Thursday, July 13, 2017

A Technological Delight

Looking through my recent blog posts, I discovered that this past year was the year I blogged the least.  I also discovered that exactly one year ago today, I posted about my new job.   I was surprised to read it today and see that what I predicted the job would be a year ago turned out to be exactly what it is.

In case this is your first day on my blog, after 20 years teaching French, I left the classroom in June 2016 to take a position in the technology department.  The title is ridiculously long, so suffice it to say I'm the assistant director of technology.  I run around our district helping teachers integrate technology into their everyday lives and I spend a lot of time putting out fires, wiping away tears and coaxing people into the 21st century.

I knew before I took the job that we have some serious techno phobes in the classroom but it is staggering how much people resent, fear or just don't care about technology.  And I really do understand both arguments:  we need to prepare kids to be self sufficient in a heavily tech centered world but we also need to let them play, be kids and keep their eyes off of screens that seem to be everywhere we look.  There's a fine balance that I try to help everyone figure out, while I try to figure out that balance for myself!

The more time I spend with teachers, the more I am fascinated by how teachers learn what they need to know to function with students, but how they get there is mind boggling.  Here are some examples that make my hair curl and will hopefully make you laugh because you either know someone like this or you are that person!:

Scene 1:
Me:  What broswer are you using when your gradebook unexpectedly quits and you can't get in?
Teacher:  Oh, I don't use a browser.
Me:  Yes you do, it's how you check your email.
Teacher:  No, I just click that thing on my desktop and it goes to my email.
Me:   (very deep sigh, long exhale)  When you click on that "thing on the desktop"  is it a lower case e or a fox running around a globe?

Scene 2:
Teacher:  (furious email to me in all caps)  I can't get into my gradebook, no matter what I do.  Can you tell me my password?  I don't know why YOU PEOPLE make us do these grades on line.
Me:  I can't see your password, but I can give you some hints and ask the director to help  if that doesn't work.  Your password is usually the same as your gmail password but you must have a capital letter.  Most people use the first letter of their password as the capital.
Teacher:  Ok, I'll try in the 4.3 minutes I have before my next class.

later that day

Teacher:  No, I've tried every password I have and I've tried a capital at the beginning of each and they won't work.
Me:  Well, I can't reset your password but let's see what the director can find out.


Me:  Can I call you so we can talk about your password?
Teacher:  Yes, when it rains bananas at midnight, I should be available.
Me:  I can't send your password via email, so I'll try calling.

three days later 

Me:  Hi, so it turns out, your password is actually the opposite of what most people have.  You have a lowercase for the first letter and the rest is in all caps.
Teacher:  Well who the hell did that?? I wouldn't do that!
Me:  You had CAPS LOCK on when you set your password.
Teacher:  No, that's not possible.  I NEVER do that.
Me:  Yep, that's the only answer.

Scene 3:
Me in the classroom because a teacher has described something that I have to see in person to believe:  Ok, so do what you normally do when you get that weird message you talked about.
Teacher:  Yes, so I click here and then I do this and then I click here and then I open this, and then I scroll down and click this one and then I open it and when I type in this grade, I get this message.
Me:  Did you know that you can save yourself about 4 steps by just clicking here?
Teacher:  Oh, well, it's easier for me to do what I just showed you.

Scene 4:
Me in the classroom of a teacher who needs me to show her something in person because all of the pictures I've sent with the big red circles on the one thing she needs to click make no sense:  So, when you get to that screen, see that little arrow on the top right?  No, not that one, that one there.  No, below that.  No, right where my finger is pointing.  Not that one.  Right here under my finger. (she Xs out of her browser)  Oh, well, now I know you didn't mean to close it, no, it's ok, really, now open that whole thing back up and again and I'll show you again.  When do you have kids coming? Oh, 20 minutes?  Ok, open it up, click here...  (20 minutes later...)  Yes, THAT ARROW RIGHT THERE WHERE MY FINGER IS.

Scene 5:
Teacher in the classroom where I was just dropping something off and trying to run away:  While you're here, can I show you something weird that I can't really explain over email?
Me:  Sure.

20 minutes later I've been shown 5 things that are dreadfully wrong with this world and I've heard a dissertation about the horrors of using technology in the classroom and why do we in the technology office make everyone do these things that they don't want to do?

