09 April 2018

This Year's Thought on Pesach and decluttering

I've read a number of decluttering theories and I find that they don't work for me.

"Konmari" everything that doesn't "spark joy?" -- No. I use a lot of things that don't spark joy. In fact, I prefer to have some things that don't, if they are heavily used by the smaller, more reckless members of the family. It saves trouble not to love things.
"Toss everything you haven't used in a year?" -- No. I still give my students the best handouts my teachers gave us in middle school, and I am so glad I saved them.
"Moving is a great time to shed things" -- but only if getting rid of them is easier than putting them in boxes, which it usually isn't.
"Throw away 17 things?" -- This is a good one... but....

In general, the whole idea of minimalism intrigues me. I enjoy minimalist spaces but my favorite Victorians were terrific hoarders of curios.

What does the Torah say about it?

A -- "the more possessions, the more worry." That sounds like decluttering is a good idea.
B -- "Yaakov went back for the small vessels." He crossed the river in the middle of the night just to get the Tupperware. That makes it sound like you shouldn't declutter just to declutter.

So I rolled these ideas around in my mind for a while, and....

Cleaning for Pesach is an entirely different kind of decluttering. All we have to declutter is chametz. Pesach-cleaning, as everyone loves to remind each other, is not spring-cleaning. All you have to get rid of is chametz.
Because that's what G-d said to get rid of. Done.

Well! I can bring the same laser-like focus into decluttering in the rest of my life, too. It helps if you have more or less defined what your goal in life is.
Is this item helping me do what I'm here for, or not?
Not does it make me happy, not have I used it in a year, not is it number 16 and what will I toss next -- those are all peripherals. Does this thing help me be an eved Hashem, or not?

As an extreme example, if I used to love this thing but then my children ripped it and so the main emotion I experience when looking at it is not warm fuzzies for the person who gave it to me but bottomless irritation with my careless children, out! That thing is not helping me in my life.

08 April 2018

06 December 2017

Sewing project no. 35 of 35 - Hussif (roll-up sewing kit)

And, here is the grand finale. Project #1 was a baby hat; Project #35 is a sewing kit so that baby can sew her own 35 projects.
It was a present on the occasion of her completing sefer Yehoshua (Joshua) in English, with the Me'am Loez commentary for her birthday (we do siyyumim-which-are-more-or-less-birthday-parties in this family), which would take you or me about a week but was a major project for this kid.

It was a surprise. Loops goes through phases alternating pink-pink-pink with I'm-tired-of-pink-my-favorite-colors-are-orange-and-green. Right now we are in a pink phase so it had to be pink pink pink.

I could have bought her a sewing kit that comes in a cunning box with latches and trays, but I didn't see anything I liked.
It's not as if Loops has been clamoring to sew. So everything had to be as pretty and pleasant and painless to use as possible. I wanted a kit with good scissors and a retractable tape measure.
Push-button tape measures are even better than push-button umbrellas, and my mother carries a supply of them in her purse to amuse babies she meets in the park, but for some reason they haven't entered popular imagination as the tape measure in the way that when you think of an umbrella you automatically think of a retractable one.
So, I couldn't find a pre-packaged sewing kit that contained good scissors and a retractable tape measure, and although it occurred to me afterward that I could have bought a tackle box (with cunning latches and trays) for less than the fabric, I made Loops a hussif, aka housewife: a roll-up sewing kit, with a designated pocket for everything.

You can see historical examples of them here or here.
Here's mine:

Here it is all rolled up and being pink and satiny.

Then you untie and unroll it and it's full of pockets.

It contains:
1 pair Fiskar sewing scissors
Thread in white, black, pink, yellow, and tomato red (colors selected by recipient)
1 retractable tape measure
1 pair stork scissors. These are more or less redundant to the Fiskars but it is nice to have a tiny pair of scissors for delicate snipping, and besides, every kid should have stork scissors.
1 seam ripper
1 wand magnet
1 collection pearl-headed pins and fine needles, stuffed in a heart-shaped pincushion which is not too big to squeeze them out of when they inevitably get lost in it.
For an adult I would substitute glass-headed silk pins, which slide through fabric like butter, but Loops loves my pearly ones.

To make it:

I took a piece of quilting cotton 40 x 19 inches, folded it the long way ("hot dog"), ironed fusible interfacing on the inside to give it some heft, and sewed it shut.
Now I have a slightly stiffened pink rectangle which measures 40 x 9.5 in.

