Handmade lampshade

Look what arrived at my doorstep this week.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Isn’t this gorgeous? I bought it from lovely Kristen at her madeit shop called Lulu’s Lamps. The shade is expertly handmade from an Amy Butler fabric I like and have used in the past to make things, like a quilt and bibs.

I originally bought the lamp for my children’s room, but upon seeing this lovely little thing in person, I immediately changed my mind: my children don’t deserve this lamp. They don’t appreciate it like I do.

I have been making things myself for a long time, but buying handmade from other people is new to me. Previously I had this narrow-minded attitude of “why buy it when you can make it yourself.” But I was wrong! There is something special about buying handmade from someone else. You know there is a real person behind the item, and that person had spent her (or his) precious time thinking about it, designing it, and making it. Having that item around you makes you connect with that person. It doesn’t matter that you don’t know this person at all. You still feel this connection every time you look at the object. And that makes me happy.

I think I am now hooked on buying handmade.

The lamp now lives on my desk, casting a warm glowing light as I work at night.

Introducing – daycare bag

I had been thinking of making a daycare bag for my son for a long time. There doesn’t seem to be anything cool out there in the shops, except plastic backpacks with commercial characters on them. I thought I’d make a fabric alternative to those large backpacks, but I kept wondering — does it really have to be a backpack? Who’s going to carry something so big and heavy? Not my 16-month-old son for sure. It’s either me or Mark. And if it’s the parents who carry a daycare bag, then it sure doesn’t have to be a backpack, because we are not wearing them like backpacks. That would look silly.

What we needed then was a large tote bag of some kind, with some pockets for nappies, sunscreen and a drink bottle (but not as crazy on the pocket front as a proper nappy/diaper bag – we don’t need to store our keys or phones in there), that are “adult” enough for us parents to carry but at the same time not too adult — because it’s for our little ones after all, and black or brown would be too gloomy.

So I kept thinking. And finally this week I came up with the right design.  I love this bag.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Daycare bag (blue dots)

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Coming up with a new design is my favourite part of all. Sometimes my concepts don’t work out at all, and sometimes it takes a few trial and errors. This time though, I think I’ve pretty much nailed it the first time. I love everything about it – those large dotty print (cotton linen canvas from Japan), the oval-shaped bottom, the colour combination, the huge outside pockets with magnetic snap closure, the adjustable shoulder strap, and a little side pocket inside to hold a water bottle. I love the “drape” of the bag, or the lack of it.  It is a pretty sturdy bag with a good shape, and not too slouchy. Yet when you carry it on your shoulder, the bag looks more rounded in shape, like a bucket, and very stylish and playful.

Most of all I love this fabric combination that strikes the right balance between “adult” and “child.” It even transcends gender, and dads can carry the bag as well as moms. In my humble opinion anyway. Plus if you are not too keen on a million pockets, you can use it easily as a nappy/diaper bag. It’ll look great on a stroller.

I will list them in my shop soon.

Bread-making

Miss M goes to a Steiner preschool. One of the activities they do is make bread – wholemeal bread. It is one of Steiner’s “signature” activities for preschoolers. When I first heard it, I thought “how quaint!” and had this image of little children earnestly learning the lost art of traditional bread making, as families of generations past might have done together.

Then one day it occurred to me. Why, breadmaking isn’t particularly arty or anything – it’s just like play dough! It’s a perfect activity for preschoolers because, you have all the fun of play dough, and in the end you put your creations in the oven and voila, you can eat it for lunch, too. Two birds with one stone, what a clever idea. Plus it’s pretty hard to screw up a loaf of bread. Unlike cookies or scones, which can be ruined if over-handled, bread dough can withstand a lot of toddler abuse.

So I decided to do the same at home, too. I put together a batch of bread dough in the morning (takes no time with my beloved Kitchenaid mixer), leave it to rise till after the kids wake up from a nap, then it’s play dough time. Miss M and and Mr. A love this. (Well, Mr. A mostly loves eating the bread dough, but I turn a blind eye to such small transgressions these days.) After they’ve had enough, I clean up, bake the bread, and it’s ready to eat for dinner.

The great thing about making bread is that it’s incredibly easy. You don’t need to be precise with the ingredients as long as you are in the ballpark for the flour-yeast ratio, and you can eyeball the water amount as you knead the dough (you can’t blindly follow a recipe here anyway because the amount of water you need changes depending on the humidity, the weather, and the kind of flour you use). Even the rising and proofing time is flexible. If the dough is a little under- or over-risen, it doesn’t really matter. It’ll still taste far better than any bread you buy in a supermarket.

