Mealtime accessories

I’ve been shopping around for a perfect fabric for making child-sized placemat and napkins.  Then this week I found it, right in my own sewing room among a pile of fabrics I hadn’t used before — 55% linen, 45% cotton dotty fabric with the most gorgeous texture and colors, from Japan of course.  Its simplicity is just right for mealtime (where the principal player should be the food, not accessories), and the large dots and pretty colors add a touch of cuteness for child appeal.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

It is admittedly a rather pricey fabric.  A luxury fabric I would say.  You’ll just have to touch it to see what I mean.  Is it a little bit of an overkill to use such fabric for children, who may not be so discerning at the age of 2 or even 4?  Well… of course not!  Not because the little ones deserve the best, etc.  But because beautiful children’s items are not just for them, but for the parents as well.

Like when I was using drops of lavender essential oils in Miss M’s bath when she was a baby, hoping that the scent will relax and sooth her nerves.  I had no idea it did or not, but it certainly soothed my nerves and calmed me down at the end of a long day.

In my household, mealtime can be quite stressful.  Particularly dinnertime after daycare or preschool, involving super-tired and cranky children, feels like walking through a mine field.  Make one wrong move and boom! goes off the tantrum button.  “I don’t LIKE tomatoes, mommy!” “I want MILK, not water!” And so on.

Having a pretty table setting doesn’t solve all my mealtime problems, but it helps.  I love looking at pretty fabrics at the most stressful of times.  It soothes me.  And my children seem to love having their child-sized placemats and matching napkins.  I think a little touch like that makes them feel a little special.  Like I said before, kids do appreciate a little presentation.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

For the napkins, I used soft and lightweight organic cotton / hemp fabric.  I used organic cotton / hemp canvas for the placemat backing.  Again, top-quality fabrics… but oh well, happiness is all in the details, don’t you think?


Non-towel towel

I’ve been wanting to make a bath towel for children for a long time. It’s something many children use every single day, and the commercial ones are rather boring and unappealing. I wanted something super soft and eco-friendly, with a pretty visual detail. I gathered samples from around the world for organic cotton or bamboo towel fabric. But none of them felt quite right. Some were too rough to touch, some were too expensive, and while bamboo felt very nice, I am a little confused right now about how earth-friendly bamboo is, considering it appears to take a lot of chemicals to convert bamboo into fabric.

Then one day it occurred to me. Why, a bath towel doesn’t have to be made of traditional towel material! Any soft and absorbent fabric will do. That’s how I found this perfect non-towel towel material: hemp and organic cotton blend jersey.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

It is hard to describe how beautiful the fabric is without the benefit of touch. It is lightweight. It has a lovely natural, off-white colour. It is very soft, but has some knobby texture to it that is warm, earthy, and welcoming to touch. Forget about your children, you just want to wrap yourself in it.

And hemp is brilliant. Before I saw this fabric, I had the impression hemp was a little on the rough side – suitable for canvas or heavier fabric, but not for something soft and delicate for baby items. Well, I was wrong about that. Or maybe hemp gets “tamed” here with the blend of organic cotton. Did you know hemp is extremely absorbent – more so than plain cotton? It is also naturally anti-bacterial and anti-fungal, and as such well suited to children’s items.

The jersey is stretchy in both directions. I bound the raw edges with my all-time favourite fabric – Liberty of London tana lawn, for that gorgeous, luxury look.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

The towel is also beautiful as a swaddle wrap for a newborn. Stretchy, generous-sized, and lightweight for the Spring-to-Fall seasons. In fact, I’m not sure if I can convince anyone else to use this as a towel, so I think I’ll list it in my shop as a wrap and a blanket….

But I love this as a towel. I’ve been using it on my little ever-willing (forced?) product testers, and I’ve been very happy with its absorbency and function. It’s great for warmer weather. Moreover, don’t you hate washing heavy traditional bath towels? They take so much space in the washing machine, takes forever to dry, and what a waste of water that is. Washing this lightweight material is a breeze.

Oh, another thing about traditional towels I don’t like: after a while of use, they tends to get hard and brittle when dried in the sun. Maybe this is because of the water quality in Sydney, or because the soft ones have some synthetic material blended in it. But some of the bath towels I have turn into a sand paper when I dry them, I wouldn’t in a million years want to use that on my skin.

Here’s Miss M wrapped in her new favourite towel. She insists on sleeping with it as a blanket, too. I love it when she approves of something I make…. because as you’d know if you’ve been reading my blog, it doesn’t happen very often!

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

I’ve listed one on my Etsy shop. There’ll be more shortly.

