Saturday, November 2, 2013

A Garden Fairytale

We first saw the movie Epic this summer and the girls instantly had their Halloween costumes. My oldest fell in love with the flower queen's gown, my fierce middle girl wanted to be a leaf warrior, and tiny girl didn't so much care as long as she got candy. 

I said yes.
And then wondered what I'd agreed to. Armor....petaled ballgowns....oh my.

But after the glue gun blisters healed and the last stitch was sewn, I had to admit I really loved their ideas for this year. I think they are my favorite costumes so far.

Queen Tara and her lovely gown

The skirt is a ballgown-length circle skirt and train made of a thrifted sheet and a roll of white satin. 

The satin I found at a garage sale over a year ago and couldn't think of a use for it until now. I cut semi-circular panels for the petals and glued them in place (since it was the day before Halloween and I had no time for hand sewing). 

The shirt is a little-girl version of Queen Tara's top, essentially a green knit tshirt with more satin petals. She can wear it through the rest of the winter as a pajama top. The skirt will go into the dress up box. 

My middle girl wanted to be a Leaf Woman, which is a warrior of this sort: 

The leaf warrior costume was an adventure for me because I had never made  armor before. I did a faux-leather corset breastplate for my fierce girl last Halloween but that was it. The first thing I made was a duct tape dress form of my girl's top half so I could more easily model the armor. It made the whole process a lot easier and I'll be keeping the form for future projects.

After I had a paper pattern, I cut it into foam plates, I painted them with two different greens to get the exact color I wanted. The embellishment is a gold Sharpie. To mold the curves for the arm and leg pieces, I held the foam over a burner until it was pliable then molded it around the dress form. Once it cooled, it kept its shape. Who knew?

  The tunic and leggings are green panne velvet and will be great for pajamas this fall (though they may end up as play clothes because she doesn't want to take them off). It was hard to get a picture of her because she could barely stand still....too many villains to battle.

The movie features a talking snail and slug-- Mub and Grub. 

They're cute but not what I wanted for Piper. Since the movie is filled with other garden and flower people, I decided that she'd be a rainbow snail girl. 

 Her shirt and leggings are brown panne velvet. The snail shell is brown corduroy and the spiral dots are made from rainbow batik (which I've been dying to use)

The shell is also a fully functional backpack so we can use it for other things later. She does love her "pack packs" as she calls them.


 Last year she was too young to really understand much about trick or treating but this year she's ready to go. Is there some sort of fairy charm to keep your baby from growing up? Probably not.

Happy Halloween!

Thursday, April 18, 2013

Tea Parlor Easter Dresses

I fell in love with some tie-dyed chiffon georgette at the fabric store this year and fully intended to use it in the Easter dresses. I envisioned classy, sophisticated little outfits that were a) not peasant dresses and b) without ruffles. But I was nursing the baby to sleep one right and I realized how fast my girls were growing up. I thought back to my best-loved Easter dresses and realized the ones I remembered most fondly were not sophisticated. They were huge, poofy, and ruffled. They used pastel floral prints. As a girl I felt they were magical.
My daughters had to have dresses like that at least once before they were too old to feel the same magic. And of course I decided all this barely a week before Easter.

I decided not to make an exact replica of my childhood replica but to take elements that I loved and include them in a more modern pattern. I also chose to make each of my three daughters their own special dress but keep their look unified by using the same type of colors, prints, and shapes. I went for tea-room inspired fabrics and color stories-- mint green, pinks and blues, lavender and white. After browsing Etsy for a shape that reminded me of my much-loved Easter dresses, I found this adorable pattern from FooFoo Threads. It is called the Sugarplum Princess and it features two layered skirts and eight very generous ruffles. I liked the smooth front and shirred back, combined with the easy peasant-style sleeves. My oldest, however, wanted a more moderate number of ruffles so she chose the Josephine dress. Which only had two ruffles. (Is this what Peter felt when he heard that it was Wendy's last night in the nursery?)