I draped aqua fabric over the scissors and cut it to size, so the dimension of that piece is (width of scissors' widest point plus a couple of inches) x 9.5 in.
I cut a slimmer rectangle of the same fabric (about 2" x 9.5") to be the lid for the pocket.

Same thing for thread.

I used two adhesive velcro dots to close each pocket. This works: it keeps the scissors & thread in, and isn't annoying to open.

The heart-shaped pockets were, again, draped to fit the tape measure and stork scissors; I cut two pink hearts and sewed them to two yellow satin hearts so they have satin lining and I didn't have to finish the edges. I didn't include room for velcro to close these pockets, so they don't close, which means you get stork scissors in your lap every time you open the hussif.

I made a narrow, side-opening pocket for the seam ripper. This works.

I took a strip of magenta cotton with finished edges and put velcro on it so you can thread it through the hole in the magnet handle and stick it to itself. This works.

The pincushion was a heart with finished edges, sewn to the base and stuffed with animal stuffing. This works well enough; you still get pricked (Loops will put the pins in sideways), but it's easy to use.

I rounded off the bottom corners to be pretty.

I pinned on all the pockets, sewed along the base of each one, basted down the sides, sewed some pink trim across a few that looked like they would benefit from decoration, and sandwiched the whole perimeter in pink alachson (can you tell I like that word?) -- bias tape.

Then I rolled it up and tacked a giant pink satin ribbon in the middle to the back, so the hussif ties shut with a bow.

If I were to do it again I think I'd add a pocket to store all the "cabbage" Loops always claims from my sewing projects and saves for some unknown future project.
I'd also roll it up the other way, I think; it feels counter-intuitive to unroll from the bottom.
These are minor points.
We're pleased. It had the desired effect: Loops suddenly has all sorts of ideas for the things she wants to sew, now that she has pretty pockets full of pretty sewing supplies.


05 December 2017

35 by 35 sewing recap

Looking back, here's the list.

1. Baby hat
2. Baby jumpsuit
*3. Teddy bear (and explanation of what 35 by 35 is about)
*4. Bekishe robe
5. Baby bloomers
6. Girls' costume dress (Queen of Lemons)
7. Baby shoes
8. Edwardian skirt
8b. Baby dress (pink gingham)
9. Skirt (interview)
10. Girls' dress (Gatsby)
11. Pinafore
12. Ultra-accurate 19th century doll
13. Bog coat
14. Eustace Tilley costume
15. Chemise
16. Girls' dress - Gatsby again, this time in chartreuse
17. Map of the world as a skirt
*18. Wisteria doll dress
19. Victorian wrapper
20. Petticoat, size small
21. Petticoat, size smaller
22. Fringed shawl
23. Mustard insta-skirt
24. Russet insta-skirt
25. Baby bonnet
26. Purple swim skirt - circle skirt
27. Butterfly wings
28. Pocket doll - first draft
29. Pocket doll - second draft
30. Pocket doll - just right
31. Sky-colored half-circle skirt for Pesach
32. Frock coat - One Sewing Project to Rule Them All
33. Girls' Victorian dress
34. Baby hat -- same pattern as no. 1
34b. I made another teddy bear. I forgot to post it. We'll leave it and 8b uncounted, because two of the earlier projects went unfinished when I felt they had served their purpose, and now I think that's cheating.
*35. Hussif sewing kit

All 35 have been documented on this blog, in the link right above them if they don't have their own. Asterisks indicate pictures.

35 by 35 no. 33

No. 33, Girl's Dress.
It occurs to me that I haven't joined in the HSF at all this year, other than to exclaim about the frock coat; and that wasn't even one of the challenges.
I actually did another piece of historical sewing this year and it made me fabulously happy: I made Persimmon a dress from the Sewing Academy's "Girls' Dresses" pattern.
I never know what I think about posting my family's closet on the Internet, but you can see examples of other people's work using this pattern on the forum connected with the Sewing Academy site (here, for instance).

There actually aren't very clear illustrations included in the pattern of how it will look when it's finished; but I've worked from Sewing Academy publications before and I'm always pleased with the results, so I just marched.

Oh, boy! I think I'm done buying children's dress patterns forever.
Well, for a week.
I'm so pleased with how this one turned out. I think I'll use it for everything. I think we'll have SA-250 Girls' Dresses for dinner.

