Monday, April 26, 2010

Pillowcase Dress Tutorial

First, you need a pillowcase :)  The one I am using for this demo is from the Simply Sh*bby Chic line at Target.  You cannot purchase the cases separately there, but I find them on eb*y all the time.  So, find a pretty pillowcase, wash and iron it.  After it is ironed, take scissors and cut the very upper edge of the case off, the part where it is seamed together (opposite the opening for the case).  I left the full length of the case for this dress.  You can customize your length to fit a smaller child, or even to make a top for an older girl.  Just determine how long you want the dress/top, from the back of the neck to the hem.  Add 1 to 1 1/2 inches (depending on your casing width) and cut your pillowcase to that length.
You should have a case that is open at both ends.  Fold it in half, so the two long seamed edges of the case are together, with the open ends at the top and bottom.  Measure 2 inches from the seamed edge across the top cut edge and mark.  Measure 5 inches from the top cut edge down the seam and mark.  I use a washable marking pen, but in a pinch you can use any pen, you will be cutting these marks off in a moment.

Draw a curve connecting the two marks you made.  This is your armhole.  It does not need to be perfect, just make a gentle curve as shown in the photo.

Now, cut this curve out.

Here is what your case should look like after you cut the armhole curve.  Top edge is the closed edge of the pillowcase which you cut off at the beginning.  The left fold is the center line of the case, and will be the center line of your dress.  The right edge is the two seamed edges of the case.

When you open your pillowcase up, this is what it should look like.  If you cut your armhole on the wrong side (the center fold), you will have a large U-cut out of the middle of your pillowcase instead (it happens :)

Now, you need some bias strips.  You can purchase bias if you have a nice local heirloom fabric shop, or you can make your own very easily.  Any scrap of fabric will do, I used a white cotton I had left over.  Lay the fabric out, making sure you have a selvage on one side.

Fold the corner of your fabric over, so you have a right triangle (an isosceles to be exact).  A sewing ruler helps here, to make sure your triangle is true.   Now, you want to cut two strips along the long side of the triangle (the hypotenuse for you math minded :).  Make sure hypotenuse is at least 15 inches long.  Then, using a rotary cutter, cut the folded edge of the triangle off.  Then, using a ruler, measure a 1" wide strip that runs the length of the hypotenuse of your triangle and cut with a rotary cutter.

When you have your two strips, iron them in half, so they are now 1/2 inch wide.  They should be roughly 15 inches long. 

Now, lay your pillowcase right side up, and flatten it to show a nice U shaped curve. The side seam of your pillowcase should be running from the bottom center of this U.  Pin the raw edge of your bias to the raw edge of the curve.  I do not pin all the way around, just at the top where I start.  The bias will shift some as you stitch, so pinning it is more trouble than it is worth!

Stitch your bias to the armhole, making sure all of your raw edges are together, and the folded edge of the bias is to the left in this image.  You want to make a seam that is just under 1/4 inch.
Your bias tape should look like this.
You want to press the bias strip once it has been stitched in place.  First, press it up.
Then you want to turn your pillowcase wrong side out, and press the bias strip down to the inside.  Now, if you look at your case from the right side, you should not see the strip, it should be completely turned to the inside.  Press this down well, and sew along the folded outer edge of the bias.
Once both armholes are complete, the only thing left is to sew the casing!  Iron the top edge of the dress (the raw edge you cut at the very start).  Fold that edge to the inside of the dress 1/4 inch.  This is a play dress, so no need to be terribly exact, I usually just eyeball it.  Press this edge down well.
At that same edge, you are going to press another fold.  This time, fold it over 3/4 inch to 1 inch.  If you are using wide ribbon, go with an inch, if you are using narrow ribbon, the casing can be narrower.  For portrait and beach dresses, I suggest wide satiny ribbons.  If you want a play dress, a 1/4 inch or 3/8 inch wide grosgrain does the job and does not get in the way of tree climbing and other such important summer activities.  So, decide on your ribbon, and fold the casing over a second time, pressing well.
Carefully stitch along the inside edge of your fold on both sides of your dress.  Trim any threads, and run a piece of  ribbon through both casings. I like to use a seam turner for that, but a safety pin on the end of the ribbon will help you thread it through just fine.  Try it on, and trim the ribbons to the appropriate length.  We love really long ribbons for fancy dresses, but I cut them fairly short for play dresses.  For a one page set of instructions which includes general guidelines for length, you can download here
Stay tuned for a chance to win your own pillowcase dress,
I will be hosting a give away later in the week.

