Oct 31, 2007


messenger bag 008

messenger bag 1

It was time. You know what I mean - that Byrd's song - "Turn, Turn, Turn (To everything There is a Season.)" A time to laugh, a time to weep ...

It was time for gnomes. How can they not bring a smile to your face? This messenger bag is an amalgamation of an old pair of wool pants and Heather Ross fabric. I love it. It's sturdy, the perfect size, and has plenty of pockets. The gnome patch on the front is the icing on the cake.

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messenger bag 021

messenger bag 013

messenger bag 024

What do you think? Should I make this into a pattern in my collection? I would be more than happy to do so if you give me the thumbs up. ;)


thank you ...

... for all of your kind words. Your comments sent a much needed wave of warmth in my direction. I just wish that I could extend each of you a hug, or at the very least, respond to each of you individually. (Blogger is stinky for not giving me your email addresses when you leave comments.)

Just know that kindness goes a long way. I went back to school today, refreshed and motivated to be the best person I can be for the sake of my children.

My heart continues to go out to the families involved in the tragedy. May we all continue do everything in our capacity to bring peace to our little corners of the world and beyond.


Oct 30, 2007

day of the dead

day of the dead

While the rest of Mexico will not be celebrating the Day of the Dead until Friday, I feel compelled to write about it now.

I debated long and hard about whether or not to mention this on my blog. After some words of encouragement from Jenny, I decided to break through the emotional dam that has kept the flood waters away from happy, crafty land.

This story begins 7 years ago, when I was 19. My friend Laura was killed. Michael Moore dedicated his film, Bowling for Columbine, to Laura.

I spent the subsequent years pondering questions of good and evil, free will and lack thereof, bad vs. abnormal, atheism and theism. I think a good number of my college papers dealt with these themes - thankfully I was in a Great Books program that allowed for such philosophical exploration. My senior thesis was an exploration of the development of "the human will" in the educational system (or lack thereof, really) and how this lack of development can engender a culture of violence. When you get right down to it, this is the reason I went into education, and the reason I believe so firmly in educational philosophies that treat children with the utmost respect. Children treated with respect will, in turn, treat others with that same respect. Violence breeds violence. Respect encourages respect. I just wanted to do my part to put a wrench in the cycle of violence.

Yesterday, I found out that my friend Marijke, who was in my Montessori training course with me, was killed. The circumstances are horrific. She is survived by her 3 1/2 year-old twin daughters, now orphans.

I didn't go to school today, because one of my students told me yesterday that his father is threatening to kill his mother. He is four. He is seeing this, hearing this. How will this little boy treat others when he grows up? I needed a day off to reflect and to attempt to digest the news about Marijke.

I am not the only one who has two friends that were murdered. The situation is astronomically worse in Iraq, and in many other forgotten corners of the Earth. Violence breeds violence. Perhaps this is why humans seem incapable of learning from history. They simply absorb patterns of behavior that their parents, televisions, and countries act out in front of them. What are we going to do about this?


Thank you for listening. Fortunately, I am generally a very content, happy person. You can expect to be back to your "regularly scheduled posts" very shortly. In the meantime, I'm off to take a warm bath, sip a cup of hot chocolate, and enjoy the beauty of the falling leaves.

Oct 28, 2007

holiday traditions exchange 2007


I couldn’t help myself. I have no self-control. I tried and tried and tried. But I just couldn’t wait.

I broke out the holiday music.

I know, I know … I haven’t even given Halloween and Thanksgiving their due respect. I never have, really. I am that zealot who lobbies for tree decoration as soon as I’m finished with my third piece of pumpkin pie after Thanksgiving dinner.

I feel this way because as a child, my family’s holiday traditions were plentiful and cherished. Of course I enjoyed the stockings and the presents – but looking back, it’s not the presents I remember. It’s the feeling I got during that time of year. The warming smell of gingerbread drifting from the kitchen. The songs sung while decorating the house. Drinking hot chocolate with marshmallows out of my special Christmas mug. Traipsing about in the woods with my dad in search of the tallest blue spruce – one that would barely fit in our house and would be sure to elicit eye-rolls and grumbles from my mother, a fan of the short and stocky tree.

