Wednesday, November 13, 2013

the year the misfit made stockings

I know I raised a great dilemma of Christmas stockings. As I shared, I had had the brilliant idea to make stockings out of pashminas. I was going for something a little like this:


Then I didn't find appropriate pashminas at the first place I looked, and suddenly the momentum of the project lurched out in a different direction and had not been reined in before I actually purchased fabric, which means it will never be reined in and we'll never know where I might have gone next if I had thought about it more. 

Except that I think I would still have done what I did, because I'm pretty sure it's awesome, but we'll see. 

And this bit (about the momentum and the buying of the fabric and the execution of the project) prompts a digression which will make this post endless but which, to me, right now, seems both relevant and important. 

On the one hand, I intensely dislike the excessively early preparation for Christmas.  The day after Hallowe'en, I stopped by a local plaza to pick something up, and a few store employees were hanging pine garland around some big store entrance columns.  Thanksgiving was a month away.  And it's getting worse every day, and it's still far enough before Thanksgiving that I haven't finished my menu, and I am hosting, and yes, of course, I plan my menus excessively in advance.  But there is excess, and there is excess, OK? 

And I adore Christmas and I get excited for it way in advance, so I support that, but the problem that all of this excessively early anticipation by retail outlets is, of course, the motive (and yes, I know I am only the ten millionth person to make this point).  They do this because they want us to buy more stuff.  They care naught for the reasons.  Horrifyingly, it works - even on me.  But I am offended - at myself - because the manipulation by a lot of atheist or (more likely) anti-Christian corporations actually leads me to increase their year-end sales volume by evoking ideas that suggest to me an even better way of celebrating something that's been incredibly important to me my entire life, for the obvious reason that

 
Christmas is His birthday - you hadn't heard?  I can see how you might have missed it.  It often seems more like the Federal Day of Remembrance of Buying a Lexus with a Red Bow, Because You Love Them.  (When my husband growls at the Kay Jewelers commercials about how they should be making a pendant that commemorates the lives of small African children spent in diamond mines, you know it's gone pretty far.) 

And the Catholic tradition specifically recognizes Christmas as so extremely important that we ought to set aside time to prepare for it spiritually.  For which purpose there is a four-week season of penance (yes!) and preparation, to ensure that our hearts are really ready (well, as ready as they can be) to receive the newborn babe who was sent to suffer and to die, for the salvation of all the world.  Also known as Advent (from the Latin "advenit" - "He arrives").  Put THAT on a cubic zirconium pendant and smoke it, writers of obnoxious commercials.  So the celebration of Christmas during Advent (i.e., at any time before the Christmas Vigil on the evening of December 24th) is unacceptable.  And celebrating it before Advent is simply unthinkable.  Making (and blogging about making) Christmas stockings in November is obviously contributing to a significant problem, which is near the top of my (long) list of personal pet peeves.  

But there is another side to this coin.  That other side is contained in an extremely large basket in a closet with my sewing machine.  It's all the fabric that I've bought for projects that I started but never finished.  In a different closet, I have two stretched canvases and a set of unopened watercolors and oil paints - the real ones - and a 15% finished sketch from a photo I took on my trip to Warsaw with my siblings.  It would be an awesome painting, if I ever finished it (er - started it), and if I remembered my painting skills, which were decent (though not exceptional) when I learned them...in 10th grade...in 1996.  That year is only getting further away while the canvases sit in the closet.  I comfort myself with the thought that I am not the only person with this issue, and by telling myself that in fact I finish so many things (anyway, it always seems like that at the time). 

So actually making the Christmas stockings before I even have to start cleaning and baking for Thanksgiving is, if not a good thing, certainly a necessary thing if they're going to get done at all.  With every week that passes between now and New Year's, I will be busier.  So if I can get them done early enough to put them away in the Christmas decoration bin and have them sit there for weeks before I even bring up the bins, that sort of gets to all the priorities, right?  Right. 