Sunday, April 25, 2010

Springtime Sewing

Around my house, spring time means pillowcase dresses.  What better way for a girl to play outside, without sacrificing her girliness!  With 10 acres to roam, a creek which sees a lot of bare feet through the summer, and our newest addition, 25 laying hens, there is a lot to do outside. I am not a fan of the cheesy stuff most stores sell for little girls - so, when I discovered the pillowcase dress, I was hooked.  Now,  every year, I make sure they all have a decent supply of dresses to play in.  They are cool, comfortable, and look nice when I decide to snap a photo of them playing.  Not to mention, dirt cheap!  I have two favorite sources for pillowcases.  If you are looking for pretty cases, perfect for the beach or pictures, or for running around town, then check out the great deals on eb*y.  These cases can cost a bit more, but I rarely pay more than $10 for one, and often if you can score a nice lot, you can get some pretty ones that average $5 each.  My other source, where I purchase cases for playing outside, is TJ M*xx.  Often, I can find a set of 2 cases for $5 - that's $2.50 per dress!  These are fun too, because they are durable, and I can find matching cases so the girls can each have one.  They even make great nightgowns.  If you have never made a pillowcase dress, try it!  My total time, start to finish, is usually under 30 minutes, and if I am doing multiple dresses, often I can complete 3-4 in an hour.  They also make a great gift for a special little girl's birthday, thoughtful, practical, pretty, and affordable!  Stay tuned, tomorrow I will be posting a tutorial on how to make your own pillowcase dress.

Friday, April 23, 2010

Let us guard our mouth constantly, set reason on it to close it, not for it to be constantly closed but for it to open appropriately in season;  there are times when silence is of more value than speech, as likewise speech more than silence.  This is the reason why that most sage composer said, ' A time for keeping silence, and a time for speaking.'  After all, if being open at all times was necessary, there would be no doors, while if being closed was required at all times, there would be no need of a guard.  I mean, what would you guard if things were closed up?  Door and guard are for this reason, however, for us to use each at the proper time.
St. John Chrysostom

Sunday, April 18, 2010

I love it when a meal comes together ....

Yes, I am a child of the 80's. And while the hairdo's stunk, the fashion was atrocious, and the music banned by my father, at least there was some good television! And I have to admit, I always feel a bit like a cross between Hannibal and MacGyver (my other 80's hero, dreamy :) when I pull off a great "throw it together meal." You know what I am talking about, when 5:00pm rolls around, you don't have any real plans (which I rarely have on Sunday, since I don't do a lot of cooking on Sundays!), and you start staring at the leftovers. So, tonight was one of those great nights. I pulled out one of my new favorite cookbooks, and with a bit of tweaking to fit what happened to be in my frig at the time, we had a really good dish in 45 minutes.

First, and most important in my book, for a really successful meal prep, start with a good glass of wine. Every cook deserves a good glass of red wine to get those creative juices flowing! A recipe helps, but honestly, I didn't follow the recipe at all, just the concept. Shepherd's pie, a nice hearty dish - perfect for a family who spent the afternoon putting in the garden.
First, preheat the oven to broil. Then, pull out some left over meat. I had two small venison fillets sitting thawed in the refrigerator, leftover from last nights meal. Anything will do - the recipe calls for ground beef, but stew meat, or even chicken would suffice. Right now I am doing anything I can to cook the overstock of venison in my freezer - funny how hunting season lands during the two great fasts of the church. Result - by April I have 2-3 deer's worth of meat waiting to be cooked! So, cut that meat up, and throw it in a pan with a bit of oil.