I found the patterns easy to follow and love the look of the bodice. One word of caution: they fit close. I would recommend sizing up if you have babies with a bit of tummy. My baby girl has a bit of a belly and she fit the size 3 pattern. My three year old was most comfortable in the size 4.

So, enough talking. Pictures are more fun. Unfortunately my battery died right at the start of my oldest daughter's photo shoot so these are just of the little girls. But there's definitely still plenty of ruffles and girliness to go around.

Ta da!

 Baby girl's dress was by far the most elaborate. It was worth all the gathering to watch her bounce around in the dress. She was clearly loving it.

 The focal print was an awesome mix of damask and large roses that looked exactly like it could have come off the dresses I wore as a girl. I didn't think I was a lavender fan until this fabric....I love the way the coral roses and the darker purple flowers contrast the delicate background color.

I was very careful in my choice of complementary prints. I wanted to stay in the purple family but didn't want the dress to be too busy (I know, strange thing to say of a dress like this that seems to have everything but the kitchen sink). I chose a lavender paisley, a purple and white stripe, and a white-on-white embossed floral fabric for the ruffles and belt. Pretty and sweet but muted enough not to compete with the main floral fabric. 


And the best part of the dress is that she can still run, which would have come in handy at the Easter egg hunt.....had it not been rained out. I'm so happy that I at least have one lady who is too little protest her mommy's love of ruffles. (Though after this dress, I was done with gathering. For a day or so.)

 My middle daughter's dress was the last one I made and I finished it at midnight the night before Easter. I knew when I sat down to start sewing that I didn't have time (or sanity) left to pull off a mess of ruffles so I went in a different direction. 

I'd been hoarding a fat quarter bundle of vintage rose themed prints for almost two years. I never found just the right use for them....until this dress. I chose all the blues, pinks, and reds and cut them into twenty eight long strips, which I sewed together to make the skirt. 

(Yes. It needs pressing. I do promise you though that it was ironed for Easter).
I used some lining and blue broadcloth to make a simple underskirt with a barely peekaboo ruffle. I made the bodice out of the same blue and kept it very simple so that the skirt could be the star.

Once again, I love the shape of the back and sleeves, especially with the shirring. 

She could barely keep from spinning long enough for me to take the picture. 
I bribed her by letting her pick some azaleas, which are usually off limits (lest they be stripped to bark within a day).

....but in the end I caved. A special dress must be spun. 

It was an absolute joy to sew these special dresses for my special girls. 
I loved the opportunity to use cotton fabrics and quilting techniques-- stripwork and mixing prints-- in a special occasion dress. This will definitely be something they can wear again to church. 

 I've sewed my girls special things for wedding parties, birthdays, and Christmas portraits but hands down Easter is my favorite occasion. These dresses, with their tea-parlor charm and ruffles and lovely prints, make me happy every time I look at them. Thanks again to Project Run and Play for suggesting this theme. I can't wait to see what everyone has created.

Friday, April 12, 2013

Gird Up Thy Cape (Vol. 2: On Love and Money)

A day or so ago I started a virtual conversation with a good friend of mine who, like many other geeks, is doubting his luck in love. He's come up with a list of reasons why he must walk the world alone with his destiny and I'm here to talk about it with him. At least until the girls get tired of playing in the back yard and come in with some wild request like, you know, dinner.

Today we're on Lament #3:

Not all of them consider love more important than money.

He sets it up this way:

Given my field of study, my current vocational circumstances, and the current economy, I can’t guarantee financial stability with absolute confidence. While I know how to manage money well, I am not rich. Many women find security in a man’s money and not his love. In other words, they “love” a man for what he has and not for who he is. I don’t work well with such women. The pool shrinks.

Ah, love and money. Never the twain shall meet?

This one is tricky. Our culture suffers from a raging epidemic of materialism that has infected the church just as thoroughly as the rest of society. (Insert zombie metaphor of your choice). I absolutely agree that you should desire a woman who loves her husband more than expensive shinies.