OK.  So, stockings.  I have been dazzled with height-of-trendy, DIY-friendly (or DIY-friendly-looking) stocking ideas since last year.  Such as:


(I got that from Pinterest, but it really looks like it comes from a catalog.  Just don't know which.)  Or this:


And, for the true shabby chic lover, this:


And then there are things you see on One King's Lane.  Such as:


And:


I think my OKL shopping method is the very best (of course I do), because I see lovely pictures full of $70 stockings and then go and (spoiler) buy $13 worth of fabric and make my own and am happier with them than I would be with fancy made ones.  Of course OKL isn't the only retailer in the game.  No, we have fodder from Restoration Hardware:


And Pottery Barn:


And West Elm:


And they all are eye-catching, and what's a neurotic blogger to do?  As mentioned, first I thought I would make some of out pashminas.  I thought that was brilliant, but it failed to pan out.  And last year I had had the brilliant idea of making some cable-knit stockings out of sweaters from thrift stores, as brilliantly depicted here:


And then someone even made stockings out of a Fair Isle sweater, which I would never have thought to do (and wouldn't be willing to do unless it had, I don't know, a giant hole in it somewhere else):


But my notions weren't getting off the ground.  Sp, a couple of weekends ago I added an item to an already crazed day of errands and took myself to the fancy fabric store.  It is a rare thing when I go into a store with splendiferous beautiful things and service.  I spend most of my time digging through junk bins and thrift stores, and the lumber section at Home Depot, where I am perfectly happy.  But every so often I remember that certain rarefied air in the nice stores.  And then sometimes I also remember that there are other reasons to be there. 

Since this errand was my treat after about ten other stops, I gave myself permission to look at everything.  To stroke the $90/yard fake fur (which was heavenly), and flip through a bin of actual hides, and examine all of the plaid flannels, and then, of course, I went to the home decor section, with the massive rolls of drapery and upholstery fabric hung on racks up to the ceiling.  Beautiful embroidered damasks and tapestries so shockingly expensive (I saw one for $150/yard and then I stopped looking) that even the little bit I needed for one stocking would be totally unaffordable.  I looked at all their beautiful colors and patterns, and then I wandered through apparel fabric, and peeked in every remnant bin I could find, and finally picked up a fat quarter of quilting broadcloth in a pattern that looked like it had potential, and walked around to see whether there were anything I had missed, and then I saw it.  Next to the massive rolls of decor fabric, a huge table, heavy with folded fabric, bearing a sign that said, "Upholstery remnants, $9.97/yard." 

I spent most of my early life in and out of fabric stores, because, though we were poor, my mother was a very talented seamstress (putting my meager skills entirely to shame), and fabric stores were her treat, too, even when she wasn't buying anything (which was most of the time).  And I have it firmly ingrained since childhood that $10/yard stuff is expensive fabric.  And I had come for a budget project.  But I knew these lovely pieces had originally been priced at ten times so much - or more.  So, though they were upholstery material, and most of them were shades of moss or tan, I set myself to looking through every single piece.  In all those pieces of fabric (much of which was very lovely indeed), two caught my eye the instant I laid eyes on them, and I had to carry them around with me because I was afraid to put them down.  After going through every corner of the store, I approached a wise-looking person with weathered hands and an expert way with expensive fabric shears, and asked for half a yard of each. 

They're not printed, but embroidered, and the fabric is heavy and thick, with a beautiful drape - perfect for stockings.  Expensive-looking stockings.  And, of course - probably predictably, to anyone who read the prior post - in extremely traditional prints, which have probably been produced for decades if not longer, and will look no more current or dated in 20 or 50 years than they do now.  That was always where I was headed; it just took me a while to realize it, for some reason.  And it's fitting, because, the pictures above notwithstanding, I don't see stockings as a way to jazz up one's holiday decor to conform to current trends.  A good stocking is something you keep for life.   

I still had not sorted out the matter of lining, or trimming for the tops, or a pattern, but I had now spent $10 and this was supposed to be a budget project.  I figured I could use one stocking's main fabric for another's trim, but I had only found two fabrics and I wanted to make three stockings (one for me, one for the husband, and one for Bailey). 