Scene 6:
Me in a classroom to show students how to save to google drive from their ipads:  Ok, great, does your SMARTBOARD work?
I hadn't even noticed that there is a cart blocking the board and a row of desks blocking the cart so the board isn't even accessible.
Teacher:  Oh, I don't know.
Me:  (I just died a little.)  Well, let's turn it on and see what happens.  BINGO, it works! 

I turn around to look at the class and trip over a desk that I didn't know was there.  This room is so filled with stuff and with kids, I may not make it out alive.   I show them how to do something and hands go up.  15 minutes later, I've navigated to the first child whose hand was up needing help.  I look at the teacher as I trip my way to the next student.

Teacher:  Oh, next year I'm going to be so organized!

The above scenarios are all real and happen all the time.  Especially the "I don't use a browser" one. 

This job is fun and sometimes funny because of things like this.  There are days when I'm sure if I had to speak to a person face to face I'd have to shake them to death, but email is often the best and quickest solution for everyone involved. 

The hardest part of my year was when the gradebook program had a major disaster and I put out fires for a month, with no solution in sight and the company acting like were the only school district suffering from what was clearly their issue.  And even that wasn't really such a big deal.

I schedule most of my days the way I want, with some meetings that aren't flexible, once in a while.  I can usually dash out to a school to help someone on the spot and some days, I know ahead of time what I need to do so I can make the rounds in an orderly fashion.  I spend a lot of time exploring apps so I know what they do and there are many things that I know I need to figure out but I could only do so many things the first year. 

I got to teach a graduate course, which was a new experience and probably worthy of its own post.  Teachers are not easy to teach because they are so busy doing other things instead of listening!

My extra days were all in before June 30th, so I was able to finish when the teachers finish and take some time off this summer.  I will go back in August for some things I have to do, but I will still be on pseudo vacation for most of August.  Without having to think about how I want to arrange my classroom and how many classes I will have and which families are still going to be up my butt all year.

In another post, I will talk about what it was like to be out of the classroom after being in one for so long.

Sunday, July 9, 2017

Preppy the Whale

I would hardly say that I lean toward preppy clothing choices, but the resurgence of pastels in clothing thanks to Vineyard Vines is not something I'm disappointed to see.  While I remember someone giving me no end of grief in 8th grade because I liked pastels (I think she was goth before there was goth and I just didn't know it) I do enjoy pale pinks, greens and blues.

I came upon the Preppy the Whale picture and immediately imagined it in pastels.  And as I searched instagram for pictures, I saw that I was not alone.  Many pictures are of a pink whale held near a Vineyard Vines sign, with the navy and white stripes that are symbolic of the brand.

K-ster's cousin had a baby a few months ago and I thought this would be the perfect pattern and style for them.  The father is from Bermuda, so I of course imagine that all he wears is pastels (don't judge me) and since she is from the Cape, the whales are a nice reminder of home.

The pattern is from Elizabeth Hartman and it's worth a look at her site even if whales aren't your thing.  My favorite part of this pattern is that is isn't paper pieced.  It's so precise that even a not so precise quilter like myself got fantastic points out of it that actually matched.  I even got almost every point on the tails, which is magical for me.  I usually lose points on triangles once I put blocks together.

If her other patterns are as precise as this one, I would highly recommend you try them.

The actual pattern suggests a layout of the finished whales that scrambled my brain, so I added my own sashing around each whale.  This made the blocks approximately 9x13. with 3 inch wide sashes.  I say approximately because it depends on how you put the sashing on each block.

I didn't know how many whales I would make because it was kind of a figure it out as I went thing because adding my own sashing meant measurements that weren't predetermined.  I knew I wanted to go with the pastel on navy idea, and I stuck with just blues and greens.

The whales take VERY little fabric and this entire quilt was made without buying any fabric.  I had to scrimp with the navy on the last couple of blocks but that was because of poor planning.

I originally though 2 columns of 5 would be enough but it really wasn't.  I added another column of 5 and then thought 1 more row would make the right size.  Because I can't count when I'm near my sewing machines, I ended up making 4 more whales instead of 3.