As I consider the source of this wonderful feeling, I understand that it originates with my family’s own small, yet meaningful traditions – not with the decorations at the strip mall, not with those “feel cozy and buy this thing you don’t need” holiday commercials, and not even with the opening of gifts, lovely though they may be.

So I wonder … how do other families experience the holidays? How do they nurture that warm, holiday feeling? How do they make it special for their own children?

Let’s find out! Sign up for the first annual Holiday Traditions Exchange!

The Holiday Traditions Exchange is a swap that will incorporate craft, cultural sharing, and thoughtful reflection about what the holidays mean to your family. It’s an opportunity to celebrate all that is non-commercial in this holiday season – and an opportunity to adopt a new, fun tradition for your family’s holiday repertoire. Here’s what you have to do:

Let me know you want to participate. I will pair you with one swap partner. You will send your package to your partner, and this same partner will send a package to you. Hopefully, you will make a new friend in the process!

To your partner, you will send:

1.) One handmade holiday decoration. Decorations made from any kind of medium are acceptable – from fabric to yarn, paper to paint.

2.) Your favorite holiday recipe.

3.) A “Tradition” Tutorial. This is description of one of your family’s special holiday traditions. If needed, you should provide step by step instructions. (For example, if your family makes graham cracker candy houses each year, you would provide more concrete instructions.) You might also consider sending along a couple of photos of the tradition in action.

In addition, you could send a mix CD of your favorite holiday tunes, or a special book that is a seasonal classic in your family. Feel free to go above and beyond the three requirements, but please don’t skip! When putting together your package, think about the kind of package you would like to receive. The backbone of this whole exchange is that it should be meaningful and come from that tender place close to your heart.

Are you in?? Send me an email at montessorirevolution@gmail.com with the subject Holiday Traditions Exchange 2007. No need to include your mailing address – once you receive your partner’s name, you can exchange your address with them directly.

The sign up deadline is Sunday, November 11th. Soon thereafter, you will receive an email from me with your partner’s name. It is then your responsibility to contact your partner, introduce yourself, and exchange mailing addresses.

Packages must be sent out by Monday, December 10th. If you are sending internationally, you might want to aim for an earlier mailing date. But wait!!! Before sending your package, be sure to take pics and post them to the Holiday Traditions Exchange 2007 Flickr Group!

I look forward to your emails, and I sincerely hope that this exchange will, in some way, make your holiday season a little merrier!



P.S. You can place the Holiday Traditions Exchange button in your sidebar by copying the following HTML code:

Oct 25, 2007

recycled bath mat

patchwork bath mat close up

Did anyone guess correctly? Here it is - a funky addition to our bathroom decor, made from part of an old terry cloth bath towel and sewing "refuse".

patchwork bath mat

patchwork bath mat towel backing

I'm especially fond of the feet embroidery detail. I used my own dainties as the model. Patrick wonders where he is going to put his feet. (But really, my love ... the mat wouldn't have looked nearly as cute had your long, lanky, crooked toes been featured!) Wouldn't a bath mat sporting various sets of feet in your family be fun? A little pair, a big pair ... a pair for anyone who uses the mat's services with some frequency.

I will be putting together a tutorial very soon. I've decided to go the PDF route for my tutorials from now on, given that it is much easier for you to print out the instructions. That said, it will take me a schmidgin' of time to do the layout and write it up.

I wish you all a very, very merry Friday!


Oct 24, 2007

patchwork teaser

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Cut, stack, cut, stack ... sew, press, sew, press ...

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The daylight is running off beyond yonder hill (although I love this soft, late afternoon light - don't you?) With no time left to take pictures of the finished project, you will just have to stop by tomorrow. A little tutorial will be waiting for you on the doorstep!