Obviously, what this endless post needs now is another endless digression.  I think I mentioned it in my "how shall I make stockings" post, but I started puzzling over making my own stockings last year.  The truth is, this is a project I would have taken on years ago - when I was first married, in fact - had we been able to have children.  If I'd gotten pregnant in the first few months of marriage, as I planned to do, I would have set out straightaway making three stockings, and then in each pregnancy thereafter I'd have made another, finding some way to link them all in a pattern, no doubt.  In fact, this is the sort of thing I think of when I think it's too bad I didn't have kids.  I'm good at making crafts and keeping kids entertained and cooking and making beds and fashioning Hallowe'en costumes and teaching things and helping with homework and I'm still good at all the subjects in elementary school and I could teach a little introductory piano and a smidge of several languages.  I think I would have excelled at the doing parts of motherhood - the stuff that makes it to Pinterest, you know?  But who knows about the being parts - the keeping my temper and nurturing their little personalities and the growing in holiness with selflessness and all that?  There's no reason to suppose I'd have been any great shakes there.  And frankly, there are worse things than depriving a family's worth of putative children of my extraordinary gifts with construction paper.  So I shall turn my energy to learning to cook Lebanese food and keeping the company of adults. 

But, of course (digression not finished), as will surprise no one who has run the gauntlet of infertility, when it turned out that I could not have children, things in the stocking department went rather otherwise.  Indeed, like most infertile women, I found that Christmas (which I have always loved so much) became a season of trial rather than one of joy.  I've worked against that in the last several years, remembering how at the hardest and darkest times in my life, Christmas gave me joy that I found nowhere else, and that I must not allow this cross to steal that joy away.  I've concluded that rather than fearing the wan celebration of the holiday that I felt must be the lot of someone without a child to share it with, a sad celebration I felt must inspire pity in those around me, I should do the opposite: celebrate with great zeal, love all the little things I've always loved, drink endless cups of cocoa, revel in the snow, decorate exuberantly, sing carols ceaselessly, plan continual merriment for weeks, exhaust others with my enthusiasm, watch every movie I loved as a child - in short, as I know Christ was born for us all, even the childless, there should be nothing wan about my Christmas; it should inspire by its joy. 

But when we moved into our home two years ago, I saw right away that it had three hooks in the underside of the mantel, for stockings.  And I thought the idea of two stockings - not the two stockings of newlyweds with a baby on the way, but the permanently two stockings of old married folks who knew it would always just be them - was so sad I couldn't even contemplate it.  And then we got Bailey, and I thought the idea of two lonely adult stockings and a doggy stocking might be even more horrible than that.  And then last Christmas, seeing so many attractive stockings for sale, for the first time in all those years, I thought that I would like us to have stockings, and it wouldn't make me sad.  And, what the heck - Bailey should have one, too.  Because everyone in the house should share in the season of joy, and a dog stocking would be adorable

So, to return to the thread (heh heh) of our story.  I then remembered that I had seen a table of home decor remnants at A.C. Moore, $5.98 for 1-2 yard pieces.  This was certainly a great price, and a good half of the pieces (which were of good quality) looked as if they were tailor-made (hee) for Christmas stockings.  It could very well be why they're for sale.  But I hadn't bought any when I first saw them, because I was still trying to find my bearings after the failure of my pashmina idea.  My course was ultimately set by the finding of the magnificent upholstery remnants.  But I still needed a third piece of fabric, and that $5.98 table was the only other source I knew of.  So I marched back to the store, 55% off coupon in hand.  (One would generally use a coupon like that for something much more expensive, but that turned out to be the most expensive item in my basket.)  I was looking for something in a strong green, to coordinate with but not match the other two prints.  I figured using them as one another's trim would tie the set together.  I found lots of lovely prints with dominant reds, and a really wonderful red and green wool plaid that would have made a great set of stockings, but didn't go with my embroidered pieces.  And then I happened upon a heavy velour in a rich solid tan. 

I had considered that the Bailey stocking would be best if it had paw pads sewn on - but they would be hard to see against a busy print.  Making her stocking in a solid would solve that problem.  Moreover, if the tan of this fabric was a match for the gold tones in the other two, the fuzzy tan fabric would be the perfect trim for both patterned stockings.  And the piece was large enough I might have enough left over for a skirt, and my last ultrasuede skirt had died some time back, to my great sadness, so that was a bonus.  For about $3 I brought it home, gambling that the color would work.  Which panned out:


The tan was exactly the same color as the gold in the two prints, just several tones darker.  (Whoever selected the colors for those prints chose a rich, deep gold, not a yellowy or brassy one.  Score another point for the fancy fabric store.)  And then I remembered that in the basement I had an old panel curtain from Target, a nice heavy 100% cotton twill in a perfect Christmas red that didn't go with anything in my house but seemed too nice a piece of fabric to throw out.  Voila - lining. 