I know I want to make myself a new school bag with this whale on it, but my extra whale was blue and I don't really want a blue one.  I've seen quilt backs that have pieces sewn into them, but given the haphazard way I pin baste and quilt my quilts, I figured if I tried to center the whale on the back, I'd end up with it in a corner, twisted and crooked.

Surprise, surprise, it remained where I put it and when I look at the quilting, it's not bad.  Nothing folded and nothing is too skewed.

Trying to do the math to figure out how to get a strip in there with the whale in the middle took some finagling but I'm really happy with that.

I thought I'd use my new Bernina Cotton and Steel 350 to do all of the quilting but I didn't realize it didn't come with any feet I can use for free motion quilting and my feet for my old Bernina 1001 won't work on it.  I really want to try something new with free motion quilting and the wavy stitch that I use most of the time when I quilt, so I pulled out my old machine and set it to work.

I free motion quilted the whales in a pale green and I did my famous wavy stitch on the navy, with navy.

It made for a lot of starting and stopping but I think I'm over my fear of not knowing how to stop and start the thread.   I really like the effect.  Next time, I would not quilt in between the tail and the body because it's a little weird looking, but I did it consistently so I might have gotten away with it this time.  The green here is my favorite in the whole quilt.

For the border, I used the same fabrics I used for the whales, cut at random lengths.  The backing was a great fabric because it's busy, so if there are quilting mishaps, only the most savvy quilter will see them.  The binding is a fabric I didn't use in the quilt because I found it in my mother's stash after everything was done.  I really like the color and I think it ties it all together.

I'm fairly new to free motion quilting and I've always been so afraid to do it because of the fabric rippling or folding on the back.  Maybe because I use a million basting pins, or maybe because I don't think about it too hard, or maybe it's just luck, but it seems to be working lately.  It's a lot easier than wrestling a whole quilt through my machine, as you can see here.

I was so pleased with how this quilted and how quickly it went, I've already laid out and basted a quilt top I made a while back that I've been dreading quilting.  It's red and white, so what I will use for thread and how I will go about it is my current fascination.

Linking here:

Wednesday, May 3, 2017

Even My Garden Has Fabric In It

I'm an avid gardener, but I have a lot of trouble with animals wreaking havoc with my plants.  When I plant new seedlings, crows and squirrels have at it and often uproot a whole row in a day. It's devastating and if I don't catch it right away, the tender seedlings will dry out in the sun and die.

Even worse, something will snap off a whole row of new plants right at the base for seemingly no reason.  I am pretty sure that's crows too.  They do it because they are just bastards.

My 4 feet of chicken wire fencing keeps out the rabbits and deters some animals but squirrels are brazen and they'll climb in there even if I'm standing there.

Another issue I've had for the past few years is cabbage worms.  They love broccoli, brussels sprouts and cauliflower.  They are fuzzy green caterpillars that eat until they just about explode and then turn into the pretty little white butterflies I always think means summer is here. 

Now I just know it means there are more egg layers out there making me do battle all summer long.

This year, I've resorted to using the thin white insect barrier cloth to see if a) I can give some seedlings a little more protection and b) I can keep the cabbage worms away completely.

First, I went to the ag supply store and bought 10 pieces of 2 foot rebar.  This is that really ugly metal stuff that is about 3/8 inch thick and rusts right away but that has amazing uses in the garden.

Then I cut some plastic pipe we had around here to 5 feet each.  My fabric is 6 feet wide and I wanted enough to sit on the ground  on each side so it could be tied down.

Then I put the rebar in the ground until about 1 foot remained on top and pushed the pipe over it.  I did this because I think the pipe needs to have something to make it stay on the ground or it will just flex and fall over and not work.

I bought a 6 foot by 50 foot pieces of fabric so I cut it in half and did one 25 foot row.  I would like to get one more hoop in there and I have enough fabric left to do that.

Once I covered it all over, I had trouble deciding how to hold it down.  I want to use some kind of clips, but what I found weren't really big enough and they kept popping off because I chose a very windy night to do this.

They recommend using the metal stakes that you'd use to hold down weed fabric or even a tent.  Also known as ground staples.  I didn't want to put holes in it, so I twisted the fabric and stuck the metal stakes over it snugly.

