Tuesday, July 26, 2011

A Pattern Emerges...

Four diapers (and patterns) later and I've finally settled on a pattern. It's been Frankensteined from two free online patterns and something I drafted myself. The Decepticon Diaper was okay for fit but because of the sharp corners it had under the wings it was hell to serge, so I rounded the corners a bit for the next one.

You can't see it too well in this photo, but the diaper is a lovely, bright lime green. Colour-wise this is my favourite of the ones I've made so far.

I also rounded out the front of the diaper, again because corners are murder on a serger.

I had a bit of a screwy patch in the serging that I had to fix by hand, but it's holding nicely.

The 'scoop' of the wings wasn't rounded enough and I still had trouble serging it so for the next diaper I made that part even more rounded. But because it made the back so much wider I had to lengthen the wings. This one was almost perfect.

I love the purple serging on every diaper; I think that if I do end up selling diapers I'm gonna make the purple thread my trademark.

Oh, and I also used new elastic on this one - 10mm cotton braided elastic and OMG I don't know if it's the cotton or just the brand but this elastic is SO MUCH BETTER. It's super stretchy and stays super stretchy even when sewn onto the body of the diaper. It's so stretchy in fact that it makes the diaper look smaller than the previous two (Hubby even thought I'd made a smaller-size diaper) and as a consequence it fits my daughter so much better. Since the elastic is stretchier, there's less of it in the diaper and it makes a tighter fit. I'm switching elastic for good.

Anyway, I still wasn't satisfied with the curve of the wings so I scoured the internet for another free pattern - a one-size fitted - and then I realised I already had one downloaded. Doh. I printed it out and compared it to the one I'd made and they were almost the same, except that the one-size pattern's wings were longer and the area under the wings was even more curved. I played with the idea of trying out the one-size pattern (shortened in the body so that it would fit my daughter) but I decided instead to take the back of that pattern and paste it onto the rest of my pattern (with shorter wings). There was surprisingly little alteration needed (I only cut off a couple of milimetres to make it connect to the rest of the pattern) and tested it out with a tan coloured shirt.

It turned out really nicely, but this was the most frustrating diaper out of all of them because my darn serger decided to become entirely useless on this one. It'd been working fine up until then and suddenly decided to intermittently drop stitches.

In a way this was a good thing (even though I had to rip out the stitching on the diaper twice; luckily I noticed the dropped stitches before I'd even done half the diaper so it wasn't much either time) because it made me finally figure out how to do some kind of overlock or whatever with my mom's old machine. The machine has a real overlock, as I've mentioned in previous posts, but it uses a heck of a lot of thread (mostly from the little bobbin which is a bitch to rethread) so I tried out the 'zig-zag overedge' stitch. It has a special foot to allow you to sew over the edge of the fabric (as the name implies). I used it while making the purple wool wrap and figured it would be good enough.

Looks rather nice, though I think I may have to add a straight stitch along the bottom of the zig-zag to make it more secure. It's gone through two washes and so far so good. Using one machine does make the whole process a lot easier because I don't have to keep switching machines (and lugging the heaviest one, the serger, up and down the stairs all the time). And it's MUCH easier to use the zigzag on the edge than to serge. I have way more control and it's easier to stop and go over mistakes, but since it doesn't cut the fabric before sewing it I just have to make sure everything's even before sewing. No biggie; a few snips and it's ready. Plus I can pin everything mores securely so that the fabric doesn't end up stretching as much.

Speaking of the purple wool wrap, I've since moved the velcro and lanolized it, but after trying it out on my daughter I noticed that it wasn't felted enough because it was still really stretchy. I ran it through another felting wash and it's better (and fits a bit better, too) but I think it still needs one or two more washes to be really and truly felted. What I may do is put it in boiling water for a few minutes, then dunk it in cold water (just to speed up the process) but I'm still undecided. I use it as a spare cover, but I don't really like it because it gapes open at the front.

