Quick day-of-party gift: linen coasters

It always works out this way: I’m invited to a party, usually a birthday party, but sometimes a celebration for a colleague who has passed exams, or dinner at a professor’s house, or just an impromptu barbecue. The only real expectation for these affairs is to bring a bottle of wine or a side dish. But the day of the party, I always think, “Well, maybe I’ll make just a little something for (insert name of guest of honor or hostess).” More times than not on these occasions, I arrive at the party late and empty-handed. I have spent my afternoon trying to come up with something quick and easy to sew or knit, and failed miserably. In general, I make things slowly and like to focus on the particulars, so this urge to make last-minute gifts isn’t well suited to my sensibility.

Today, though, I was unusually lucky. A lot of it probably has to do with procrastination: Now that classes have started again, there is plenty of reading that, while interesting, sometimes begs to be put off. My friend Sarah’s birthday party tonight certainly qualifies as an excuse, right? So, with apologies to my critical theory class, here are the coasters I whipped up this afternoon. A few quick logistical notes, in lieu of a full tutorial: I cut squares six-by-six inches, sewed them together (right sides facing) with about a half-inch seam allowance—leaving a gap for turning, flipped them inside out, pushed out the corners with a chopstick, ironed them, and then topstitched with a zigzag stitch. The linen fabric I used came from Purl Soho’s website.


On being not gone, just different

Since that last countdown to the move, it has happened. I now live in Columbia, Missouri, where I am pursuing my Ph.D. in English. I didn’t intend to set aside blogging, but there was just so much other writing that had to be done: creative nonfiction for my workshop, seminar papers for other classes, reading responses and conference-paper proposals—well, you get the idea. And in doing the writing that had to be done, I found it hard to find time for the writing that didn’t have to be done, that wasn’t on deadline or being graded.

Even though I haven’t been writing much, I haven’t set aside crafting. It is my solace, here, when times and schoolwork get tough. Evenings spent knitting (and, admittedly, watching bad TV shows online) are my reprieve, though I don’t have much to show for it. Without the free time I used to have, it’s much harder to see things to completion. But there is still sheer joy in just working on them. But those moments are few, and I’ve had to trade out many of my crafting tools for academic ones: knitting books for literary criticism, sewing machine for laptop, beloved rotary cutter for pen and paper. But I have come to see that these are my two lives: I am both an academic and a crafter, a thinker and a creator. And I don’t think that one could exist singly, without the other.

So please, forgive me if my posts are infrequent. While it’s summer and I have a little time off before classes begin in June, I’m going to try to return to this space more often and update you on what I’ve been doing — and what I now hope I’ll have time, at least for a couple of weeks, to resume. (When I’m not translating Pasternak, that is.)

Countdown to the big move (17 days)

I haven’t written much about it here, but now that it’s so all-consuming, the only thing I can think to write about is Pete’s and my upcoming move. In February, I found out I’d been accepted into the Ph.D. program in English at the University of Missouri-Columbia, so we’ve been quietly planning since then. Now, though, we are very noisily planning: unhanging shelves and pictures (thank you, Mr. Ryobi, whoever you are, for the cordless drill with reverse screwdriver function), sorting out stuff for this weekend’s garage sale, and—my favorite—finding the perfect box for each task, packing it meticulously, and labeling it with black permanent marker.

Right now, the excitement for the move, for starting school, and for making home in a new place has somewhat overshadowed how much I’m sure I’ll miss Chicago. My brain is so occupied with what needs doing that I can’t even see the nostalgia coming. But I’m sure it’ll hit me blindside when the truck is packed, the apartment cleaned, and we drive away from this skyline, this City of Big Shoulders, no longer able to claim it as home.

A few little things on Etsy

Hi, there. I’ve been taking advantage of a few rainy (OK, really, really rainy) days to put a few things in my Etsy shop. I’m starting small: Two weekends ago at the Printers Row Lit Fest here in Chicago, I scored some old maps of various U.S. states and cities—a couple California, an Oregon, a Missouri, and some Illinois. They called out, like these old maps several years ago, to be made into envelopes.

I’ve never tried selling on Etsy, partially because of the time shop upkeep takes, but mostly because everything on there is just so beautiful and well made. How could my little envelopes (or my little whatever) possibly be noticed amid so much loveliness? Well, I’ve decided to give it a shot, anyway. If nothing else, it’s a good excuse to keep making things, a good excuse to keep thinking, as I cut and fold and glue each map, about the person who might be out there wanting just that very thing.