You can see everything blowing in the wind but I think it's pretty well anchored.  The end where I start the video is where I'd like to add one more hoop, so for now, it's wrapped around a cylinder and a cement block is pushed against it to hold it in placec.

The manufacturer says it lets in 90% of sunlight and rain but keeps the bugs out.  It's kind of like that polyester stuff that it seems everyone is using for grocery bags and stuff.  It feels durable but if you stepped on it and gave it a good tug, I think it would tear. 

I'm very curious about how it will hold up and if it will make any kind of difference.

I've had terrible luck with my squash the past few years because of the squash vine borer and this will keep them away but then the bees can't get in to pollinate.  What I've planted so far is just spinach and cauliflower which don't need pollinating.

If I see that this works for the cabbage worms, I might do something similar with squash and figure out something for the pollinators.  There is a short window around here for the moths to lay the squash borer eggs, so if I can keep them covered during that window, I should be good to open them later and have no problems.

Saturday, April 29, 2017

The Raging Animal Inside Me

Continuing my love affair with the Chitown Chinos Skirts and Shorts, I made myself this little number during the week.  Stay tuned to find out how little it cost!

I've never owned anything in an animal print and I've always thought of them as sleazy or ridiculous.  Especially animal print tops.

But lately, when I'm looking at fabric, prints like this keep jumping out at me.  On a trip to JoAnn, I ventured into the clearance section.  For this I deserve a medal.  They've changed the way they lay out the clearance section and instead of lining up the bolts beside each other, like they do with the rest of their fabric, they stack them 10 high on a table.  You can barely get a glimpse of most of them , let alone touch them to see if they are something you might want to pursue.

And it seems I always walk in there with an armload of things so I can't even just look around, I have to put my pile down so I can move through the bolts.  It takes a lot of effort.

I had no patience, so I quickly scanned what I could see, the same bolts they've had on clearance for well over a year, and then my eyes fell upon this.  I didn't have to work too hard to wrestle it from the pile and discovered that it has a slight stretch.  It's probably all polyester, which I am not a fan of, but it didn't feel like it when I was looking it over.

I've made a few of these skirts, and since I like them pretty much 8-9 inches from the bottom of the zipper, I figured I could get away with just half a yard.

This is why a half yard of 44" fabric works for me.  I'm 5'2", I make the size 8 and these are the only pieces that I make out of the main fabric.  On this one, I didn't do any rear pockets (although I had planned to do the amazing welt pockets and didn't have enough, so I'd go with maybe 3/4 yard next time) and I didn't put any belt loops.  Also, all of the inner fabrics are lightweight cotton to reduce bulk, use my stash and keep from having to spend a fortune on that main fabric.

If you are bigger than an 8 (remember, an 8 in this pattern is nothing like an 8 in ready to wear.  I'm usually a 2 or 4 in ready to wear), or if you want your skirt longer than 8 inches from the bottom of the zipper, or if you want rear pockets or belt loops, you couldn't get away with this.

As it was, the fabric was cockeyed, imagine that coming a fine store such as JoAnn, so I barely made it.  Also, the stretch on this thankfully went the right way or it would never have worked.

I won't show you the inside because they aren't quite the pretty guts of many of my other skirts and shorts.  I chose an off white sort of fabric that looks very industrial and bland and my bobbin thread was dark brown, so you can see all of the lines and it's pretty ugly inside :)

I got a kick out of using a red zipper, since that was what I had on hand.  You can't see the zipper when it's on, so it's definitely a fun little secret.

After I made it, I realized I really don't have a top that will go with it.  I would wear an off white or some kind of brown.  This is the only brown top I have and it's definitely longer than I would normally wear with this kind of skirt because the nature of the pockets makes the hips puff out under the shirt.  Strangely, I spent a lot of my day with my hands in my pockets, something I can't say I've ever noticed myself doing before.

As with a pretty blue and white version I made of this over the summer, the stretch of this fabric is surprising and I almost wish I had gone down a size or at least graded at the waist.  It's a little looser than most of my others.

