Sewing up the Pandemic

I had a reliable source, and the news was alarming.  I heard that Bunny and Giraffie were trying to share the same set of slipper jammies.  And it wasn’t going well.

It started with making Grammy Jammies for my grandchildren each Christmas, their numbers now climbing to six.  My oldest grandson, Ben, talked me into making jammies for his Bear.  And it took off from there.  Next was Mya’s Puppy.  Last Christmas Isabel’s Bunny joined the jammie parade, and Maren’s baby doll.

Grandkids in Grammy JammiesPuppy Bunny Bear in Grammy Jammies

“Jammies for Giraffie might be a good birthday present for Isabel,” my daughter advised.  But what better project to tackle during my coronavirus sheltering time?  The key was that both “friends” were JellyCat animals and shared the same shape – soft pear-shaped bodies, scrawny arms and big fluffy feet.  It took several tries to get it right for Bunny, but I finally perfected the pattern.  After 10 years of making slipper jammies, I had bags full of fleece scraps and I even scrounged up a few unused zippers.  I was in business.

With extra time on my hands, it felt good to pull out my sewing machine, thread it up and make something from nothing.  Sewing opens so many creative opportunities – designing the garment, choosing the fabric, picking coordinating ribbing, placing the print on each pattern piece.  As my machine hummed, so did I.

Giraffie in jammies

My thoughts turned to the book I recently finished reading.  I picked up The Murmur of Bees quite by accident in the early days of the invasion of COVID-19.  When the spread of the virus was still news, I was surprised and fascinated to find that the book was set in Mexico in 1918, in the heart of the devastation wrought by the Spanish flu.  It was history I did not know well, but it had an eerily familiar strain.

The family in the book fled from their home near town and relocated to another hacienda further away, where they rode out the worst of the pandemic. Mom couldn’t settle herself, and it was her young son who figured out why she was so distraught.  He convinced his dad to return to their home, pack up her sewing machine, material and tools and bring them to her.  She was puzzled and angry at their curious actions.  Until she threaded her machine and began sewing.  With each garment she sewed, a sliver of peace was restored.  She was grounded at last, in the productive and creative endeavor of sewing.

I felt the same way.  When Giraffie’s jammies were done, I needed another project.  I decided little brother Michael needed a stuffed animal friend.  Obsessed with the idea, I scoured the internet for a free pattern for a fleece animal.  More scraps to cut up, excess stuffing that needed a home, and a load of fun later I had a soft little puppy for Michael.  It was such a hit, that I couldn’t stop there.  Five grandchildren later, I had a whole litter of pups and kitties!

Stuffed puppies Stuffed puppies and kitties

There’s something inherently rewarding about using only what I have on hand.  Taking bits and pieces and ending up with a little critter that will delight a child.  There are many ways this pandemic has forced us to simplify life.  To do without.  To make do with what we have and forego what now feels like frivolous shopping.

Sewing returns me to my roots.  My mom taught me to sew long before I took Home Ec classes in junior high.  She made all my clothes until I took over, then sewed for my own children.  By now when I sit down in front of my machine, innate skills take over.  My hands know how to guide the fabric, my eyes gauge the seam, my foot regulates the speed. I reap the rewards of familiarity, of falling back on something soothing and rewarding.  I feel Mom’s presence as I follow in her footsteps.  I imagine she too would sew her way through this pandemic.

I hear that Bunny and Giraffie are friends again.  And my daughter’s whispers, “Michael has taken to a Jellycat puppy recently.”  I can already hear the whir of my sewing machine.

Isabel with Bunny and Giraffie

Grammy, would you please?

Beware of brainstorms.  It seemed like a fun idea at the time.  Little did I know where it would lead.

Grammy with kids in slipper jammies

After my annual sewing spree making slipper jammies for my four grandchildren last Christmas, I decided to make a matching pair for Isabel’s baby doll.  With a little ingenuity, I was able to create a miniature version which delighted little Isabel.  End of story.  Or so I thought.Isabel and Baby in jammies“Grammy, Bear is really cold.”  This was Ben, Isabel’s older brother.  “He has to stay under the covers in my bed all the time.  Do you think you could make some slipper jammies for him?”

