Pocket Alchemy

Pocket Alchemy

Last month I was lucky to be chosen as a first-reader for a new Canadian novel as part of the Harper Collins Canada First Look program. What a delight to read Mitzi Bytes, the first novel by indomitable blogger Kerry Clare whose words and thoughts I’ve long admired and giggled over. And due to this admiration, what a relief that I really did enjoy the book – whew!

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Here’s the back-of-book blurb so you have the gist of the plot:

Sarah Lundy has a secret online life, and it might all come crashing down.

Back at the beginning of the new millennium, when the Internet was still unknown territory, Sarah Lundy started an anonymous blog documenting her return to the dating scene after a devastating divorce. The blog was funny, brutally honest and sometimes outrageous. Readers loved it. Through her blog persona, “Mitzi Bytes,” Sarah not only found her feet again, but she found her voice.

Fifteen years later, Sarah is happily remarried with children and she’s still blogging, but nobody IRL—not even her husband or best friends—knows about Mitzi. They don’t know that Sarah’s been documenting all her own exploits, as well as mining the experiences of those around her and sharing these stories with the world. Which means that Sarah is in serious trouble when threatening emails arrive from the mysterious Jane Q. Time’s up, the first one says. You’re officially found out.

As she tries to find out Jane Q’s identity before her secret online self is revealed to everyone, Sarah starts to discover that her loved ones have secrets of their own, and that stronger forces than she imagined are conspiring to turn her world upside down.

A grown-up Harriet the Spy for the digital age, Mitzi Bytes examines the bonds of family and friendship, and the truths we dare tell about ourselves—and others.

It’s funny to sit down and write a blog about a book about a blogger! But here we go. I’ve not read Harriet the Spy – but a quick internet search and synopsis-read reveals the book’s parallel/homage relationship to Mitzi Bytes, with protagonist Sarah’s blog serving as a modern-day notebook full of wonderings – not always kind – about those surrounding her now that her own life is happy but hum-drum and no longer exciting fodder for blog content.

I admire how utterly and absolutely author Kerry Clare captured Sarah’s life as a work-from-home, artistic-sort mom to two little kids of 5 and 7 years. I am just such a human, very much in the throes of balancing mom duties to two young kids, my work-for-pay from home, and my own creative work. I laughed and sighed and felt many feelings of camaraderie with Sarah. I had the sense throughout Mitzi Bytes that Sarah and I would be able to have a cup of tea and be instant kindred spirits. There is no doubt that I am the living, breathing demographic for Mitzi Bytes!

The part of Mitzi Bytes that was most unputtabledownable for me was when Sarah (who blogs under the pseudonym Mitzi Bytes) finally gets outed, the ramifications are as varied as are the characters  she wrote about. It’s a fantastic array of reactions once the truth is out! As things fall apart for Sarah, I enjoyed this imagery:

“She’d been waiting for it. There were so many shoes. The sky was raining with them.”

I’m glad that Clare didn’t subject her protagonist Sarah to an about-face in personality upon her reckoning. Sarah is stubborn and complicated and lucky through to the end. She’s not an entirely likeable character, but she is utterly relatable – she feels real and dimensional, her inner dialogues like so many I’ve had with myself-as-audience over the years. I loved that Sarah was as much sorry about being caught as she was for hurting anyone she’d observed or portrayed in her Mitzi blog over the years. I couldn’t help but cheer for her in the end!

I so enjoyed the inclusion of Mitzi’s “archival blogs” that were well-woven in-between chapters, giving us a sense of Mitzi’s voice and evolution over time. I fact I would have happily read more of them – though to be left wanting more is probably a good thing. I had the urge to go check the Mitzi Bytes blog a number of times while I was reading, only to remember that it’s a fictional blog! It felt like a blog that could/should exist.

As someone who’s blogged a bit, sometimes regularly and sporadically of late, I enjoyed the descriptions of blogging now  versus in the early 2000s throughout Mitzi Bytes. The ubiquity of blogging today is so different than 15 years ago when there were fewer options and the form was in it’s infancy. Clare is a master blogger herself – she teaches the art and work of it at university – and it’s interesting to see her thinking, experience, and evolution creep into Mitzi Bytes, giving me a real sense of “now” as I read.

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MitziPatternPreviewPS: I’ve taken up my practice of cross stitch pattern design again after months away from it. Looking at the Mitzi Bytes cover, it struck me that it offered a great challenge to work with colour gradients. And so crafty readers, I humbly offer up my interpretation of the excellent graphic cover of Mitzi Bytes! If you’re a stitcher and you enjoy this image, you’re welcome to the pattern (download below) – I don’t have time to stitch it up right now, so if you do, please share!