These two pictures were taken before I did another felting wash. The fit's not bad, but it's kinda big, and like I said it gapes at the front because the wool stretches too much.

After another felting wash:

It's hard to tell but it does fit smaller and there's less stretch in the wings, but again, it needs more felting. 

That's all for now. More diapers on the horizon...

Thursday, July 21, 2011

An Author's Musings

I think it's past time to talk a bit about my writing. I guess you could say it's my primary 'hobby,' though I'd love to turn it into an actual career. I always loved writing stories, even as early as elementary school, but it wasn't until I was in university that I felt the first sparks of actual inspiration (I guess that's when my Muse awakened). I started carrying around a notebook specifically designated for my stories and since then I've accumulated quite a collection of notebooks.

I used to write whenever I could find a spare moment and that's still true today, though those spare moments come far less frequently. To compensate I've learned how to 'turn my brain on,' which basically means that whenever I have the time I sit down and say 'okay Muse, get your butt in gear' and I just start writing regardless of whether I feel creative or not (before I had my little girl I'd usually write only when I felt inspired). That's all well and good but unfortunately I haven't learned how to turn my brain OFF and so there have been a few nights where I've gone up to bed, and then come up with some scene or line or whatever that's too good to forget and I have to get up and write it down. Sometimes it happens a few times before I can finally relax and go to sleep.

My genre of choice is 'speculative fiction,' sometimes called 'urban fantasy.' What that means is that any given story takes place during the present day, in the normal world with (largely) normal people, but there's always an aspect of the supernatural or paranormal involved. Many of the stories I've written deal with regular people encountering the supernatural and having one or more 'wtf' moments. I like to explore the idea of what supernatural creatures or powers would be like in 'our' world and how regular people would deal with them. The example I like to use is this: let's say you're coming home from work and you see a dragon flying around over your house. Normal people wouldn't say 'okay, what we need to do is go to the library and find a book that will point us to the whereabouts of an ancient sword that can kill dragons,' they'd probably either run away screaming or say, 'somebody get me a really big gun.' Often I'll have once character in the story that's used to dealing with supernatural things (or is supernatural themselves) and they've gotta give someone else (who doesn't know this stuff exists) a crash course for their survival.

Inspiration can come from anywhere. Sometimes it comes from my dreams, and I've been moderately successful in turning a dream into a coherent story. Often I'll grab a concept from a movie or T.V. show or something I've read and put my own spin on it. Other times my muse just 'shits on my head' as Stephen King has said a few times and a story appears from nowhere. And then every once in awhile I'll just decide to write a story about a specific supernatural creature or concept and after working on it for a few hours I come up with something pretty good.

I also have to admit that sometimes I write a story as an excuse to fantasize about a particularly sexy actor. My stories play out in my head like movies and I 'cast' the parts with actors and actresses that I like, with whatever hottie I'm enamoured with at the time (Hubby calls them 'Goo Goos,' as in the guy I'm making goo-goo eyes at) as the romantic lead opposite the main character (which is usually me in another universe).

Inheritance came directly from a dream I'd had, and it's the first dream-inspired story that I was able to turn into a coherent story. It was years ago, before I was married, and I dreamt that my husband-then-boyfriend had gone to class (he was taking evening photography classes) and one of his classmates had turned him into a vampire, and when he came home he turned me into one, too. It was a very short dream but I remember that the vampires in it were very human, but with enhanced senses and whatnot, and came off very catlike (like a tiger or a jaguar).

Stuck on You was another dream-inspired story - I had a dream that I had to share a bed with Dwayne 'The Rock' Johnson because if we were too far apart we'd die or something. Firstly, I don't know why I had a dream about Dwayne Johnson. He's not bad looking but I don't find him particularly sexy or anything (he's totally not my type). And it's not like I'd recently seen a movie with him in it. Anyway, I came up with a life-threatening reason for why two strangers (one of whom looks a lot like Dwayne Johnson) would have to stay so close to each other that they'd have to share a bed, and I think the story came out quite nicely. This also happens to be the first story where I've described a sex scene (in fact, there are quite a few in there).

