Nuanced Not Faded

Hello, my friends! I received this luscious bouquet from a dear friend a couple of weeks ago, on my birthday. We did a social-distanced hand-off of the flowers, which was quite funny.

As I gazed at these blooms the phrase that came to mind was, “faded beauty.” It’s what everyone says, right? The faded beauty of dying roses. Although these roses are no longer in the full blush of its blossoming floral youth, I don’t think their beauty has faded at all. If anything, it’s deepened and is more nuanced.

Of course, as someone who is now 49-years-old, perhaps I’m justifying the passage of time and what might be perceived as the dimming of what K calls my “sparkle.” Here’s what she said to me as she flipped through some old photos, “You had so much sparkle when you were in your twenties, Mama!” My almost 14-year-old K is so full of sparkle and it’s true, I definitely feel more muted. But nuanced!

One is prone to contemplation around the time of a birthday, and I’m a professional contemplator as it is. I’ve thoroughly enjoyed my forties and I’m unabashedly excited about embarking on my fifties next year. If I’ve learned anything in my four decades, it’s that if I allow it, life gets better and better. Does that mean the world is better or that everything is perfect? No. That doesn’t seem to be the case at all. In fact, if the news broadcasts are to be believed, the world has gone to hell. But I don’t believe the news (not entirely, anyway). And I don’t believe in suffering because other people are suffering. I tried that for many, many years, and all that happened was a lot of extra suffering. This is probably not a popular stance given current events, but I stand by it 100%.

What I want to do for this 49th year and beyond is to genuinely enjoy each day and — if I may use the quote from my ginger teabag tag today — “plant love and watch it grow”. To just be myself. Who knows how many days I have left? My mom has been an excellent role model in this regard. She used to talk about death all the time, and how she wanted to squeeze goodness out of each moment before she passed on. When I was younger I thought that was macabre and rather depressing, but now I see that it’s the opposite. She’s 71 now and hasn’t changed much. Every time I chat with her on the phone, she tells me of all the joys she finds in her new home and surrounding area and wonders when she’ll die, practically in the same breath — she seems so content to have returned to Japan after 50 years in California, but then again she was content in Los Angeles too. Now there is a woman who knows how to have a good time and is unafraid of the grim reaper.

I’d like to be like that.

I’ve been enjoying many things lately. M spoiled me with books and art supplies for my birthday and I got this amazing set of colored pencils. I’m obsessed with colored pencils and have tried pretty much every brand on the market. According to all the reviews I’ve read most colored pencil artists love soft, smooth, oil-based pencils, but I prefer harder, wax-based leads. What drew me in particular to this set is that like myself, the colors in this Derwent Artists set are quite muted (and nuanced!):

As you can see, I’ve tested a jillion brands to see figure out my preferences. K calls them my broccoli girls.

More experimenting. The Lightfast pencils are spectacular as well, but I still prefer the Artists…

I used to have a phobia about using my “nice” stuff and kept saving them for a day when I would feel somehow more worthy of the high quality items. No more. I dove right into using my gorgeous pencils and I’ve been cutting into my prized fabrics as well. I made this little self-drafted tank for myself this week. It’s made with Nani Iro fabric I bought at Yuzawaya last year in Japan. Again, who knows how many days I have left, right? Might as well use everything up.

Using things up has been a big theme during quarantine for me. I get this huge sense of satisfaction from finishing the toothpaste tube, cooking up all of the vegetables in the fridge, etc., etc. There’s the awesomeness of reducing waste, of course, but it’s that glee of completion that I love more than anything else.

I hope you’re all faring well in spite of the global chaos. Here’s another role model for enjoying each moment (I know that I keep posting similar photos of Katara, but she’s so darn cute and I’m such a cat lady now, I can’t help it):

I’m working on three books starting this week, so my schedule will be full for a while. It’ll be a nice change from my dawdling, doodling days — I like having the balance of the two. In a few months, I’ll be able to go back to aimless coloring and contemplating, which will be lovely.