Oct 22, 2007


Have you taken the step into the quicksand of This American Life? While their stories will suck you in with no hope of ever escaping, they also leave you feeling ripe with human emotion. Depending on the episode, you might develop sore abdominals from so much laughter. Certain vignettes can spark philosophical discussions, while others will have you reining in the tears. This particular episode, Meet the Pros, was of particular interest to me. In Act Three, Martha, My Dear, the author visits his dream job in the crafts department of Martha Stewart Living. His query: if his passion became his job, would it still be fun?


This is a really important issue for me at the moment, as "my little sewing addiction" becomes a "job." It has become all the more essential for me to find ways to protect and nurture the creative process that brought me to where I am, an "official" pattern designer, in the first place. You know the feeling - that crafting "high," the loss of time, the ability to continue working on a project without eating for 8 hours ... the world could be falling to pieces around you, but you just blankly respond "In a minute ... I'm almost done, just one more seam/row/etc."

Flow. Have you read it? You should - as an artist, a parent, or an educator.
C.'s theory is that people are most happy when they are in a state of flow— a state of concentration or complete absorption with the activity or situation at hand. Flow is an optimal state of intrinsic motivation, where the person is fully immersed in what he or she is doing.

To achieve flow, a task must provide sufficient challenge, but the person must possess the skills to surmount it. If a task is too difficult, frustration ensues. If it is too easy, it is simply not intellectually or physically engaging enough. Flow arises in this narrow spectrum where the person's skills are perfectly matched to the challenge at hand.

sewing a button
Tlaloc sews a button on an apron. He didn't even notice me taking the picture.

My job as a Montessori teacher is to match the child to the challenge, to provide him the opportunity to experience flow. We recognize the need for flow in our adult lives - we all talk about the need to create, the sacredness of the creative process, and how refreshed we feel after we've completed a project. Children need to have the same experience! How often to we swoop in on the child when he is concentrating, shuffling him about from activity to activity? Hold on ... let me whip out my pocket-sized Montessori holy book ... ah hah! Here it is ... Above all else, never interrupt a concentrating child! Welp, there it is. Children need flow more than anyone - they emerge from this state with a newfound self-confidence, increased problem-solving skills, and a love of learning.

My new mantra: protect the flow. So many good things come out of it, whatever your passion or hobby, whatever your age.

Oct 21, 2007

printed patterns unveiled!

After countless evenings and weekends spent working exclusively on this big project, I can finally announce that my Reading Pillow and Mei Tai Baby Carrier sewing patterns are available for purchase as full-sized, professionally printed patterns!

Reading Pillow Printed Pattern Front

2000 pretty little patterns arrived at my parents' doorstep this last Friday, ready to by shipped off to all corners of the earth. The patterns can be purchased directly from my website, www.montessoribyhand.net (which has a spiffy new look, btw!) I'm also offering the patterns for wholesale purchase, so if you have a sewing store - contact me for more information.

Mei Tai Baby Carrier Printed Pattern Front

For those of you lucky souls that are heading to Quilt Market in Houston this coming week, be sure to stop by Brewer Sewing Supply's booth, as they will have the patterns on display. (Yay! My first QM "appearance!") They will be seeing what kind of response they get from their customers, and based on that they might be able to take on my patterns for distribution before the first of the year - just in time to feed that holiday-making frenzy that goes on in sewing stores around the nation at around this time! Cross your fingers and toes for a good response!

One more bit of excitement - I just opened up my own Etsy store! My main storefront will still be my website, but it is nice to finally become a part of the Etsy community and tap into the wonderful, built-in crafty audience over there.

Thank you for all of your patience with the less-frequent and shorter posts during this busy time in my life. Things should be back to normal for the visible future, now that the patterns are ready to ship. Just in case you were wondering - my wonderful parents, who live in California, have agreed to do all of the shipping until I move back to the US. Three cheers for cool parents!

FYI - the Child's Apron pattern is temporarily unavailable for purchase - but not to worry - it will be coming out soon in a printed version, along with the Child's Painting Smock, Art Apron, and others!