How could I refuse?  I have to admit, my heart soared.  Here was something I – and probably only I – could do for Ben.  And for Bear.  “Of course!” was the only answer.  Complete with a ribbed collar and tail-hole, Bear was soon warm and cozy.

Ben with Bear in jammies

By that time, I knew it would not end there.  I had already bought another zipper.  “Grammy, what about Kitty?  Could he have slipper jammies?”  Big sister Mya.  I was unfazed but after several hours of wrangling with tracing paper and pins, Kitty proved to exceed my design capabilities.

“Mya, we have to talk.”  This was serious face-to-face conversation.  “Kitty isn’t so sure about slipper jammies.  I tried really hard, but she asked me if I could make them for Puppy instead.”  Uncertainty crossed her face, but to my relief she agreed.  “I think Puppy needs four slipper feet, don’t you?” I suggested.  “Oh yes!”  I was saved.

Mya with Puppy in jammiesAt eight weeks old, I doubt Michael has expectations just yet.  But if cousin Maren gets wind of these developments, I see another creative slipper jammy session in my future.

Which all leads to the next logical question.  Will they expect new matching slipper jammies for their friends next Christmas, just like theirs?  I’ve saved the patterns just in case…

Move over Laptop

Sewing slipper jammiesSometimes the writer has to take a backseat to being a Grammy.  My office space allotment has ample room for my laptop and was designed with plenty of surface area for spreading out notes and research materials.  It just does not accommodate a sewing machine and yards of material without a bit of compromise.  So when my inner Grammy takes over, the laptop gets shoved aside.

It’s well known in this space that I have an annual appointment with the sewing machine and piles of fuzzy fleece.  What started as a single pair of slipper jammies, also known as Grammy jammies, has multiplied into four such outfits fitting little bodies from 10 months to 7 years.  And next year already promises to push the total to five.  No matter what the number, I press on and rue the day when the older grandchildren start opting out of such cozy comforts.

It feels a bit like an assembly line.  Cut, cut, cut.  Sew, sew, sew.  A zipper here, a cuff there.  Gripper feet for all.  The outside world hardly exists.  All I see is red fleece, goofy reindeer faces and a needle bouncing up and down in rapid motion.  I cannot rest until the last piece is in place.  The final stitch sewn.  It is a labor of love.  When I am finished, they come to life – four little visitors inhabiting my couch.I am lucky this year.  I found Christmas fleece, which has become a rare commodity.  That means an early delivery so that the kiddos can wear them for the run up to the holiday season.  When I produced the customary cloth gift bags last weekend, the older ones already knew what must be inside.  Kids sure learn fast.Ben, Mya and Isabel in their Grammy Jammies

I had to entrust the final pair to the US Mail.  Through the marvels of FaceTime I was able to watch Maren rip through the packaging to reveal her very own Grammy jammies.  A style show ensued.Maren models Grammy Jammies

My task complete for now, the laptop has been restored to its place of honor.  With this little interlude behind me, my writing resumes.  Bits of fuzz and pins linger in my workspace.  I smile, looking forward to Christmas when all four grandchildren will pile into our house – in their matching togs.

The Quiet House

It happens every time.  The house feels waaaay too quiet.  I hear the ticking of the clock.  The hum of the washing machine oozes in from the laundry room.  My heart feels full yet empty.  I have just waved goodbye to the kids and grandkids.

Mya packed for DuluthThis time it was quite a blitz.  For starters, it was 5-year-old Mya’s turn for “Grammy Camp” and she spent four days with us in Duluth.  There is something very special about having grandchildren here on their own.  It invites getting to know them better.  It means they get my complete attention, without competition from siblings or parents.  It encourages doing fun activities together.  Mya’s visit was no exception.