The Open Door is based on a ghost story of the same name, written by Charlotte Riddell in 1888. I came across it in a collection of Victorian Age ghost stories, and I loved the concept so much that I decided to modernize it. The story still needs some polishing but it's not bad.

I love Viking Age history and legend and The Valkyrie and the Ring is my take on the mythical character of Brynhild. I love taking mythical characters and figuring out what they'd be like if they were real. Plus I wanted an excuse to think about Blade Trinity-buff Ryan Reynolds.

Remembering Camelot is another of my mythical re-tellings. I'm not a big fan of Arthurian legend but I think it was shortly after King Arthur (with Clive Owen and Keira Knightly) came out and everyone had King Arthur fever that I decided to try my hand at it. I'd seen a few Discovery/History Channel specials on 'The Real King Arthur' and thought, what the heck, could be fun.

Beneath the Surface and Mind Over Matter are two stories that were 'forced,' as I call it. I sat down and said 'okay, I want to write a story about insert-supernatural-thingy.'  Telepathy in the case of Mind Over Matter, and ancient gods in the case of Beneath the Surface. Actually, come to think of it, Beneath was also the result of wanting to tell a story involving either Malta or Cyprus. I'd been watching the Travel Channel a lot at the time and I'd seen something about both islands.

The Sad Man came about while I was trying to watch Nights in Rodanthe (with Richard Gere) on T.V. The movie was just awful and I couldn't sit through half of it, but I absolutely loved the old hotel that was in the movie and decided to steal the setting (and, I'll admit, one aspect of the movie's plot) for a story of my own. I had wanted to write a ghost story for awhile and the big hotel seemed like the perfect place to do it.

Night Watch is another take on vampires, and kind of a writing exercise for me. I wanted to see if I could write something in the first person in a very abrupt style, while also never revealing the main character's name. I also wanted to be ambiguous about the main character's sex so that the reader would interpret it in whatever way they wanted.

So that's it. I've got a few more stories that are finished and could be post-worthy, and then at least half a dozen that are at various stages of completion. My main problem with writing is that I come up with ideas for new stories before finishing the one I'm working on, and in the process of writing an outline for the new story (so I won't forget the details) I get so excited about it that I switch to writing that one... I think my muse is easily bored and has a slight case of ADHD and so I've got like 7 stories on the go at the same time.

There you have it, a brief outline of me as an author and some of my stories. Now it's time to get back to fantasizing-- I mean writing.

Tuesday, July 19, 2011

My Love/Creeped-out Relationship with Zombies

I've written stories about ghosts, witches, vampires, aliens, ancient gods, prognostication, telepathy, curses, demons and even fairies, but the one supernatural or paranormal phenomenon I've always struggled with is zombies. It's not that I don't like zombie stories - I do, if they're done well. I really enjoyed George A. Romero's Dawn of the Dead, I loved Shaun of the Dead and 28 Days Later, Zombieland was kinda fun and The Walking Dead just about knocked my socks off. In fact, it's because of The Walking Dead that I decided to try my hand at really writing a zombie story.

I tried before - I had a rough outline of a young married couple (with a 9-month-old daughter) who were living in the midst of a flu-like pandemic that ended up being a zombie pandemic. I had it all worked out from beginning to end, but I just wasn't comfortable enough with the story to write it. I admit, it was a bit weak, the characters were kind of derivative, the ending was sort of a cop-out and there weren't enough zombie encounters, plus I just couldn't bear the thought of putting that imaginary baby through that kind of world (my daughter was the same age at the time i came up with the story, so that probably has a lot to do with it). Anyway, I gave up on it before I even finished writing the outline.

