Monday, December 26, 2011

Knuffle Bunny!

I was really looking forward to Christmas this year. First, we got to be at our home this year (yay!) and second, Michael is at that magical, wonderful age where he's pretty awesome and I figured that he wouldn't disappoint. And he did not.

We left "Santa's" gifts unwrapped under the tree. After Michael got up and went potty (!) he came into the living room and saw them and his face lit up! He literally squealed when he saw what was under the tree. His delight might be my favorite parenting moment so far.

It is better to give. Particularly if you are giving a truck to a little boy that loves trucks. 

I was also really looking forward to Christmas morning because I made him his very own Knuffle Bunny and I was hoping that he would love it (that kind of thing makes me happy). The Knuffle Bunny books (here, here, and here) are fantastic. If you've got a little one, I highly recommend checking them out (and anything else from Mo Willems)and if you are only TTC, I recommend putting them on your list of things to get when you finally bring baby home someday. And if you don't feel like sewing a Knuffle Bunny, you can buy one too (but where's the fun in that?).

I love Knuffle Bunny's eyes. It looks like he's seen something he can't unsee. Perhaps it was me pulling his head out through his ass? His nose is a little rumpled and one of his legs is a tad long, but otherwise, I'm pretty happy. 

Showing off the backside. Much better than the bunny I made in home-ec in 8th grade. 

I felt like a procrastinator as I finished stitching up his backside on Christmas Eve, but I put A LOT of time into that rabbit. I have half a dozen practice bunny heads and a full practice rabbit littering my sewing table. After numerous fails, I gave up making my own pattern and after much searching I found this pattern online and adapted it to look more like Knuffle Bunny. I interpret Knuffle Bunny a little differently than the manufactured one, FYI (and I think more accurately). He turned out rather large, so I'd recommend if you try this pattern, shrinking it to 75% or even 50%. I sewed it out of "microplush" (it's plush on both sides and a lot of blankets are made out of this stuff these days) which makes him very soft, but microplush is the devil to work with. I recommend either getting some practice in with this material, or find a better material to work with. He didn't turn out perfect, but I'm still proud of him and Michael loved it.

Hugging his bunny.

All worth it.

Wednesday, December 21, 2011

My Anniversary/Christmas/Birthday Present

A couple of weeks ago I got a new sewing machine.

No, I don't bother to clean up my sewing table when I take pictures for the world to see. 

I've wanted a new sewing machine for awhile, but if you've never looked into high-end sewing machines, just let me tell you, they are expensive. So this effectively covers my anniversary and Christmas and birthday gifts this year.

I was not loving my old machine, but I was resigned to keep it for a couple more years because I just didn't feel that I could justify spending the moolah on a new machine. But a couple of weeks ago I noticed some very bad signs of wear on my machine. Basically my walking foot was eating through the metal clamp that holds the needle in place. This is very bad. It's the kind of problem where every single stitch I was taking was rushing my machine closer and closer to a big problem of that clamp breaking and causing serious damage. I imagine that the part could be replaced... or I could stop sewing with my walking foot, but really my walking foot was what had made sewing on my machine enjoyable and I didn't really want to put anymore money into my machine.

So we decided that it was better to just spend the money on the machine I really wanted since it was going to be expensive to get a nice machine no matter what... so might as well get the one that is nice and makes me happy. After visiting several dealerships and reading hundreds of reviews, I bought a Pfaff Quilt Expression 4.0.

And it does make me happy. I won't go into how much of an improvement it is over my old machine (a Singer Confidence) because it's hard to describe it all and to a non-sewist it wouldn't make a lot of sense, but it has made sewing much more of a pleasure (and less of a chore). But I will list some really nice features of the machine for those that are interested:

-Needle up/down. I've wanted this for a long time. I'll never have another machine without it.
-Auto presser foot lift. I can set the machine to stop with the needle down and the foot lifts to allow me to pivot the fabric. This is especially nice because I never have to take my hands off my work. I'll never be able to live without this again.
-Auto tack on/off. This is nice because the machine does it neatly and I don't forget these steps anymore making my work sturdier.
-Thread cutter. There is a built-in automatic thread cutter that I have programmed to cut my threads after it tacks off. This is very nice because it saves me a step and keeps my work neater because with fewer long threads on my projects and work surfaces. I didn't think much of this feature when I bought it, but I'm a big fan after using it for awhile.
-IDT, this is basically a built in walking foot. THIS FEATURE MAKES THE PFAFF MACHINES AWESOME. I think Janome offers this too, but when spending more than a grand on a machine, I can't imagine buying one without this. It's a very good feed system and makes a HUGE difference. I don't care how fancy the machine is, almost all of my sewing benefits from a dual feed system and I have found the integrated dual feed to have a lot of advantaged over an add-on walking foot (and not to mention, my add-on walking foot was destroying my machine and forcing me to buy a new machine in the first place). The Pfaff IDT can be used with most of the interchangeable presser feet, which is just the best thing since sliced bread or can be disengaged and not used at all.
-Low bobbin indicator. This was not a feature that I would pay more money for, but it is kinda handy. If you are sewing a lot and plan ahead you can have several bobbins wound with your thread and when the low bobbin warning pops up you just drop the new bobbin in while your project is still under the needle. That is a convenient feature.

