Wednesday, April 27, 2011

The Great Easter Dress Saga Part Two

I'm sure you are all lined up with popcorn and lawn chairs to hear the second chapter of the Easter Dress saga, or at least that's how I picture you in my mind so I won't make you wait. When we left off, I was chopping cute dresses into skirts and searching for The Perfect Pattern

After a rather disastrous second sample dress which will not appear here because it is in the garbage, I found the Circle Flounce Dress by Etsy designer Jocole. I loved everything about this pattern, from its sweet and simple design to the sweet and simple construction. Having never made a circle skirt before, I was a tad nervous making the sample but her clear directions and easy to assemble pattern pieces made the process painless. She'll actually be featured here soon so you'll get to learn all about this creative and talented designer. But for now, it's onto sample making!

I did manage to source stretch chiffon (aka nylon tricot for the less romantic of you) at a local fabric store but the colors were very limited. I chose some hot pink chiffon and your basic pink broadcloth for the sample fabric. A few hours later, I had this done...

If it looks wrinkly and unfinished that's because it is. This was strictly a test copy.

I decided to overlay the bodice as well as the skirt with the chiffon, and it came out very nice. The fit on my daughter was perfect though it was a bit short for Easter. There wasn't anything inappropriate about the length for regular church wear but on Easter I wanted something a bit more formal.

Flush with success, I started to cut my chiffon.
And I cut. And I cut. And I cut. Don't let this fabric fool you. When it arrived in the mail and sat on my cutting table, batting its eyelashes at me, I couldn't think of anything but how beautiful it was, how frothy, how perfect for a little girl on Easter. It couldn't have been any more perfect if it were made out of Peeps. Only when I started the tedious process of cutting six overskirts (three for each dress) of very slippery, stretchy, fang-toothed fabric did I realize the truth. Chiffon is like a carnivorous bubble bath. Sure, it looks sweet and ethereal but sink your hands into it and you're in for a fight. I wish I'd thought to take pictures of my scrap pile but you'll just have to take my word that I finally wrangled it into submisison. I did come up a bit short, which caused a few panicked trips to the fabric store but other than that both the fabric and I survived. Relatively intact.

I discarded the overlaid bodice for a simple white embroidered cotton, which turned out to be a lovely accompaniment to the pink. My favorite part of the project was the subtle changes in color as I layered the chiffon. I ended up with something completely unique to my particular dress. Though I thought I would lose my sanity before I sewed one more layer, the end result was lovely.

I used dyed-to-match lace in a candy pink for the straps and the sash, which gave the pastel theme a bit of a kick.

The girls began twirling as soon as I tried it on them the first time. Spontaneous twirl is always a good sign for a dress. Everything held up well for Easter Sunday....

Little One models the front view

Loved One shows off her sash

And looks generally cute

The dresses even survived some hard-core Easter egg hunting, which of course was the point. It's not fun to look fabulous on Easter if you can't score some candy in the process.

We came. We sewed. We conquered. Five practice dresses and eight yards of chiffon later, it was worth every stitch. Even the ones I had to rip out.

Tomorrow I'll post a quick and dirty guide to stealing this dress design for your own purposes. Keep the popcorn and lawn chairs handy.

Celebration, Culture, and Christians.

After our Good Friday service, a friend of mine raised the familiar question of paganism regarding our church Easter egg hunt. Not ours particularly-- we aren't giving away miniature fertility goddess statues with each egg-- but the entire concept of egg hunts. Her sincere concern to do the right thing on this issue turned my mind back to the ongoing holiday debate. It's the same issue some Christians raise for most major holidays, from Easter to Halloween to Christmas. (Though it is interesting how most of them don't suggest renaming the days of the week to strip them of their pagan origins.).

I'm not here to trace the origins of each holiday from their inception through centuries of cultural evolution to their present form. Fascinating as it would be, I have two kids. I'm simply here to offer what I see as the most biblical and logical approach to the matter.

What we have here is a question of "guilty by association". Is it ungodly to do something that was at one time (or still is) associated with pagan or secular culture?

Paul address this conflict in 1 Corinthians 8:4-13 when he discusses eating meat offered to idols. This common cultural practice offended some Christians who had only recently come out of idol worship and protested the pagan association. Paul points out that "an idol is nothing at all in the world." He encourages Christians to eat or abstain based on their individual strength of conscience, and he admonishes the more mature Christians to be considerate of the weak. If you celebrate a holiday and your brother or sister in Christ does not, don't try to convert them to your position. Respect them and then joyfully celebrate to the fullest liberty of your conscience.

