Tuesday, October 12, 2021

Sewing with Grammy (4 and 5)

I never got around to blogging about sewing lesson number 4 last week!  I find it hard to blog these days, and I truly don't know where the time goes; but I definitely want to try to keep up with this little sewing series.  I want my granddaughters to have these memories of our time together to look back on whenever they feel like it.  So today you get a two-fer.

Last Monday, the twins (10) started out with more sewing machine practice on paper, following straight, curvy, and zig-zagged lines.  The curves and zigs and zags proved to be challenging, but they did remarkably well. 

After they'd demonstrated what masters of straight line sewing they've become, I had the twins practice doing straight lines on fabric by having them hem casings for the elasticized waists on four simple skirts for their American Girl dolls--one each for the seamstresses, and one each for their two younger sisters, 8 and 6. (By the way, if you want to make one of these, all you need is one regular 8 and 1/2 x 11" sheet of computer paper.  Place the shorter side on the fold of the fabric to cut one large rectangle.  Then you just fold down the top to sew a casing for the 10 and 1/2 " long piece of 1/4" elastic, hem the bottom, and sew up one back seam.  Voila!  Easy peasy.) 

Once they'd finished on the machine, I had the younger girls pull the elastic through the casings guided by safety pins, because I wanted them to feel like they have a hand in the creation of these doll fashions.  (Each girl got to pick out the fabric she wanted to use for her garment, but I wanted all of them to feel fully involved in the project.)

Yesterday, I was going to have the twins hem the skirts and sew the back seams so they could take them home and start using them on their dolls; but first, I had a hand-sewing project for all the girls to do together.  And that ended up being so much fun, and taking up so much time, that we never got to the skirts and decided to finish them off when we have our next lesson.

For hand-sewing, felt is always a good idea, in my book; it's so forgiving.  And Christmas-themed crafts are also always a good idea.  I think so, anyway.  So felt Christmas tree-shaped ornaments were the project du jour for my budding seamstresses.

To use as a model, I decorated the front of one of the felt trees I’d cut out before they arrived.  (Mine went home with their little brother, who doesn't like to be left out of things--so I added a car, an airplane, and a football button especially for him.) 

The girls had a great time rummaging through my button box, and they were very creative.  Each ornament was a one-of-a-kind creation.  They sewed backs on the decorated fronts and stuffed them, and then we added loops for hanging them on the tree.

It's hard to put into words just how much this little weekly sewing class means to me.  Back when I was raising these girls' daddy and his brothers, if I had tried to look ahead and picture what life as a Grammy to many grandchildren would be like, I never could have imagined anything even remotely as wonderful as it is.  When these girls are my age, I hope they look back on our times together with fondness.  And I hope they keep sewing!  It's such a useful skill!

Wednesday, October 6, 2021

An Open Book: The Lacemaker

Anne Faye's latest book, The Lacemaker (A Novel of St. Zelie Martin) has been on the top of the “to read” pile on my nightstand for a while now.  It's not that I wasn't eager to read it, having enjoyed several of Faye’s earlier novels; it's just that I've been busy enough lately that reading (one of my favorite pastimes ever!) has taken a back seat to other more pressing endeavors.  

But that book, with its appealing cover--featuring a sepia-toned photo of St. Therese of Lisieux's mother, St. Zelie, surrounded by Alcenon lace--has definitely been calling to me.  And once I started reading it a few days ago, I had a hard time putting it down.  Two sittings was all it took to finish it.

Faye has done an outstanding job of making St. Zelie come alive for me, and after devouring this novelized version of her life, I intend to read more biographical works about this extraordinary woman.  She was a saint who was also a wife to a saint and a mother of saints.  And as if those accomplishments weren’t enough for any soul, she was also a successful businesswoman who was a maker of exquisite French lace.
Zelie Guerin never thought she would marry and have children; as a young girl, her dream was to enter the convent. But God had other plans for her, which included making lace and meeting Louis Martin, who had also dreamed of a religious vocation but instead would become her partner in marriage, parenthood, and sainthood. Zelie and Louis had nine children in all, four of whom died in infancy or early childhood; the five daughters who survived to adulthood all grew up to become nuns.  One of them, of course, was their youngest, Therese, a well-beloved saint known as  “The Little Flower” (a Doctor of the Church no less).  These are facts that you might already know about St. Zelie, but Anne Faye goes behind the scenes and into the mind and heart of this popular modern saint, making the busy and sometimes complicated family life in the Martin household very real and relatable.