I made the gathered bodice with a yoke and put tucks in the skirt (one thing Elizabeth Stewart Clark is wonderful about is providing detailed instructions -- yes, it should be fairly obvious how to make tucks; but yes, she walks you step-by-step. by step. by step. through the process). That was something new.

Another new experience was piping the neckline, which involved making bias tape. It turned out not to be scary at all, and it doesn't consume nearly as much fabric as I imagined; I pieced all my bias tape out of tiny scraps.

"Bias tape" is one of those words you do not learn in high school Hebrew.
I remember calling the sewing supply store in Geula and trying to explain what I wanted. You know, you take the fabric, and you lay it out, and you cut it into strips, not on the square, but... uh...
"Alachson!" exclaimed my interlocutor.
Yeah. Yeah. That. Alachson. Thanks.

So, I made my own alachson this time.

And poof! Persimmon is a perfect Victorian child. Fabulous.

Loops wants the same dress but with pleats instead of gathers.
I guess I'll be learning how to make pleats.

The Challenge: I missed the whole year... I won't link this one to the HSF; let's call it a submission for Out of Your Comfort Zone. I still never sew anything that isn't.
Material: sage cotton gingham from Denver Fabrics. I think it looks like kitchen curtains. But as a dress, I like it.
Pattern: SA-250 Girls' Dresses, from the Sewing Academy.
Year: I'm going to say 1853 for the pleasure of it.
Notions: Hooks and eyes only. Hooks and eyes are great for the timid among us because you don't have to cut a hole in anything. You can rip them out and move them.
How historically accurate is it? Impeccably!
Hours to complete: some scattered around the country
First worn: just for a regular Shabbos.
Total cost: I ordered more fabric than I needed, even for both girls. I foresee more kitchen-curtain-colored garments in our future.

Oh, and No. 34 I made another baby hat from Voor Nop.
This time I finished all the seams with a sort of improvised flat-fell. Yay.

11 July 2017

The Place to Take Children in Portland that You Haven't Thought Of

I've had occasion recently to visit a couple of shiva houses and I've been thinking of King Solomon's statement (Koheles 7:2) that it's better to visit a house of mourning than one of feasting. I was kind of reluctant to visit the first one -- "I am going so the mourner can talk about the person who passed away but others there are going to make small talk, it's a long walk, it's raining, there's a lion in the road, do I HAVE TO??" and yes, yes I did, so I went; and I was glad I did; the mourner was telling stories about her mother, and what it is like when someone passes away, and what it's like for the family, and it was a meaningful experience for all of us.

Fast forward to a recent trip to Portland.
My mother proposed that we ride the tram that flies across the city on a cable, which was built ten years ago to transport hospital staff from one OHSU campus to another. The ride is a few minutes long and quite beautiful, and we all enjoyed it, although Loops thought it would be more like a roller coaster and said she thought it ought to bump a little more. You can see all the mountains, even Mt. Adams; and I noticed for the first time that Portland's Mt. Tabor closely resembles the original Har Tavor in Israel; and the area below the tram is the old turn-of-the-century Jewish neighborhood of Portland, which is nice to look down on; and if you, reader, are wondering along with everyone else who rides the tram what the big round building you passed on the OHSU tram is, I can tell you: it's a synagogue built by Jews from the Isle of Rhodes, still in occasional use and known affectionately to the community as "the beehive."

Once we got off the tram we stayed in the station for another cycle to watch how the mechanism works (I'm glad we rode it before I saw that the whole thing boils down to just three wires - it's very elegant) and then we discovered that a set of stairs leads down from the tram to other parts of the hospital.
The best banister to slide down in Portland is the one in the Hilton hotel downtown; the second banister disappeared in a remodeling years ago and the third (the Keller Auditorium) and fourth (the Arlene Schnitzer) are nothing too out of the common; so I am pleased to tell you that the new banisters up at the OHSU tram station are almost as good as the one at the Hilton, better than any other banisters in town for sliding down.

Should you be weighing the merits of taking children for a ride on the tram (and down the banisters), the factor you haven't considered is that the tram station was built as an addition to the Doernbecher children's hospital and that of all the wonderful things we did that morning (it's only early July but the salal berries up there are already ripe -- OH JOY), walking through a children's hospital en route was an unexpected but very important experience for my kids.

There are exhibits in the halls of art by the children in the hospital and their families. A thousand paper cranes... sneakers the children designed that were made by Nike... and installations in memory of others.
It's all very beautiful and well-designed (children's hospitals usually are) and it served as a good opening for conversation with Loops.

Highly recommended.