Don't forget what a Christian man promises his wife on her wedding day. He vows to deal with her as Christ does the church, to love her and give himself for her daily needs. That means that as a man, the weight of providing the material needs of a household falls on your shoulders. And yes, it's a heavy weight. A wife has every right to expect financial stability from her husband. She should expect that he will do whatever it takes to provide the needs of the family. My husband told me, when we were dating, that he would not marry me until he knew he could provide for himself and me and at least one child. (It's a good thing he was so wise because our first child came just four months into the marriage.)

I keep repeating the word "needs" because it is very different than "wants." Our society has confused the two in a big way. When you are a husband, you will have the job of discerning between the two on behalf of your family, setting up a lifestyle that gives security but not excess. The wife's job is to contribute her wisdom to her husband's vision-setting and then, once he has made his decisions regarding lifestyle, to submit and joyfully execute his vision in the daily keeping of the home. This isn't easy. For either party. It takes humility and trust in God's provision and a heaping dose of contentment....which only the Holy Spirit can work in our hearts. Good thing He's capable.

When I got married, I came into it thinking I had the "right" to expect that there'd be money to buy new clothes as regularly as I desired, splurge on expensive cosmetics, and decorate my home to my taste. I thought I should be able to have a Starbucks whenever I wanted. I came from a two income home, and adjusting to a one income lifestyle meant giving up a lot of things I just assumed everyone did. As years-- and the added responsibilities of children-- have made me a wiser woman, I have learned (slowly. painfully. thankfully.) to see the beauty in living within my husband's financial priorities. And, to his credit, he is able to provide us with a great deal of our wants. I get a clothing budget, a cosmetics budget, and even some Starbucks money. But it's not unlimited and, during times of financial hardship, it can be cut. On the other hand, he's never once failed to provide our needs, even for the times in our marriage when he had to work a ninety hour week to do so.

I am not saying it is wrong for a woman to work. But she is your helper first. She provides first the nurture and care-taking of your home and your children, not the work of providing sustenance. That means, in practical terms, that if you sincerely desire a wife, and you believe that desire is from the Lord, you must make whatever sacrifices necessary to fill the role of provider. That is your calling. And that calling is higher than the pursuit of even your most passionate personal dreams. If marriage is what you seek, you have to be prepared to give up doing what you love to do if it does not pay the bills.

That sounds demanding. Absolutely it is. Headship asks just as much of men as submission does out of women....but God grants us the will and strength to meet those demands. And out of it comes something beautiful and radical. A woman who submits to her husband, with grace and fearless confidence in the Lord, is more counter-culture than an Occupy Wall Street March. A man who dedicates himself to providing for his family-- even when it requires him to set aside his individual dreams-- is shocking. Such men are not received well in our self-worshipping culture. They are scorned as wage-slaves and fools. They are seen as antiquated relics out of sync with "modern masculinity." But biblical manhood-- lived out with fearless confidence in the Lord and sacrificial love-- stops up the mouths of the scoffers over time.

But what about writing, music, and other creative callings?
I would tell you to pray. Ask God to give you a wife who will joyfully submit to your discernment in setting your family's lifestyle. A wife who will be content with what you provide and not drive you to materialism. But also ask Him to show you if your understanding of your calling may have to evolve. If your focus on a creative pursuit means you could not provide for a household, then you must make a choice. If you choose to pursue marriage, you will by no means have to abandon your creative ventures, but they will have to take a back seat. You will have to start ordering your life and work so that you could support a family should God answer your prayers for a wife. That could mean a career change. It could mean temporary sacrifices. (Though many a great author or artist started out by working during his lunch breaks). The opposite is true-- if you realize that God is leading you to spend this time in your life focusing a creative pursuit for His glory, you can choose to be single for this season. You will be free to serve God without the "earthly hindrances" of a family. You can be risky. You can be a starving artist/writer/poet/playwright. But you cannot be that and a biblical husband or father. Lay both desires out before the Lord and see how He turns your heart.