P.S. K graduated from middle school last week and is now officially a high schooler!! Wow, I don’t think I ever imagined myself as a Mama to a high school kid and so far, it’s awesome.

Teen Sewing Bonanza

Hello, my friends! How are you doing? Are you still sheltering in place? Or has your area reopened and have you cautiously stepped out into the wild world?

K and I are still in full self-quarantine mode and we’re heading into day 80. M — the most extroverted of us all in desperate need of contact with other humans — has been venturing out a little more while remaining diligent about safety. At this point of lengthy cocooning, I’m not sure if I’m capable of having normal (i.e. coherent) conversations with people and I’m a little nervous about inserting myself into society when Seattle finally reopens.

Anyway! What with my books getting reshuffled schedule-wise and the necessary cancellations of many of my in-person events, I have found a treasure trove of abundant time. And for the first time in years, I’ve been inspired to sew for K. I may have had a poor showing for Me-Made-May, but I kept my sewing machine revved all month.

It’s been a long time since I’ve sewn for K at this pace. I might have overdone it, however, because after sewing up the ruffle top that failed, my mojo skittered to a halt this week.

I self-drafted all of the garments and I’m really proud of this fact. It’s always been my goal to be able to do this, and after 10 years of sewing, I’ve finally arrived. I’m sure it would take most people far less time but I’m a slow learner, especially when it comes to skills that have spatial and 3-dimensional elements.

So how did I decide what to make for K? She and I have a shared Pinterest board and she added all the clothes she fancied, and I used those pins as a springboard to come up with designs. So here they are:

PAJAMAS – she wanted lots and lots of pajamas. I’m happy to report that she loves them all and wears them constantly.

 

SHORTS – Nothing too special about these French terry knit shorts other than its off-the-charts comfort level. I created two separate casings for the waist band because I ran out of 3/4″ elastic and thought two rows of 3/8″ elastic would work (I did the same for the pink gingham pajama pants above). It did. Notice the fancy label. “Koom Koom” is her toddlerhood nickname and I had these labels made 10 years ago.

TOPS – she favors fitted and slightly cropped tops, I’ve noticed. I was trying to make the ones I sewed a little looser than the images I saw on our shared Pinterest board, but I miscalculated the stretch of this grey fabric and it turned out very snug:

She loves it and wears this top frequently. I’m quite pleased with how the lettuce edge hem turned out and you can see the original H & M top that I modeled it after. The stripey H & M top was a hand-me-down from a neighbor and it’s probably one of the most worn items in K’s wardrobe.

This tie-front top was fun to make. I’ve stopped worrying about finishing raw edges with most of the knit projects and K doesn’t seem to mind.

And finally…the failed ruffle top:

The idea behind this top is that it can be worn over or off the shoulder. Unfortunately, the fabric is too sheer, the armholes too deep and I sewed on the ruffle crookedly. I can easily fix the armholes and the ruffle, and I can probably add a lining, but I really, really dislike ripping the seams of knit fabric. We’ll see how I feel after a couple of days.

I’ve featured some of these on Instagram already, which was a lucky thing because quite a few of my photos mysteriously disappeared from my hard drive. Yay for cloud technology — though it tends to be hit-or-miss for me, this time it was a hit and I found the IG images stored on the cloud.

Alright, I’m off to figure out what else I can sew for K. Or maybe I’ll just veg out for a while. However you’re choosing to spend your time, I hope you’re staying safe and healthy!

Kid-friendly masks

Hello, hello! You saw this coming, right? If you’ve got a freshly published animal-themed book, it stands to reason that animal-themed kid masks would be the next logical step.

Sweet, don’t you think?

I even created templates and a tutorial! I know there are a zillion mask patterns out there and the main reason I designed these masks this way was to allow for ease of adding the cute details. As far as I’m concerned, we all could use some cuteness right now.