Thanks for your support - it means so much to me!

Oct 19, 2007

anthropologie gets it

Have you seen the new "Project Needle and Thread" over at Anthropologie? It's such a visual feast - you must head over and have a look for yourselves!

anthropologie 1

anthropologie 2

I think we mavens of handmade have been making so much behind-the-scenes fashion noise that Anthropologie heard us. This collection is brimming with hand-stitched, hand-knit, and hand-appliqu├ęd details. It's overflowing with inspiration.

I just need to clarify a few things, here. I am no fashionista. Most of the time I frump about in a green, bleach-stained zip-up sweatshirt from Katmai Lodge in Alaska. It even sports a machine embroidered trout. Call me uber-frump, call me whatever you like - I live in rural Mexico. I would look SO ridiculous wearing the above sweaters around town down here.

But please do call me an Amelie Poulin wannabe. I've mentioned this before - my absolute love of all things Amelie. Haircut? Check. Soundtrack playing almost all the time? Check. French? Check. Red wine? Check. Cat named Amelie? Check. Like slipping my hand into a barrel of beans? Check. Really cute, shy personality? Not so much. Clothing? Working on it.

I think I'll go peruse the Anthropologie on-line mag once again ...

Have a great weekend!

Oct 17, 2007

heather ross cowgirl shirt

Built By Wendy cowgirl shirt f1

I'm so pleased with how it turned out! Of course, the majority of the credit must go to Heather Ross for making such dang cute fabric. (And to my Mom, for picking out the perfect vintage ribbon trim!)

Built By Wendy cowgirl shirt 005

The pattern is from Built By Wendy's book, Sew U. I had to make a few modifications - the main one being to reduce the sleeve length by almost two inches. Do I just have short arms, or is orangutan the norm? Geez!

Built By Wendy cowgirl shirt f2

Instead of a regular hem, I opted for a custom-made bias binding with a vintage ribbon accent. Again, this is because I never wear my shirt tucked in, because it makes me look short. I am not, however, short. I just seem short. My great-grandmother was 4'10". I am a towering 5'3 5/8".

A word about the pattern: I wouldn't recommend it for beginners. You will have more than a few temple-tapping moments while working through it. Wendy provides general directions, but it's up to you to figure out how to make the exact shirt you envision. You can always look back through the book for tips and techniques, but the directions are not step-by-step. The thing I found frustrating was that she didn't note the seam allowances to be used. (It ended up being 1/4" for the collar and 1/2" for the cuffs.)

Overall, however, I am thrilled with my shirt! I will definitely make many more using this general pattern, adding my own touches and trying out some more of Wendy's suggested modifications.

I'm thinking about purchasing some more Built By Wendy patterns. I'm eyeing 3835, 3964, and 4112.

Happy sewing,

Oct 16, 2007

experiencing autumn

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tarahumara girls

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experiencing autumn october 2007 030

The crisp wind carried them as they ran up, down, through, and around. Freshly fallen aspen leaves found their way into tiny pockets. Autumn has found it's way to the Sierra Tarahumara, and into the hearts of its littlest residents.

Oct 14, 2007

shirt mission

work in progress

Words I associate with weekends: Zoom. Whoosh. Vroom. Do yours go by as fast as mine?

Lately my weekends have consisted of working on the super-special-secret-project, and this weekend was no exception. However, I did manage to set aside a bit of personal crafting time, because I am in desperate need some new clothes. I look like a discolored, tattered, walking moth-fest. When we moved down to Mexico over two years ago, I brought a set of "old-ish" clothes, knowing that I would be roughing it a bit. No dry cleaning here. Oh yeah, come to mention it, there are no washing machines either. Anyway, the aforementioned clothes are reaching the end of their lives. Especially the shirts. I realize that, when I make myself clothes, I tend to end up with some sort of skirt or dress. What I need are shirts.