But then The Walking Dead aired and I got caught up in the zombie craze and decided to start again. This time I had a better, more fleshed out (hehe) story, complete with multiple zombie encounters. I had a couple of flawed main characters (which is important - if your characters are too perfect they're not believable and therefore your audience won't connect to them), a daring escape from a zombie-infested hospital, a slightly less harrowing rescue from a zombie-infested apartment building, all wrapped up in a budding romance, with the death of a much-loved family member and conflicts with other surviving humans to boot.

I got pretty far in writing it, and I really did like this story (and still do), but I got to a point where I couldn't go any further. Not because I was having trouble figuring out what was going to happen next, but because of one, big, overriding factor:

Zombies really really creep me out; more so than any other supernatural creature.

Ghost and demons are scary, sure, but in comparison to the other supernatural baddies they're pretty easy to deal with - talk to them sternly enough or say the right words and they go away. Alien invasion is so far removed from the realm of possibility (even though they're the one thing from this list that might actually exist somewhere out there) that it doesn't even bear considering. Witches and gods, fairies and magic, psychics and telepathy - they're just cool, and to be or to have any of those things would be absolutely fantastic. Werewolves and vampires are cool, too, and can be very sexy as well. Plus, depending on the mythology you follow, a vampire/werewolf bite can be cured (wolfsbane, killing the sire, refraining from drinking human blood). Even if you can't be cured of either affliction you can still live a (somewhat) 'normal' life. If you retain your sentience while in wolf-form, you can be pretty baddass, and if not, well then just get someone to lock you in a cage for 1-3 days a month. Same with vampires - sure you're essentially dead, but hey, you're immortal, super-strong, and sometimes you have telepathic or shape-shifting abilities. So what if you have to avoid sunlight and churches and italian food.

But zombies, they're not cool or sexy by any means. Zombies are disease anthropomorphised. They are big, scary walking viruses with fingers to claw at you and teeth to gnaw at you (and eat your braaaaaiiinnnns) and have a virus' purpose - consume and spread. They're completely mindless so you can't reason with them or win them over to fight for the good side. They're not magical or even technically supernatural beings so you can't send them away with a cross or an incantation or a bible passage. And there's no cure - once you're bitten you're done for, and you might as well shoot yourself in the head right then and there (well, unless you've got some Zombie Tarts). All it takes is the smallest drop of infected blood getting in your eye, in a cut, in your mouth, and it doesn't matter if you beat off the zombie that was attacking you, you're still gonna become one of them.

You don't get any cool powers, either - all you have to look forward to is a lot of shuffling and moaning and your body parts falling off one by one. And even though walking, reanimated corpses with an insatiable hunger for human flesh are basically impossible, horrible diseases and fast spreading pandemics are not, and add to that the breakdown of society and resulting apocalypse and OMG how the heck are we going to survive without running water and grocery stores and central heating in the wintertime and that's what makes zombies so disturbing to me.

Yes, I know it's all make-believe, and if I'm watching a zombie movie or t.v. show it's not such a big deal because when the movie/show ends, the zombies go away. But I live with the stories I write for a long time. If I'm writing a story about a bunch of people trying to survive a zombie apocalypse, I have think about how I would survive it, and outline it in detail so I can describe what the characters are doing and why they're doing it. The story is in my head morning, noon and night, and the main character is pretty much always another version of me, so I often feel like I'm the one faced with surviving a zombie apocalypse.

I've since started another zombie story, although this one is still inside my head (and may stay there, who knows). Third time's the charm, it seems, and I like this one even better than the last. Oddly enough it was inspired by the new (not zombie invasion but alien invasion) series Falling Skies (okay I admit it, I was inspired by Noah Wyle in Falling Skies) and it's made me realise that what really draws me back to the zombie apocalypse story is not the zombies themselves, but the struggle to survive in a post apocalyptic world. How would we survive if we really had to fend for ourselves, if we didn't have access to electricity or doctors or the internet? How would we survive a Canadian winter without central heating or the ability to go grocery shopping? That's what I find fascinating, and a 'zombie apocalypse' is just an excuse to explore that aspect of the human experience.