There are two sizes: child and youth (which technically fits adults too). Even with the addition of animal elements and embroidery, these are quick and easy to sew up. Once I got a rhythm going, I whipped out three in an hour.

K is modeling the bear-esque one — as you can see, the sizing is quite generous but keep in mind that K is rather petite with a small face. I positioned the nose a little higher in this one, fyi.

It was even faster to stitch up the youth/adult size since I omitted the animal elements:

These adorable prints have been lounging in my stash for a looong time (unfortunately, the animal fabrics are no longer available, but there is a dizzying array of equally if not more darling fabrics at Miss Matatabi, where I ordered them from). They are from front to back:

Cheers to a light-hearted take on a helpful item during these confusing times. Without further ado, here’s the tutorial!

KID-FRIENDLY MASK

Child size fits approximately 3-8 years

Youth/Adult size fits approximately 9+

 

MATERIALS (per mask)

10″ x 10″ for outer fabric – I recommend cotton or linen/cotton blend

10″ x 10″ for lining fabric – tightly woven cotton fabric is best

Scrap piece of felt – wool is nicer but the readily available polyester kind is fine, naturally

2 pieces of 1/4″ elastic, 10″ in length each

Marking tool – I like to use Chacopen

Safety pin or bodkin

Optional: Embroidery floss and embroidery needle

Click here or the image above for templates (comes with 2 nose options)

 

CONSTRUCTION STEPS

Step 1 Print out templates (link is above) and trace onto fabrics. Cut out 1 outer piece, 1 lining piece, 2 elastic casings and one nose. To avoid confusion later, it’s a good idea to make a marking or create a notch to mark which side is the top of the mask for both the outer and lining pieces.

Step 2 On the right side of outer mask, attach nose in the center about 1/2″ below the tip of the “v”. I like to use a wide zig zag machine stitch (4mm), but you could also hand stitch it on with a whip or slip stitch. If you prefer the nose to be positioned higher, go to step 4 before attaching the nose. You can see that I tried different nose positions, and it’s definitely easier to sew on the nose while the fabric piece is still flat.

Step 3 Optional: embroider details such as mouth, whiskers, snout outline, etc. using a backstitch (if you prefer, you can embroider after step 4). Don’t worry too much about symmetry and such. I love wonky, imperfect embroidery. So charming.

Step 4 With right sides facing, sew the top and bottom “V”s of the outer mask with 1/4” seam allowance. It’s like sewing darts. Press seam open. Repeat for the mask lining piece. Attach nose and stitch embroidery details to outer mask at this point if you did not do it earlier.

Step 5 Prep elastic casings: fold shorter edges towards wrong side by 1/4″ and press. Stitch close to raw edge of both ends. Then fold shorter side in half with wrong sides facing and press.

Step 6 Attach elastic casings: Align the raw edges of the casing to the side edge of the outer mask (I like to fold the edges and casings to create a center crease to align) and baste 1/8″ from edge. Repeat for other side.

Step 7 With right sides facing, sew outer mask and lining together with a 1/4″ seam allowance, leaving an opening of about 2″ at the bottom. Clip corners (careful not to cut into the seam!).

 

Step 8 Turn right side out, tuck in the seam allowance at the opening and press. Edgestitch all around.

Step 9 Using a safety pin or bodkin, thread the elastic pieces through the casings. Tie the elastic ends into a knot and adjust the fit if necessary. If desired, shift the knotted end into the casing — it looks nicer and will be more comfy for little ears.

All done! So cute!

Let me know if you give these a try and if you find any errors or have suggestions for improvement.

Simple

Hello, my friends. How are you? How different the world is since I last posted here.

Nothing like a pandemic to stop you in your tracks, to take stock of all that is.

It’s very odd. I was experiencing a sense of deja vu as events unfolded, and I kept trying to figure out why that would be. It finally occurred to me that I had felt this very same sense of foreboding and out-of-control-ness and unmooring when my health was at its worst, back in 2012.