Enter Built By Wendy's book, "Sew U." I am on a shirt mission, folks. I'll let you know how it turns out.

Amelie, Mexican cat

In cat news, Mademoiselle Amelie has taken to corn. Stealing corn, to be honest. She grabs it out of the bag, jumps to the floor, and proceeds to eat. As if she were entitled to it! What a brazen little lady.
Amelie, ferocious corn eater

Oct 11, 2007

simple jumper

gray jumper front

After discovering wiksten, I was immediately inspired. After a few hours, this is what popped out of my sewing machine.

gray jumper back

Woot! My very own stylin' gray jumper! I especially love the back, with its adjustable pleat and bows. I know my mom's generation thinks these little jumpers look like maternity wear, but hey ... I suppose they could be. So why not make them adjustable, just in case your bust measurement increased, for some reason. (No mom, I'm not pregnant yet ... just thinking ahead, as always!)

Amelie the fabric fiend

And in case there was any doubt as to which girl in my house loves fabric more, here's proof.


Oct 10, 2007

worth a 1000 words

counting to 1000

The look on her face when she counted to 1000 for the first time

stork pose

The "concentration tongue" and a smile while doing yoga

listening to Chopin

Being mesmerized by Chopin

Oct 8, 2007

wish list

log cabin socks 2

At least one (two is too much to ask?) finished Log Cabin sock.

log cabin socks 007

And while I'm flipping through the same book, I wouldn't mind a pair of these one day. But knowing how long it takes for me to make one, normal length sock? Fairy Sockmother?


A self-cleaning house.


This bundle of fabric to make this project.


Time to make this knitting bag using Lisa's tutorial.

My biggest wish of all? A 72 hour day. Can you tell I've been pretty busy lately? Before I had time to blink an eye, six days had come an gone since my last post! I'm still here, dragging myself through a smidge of busy-ness. Ahem. That smidge is seeming more like a swimming pool of molasses that I must pass through. Smiling all the time, of course. The good thing is that I like molasses. But I can't begin to tell you how jealous I was that Mr. Montessori By Hand, who works with an organization based in DC, had the day off in honor of Indigenous People's Day. In Mexico, "Columbus Day" is not celebrated, and rightfully so. They hold a valid grudge.

So I continue to plow through my molasses. Thank you for your patience. I should be climbing out and taking a long-deserved shower someday soon.

Oct 2, 2007

characteristics of practical life activities

Removing kernels of corn

Here's a good example of a practical life activity that is culturally relevant here in rural Mexico. Sandra is removing the corn kernels, one by one. Later, she or another child will mill the corn outside. To complete the process, an older child who has had a lesson can make tortillas to share with the class as part of the day's snack:

Making tortillas - practical life

What is practical life? My short answer - everything the child does to care for herself and to help maintain the community in which she lives. Practical life is the basis of any Montessori community or any home. Without it, living in community, be it in a family or in a classroom, would be impossible. Here are just a few examples of practical life activities:

Wiping your nose
Setting the table
Washing your face
Preparing food
Washing dishes
Feeding the animals
Cleaning the house
Cleaning your shoes
Zipping your coat
Buckling your shoe
Doing the laundry
Caring for your garden

Some of these things we (adults) enjoy - some of them we come to abhor, and some of them we do without even thinking about it! Young children, on the other hand, truly enjoy the activities of practical life. They help them to develop coordination, concentration, and independence. In addition, they are gaining new skills, developing helpful and selfless habits, and learning to adapt to their culture.

Here are the basic characteristics of practical life activities:

Practical life exercises are things the child has already seen regularly in his family life. She might
have witnessed an older sibling, a parent, or a grandparent perform these tasks on a daily basis. Perhaps she has even done certain exercises before coming into the Montessori environment. This familiarity helps the child orient to her new classroom.

Culturally Specific
The exercises should be relevant in the child’s day-to-day life. For example, if the child lives in
Southeast Asia, the practical life exercises offered by the directress will differ from those offered in France. If the culture eats their meals with chopsticks, it would be useless to have an exercise dealing with setting the table with a spoon, fork and knife. Practical life activities should help the child adapt to her environment.