Mitzi Bytes Cross Stitch pattern – pixels

Mitzi Bytes Cross Stitch pattern – pixels w/ symbols

*To save pattern, click on link, choose “export as pdf” under Files and save to desktop.*

 

Welcome to Mollie Mondays! You can read up about this little project of mine on the original post HERE. Basically after years of reading Mollie Makes magazine and collecting the little free projects that come with each issue (because I never found the time to make them!), I was able to sit and make a bunch of them last year while bound to my couch for 6 weeks due to a severe ankle injury. I’m sharing the results here on Mondays!

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This sweet little needlebook is the first Mollie Makes magazine freebie project I ever made. I’d just learned to English Paper Piece and this seemed like a good challenge with it’s tiny paper hexagons.

I do love me a needlebook, they’re charming and useful! In fact I use a needlebook almost everyday – I’ve got a selection of needles readily, visibly available, it doubles as a pin cushion, and I tuck extra embroidery thread in it’s fabric pages while I’m working on a project.

This hello beauty and her floral hexagons has been my buddy for about a year now, and going strong!

Til next Mollie Monday … stitch well.

 

Here I am with the second edition of Mollie Mondays! You can read up about this little project of mine on the original post HERE. Basically after years of reading Mollie Makes magazine and collecting the little free projects that come with each issue (because I never found the time to make them!), I was able to sit and make a bunch of them last year while bound to my couch for 6 weeks due to a severe ankle injury. I’m sharing the results here on Mondays!

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After teaching Kanzashi Flower making at FACTS (Fashion and Creative Arts School) in Blyth, Ontario last week, I’ve got flowers on the brain. This is the first little fabric flower brooch I ever made and it’s spawned a love for fabric flower making – there are so many possibilities from brooches to garment and hair decorations to bouquets and so on! Isn’t this one a charmer?!

Til next Mollie Monday … stitch well.

There’s this fantastic maker’s magazine out of the UK called Mollie Makes. I discovered it a few years ago and it’s become my monthly inspiration-indulgence-ritual: I go to Chapters where they hold a copy for me, pick it up, and then sit down with a coffee flip through adding a few/a lot of sticky tabs to things I’d like to try.

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Mollie Makes magazine cleverly includes a little free project, usually designed by another maker. But I rarely have time to make these tantalizing wee projects. So, a collection of colourful envelopes sit in a wooden box on the corner of my work table, waiting for a “quiet” moment. And then last year I completely ruptured one of my achilles tendons in an unfortunate me vs the stairs incident (the stairs won that round) and was couch-bound for a solid 2 months. And it occurred to me I could make my Mollie Projects! So I sat on my couch busy healing and making little projects I’d never otherwise attempt. It was actually very therapeutic!

I now have a shelf adorned with an eclectic collection of Mollie Projects, which I thought I’d share here every Monday for a while – I’ll call it Mollie Mondays!

The first one I’ve got to show you is this sweet, bouquet-weilding Bear, designed by one of my favourites, Michelle Galletta and her Kiriki Press in Toronto. I’ve made a number of her little embroidered stuffy kits and I’ve loved them all. But it was extra special to get my Mollie Makes mag and see a Kiriki Bear project attached to it.

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Til next Mollie Monday … stitch well.

Umbridge_2I’ve been wanting to try cross stitch design software for a while, and this month I found the perfect reason: &Stitches’s Fictional Villains Stitchalong.

Using Ursa Software’s MacStitch program, I referenced a photo of my chosen fictional villain and freehanded her into the program. And I am super excited with the result – which is still in progress, but you’ll get the gist.

I knew I had to go with my favourite Harry Potter villain, the saccharine, pink-loving Professor Dolores Umbridge. Her most insidious student punishment at Hogwarts is the black quill, a horrifying thing that makes me shudder just to think about! So obviously I had to work that into the pattern as well …

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Umbridge: “Not with your quill, you’re going to be using a rather special one of mine. Now I want you to write, I must not tell lies.

Harry: “How many times?

Umbridge: “Well, let’s just say, as long as it takes for the message to — sink in.

I loved the MacStitch program, even working in the most basic demo version, and am now the proud owner of it. So look out cross stitch world, I’m going to be pattern-happy for a while now I imagine!

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A fun selection of floss for this pink extravaganza. I do so love working in a monochrome pallet and fits the bill nicely. I’m so excited to finish off with the “blood” stitched words, “I must not tell lies.”

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And then I was off to the stitch races, watching heaps of bad shows on Netflix and stitching away! Pure contentment. I think I’ll have to watch Umbridge in Harry Potter and the Order of the Phoenix while I finish her up this weekend, it’s be gruesomely satisfying to to have to tiny-stab her hundreds of time through her Aida cloth canvas!