Saute the meat 'till it is cooked through (don't overcook, especially with venison or it will get tough). I added a bit of Worcestershire as it was cooking, and a bit of salt and pepper. Then, I threw on some onions - already chopped up, again, left over from an earlier meal.

Next, a few veggies - I had peas and carrots left over from dinner last week, and threw in a few frozen ones to add some corn in the mix. Raw veggies would be fine too - I had 3 carrots raw I chopped and steamed in the microwave for 1 minute to soften them.

Oh, forgot to mention - before you mess with any meat, put on a nice pot of potatoes to boil - everyone has potatoes in the kitchen, right? Peel, chop, boil with plenty of salt (you can use instant, if you prefer). When the potatoes are soft (mine only took 15-20 minutes because I chopped them before cooking), drain, add a nice dollop of butter and sour cream if you have it. A dash of salt and pepper, then mash. Now, back to the meat. Once the meat is cooked, remove it from the pan and place in a casserole dish. Now, add some broth to the drippings left in the pan. The recipe calls for beef broth, but I almost never have that! I had a bit of chicken broth leftover, so I threw that in. Water and bullion cubes, or vegetable broth would work too. Add some flour (a few tablespoons) another dash of Worcestershire, salt, pepper, and stir until you have a nice thick gravy. Be sure to cook for 2-3 minutes to get rid of the flour taste. When the consistency is good, and the taste seems right, dump the gravy into the casserole dish, along with the vegetables. Give it all a good stir, then top with the mashed potatoes. Pop it in the oven for a few minutes, just to brown the top a bit. While you wait, be sure you finish off that glass of wine (if you haven't already :). Pull it out, and serve it up! The only thing I served with it was some bread. The kids cleaned their plates, and this was all that was left to photograph when we finished the meal.
I love it when a plan comes together!

Thursday, April 15, 2010

Teaching Reading

A big question people seem to have with Letters of Grace is, how do you use the Language Lessons? My answer to that is, any way you want! To let you get an idea of how they work for our family, I am going to share the process of teaching my Kindergartner to read.
In my 6 years of homeschooling, I can honestly say there is nothing as intimidating, or as rewarding, as teaching a child to read. Each child is different, and each one has a timeline that cannot be forced. The crocodile hunter was reading by Christmas of his kindergarten year. The little princess was not ready until well into first grade. Now, they both read the exact same novels. So, here I am, doing it for a third time with the Queen. I was not in a hurry this time, after all, I have enough to do trying to get through other subjects! So, we have taken it very slowly, enjoying our Letters of Grace activities, without a lot of fuss. She is 5 and a half, and until we began Letters of Grace in January, I had not done ANY letter work with her at all. She knew how to spell her name, and new the sounds of a few of the letters. It is interesting to see the process, as she decided a few weeks ago it was time for her to learn to read. Ever since, she bugs me on a daily basis to teach her to read.
Really, there are very few things needed to teach a child to read. A set of alphabet letters, paper and crayons, and some books (in Letters of Grace we suggest you begin with the Bob Books)are really all that are necessary. I chose to invest in a nice wooden set of letters, but refrigerator magnet letters could be used (be sure to find ones with lowercase letters!), or the wonderful free moveable alphabet available to print off from Letters of Grace. We started by becoming familiar with a few letters. I introduced her to the sounds of S,T and M in addition to the letters A-F we covered with Letters of Grace. I usually begin with only 3 sounds, and we drill and play with those for a few days. When I say drill, I start by making the sound of a letter, and having her point to the letter. Once she can do that consistently, we move to me pointing to the letter and her making the sound. We spend no more than 5 minutes a day on this activity for about a week. If she gets bored with the letters, or is ready, I might add one or two more sounds to practice. If you are using Letters of Grace with a preschooler, then by the time your child is developmentally ready to read, he will already be familiar with the sounds of the alphabet and this step may be skipped.
Once those sounds are learned, we immediately move to the skill of blending, perhaps the most challenging skill for a child in learning to read. Plenty of advance practice in breaking words up into their sounds is helpful here. For the past few weeks, we have played a game in the car. I slowly sound out a word - ssssss t ooooooo p. She has to guess the word. As she became skilled in that, I let her try to slow the words down (this is harder for a child, and will take some help in the beginning). The key is to help the child begin to break a word down into the individual sounds. Then, she is ready for spelling out her own words. I like to start with "am" "an" or "at". Using the "Ses*me Street method", the Queen sounds out each individual letter, as I slowly move them closer. We practice drawing the vowel sound out, then capping it off with the final consonant. Once a child can blend two letters in that way, he is usually ready to tackle a three letter word. Then, you can start to introduce a beginning consonant. Starting with these sounds will allow your child to have immediate success in reading whole words, and allow him to start reading the Bob Books quickly.
The process will go smoothly and fairly quickly if the child is ready. If your child is struggling or frustrated, set it aside for a day or two, or even a week or two, then try again. Sometimes it can be a matter of just letting it sink in for a few weeks, then suddenly, that switch will flip! That is the moment I love! We have spent the past few weeks spelling words here and there, probably no more than 15 minutes total a week of me working with her. But, as she got more confident with the sounds, she began getting the letter box out on her own and making lists of words. We slowly added sounds as she wanted to spell more and more words. If you are using the Bob Books as your beginning readers, the Bob Book word lists are provided in a nice spelling format for you to print off under the Level 1 Language Lessons of Letters of Grace.