Some things we repeated from big brother Ben’s visit.  A trip around the harbor on the Vista Star was a highlight, and Mya was especially taken with the whole cruise aspect.  “When will we go faster?” was her favorite question.  Mya and Rich on Vista StarMya and friends at the parkMya’s social side came out, and she quickly made friends wherever we went  Arriving in the driveway, she immediately asked to go play with the girls next door.  A trip to the playground quickly morphed into a game of hide and seek.  And a play date with my friend and her grandkids at Playfront Park was a big hit.

My favorite times were snuggling up to read, Mya pressed into my side eager to hear the same books night after night.  Kids all grow out of that stage eventually, but I never do.

Mya was joined by the rest of her family for an overnight stay at the end of the week.  The noise level increased more than three-fold with the addition of her two siblings, and the inevitable rivalries quickly resumed.  We packed in as much time outdoors as we could and even managed to see the steam train before they headed off to the cabin.

Molly and MarenIt was a quick changeover, then we welcomed Carl and Chelsea with baby Maren for the weekend.  In comparison to three active youngsters, Maren’s happy chirping and babbling were mere background sounds.  We easily slipped into the schedule of a 5-month-old which naturally afforded plenty of downtime – welcomed by her parents and this Grammy after my recent camp gig.  Playing with Maren on her quilt was plenty of entertainment.

Still very portable, we took Maren on several hikes and to the Park Point Art Fair.  As we crossed the Aerial Bridge, bells began clanging, the gate went down and we discovered we were the second to last car to get across.  Quickly ditching the car, we scurried to the canal to watch a classic ore boat come through the bridge – a first for not only Maren but Chelsea as well!  There is no Duluth experience better than being up close to a passing ore boat.Carl Chelsea and Maren at the bridge

By now, these are all memories.  The house is our own again.  It’s a grandparent’s prerogative to enjoy the young ones, spoil them, love them to bits then send them home with their parents.  But the echoes of laughter, squabbles, babble and imaginative play still linger in these rooms, leaving this house much too quiet.

The Grammy Gift

Carl and Chelsea with Maren

The request was for help, but the gift was all mine. Seeking to extend the time before they sent their first born to day care, my son Carl and his wife Chelsea asked if I would be interested in watching her for a week or more. I will admit to hesitating. How would I feel in a city where I knew no one, cooped up with a baby all day? Fortunately, I put my selfish reservations aside and agreed to a week.

At three months old, baby Maren was a compact bundle of smiles. Still small enough to be held and carried with ease yet old enough to have developed a personality, she captured my heart immediately. She still slept a lot, but when awake she had a lot to say and took in all that was going on around her. I melted each time she looked right at me and smiled or “talked” to me.

Smiling Maren

Settling in with Carl and Chelsea for that week reinforced what it means to be a Grammy. Freed of all responsibilities save caring for Maren, I had the luxury of embracing that single focus. No job to juggle, no parenting anguish, no chores to do, no outside commitments to meet. Just love, cuddle, play, feed and change. And it easily filled each day. I went to bed each night looking forward to more. That experience is one we just can't have as parents.

Molly and Maren

There is a lot to be said for having extended solo time with a grandchild. Each day was ours to navigate together. There was a certain ease in managing on our own. And I only had to share with Grandpa. For the most part Maren was all mine for the day.

Did I feel cooped up? Hardly. Maren was all the entertainment I needed. Besides, we went out for a walk with the stroller almost every day. We walked to Brueggers for bagels, a tradition harking back to my own kids. We visited a park and hiked its trails.

It's not like this is my first grandchild. I've had plenty of practice with my daughter Karen's three children. But I never had this total immersion before. Now I wonder why. Now I know better.

,Grammy with 4 grandkids

I've already signed up to watch the next one. It's the Grammy gift that gives so much more in return.

 

Grammy Jammies times 4

The tradition was reborn six years ago. Just as I made matching pajamas for my own children each year for Christmas, I began sewing slipper jammies for my first grandchild. As each new addition enters the fold, I increase production. The top sizes grow larger each year, and I wonder how long the oldest will still want to wear footie jammies. But I’m tickled that at age 6 1/2, my Grammy jammies are still popular.