Saturday, July 16, 2011

Wool Diaper Covers

I decided to try my hand at making some wool diaper covers (out of old sweaters) after seeing some wrap-style wool covers on clearance at one of my favourite online cloth diaper stores. While I love the pull-on soaker style wool covers, they don't work all that well with the flannel flat diapers my daughter is wearing right now (I'm afraid that the Snappi will pop open and the diaper will sag and therefore leak under the cover). A wrap-style wool cover, however, would be just the thing - same style as the PUL covers I have, but, of course, made of wonderful, breathable wool. How hard could it be? Little did I know...

My first step was to look up 'felted wool diaper cover pattern' on Google and I got a great site that told me not only how to felt the sweaters, but also included links to a number of patterns (wrap style, soaker and longies). Then I ran over to Goodwill and picked up a sweater. Luckily I was able to find a sweater dress that was mostly wool (96% wool, 4% nylon if memory serves) - not a bad find for only $6.

This is the dress after felting; I was surprised at how much it didn't shrink. I was expecting to get something almost as short as an actual sweater, but even after I ran it through the washer and dryer twice it remained dress-length. Bonus.

close-up of the felted wool
The wool was nice and thick and still a bit stretchy, and really nice to cut. Okay, so I've got the wool, now I need a pattern. The website didn't have an actual pattern for the wrap cover, it was just one of those 'choose a cover you already have and trace it' deals. So with the help of Hubby I stretched out and traced a bummis Super Whisper Wrap and got a basic pattern:

And then I had to decide how to construct the wrap. I had a few choices - I could do a turn & topstitch and cut out two of the pattern (with a small seam allowance) but I thought it would use up too much fabric (basically the whole dress). Alternately I could cut one piece from the pattern and use a binding around the edging to hide the elastics and keep the edges from fraying. But I don't have any wool binding and using a strip of the sweater would create an edge that was just too thick, and besides, it would be too much work.

I decided to copy the way another bummis wrap was constructed - the Super Lite:
It's kind of a T&T-binding hybrid.

So I had my fabric, my pattern, and I knew how I wanted to construct it. Time to start. I cut out the main body from the top of the front (I think) of the sweater, and then used one of the sleeves for the sides, and then part of the remaining bit for a 2nd layer in the centre and that front flap that covers the back of the velcro. I had everything cut and pinned together Thursday night, ready for Friday.

Friday morning my daughter and I scooted back to Goodwill briefly to take advantage of another 50%-off sale. I was smart and got there shortly before their  9 am opening  -- and can you believe it, there was a line up! Since I'd been there the day before and set aside the wool sweaters I wanted to get I was able to go right to the sweater section and grab the 4 sweaters, and then spent a few short minutes picking some t-shirts in the mens section. I was first in line when the 2nd cash register opened, and we were in and out in maybe 15 minutes. Then we popped into Dollarama to grab some braided elastic.

We came back home and I started on the cover... and I almost gave up about 5 times while I was making it. It was MUCH more difficult that I'd expected, and it didn't help that I broke 2 needles on the sewing machine in the process. Plus I missed a bit of the edge here and there of the soaker layer I'd sewn in first, and had to go over the bits again (that's when I broke the needles). Also, the elastic I'd bought was too wide - about twice as wide as I needed it to be (I don't know why I didn't see it at the store) - so I had to cut it. And then I couldn't get it to attach properly at the legs (though the back elastic went on fine). So then I spent a few minutes trying to figure out how to do an elastic in a casing, and then ended up sewing the elastic to the seam allowance on the side pieces. And then I couldn't get any of the velcro to go on right on the first or second or even third try. To top it all off, my sewing machine was giving me grief throughout the whole process. Needless to say I was in a pretty foul mood.

