The Life of a Maker: A New Sewing Studio!

Growing up I spent a lot of time at Westwood Cottage, and I almost never went home without having done something interesting and creative; making crafts, baking cookies, picking wild flowers and arranging them for my teacher. I can’t remember a time when I did not have a creative project that I was working on, or two or three for that matter. I come from a long line of Makers and it is a big part of who I am.

My first sewing machine! My mother bought me a length of blue gingham and I just created. So much fun!

So, you can imagine the joy I have felt recently setting up and organizing my new Sewing Studio. My old space was in the front porch of our home. Great for three months of the year. But in the winter, there is no heat and on a day like today with -50 C wind chill using the space is impossible . Bits and pieces of my projects end up everywhere!

Becoming an empty nester has given me a new option. My son’s bedroom has now become my studio. It has been a work in progress for some time. Over the past 10 years I have received the sewing supplies from three other Makers. Now, finally, things are organized and all in one place. I have also discovered I have enough hand needles, pins, heavy black handled pinking shears, and buttons to last several lifetimes!

It is a mixture of the old and new including my childhood desk and miscellaneous pieces of painted furniture. Old and new sewing machines, my grandmothers sewing basket, new and vintage fabrics all combined to create a space where anything is possible. Kind of like me in a way. The new me constantly reinventing the old me. – keeping the best of the past and adding the future. I’m looking forward to getting to work!

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Skinned Me a Sofa

Year’s ago, we bought a good quality leather sofa. We had two young son’s and two young cats. We could clean up spills easily and the cat hair didn’t stick to it. Then, our boys became teenagers and the “sofa flop” began. Eventually, the frame was broken.

When my youngest son moved out he went down the street and moved in with three other young men and the sofa went with him. It wasn’t long before it was finished being a sofa, it had supported our boys through their childhood.

But, I could not just throw out all of that lovely leather. So off I went down the street with some tools and skinned me a sofa. Not only was the leather in good shape but there were some pretty awesome pillows inside that I can repurpose.

Skinned me a sofa!

I’ve got plans; pencil cases, pillows, tote bags, ottomans, yoga bolsters made from the cushions, keychains, leather journals . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . there are so many ideas, so much potential! I might just treat myself to a new sewing machine.

I’m pretty happy with the first projects. Keychains and leather covered journals. The journal inserts are organic cotton paper and are ready for drawings, thoughts and ideas. They feel so good in your hands.

Some would say it was just an old beat up sofa and it was no longer useful. But, with a little bit of effort and some creativity it will be repurposed into beautiful items for my family. Like the Phoenix rising from the ashes the beat up sofa is back to offer support and comfort for my family once again.

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It All Started With a Chain Stitch!

My first completed granny square project. I was so excited to play with all the colours!

When I was 9 years old, Grandma Westwood taught me how to crochet a chain.  That was the beginning of a lifelong passion for creating and making. I chain stitched an entire ball of yarn: before school, on the school bus, at recess, in the classroom until I got caught, after supper, any chance I could get. Other kids thought I was a bit strange, adults thought it was cute! But I didn’t care; I was in control of making something with my own hands.

I soon graduated to the granny square. Now, there was no stopping me; I was dreaming up projects and working on them just like my two lovely grandmothers. The thrill of receiving a case full of crochet hooks of all different sizes for Christmas – and don’t get me started on the yarn! 

Grandma’s blankets, such crazy colour combinations!

I’m still stitching all these years later.  It makes me happy that my home is warmed by homemade items made by my grandmothers and by me.  That I have been able to give my special people something stitched with love to keep them warm, cared for and supported. I have also come to realize that it isn’t just about the making.

I have learned that:

  • Stitching is good for my mental health. It is meditative.  It is calming; it lowers anxiety and stress while it gives me the satisfaction of having created something.  Relaxation with purpose.
  • Stitching helps me to focus.  As someone who thinks in pictures, I think best when my hands are busy. And as an added bonus, busy hands means less mindless snacking.
  • Stitching helps to keep my aging brain sharp and reduces mental decline. It can help ease the pain of arthritis. There is much scientific research on this.
  • Stitching can be social.  But for me, more importantly, it has always been a comfort to my introverted self.