Sun hats

The winter has been brutal here in Sydney this year. But just when I was bracing for another month of coldness, spring is suddenly upon us, catching me totally off-guard. In our backyard, a newly planted lemon tree is about to blossom. Strawberry flowers are already blossoming. And the sun is getting noticeably brighter. Soon it’ll be another skin cancer season…. It’s time to make sun hats.

Last summer I made a few sun hats for my shop, but I was not completely happy with the pattern I made. The brim was too slope-y and bucket-like, and as cute as it was, it interfered with the child’s visual field. So, I went back to the drawing board today.

Let me warn you first: I have no idea how a professional pattern maker would make hat patterns. So please don’t copy me or quote me if you are researching how to make a hat pattern properly. I just wanted to share how I did this.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

As you see, I already have a pattern for the crown part. For the brim, I first drew a rectangle for the brim, with the length representing the circumference of the hat. If you use this pattern for a hat as is, the brim would come straight down over your eyes like a ski mask, and you will be totally blindfolded.

Next I arbitrarily divided the brim rectangle up into small sections. I then cut out the big rectangle, and made slits along these little lines almost till the end, leaving just a tiny bit uncut so the whole thing still held together as one piece. Then you can fan it out like this:

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

If you make a complete circle like this, and trace over the pattern, I’d imagine your brim will sit about 90 degrees from your face – like a shower hat (or how do you call those things you attach to your child’s head so you can wash her hair without the water getting into her eyes?).

I wanted a brim with a gentle downward slope, so I was aiming for something like a 45-degree angle.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

This took a long time, ensuring that all the little pieces were spaced out evenly…. When I finally had them positioned where I wanted, I roughly traced around the whole shape, then smoothed out the rough edges into a nice curved shape.

Then I tweaked the pattern a little more to make sure the lines were smooth and the circumference matched with that of the crown. Then I added seam allowance.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

The work-in-progress pattern above is for half a brim.

When the pattern is done, it’s Judgment Time – time to make a sample. Here, too, is where I am a total amateur. Instead of using muslin, I can’t help using a nice fabric for my sample sewing. Because I am eternally hopeful that, in the event it all works out perfectly the first time, I will have a lovely hat I can use straight away. Although I should know by now that things almost never work out perfectly the first time. That is why my children often wear crooked or ill-fitting samples. Because I’m too cheap to throw them away. See, I never seem to learn.

But today I got lucky! Yes the first sample had problems — the brim was too long and didn’t match up with the crown, and the angle was a little off. But after I ripped the brim off, I was able to salvage the fabric by re-cutting it using a revised pattern.



 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

A finished toddler sun hat in Miss M’s size. It’s lined with solid pink cotton. After yesterday’s apron-rejection fiasco, I didn’t want to argue with a three-year-old’s favoured colour choice. See, I need her to wear a hat – any hat – in this country of harsh sun and skin cancer.

I do enjoy making hats. Something about all these flat pieces ending up nice and round and 3-D – gives me a lot of satisfaction. Off to make some more for my neglected online shop and for the upcoming Mathilda’s Market.

Introducing…. a perfect bib

It took me a long time to make bibs for my shop — because, aside from the fact that everyone else was making it, I am not a big fan of bibs. Bibs basically look all the same, they cost about the same, and frankly, they all look silly and undignified on kids no matter how you dress them up with pretty fabric. In fact, the prettier the fabric, the sadder it looked to me. And plastic bibs? Total abomination.

That’s why I hardly ever used bibs for Miss M when she was little. I made her a few bibs for her mealtime mess, but even then, I preferred to dress her in aprons instead, or I just resigned to washing her clothes more often. It didn’t bother me.

Then Mr. A turned up, and he was a natural-born drooler and spit-upper. As a breastfeeding baby, you could count on him to spit up every single time, staining not only his clothes but also mine, the feeding pillow, and the bedding below. In between feedings he drooled buckets, especially once he started teething. I was amazed how fast his clothes got soaked wet, and poor thing, if I didn’t change him fast enough he would develop rashes. So for Mr. A, a bib was a sheer necessity. A survival item even.

Now, while I still think bibs look silly, at least I understand why parents need them. So, with that in mind, I strove to make a perfect bib for my shop. A perfect bib would be:

  • comfortable for little ones to wear – must be lightweight and extremely soft around the neck.
  • absorbent! A bib is no good if a stream of drool rolls right past the surface to soak the tummy area.
  • offer good coverage without making your little one look like a frill necked lizard.
  • cute but in an understated way.
  • closed by a snap: easy to put on and off, but difficult for little hands to yank it off.
  • versatile – from newborn to toddler, and for messy eaters and well as droolers (or both).

And here it is — a perfect bib!

