taking the quiz!  ;)

Last summer, on a whim, I picked up these story cubes, thinking that they might be a nice activity for the summer session - after my students had a year of class under their belts.  I was nervous that it would be too difficult for them at first.  

There are 9 cubes, each with different images printed on each side - images such as a question mark, an eye, a sheep, a tree, an airplane, a flashlight, a pyramid, an empty speech bubble, etc.  Basically, you roll the dice and use the images to spark creative story telling.  You can have each student tell his or her own story using just a few of the dice or you can have each student pick one die and use it to add on to the story that the other students have started, etc.  

Well, last week, out of desperation to make those 20-30 minutes valuable for my early birds, I pulled out the story cubes and gave them a try.  

I worked with groups of 2 students at a time.  The first time each student rolled the dice, I asked her to select 1 cube and say something about the image.  The second time, 2 cubes - and, from then on, 3 cubes.  I encouraged the students to try to come up with a story that tied the 3 cubes together.  Some were more successful at that than others...  ;)

To my amazement, it worked really well!  The thing I hadn't realized ahead of time, was how well the activity scales itself to each student's ability.  My weakest students could get out sentences like "The house is nice," for a single cube.  My strongest student combined 3 images (house, light bulb & cell phone) to say, "I call electric company when no lights in my house."  

I was so happy and, needless to say, I plan on using them often from now on!  

So many of our in-class activities are centered around very structured language generation - to practice grammatical structures like comparisons, negatives, questions, etc.  I love adding this one in, which is totally free form!  

Shall we see how well I can express myself with in story-cube-speak?  Here are five examples, using my own images.  Try to figure each one out and then scroll down to read the answers...

Example #1 (Warm Up)

Answer - No sewing makes me sad.

Example #2

Answer - Sewing books are good!

Example #3

Answer - Taking a large group of people to the aquarium stresses me out!

Example #4

Answer - Next month I'm flying to Mexico to visit Ana!

Example #5

Answer - “I love cats because I enjoy my home; and little by little, they become its visible soul.”
~ Jean Cocteau

Okay, that last one may have been a bit much...  ;)

Friday, October 19, 2012

Christmas Project Preview #1

Marriage is not just spiritual communion,
it is also remembering to take out the trash.  
~ Joyce Brothers

I took my One Yard Wonder book into work this week and explained my Christmas gift plans to my friends.  So far, one friend has made her choice - she asked for the "Not Ugly Car Trash Bag."  

Last year, when I let people make their fabric choices, I directed them all to  This year I decided to support a small business (as a small business owner myself!) and directed them to Pink Chalk Fabrics - and she picked this fabric for her bag:  

Isn't the fabric perfect for a car trash bag?  It's going to be fun to make!  :)

I'm looking forward to seeing what everyone else picks!  

Thursday, October 18, 2012

Mine is bigger than...

Winners compare their achievements with their goals,
while losers compare their achievements with those of other people.
~ Nido Qubein

Hence, winner or loser, everyone makes comparisons.  

Although, admittedly, that may not have been Nido's main point.  ;)

But that is the topic of my ESL lesson this week - how to form comparisons.

There are times when I think that Spanish is more complicated than English...  but this is not one of them.  In Spanish, all you have to do is put the word "mas" (more) in front of any adjective and - voila - a grammatically correct comparison!

In English - we've got two main patterns and several minor sub-patterns.  Generally speaking, we add "-er" after "short" adjectives (sweet -> sweeter) and put the word "more" in front of "long" adjectives (intelligent -> more intelligent).

Then there are the minor variations - such as:
  • if the adjective ends in the letter "y" then change the "y" to an "i" (pretty -> prettier)
  • if the last 3 letters in the adjective are of the form "consonant - vowel - consonant" then double the last letter before adding the "er" to the end (big -> bigger)

All in all, it's a lot for my students to keep sorted out.

After my mini-lecture and some whole-class practice, I've got an activity planned that is kind of a cross between the card game "War" and those role-player games (RPGs) like (okay, I know I'm dating myself here...) "Dungeons and Dragons".  

I got a set of character cards (see the graphic above) from this web site (click here).  There are robots, aliens, humans, animals and mythological creatures represented.  Each character has 8 characteristics - ranging from the mundane (age and height) to the fanciful (power ranking).  

After the students divide up into pairs, I'll give each student a handful of cards, which they'll hold upside down.  One student will select and announce one of the 8 characteristics.  Each student will reveal the top card in his or her stack.  They'll compare the cards on the selected characteristic.  The one with the highest value will announce "I am ______ than you are" and collect both cards.  The one with the most cards at the end is the winner.  