When Grandma Beever was in her 90’s she embarked on a project to knit a blanket for each of us in the family- 8 of us.  Her fingers were stiff and her eye sight was fading.  But, she did it.  Each blanket in a different pattern and favourite colour.  Even though I am a long way from being 90, I will do the same and I’m starting now!

I’ve made five so far. Simple double crochet blankets using a size 10 mm crochet hook and Bernat chenille blanket yarn.  They have a modern look that appeals to a younger generation that hasn’t quite learned the joy of the granny square – just yet.  They are fun and easy to make.

Painting: Summer Breeze by Artist George Baker

If you are like me, you have more than one project on the go and several that likely will not be completed in this lifetime.  But that’s ok.  There is great joy and comfort in the making.  Happy stitching!

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Not Just Any Old Trunk!

There are four trunks in my home.  Each one different with its own compelling journey and story to tell. Their age is showing, but they don’t care; they earned every dint, scratch, bump, bang and paint job and they are proud of it. 

The oldest one resembles a beat up rusted metal box with missing hinges and broken clasps.  It came to Canada from England on a ship with my great grandfather, traveled by train and horse drawn cart to finally arrive at a small farm on the Manitoba prairies. All of his possessions, hopes and dreams were in this one small trunk.  It has been the minder of hand stitched quilts, precious books, important papers, calves born on cold winter nights, the secret spot to stash moonshine, toys, tools, and sundry bits and pieces. It has lived in a house, a barn, a garage and my basement. This old trunk makes me sentimental.  It symbolizes my roots, brings me family and stories and strength, grit and grace.  It’s time to bring it out of the basement into the light and give it something to take care of.

The second trunk has a rounded top and has been painted many times so that it is neat and tidy.  It belonged to my father in law.  He journeyed to Canada with it from England in 1952 by ship and then by train to BC.  When he joined the armed forces it traveled with him to France and then back to Manitoba. This trunk has stories to tell and secrets to keep.  Its last job was to look after the supplies for changing the oil in the car and now that it is in my home it holds my yoga mat.  I too gave it a tiny face lift, scraping the paint off of the wooden slats. It reminds me that like it, we move in and out of our roles adapting and reinventing ourselves as we go.  It takes time, gets messy and mistakes are made.  Like painting every single part of this beautiful trunk black.  It’s ok that I don’t know who I will be next or how to get there. The reinventing is in the journey not the destination.

The third trunk joined my family in the 1990’s.  It’s a rescue.  The local volunteer firefighters were burning down an old abandoned house as a training exercise. My husband discovered the trunk in the house and brought it home.  It was dirty, beat up, musty and contained dead bugs.  But as they say, it had good bones.  With a bit of TLC and some paint, voila, a toy box by day a cool retro coffee table by night. As my children grew up it housed different things and lived in different rooms.  It has new marks of a life well lived with us.  This resilient survivor tells me that in 2020 in the middle of a worldwide pandemic that amongst the tragedy and uncertainty that the virus brings us, that there is hope, we may feel beat up and discouraged right now, but we can find encouragement, good news stories, growth and light in unexpected places waiting to be discovered.

And finally, the fourth trunk is really what’s known as a hope chest from the 1980’s.  It was given to me by my grandparents the Westwoods and the Beevers as a gift on my graduation from high school.  Inside were hand stitched linens. I was the first person in my family going off to university in the big city.  My first piece of brand new furniture. It has traveled with me to many different homes.  It has been through two weddings, one divorce, two babies and the loss and grief of my wonderful grandparents. It is the memory keeper. Tiny snippets of my life; notes from grade school crushes, 4-H projects, letters, lace gloves I wore as a brides maid, the dried roses from my wedding bouquet and the hand stitched linens that so long ago were stitched in Westwood Cottage to go into a granddaughters hope chest. Every now and then I open it up and take a walk down memory lane and bathe in the comfort of the memories of the past. Then I close it up and courageously move my life forward, for just like the four trunks in my home there are more things to experience and learn, more memories to be kept and more journeys to go on.

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Just Double the Recipe- Bran Muffins

There was always a bran muffin at Westwood Cottage topped with some homemade jelly. Especially Chokecherry! So good. This recipe from the Jean Pare Company’s Coming Muffins and More cookbook, is the perfect recipe. I like to double it and freeze half of them. A healthy breakfast treat to start the day. Give them a try, you won’t be sorry!

