giving the gift of hand skills

design, experiences, general crafts, inspiration, just a thought

My favorite advice columnist Amy Dickinson, of Ask Amy, is asking families to leave a book — new or used — on the bed of every child in America on Christmas Eve so that each child will have the first present they find be a book. I’m in. All four of the kids who will be sleeping in our home on Christmas Eve will be waking up with books in their beds. New tradition — done.

So now here’s my idea for another tradition that I’m hoping will catch on. I’d like for people with some kind of hand skill to share that skill with a child or young adult sometime over the holiday season. True, I’d love to see some new blood in the handcraft movement but it’s really more important than that. I’m really getting concerned about the lack of fine motor skills in the some of the young people I know. I’ve seen it in interns in our studio, workshops I’ve taught, our daughter’s school and in various orbits of my life.

I see it in kids who can’t use scissors or grasp a pencil correctly. I see it in children who can’t write in cursive and in young adults whose handwriting looks like mine did in 7th grade. I’ve seen it in interns who can’t cut fabric accurately or use pins very easily because they aren’t used to grabbing anything smaller than a computer mouse. They are texting whizzes but they struggle with activities that use more than just their thumbs. Our daughter wasn’t even taught cursive in school and teachers are encouraging students to do all of their presentations in PowerPoint so they don’t even get a chance to use block handwriting for presentations. Even a young surgeon I know admitted that the women in his residency program who did handwork as young girls have better hand skills than he does. I have these images of our species losing millions of years of evolutionary progress because our fine motor skills are succumbing to atrophy. I’m all for teaching and knowing technology but developing fine motor skills can’t be totally thrown out the window.

So I’m calling on those of you who can quilt, knit, bead, crochet, tat, draw, paint, needlepoint, cook, make furniture, ceramics or anything that requires hand control to share that skill with someone for a few hours between now and New Year’s Day. Invite a young person to help you with a project or better yet, share your materials and skill to help them make one of their own. We’ve had sewing playdates on days off where we invite one of our daughter’s friends to spend the day in our studio with a pile of scraps, scissors, pins, needles, thread and a spare sewing machine. We offer guidance but let them sew whatever they want as long as they are respecting the equipment. Even if they use the sewing machine, they have to pin and cut so they develop some new hand skills. What I’ve found is that pretty much all you need to do is provide the time and materials and they will figure out what they want to do pretty quickly. The photo above is our daughter and her friend who made dozens of tiny pillows that they strung together in a garland. This was for a school art project but they routinely sew sleeping bags for stuffed animals, cloth napkins and miscellaneous sewing projects. We’ll be working on knitting projects and constructing and decorating gingerbread houses over the holidays as well. I figure that as long as they’re using their brains and their hands in new ways, it’s all good.


the best presents

experiences, just a thought

It’s my birthday!

I’m 49 in calendar years but still feel like I’m 30. In my mind I’m always 30. I just don’t feel like I thought I would at 49, which I think is a great thing.That’s a gift right there.

It took me way too many birthdays to realize that the best gifts are sometimes those you give yourself. So here’s my plan for today:

Today I’m giving myself the gift of time. I’m going to go to my favorite kickboxing class followed by my favorite weight training class to celebrate 49 years as an asthmatic. I always workout extra hard on my birthday because I feel lucky to be able to do so.

Then I’m having lunch with a girlfriend to celebrate friendship. This would also count as celebrating the gift of laughter, because there will be plenty of that.

After that I’m going to work on my Quilt National submission to celebrate challenging myself and lifelong learning.

I’ll have a wonderful dinner with Bill and Sophie to celebrate how lucky I am to have a great family.

And then I’ll think about the next year. Any suggestions?

travel clothes for kids

design, experiences, fabric, family, fashion, just a thought, sewing

It was right around this time in 1973 when my family began preparing for our first family trip to Europe. My mother and step-father traveled to Europe without us every year and stayed in budget hotels in various countries. I was just finishing up 6th grade and my sister 7th so it was decided that we were finally old enough to join them for The Grand Tour. We were to spend nearly a month in Europe visiting England, France, Holland and Italy. My mother extolled the virtues of traveling lightly and taking as few clothes as possible. She gave us detailed tutorials about washing out our clothes in the sink with Woolite before bedtime so they’d be clean the next morning. Conveniently for us it was the early 70s so finding quick-drying synthetic clothes was a cinch. I didn’t give it much thought until we got there.

