Behind the scenes: machines

I am happy to be back here again. The household routine has been a bit askew the last while which, despite my best intentions, has kept me from sitting down or even thinking too much about sitting down to write a post. The last month and a half have brought plenty of good things – a birthday (including a surprise party and an evening of food and music which I may eventually write about), a visit from family, a school vacation, a much-needed break for this weary mama, an evening or two (or three) filled with friends, food and wine, a new beginning in a pop-up shop, a child starting pre-school and a (dare I say it) spring breeze whispering of change and possibilities. Putting these things into words, it now dawns on me that there are plenty of good and perfectly valid reasons why I have been away from this space and oft absent from my studio. Though I have missed both spaces, I must confess that I am most grateful for all the events that have been keeping me from them!

Enough about all that! I thought it might be fun to give you a little glimpse behind the scenes. Given that I always find it quite interesting to see how the lovely crafty people on the blogosphere make their creations, I thought I might share a little bit about my sewing machines. I use two different ones, which I daresay are both (vintage) manual machines and have both been given to me. I love both and use them frequently, though I do sometimes catch myself drooling over the fancy digital machines I sometimes see in tutorials.

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The first machine is a Singer 7033, which was very generously given to me by my neighbor’s sweet mother a few years ago. She bought it pre-loved herself and was looking to provide it a new home – lucky me! I can only imagine all the lovely things which have been made with it by its previous owners before it landed in my studio. I have since added a few presser feet to my collection and am extremely happy with this machine, which handles denim like a trooper and, armed with a walking foot, quilts up a storm. Both of these things have supplemented my older machine wonderfully (though admittedly, I use it for all kinds of other sewing, too, much to my delight).

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The other machine I use is a very well-traveled and well-loved Kenmore Convertible Model 1785. This machine has immense sentimental value to me. It was the machine that I learned to sew with. According to the inside cover of the manual, my mother bought it back in Oct or Nov 1981, though I think that can’t be right given the story they tell of the shopping trip. She and my father drove to Sears (about a half an hour drive) on their motorcycle (yes, you read that right) and picked out this sturdy machine as my mother’s first new machine. They bought it and drove with it, my mother holding onto it to balance it on the back rack of the motorcycle, those 30-odd minutes to our house. I feel a special kinship to it because I, too, spent many a weekend afternoon in the summer on the back of that motorcycle while we went out just to drive around.

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Some tape and washi tape which serve as seam guides for some of my projects.

When my grandmother passed, my mother inherited her machine, passing this one to me. At the time, I was already living in Amsterdam, but I was determined to bring the machine back with me. The €12 mini machine I had bought at the Blokker had served me well enough, but I was ready for more serious sewing adventures! The transportation of the machine itself was a challenge as the domestic leg of my flight is flown in a tiny little propeller airplane. A machine this size wouldn’t fit in the overhead (nor did I feel comfortable putting such a large and heavy object up there in all honesty), but it also wouldn’t fit under the seat. It’s not large, so I was allowed to carry it on, but in the end, I needed help from the flight attendant to stow it. I explained to her quickly what it was and that I had inherited it from my mother upon my grandmother’s passing. Either I wasn’t clear (which was possible as I was emotional at the passing of Grandma) or she didn’t hear me properly, but she seemed to think that the machine had belonged to Grandma and jokingly referred to it as such. I appreciated (and needed to hear) her humor and so played along, and in the end, we ended up putting “Grandma” behind the back seat of the plane, tucked away neatly and safely.

A little ring that has been taped on the case since I brought it home. No idea what it's for, but seems like it belongs there now, so I haven't removed it.

A little ring that has been taped on the case since I brought it home. No idea what it’s for, but seems like it belongs there now, so I haven’t removed it.

On occasion, I think back to that trip and how I worried and fretted about how it would work out, bringing a machine overseas, uncertain if customs duties would need to be paid or how I would find an adapter and transformer in order to be able to use it at all, all the while pondering where I’d ever find the space to store it in my tiny Amsterdam flat, and then I smile, thinking of “Grandma” and how I am now – many quilts, skirts, aprons, curtains, shirts and years later – quite certain that she had meant for it to work out all along!

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The little dot of nail polish on the fly wheel is to cover the spot where the metal is flaking off. It took me a while to figure out why I had small cuts on my finger, but once I did, I put a thick dab of nail polish on it to seal the stop and protect my hand!