Working mothers of big families will especially relate to Zelie Martin’s struggles to become a saint while dealing with the daily trials and tribulations that come with trying to balance it all, sacrificing sleep and longed-for solitude and personal health to attend to the needs and demands of her business and her home. She suffered unimaginable losses and endured tremendous physical suffering as well, yet through it all her deep Faith sustained her.

Zelie Martin wasn't a perfect person; she was quite human and had many of the same faults we all struggle with.  She often felt overwhelmed with worries about her children, and was always happiest when they were gathered under her roof (which for various reasons, they often weren't).  Her lace business seemed to operate on a feast or famine basis, so if she wasn't complaining about being overworked she was feeling stressed that it would fail.  She got tired of sacrificing sometimes, and Lent could seem very long.  She struggled to understand her most difficult child.  She was not always pleasant and patient and thought most of the people around her were much holier than she was.  But when it came to the heaviest crosses she was given to bear, she carried those with saintly determination.  I know that Faye used actual letters that Zelie Martin wrote to family and friends as a resource, paraphrasing and adding color; so I believe this book is an accurate portrayal of Alencon's famous yet extremely humble maker of lace and saints.

I can so relate to this quote!  Lots of stone-hard
wood to chop here.

I’m so glad I read The Lacemaker, because if there's anything I need more of during these difficult times, it's inspiration for ways to become a saint while living in the world.  What a beautiful example Zelie Martin's life gives for achieving holiness while working both inside and outside the home!  I highly recommend this book.

If you're wondering what you should read next and need some more good book recommendations, head on over to Carolyn's October An Open Book link-up.

Friday, October 1, 2021

The Long Game

My husband and I recently had dinner at our second-born son's house, and thoroughly enjoyed visiting with him, his wife, and their four energetic boys, aged almost one to almost six.  (We fondly refer to their rough-and-tumble family of little men as "the Gronks." Does anyone outside of New England--where we lived for 27 years--get that reference?)

At bedtime, the oldest of the four boys had been promised that he could come out and visit with Papa and Grammy after his little brothers were asleep, but he got impatient and started banging on the wall to be let out sooner rather than later. Our son went to his room to talk to him, and when he came back I asked him if Junior was going to be able to come out eventually. His answer?  "No, I don't negotiate with terrorists."

Score one for Dad.  As much as we would have liked that extra one-on-one time with our growing-up-too-fast grandson, it was the right call to make. 

What a good lesson for a young kid to learn: that parents make the rules, and you don’t get what you want by trying to wear down their resolve with unreasonable demands or bad behavior.  It's a tough thing to stick to, as a parent, because it's always so much easier to give in and give them what they want, isn't it?  There's so much less stomping, door slamming, back talk, and crying. 

But that's just in the short term.

If you stand firm about how you expect your kids to behave, it pays off a hundredfold in the long run.  As my husband liked to say, if you want your kids to be your friends as adults, you have to be okay with them not liking you sometimes when they're little.  Parents who try to be their kids' friends when they're young can end up with grown children who are hard to like.

Of course, when you’re in the trenches with relentless little would-be terrorists, sometimes you're just too tired to deal with the power struggle, and you weaken and cave.  You’re only human.  But you just have to persevere--with the help of God, the Blessed Mother, and every saint in Heaven--and keep trying to play the long game, so that in the end, everyone wins.

Son #2 sometimes balked at having such strict parents when he was growing up; you can be sure that his father never negotiated with terrorists either, and there were definitely consequences for bad behavior. But obviously, as a dad now himself our son believes that was the right thing to do, or he wouldn’t be following the same playbook. 

It's so satisfying watching your grown children raising their kids to be obedient, kind, respectful, compassionate people.

Just like the ones you raised.

Here we are at Christmastime, 2018, with our "Big Five" (who make me feel petite!).
I like them.  I like them A LOT!  They are all MVP's* in my book.

*Mom's Valuable Players

Wednesday, September 29, 2021

Sewing with Grammy (3)

If you are one of the few people who does come here often, you might be wondering if this has morphed into a sewing blog now or something.