After she successfully read the first Bob Book, she continued to practice spelling those words throughout the week, either with the letters, stamping them, or writing them. Having several options for a child is helpful since many children are ready to read and spell before they have the dexterity for writing (this is especially true for boys).
Letters of Grace also provides you with a picture dictionary which may be printed off and filled in as each book is completed. Another fun activity is allowing your child to illustrate sentences from the books. They may write the words, or stamp them, or simply spell them out for you.

Having your child spell the words out, independent of the books is a crucial step. Since the Bob books are quite predictable, most children will learn what words are on each page after a reading or two, and will "read" the book quickly by looking at the illustrations. That is okay, it encourages your child, as they are very proud about reading real books! In doing this, they are actually practicing the skill of narration. I will let the Queen quickly "read" the story to me some days, then other days I cover the illustrations with a piece of paper to see how well she is sounding the words out. Practicing the words independent of the story is another way of making sure your child is really reading the words. This too can be done with the moveable alphabet. As your child reads through the Bob books, you can keep track of that progress with the Letters of Grace Progress Charts. Post this in a prominent place where your little one can see his achievement, and watch the excitement and motivation grow!

Friday, April 9, 2010

Letters of Grace

If you have not already seen it, be sure to go read Mary's intro to Letters of Grace. I want to add my personal note here as well, to let each of you know how wonderful the past few months have been. I had no idea what a blessing it would be when I agreed to work on Letters of Grace. I was thrilled at the chance to work with Mary, as I have followed her blog for several years, but I had no idea how wonderful it was going to be to get to "know" so many of you. The joy, encouragement, and outpouring of gratitude for our little project has been overwhelming, and has blessed me and my family. I hope that our work blesses each of you just as much.

The project that Mary, Matushka Emily and I are sharing today is definitely still a work in progress. The site currently set up is temporary, allowing us to offer you the first installment of the curriculum without having to wait while the website is being developed by a very generous, but understandably very busy priest! We hope you will have patience with us as we work to improve both the site and the curriculum, and we pray that it blesses each of you as it has us.

Please come visit us at Letters of Grace!

Tuesday, April 6, 2010

The Marathon

Forty days of Lent. A long fast, filled with services. The initial burst of energy, clean week, as everything is wiped clean for a new beginning.

Then settling into a steady pace, Liturgy, Compline, Presanctified, Akathist. Liturgy, Compline, Presanctified, Akathist. Can't you just hear the pounding of feet to that rhythm, as we each run this annual race.
The runner looks for signs, to mark progress, to mark off the miles, and the church offers us many. The first few miles pass quickly.

The midpoint arrives, and the cross is set before us, a reminder of which direction we should be running, a reminder of why we are running this race.