Hopefully this will provide them with some good practice forming comparisons out of adjectives.  

And, hopefully, this will be somewhat enjoyable.  ;)

I am wondering if this variation on a RPG will "work" for them - my imagined prototypical RP-gamer was a young, nerdy male - not a substantial portion of my class population, to put it mildly...  ;)

But I did some research on the internet and discovered that my stereotype is wrong - at least on age, and possibly on gender too.  One study reported finding an average age of 31 years among RPG players, and a gender distribution favoring males at 80/20.  Another study found an average age of about 40 years and a gender distribution much closer to 50/50!  

Of course, no one reported specifically on how well ESL students enjoy these games - so I guess we'll have to wait and see how my students react...  ;)

Fingers crossed!  :)

Wednesday, October 17, 2012

Field Trip: October

Sponges grow in the ocean.  That just kills me.  
I wonder how much deeper the ocean would be if that didn't happen.
~ Stephen Wright

I'm trying to do something with "Ana's kids" once a month.  (They aren't really hers - they are just the children that were part of her life while she lived here.  And now they appear to be part of my life...)  

October's event was a field trip to the Florida Aquarium.  

I rented a huge passenger van for the trip because, counting me, there were 18 of us!  Yikes!  

Getting everyone to sit still for a picture was a challenge - but here they are in front of one of the salt water tanks:  

One thing that I learned is that children move through aquarium exhibits much faster than adults - I guess the lure of what's around the corner outweighs the coolness of what's right in front of them pretty quickly...  

Hence, I didn't get many pictures of the exhibits - but couldn't resist trying to capture the jelly fish:  

And was "encouraged" by everyone of the male persuasion to take multiple pictures of the sharks:  

In addition to the sharks, the sting ray petting tank was a big hit, as was the outside splash zone.  

Janet, on the left, regaled us all during lunch by proving that she could count to 100...  

My advice - if you run into a 6-year-old who claims that she can count to 100, take her word for it!  ;)

Finally, we did the 90 minute dolphin cruise in the afternoon:  

Here are a few of the kids getting a good seat before we cast off.  

We caught a few glimpses of dolphins in the distance - but no pictures.  :(

Truthfully, taking that many people (5 adults and 13 children) on a field trip is a bit overwhelming...    

But, happily, there were no disasters.  In fact, you might even say there were 2 miracles...  

1) We returned home with the exact same set of 18 people that we had in the morning!

2) I parked the van in the parking garage without hitting anything!  

November's plan - ice skating in the Lakeland Center!  

Tuesday, October 16, 2012

Gratuitous Kitten Pictures

Cats never strike a pose that isn't photogenic.
~ Lillian Jackson Braun

"Look what I picked up at the grocery store!"

"Aw!  Come on!  Enough with the photos already...."

Monday, October 15, 2012

A Peek Inside: When Mother Lets Us Sew

When we're big enough to sew,
Why, then we're growing up, you know!
~ Virginia Ralston

When searching for a quote for one of my posts recently, I came across a reference to a book written by Virginia Ralston in 1910, titled "When Mother Lets Us Sew."  

I was enchanted by the notion of a sewing book for children written over 100 years ago.  

I must admit that I was also wondering how much children have changed in these last 100 years, as the quote seemed to suggest that helping Mother mend was a young girl's idea of paradise back then!  ;)

So, there was no help for it - I had to order a copy of the book for myself.  

It was full of delightful illustrations like this one - showing the proper way to sit when sewing:

Early sections focus on threading the needle and doing a handful of basic stitches:  

And then I discovered that - as is so often the case - the quote I had found on the internet was taken out of context.  The primary motivation of the book is NOT to help Mother work her way through patching holes and replacing buttons on the family's clothes...  

The real purpose for little girls learning how to sew in 1910?  

To make clothes for their dollies!  :)

Much of the rest of the book takes the young reader through a series of increasingly complicated patterns to outfit her doll in a complete wardrobe.  

It starts with undergarments - the top:  

... and panties:   

Special techniques, like how to make a placket, are introduced as needed:  

There are night clothes:  

And a beautiful, pleated frock!  

Measuring the doll:  

The frock pattern:  

"Arabella" modeling her new frock:  

Based on the sketches throughout the book, kittens were as much a part of sewing 100 years ago as they are today!  