Grammy with Kennedy grandkidsAs I commenced sewing for this seventh round, a new grandchild was on the way. Soon a cousin would join the three siblings. It seemed unlikely that the baby would arrive by Christmas, but it would be a shame to exclude her from the tradition merely for making an early entrance. Hence the first Grammy bunting was delivered.
Grammy JammiesAlthough even this newborn size swamps little Maren it feels good to see her initiated into the tradition. And should she grow quickly, I eked out one more set with proper footies for her in a 3 month size.
Grammy and Maren in buntingBy now I know this sewing pattern really well and have it in every possible size. I’ll be making my Grammy jammies as long as the babies keep coming. If the current trend continues, that will keep me busy for quite a while.

Precious New Life

There is nothing like a newborn baby. Especially when it is the first. Being grandparents affords us the unique joy of being part of this special experience multiple times. And it never grows old.

As we await the impending arrival, we are as anxious as the new parents – almost.  When the due date comes and goes, we awake each morning and note, “Well, no phone call yet.”  Ironically, when the text does come in the middle of the night to inform us that the baby is on its way, we sleep right through it.

Photo-20170119161608594.jpgHow quickly I forget how tiny and vulnerable these little beings are. I meet little Maren when she is only four days old. Small enough to fit in the crook of my arm, she favors scrunching up into a little ball as if still in the womb. She wraps her long thin fingers around my own and opens her mouth in bird like fashion. Occasionally I see her piercing dark eyes.photo-jan-16-3-51-05-pm

 

 

It is only moments before she dominates my life. For the full duration of our visit, my world revolves around her. Priorities rearrange themselves without thought, as I savor these limited days. Drinking in that new baby smell, feeling her cuddly warmth in my arms, amused at her repertoire of comical facial expressions, there is no need for outside entertainment. I am easily reminded of those early days with my own children. In that hospital room following their birth, the outside world did not exist. News and current events were unimportant.

My grandma role also gives me the joy of seeing my children grow into parents themselves. In this case, it is our son Carl and his wife Chelsea who are learning the joys and challenges of raising an infant. What is different this time around is that they live seven hours away by car. Seeing the new family is not a casual visit. It involves moving in for several days. The beauty is in the total immersion I am granted, the intimacy of joining in this new lifestyle that is emerging for them. The graceful way that they warmly welcome me into these early days is as heartwarming as the baby herself. Her arrival has already enriched our relationship. This is a precious new life indeed.

Grammy Camp

It was Karen who reminded me.  She has vivid and fond memories of the times Rich and I would leave her and her two bothers with their grandparents in Duluth while we continued up to the Boundary Waters for some alone time canoeing.  That much I remembered.  But I didn’t recall that she referred to it as “Grandma and Grandpa Camp.”  The name alone conjures up visions of kids having a great time, sans parents, doing all sorts of special things with their grandparents.

For some time now, I’ve been eager to bring my own grandkids to Duluth for a visit.  But I had to be patient.  Last time I gently asked if they would like to come, the answer was a swift and firm “No.”  Even from the feisty middle child who I thought might be game.  I had to bide my time until they were old enough to relish the experience.

I also had another stipulation.  I wanted them one at a time.  I craved having one-on-one time with each of them, where I could have their undivided attention and they could monopolize mine.

At last the day finally arrived.  Ben had an extra week of Christmas break when his parents and siblings were back at work and day care.  It seemed the perfect opportunity to try again.  Emboldened by attending Kindergarten, Ben was actually excited about the idea of spending three days with us.

I knew we were off to a good start when I went drove down to pick him up and he practically jumped into my arms shouting “Grammy!”  The next morning he arose before six, eager to add his blanket and stuffed animals to his backpack.  The fun started almost immediately when we stopped at Caribou for coffee and I bought him a hot chocolate for the ride.  This was going to be a true Grammy visit.

