Saturday, March 22, 2014

In Progress

Here's a project I haven't written much about on my blog. Mainly because progress has been slow, and I always forget my camera when working on it. Back in October (September?), Bill drafted a beautiful design for a wooden Shaker-style island/cabinet for my kitchen. Since then, we've been building it together, in fits and spurts, from reclaimed wood from The Rebuilding Center. It's been coming along slowly, hampered by our two months of surgery/recovery when we didn't work on it at all, but now it's finally taking shape. I've been learning so much from Bill, who is an extremely talented woodworker and boatbuilder. He has a fully outfitted workshop in his basement, and I've learned how to use new tools: dovetail saw, drill press, handplanes, mortising chisels. I still refuse to use the table saw though. It will be awhile before I get comfortable around that one.

I've done only a small bit of woodworking and whittling in the past, so most of the techniques are new to me, and I'm loving it. Wood is such a neat medium, and under Bill's guidance, I am starting to hone my instincts for determining grain (which direction should I chisel from?) and figuring out how to work with warped or twisted boards. One of the most satisfying things has been cutting into old boards that are dark and moldy on the outside, and finding beautiful, sweet-smelling, tight-grained wood on the inside.

Over the last couple of months, I had gotten all of the mortises and tenons cut and chiseled out, and recently we've been fine-tuning them, getting the joints to fit together tightly. Yesterday we got the last ones done, and fit all of the posts and rails together. Bill snapped some pictures on his phone:

Wedging one of the rail tenons into its mortise.

It fits! (I'm pretty sure there are photos of me as a two-year-old with this exact same expression on my face after having achieved some great feat)

 The frame, all fitted together. (Behind it, you can see the skeleton of the 16-foot Shetland-style sail and oar boat that Bill is building)

I'm very excited to have this in my kitchen. It will replace the very low and very ugly Ikea table that current provides me with extra counter space. The new wooden one will have two drawers plus an open front, with room to store bags of flour (which currently live on the floor) plus a variety of other things. The side and back panels will be tongue-in-groove, and Bill is going to teach me how to make hand-turned wooden knobs for the drawers using the lathe. One of the best things about this cabinet: it's custom built for my height, so its counter will be 39 1/2 inches off the ground: taller than most kitchen counters, which make my back ache because I have to bend over so much when kneading bread or washing dishes. It will be like Julia Child's kitchen, which her husband had custom-built to accommodate her six foot frame!

It's great to be working on a different kind of project, together with Bill. I like the old-fashioned simple but sturdy style of Shaker furniture and I am looking forward to seeing what the finished product will look like. By the way, I highly recommend The Woodwright's Shop, which is free to watch on the PBS website. It is very entertaining and covers a lot of the techniques that we're using on this project.

Now, speaking of projects, it's time for me to head off to my garden and do the first planting of the year!

Monday, March 17, 2014


One of the many wonderful things about Portland is our early, early springs. Mild weather, biking through town with the scent of flowers on the air. White blossoms in front of gray clouds. Things blooming at the end of February! It's been lovely so far, and it's been way too long since I've wandered my neighborhood with my camera in hand. So that's how I celebrated St. Patrick's Day: an after-work walk, seeking out the brightness of spring.

 (Daphne odora, the best smelling flower there is)

Spring has well and truly sprung!

Wednesday, March 12, 2014

The Best Bibs (Apparently)

A few weeks ago, I was chatting with a friend of Bill's who has an 18-month-old daughter. We got on the subject of sewing, and I mentioned that I had a whole storm of babies to make things for right now. She immediately whipped a handmade bib out of her bag and said "A friend made us several of these, and it was the single best baby gift we were given.We use them every day." That's pretty good advertising! The bib was fairly basic, so I decided to try my hand at replicating it. From what I could see, the main features were:

a. It's a pretty big bib compared to most that you see sold in stores.
b. It's reversible
c. The edges were overlocked using a serger
d. It fastened with a simple snap

I don't have a serger, so I modified the design to have pinked edges and be sewn up with a zigzag stitch. I made a simple pattern cut out of cardboard, that I can trace around. I traced around a large mixing bowl to create the round shape, and then free-handed the strap parts, trying to replicate the bib I had been shown. My pattern is 11 inches across.

 Once the pattern was made, the rest was really easy:

1. Pick out two complementary fabrics (I used basic 100% cotton/calico, but thicker fabrics or flannel could be nice too). All the ones I used came from my existing stash, pre-washed and ironed.
2. Trace the pattern onto the back of each fabric, and cut out using pinking shears. (Note: If, like me, you freehand part of the pattern, you have to flip the cardboard pattern over to trace onto one of the fabrics--because the pattern is not completely symmetrical and if you trace the same side of the cardboard for both fabrics you will end up with not-quite matching bits when you put them back-to-back. But you can always trim the edges to match once the two pieces are sewn together!)
3. Pin the two pieces back-to-back.
4. Sew around the edges using zig-zag stitch, using a complementary color (I used the same color on both needle and bobbin).

 5. Use a snap tool to place a snap near the ends of the neck straps. Done!

I gave sets of two bibs each to my expecting friends in Seattle, and will whip up a few more for my niece/nephew. It's such fun coming up with pretty and practical things to make for the wee ones, and feeling more and more confident in my sewing skills as a result. I love the way these bibs came out (picking out the fabric pairs was really fun), but the true verdict, of course, will come from the parents who use them.

Thursday, March 6, 2014

For Babies

I've spent the last couple of months immersing myself in lots of fun knitting and sewing projects for the many (ok, three) babies in my life who are due in March and April. My brother and sister-in-law, plus two sets of good friends, are expecting, and it's been such fun to put together little bundles of baby gifts for them.

For my niece/nephew, another Pebble vest, and Saartje's booties (These are now up on my Ravelry account). I used the same heathery wool that I used for my first Pebble this spring, and made both the vest and booties a biggish size. They also got some blankets, flannel pants, and burp cloths.

These didn't all go to the same baby, but the colors looked nice together for a photo! The pants are from the same pattern as these, in the 0-3 months size. 

I love love love this wool, and the buttons too- and the stem. If only I had read the pattern more closely and not decreased too turned into a beanie. But that didn't stop Joel & Heather's 2-year-old daughter from wearing it, and hopefully it will fit the new baby somewhere down the line.

Another Pebble, this one for Laurel & Robert's due-in-April daughter, green like the spring. This one is teeny for a brand new baby. 

The assortment that went to Heather and Joel. We had a good laugh because the burp cloths (one of my go-to baby gifts) I made were actually the same flannel I had used for a blanket for their 2-year-old when she was a newborn....but I had forgotten that I used the same fabric two years ago. Their little girl recognized it and said they matched! ...She also put on the new bibs as a cape and wore them around for awhile.

I'll write about the bibs in the next post. They are my favorite thing that I have sewn to date.