Celebrating cultural traditions falls under this umbrella.
Christians do not live in a cultural vacuum. This was as true two thousand years ago as it is today. Religious celebrations were to ancient people what national holidays are to us. Rather than isolate believers completely from their cultural context, church leaders often chose to adopt a redemptive version of the original pagan tradition. Symbols and traditions were redefined within the new belief system and over the centuries, these new meanings became a cultural tradition in and of themselves with their own rich Christian history. When we celebrate Christmas or Easter we are participating in that redeemed history not the pagan counterpart.

Also, symbols are heavily dependent on cultural context and they evolve in meaning as the culture evolves. Chocolate bunnies and plastic eggs hold no religious resonance of any kind for modern American. The symbols have evolved to represent a generic celebration of spring and renewal, mostly secular in nature. You cannot judge a modern symbol by its ancient meaning. Look at several other symbolic associations-- pants on women, long hair on men, tattoos, ear piercings....all of which at one point had a definite negative and in some cases pagan significance but now are a normal part of culture.

If you are a Christian whose desire is to remove yourself as much as possible from any secular context, your desire is admirable but misguided. We are inescapably human.
Our cultures, whether two thousand years ago or in 2011, are woven through us in such a way that it will be impossible on earth to erase any possible association with secular practice or belief. Our job then is not to sever ourselves from the cultural tapestry but to change the thread with which we are weaving. We aren't ever going to make earth heavenly. But we can "dye the thread" so that in our interactions with human culture we show that we are truly citizens of an eternal culture.

Some day, the entire earth will be redeemed so that every symbol, every tradition, ever hope and dream and aspiration and celebration of man will revolve around our God. Until then, we best reflect His light to culture when we are participating with redemptive intent rather than isolating ourselves to a holy hermit cave. When we engage culture, when we celebrate with the pagans, so to speak, they ask us why our joy is different than their empty placation. We then have a chance to tell them the true meaning, to paint the tapestry in true colors, and open their eyes to the truth.

So if you want to celebrate Easter with eggs and bunnies, go ahead. If you want to abstain, do so without guilt. However you celebrate, do so with a heart tuned to the wonderful realities behind the celebration and your joy will be full.

Have two cents to throw at my direction? Please comment. Dialogue. Rant, even. All thoughts are welcome.

Tuesday, April 26, 2011

The Great Easter Dress Saga Part One

Easter has come and gone and my sewing machine is lounging in my dining room with its poor little gears on ice. The Easter sewing process was long. At times brutal. It involved chiffon. Enough to make a machine (and a mama) lose her mind! But all the testing and re-testing and re-sewing and panicked last minute trips to fabric store paid off. You'll see later.

I had a fairly clear vision with the project. I had fallen in love with the selection of stretch chiffon offered at DreamSpunKids so I knew it had to be layers of ethereal colors paired with a very classic construction. I chose a vintage-inspired color palette of pink, peach, and white with touches of dyed-to-match lace. But I was not about to cut into my pile of beautiful-- and delicate-- fabric without some serious practice.

My first dress option was the Party Dress by The Cottage Home. Check out the free tutorial and pattern on her blog if you feel inclined to try one. Loved One and I were going to a bridal shower for a friend at church so I thought it'd be the perfect time to get my feet wet on the design using nice, dependable cotton. I found some surprisingly cute fabric at Wal-mart no less.

The light in my dining room gives it a yellow tinge but the green is really light and spring-y. Think lime sherbet.

The tutorial was easy enough to follow, though I still don't understand how to turn a lining.. I am 100% sure it is my lack of sewing skill and not her tutorial but I skipped that step and decided to do straps instead. I also decided to make a more narrow belt as Loved One gets obsessive compulsive if a bow is too big.

This was the first time I'd ever covered my own buttons. I know now the true meaning of the phrase “cute as a button” and may need professional help to keep me from buying hundreds of buttons just to cover them. It's that easy and that satisfying.

One, two three...awwwww

Though it took literally until the midnight hour, I thought the results were super cute. Especially the buttons.

Front view

Back view with a badly tied bow. It was midnight, people.

Loved One was in bed so I didn't get a chance to fit her until the morning of the shower. Which is when we hit trouble.

The dress, though I'd used the size 4 pattern pieces, was too big for my tastes. It seemed like it could fit a size 5 or even 6. Again, I'm a sewing dunce sometimes so the problem could be with me but I suspect the pattern pieces were a bit large. This was perhaps an intentional design choice but I wanted something more fitted. Because I had neither the time nor the patience to redo and reattach an entire bodice, the dress became....a skirt.

I'm rather happy this happened because it is a beautiful skirt, one I may make again in other colors. Loved One seemed pleased and we made it to the shower without a single melt-down about the bow.

A beautiful bow and no tears. Happiness.