My instincts were dead on.  We had the most delightful three days together.  Everything we did took on the aura of being special.  He relished all the attention, and so did I.  The normal tendencies of sibling rivalry, the temptation to push the limits of discipline and finicky eating evaporated.  Homesickness never materialized.

The only downside to the visit was that Rich, aka Grandpa, was out of commission with a sprained back.  He was unable to participate in any of our antics, but observed it all from his painful perch on the couch.  But I was in my element, and carried on.

Ben in the train engineBen loved the Train Museum, particularly the huge snow plow train and the tall steam engine.  He overcame his initial fear of the giant trains and soon climbed inside to sit in the engineer’s seat.  I took him to Marshall Hardware, where they have a couple of aisles stocked with modest but time tested toys and let him choose one to bring home.  A blue steam engine was his proud pick.

Bens PizzaWe had just as much fun at home, playing, cooking and crafting together.  My inner child was reborn as I spent hours building with Lincoln Logs, making Lego creations and connecting miles of Brio train track.  Ben was in seventh heaven making his own pizza for dinner, using pepperoni to create a face.  Making it turned out to be far more interesting than actually eating it, but it was totally worth it for the joy it delivered.

The best were the moments of silliness.  Scooping ice cream was an absolute necessity after dinner each night.  That much he inherited from me.

Grammy and Ben being sillyMy favorite craft was making cookie cutter ice ornaments.  Inspired by Outside in Duluth, we filled a pan with water, cookie cutters and twine hangers.  In the frigid temperatures, it all froze quickly and soon we were hanging beautiful icy shapes on the outdoor tree covered in lights.  Those ornaments will serve as a tender reminder of Ben’s visit until they melt – which doesn’t look to be any time soon.

Ice heart ornamentchristmas-ornaments-ben-molly-2-trimmed

It was well worth the wait, for the time to be right and the visit to be a success.  And since sister, Mya, is now begging for her turn I know I will get to do this again soon.  Grammy Camp has been firmly established.

Wedding Finery 2.0

Two sons.  Two summers.  Two weddings.  Two entirely different celebrations.  But the same flower girl and ring bearer for both.  And the same seamstress – me.

Each wedding clearly reflected the individual tastes of the respective brides (let’s be honest here, they do set the tone!).  As the plans unfolded this year, it became clear that Katie and Erik’s wedding would be a formal and elegant affair.  Glitter and sparkles also reigned.  It seemed only fitting to dress the little attendants accordingly.  I was up for the challenge, and Katie loved the idea.

Simplicity 1507 Mya dressI started with the flower girl dress. Eager to impress Mya with her finery, I showed her the pattern.  Big mistake.  She was excited all right.  “I want the purple dress!” she exclaimed.  What you have to understand is that 4-year-old Mya is very strong willed.  And doesn’t forget.  That phrase would haunt me up until the day of the wedding.

Materials for Mya's dressThe simple looking dress on the pattern disguised its complexity.  In addition to a silk skirt with an organza overlay, it also entailed a double-layer petticoat and lining underneath.  But it was well designed, and those additional features clearly distinguished it as a special dress.  The extra effort was well worth it.

The defining detail came about fortuitously.  Needing extra fabric to alter one of the bridesmaid dresses, there was enough left over for a sash to trim Mya’s dress.  That not only tied it perfectly into the wedding party, but gave the Sash and buckledress the zip it needed.  Struggling to get it to tie into a nice bow in the back, I turned to glitz and Hobby Lobby.  Using a diamond studded buckle and pin back, I fashioned a fitting anchor for the sash in the back of the dress.

Mya and Isabel's dressesIf one dress is good, two is even better.  Although not part of the wedding party, I saw no reason that baby sister Isabel should not match her big sister.

Next I turned my attention to 6-year-old Ben.  His attire was to be a suit that I carefully matched to the fabric and style of the rented tuxes for the groomsmen.  To be honest, I did briefly inquire as to the viability of renting a suit for Ben.  But the $200 cost quickly sent me back to my sewing machine with renewed determination.

