Making a Menagerie

Knitting with double-pointed needles is a bit like using a ninja weapon. Points are everywhere and in constant motion, albeit slow motion. Knitting with double-pointed needles is not one of my favorite things. I much prefer circulars.

Knitting toys, however, is highly satisfactory. Smallish projects, completed in an evening or two, interesting shaping and construction techniques, minimal weaving in…it’s the best of knitting in my book. Progress and finished objects before I get bored. What could be better?

Well, in addition to all these knitting benefits, I’ve also gained a lap cat in the deal. The current stash of cats came here under duress. They spent three years (!) in the local shelter and had sensitive stomachs and twitchy personalities from the stress. Didn’t matter. They were a bonded pair and tolerated me. That was the relationship. I provide food and clean litter, a few comfortable places to sleep, and they (in turn) allow the occasional scritch behind the ears and proximity. No cuddling, sleeping together, or carrying around. They came to me. I was a servant.

Until about a year ago.

Oliver developed thyroid problems. Once those were under control, a tumor (most likely benign but highly annoying) in his sinuses showed up and makes him quite snotty and wheezy. It’s like having a toddler with a never-ending cold. But, like most toddlers, he now enjoys my company despite the undignified nose wiping I insist on.

And now my knitting is perfect, if pointy. We both are learning to cope with the small needles, fiddly shaping, and British murder mysteries on the television. Somehow, with all those pointy sticks, it makes for a perfect image. Now that Oliver appreciates my lap, perhaps I should use him as a bookrest so I can learn to read while knitting.

Now I’ve Done It

Well, I’ve gone and done it now. I’ve met with the local barracks of the State Police, my local constabulary, and the principal of the elementary school in town. The response for the bags has been beyond encouraging.

That’s not the bad thing. That’s wonderful because it means there are other projects that go with filling the bags. That was the whole reason for doing this in the first place. My pastor asked me to think up projects for a daytime group. Now I have projects — blankets, toys, hats, scarves, washcloths/scrubbies. The knitters and crocheters at church can stay busy for a while. That’s the good news.

More good news came from the principal. She is looking for community outreach programs for her kids, both to help with the kids and for the kids to help us. It’s a win-win situation.

I am excited beyond words to make these connections. It also made me a little cocky.

For the tote bags I’m making, I have fabric for the foreseeable future. Mom made sure of that! But, the bags need zippers and I don’t have zippers. And, zippers are hard to find and expensive. Enter the interwebs!

A ‘contact us’ inquiry at Talon International put me smack in the middle of a request for enough zippers for Mom’s stash of fabrics. It’s my first time asking for corporate support and it’s been amazing. Even if I don’t get the supply of zippers, I am encouraged by the positive response I’ve had to my tiny local project. The least might be contact with a local supplier and the ability to buy at wholesale. The best, zippers at the ready to meet the needs here where I live right now. Thank you Talon, particularly Surbhi in Visuals and Merchandising.

Going through this, I had to ‘pitch’ my concept, which meant I needed a name. And so is born Unsewn Potential. More on that next time. Meanwhile, I need to see if my local grocery store chain wants to help.

Someone Should…

I have spent a lifetime in meetings. I hate meetings. Always have, probably always will. Meetings are the corporate equivalent of Thanksgiving with your crazy uncle. You have to invite him, but you hate listening to him winge on about the sorry state of whatever his current thing is while he complains about the food. At the end of the evening, everyone has eaten too much just to keep from yelling, and everyone is exhausted. The host, needless to say, wants to throw out everything and jump off the roof.

The worst thing to hear in any meeting is: Someone should… It may be a fabulous idea and may even be highly doable, but in my mind, if it’s a good idea and you had it, it should be something you want to be part of. So, instead of ‘someone should,’ why not start with, ‘I’ve noticed X,Y, and Z, and would like to do A,B, and C to solve or help. If anyone has any thoughts or wants to help me, let’s do this.’

I’ll go first: I’ve noticed that people like to take leftovers home at a dinner function for a needy population. I have committed to supply self-storing shopping bags for each family to take their leftovers home in this year. This solves a couple issues: taking things home from the event and taking things home in the future. I’ve talked about the charges in town for plastic bags. Now, they have a bag for whatever they need to bring home or bring with them. But it’s just the start.

Oh, I know! We have a lot of kids in crisis and need right here in my town. I want to make bags with soft, comfy, useful things in them like the prototype. And, it’s not just kids. I can make useful bags to carry essentials.

And so is born Unsewn Possibilities. Right now, it’s just an idea and a lot of fabric in my basement sewing room. But, the local police, schools, and my church seem responsive. So, I’m going to do it. I have 20 self-storing shopping bags on deck for the Thanksgiving dinner. The local police and elementary school are on-board with the kids’ bags. Will I need help? You bet. But right now someone is me. I should, so it’s starting in my basement. You can contribute by buying something from my Etsy shop, but if you don’t, this will still be done. It’s not someone, it’s me.

Now it’s your turn. What are you going to do?


Back to Basics

When I claimed Mom’s fabric stash from the bin, I had no idea what I had in the bags and boxes or what to do with it. I just knew I wasn’t giving it to some ‘charity’ that would basically shred it and sell it by the pound. There were too many memories of shopping sprees and too much unsewn potential.

I admit it languished in my basement for a couple years. I had stopped sewing after I gained a lot of weight, and making tents for myself was no longer appealing. Then, in denial, I didn’t take it up again after losing the weight because I was too busy. Yeah, well…

Now I’m not too busy and I don’t need a lot of clothes. I will occasionally make something comfy for myself, but I’m also offloading a lot of unnecessary work clothes. Meanwhile, I had boxes and bags of Mom’s fabrics and my own stash sitting downstairs, waiting for a purpose.

