Wednesday, May 28, 2014

Attic Find

I've owned my house for 14 years this month.  When I bought it, it had been used as a rooming house for at least 10 years, had the remnants of a packrat family before that, and some remains of the second owner from the 1930s.  The attic (and some of the basement) was filled to overflowing.

Every once in a while I tackle some of it, but there are still embarrassing pockets of other people's crap in the extremities of my house.

My roofer was over today putting a new window in the attic, so since I had to be up there anyway, I decided to organize another section.  And found treasure.

I knew there was a sewing machine up there, a 1960s metal one that I keep meaning to bring downstairs to investigate; if I ever get organized enough to do sewing lessons in my dining room, it will be great.

But this was something else.  Something more.  Something that made me say loud, unladylike things in front of my roofer, who nearly collapsed laughing at me.

This is a Singer Featherweight 221-1 Portable electric sewing machine, in her original carrying case, with all manuals and attachments.  She's so untouched she still smells like sewing machine oil, but according to Singer's website, her serial number means she's from 1951 (100th anniversary edition).  And still practically new in box.

This is a serious happy dance, folks.  I'm a bit of a sewing machine junkie on a good day, but I haven't found buried treasure in my own house before.

Tuesday, May 27, 2014

Gallery Bears

More often than not, the internet is a wonderful thing.

It's given me friends I would have never found otherwise; it's helped me plant, harvest, cook and preserve; it's taught me new sewing techniques (and more than a few old ones); it's been a big help in trying to build my business.

A month or so ago, I met Jed Williams.  He's an artist who owns a small gallery at 615 Bainbridge Street in Philadelphia (conveniently located not too far from the 4th Street fabric stores).  He was looking for someone to make a few bears for him out of some Spoonflower fabric that had been custom-printed with one of his paintings.

I used my standard bear pattern, but the bears look different because one of them was cut pretty straightforward, with the tile print running straight up and down, while the other was cut on the bias.  I like both of them; I think they look pretty different.  The black accent fabric really jazzes up the print, and the pink bow just makes me smile.

If the photo isn't clear, the writing on the bear's chest is the Jed Williams Gallery logo. A nice finishing touch.

There's some fabric left over from the initial order.  I think it's going to be a few small zip pouches and a gallery-themed tote bag.

Wednesday, May 21, 2014

It's coming along

Roses, fennel, coral bells, iris (potato bed beyond)
The garden is beginning to chug along properly now. It's still behind, but catching up. Winter really was endless this year, wasn't it? And spring's not much to talk about, either.

 Our back yard isn't very large by suburban or country standards, but for the city, 20' x 20' is pretty big. Right now, in addition to the skeletal remains of my long-desired and ultimately boring rose garden, I have the following planted:

Fruit: 3 blueberry bushes, raspberries, red currants, strawberries (potted).

Veggies: tomatoes (6 at the moment, probably more coming up as volunteers from last summer), bell peppers, frying peppers, padron peppers (a whole bed from seed brought back from Barcelona), spinach, kale, carrots, cucumbers, string beans, lima beans, peas, potatoes (lots). Salad greens of random kinds, including red oakleaf, bibb, arugula, sorrel, deer tongue, mesclun mix (mostly in pots, with the exception of the starts I bought at the garden center).

Potatoes coming up!  Planted too close
together, but you deal with the space you have.
Herbs: basil, rosemary, fennel, sage, thyme, lavender.

Random plants/flowers still left: coral bells (lots – I love the colors of the leaves), 3 different varieties of iris, a potted clematis, a potted tree peony (trying to find it a new home) and a mammoth lilac. Mammoth, I tell you. Pre-prune, it’s at about 9 feet. When I planted it 14 years ago, the first summer I lived in the house, it was so tiny I dug the hole with a tablespoon because I didn't yet have a shovel.

Oh, and the chicken. With her coop, and its extension/run. Not as much space as she would like, but more than I'm really happy about surrendering to her. Good thing she gives me both fertilizer AND breakfast.