Take heart that there certainly are woman out there who love a man for who he is, not what he buys. Women who will (not without imperfection) live joyfully with what you provide not what society tells her she deserves.

But those women in turn seek a man who will daily lay himself down for their well-being. They need commonplace superheroes and you can be one.

Thursday, April 11, 2013

Country Summer (Project Run and Play Sewalong)

I have been mostly cheerleading for this cycle of Project Run and Play but this week's theme was too good to pass up. The challenge was to create an outfit that focused on one main detail or technique, and I knew instantly I wanted to paint. I had never attempted "real" fabric painting before, so it was a great chance to cross something off my sewing bucket list.

I was inspired by a magazine of "country prim" decorating ideas I found at Wal-mart. I have always loved country-theme stencils, both for their charm and corniness, so when I found a vintage rose stencil at Michaels I knew it was meant to be.

I decided (for once) to completely ditch prints for simple, bold solids. I chose muslin for the main fabric, to emphasize the painting, and since Kona cotton was on sale I scored a lovely apple green to give the look a kick. My first thought was to do a circle skirt with a stenciled print but Tiny Girl sabotaged that idea when I had to take a phone call and forgot she could reach the table now. Since "graffiti country" was not the look I wanted, I had to come up with a second concept. One that took into the account that a good amount of my precious fabric pens had been used up in now-useless fabric.

I was out of inspiration until the day the heat came. 
Just in case we have readers in the north, Southern heat waves are neither genteel nor refined. Here in Virginia they lay in wait and jump out, teeth bared, so that you barely have time to blink before it's 90 degrees at three p.m. In the second week of April. I still had Tiny Girl's winter clothing out. She ran around most of the day in a pair of her big sister's bloomers and a t-shirt. I wanted her to wear something light, airy, and simple. Hence my second idea.

I chose a very simple top so that nothing would distract from the painting. I even skipped out on the ruffles. (Gasp!)  I used what was left of the fabric pen to stencil three large roses on the front. The muslin was very, very soft after washing. I think I'm going to go back and buy more for the older girls.

I used the apple-green Kona to make a very billowy, airy pair of bloomers. I liked how they gave some vibrance to the outfit and also added a modern color to the nostalgia of the flowers. 

I kept the back simple and unadorned because everything on this look was about those flowers. I could just see them on a bookcase in the house in the country that we left behind.

This was Tiny Girl's "pretty pose". She liked her outfit very much and kept trying to pooch out her belly to see the flowers better.

Like so.
This was a great outfit to make, because scribbling on fabric with paint seems slightly forbidden (and therefore great fun) and because I enjoyed sewing something simple. After all the ruffling I did on the Easter dresses, this was like sitting on the porch sipping an iced tea. 

Thanks again to the lovely and talented ladies at Project Run and Play for coming up with such great themes. It's always fun to sew along.

Wednesday, April 10, 2013

Gird Up Thy Cape (Advice for Lonely Geeks, Vol. 1)

Gird Up Thy Cape

(Advice For Lonely Geeks, Vol. 1)

I love geeks. Nerds. Bookworms. Eccentrics. Misfits. Weirdos. I am a compatriot of anyone who is abnormal enough to feel awkward at dinner parties, yet too much in love with their vintage Bradbury books and homemade Batman cape to become a real member of polite society. (And I say real member because we are rather good at faking our way through, unless you inadvertently insult Joss Whedon, at which point we will threaten to stab you with our chopsticks in the middle of the Thai restaurant. Oh, wait, is that just me?) To (mis)quote a book I am reading to the girls, I've had a lifelong appreciation of the Strange, the Odd, and/or the Yummy.