With the 5 or so skirts I've made of this pattern (and I really wear all of them!) I've had the best success with fabric that doesn't stretch.  I have one in a heavy twill that I thought was going to bind me like a mummy but it's actually fantastic.  These stretchy fabrics that have the little 5% lycra or spandex end up moving around a lot as the day goes on.

Alina really has a fabulous pattern here and I'm not sure I'll ever make a skirt out of any other pattern for the rest of my days!

And, are you ready?  I paid $4 for that fabric.  I used a button I had in my stash that came from who knows where- doesn't everyone have a jar of random buttons that could possibly be centuries old?  I used a zipper I got at a thrift store one day when I hit the jackpot and bought several zippers for 50 cents each.  And all of my inner fabric was from my stash.  As was my thread.  So, because the only thing I deliberately bought for this skirt was the leopard print fabric, I'll stick with it only cost me $4.

Wednesday, April 26, 2017

Getting Everything Squared Away

Many moons ago, I bought this flowy, gauzy top and I've worn it to death.

I love the color and the embroidery detail and I think I've owned it for well over 15 years, so I know it's not going to last forever.  To me, the style is timeless and screams warm weather.  It's cool, flowy and very forgiving.

And it has a square neck, which I've been complemented on many times over the years. 

Every so often, I think I need to find a pattern and make some shirts like this because one day, this will really fall apart and then I'll have nothing like it.

Much easier said than done.  I've looked for years and just when I think I have found a pattern, there's a little something that isn't quite right.  Usually, it's that the square neck is really close to my neck, which I don't like.

I've discovered that one of our thrift stores nearby has a little sewing area and I've hit the jackpot on zippers, thread and even some bias tape that I thought I'd never use but I've found two uses for recently.  All for pennies.

When I saw this girls' pattern for the exact shirt I wanted, I figured 50 cents was a fine price to pay for a pattern that would guide me in the right direction.  The first shirt in the second row is exactly what I was looking for. 

I'm small, and sometimes I could swear I could fit in a girls 14 or 16, but the boobolas usually get in the way.  Even though this patter is flowy, I thought it would be too tight across the chest, so I went about making alterations.

The pattern pieces had been cut to a 14, and the neck looked kind of small, so I took it upon myself to make up some adjustments that I would probably need to make to be able to have a wearable top.

I spent an entire morning drawing, cutting, trying, and when I put it all together, it was way too big.  Because I have no idea what I'm doing.  I looked at the original pieces again and decided that maybe a 16 would actually have fit, so I redrew my drawings to be what a 16 would most likely have been, based on the way the grading went from the smallest size up to 14.

Still convinced my boobolas were going to pose a problem, I added a little extra fabric across the body and cut the seam allowance down to 3/8 instead of 5/8.

First lesson:  I can cut that extra amount off the back pattern piece or change the seam allowance, for sure. 

Second lesson:  apparently in Simplicity, I could actually fit into a girls 16 without alterations because this is all slight bit looser than I need.  There's a fine line between comfortable and baggy.   This is a double gauze fabric so it's soft and flowy, but it has more structure than the thin gauze of the original shirt, so it doesn't cling the way the blue on does.

Also, it wrinkles like crazy, but I'm ok with that.

This green turned out to be a huge disappointment.  I thought it was going to be awesome but it's kind of dull.  I really needed something to add interest.

I don't have a super fancy sewing machine, but I do have some stitches that can be sort of fancy, so I chose a lighter green thread and this nifty stitch and went around the yoke, the sleeve tops and edges and the hem.

It's not the fabulous embroidery of the original but it gives it interest.  Actually, on the hem, I just did a thin hem, no fancy stitch.

I loved wearing it so much that I'm on a quest to make a few more.  For the next one, I can't decide if I want to use my adjusted pieces and go with a 5/8 seam allowance or if I want to go with my adjustment to a 16 but take out that extra amount I added on the front and back.

Decisions, decisions.

Also, this skirt is the Chitown Chinos Skirt from Alina Design Co. which is just about the best skirt and shorts pattern I've ever laid eyes on.

Ok, it's the only skirt and shorts pattern I've ever used, but it's amazing!

And, I'm proud to say, this entire top did not have one silly little sewing blunder as almost all of my sewing adventures have had lately!  It was super fast to put together once I figured out what pattern pieces to use.

Be prepared for a peasant top overload!