Fallow: (Of farmland) ploughed and harrowed but left for a period without being sown in order to restore its fertility or to avoid surplus production. – Oxford Dictionary

SpoolLounge_OPENAfter an intense fall and winter of stitching, stitching, stitching products for my Pocket Alchemy lines of baby things and little felt matryoshka dolls, I set that work aside and shifted my focus abruptly and dramatically when an amazing opportunity presented itself.

I’ve been busy with my dear friend and fellow maker Laurena Green, developing and opening Spool Lounge, a proper brick and mortar sewing studio and shop in downtown Barrie, Ontario. We opened just four whirlwind-months ago in early March!

Our story is told beautifully on our Sunday Crush profile so I won’t repeat it on this blog. Suffice to say that a lot of stars aligned suddenly and we leapt off a cliff and landed with a lovely shop and a buzzing business.

Then a mere six weeks after opening Spool Lounge, I missed a step while going downstairs in the 3am-darkness to grab a diaper for my wee lad and ruptured my achilles tendon. Which necessitated a major slow-down and has been really, really good for me, though challenging – particularly the mothering on a dodgy leg bit! Three months later I find myself here, just able to take my first unassisted steps on my nearly healed but now weak and tight left foot. Small mercy – it wasn’t my driving or sewing foot, whew!

I couldn’t resist embroidering my initial emergency room splint since it was wrapped in flannel and I had four days of waiting around to see a surgeon, soft tissue not being as urgent to treat as broken bones. I was then cast in a “pointy cast” – much to my dancer-self’s amusement – and the tendon was left alone to heal back together over six weeks. No surgery! Amazing. Now I’m in a walking cast and am slowly stretching the tendon back to a 90-degree standing position. Lots of physio and pilates to stretch and strengthen my depleted left ankle and side.

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I’ve been doing lots of hand embroidery (heavenly!), teaching classes at Spool Lounge, learning to be a merchant (Wholesale Accounts! Customers! Marketing!) and balancing mothering and achilles rehab (with grace and success all the time, obviously!).

My boys are enjoying being shop kids and have adjusted remarkably well. They are now stitching up a storm themselves in fact!

And so now, after a delicious and required fallow period on my “own” work, I’m turning my weather-eye back to my matryoshkas, going to photograph the ones I have done and finish up some of the bigger dolls that I started in the fall. My embroidery stitches are refined and I’m excited to get back to my little ladies, who I’ll be able to work on in my new studio space!

I was shocked to see that it’s been over 2 months since my last blog — the days have melted into weeks and here we are, snowflakes flying and craft fairs happening!

I’m going to be selling my work at the Christmas Made by Hand Craft Show in Hamilton on December 6th and 7th. It’s my first big fair, they expect about 3000 people over the 2 days! I am excited/nervous. And I have absolutely no idea how much product to make, not knowing the lay of the land at all. So I’ll either sell out (which would be amazing) or I’ll have product for my Etsy shop afterwards (which would be fine). Either way, I probably won’t want to sew another stitch for a long time by the time next week rolls around.

Faceless dollies (a bit creepy actually!) laid out for colour matching.

Faceless dollies (a bit creepy actually!) laid out for colour matching.

I’ll be carrying small and large matryoshka dolls, treasure maps, baby quilts, burp cloths, soother/toy straps, mitt clips and lavender sachets. Whew! I’m on the strange high most textile artists and makers will recognize: a heady mix of sleep deprivation, terror as the production schedule gets modified down to match the slipping days, and excitement at the possibility of sharing my work.

Lots of Dollies

A lot of little matryoshka ladies!

It was a year ago this month that I casually shared a photo of my latest project – these little dollies – on social media, and had an overwhelming response! I sold about 60 custom dolls last holiday season. So I got ahead of the ball this year and made a bunch already!

If you are in or near Hamilton, come to the Made by Hand Show on December 6th or 7th! I’m sure there will be many wonderful treasures. I’ll aim to share some of my new quilts and burp cloths before next weekend so you can see what I’m up to while the midnight oil burns … til then, cheers!

 

This spring I accepted one of the most heartfelt quilt commissions I’ve ever had the pleasure to receive. In my head I call it the Berlin Baby Quilt — but really, it should probably be called the Euro-America Quilt since it represents 11 friends in 11 cities: Helsinki (Finland); New York (United States); Paris (France); Murnau (Germany); London (England); Montpellier (France); Vienna (Austria); Copenhagen (Denmark); Munich (Germany); Bordeaux (France); and Berlin (Germany).