So I can say what's coming next because I understand. I really do. Being an appreciator of the Strange and Odd (and even the Yummy) can be lonely business. It's the existential sadness of realizing no one around you has picked up on the Firefly quote you've just nailed. That you know few people who would (willingly) meet you at Starbucks to talk about the thematic relationship between the Silmarillion and the fall of Old Testament Israel. (Note: if you are that person, name the place and I will buy the coffee). Our geeky interests are deep and passionate, and not everyone will understand why we teared up in the Avengers.

And that's okay. It's okay they don't get us. There are pleasures in otherness. But that's another article. We're talking here about a more universal longing.

Most humans-- geek or not-- realize at some point that God knew His stuff when He said man wasn't meant to be alone. Not everyone is called to marriage. But many of us are. The desire for a spouse is normal and admirable. Yet (as with many good desires that God delays), it can also become an ache. It can also become a thorn. It can squeeze the truth out of what we really believe about the goodness of God, about our worth, and about His intentions towards us.

My friend is one of those geek boys who desires a good thing.  He wants a wife, and has wanted one for as long as he can remember. He is sweet, brave-hearted, imaginative, and chivalrous. But he's still waiting, and he's wondering why.
And then he thinks he knows....romantic prospects for the geeky are just too slim.

He posits the following explanations for the scarcity of suitable mates:

1) Not all of them are single.

2) Not all of them are Christian

3) Not all of them are emotionally stable.

4) Not all of them consider love more important than money.

5) Not all of them are intelligent

6) Not all of them are nerdy

He sums his ideal partner as an "emotionally stable Christian nerd girl who isn't shallow." He is open in theory to long distance relationships, if suspicious of their success, and he suspects arranged marriages would be much easier than the dating/courtship games.

So, to my friend....with all the camaraderie I can muster based on our ten years of acquaintance, with nothing good will and kindness towards you....I have to say--

Gird. Up. Thy. Cape.

Take hope from those moments-- in movie, comic, or novel-- in which the hero, alone and discouraged, wonders if he was fool to ever start the quest or defy the Big Evil. Take hope from the real heroes in the Bible whose "flesh and heart failed them" but who found strength in God to complete their task. Finding a mate is hard-- for anyone-- but it's worth the hardship. (And so is staying single if that is God's calling on your life, but again...different article.)

Let's pretend we're at that Starbucks and we've finished talking Tolkien and now we're talking life. Let's look at those nails you've nailed into the coffin of your romantic aspirations one by one.

Not all of them are single.

Granted. You get +10 honor points for not wanting to steal another dude's Princess Peach.

Not all of them are Christian.

Again, granted. Your prospective wife could be another Felicia Day but if she doesn't share your faith, no amount of shared geekiness will make that marriage work. But it's not just about having an "easier" marriage. The very nature of Christian marriage is to put on daily display the relationship between Christ and the Church. A believing spouse is rightly non-negotiable.

Not all of them are emotionally stable.

When you say you "can't handle women who have emotional disorders," what I hear is that you want a woman who lives with biblical wisdom and maturity. Or at least that's what I hope you are saying. All women are emotionally unstable at least one week out of the month. (And let's not even bring up pregnancy, which is a common side effect of marriage).  Most humans-- male or female-- could be slapped with some kind of "emotional disorder" label if we saw the right shrink. And yet, if we base our lives on the truth of Scripture and rely on the power of the Holy Spirit, we can live with stability and grace. Desiring a woman who bears those characteristics is wise. The Bible talks about her in Proverbs 31 and in 1 Peter. She is clothed with strength and dignity and laughs at the days to come. She is a woman made beautiful by her trust in God and her submission to her husband.

Search out such a woman. But, at the same time, remember that we're fallen too. Even those of us women who fully embrace and search after God's vision of strong, confident biblical womanhood find it an uphill fight. Each of us struggle with some kind of "emotional instability". Your quest is to find a woman who is looking to the Bible to find strength for her own set of weaknesses and seeking to apply truth to her daily life. That is a woman you can handle....if you yourself are looking to the Bible to find the same truth for yourself. You will be able to see, through life and conversation and conduct, whether or not a prospective date is such a woman. She's worth searching out.