The machine also has some nice stitches built in and a memory function to remember your stitches if you want (this is important to me). The stitches it produces are good looking and make a fine finished product which is probably the most important thing about the machine.

I really worried about buying this machine since the reviews are not all favorable... in fact there are a lot of people that have been very disappointed with this machine. The machine has had several factory fixes, which I imagine have made a big difference. Also, this machine is marketed towards quilters (and pretty much all the reviews on the internet are from quilters). I am not a quilter. I do everything but quilts... craft, garments, drapery, and some upholestry. I sew some strange materials: microplush (this stuff is the devil to sew), felt, fleece, burlap, pleather, silk, home dec weight fabrics, diaper fabrics, elastic, knits, faux fur... very little quilting cotton. I have found this machine to meet my needs very well. The IDT is great for the fabrics with stretch.

I also bought my machine from a very good dealer. I drove a distance to get it from a very respected dealer. He took the time to really explain the mechanisms to me and make sure that I understood how they worked so that I could troubleshoot my own problems. This is essential because most of the problems people have had with this machine are user error. This is not a hard to use or difficult machine, but if you don't understand certain things about it, you could have more problems. I would not recommend buying one of these used or off the internet because you may not get the latest machine with the factory fixes or not have a warranty.

At the end of the day, this machine was actually less money that I was worried that I would spend and my projects are definitely better with it. I'm very happy so far. I just had to share my new toy.

Some photos. . .

Beautiful stitches. That tack off is perfect. 

The mock serger stitches are beautiful. I don't have a serger, so I really appreciate this. 

Neatly trimmed threads make life much nicer. 

My Rudolph bag. I love it. I made everything myself. I have the control with this machine to do a detailed applique like this without wanting to throw something out the window when I'm done now. You can't see it but I stitched the tiniest circle to put Rudolph's nose on and it's perfect. I could never have done that with my old machine. 

Snowflake bag. The machine did not like the metallic thread I used to put the big flake on, but it did a great job anyways. 

Michael's new robe or a ruthless leader ruling from his throne/booster seat? You decide.

A whole stack of training pants. Finishing these on my old machine might have killed me. We are currently potty learning/training. More on this another time. 

I finally finished the blanket to match my niece's curtains. This blanket went through THREE ruffler foots. *Rips out hair* But it's finally done. 

The best part of getting anything new... the box.

Sunday, December 11, 2011

Cooking with Michael

I'm totally inspired with how some parents have made their homes 'kid friendly'. One of the bloggers that has inspired me the most is Meg at Sew Liberated. Meg is a former Montesssori teacher and has done an excellent job of making a toddler friendly home. Check out the video of her kid picking up his play dough (that video will knock your socks off, my husband and I just sat in awe as we watched it, and he's only 20 months in this video) and the watering station in her kitchen too. Wow. Her blog is seriously inspiring (not to mention her sewing projects).

I've been dabbling in Montessori and my opinion is overall positive, but I'm a little mixed on some aspects of it. I think bringing the child into the kitchen and teaching them practical skills like making their own snacks or washing dishes is good, but I'm not interested in making Michael sit in a weaning chair at his own table for his meals. I've always thought eating meals as a family was important. And some literature I've read gives examples of very young children being taught skills that just seems a little daunting and not well suited for our family. (Can you teach a one year old to peel a carrot? Yes. But it seems to be a bit much for a child that doesn't even have fully myelinated nerves. Maybe I just don't understand Montessori.*)

But we have tried to give Michael some of his own space in the kitchen and involve him more and more in meal preparation.

I love our house. I think we have a great floor plan, but our kitchen is small. Actually, it's a very big kitchen in a small space. It works.

This is my kitchen as is tonight. We haven't even cleaned up after a quick dinner. Notice the spray pain can on the counter top? (Yeah I need to take that downstairs). Like our wine bottle collection? Collecting has pretty much been at a dead stop since I got pregnant.

I'm kinda mixed on childproofing. I think it's important, but it can be over done. We have simple finger locks under the sink and on one cabinet that the dishes are stored in (I hate dealing with locks myself). Michael has free access to all of the other cabinets. It's a pain at times, but it has gotten easier.

We have a "baited" cabinet that has a bunch of stuff we don't use often and we let him tear through it if he wishes (and he has to put back what he gets out).

It's a general rule that anything is this cabinet should be washed before using with food. The lazy susan is probably the biggest attraction itself. 

He also loves the bottom of the pantry. He'll pull out the cereal boxes and play with them or play with the paper towels.

I do keep a pretty good eye on him when he's in here because of the blades on the foil and saran wrap boxes. It handy to have a 'sacrificial' package of paper towels. 