Here’s a simple recipe I’ve used and works well:

Easy Wholemeal Bread

  • 300g wholemeal flour (I use organic baker’s wholemeal flour, which, if you are in Australia you can order online in bulk here)
  • 300g plain flour (the same shop has the organic bakers flour here, but you can use any flour with a decent protein content – say, over 10%).
  • 2 teaspoons instant yeast
  • 1.5 teaspoons salt
  • 2 tablespoons olive oil
  • about 380ml water (1.5 cups)

Place all dry ingredients and in a mixing bowl, add olive oil and about a cup of water, and start mixing at low speed with a dough hook (or you can do this by hand; it just takes a bit more effort). As the mixture is mixing, slowly add the remaining water, watching the dough consistency. Basically, you use enough water so all the dry stuff is absorbed, but not too wet. You are looking for the consistency of play dough. If there is any dry stuff left at the bottom of the bowl, slowly add more water till all the dry stuff is gone. If it gets too wet, just add more flour. Knead at low speed for about 7-8 minutes. Or longer if by hand.

Cover the dough with a little bit of olive oil, cover the top with plastic, and leave at room temperature for the dough to rise. You want the dough to rise to roughly twice the size. Wholemeal is heavier than white flour, and it takes longer to rise. In cold weather like it is now in Sydney, it takes longer yet than in warmer weather. In summer it might take less than 2 hours. The other day when it was particularly cold, I left the dough in the kitchen for nearly 5 hours, and it was still all right.

When the dough has risen, hand it over to your children and play away! In the end I encourage a semblance of a round bread roll, all of them in similar size to bake evenly, but a bit of variation doesn’t matter. Then, when it’s done, cover and leave the dough to proof – about 1 to 2 hours. This time it doesn’t have to double up in size. Just wait for it to puff up a little.

In a preheated oven at about 200 degrees Celcius, bake the bread till it’s done. Every oven is different and every bread has different size, so it’s impossible to say how long it’ll take. You know it’s ready when the top of the bread is golden, and the bottom has a nice hard feel. When you tap the bottom, it feels a little hollow inside. Leave it to cool for a while before eating (I know, this is the hardest part).

You’d be amazed how tasty a simple wholemeal bread is straight from the oven.  All you need is good butter. Your kids will love eating what they made. And it’s nutritious, too.

Happy breadmaking!

 

Working around your children

I wrote in my previous post that it is impossible to work at home during the day while my children are around. Well, I take that back. It is possible. But it comes at a price.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

While Miss M was busy “helping mommy,” I was able to put in about 30 minutes of sewing time. Days later, I am still finding a D ring here, a snap there, around the house…


Work-at-home mother

I’m a “work-at-home mother,” apparently. I was not aware of this phrase until recently, when I came across it at this new website. Chantal, who started this amazing little shop, sells Australian handmade children’s items made by work-at-home mothers like herself (and she stocks my products as well. Thanks Chantal!). Realizing that (a) I belong to this identifiable category of workers, and (b) there are people like Chantal who want to promote and support this particular category of workers, it got me thinking.

Of course, what we do is nothing new. Mothers of small children have, for generations and beyond, in every culture, worked inside their homes for a little extra income to help support the family. Many of us (most, I’d say, in more or less egalitarian countries like Japan and Australia) are free to work at “regular” workplace, leaving the kids to grandparents or daycare, but for various reasons, we choose not to take this path and instead to work around their children at home. It’s understood that for us, the needs of children come first, and any income-generating work we do, we must squeeze that in those “extra” time left over (more on this below).

So, it is probably not surprising that people (as in, the society) does not take those home-based work too seriously. For those in the “real” workforce, those who clock in 9 to 5 every day, what extra work stay-at-home mothers do on the side may seem inconsequential. How can you take any work seriously if it gets pushed around or delayed when a child gets sick, for example? People may call such work a hobby, even. A hobby thanks to those hard-working husbands or partners who bring in the real pay check. I myself previously didn’t take what I do too seriously.

But having a label like “work-at-home mother” changes my perspective. It is a simple yet empowering label. It distinguishes you from other stay-at-home mothers who do not work, and recognizes you as a legitimate member of the workforce — perhaps even in the same league as our office-commuting husbands or partners, or mothers who go back to employment after childbirth. And so we should be recognized because, just like them, we work to bring in income. We want to succeed at what we do, and we work hard for it. If the society does not take us seriously just because our workplace is home, just because our work hours are limited by the needs of children, that’s just plain sexism.