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{this moment}

{this moment} – Joining in the end of the week ritual inspired by SouleMama. Sharing a single photo – no words – capturing a moment from the week. A simple, special, extraordinary moment. A moment I want to pause, savor and remember. If you’re inspired to do the same, leave a link to your ‘moment’ in the comments for all to find and see.

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{this moment}

{this moment} – Joining in the end of the week ritual inspired by SouleMama. Sharing a single photo – no words – capturing a moment from the week. A simple, special, extraordinary moment. A moment I want to pause, savor and remember. If you’re inspired to do the same, leave a link to your ‘moment’ in the comments for all to find and see.

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{this moment}

{this moment} – Joining in the end of the week ritual inspired by SouleMama. Sharing a single photo – no words – capturing a moment from the week. A simple, special, extraordinary moment. A moment I want to pause, savor and remember. If you’re inspired to do the same, leave a link to your ‘moment’ in the comments for all to find and see.

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“We had fun making the garlands”

In an ideal world, I would spend time every afternoon playing creatively with my kids after school. We would paint, draw, stamp, punch, make collages, have lessons in knitting, sewing and cooking and spend time exploring the woods in the nearby park. Unfortunately, even though an afternoon may start in this way, reality often manages to get in the way of this perfect playtime. Every now and then, however, an afternoon proceeds as hoped and intended and the kids and I manage to spend an enjoyable hour or two making something great as a family. We recently had one of those afternoons and it was glorious.

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Though we have plenty of art supplies in our home, I really like the idea of being resourceful, using what we have on hand. I find it difficult to convince the kids to use the backs of “used” paper for their drawings and art. I guess there is something about a truly blank canvas and I respect their wishes and don’t push the issue. However, when I read about the recently published book The Paper Playhouse by Katrina Rodabaugh, it sounded like it would provide a better approach (you can buy it here, here or here). I pre-ordered it as a Christmas gift for the kids and when it arrived last week, my daughter was so excited that she didn’t want to go to sleep without doing a project right away. While we eventually got her to drift off, head full of creative promise, we couldn’t wait long to get started. Although her first love was the lemonade stand, I convinced her that something more simple might be a better way to start. We picked the first project, the Pretty Paper Garlands.

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Amsterdam has a pretty good recycling program, but it’s always cool to recycle something in a more immediate way…especially one that is pretty! We fished out a few papers from our recycling bin, but mostly we used paper from a pile of magazines I had kept for a project just like this one (though I didn’t know it at the time). Armed with a punch from my studio as well as some kitchen twine and a glue stick, we went to work. The kids enjoyed selecting paper, using the punch (and relearning how to take turns), coloring on the papers with markers and applying glue liberally. The project was simple enough that both kids could participate to their abilities, we all enjoyed the time we spent together and we made a lovely little garland. The trifecta! When I told my daughter that I planned to write something about our afternoon on my blog, she wanted to contribute and did her best to find the letters on the keyboard to type: “We had fun making the garlands!” Great stuff we will definitely be repeating soon!

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{this moment}

{this moment} – Joining in the end of the week ritual inspired by SouleMama. Sharing a single photo – no words – capturing a moment from the week. A simple, special, extraordinary moment. A moment I want to pause, savor and remember. If you’re inspired to do the same, leave a link to your ‘moment’ in the comments for all to find and see.

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Slow making for the holidays and mending

Certainly now more than at any other time of the year, with the bustle of the holidays upon us, we find ourselves in busy straits.  For me, this means some shopping for gifts, but as a maker, it more often means that I over commit myself to many projects I naively think that I will accomplish easily between now and Christmas. Needless to say, this results in late nights and rushed making, which is not my favorite kind. I end up craving some kind of balance (and dark chocolate…in large quantities, but that’s another story altogether). I find balance to a large extent by approaching the holiday projects like I do those in my mending pile.

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A few months ago, after coveting it from afar for too long, I broke down and finally got myself a subscription to Taproot Magazine. First I tried the American Book Center (trying to keep brick and mortar book shops in existence is a worthy cause after all), but unfortunately they didn’t sell it, so online I went and it was sorted. I started with the issue MEND, drawn to it by an article by Katrina Rodabaugh about mending, accompanied by beautiful images of mended jeans. I had started mending my own jeans a few years ago, fueled by necessity and inspired by images I’d seen on Pinterest, and I was hungry for more inspiration.

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My patched knees. I don’t even remember when these jeans became my favorite, but they definitely get special treatment every time another rip appears.