Providing the child with real, functional tools and activities conveys to the child that her work is
valued. (Another key point here is that the activities themselves should be purposeful. We must ask ourselves - is tweezing beads from one tray to another really a purposeful activity? Not really. While there are MANY activities that we could come up with that "help the child develop her pincer grip," these don't really have a place on the Montessori practical life shelf. Before putting an activity on the shelf, ask yourself: "Would I do this in my day-to-day life? Is this necessary to maintain my classroom (or home) environment? Or is this simply busy work?" Such busy work that the child enjoys and which helps her concentrate would, however, be very appropriate to place on a toy shelf.

Physically Proportioned
Well-proportioned tools help the child to fine-tune his motor skills and perfect precise movements. The size, weight and design of the material should be taken into account before offering it to the child. It should be heavy enough to provide tactile feedback to the child about the success of his movements, but should not be unwieldy or awkward in his small hands. Michael Olaf and Montessori Services provide wonderful child-sized items.

Breakable a.k.a. "Get rid of that sippy cup!
The value of glass in the environment extends beyond its aesthetic qualities; if the child recognizes that a piece of material is breakable, she will show care in her movements. In addition, a glass pitcher weights more than its plastic counterpart, giving the child feedback on her actions. In the event of a breakage, the teacher acts very detached and impartial about the accident. She does not lecture: she simply states that it should be swept up. The teacher removes the broken material and its corresponding exercise from the shelf and waits for several days before replacing it. This gives the children an appreciation of and respect for the material, knowing that it cannot be immediately replaced.

The material should be aesthetically pleasing, clean, and functional. Children are attracted to
beauty and order, and the teacher recognizes this and assures that all of the exercises and materials are ready for the children before the start of the day. (A word about plastic, here. Instead of filling your home or classroom with plastic trays, take a visit to your local thrift stores! Thrift stores, in fact, are the BEST place to look for trays. On one trip a while back, I was able to fill a large box with the most beautiful silver trays - each one original. The advantage of silver trays? You can now put out a silver polishing activity!)

Color-coding the exercises to indicate level of difficulty helps the child to choose work independently. It also adds to the beauty and order of the environment. Do not sacrifice beauty for color, however. Like I said, a silver or brass tray is much more desirable than an orange plastic one.

Order is found throughout the practical life exercises. The exercises are presented in order of
difficulty and then displayed on the shelves in order of difficulty. The teacher places the more elementary exercises on the left of the shelf; the more challenging exercises are toward the right. The presentation of the exercises themselves remains consistent. The steps are clearly
demonstrated in sequential order. In an activity such as table washing, the teacher displays the necessary tools in the order in which they are needed, from left to right. This attention to order helps the child integrate and form connections between things in his environment.

The children are presented with enough activities so that their interest remains peaked. This
does not necessitate an exceedingly large number of exercises - even less if you are homeschooling! First, the environment should only contain exercises that are pertinent to classroom life. The child would be overwhelmed if presented with too many choices. Giving them a tenable number of choices helps them become decisive and come to understand their own preferences. In addition, the child’s natural tendency is toward repetition; therefore it is beneficial to have a limited number of activities on the shelves. If given the opportunity to repeat an exercise, the child will acquire a level of mastery, and the consequent independence. Instead of placing everything out at once, consider rotating activities to maintain interest.
Only one type of each exercise is on the shelf. If a classmate has already chosen the shoe polishing exercise, the child will have to choose an alternative piece of work. It is an important and constructive lesson to learn that one’s first choice is not always available. The child begins to understand that the classroom
community shares its resources.

Phew! Did you make it this far? Then you must really be interested in Montessori! If you want to learn more, join the Montessori By Hand Yahoo group in the side bar. Sign up for a nice little Montessori-style surprise! (Hint: read my most recently posted message to the Yahoo group.)