Back in those days, luggage was heavy and designed for bellboys not jet-lagged 12-year olds. Backpacks were only for hikers or boy scouts and suitcases had no wheels. Although I had only packed two pairs of shoes, socks, underwear, one dress, one skirt, one pair of pants and two shirts for a month, it was still a surprising amount to carry through train stations and up flights of stairs at the pensione in Rome when the elevator was broken. Suddenly I understood my step-father’s motto of “You bring it, you carry it.”

I quickly mastered the sink-wash-towel-roll-up technique perfected by my mom and decided that it was genius. I quickly noticed which things were dry by the next morning and which required part of a second day. Since we were traveling from hotel to hotel I learned to strategize about wearing the slow-drying things on the first day so they could be washed and still be dry before we checked out of a given hotel.

Since that first trip to Europe I have never traveled with a pair of jeans (too slow-drying and stiff without a dryer) and have a special set of clothes that I buy on the basis of “could I wash that out in a sink and if so how long would it take to dry?” Our family travels so lightly that we rarely check a bag unless it’s full of quilts for business. I kind of obsess over how little I can take but still look good and be able to dress for a variety of occasions.

So when we took our daughter to Japan at age 4, I started to notice that there are no kids’ wash-and-wear travel clothes for anything other than hiking. Nothing I could dress her in to see the gardens in Kyoto or to meet my dear ikebana sensei. So I bought some synthetic t-shirts, microfiber tights and started making quick-dry travel clothes for our daughter. I found two-microfiber fabrics that worked with the shirts and fleece jacket she had. I sewed a skirt and a pair of pants with simple elastic waists that passed the overnight-dry test. The following year, I washed out those clothes in sinks in London and New York.

Before we headed to France two weeks ago to visit Bill’s sister in Normandy and later to Paris, I was once again sewing travel clothes for our daughter. I had to pack for both farm work and sightseeing around Normandy and in Paris. And who wants to look frumpy in Paris for crying out loud? There was also the added pressure of meeting my sister-in-law’s mother-in-law, a formal French woman in her 80s referred to simply as “Madame.” That had “dressy” written all over it.

I originally had planned to make a skirt and a jacket out of quick dry fabrics but when I began looking for fabric, I couldn’t find many fabrics that were right for the pattern I had in mind. The other issue is that our daughter, no surprise, loves prints so much that she is visually disappointed when she has to wear clothes made with solid fabrics. She puts Oilily to shame. The only exception are her hiking pants with the leg sections that zip off transforming the pants to shorts. They would be perfect for collecting eggs from hens and riding on the tractors with her four boy cousins but not for meeting Madame.

For more city and sightseeing clothes, she prefers at least two prints per outfit, which is challenging combination to find. I found a good knit that I thought she’d like for the skirt. The black print would hide stains yet be cheery. Then I made a huge sacrifice to my obsessive tendencies and got a super lightweight pinwale corduroy/spandex blend that isn’t quick-dry but could dry without becoming stiff. I figured that the jacket would be worn less than her shirts and skirts. And the print and weight of the fabric was so perfect with the skirt. At Target I found a poly-cotton white t-shirt and a couple of floral quick-dry shirts for her at REI, both of which dried overnight.

In the end, the predicted 60-degree temps turned to 75-80 degree temps so she needed the jacket less than I expected but the skirt got well used and dried in a flash.

I used a Burda Kids pattern #9547. Although I loved the pattern, I thought the sizing was really confusing. I took her chest measurement and went to the next size up hoping that she’d have enough room to grow into it. Even going to the next size up I found the pattern was sized so small that I ended up using a 1/4″ seam allowance instead of the recommended 5/8″ just to give her a little more room. I kept the other sizes though and will makeĀ  two sizes up next time I sew this pattern. I also swapped out, at our daughter’s request, a lavender zipper for the buttons.

I’d love to hear what other parents do about travel clothes for kids. My friends all say that they only go to places with washing machines and dryers but that’s harder to find in big cities and in other countries.

So send me your kids’ travel clothes strategies please!