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

If you’ve been reading my blog for a while, you know this is the softest, lightest, and super absorbent 100% cotton double gauze from Japan. For the backing, I used organic cotton jersey, which is not only light and incredibly soft, but also absorbent. It has a beautiful white colour. If you wore this around your neck, you wouldn’t want to take it off because it’s so warm and cozy. The adorable elephants print is just sweet enough for little ones without being a try-hard.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

It is pretty large for babies, offering great coverable. And you can use it all the way through toddlerhood and beyond (if you wish) — here is Miss M loving the pink elephants bib.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Does wearing matching bibs foster sibling love? Or wait, is Miss M saying “go away, it’s my photo shoot”?

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Which colour is your favourite? The bibs are now available in my shop.

Little things

I have been making little things lately for upcoming markets (in particular a school market at  Lorien Novalis (Sydney) on July 23 and Mathilda’s Market (Sydney) on August 27). I thought my market collection needed something small, pretty, useful and wallet-friendly. So I started with pincushions.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

These pincushions didn’t come out as I planned. My plan was to make $5 pincushions that are super, super-fast to make, using scrap fabric I had been hoarding, and hence doesn’t cost me anything. Well, as I started with simple two or three-patch pieces, it got boring. I wanted something prettier, something a little more precious. So I ended up making mini log cabins (or technically, I think they are the beginnings of a pattern called “courthouse steps”). Very pretty!

And then Mark suggested that I scent these, so I thought, why not? I do happen to have an embarrassingly large collection of essential oils from my other (now forgotten) hobbies (making soap, perfume, and natural skincare products, if you must know). And if you were to scent these cushions, how boring would it be to use something so ordinary like lavender. I chose Rosewood Brazil, which is exquisite (and expensive).

I love these pincushions, especially when they look all cozy together in a basket. But I beat myself up afterwards for spending hours and hours on something that is supposed to be super simple and inexpensive. My business brain has been defeated by my creative brain, yet again.

So, to atone for my pincushion indulgence, I also made these popcorn bags, a la Gymbaroo.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

These are the simplest bags, about 6″ x 4″, filled with popcorn. At Gymbaroo they called these bean bags, and use them as a stimulating toy for babies, or for target throwing for older children. You can play with them in a lot of ways basically, which is why I love simple toys. I used popcorn just because the beans I had in my pantry were large and menacing looking. Popcorn seemed more friendly.

I’m happy that I made at least something that’s pretty and wallet-friendly. And useful, too – if your kids are in need of a snack, just rip one of these open and make popcorns!

Double gauze

Today I received another shipment of Japanese goodness:

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Double gauze! With baby elephants in an assortment of colours. And blue “working cars” print. Just how cute are these fabrics?

Double gauze is my newest object of infatuation. It is the softest, cushiest, most snuggle-able cotton fabric ever. It is also extremely lightweight – it’s like air. If you have never seen one in person, it is like cheese cloth (or muslin in Australia) but with two layers of them fused together to make a more dense, workable fabric.

In Japan, people make children’s clothing (even adults’ clothing) with this material. It is especially perfect for baby clothing and accessories because of its incomparable softness, lightness and absorbency. This type of fabric may not be Japan’s invention, but only in Japan does it come in such wonderful range of children’s prints.

What will I do with these double gauze prints? Why, make accessories for babies of course. I’ve been wanting to make things for babies. But the usual suspect of baby items – you know, bibs and wraps and such – didn’t inspire me creatively because they are so overdone. I mean, go to any retail shop and you’ll find an overflowing amount of pretty baby goods. I thought I had nothing new to offer in this market. But now I do!

Actually I’ve been making washers lately with double gauze and organic cotton jersey or bamboo terry (towel material). These are divine – so soft, absorbent, and just a delight to hold in your hand. Useful, too, for wiping little noses and as a wash cloth in bath. I just listed a few in my shop.


 

 

 

 

 

 

Stay tuned for other baby items using my brand new stash of Japanese double gauze.

In the mood for quilting

It is officially winter in Sydney, though it feels like it’s been winter for months. It is the coldest winter I remember in the six years that I’ve lived here. And I am no longer the hardest worker in this household – it is our new Paloma gas heater, without which we’d all perish in this cold, cold house.

And what do I think as I curl up in front of our new heater friend? Quilts. I am yearning to make quilts again. Quilts in warm, cozy colours to snuggle up with at night, or to wrap around a shivering child after a bath… Actually I have a million quilts already at home, but it doesn’t matter.

Last weekend we went for a stroll to Auburn Botanical Gardens. It is such a magical place, with a large Japanese garden, a majestic reflection pool, rose gardens, ducks, geese, swans, and even kangaroos and wallabies. Its magic is doubled when you consider its unlikely location – Auburn, a working-class neighbourhood with a large Muslim population.