So I found a picture (on OKL) of a stocking in just the right shape:


And I made a pattern out of a paper bag.  And then, another pattern.  And the rest, as they say, is history...


The paw shape didn't come out quite as I intended it - I wanted round toes, and I could do some more sewing to get them there, but I'm happy with it:


They're nicely lined:


And the velour made nice cuffs, and I made them nice sturdy hanging loops: 


Happy. 

Monday, November 4, 2013

back in the saddle

Sadly, my DH was in a car accident this morning.  The good news is that it wasn't his fault and he appears to be OK, though we'll see what the doctors say.  (His head hurt, and I imagine he's going to be really sore tomorrow.  But I am hoping for no permanent or serious injuries, obviously.)  The other driver actually hit the driver's door of his car, which is obviously bad, but his Xterra is quite tall and she appears to have been in a Subaru Outback, which is not very tall, so she didn't hit him.  The Xterra is doing poorly, however.  This Xterra:


It no longer looks like that.  Indeed, it no longer really runs.  It probably is a total loss.  I cried when that happened to my Vibe a few years back (why do people want to hit us?  I'm telling you, living in DC is dangerous.  Way too much aggression, and bad drivers), but having a car lay down its poor loyal car life so you can survive a collision is not a bad thing.  I am grateful for the Xterra's good service.  It also hauled what little remained of my mom's furniture home from New York for us.  And it has carried much lumber home from the big orange store for me.  It was a good car. 

You may remember that I recently mentioned I bought the Xterra through craigslist.  I got a really great price, too.  I guess once we find out what the insurance companies say about things, I'll be back to the 'list for another car...probably not what I need to add to my busy schedule as the holidays approach, but if it's necessary, it's necessary.  Wish me luck.  (And say a prayer for my DH, and the driver of the other car.  I hope she's OK, too.) 

Saturday, November 2, 2013

how to make Christmas stockings (no, really - how?)

I'm sure you don't remember the time I got a brilliant idea for how to make throw pillow covers out of pashminas.

It was brilliant:



Then the other day I was looking at dozens of fascinating overpriced Christmas stockings on One Kings Lane, and I thought, "Hey - if I found the right print, I could make gorgeous Christmas stockings out of a pashmina!"  I have been mildly focused on making some nice-looking stockings with inexpensive materials since this time last year, and hadn't hit on a winning idea.  I thought it was brilliant.  I know - not very creative.  All the brilliant ideas I've ever had have either been someone else's idea, or how to make something out of a pashmina.  I don't blame you for being underwhelmed.

I finally remembered that the place I got my previous project pashmina was A.C.Moore, and got myself over there.  They have a whole wall of the things.  But here's the catch.  Last year, they were $5.  This year, they're $10.  My enthusiasm took a nose dive.  And last year, they had all sorts of fascinating patterns - a great variety, many colors, that sort of thing.  Today when I went, all the options were boring.  Even ignoring that I was trying to narrow the selection down to Christmas-colored items, they had almost no pashminas with more than two colors.  Not that a tone-on-tone look couldn't be nice, but color was my whole goal, so I was disappointed.  Plus the doubling of the prices was no good.  I didn't buy any.

And suddenly, the vast pit of indecision from last year reopened.  (I've been really excited about this idea for about a week now, and I am very disappointed.)

So my stocking plans are going about twelve different ways.  I could stop by the street vendor on the way to work (if he's still there) and see whether his pashminas are $5.  The idea does have potential:


See.

Then on a second hand, A.C. Moore did have a table full of fabric (between one and two yards apiece) for $5.99.  It was all drapery- or upholstery-weight fabric, and really high quality.  And there were several different options that would have made nice stockings.  So why didn't I immediately buy a piece?  Well, I was there right before closing, and was starting to descend into mental frenzy and didn't want to buy something just for the sake of buying something.  Also, each piece was big enough for three or four stockings - just what I was looking for.  But with the pashmina, I figured I could have one side, and my DH could have the reverse - they'd coordinate, you see, but they'd be different.  The decor fabric had a clearly right and wrong side - the stockings would be identical.  I could have gone through the notions section to find appliques of our initials, but I don't know the store well and it was nearly closed and, as I said, mental frenzy.  Besides, do I want a pair of (nice-quality, admittedly) red stockings with big gold initials on them?  Isn't that boring?  Or maybe anything other than that would be way too trendy and would look like crap in a few years.  How can I be sure?