It is better to go to a house of mourning than to go to a house of feasting, for that is the end of every man, and the living shall lay it to his heart.בטוֹב לָלֶכֶת אֶל בֵּית אֵבֶל מִלֶּכֶת אֶל בֵּית מִשְׁתֶּה בַּאֲשֶׁר הוּא סוֹף כָּל הָאָדָם וְהַחַי יִתֵּן אֶל לִבּוֹ:

16 June 2017

35 by 35 no. 32: Frock Coat - !

32. Frock Coat.
This really deserves a post of its own, I'm so pleased with it.

One of the aesthetic perks of orthodox Judaism is that we've never entirely discarded the frock coat. Especially in Israel, many outstanding Torah scholars (and married men in the Ponovezh yeshiva) still wear them.

To me the acme of sewing is frock coats. They are tailored, lined, and beautiful; and to get a good one you employ all kinds of exotic techniques, e.g. ironwork -- shaping wool with an iron -- which is more sculpture than sewing. Sewing a frock coat is not even on my wish list.

Nevertheless, frock coats lately took on a certain urgency to me because of a discrepancy in children's clothing. It's not hard to find nice dresses for girls -- there will always be someone in the world selling full-skirted jumpers. But even formal little boy clothing almost always looks to me like loungewear - polo shirts and cargo pants, &c. So from the time we had a member of this family in need of little boy clothing (ahem! mazel tov), I have been thinking that this child REALLY needs either a smock or a frock coat; and since smocking is a delicate operation, I settled on a frock coat as the simpler project. Because in my head that makes sense.

I have the Laughing Moon pattern, #109, which came in very handy for understanding what shapes I needed and how to fit them together. A frock coat is really a beautifully constructed garment; there is a single pleat giving the whole thing its frockiness.

The victim was asleep. I laid a roll of tracing paper on him, hoped he was symmetrical (since I wasn't going to wake him up to get the measurements in back), and scribbled.

Lesson no. 1: Swedish tracing paper, which is almost a fabric itself, is a wonderful thing for drafting patterns for small children who think tracing paper is lunch.

Three Swedish tracing paper muslins later (Lesson no. 2: children are not symmetrical), I had a frock coat.
I left the back seam closed all the way down, since I thought tails might impede crawling. This is a problem roshei yeshiva tend not to have.
I used a single layer of cotton. We'll save ironwork for another lifetime, I think.
I sprinkled buttons all over it and off we went.

Of all my sewing projects so far, this might be my favorite. Frock coats are beautiful things. Frock coat construction is a beautiful feat of engineering. More than anything else, though, the entire time I was sewing, there floated through my mind the classes of my teachers in Israel who wear them -- Rabbi Orlowek, for instance.

Here are the HSF details:

The Challenge: To be honest, I didn't make this for an HSF challenge. It's just another foray into historical sewing. I'm sure no one ever dressed a baby in a frock coat.
Material: Navy blue cotton.
Pattern: Laughing Moon no. 109... sort of.
Year: The present, if you're Jewish (and an adult -- making a frock for a baby is just my idea of a good time), and 1870 or so, if you're not.
Notions: Ninety gazillion buttons.
How historically accurate is it? The shapes are all there but, you know, it's baby-sized and unlined and cotton. So... not very.
Hours to complete: about a week.
First worn: Purim. But he wore it every Shabbos after Purim until he outgrew it.
Total cost: just the buttons.

35 by 35 nos. 28-31: doll, doll, doll (do we see a pattern here) (no pun intended), skirt.

Sewing again

Today's discovery in the Wait, What? Dept.; also, Jewish utopian communities, farming and otherwise

"Jew Valley is a basin in Lake County, Oregon, in the United States.

Jew Valley was named for a colony of Jewish farmers who settled there in the early 20th century."
(Thanks Wikipedia)

Wait, what? I grew up in Oregon and I never heard of this.
Apparently the colony, founded by 25 families 'including a shochet,' experienced success for a few years before disbanding.

Speaking of utopian Jewish farming communities... there's a new one in the offing:

The "Frum Farm"

I spoke with the family behind it & it seems to be quite a serious endeavor.

Of course, to me one paradigmatic utopian Jewish community that I never got to see (born just slightly too young; nuts!) is Rav Bulman zt"l's kehilla in Migdal haEmek.
Here's one article that mentions it briefly: by Mrs. T. Katz.