And therein lies the humbling aspect of having a label like “work-at-home mothers.” It is empowering, yes, but it also gives us a clarity of vision that we are the underdogs. It makes you aware of what you are entitled to (recognition that you belong to a legitimate workforce), but that you are deprived of it in reality (people think of what you do as a hobby). Whereas before, there was this image of financially secure, happy stay-at-home mothers who take on little side businesses to pass time or as a creative outlet, now there is this stark underclass of workers who labor long hours for little money and no recognition.

And it is hard work, working around your children that is. I can only speak for myself, but there is no extra time left over in a day when you are parenting and housekeeping full time. Aside from a few hours a week when both my children go to (short) daycare, I work only at night, after the children go to bed. During the day with the three-year and 15-month olds running around causing trouble and needing things all the time, it is impossible to work much. I do love working late nights because it is so deliciously quiet, but it is not ideal because I tend to get sleep deprived. Being workaholic by nature, I often can’t stop till 2 or 3 am, and it’s inevitable on those mornings that my children choose to wake up at 5:30. If coffee didn’t exist I don’t know how I’d function.

My schedule actually reminds me of my days as a litigation lawyer, where late nights were the norm. Actually, you could say it was easier back then, because when I did get home at 3 am, I could at least sleep soundly for a few hours. Now… let’s just say my children are not good sleepers.

I’m digressing. Of course I love what I do and I certainly do not have anything to complain about. I feel extremely lucky that I get to spend so much time with my children and take on my business at the same time. Hopefully though, with the help of people like Chantal, work-at-home mothers will also get the recognition they deserve, eventually.

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Border prints

Japanese children’s prints seem to come in three types: all-over print, border prints, and panel prints. All-over print is like any Western prints, with the same images printed repeatedly across the fabric. You can use any part of the fabric and make almost identical products. Border prints and panel prints, on the other hand, seem practically unique to Japanese fabric — I can’t recall seeing anything like them elsewhere.

Border prints have “feature” images printed along the two borders of fabric (along the selvages), and something else (or nothing) in the middle section of the fabric. Like this:

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Panel prints have different image “sections” scattered all over the fabric, so depending on how you cut your fabric, you end up with completely different images. Like this:

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

I have a love / hate relationship with these prints. I love them because they are irresistibly cute, and they appeal to my creative spirit. I get all excited thinking, I can use this part of the fabric for a backpack, and then the middle section for a lunch bag, and so on. It’s like a puzzle to me. I also get deluded into thinking what a great value these prints are, because you can make different-looking bags using the same yard of fabric.

Deluded, however, is the truth here, because these prints in fact offer no value in a strictly business sense. On the contrary, when I try to actually make something out of them, I end up spending an inordinate amount of time agonising over how to cut them.  So, from a strictly business point of view, they are time wasters.

Moreover, when you finally come up with a great way to use these border/panel prints, and you start cutting around the prettiest parts of the fabric, inevitably there is a lot of leftover fabric that you cannot use up easily. If I can make three backpacks from a meter of regular, all-over print, for example, I can only make two from a border print. So these prints are not only time wasters, but fabric wasters as well.

And yet… and yet I still buy these fabrics. Why? Well, because working in a “strictly business” mode all the time is boring. The wasted time I spend agonising over how to use a border fabric? I enjoy every minute of it. Sure, I cannot impose a “difficult fabric surcharge” on a bag just because I spent a lot of time making it, or because I end up wasting fabric. But my work is also my creative outlet, and there is a lot of (self-)satisfaction when I come up with a fabulous way to use a particular border fabric. Like this complicated border print:


 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

This one has large-sized cars on white background on one end and small-sized cars on white on the other end. In the middle there are cars printed on blue background. After a lot of thinking, and several trial and errors, I came up with these two backpacks:

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Aren’t they gorgeous? I love the pair of them. They look similar but different, because they come from opposite ends of the fabric. The pocket was the most difficult part, because there was no way I could “match” the print underneath without wasting a huge amount of fabric. So instead of trying to match them, I used a small-cars pocket for large-cars backpack, and vice versa. I love the sort of magnifying glass effect (and opposite of it) it creates. These backpacks took days to make. Granted my work day is rather short, but seriously, days.

And you would think, wouldn’t you, now that I’ve figured out this particular print for my backpacks, surely I can make more of them more efficiently? Well, unfortunately, this print is sold out. No more “working cars” print available to order. Sigh. Ah well, at least it was fun while it lasted, and I’ll move on to the next challenging border print.