Hot off the machine: Vogue 8637

I hurried home (well, as fast as the bus would take me) after this morning’s classes, knowing that I was on the cusp of finishing my first-ever skirt sewn from a pattern: Vogue 8637. I began making this before our trip to Washington and have just come back to it in the past couple of days. Truly, this was a test run with some fabric I got on sale at Hancock for something like $2 per yard. I’m hoping to make it again with some lovely block-printed linen from Purl, but I didn’t want to screw up on such expensive fabric. Mostly, I wanted to make sure that the pattern, which specifies that it’s for knit fabrics only, would work with non-knits. Now I’m confident it will, with a few modifications, particularly in the waistband.

Front view

Back view

On this version, I modified only a couple of things:
1.) I shortened it 2 inches;
2.) I used 5/8″ elastic in the waistband. Using the 3/8″ elastic the pattern suggested, no matter how taut I pulled it, resulted in a skirt that wouldn’t stay up. The heft of the material was too much for the elastic to support. Switching to the larger width made all the difference.

My only hangup with the pattern is that the bias strip for the bottom hem is too narrow. There wasn’t quite enough to wrap to the inside and stitch securely. That’ll be easily amended next time by doubling the width indicated in the pattern.

All said, though I’m elated it’s done (and that I’ll be able to wear it to teach class tonight, followed by a friend’s new-job celebration), it’s always sad to snip that last thread and call it a day. What keeps me going, though, is the stack of untouched patterns and the piles of fabric, new and old, that promise many more skirts to come.

Matchbook notebook tutorial with hidden staple

I wanted to make myself some tiny matchbook-size notebooks, but all the tutorials I found left a pesky staple on the outside, which I feared would catch on my purse or jeans pockets. So after a bit of tinkering, I’ve come up with this tutorial that keeps the staple hidden on the inside. These little guys are easy to make, and, as I found one afternoon, a ribbon-wrapped set of them makes a quick handmade gift.

You’ll need:
• Lightweight cardstock for the cover
• Regular-weight paper for the pages
• 1 paperclip
• An X-Acto knife
• A ruler
• A stapler
• Glue
• Decorative paper for cover (optional)

Step 1: Cut the cover and pages

From your cardstock, cut a piece 6 1/2″ long and 2 1/4″ tall. This will be the cover.

From your “page” paper, cut 10-15 pages 2 1/2″ long and 2″ tall.

Step 2: Score and fold the cover

On one short end of the cover, use your X-Acto knife to lightly score (DO NOT cut all the way through!) two lines: the first line should be about 1/2″ from the end, and the second just over 1″ from the end. (You do not need to mark the lines before you score; I’ve just done it so you can see what’s going on.)

With scored side up and starting with the score closest to the end, fold over on each score line.

Step 3: Attach the pages

VERY IMPORTANT: Unfold the cover and flip it over before you proceed. The scored side should be facing down now.

Line up the pages so that the 2″ end is flush with the end of the cover and centered. Paperclip the pages together so they stay aligned. Then staple the pages to the cover as shown above, with the smooth side of the staple on top of the pages.

Flip the cover back over and re-fold the first crease (the one closest to the edge) so that the staple shows. Apply a small bit of glue along the very bottom of the edge of the pages, then re-fold the second crease and press it down so that the pages adhere to the cover.

Step 4: More cover scoring and folding

Almost done! Now you need to give the notebook its matchbook shape. Use your X-Acto to make two more score lines 1/4″ apart, just above where the pages touch the cover. (Again, you don’t need to mark with pencil first.)

Fold inward at both scorelines, and you should be able to tuck the bottom of the cover in at the bottom. Done . . . unless . . .

Step 5 (optional): Decorate the cover

I had some old origami paper laying around and decided to put it to use to make the cover a bit more vibrant. To copy, just cut a piece of paper the size of your front cover and glue it atop the cardstock. I also pressed the glued part only between a couple of books until it dried, just to keep things flat.

Back from the woods

For the last week, Pete and I were away catching up with college friends in Mazama, Washington — a three-horse town (we met all three!) just east of the Cascade Mountains. Now, admittedly, I’m not a very woodsy person. I flinch at every bug sound, and I don’t like to stray far from indoor plumbing or refrigerated beer. So the arrangements were perfect: Our friend Dan’s family has a beautiful cabin just yards from a small river and plenty of good hiking. So we all converged, from Brooklyn, from Chicago, from Nashville, and wow. Just wow. The susurrus of the river. The crisp, sharp air, especially in morning. The softening sun by afternoon. And, of course, the people.