And before that there was Frankfurt.
This is a wonderful, sparkling article about Frankfurt: Hermann Schwab's memoirs

15 December 2016

"A little Magritte on toast" and other stories

I just discovered that my friend's husband, Yoel Judowitz, who illustrates a lot of Jewish children's publications (Spotlight Magazine, and some books), has an art blog.

Here's the blog.

Of course, the first thing I have to link to is his animated painting of the Alter of Slabodka.

Alter of Slabodka painting

Anyone whose Torah is the Alter of Slabodka and whose Derech Eretz is little Japanese kawaii things is someone whose blog I have to link to, yes? Yes.

03 May 2016

Navi Class Goes Montessori: Ch. 5

One-week wrap-up. I like this idea. I want to stick with it after Pesach.
We will definitely have to slow down to one or two perakim a week; at the current rate some of the girls who dawdle over their work end up doing very little beyond the required assignments, which is not so exciting for them.

On a totally self-serving note, it is much more exciting for me to prepare lessons for this format: I like being able to tell stories and then throw a bunch of interesting things on the table and say, “Here, rummage through these.” I attended Montessori schools through 5th grade so this is what feels like school to my inner three-year-old.

One of the girls asked if we will do this next year. I think I prefer the unplanned mid-year switch: they spent half the year learning how to learn and now I can turn them loose to do it; and it is an exciting novelty. Maybe it will make more sense to incorporate some of this kind of open-ended learning into the whole year instead of a clear break in the middle. I will have a better idea after we've done it longer than a week!

Navi Class Goes Montessori: Ch. 4

Yesterday it rained, which in this climate always throws the students off. The sky turns grey, the air pressure climbs, and suddenly half the school is in the office asking to have its temperature taken because the students just do not know what hit them, only that everything is wrong somehow.

Navi class started off accordingly. Class was ok but the Disney animators took the day off.

The problem with the new program, which is also one of its strengths, is that the way I have it set up there is no escaping it: the students are literally surrounded by work; they can’t escape while they wait for the teacher to call on someone else. Some of the students work diligently for all 40 minutes and get their recreation in the Navi, which is what I want them all to learn to do; but I may have to build in some break time. We’ll see.

The other thing I have to evaluate is whether the activities have enough scaffolding for the youngest member of the class. My instinct is always to write for the highest grade in a group.

One thing I definitely should have done when I introduced the program was to go over the procedures six times and made them say it all back to me. I suspect that some are having trouble switching tack from waiting to be told what to do.

Today it didn’t rain and everything was fine. One of my administrators said she asked a girl what on earth is going on in Mrs. ---‘s class and the girl said it is cool and they like it.

The plan is to keep the program up until Pesach and then evaluate whether to continue to the end of the year. My principal was concerned that the program wouldn’t have enough momentum on its own and recommended that I introduce it as something special, a discreet unit: we are going to make a book about the next couple of perakim; you will do all this work and then we will comb-bind it and have a contest to see who has done the nicest job.

I was confident enough that the program was exciting that I did not bring up the contest idea; and one student already said she doesn’t want her work comb-bound; but the discreet-unit aspect means that we are trying to get through five perakim before Pesach, because to make a book about just the next two perakim was entirely arbitrary – it was perakim 11 and 12 in Shmuel Alef, a battle and a speech – I just couldn’t see it and I didn’t think the girls would either. So we are chugging along at a perek a day (!), every day starts with ten minutes of Storytime; and then they’ll have a couple of days to just work.

The urgent pace may be a boon rather than otherwise. I think the main challenge with this program is going to be creating enough energy in the classroom given how many girls, in an already small and relatively low-energy group, are sitting and working quietly on their own. I may start suggesting the social activities to the others.

One of the girls asked today whether I have seen the Totoro film and reminisced about how much she likes it, and I proposed that she go for the activity behind it and write up perek 14 as a graphic novel, and put Totoro in it if she likes. She elaborated on the scene, Totoro vs. the Philistines, and almost talked herself into it. I will be intrigued to see whether she takes up that idea – not only because I would love to read that manga but also because this is the girl who likes questions with a right answer, not creative exercises, and one of my challenges this year is getting her to see that even school subjects can be colorful and dramatic.

At any rate, the lesson for me in this exchange was that good things can come of having student-friendly pictures on the envelopes. We should have a higher proportion of Totoros to Renoirs. The pictures are what they are because it is not always easy to figure out what the students find absorbing; it is a question they will never answer directly (food! sleep! myself! sleep!) – it might serve well to have the students pose and take the pictures.