I had made one tailored suit coat before, and relied on knowing that I had once mastered the required techniques.  I soon learned that sewing for little people presents its own challenges, creating the same level of detail on a much reduced scale.  Slacks with a fly front and side pockets was new to me, and went together quite nicely.  However, the trick came in scrunching the waist down to Ben’s skinny measurements.  With multiple try-on sessions and Ben’s patience, I finally got it right.

Ben's suit coatBen's pants

 

 

 

 

 

 

Glittery hair bows, tie, and pocket hankie completed the ensembles.  I finished all my machine sewing with only a few hand details left just over a week before the wedding.  And that night the big storm tore through Duluth and took out the power – for four days!  That was a close call.

Wedding morning, Mya dons her dress under protest at first.  But finally overcomes her objections when Katie whispers that she wants her to “look just like her” in a white dress.  Ben asks Daddy to get him dressed in the room with the groomsmen, and emerges looking just like the rest of the guys.  Isabel, wisely, is outfitted in her dress at the last minute.  And I’m swelling with pride at seeing them in their wedding finery for the second time.  Then I turn my attention to being Mother of the Groom.  It is, after all, Erik’s wedding day.

Molly with Grandkids at Wedding trimmed Ben and Mya before wedding trimmed Katie Erik Wedding Vows

Wedding Finery

For weeks I’ve been working under wraps. I eagerly volunteered to sew the outfits for my grandchildren’s roles as Ring Bearer and Flower Girl for my son Carl’s wedding. And like many wedding plans, it meant staying mum about the details until the big day.

Finding sewing patterns turned out to be a lesson forMya dress front me. While I naturally began with Simplicity, McCalls and Butterick, my daughter took a different route. In short order, she sent me an email with links to dress, vest and tie patterns online – all through Etsy. I’d never gone that route before, using patterns created and shared by creative sewers that I could downloadBen vest and tie and print right at home. I was a little concerned about the quality and fit of the patterns, but soon found that they were well designed and included excellent instructions.

Selecting fabric was also informative. With the bridesmaids wearing yellow sundresses of their own choosing, my daughter, Karen, and I sought coordinating prints in yellow tones. We found a few at a chain fabric store, but before finalizing the selection, I checked out Hannah Johnson Fabrics right in Lakeside. There I feasted my eyes on beautiful prints all displayed in color families. I quickly honed in on a brilliant floral piece and several good options for companion fabrics. Knowing that these fabrics were 100% cotton aimed at quilters, I expressed my concern about sewing a dress for a toddler that might wrinkle easily. The helpful owner of the shop quickly allayed my fears, explaining that quality cotton would wear beautifully without wrinkles. I took her advice, paid the premium for the beautiful fabrics and didn’t regret it for a moment. She was absolutely right, and I know I’ll be a repeat customer.Isabel dress and panties

Half way through the creative process, it was a great joy to finally begin the sewing. Clothes for little people go together quickly and are so darn cute. I couldn’t resist snapping photos of each piece as I completed it, sending it to Karen and bride Chelsea to see. One project led to another, and as soon as baby sister Isabel Flowers for haircame along, I sought out patterns for her wedding outfit as well – all on Etsy, of course. To my delight, I found patterns for a newborn dress and diaper cover for free. It was hard to stop, so I went one step further and created fabric flowers for Mya to wear in her hair, and a matching headband for Isabel. I’m sure given more time I’d have found more details to add.

IMG_3865Flower Girl and Ring Bearer from the back

 

IMG_2298During one of my try-on sessions with Ben and Mya, they took off outside to show their mommy. Running around the yard, romping and chasing each other, they wiggled and rolled in their “fancy clothes.” To my own surprise I was not worried at all, thrilled with their delight in their wedding clothes.

The good news is that the Flower Girl and Ring Bearer performed their roles beautifully and charmingly – an outcome by no means guaranteed. And I think they were as excited as the bride and groom to don their wedding finery that day.IMG_3862