There are other garments - a mantle, for example - and the book is filled with cute little poems:  

One of the many things that I love about sewing is the way it makes me feel connected to  women from hundreds of years ago.  So much is the same - working with our hands to clothe the people we love - expressing ourselves through the colors, textures and pattern details that we choose - and even many of the basic stitches and techniques that we use...  

This book stands rooted firmly in a past era and yet clearly shows our close connection to those women...  :)

Friday, October 12, 2012

Seeing Beneath the Surface...

Few people scratch the surface, much less exhaust the contemplation of their own experience.    
~ Randolph Bourne

A classic topic of study in Psychology is finding the differences between experts and novices in an area.  (Uh...  Is this a trick question?  Yeah, I know - what can I say?  Psychology is like that...)  

In one study, psychologists gave people a bunch of physics problems and asked them to sort them into piles based on their similarity.  (I guess they got tired of asking the people to solve the problems and discovering - brace yourself for a shock - that expert physicists can solve more of the problems than beginning physics students!)  

Sorting problems into piles seems like an odd thing to do, but it turned out that something really interesting happened.  The beginning physics students organized the problems based on what type of situation they dealt with - all of the "pulley" problems went into 1 pile, all of the "inclined plane" problems went into another pile, etc.  That sounds pretty reasonable, right?

But the expert physicists created piles that had pulley problems and inclined plane problems and other types of problems all mixed up.  

What the heck?  

Well, it turns out that there are several basic physics formulas that can be applied to problems across all different types of situations.  And the expert physicists were putting all of the problems that could be solved by 1 formula into 1 pile (regardless of whether they were pulley problems or inclined plane problems, etc.) and putting all of the problems that could be solved by a 2nd formula into a 2nd pile, etc.  

So they were doing some pretty darn smart after all...  (As one would expect, given that they were experts!)  

Now, what's interesting is that when you look at each physics problem, the situation jumps right out at you - there are pictures, so it's obvious if it is a problem with a pulley or a problem with an inclined plane - anyone can see that.  It's on the surface.  

But, knowing which formula to use to solve the problem is not obvious - it didn't say that anywhere in these problem - you have to read the problem and then figure out which formula will apply.  This information is hidden - it is beneath the surface of the problem.  

And the researchers concluded that experts can see beneath the surface, to the hidden, deeper and more meaningful (well, more useful) aspects of the problems.  

So, what does this have to do with me and my life?  

Well, recently I ran across another opportunity to teach ESL - with an online company.  Teachers can work part-time, from the comfort of their homes, generally on their own schedule...  And they get paid!  ;)

Sounds good, right?  

Of course, I don't have the time to pick up any more commitments - paid or not.  But I couldn't resist looking into it - who knows, maybe this is the kind of thing I could do when I'm retired, to earn some loose change to support my sewing habit!  ;)

So I started their certification process - perused the curricular materials on their web site and sat in on a handful of their online classes.  The materials were good.  The teachers were good.  Even using the existing materials, the teachers were able to put their personal stamps on their sessions.  

On the surface (Ah, finally!  it looks like a payoff is in sight from that long physics story...)  it seemed like a great opportunity.  

But something just didn't feel right to me.  And it took me a while to figure out what it was...  

You see, the web site simply has online classes going on all the time and students pop online whenever they want and attend whatever class happens to be going on at that time, being taught by whatever teacher happens to be teaching it.  

There is no way for a student to stick with a particular teacher.  There is no way for a teacher to meet with the same, small group of students regularly.  

It's like a bunch of "ships-passing-in-the-night" moments all strung together...  

And for me, teaching my ESL class is more than just giving lectures and knowing that I am helping generic people somewhere.  It's about building personal relationships with my students and building a little community of friends (who trust each other and support each other and care about each other) in my classroom.  

I like knowing that D. passed her U.S. citizenship test last summer and that M. is studying to take hers this fall.  And I like being able to ask her each week how her studying is going...

I like hearing R.'s stories about the crazy things that his young son is doing - and I love it when his adolescent daughter (who lives in Puerto Rico with his ex-wife) comes to stay with him over her spring break and he brings her to class with him.  

I love hearing about B.'s plans for her trip to visit family in Cube and then getting to see the pictures when she returns.  

I like it when, during the year, we come up with our own in-jokes - and sometimes in the middle of a class we all just look at each other and know that we are thinking about the same thing and we all start laughing - and no one else knows why...  

And I really love it when some of my students who have completed a year with me and moved on to the next highest class still take the time to stop by and say Hi! to me and the students who are just 6 months behind them...  

So, I doubt this makes me an expert, but now I am able to see a little bit deeper into what it is that I love about teaching my ESL class...  ;)