Well, the virtual coffee has grown cold and my not-so-virtual children are done with lunch so we'll pick this up tomorrow, eh? next on the list is love and money. Good discussion fodder. See you then.

Tuesday, April 2, 2013

Let Us Reason

In all the furor and hype of the marriage debates, reason often gets abandoned for rhetoric. But not everywhere.  Here is an insightful look into whether or not the government should define marriage.

Does The US Government Get To Define Marriage?

Monday, February 25, 2013

The Feminist Elf (Or Why I Object to Tolkien Tinkering)


I am a confirmed (re: obsessive) Tolkien fan, both of the original books about Middle Earth and of the Peter Jackson movies. I thought that, for the most part, Mr. Jackson and his team have done a masterful, beautiful job at bringing the books to film despite the difficulties the books present to that medium. While I swear first loyalty to the books, I am not so protective of their narrative integrity that I cannot understand (or at least tolerate) changes to the plot made for sake of a good film. I understand that while I would completely adore a scene-for-scene filming of the books-- complete with every single poem or song in all verses-- that you can't fill movie theaters with slow, dense plots and poetic trees. (Sorry Treebeard).

When I went to see the film version of the Hobbit, I came expecting differences from the books. I knew that the film drew from the appendixes heavily and altered events of the book in a few places. I accepted these alterations because they made sense within the story and seemed faithful to Tolkien's story. With this in mind, I enjoyed the movie immensely, though I did engage in a bit of detail-oriented grumbling at the end. Such is the right and privilege of geeks.

But then I learned about Tauriel.

She is a character invented solely for the movies, an elf warrior who, along with Legolas, sticks it to the Mirkwood spiders. She is a “high ranking” member of the elf army and “knows how to wield any weapon.” I am a bit irritated that they changed the nature of the Mirkwood elves (I always enjoyed the counterpart they provided to the notion that all Middle-earth elves are inherently noble, and sociable creatures) but I can tolerate that. I can tolerate Legolas appearing and even the character of Tauriel herself were it not for one thing-- why she was created at all. The buzz around her character online, and the descriptions given by the movie creators, were that she was added to rectify the “lack of female characters” in the book.

Now I'm mad.

Feminist critics have attacked Tolkien for the supposed bias in his writing towards male characters and away from female characters. Clearly they are ignoring Eowyn, Luthien, and the Galadriel of the Silmarillion, but it's true that the majority of major characters in The Hobbit and The Lord of the Rings are male. The myths that inspired Tolkien were also male-driven. But why is that such an offense?
Writers should be allowed the creative freedom to choose their own inspirations and create their own worlds without having to be shackled by adherence to some politically correct ratio of men to women. I have read and loved stories in which there were no male characters period. I have read and loved stories in which there were mostly male characters. I have loved the stories in which there has been a mix. But artificially reshaping narrative so women can feel “included” is censorship by way of revision and-- if I may say so-- is insulting.

I am not fond, Mr. Jackson, of your insinuation that a woman cannot enjoy a fantasy movie unless she sees another women swinging daggers and rescuing men. Give my mind more credit than that. Don't patronize me by adding a feminist elf to pacify me. It's like adding a female soldier to Saving Private Ryan. It is awkward and untrue to the world the story inhabits.

No one is forced to read Tolkien. If a reader decides that the gender politics of his world (and of most of ancient mythology) are too offensive, he or she may find entertainment elsewhere. There are some great female-oriented fantasy books, which I have read and love. I would not want to alter those books by adding random men. Nor do I want to politicize Tolkien by adding random women.

Tolkien's female fans love his work on its own terms and we have no trouble identifying with the characters of the movie despite the fact that they are men. I search for goodness with Gandalf, discover unexpected courage with Bilbo, and long for home with Thorin and his band. That's what the best storytelling stirs the part of our souls which are all the same. It is a cheap and unnecessary bargain to trade that power to quiet a few grumpy feminists.