Blueberries, coop, water barrels beyond.
On the walkway between the yard and the house is the compost factory, which is made up of 4 square blue recycle tubs, in varying stages of decomposition. 

In the corner behind the compost area, two 50-gallon rain barrels, one hooked up to the house, and one for the 5 gallon buckets that catch the overflow from the gutters. (I haven't turned on my outside water in 4 summers; I love it).

This is where I spend my time when I'm not at the sewing machine (or unfortunately in an office at a computer). Because it's outside, and strenuous, I enjoy it even more than sewing.

My favorite iris - filched from a
neighbor's garden and since multiplied.
My great-grandmother had this one.

Tuesday, May 20, 2014

Going New Places, Part 2

More good news!  On Wednesday (my day off), I took the train into Center City to visit Philadelphia Independents, a new shop in Old City specializing in handmade.  I've worked with one of the owners at several craft shows, and when I heard she was opening a shop, I contacted her and asked if she'd be interested in carrying some of my animals.  She was, so we met up today at her shop and went over terms and caught up on crafter gossip and I got a look at a lot of very cute items.

Except I'm selling, not buying, so you all have to stop in and buy them, okay?

Right now, Ashley is taking 3 bears and 2 of my new primitive pillow cats, with more promised if they sell.

And there's more good news.  I can't wait to share, but I have to, just a little bit longer.

Monday, May 19, 2014

Going New Places

Last Friday was a good day.  I walked up to my local shop to pick up a check (for a sold bear) and drop off a replacement.  On my way, I ran into someone who used to work at my local thrift store and who now has a shop.  She placed a wholesale order for a few stuffed animals, which made me do a happy dance all the way home.

Once I didn't like the idea of wholesale -- it's so much less than what I'd make if I sold a piece directly, but on the other hand, I don't have to stand around and wait to sell it, and if it doesn't sell, it's no longer my problem.  Also, consignment fees are 60/40 and that comes out to only a little bit more than wholesale.

Except that wholesale payment is immediate.

Immediate is good, since I just got the escrow statement noting my rather large shortfall this year (due to Philadelphia doubling my real estate taxes).  I did get a reduction from the city because I've lived in my house for over 10 years, so I spent some fun time on the phone with the mortgage company, convincing them that while I still owed them a boatload of money, it was a yacht-load and not the actual freaking Titanic.

Crisis somewhat averted.  Still not in the clear, because I would love to get new front steps this summer, before someone falls through the old ones.  And concrete costs a ridiculous amount of money, and despite the fact that I have patched the steps repeatedly and kept them from completely disintegrating, my skills are not such that I can actually build new steps.  Sometimes you just have to pay a pro.

I just wish he'd accept stuffed animals as a form of payment.

Saturday, May 10, 2014

A different mother's day: here's to the MILFs

It's that time of year. Mother's Day is everywhere, and it's assumed (or at least Hallmark assumes) that everyone out there has a perfect, Hallmark relationship with their mom.

I didn't. We didn't have a bad relationship, it was just . . . unique.

She was the cool mom, the mom who made all my friends wish she was their mom. I offered her to them with increasing frequency until they were old enough to understand why.

She used to walk me to grade school wearing hot pants and a halter top. The game was to see how many horns honked at her on the way. When she left me at the gate, generally every boy in my class stood tiptoe to watch her walk away. Mom was a MILF before MILF was a word.

Looking back, I'm sorry that at the age of 40 plus she still felt like she had to get the affirmation of random men blowing their horns and pre-adolescent boys blowing blood vessels, that she couldn't see her own worth without their input. She didn't really have women friends, other than me; she didn't trust women.

She died in 2006, after hiding her emphysema diagnosis for 5 years because she didn't want to stop smoking. Even after she had to go on oxygen (for chronic bronchitis, she claimed), she would still disconnect herself and go out into the hall to sneak a smoke.