Front view with extra baby doll cuddling.

We had fun at the shower and I left very glad I'd tested before I cut my chiffon. What happened after I did cut it? Come back tomorrow and I'll show you as well as offer some tips for making one of your own.

Wednesday, April 13, 2011

Screaming Sanctification

For the most part, I approach the secular parenting dialogue with a grain or two of salt. The answers to my questions on parenting aren't going to be found in the glistening pages of the newest family magazine or in a Google search result. As far as my own two cents goes, I doubt the women beaming at me from the pages of said magazine would much care to hear what I think about raising children. I do, however, have a good bit of curiosity for the current thought trends and that curiosity was piqued by a recent study.

Are you ready for it?

"Want to be happy? Have two daughters Having two daughters is the key to a happy and harmonious family life, according to a study."

No, ladies and gentlemen, I'm not going to be able to pass this one up. I read about the study a week or so ago and it's been gnawing at the back of my mind while I wash dishes and vacuum. Indulge me while I spend my two cents.

This study, as you can read in this online article, informs us that if we want to spend our childrearing years in parental bliss, two girls is the way to go. Two girl households scored "high in every category" such was being easy to handle, getting along well, and generally not making too much of a fuss. The rankings went down from there, with families of four girls being blackmarked as the worst possible combination. According to this study, if you have more than two children-- especially if you have the dreaded Four Girl Household-- you might as well buy a suite at a mental health clinic along with that minivan.

The study goes on to describe the benefits and disadvantages of each combination of children with the tone one might describe the benefits of different auto insurance plans or vacation packages.

What struck me was how accurately-- and tragically-- this sums up our culture's attitude towards children. Without a biblical rationale for reproduction, society is left to hammer out its own reasons for embarking on the immense undertaking of parenting. God, in His grace, has built into most humans, especially human women, the desire to be parents-- to nurture, to foster life, to pass on something of our traditions to a new generation. That's part of what it means to be human. But as with many things in this Me Generation, parenting has become more and more about self-gratification. Much like climbing Mount Everest or going on a walking tour of Europe, raising children is added to the list of Things To Do Before You Die. People view parenting in terms of what it can do for their emotions, their self-image, not to mention that gaping hole in their soul where God is meant to be. Baby stores get this. The thousand dollar cherry stained cribs, the three hundred dollar bedding sets, the eight hundred dollar stroller's all made to feed into the idea of parenting as a means of personal happiness

This study just manages to quantify an idea already out there-- that parenting is about you, the parent, and you should take every step to plan your parental journey with your happiness and ease in mind. When you factor in that the average childbearing age is steadily on the rise, the stakes are even higher. You'd better create the perfect family because this is your one shot. You've searched for satisfaction in relationships, in corporate you have this one chance to really find something that makes you happy and you'd better not screw it up by having children willy nilly.

Let me clarify a few things. I'm not saying God wants you to be miserable, nor that He wants every Christian parent to have children ad nauseum. His plan for each set of parents is unique, right down to the number, gender, and spacing of their children. I'm not saying that some family dynamics present more obvious challenges than others. I'm certainly not saying that parents shouldn't be happy because of course they should. Parenting is indeed bliss. But it's real bliss, the kind in which you are exhausted and possibly spit-up covered at three in the morning for the third night in a row but you are at peace to the very marrow of your bones because you know you are doing something eternal. This kind of bliss opens your arms and your heart to your whiny preschooler and your clingy toddler even though you are trying to cook spaghetti because this is something vital.

And that's the crux of this matter.
Without eternity in view, without any knowledge of God's commands or His plans for family, self-fulfillment mixed with a few noble humanist aspirations is really all there is to parenting. Without that compass, parents are as lost as any other member of secular society. When your viewpoint is eternal, you realize you are raising children as God's instrument in their sanctification just as they are His instruments in yours.
That's right. The screaming fights over toys, the juice spilled in that hard-to-reach part of the backseat, the days when just getting everyone dressed involves thirty minutes of tears, arguing, and discipline. That's for you.

There are things that God wants to teach you that you can't learn without kids. And there is an entire world of things He wants to teach them about Himself through you. Whether you have one child, two girls, two boys, or ten girls, or any combination thereof, God has in mind both your heart and theirs. Those afternoons of "screaming sanctification" are His way of refining your heart just as much as those sweet almost-asleep cuddles.

Studies like this one can't understand that fact.
It's like trying to get a colorblind man to tell you the difference between peach, mandarin, and mango fabric. Asking a deaf man to delineate the differences between Beethoven and Bach. You can't trust the results.

I am pregnant with a third child so I've skipped out on my parenting nirvana already. Something tells me I won't miss it so much.