He used to get into the cabinet that had the pots and pans in it. We used to think it was cute. Were're not so enthusiastic about that one now, so we've gotten onto him enough to leave that one alone that he mostly does.

He also has a little drawer where we keep his trays and silverware. We have him get his silverware at most meals. When I'm unloading the dishwasher I let him put his things up. (And it keeps him from messing with the other stuff in the dishwasher.)

I wish I could fit his cups in here too. Just a couple of bibs shoved in the back. 

When I'm making meals (mostly lunch time) Michael will push a chair in from the dining table up to the counter next to the stove, climb up on it and watch me cook**. He tries to grab a lot, so it's a chore, but I'm hoping that it's worth the trouble. Most of the time he watches, sometimes I have little tasks he can try like buttering toast or stirring. When I make pizza dough I will give him a little piece to play with. He would love it if I would let him have an egg to crack, but that ain't happening anytime soon. And when he's not listening to me, I tell him to go to the living room and play with his tractors and he's pretty accepting of that request, at least for a few minutes.

Michael loves to try to sweep and dust mop. I've asked the grandmas for little brooms and dustpans. I'm going to hang them on low hooks in the broom closet off the kitchen where he can grab them. We are also trying to collect some child size cooking utensils. I'd love to have one of these, but no way do we have the room.

I'm always a bit challenged by what I should be trying to get him to do and what's appropriate for his age. When I think about this for too long, I get stressed out and my anxiety creeps back up. "The one year old in that book could peel carrots and my kid is almost two and can't even eat a carrot!" But I try to remind myself to just let it be and go at our own pace (thank you CBT). I'm pretty sure that we are moving in the right direction and I just try not to worry about it too much. But it sure is fun to think up ideas and fantasize about my dream kitchen.

*It seems like anytime anyone criticizes Montessori the reply back is that they "don't understand Montessori". I have seen this excuse so many times and it comes out so smugly so often that it makes me dislike Montessori altogether... but I know not every parent and teacher that does Montessori is so drunk off the kool-aide that they have forgotten that there are other perfectly good ways to educate your child and you don't have to adhere to Montessori 100% of the time for it to be effective.

**And he has totally fallen off the chair, but if he didn't fall off he'd never learn to not fall off.

Thursday, December 1, 2011

Christmas Prep

It's the first of December and we have a tree up. I'd don't think I've ever had a tree up this early. But I wanted to get it up to put Michael's Advent books under it to give them more context since dates and calendars are still beyond him.

We went and cut down our tree yesterday. It was nearly sunset. They sent us to the field right next to the house, which was a little disappointing, but was also good because I wasn't sure how we were going to ride on the trailer to the field.

Who will be the lucky tree?

This tidy 7 foot-er will do. 

Yesterday night I set about preparing the Advent books. We decided that we will buy him one new book every year (so theoretically he will be getting a new book every year until he's 25). I went to the book store earlier in the day (actually a couple of them) to look for the perfect book. I chose Snowmen At Night since it's very cute, the pictures are wonderful and Michael seems to like snowmen a lot. I wrote a little note in it for Michael. I plan on it being the book he opens on Christmas day.

Then I gathered the other books. I do not have a spectacular collection to show off, but eventually we'll get there. Between the new book, books Michael already had, my childhood books, my husband's childhood books, and some PSR books from an aunt, we just barely scrapped together 25 books.

This book was from my 2nd grade teacher. She wrote a little inscription in it to me. It's definitely one of my favorite books because of that. 

Other books I've been holding on to.

Books from DH's childhood. Some of these are really old.

"Reason for the season" books.

Michael's favorite book. He got this one last year for Christmas and LOVES it. I've probably read it to him 200 times already, but I'm sure he'll still be excited when he pulls the wrapping paper off. 

Some other books we had. The Snowtime Tales book is beautiful, but it has three stories in it, so that will take awhile to read when we get to it. And I've got 'The Night Before Christmas' set to unwrap on the night before Christmas. 

Some board books. I have a feeling that Dora book will be a hit. 

It took a long time to decide on the order and and wrap all those books. And I'm going to do this every year? Oy, what have I gotten myself into?

Tonight we decorated the tree. Michael played with ornaments while DH and I worked. Michael tried to shake the tree and was rough with the ornaments a couple of times which required trips to the naughty chair. I know we were being harsh on him, but we want it to be very clear that the Christmas tree is not to be played with. If he wants to see an ornament he has to ask us to give it to him. I think a little more work upfront to enforce the rules will make for a happier experience for everyone.

Ambrosia guarding the tree.

Some favorite ornaments.

See Mom, I'm just touching the tree. I'm not doing anything naughty. 

Then we opened the first Advent book, the carefully selected The Perfect Tree, a simple board book about a family selecting and decorating a tree.

Wrapped and numbered. 

Excellent practice for opening Christmas presents.

And here are some pics of Bliss, just because I thought they were funny.

Evil Bliss.

Innocent Bliss.