Berlin Quilt Multi View

I received the commission from my dear friend Lisa from dance school days –she was the one who tucked my unsure-and-2000-miles-from-home-in-a-big-city-self under her wing on the first day of classes, offered me her unconditional friendship, shared a locker with me (which we wallpapered in floral drawer liners, obviously!), filled me in on years of complex history and dance politics for that community, got me my first independent costume commission, and danced in my first piece of Toronto-student choreography — that kind of friend. Solid. The kind you never forget however brief your time was together and always feel warm and grateful towards.

Lovely Lisa circa. 1998 in front of our floral locker and sporting performance make up. She may kick me for including this, but she's so sweet, non?! I couldn't resist!

Lovely Lisa circa. 1998 in front of our floral locker and sporting performance make up. She may kick me for including this, but she’s so sweet, non?! I couldn’t resist!

She’s one-of-a-kind and is now a rock-star level arts educator and administrator in New York City (lucky city to have her, they have no idea!). But I digress.

So Lisa called me with this commission idea from her and a tight group of European friends … these friends of hers are part of a circle of 11 who all met during their studies and travels. Each lives in a different city scattered across Europe and America.

And they have the most beautiful tradition: whenever one of them has a baby, the rest commission a quilt for the baby that represents each of them, geographically scattered though they may be, and thus the new family has a charming and practical daily reminder of their dear, faraway friends.

Berlin Quilt Single Close Up

The problem was that the couple from Berlin were the ones who always arranged the quilt, but this time they were the pregnant ones, and none of the others had that quilter’s contact info. But Lisa remembered that I sew and so I “won” the contract — and I’m so glad! We decided on a quilt that represented each friend via the main river or water body of the cities they lived in, along with the 3-letter IATA code for the airport of that city. And lastly, I added little pieces of transportation, nature, animal, whimsey and shelter for contrast and interest.

I finally got to use the applique stitching functions on my new sewing machine and also got acquainted with double sided, peel and stick interfacing for the detailed appliques. All together it was a learning experience and the most charming process. I loved researching the cities for their rivers and choosing an archetypal bit of the river for each quilt section. Embroidering the IATA’s and river names made me feel like the secret 12th member of their lovely friend circle. I kind of didn’t want to finish I enjoyed the making so much.

Berlin Quilt Front and Back

And once baby Ella was born in Berlin, I added her name and birthdate in the 12th piece (I love that they wanted to wait til she was born for the quilt to be finished, no chickens counted before hatching), and off went the quilt. Canada Post and Deutsche Post, bless/curse them, had some communication issues and I tracked the package helplessly online as it bounced around German cities for no apparent reason for about 6 weeks, but eventually the slightly more mature Ella received her international quilt. She’s snuggled in the arms of her parents’ friendship circle every day no matter how far away their actual arms are.

I have been busy as the busiest bee, designing and sewing up a costume-storm for dance and theatre productions these last few months. However, I still happily make time for felt Matryoshka commissions when I’m able to spare a day for doll-making – it’s a great way to catch up on some TV while creating a new little dolly-friend to send into the world.

Harriet the MatryoshkaMeet Harriet, the Venn Diagram Matryoshka! She’s science meets craft, and it’s a beautiful thing! In the 4-to-5-ish hours it takes me to make a Matushka Matryoshka (one of my larger matryoshka dolls), I feel like I get to know the little lady and then I have a bit of a hard time letting go!

Harriet the Matryoshka compliation

And Harriet was no exception — though I can trust she is bound for an appreciative home. I love her mix of purples and I added a wide, shallow herringbone stitch in a dark salmon pink to jazz her belly up just a wee bit. I like that her Venn diagram has no details, Harriet will allow you to demonstrate almost anything with her unmarked Venn!

Speaking of herringbone stitch … I plan to spend my summer cottaging days working on this sweet princess-and-the-pea sampler from Nicole of Follow the White Bunny. Time to increase my stitch vocabulary!

 

I may or may not have received the best Little Felt Matryoshka order yet last week: to make She-Ra, yes I do mean the Princess of Power herself, and the Mother Mary, yes, that Christian matriarch of matriarchs. Together. One order. So awesome! And they are beautiful. And funny. Especially together.

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As a not-Catholic person, I didn’t know about the myriad of symbols for Mary and in researching this gal, found out about the pansy/trinity symbolism. So I used that for the belly instead of the sacred heart, which could have worked, but I like the metaphor (I always go metaphor if there’s a choice, let’s be honest!).

SheRaMatryoshka

If you want to order a custom felt matryoshka brooch or doll, you can visit my Etsy shop! Just let me know, the possibilities are endless … as you can see here. So much fun! Truly, they are my favourite thing to make these days. And I dare you to find a more awesome pairing then these 2 ladies!

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For more examples of my Little Felt Matryoshka brooch ladies, click here.