No, it hasn't; but I am a Grammy blogger (not to be confused with a mommy blogger, which was a popular thing to be back in blogging's heyday).  And sewing with four of my granddaughters--the offspring of our firstborn son--is currently one of my favorite Grammy activities.  So there you go.  (I will blog about something else one of these days; but this is not that day!)

For the past three Monday afternoons, I have been holding a little Sewing 101 course at my kitchen table for four young budding seamstresses. 

Each week, I've tried to plan projects that are fun for them, but as an added bonus also give them something to bring home at the end of the lesson (doll-related items are always a good choice!).

On Monday, I had the two oldest (10-year-old twins) do a review of one of the skills we worked on last week and practice machine sewing straight lines on paper.  They did so well that I had them graduate to sewing straight lines on double-thickness squares of fabric on which I'd drawn a series of lines.

They pretty much aced that task, so then I had them sew up some simple 5x7" American Girl-sized bed pillows I'd cut out for them ahead of time.  They sewed the seams leaving an opening for stuffing, clipped the corners, and turned them inside out.

When they had accomplished this, I called their two younger sisters (8 and 6) up from the basement playroom to stuff the pillows and hand-sew the openings closed.  

When I went online a month or so ago to figure out the best way to go about teaching young kids to sew, one of the bloggers whose site I visited stressed the need to be okay with their efforts being imperfect, in order to let them learn without too much interference.  I knew that with my tendency toward perfectionism I might hamper their learning by itching to take over too much.  So I've been trying really hard to let them do their own work and make their own mistakes.  (Sewing with Grammy will be a good learning experience for me as well!)

These sweet granddaughters are so generous with each other and don't appear to have that need to be in complete control of the outcome that their Grammy struggles with.  The older girls were perfectly happy to have the younger girls do the finish work on the pillows, and they did a bang-up job.  So it was truly a wonderful team effort.  I am so proud of this little sewing circle of mine!

Yes, someday, I shall write about something other than sewing lessons...but here's the problem these days, you see:

and I do mean HOURS!!

Wednesday, September 22, 2021

Sewing with Grammy (2)

Our oldest son's four homeschooled daughters came to our house for their second weekly sewing lesson on Monday afternoon.  I had an easy hand-sewing project for all of them to work on: adding buttons and flower embellishments to simple felt vests I’d made for them ahead of time (sized to fit their American Girl and/or baby dolls).

I love to see the joy that working on such projects produces in these sweet young ladies!  And I am determined to make sure that they have something fun to bring home with them after each sewing lesson.

Once the dolls were looking spiffy in their new vests, it was time to get down to brass tacks: teaching the older girls the basics of using a sewing machine. So the two younger girls went down to the basement playroom to play with their little brother, and the twins (aged 10) began their lesson for the day: sewing straight lines on paper.  (Thank you, Internet, for both the genius idea and the free printable pages to practice on!)

It did this Grammy's heart so much good to see these girls, my two oldest grandchildren (who are maturing into poised young women at an alarming rate!), growing in confidence each time they sat down at the machine.  They were somewhat intimidated at first, but quickly got the hang of it.  The younger of the twins (by a few minutes!), Cutie Pie, was heard to exclaim, "I love this.  I feel like I was born to do this!"

Born to sew!  If that's the case, I'm so glad that I have the unique opportunity to help these girls learn a useful new skill (one that has served me well over the years)--you know, so that they can do what they were born to do.

Wednesday, September 15, 2021

Sewing with Grammy

Our oldest son's wife asked me this summer if I'd be interested in having a weekly sewing class this school year for her four homeschooled daughters (aged 10, 10, 8, and 6).  While the girls have done a bit of hand-embroidery and hand-sewing, she hoped that I could give them a basic course in how to use a sewing machine.

Would I be interested?!?!  Of course I would!

As I was largely self-taught (and learned through years of trial and error--I tell you, the seam ripper and I got to know each other very well!), I went online and typed in "teaching kids how to sew," and I got lots of great pointers on how to proceed: YouTube videos and blog posts, some of which offered printable pages--not just patterns, but also sheets of dotted lines on which to practice machine sewing.  There were sheets of straight lines, and curved ones, and geometric patterns that will help them practice how to change direction.  (I never would have thought of having them practice machine stitches on paper; I would undoubtedly have given them material scraps instead.  But for true beginners, this appears to be a great way to get them comfortable with the way the machine works before they graduate on to sewing on fabric.)