Yet while strolling through this wonderland, I kept my eyes on the ground and thought of quilts. I mean, look at these amazing bricks!

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 


 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

As I walked on these brick roads, I saw them in a myriad colours recreated as quilts. The brick designers and quilters must have similar minds. Maybe they are even the same people – brick layers by day and quilters by night? The middle two brick pattens would be particularly stunning as quilts, I thought.

I haven’t started on any brick quilt yet…. I have been busy. But I cannot stop thinking about them, so I will have to find the time soon.

I did manage to put together a simple cot quilt top in warm, autumn / winter colours though.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

I pinned it with pure wool batting for extra warmth and loftiness, with a beautiful vintage Amy Butler fabric as backing. It is ready to be quilted – by hand, I think. I suppose it is not a typical cot quilt of bright pastel or juvenile prints. But I could not resist. I hope, when it is finished, the quilt will find a good home where a precocious baby or toddler might appreciate the colours of falling leaves and golden autumn sun…. And if not, Miss M or I can always use another quilt.



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.

New beginning

We’ve just moved to a new house. From a two-bedroom apartment where we lived for five years, we moved to a three-bedroom house with a backyard. This is incredibly exciting on many levels. It’s incredible that, first of all, that we could buy a house at all, a real, freestanding house, in a city that was rated the second worst in the world in housing affordability. Second worst in the world. Just behind Hong Kong. How lucky are we to live in Sydney.

Mark and I started looking for a house after Miss M was born. We looked at dozens of them, spending countless Saturdays looking at some truly miserable houses that fell in our price range. Houses that were falling apart, a house with asbestos leeching into the air, a house in high-crime area with metal window shutters, a house with a high-voltage power line looming over the front yard, a house that was around the corner from a rifle range.  We’ve seen it all. We’ve given up hope many times.

So it is incredible to me that, we not only finally found a house we could afford, but that there is absolutely nothing wrong with this house. The house is in a perfectly safe and quiet neighbourhood, among other well-maintained lovely houses, and is nicely renovated so we didn’t have to do anything to it. Yes we are slightly “out there” in suburbia, but still within reasonably commuting distance for Mark.

Best of all, what’s most exciting to me personally, is that I finally, finally have an area of the house I can call my own work space.

The last time I had a desk to myself was before the children came. After that I sewed on the dining table. It was okay, I got things done. But now that I have my own work space again – I have a renewed sense of appreciation for it. I feel so much more creative and motivated. I am officially ending the creative hiatus I’d been in due to the move.

Stay tuned for a flurry of new items in my shop in the coming weeks!

More lunch bags in the making:

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Patchwork cushions in the making:

 

 

 

Cushion happiness

I used to make a lot of things for my children. But between full-time parenting and starting my own business, I haven’t done much of that lately. These days, when I’m at my sewing machine, my three-year-old daughter (let’s call her “Miss M”) would come to me, all hopeful, and ask: “What are you making, mommy? Is it for me?” And I would say, “Sorry sweetie, it’s not for you.” I must have disappointed her like this one too many times.

Because when Miss M needed a new cushion, and I got her a new cushion from a shop — which, I have to say, was a perfectly lovely one with red pompom braids — she decided to strike back. Barely looking at her new cushion, she announced, “I don’t like that one.” She pushed it away with her legs. Dismayed, I pleaded my case – “But look, it’s red. You love red. And look at these cute pompoms!” To no avail. “It’s not my cushion!” She kicked it off the bed. Dismissed. Case closed. There is no mercy in the court of a three-year old.

Okay, I got her message. I rose to the challenge of making a cushion my daughter would like.


 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

I designed it as I went – I wanted a quick and easy cushion, not a heirloom. I took a piece of fabric I had in my scrap box, and pieced other fabric strips around it, in an impromptu log cabin fashion. I stopped when it was large enough to be a cushion top. The top took less than an hour.

I admit I wasn’t too impressed when it was finished. I thought the magenta was too strong. I was debating whether to rip the whole thing apart and start over, or stitch something over the magenta to rescue it somehow — when Miss M snatched it from me, pressed it against her face, and said “Is it for me? My cushion? I like it!”

So that was it. I made it for her, and it was special to her. She liked it, and that’s all it mattered. I quickly finished the back of the cushion in white and pink polka dot fabric.

Of course, I then had to make a cushion for my 14-month-old son as well — because he wants everything his sister has.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

If I had more time, I might have made different cushions. But as far as quick and easy cushions go, they are not too bad. In fact they are growing on me. The main thing is that my children are happy with them, and that makes me happy as well.