I love the variety of quilting cotton. The prints, colors, the subject matter. You can find a print for anything! This, from one bag of Mom’s stash.

When my parents travelled, the deal was often based on both fishing (for Pop) and fabric (for Mom). In a stroke of genius and peacemaking, Mom started making shirts for Pop. He could pick out the fabric and she could make them fit perfectly. This also made ‘waiting while fabric shopping’ less onerous on Pop since he could participate.

Anyway, it’s taken me a long time to make some decisions about the legacies I have in my house. With the fabric I make bags. The original intent was not to sell them, but I hope some of you buy them anyway. The original intent was to give them to people at food pantries. They could fill up the bags there but use them for other things later. And, now with stores in my area charging for plastic bags, a reusable bag could save already hard-pressed folks a little change.

A friend suggested other bags for other purposes: toiletry bags for shelters, book and toy bags for kids. The unsewn possibilities grow as more people face hard lives. People that in many cases have not just people but whole systems against them.

So, I’ve changed policy on my Etsy shop. For every $10 in purchases I will donate one of the Self-Storing Shopping Sacks to a food pantry near Warwick, NY, where I live.

I am working with my pastors to locate the right options for all of the bags to be offered. You’ll hear more about that soon.



Things to Put Things In

What’s the biggest challenge besides 2 for $5 bags of Oreos at the grocery store? It’s certainly not buying things. It’s bringing them home.

One of the reasons I’m so bad about bringing reusable shopping bags with me is the mess. They are big, don’t fold up or store well, don’t fit into my purse, and take up the whole child seat in the cart. We won’t even talk about dealing with them at checkout. We wrestle to get everything into them only to struggle with the weight. It’s not pretty.

We may feel virtuous, but it looks a fright, takes up too much room, and can’t be properly cleaned.

When my town instituted a Bring Your Own Bag (BYOB — cute) regulation that charges to use anything provided by the store, I went searching for a different solution. I found one in a book from the mid-80’s. 

Self-Storing Shopping Sacks! I made a couple for myself and got a great response. They fold into their own attached zipper pocket, weigh less than a quart pound (unless they’re made from denim), aren’t too big, and can be tossed into the washing machine should that package of chicken leak.

The handles on these bags make them easy to use at checkout and keep the bag ready to hold your purchases. They are about the same size one of the plastic bags, but can hold more without ripping. They don’t hold too much so you can still hoist them from the checkout into the cart and into your car.

I made a few available (right now…more to come) on my Etsy shop. Check them out. They make great gifts. If you are looking for something specific, let me know. I may be able to help.


Welcome to Pieceowork

Pieceowork is the blog/website for my Etsy shop: JBHVintageHandmade. It’s where I’ll tell stories, make suggestions, and feature specific items available.

The shop sells vintage photographs in three forms: file downloads, prints, and ceramics. The downloads are scanned slides spanning the late 1950s through 1980s. My father, Harry L. Burnett Jr, a professional photographer, took most but not all of the downloads. You can find some of his work via the Library of Congress or the Architects Office of the Capitol, where he worked for 35 years as the first official photographer.

The shop also sells what I call Things to Put Things In: bags, totes, pouches, rolls, boxes, and bowls. Mom was an avid seamstress turned quilter. I inherited her stash but not the quilting bug. Combining our stashes into random acts of fabrics, I’m sewing (on Mom’s machine) self-storing shopping bags, tote bags, jewelry pouches & rolls, pencil/pen/crochet hook/knitting needle rolls, eyeglass cases, and anything that catches my fancy. Some patterns and kits also show up when I find things we bought but never got around to making.

As I went through the photographs and fabrics, I realized how their life together needed to be honored by something relatable, not just for my family but for others. This and the Etsy shop are my attempt to honor a 70-year relationship and my own education.

A word about the proceeds of the shop. Yes, Etsy and selling things starts off as a for-profit venture, but my goal is to honor my parents. In so doing, a portion of any proceeds will be donated to the following organizations: Alzheimers’ Association, American Heart Association, and a variety of personal charities.
Thanks for shopping and reading. Please comment but spare me your nasty, vindictive, or other bad behavior. You’ll be marked as spam if you do, and possibly reported. Just sayin’.

Special Announcement

Now that I have your attention, let me tell you what’s going to happen here at Starting in October, will be the blog and news feed for my Etsy shop: JBH Vintage Handmade.

It’s taken me a long time to deal with things after my parents’ deaths. Pop left photos in all shapes, formats, and sizes. I have files of every slide taken between 1960 and 1983 when he retired and switched to totally digital. I’m offering downloads of some of these files for you to use. Pop was the first official photographer for the US Capitol architects’ office. As a professional, he could make vacation snaps look good–and he did.

The year before, Mom left sewing machines, fabric, pattern books, and a whole lot of things we didn’t know what to do with. I took what I could work with and looked at it for a while.

With JBH Vintage Handmade, you’ll get the opportunity to see and purchase some of the photographs as file downloads, prints, and his final project, photo-ceramics. Almost every photographs fits both the vintage and handmade categories.

I’m using Mom’s machine (not vintage, btw) and combining our stashes of 100% cotton fabrics (most of which ARE vintage) to offer a variety of small, useful objects: shopping bags that zip into their own pocket, jewelry pouches and rolls, fabric boxes and bowls. It’s a loving collaboration I call Random Acts of Fabric. The stash isn’t organized, so choices are made on the fly, the way I used to do any quilt project.

I hope you enjoy my offerings. This is where I tell some of the stories about the photographs and family memories.