Finally I got it all together... and then I realised the velcro strip at the front was too high. Oy. But once it was done I breathed a sigh of relief... and then went online and ordered the two wrap-style wool covers that were on clearance because I'm NEVER making one of these covers again. Ever.

I've since fixed that and lanolized it (it's drying in the sun outside) but I have my doubts that it will fit my little girl, or that it will be functional.

Today I decided to try another wool cover pattern (from www.borntolove.com/frugal-column2.html) , a much easier one. Basically you cut an equilateral triangle from the sweater, sew the edges together (leaving holes for the legs) and then sew the sleeve cuffs around the leg holes and voila, a short-style wool cover.

I took the other side of the sweater dress, measured and cut out a (reasonably) equilateral triange, sewed it together and used the extra-large collar to make the leg cuffs.

It was actually pretty easy, and I estimate it took an hour to make; I'm sure the next one will go faster. The most difficult part will be getting the front to be even (mine's kinda wonky) but then I don't think my triangle was totally straight. You're also supposed to take some wool yarn and do a single line of crochet and then weave that in for a waistband... I'll do that for a cover that will actually be worn. I don't know if it will fit my little girl, but it was fun to make. The only other issue I see going forward will be sewing the leg cuffs on; these were wide enough that I could slide it onto my sewing machine and sew around, but if it's smaller (i.e. for a newborn or small infant) I can't do it that way and I'd have to do it the regular way.

Tuesday, July 12, 2011

The Swing's the Thing

Last Saturday we got a swingset. Hubby almost killed himself getting it to our house (he tells a pretty funny story about it that involves, amongst other things, a 7-foot man), but with a little help from me we got it into the backyard and he had it set up for the next day.

It's pretty cool for a number of reasons. 

Firstly, it was free. We replaced one of the belt swings with a toddler swing that we got at Canadian Tire for 15 bucks, so I guess it technically cost us $15, but that's basically free when you consider how much these things cost when they're new, or even slightly used. 

Secondly, it's fun for the whole family, not just my little girl. The remaining belt swing also needs to be replaced; it's all cracked and pretty small and it makes my hips sore if I sit in it for too long, but regardless I still love to swing in it.

But now that we have this swingset, I really feel like a parent.

Not that I haven't felt like a parent for these past 23.5 months, it's just that the swingset is a very large, very tangible reminder of it. I guess what it really signifies is that my little girl is growing up, and that even though I still call her 'my baby,' the baby is truly gone and she's well on her way to being a 'child.'

We weren't originally on the market for a swingset, and even after seeing that this one was available, Hubby hemmed and hawed for a few days. He was afraid that if we had swings in our backyard our little girl would lose interest in the park. 

Luckily that didn't happen, and I've found it to be a great addition to our backyard shenanigans. In fact, this morning my little girl and I spent almost two straight hours out in the backyard, largely due to the swings. Yesterday we spent about an hour out there. And she doesn't want to spend the entire time on the swings, either. We'll swing for a good long while, and then she wants to come down and do other things (rock on her bicycle, play on her water table, blow bubbles, run around). This morning she wanted to go back on the swing; yesterday she told me she was tired after about 45 minutes outside and wanted to come in.

It's great. It's the one time in her life that I could plop her down in one place and she'd be happy for more than 2 minutes. She was never one to be 'trapped' - she had a couple of jumpers and an activity 'centre' or two, and she'd be amused for a few minutes and then she just wanted to get out of there. At least with the swing she's moving, even though she's still 'trapped' in the swing. I managed to water the garden while she was swinging (with a couple of trips back to give her a push) and I could actually sit in one place for more than a few seconds (without her constantly grabbing at me and saying 'mamma come'). The swings have certainly made our backyard trips much more relaxing for both of us. 

I just hope she doesn't turn out like the creepy girl next door who swings all the time. Seriously, she swings all the damn time. At night. In the rain. We've even seen her out there in a parka at like 10 pm in the middle of winter.