When she was in the hospital for the last time, unable to speak for tubes, I came up from Philly to see her, and as it turned out, to say goodbye. I wasn't sure she even realized I was there, but when her doctor came in and said – and who the hell says this to a dying woman? – "Aren’t you sorry about all those cigarettes now? You can't even talk to your daughter."

Turns out she was still in there. She raised her hands, one with an IV in it, one without, and gave him the finger with both hands. Can't say I blamed her.

She died a few days later. I was home, and my stepdad couldn't bring himself to go to the hospital, so my uncle, her younger half-brother, was with her when she died. I went back up the next day to spend some time with my stepdad (and to clean out all her stuff – he was adamant, I couldn't leave until she was erased from the apartment), and we had dinner with my uncle. As we were driving to a restaurant to meet some other local relatives, a thunderstorm hit. We had to pull over for a few minutes because we couldn't see the road in front of us.

A particularly loud clap of thunder rattled the car windows. My uncle, in his wisdom, and having been partly raised by my mom, said, "Well, that's it. Gene just found out there's no smoking in heaven and she’s turned around and gone to hell."

In the spring, we spread her ashes at my uncle's property, where my mom had spent a few years in her teens, probably her happiest years, and the reason she dragged my stepdad north for retirement. My uncle, a small man, bow-legged, heavily armed and with a more-than-passing resemblance to Yosemite Sam, took the box with her ashes, walked up to the top of the highest hill on the property, opened the lid and let her swirl. "You always wanted to travel, old woman!" he shouted. "Now get to it!"

He loved her dearly, as did I. I just can't say we always liked her a whole lot.

Tuesday, May 6, 2014

The rain passed us by

The toy corner, with my new "flat cat" pillow animals
As always, Go West was a really fun day.

Considering how much rain we got all week, including the day before, that 20% chance in the forecast had me worried, especially since I was being thrifty (or cheap) and got a smaller-than-tent-size space for the day.  Though after the deluge I went through last summer, even having a tent doesn't save you from the rain if there's any wind at all.

But the craft gods smiled, the weather was gorgeous, the trees were in bloom and the crowds were abundant.  The photos below were taken early in the day, while we were setting up, before all the vendors (or the crowds) were there.  There were over 100 vendors at the show, so set-up started at 8:30 and went all the way until 10:30, though I still saw some people dragging their things in after the official 11:00 start time.  Tsk, tsk.

Still early.  Don't you love the huge old trees?
I often wish at the end of a show that one thing or another would be overwhelmingly popular, so I could narrow my focus a bit, but it never happens.  And truthfully, I'm not sure I want it to -- right now, I have to be narrow and make up specific things for this Saturday's show, which has really limited space, and all I want to sew is everything BUT the things I have to make.

Which are, of course, freaking elephants.  Somehow, customers must sense how much of a pain it is to turn those little woolly trunks right side out and then stuff them.

The totals for Saturday:  3 dresses, 4 elephants, 2 giraffes, 1 teddy bear, 3 of the new flat pillow animals, a set of potholders, one fringed t-shirt scarf and a load of the felt flower hair clips that I keep in a basket to catch the eye of small children.  Except it's usually adult women who buy them.  Go figure.

The neighborhood's favorite jogging track . . .
right in front of my table.
I was thrilled to have sold the dresses -- especially the new yellow and white one with the daisies -- but I have something coming up soon which will require me to have a stock of dresses on hand, so logic says that people are going to want to buy them now.

We loaded in at 9:30 a.m. and I got home again at around 6:00.  There was a brief moment of yearning for wine and a horizontal surface, but then I asked Mario if those orange signs down the street meant that the thrift store was having a half price day.  They were, he said.

Before the words were out of his mouth, I'd grabbed a $20 from my profits and dashed off down the street in search of new materials.  (Not that I don't have enough to clothe an army, but half price day . . . well, some things can't be resisted).  I came home with 10 new pieces, having spent a total of $18.53.  Those pieces are now washed and well on their way to becoming something else.

This coming Saturday, a pre-Mother's Day show at Tattooed Mom at 530 South Street from 1 until 6.  Crafting and cocktails, it's a win/win.