Shortly after, I was lucky enough to be part of an online class “Slow Fashion Style” given by Katrina. The magazine paired with the class were exactly the inspiration I needed, rekindling my slow fire and giving me plenty of creative inspiration and dreams of adopting Slow principles in more aspects of my life. There are all kinds of Slow movements going on out there and I can understand why. It speaks to me (and apparently many others) in a profound way. When I feel like the pace of my life is spiraling out of control, slowing down even a little bit creates more balance and balance is an awesome thing.

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In my mind, the idea of Slow encompasses reflection, observation and connection. It doesn’t necessarily mean doing something at a slow pace (although feel free to do so if you can and want to), but aiming to take the stress (and speed) out of the act of making or doing or going by being mindful, observant and connected. I try to see a glimpse of beauty in all moments, but particularly in those where the opposite seems to apply when I approach them at full speed. A concrete example: yes, we’re late for swimming lessons (again) and I’m biking like mad to the pool with crying kids in the seats on the front and back of my bike, but, hey, doesn’t the wind feel nice on my face and aren’t the leaves on the trees particularly vibrant today? That simple act of observing and being mindful of my surroundings allows my heart rate to slow down and brings me just a bit more balance, which is a good feeling…very good in fact.

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I find that this feeling easily translates to the act of mending, an act which forces me to focus, again being mindful and observant. I think about what I’m working on, where it came from and who made it, what it’s been through, the simple act of repairing a hole, lengthening or shortening a pair of pants, reattaching a button giving me space to think about and appreciate the person I’m mending for. I find connection. Approaching the gift making in the same way brings thoughts of beautiful meals cooked using an apron or oven mitts created by my hands or lovely sweaters, scarves and blankets knit from yarn nestled happily in a bag I’ve crafted for someone I love. In the end, I make what I can and try to accept my limitations. There are alternatives – supporting other makers, for example. Similarly, my mending pile waxes and wanes and I try not to stress about it. As long as my husband and I have a couple pairs of jeans to wear and my children have pants that cover their ankles and some shirts they haven’t popped the buttons off of, there is no stress…only paying attention to the love I put into the simple act with my thread and needle.

What’s in a name? How Little Field Birch came to be

A year ago I opened a shop on Etsy, which was a milestone for me considering that I’d been thinking about it for years before that. Yes, really, for years. Part of the reason that it took me so long to get there was because I didn’t really know what I wanted to put in my shop. However, the other part, which probably took me longer to figure out, was that I wasn’t sure what to call it. It seemed so daunting, creating a name. I wanted it to reflect something about me and still be cute and fun. I brainstormed, I made lists, I talked to friends and family, and in the end, I came up with Little Field Birch. It’s kind of a funny story…

My father, my daughter and I wandering one of the little fields.

My father, my daughter and I wandering through one of my dad’s little fields. Notice the birch trees along the edge of the field. [Photo courtesy of my husband]

A lone birch in the field across from my parents' barn.

A lone birch in the field across from my parents’ barn.

Although I’ve been living in Europe for 20 years now, I grew up in the United States on a small farm on Littlefield Road. I think I spent most of my high school and college years dreaming of traveling to Europe and visiting the world. I learned a foreign language (my school only offered two options and I chose French), my family hosted an exchange student from Europe for a year, my friends and I joined the foreign language club and hung out with the foreign exchange students each year, dressing a bit like them and soaking up all of the cultural differences they had to offer us. Eventually this interest led me to Europe and I ended up settling in Amsterdam, where well into my post grad studies, I met my husband who grew up on a small farm in Ireland at Boolabeg. Now as I understand it, this translates loosely at small grazing pasture, which sounds pretty darn similar to little field to me. From the time we met, we pretty much knew we were meant to navigate this life together. Despite growing up an ocean apart, we had a lot in common and the fact that we both grew up both literally and figuratively on our respective “little field” just cemented the deal. Now more than a decade later, we are raising our young family in a city, but we draw extensively from our upbringing in that rural setting which has formed and continues to form who we are. It seemed only fitting it should be an ingredient in the name I was looking to create. The “birch” came after – partially because I have a serious soft spot for trees and partially because of how beautifully delicate and fairy-like birch trees seem to me. Funny thing is, though I know and love how those trees spot my parents little farm, I only noticed the little grove of them a few years ago as I walked out the back door of my in-laws’ farmhouse in Ireland. Hmm…fate indeed.

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Little birch tree grove outside my in-laws’ farmhouse in Ireland.

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Another few birch trees behind my in-laws’ farmhouse in Ireland.