I was homebound for the most part back then too, and I felt constrained in every way because my body was incapable of functioning how I wanted it to. But as the restricted days turned into weeks and then into months, I found a rhythm that started to make more sense. The slowing down became normal, appreciated, even. I slept a lot, took longer and longer walks as my strength increased, ate mountains of vegetables and read an astounding number of books. I filled one notebook after another as I examined my life from every angle and discovered unsettling and buoying aspects in equal measure.

I simplified. From the outside looking in, my early days of rehabilitation probably appeared nondescript, boring. Ironically, it was anything but. It was one of the most creative, richest times for me. All that time of quietude and percolating thoughts led to sewing with vigor again, picking up a paintbrush to teach myself watercolors and gouache, launching this little blog. And then crazy things kept happening and dreams came true.

My days are simple again. I get up early in the morning to walk around the neighborhood. I come home, make myself a cup of coffee and write for hours. I feed my family (including my cat) brunch. We’ve done away with breakfast and brunch is always more fun. I work on book projects at a leisurely pace. Nothing, absolutely nothing, is rushed. I paint little sketches. I like to paint flowers. Some days I sew. I do some laundry. A little bit of tidying up happens here and there. I start on dinner around 5:30, and chop many, many vegetables. We eat our evening meal, and K has started a new tradition: we must report three good things that happened that day. I read a chapter or two from one of the books among the towering stack beside my bed before drifting off to asleep. And then I repeat the whole thing the next day.

This doesn’t mean there’s no fear or anxiety. My brain feels foggier for sure. I am more emotional. I miss my regular routines; I miss getting together with people. But the simplicity helps. Simple feels good.

P.S. My 2021 sewing book, as expected, has been postponed since we couldn’t proceed with the photoshoot, but the good news is that my ANIMAL FRIENDS TO SEW book will be on sale earlier than expected. I will have more updates on that soon.

This one’s figured out the whole lockdown thing.

 

Almost done with the testing phase…

Hello, my friends! How are you?

It’s a bright, blue-skied day here in Seattle as I write this. I have been running around town to make progress on the current book I’m working on, feeling more like a project manager than a writer/illustrator. The testing phase for the garment sewing book is coming to a close (if you signed up, remember that responses are due by February 29th if you haven’t completed the form yet). It’s been unreal. Amazing. I’ve been reading all the feedback that’s been popping up, and I keep getting more and more excited. This is going to be one well-tested book! Of course I love all of my books, but this one feels extra special because the kismet level has been off-the-charts.

I wish I could share more, and I will as soon as I can.

What I’m trying to say is that there’s quite a bit going on and when I misread my calendar and took K to her viola lesson at the wrong time this week, I knew I had to step back. Take it easy. I actually got sick for the first time in almost a year on Saturday (husband expressed concerns about coronavirus; it wasn’t). I recovered lightning fast, but it was my body giving me a stern talking-to. I’m going to listen to it.

I’ll be back with a short blog update next month, but I’m going to take an extended Instagram break and focus on getting my book wrapped up. I’ve been intrigued by Cal Newport’s philosophy that he calls “Digital Minimalism” and he seems like someone who knows what he’s talking about. I have a bit of a crush on him, if I’m honest. That there is a brilliant man — I think my husband is a little jealous because I keep mentioning Cal (See? We’re already on first name basis). I also read his other books, So Good They Can’t Ignore You and Deep Work, both of which are thought-provoking and excellent.

I’m off to go sew up more sample garments for my book! That image above is one of my trial garments. I seem to have an abundant supply of the indigo chambray and have been making everything in that fabric. Love it.

It feels like spring is just around the corner, and it’s so refreshing after what seemed like endless rain and grey. Wherever you are, I hope you’re having a day full of vibrant promise and forthcoming blooms. xo