Aside from how-to advice, I was tickled to find some free printable beginner's patterns.  The first one I will have them use, after they become adept enough at working the machine, is for a very simple sleeveless dress that will fit their beloved American Girls.  (I made one up and it's being modeled by one of my 18" porcelain dolls, and I will keep it on display during our classes as an incentive for them to keep learning.)

We had our first class on Monday, and we started with a couple of introductory projects for all four girls. They hand-sewed some buttons onto fabric scraps, on which I'd made pictures using fabric paint, and then they slip-stitched the opening of a small stuffed puppy dog closed.  In future weeks, the 10-year-old twins will be working with the sewing machine while the younger girls do more hand-sewing projects.  I did let the twins try doing a few lines of straight stitches on the machine, but otherwise decided to keep the first day fairly easygoing.

We had an impromptu tea party after the lesson, with peach tea and shortbread cookies.  And then they all got to go home with little stuffed puppies (pets for their American Girl dolls?) and fabric painted pictures they'd finished off by sewing on the buttons.  

The only thing I forgot to think of was making a little fabric square picture for their 3-year-old brother, who played in the basement while the girls were having their sewing lesson.  We did have a stuffed dog for him, though, and promised that there would be a car with button wheels in his future.

I think day one would have to be considered a success! And I am so excited to see these girls grow in confidence as they learn new skills each week.

This opportunity to do a weekly sewing class with my granddaughters is something that never would have happened if we hadn't left our longtime home in NH and made the move to VA in 2017. I can hardly count the blessings that have flowed from that decision!

Look for updates on my little seamstresses' progress in the coming months.

Thursday, September 9, 2021

Life Imitates Art

In October of 1979, I did a  9x12” acrylic painting on canvas board, and that Christmas I gave it to my future in-laws as a gift.  (This painting was created with less technical ability than love...but there was lots of love involved.)  The piece was inspired by the view of Lake Champlain from the back yard of their New York house, with the outline of the Green Mountains of Vermont visible in the distance.  I had spent so much time, during the previous six years that I was dating their son, enjoying this view from their lovely lakeside home, and I painted it from memory. The little girl standing by the fence was meant to represent my then-boyfriend's three younger sisters, whom I had grown to love dearly.

Fast-forward 42 years (gulp! 42 years!!).  And I found that life was definitely imitating art.

You see, I married that boy who lived by the lake.  And we had five sons, who grew up and got married and have so far produced 17 grandchildren for us to cherish. Five of these grandchildren, the offspring of our oldest son, were visiting us with their parents for a week starting at the end of August—staying with us at their Papa’s childhood home, which has become our summer residence.  (Thankfully, this amazing house has stayed in the family, even though my beloved in-laws are no longer with us).

I snapped this picture of our boy’s girls (twins aged 10, along with their younger sisters, 8 and 6) the night they arrived, when they ran out to look at the lake they hadn't seen since the summer before last.  And I was immediately reminded of my little painting.

There are more boats moored out in front of the house these days (one of them, in fact, belongs to their Papa and me). And the old split rail fence has been replaced by a much fancier steel railing on the giant concrete sea wall that the family had built a few years ago, in order to keep the bank at the edge of the yard from eroding. But that beautiful view hasn’t changed one iota.

I didn't blog much over the summer, even though there was so much I could have shared here.  Life was kind of imitating art back in July, too, when our four other sons and our 12 other grandchildren came to spend a crazy, fun-filled week with us at our Oyster Haven VRBO house, which we’d blocked off for personal use. 

What could be cuter than a lineup of small children smooshed together, with their little legs dangling over the edge (of a hammock, or a dock, or whatever they happen to be sitting upon)?  That vintage Jesse Wilcox Smith painting up there has always been a favorite of mine.  The photo of our gang might have included a cat, too (our youngest son and his wife brought their two along with them), if it wasn't for the allergies in the Pearl clan.  Therefore, the kitties spent their vacation in the basement!

We have been back in VA for several days, where we will be living until summer 2022 draws near and we head north again.  We will miss that glorious lake--a work of art to be sure; but we are happy to be reunited with all of our sweet grandchildren, whose darling faces are nothing short of masterpieces.  (Said their very objective Grammy.)

It's so good to be back!