Exhaustion sets in as we pass weeks 4 and 5. Then we see the Holy Mary of Egypt before us, urging us on, encouraging us by her example. A brief refreshment, as we celebrate the Annunciation, a cool drink for parched throats. Then it is upon us. The final week, the final sprint to the finish line, a fresh burst of energy as the speed of the race picks up - 17 services starting on Lazarus Saturday. The exhaustion, the excitement, the anticipation.

The preparation. "For behold, the bridegroom cometh at midnight, and blessed is the man whom He shall find awake." The bright sadness. The end in sight. Each day, the kids question, "how many more days?"

That we may be accounted worthy to hear the Holy Gospel.

A dark church, morning and evening. The intense burden of the Passion service, reminding each of us that it is we who nailed Him on the tree. As the pounding of the hammer echoes, I flinch. Every year, I wait for it, know it is coming, wonder how heavy the hammer must feel in Father's hands, and I flinch. Because it is I who put Him there. The hot tears fall as we kneel together in the darkness.

"Today He is suspended on a tree who suspended the earth over the waters."
Friday, a day of mourning, preparing the tomb of Christ. "Let the little children come to Me". And they come. They come offering their gifts of flowers, adorning His tomb, the heavy, heady scent of roses and lilies mingle with the incense. "I cried out unto the Lord with my voice; with my voice unto the Lord did I make my supplication. When my spirit was overwhelmed within me, then thou knewest my path." His body is brought down from the cross, He is laid in the tomb.
Yet, the race is not over. Thankfully, it is not the end. The lilt of the lamentations, grief mixed with joy for what is to come, bright sadness. Tonight in the dark, we offer roses and hymns to Thee.

"In a grave they laid Thee, O my life and my Christ; and the armies of the angels were sore amazed, as they sang the praise of Thy submissive love."

The tomb, never abandoned; all through the night, soft quiet voices intone, praying the Psalms and censing His tomb.

Then the sun rises, and we come together once again. Just as in clean week, we juxtapose the heavy presence of death with the beauty of new life, as two little ones are baptized, and four chrismated into union with us.

"Brethren, all who have been baptized into Christ Jesus were baptized into His death. We were buried therefore with him by baptism into death, so that as Christ was raised from the dead by the glory of the Father, we too might walk in newness of life."

The cloths, for so long dark, purple stain, now shine bright white - for we are almost to the end, or rather the beginning. The dead, shriveled petals of the evening before are covered by showers of fresh scented bay leaves. Sticks pound, death is beaten down. Hades is groaning. " It took a body, and face to face, met God! It took earth and encountered heaven! It took what it saw but crumbled before what it had not seen! "O death, where is thy sting? O hades, where is thy victory?" It is coming. The burden is lighter now, made light by bread and wine, fellowship and flowers, joy and anticipation.

Sleepy children are awakened in the night, carried into church in the dark. All is quiet, all is anticipation. One strong voice sings out, Come, take light, from the light, that is never overtaken by night. The church is slowly lit, as one candle becomes many, as each shares the Light with others. We have arrived. The last stretch is here, and our bodies no longer feel the pain, the exhaustion, only joy at arriving at the finish line - the bells peal, the King of Glory enters, and all is light. And yet, for me, it is a different moment this year. A child falls ill moments before the Paschal candle is lit, and suddenly the race takes a different turn. Sadness fills my heart, as I realize I am not going to be in there. My husband and I alternately care for a sick baby and sneak moments of the liturgy. I feel somehow cheated. It's not fair. That is what I was thinking. How selfish. Apparently this race has not done enough to humble me. I ran the race, I wanted to be at the finish line, to share fully in the glory, the joy, to stand in the winner's circle with the faithful. But, it is not about me. It is not about my experience. Christ is Risen, whether this poor sinner was present or not. I think of the pain others have experienced at this time of year, the losses. Even at this moment my heart is heavy for old friends mourning the loss of a daughter, wife, mother, a new mother who never got to hold her little one, but instead ran her Lenten race for the last time, leaving this earth on Bright Monday. Yet, "Christ is risen, and life reigns! Christ is risen, and not one dead remains in the tomb!" It does not matter that circumstances prevented me from crossing the finish line this year in body. My heart was there.

Sunday, April 4, 2010