Monday, April 24, 2017

Free Motion Quilting Success

You've seen in my many posts about quilting that I'm a one trick pony when it comes to my sewing machine and quilting.

But after a trip to a Bernina dealer, this pony has learned a new trick!  I free motion quilted the most recent quilt I made for a friend's little boy.  The quilt was supposed to be an awesome tumbleweed pattern but there was something really bizarre in the layout, so the tumbleweeds lost some of their points.

Free motion quilting is a technique that allows you to sew in any direction you want.  The fabric doesn't just have to move forward.  This is what allows the random pattern you see.  For years, I thought my machine wouldn't do it properly because I thought I had an issue with my presser foot but the dealer assured me it works just like it's supposed to and after completing this, I agree!

The contrast to the red, orange and yellow is a print with whales on it, but I really didn't choose a good pattern because the whales are bigger than the blades of the tumbleweeds, so you can't really see them.  The blue was to mimic the ocean, but now that it's together, it's not at all how I envisioned.

I don't make baby quilts in soft colors since so many people now use them for tummy time instead of sleeping, so I love to use bright colors.

THis is one of the better blocks, where the points all pretty much came together in the center, but you'll notice that the sea creatures blades lost all of their points.  Since it happened in every block, I"m pretty sure it's the pattern, not me.

I never pre-wash quilts, but this one had a peculiar smell and there was this little disaster that I needed to fix:
Somehow, in my super neat sewing room- oh my gosh my stomach hurts from laughing so hard; we all know my sewing room is less than neat.  Anyway, in my sewing room, there must have been a piece of orange fabric on the floor that managed to stick to the back and it got caught in my free motion quilting.  I realized it when there was some weird dragging.  I cut as much as I could away and hoped that in the wash, the fibers might fall out.  They sort of did and I was able to use tweezers to remove the rest.

I used the backing to self bind and I sewed it by hand.   I was going to do it on the machine but I didn't want it to interfere with the quilting I had done.  Plus Daisy wanted to sit on it.

Another reason I had to wash it!

Since this baby's name is an easy one to write in cursive, I thought I'd try "writing" it at the bottom.

Here you can see the front and back on the bottom border.  I wrote it 5 or 6 times across.

I free motion quilted one other time but I didn't like how stiff it came out.  This one came out just as I wanted and after washing, it had a little puckering, which I liked.  It took less time than  my wavy technique and definitely way less fighting with the machine.

I didn't roll this at all.  I pin basted and then used the stuffing method where I would organize a spot and push it through, leave the needle down and organize some more, etc.

Overall this was a great experience and I have two others waiting in the wings.

Linking here:

Saturday, April 15, 2017

Purple Potato People

I'm a fan of purple potatoes.  Not because I think they taste different, because I think all potatoes taste the same because my palate isn't refined enough for potato detection perfection, but because I think they are neat.

For the past few years, I've grown potatoes and I've learned that they pretty much will grow anywhere, under any circumstances and they leave behind microscopic seeds that grow even years after you are sure you've removed them from the area.

My foray into growing potatoes came from some potatoes that had sprouted eyes and were in edible, so I threw them into the ground and grew potatoes.  They say you can't do that with commercial potatoes because they put a chemical that keeps the potatoes from growing eyes, but I usually get organic potatoes so I was pretty sure they'd grow.  And they did.  Because I'm a rule breaker in the gardening and the more I don't follow the rules, the better things grow.

This week, I got it in my head that I wanted to use this laundry basket as another potato growing area.

I've seen cages made of hardware cloth and and hay with soil stacked up.  This basket seemed like it would do the same thing and I wouldn't have to make anything.  It's deeper than it looks, so I can keep layering.

I didn't have any potatoes on hand, so I went to the ag store and found this!

Organic purple potatoes from the US!  Although the price tag says Netherlands, but the box definitely says US.  It was the last box of purple potatoes, so I grabbed it.  I hadn't planned on purple, anything would have been fine, but I was really pleased to find them.

It came with 6 and since they had started sprouting, I was able to cut those into about 15.  I threw them all in, added some soil and away we go!  I didn't fill it, so I will be able to mound up a few times as they start to grow.

I can't wait to see how these go!