And then some fancy-pants store or other (Pottery Barn?  Who knows) sold stockings last year that were knit - something like this:


And I thought, hey, I could make cable-knit stockings, with furry tops!  (I know - these are not cable-knit.  I was being at least a little bit creative.)  I had leftover white fake fur from another project, so I was excited.  Then I discovered that I had about two square inches of it.  I figured I could find some ugly men's sweaters at Goodwill that would magically become beautiful stockings.  That didn't happen either.  I forget why; maybe I just ran out of time to stalk Goodwill?

But maybe I should go for straight-up traditional.  Maybe this is how it ought to be:


But then I see things like this, and I get all excited:


Maybe I don't need to find red or green or gold fabric.  Maybe no matter what I use will look like Christmas if I sew it into a stocking shape and hang it from the mantel, yes?

So maybe then I should buy a fleece blanket with a buffalo check.  Or the really nice blue and green fabric in the decorator pile...except, again, that would only allow for one print and I want several complementary ones.

The only thing I know is that I am not embroidering or quilting anything (yes, I know how to do those things, but life is so short.  Maybe when I am old and retired and bored and all my friends are off playing with their grandchildren, I will take up crocheting and embroidery and calligraphy and painting again.  But only if I don't give myself arthritis by doing too much carpentry in my 30s.  Actually, that doesn't sound like such a bad life).

HELP ME MAKE A DECISION.

(As you see, I have now gotten in the habit of posting [mostly] every day and it's hanging on so far.  I have two more craigslist posts to do before I hit 31, but since it's November now I decided to cut loose and post about something else.  I know - it's getting crazy up in here.)

Friday, November 1, 2013

undead decor

I have made my thoughts on Annie Sloan Chalk Paint clear - or so I thought.  But the Holocaust continues.  I have not done enough. 

The other day, I saw this fine specimen on craigslist:


It was $20.  I expect low prices for very-70s furniture, with or without a (very necessary) coat of paint slapped on.  So, $50 would be the cap for a reasonable price for this sort of thing, I think.  $20 is therefore a bargain.  It was posted yesterday, and I contacted the seller yesterday.  (I need something to sit under the antique cabinet in my laundry room...I think I've explained.  Anyway.)  Someone had already claimed it.  Hey, fair is fair - it's a great price, and that's a piece you can do a lot with.  I'm not complaining. 

Unless. 

Unless it was purchased by some idiot who thinks that if only it were duck egg blue, and then finished with dark wax, then it would be a precious heirloom worth $300

I comfort myself with the knowledge that these people cannot possibly be selling all of their wares at their ludicrous prices; but even the fact that they are trying is enough to irk me greatly.  And if that's what happened to this buffet (a bargain that I would have appreciated, and used in my home - rather than as the basis for a preposterous profit margin), then I am cranky indeed. 

And remember when I went on about how they tell you in their craigslist ad exactly what colors they used, and what type of wax, and that they specifically used the Annie Sloan brand of chalk paint, because surely your assessment of its beauty and usefulness is not dependent on how it looks or works, but on the materials they used to get it to that stage - remember that?  Of course you do. 

So, just to show you that you should never doubt me - this was advertised on October 26:


For $295.  Of course I'm not kidding.  Don't take my word for it - see for yourself

But then, on October 31, it was advertised again.  Here it is, five days later:


And the seller explains...

It's "[h]and-painted in linen and off-white colors then finished with dark wax for an aged look." 

What did I tell you about the dark wax???? 

Oh, by the way.  With a second color (and the dark wax!), it's $350.  I wouldn't believe me, either - you really need to see for yourself

This thing has to die out before it takes over all the furniture.  But it seems really difficult to kill.  Maybe it's one of those white-ash-stake-through-the-heart, skull-stuffed-with-garlic, buried-in-a-spot-where-the-moon-never-shines sorts of things.  I'm willing to do whatever it takes.