Japanese madness

How could it be that Japanese children’s fabrics are like no other? Their cuteness is almost ridiculous. Add to the fact that these prints come in top-quality canvas material — a very rare combination to find in Australia or America — and that new prints sell out like hotcakes in Japan, and often they don’t get reprinted… well, it gets my fabric addiction to overdrive. Never mind they are rather expensive, and ignore the steep shipping costs as well. It’s hard not to click, click, and click away online so that these gorgeous fabrics will be mine.

Yesterday I received yet another box of Japanese delights.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

I also got these huge polka dots in amazing deep colours.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

These fabrics will be available -for a limited time only till they run out – for custom-order children’s items.

New fabrics have arrived!

Today, a box full of Japanese fabrics I mentioned yesterday has turned up at our doorstep. Hurray! It’s unbelievable that it only took 5 days to arrive all the way from Japan. And the fabrics? They are even more gorgeous in person than online. The colours are vivid, the prints are clear, and I cannot tell just how much I adore the feel of linen in fabric.

Actually, I didn’t show you all the fabrics I had ordered in yesterday’s post. There were a few more:

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

I love the muted, elegant colours of this fabric, and the 55% linen content (the rest is cotton). They are pretty in a more adult way — they’ll be perfect for accessories for mothers, like mobile phone cases.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

But these dotty fabrics are my favourite of all. The dots are a bit bigger than the ones I showed above, more child-like, and the colours! The colours are utterly beautiful – understated and earthy, but still plenty upbeat and joyous. They are also 55% linen and 45% cotton, but feel very soft to the touch. Did I tell you how much I adore the feel of linen on my skin? These fabrics give me goosebumps.

They are a little pricey… but oh well. I can just imagine them as backpacks and tote bags for girls. In fact I want to use them for everything. I might even make an A-line skirt or two for Miss M. I think, for my children, I prefer this fabric over more “cute” prints I have in stock. But that’s just me.

Overall, a very happy day.

New fabrics

If you have been to my online shop, you know that I love, love, love Japanese canvas fabric with cute prints for children. They are either 100% cotton, or cotton linen blend (typically 85% cotton and 15% linen). They are sturdy without being too heavy, and I use them to make everything from backpacks and lunch bags to mobile phone cases to key chains.

I also like that, even though many of these fabrics depict juvenile (sometimes overly cute, overly babyish) images, a lot of them have natural or muted colour as the background to cut down on the sugar content. Like this for example:


 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

The problem with working with these fabrics (or any “designer” prints these days) is that they are seasonal, and once they are sold out, they are gone forever. I have become attached to several prints I had bought in the past, but when I sought to order more, they were nowhere to be seen. It drove me insane with frustration. I wanted them even more, and I spent hours looking for them from ebay to obscure online fabric shops — precious hours that I could have spent more productively.

Well, I’ve learned my lesson. From now on, I will keep a decent stock of a few select fabrics for the season, and when they run out, forget about them and move on to what’s new on the market.

Here is a sneak preview of fabrics I just ordered for the Fall/Winter 2011 season:

Isn’t it interesting how I tend to order more “boy” fabrics than girly ones? For one, girls are more spoilt for choices than boys in general, so I’m supporting the underdog here. Also, I personally love seeing “boy” colours and prints on girls. So there you go – I can’t wait to work with the new fabrics soon.

Easter

I have never been a big fan of holidays like Easter and Christmas, and avoided celebrating them whenever I could. Must be a combination of my anti-social, anti-religious, and plain lazy tendencies. But having children changes many things, and holidays are no exception…. Well, actually, for three years after my daughter was born, Mark and I stubbornly continued to avoid celebrating Easter and Christmas at home.

But this year, with my 3-year old learning about the Easter Hare at her preschool, my mother visiting for the holidays, our housewarming party overdue, and Mark’s mother’s birthday coinciding with the Easter weekend, we were running very low on excuses.

So we finally came out of our holiday-disliking closet and had a Big Australian Easter Sunday Celebration. Complete with barbecue! sparkling wine! egg hunt in the yard! and birthday cakes to top it all. And who knew, it was fun.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Miss M had her first egg hunt.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

She loved collecting chocolate eggs.


 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Mr. A loved eating them.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

I think Mark’s mother liked these cupcakes.

So… I am a holiday convert now. I had forgotten how holiday celebrations are special and exciting for children. Seeing my children’s eyes sparkle with joy at such simple things like chocolate eggs – well, it’s priceless.