Just Double the Recipe Bran Muffins

(This recipe is for one batch 12 muffins, double it for 24.)

1 cup all purpose flour

1 tsp baking powder

1 tsp baking soda

1/2 tsp salt

3/4 cup raisins

1 cup buttermilk or sour milk (I add 1 tbsp of vinegar to 1 cup of milk)

1 cup natural bran

1/3 cup cooking oil

3 tbsp molasses

1 egg

1/4 cup packed brown sugar

1/2 tsp vanilla

In large bowl put flour, baking powder, soda, salt and raisins. Stir together well. Push up around sides of bowl making well in the center.

In another bowl stir sour milk with bran. Let stand 5 minutes.

Add remaining ingredients to bran mixture in given order. Beat with spoon until mixed. Pour into well in first bowl. Stir just to moisten – don’t over mix. Batter will be lumpy. Fill greased muffin tins 3/4 full. Baker in 375 degree oven for 20-25 minutes. Let stand 5 minutes. Remove from pan. Makes 12.

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More Than Just a Gingersnap

Grandma Westwood’s Gingersnaps served on her Regency dishes.

Visiting Westwood Cottage always meant a cup of tea and if you were lucky a gingersnap! Not just any gingersnap, they were made using a cookie press. Four inch long rectangles, crisp and perfect for dunking. They were kept in a flat sided glass jar in the bottom cupboard and when you heard the lid rotating off the jar you knew you were in for a treat. And on special occasions your tea was served using the “good tea cups” Regency by British Anchor Est. 1884.

Now, I make Grandma’s recipe and use the same tea cups. I don’t have Grandma’s cookie press and mine doesn’t make the same shape, but they still taste the same. They bring me back to the warm and inviting kitchen of Westwood Cottage once again.

Grandma Westwood’s Cookie Press Gingersnaps

1 cup sugar

1 cup molasses

1 cup lard (I used Tenderflake)

1 tsp baking soda

2 tbsp ginger

1 tsp salt

3 1/2 – 4 cups flour

Combine all ingredients except for the flour. Add 1/2 cup boiling water before adding any flour. Add in flour until dough is the right consistency for the cookie press. Bake at 350 F for approximately 9 minutes.

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With Wax

Recently I was given this little table with a broken marble top. With a little Fusion Mineral paint and some strong glue it was looking almost new. Except for the chip in the marble.

Then I remembered this: The phrase without wax is an English translation of sin cera. When stone sculptors made a mistake they would cover the mistake up by filling it with wax. A statue with no mistakes was known to be without wax. The English word sincere comes from Sin “without” cera “wax”.

So, I found some white candles and dribbled some hot wax on the chipped area. With a little bit of finessing I was able to fill in the gaps.

A lovely little wabi sabi (one of beauty that is imperfect) table.

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Look Around Crissy Doll

Mom recently brought my Crissy Doll to me. Being the mother of sons, it was so much fun to play with her hair and have a fashion show of her 1970’s wardrobe.  Still young at heart!  Maybe I’ll sew her some new clothes.

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Vintage Mr Clean

My mother recently brought me some things from my childhood.This included this cool Mr. Clean doll.  Rumour has it he had an affair with Barbie. Don’t tell Ken!

IMG_3553 (1)

 

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Knit Pot Scrubbies

I was so excited to find this new yarn by Red Heart – Scrubby.  I decided to make pot scrubbies using this yarn and 100% cotton yarn that I had left over from knitting dishcloths.  They are Brilliant! (My new word because I say awesome way too much!)

Using a 5mm needle I knit the two yarns together.  I cast on 15 stitches and knit using  garter stitch until the piece measured 3 inches.  Then I crocheted  one row of single crochet in the cotton yarn around the edge.

I am always looking for a quick easy project to do at night.  I made a bunch and put them in the local Arts Council store and they have started to sell.  This is a win win.  I can support the local Arts Council by paying a small commission and can make some extra money to go towards my future new kitchen.

P.S.  This yarn also makes great dish cloths.

Happy Stitching!  Joanne

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