I was introduced to Harry Potter on my twenty-third birthday. I was working as a counselor with the teen travel camp at the JCC in Wilmington, Delaware when, during the second week of camp, one of my co-counselors, whom I hardly new, handed me a hardcover copy of The Goblet of Fire.
The book was massive. And it was the fourth book in a series I’d never heard of. Also, why was someone I barely knew giving me a birthday present?
But I was totally polite. I thanked her warmly.
And then I went to a bookstore to find the first book, because obviously if I was going to read this thing it was going to be in order.
And that was that. I didn’t love the first book, but I was thoroughly enamoured of the excitement around the books (which I finally noticed now that I was in the know).
I found J.K. Rowling’s prose to be a little rough around the edges, but man did I love Hermione. And Hagrid. And hippogryphs (were they in Book One? No matter.).
The day Greg and I got married for the first time (in our living room, four months before our bigger wedding), his grandfather took the lot of us – over a dozen extended family members – to see the first Harry Potter film. It was opening weekend. Some people slept through it. Greg and I loved it. We made an annual tradition to see the new Harry Potter movie each fall on that date, until they shifted to releasing new installations in the summertime. So then we’d go around my birthday instead.
As the series progressed, I began to appreciate it more and more. Always a fan of not pulling punches, especially in children’s literature, I loved that the books got darker and darker, more intense and scary. I liked that the tales became more nuanced and complex. And how Rowling’s prose seemed to improve with each book, keeping up with the increasing sophistication of her characters as they grew up.
The new illustrated version of The Philosopher’s Stone came out the fall before my son turned five, and I bought a copy the moment I discovered it. I kept it wrapped on a high shelf until his fifth birthday, and on that night we started reading it together.
During that reading, I discovered I’d been too harsh when I was twenty-three. Reading the book aloud to my awed child, I saw how inevitable it was that this tale became a classic. Watching my son’s face as he discovered along with Harry that wizardry is real… Well. This book is damn near perfect. (We read the second illustrated version around his sixth birthday, and will read the third after it comes out around his seventh.)
Today, on the twentieth anniversary of the release of the first Harry Potter book, I’ve been smiling all day. How wonderful that books bring these spectacular stories into people’s lives all over the world. That they give children and adults alike something to dream and think about, to pretend and imagine.
When did you first discover Harry Potter? What do you think about it, all these years later?
Betsy Greer is a writer and maker who lives in Durham, North Carolina. For the past fourteen years, she’s written about craftivism, the place where craft and activism intersect, and she loves discovering the ways in which people use (and have used) the two together. Currently, her main craft project is You Are So Very Beautiful, in which people make affirmation signs then leave them out all over the world for others to find.
We talk in this episode about the value of letting what we need out into the world, and about being in a flow state when we create. If our conversation got you thinking, let us know how in the comments!
Show Notes and Links
Find Betsy on Facebook, Instagram and Twitter.
Check out this short video about You Are So Very Beautiful:
Because our kid’s birthday is right at Christmastime, we decided when he was an infant that until he insists it’s dumb to do so, we’ll have parties for him at his half-birthday.
Which is how we ended up with twelve 5- to 8-year-olds in our house yesterday after the cold, rainy weather made us ditch holding his half-birthday party in a park.
The kid loves – LOVES – baseball, so we decided each of his friends would leave the party with a pack of baseball cards. I wanted to make it a bit more like a goody bag, without the crap or candy, so I decided to tag each pack of cards with a thank-you for attending the party.
Fifteen minutes in my graphics program, scissors, my beloved laminating machine*, a hole punch, and some scrap yarn later, and we had a more celebratory goody to give to kids as they left. Hm. Writing that out makes it seem like it was a big deal, but it really wasn’t. I got it all done between bouts of frantically cleaning house after we realized the park just wasn’t gonna happen.
So much fun!
* This machine is one of my favourite things in the world. I’ve used it to preserve small pieces of kid art, and these tags are not the first I’ve laminated. I don’t use it very frequently, but when I do I’m so happy I have it. (That’s an affiliate link; I use them only for things I truly recommend. Thanks for your support!)
My next online class is in production, and I needed to film it against a background that was, well, that was not the lumpy 100-year-old wall of my tiny studio.
Pegboard to the rescue! Though it started out white, I wanted to give it a good coat of paint. So I lightly sanded the white surface, and dug up a leftover can of ceiling paint. Ceiling paint is great for filming against, because it’s about as matte as matte paint gets. Plus, it covers great and dries quickly!
Two coats later and it was ready to go.
Can you guess the topic of class? It’s on carving stamps for the very first time!
If you’ve wanted to learn how to make your own stamps – of anything at all, that you can use over and over again in all kinds of projects – and you want to learn and play in your own space at your own pace, sign up to be the first to hear when the class launches!
YES! TELL ME AS SOON AS THE STAMP CLASS IS READY!
When my friend Lisa asked if I’d take a day-long bead-making workshop with her at the Terminal City Glass Co-op, I signed up without even reading the description of what we’d learn. I’ll sign up to try pretty much anything that requires protective gear, really.
I realized early on in the class that I’m going to have a complicated relationship with bead-making, because I’m not generally big on shiny things. Those beads in the photo above are samples our instructor had on hand. They’re amazing, hey?
Only thing is, I wouldn’t want them. You know? The complicated part, of course, is that making them is amazing. Which I discovered over the course of the day.
As anticipated, there was danger and intrigue, and protective eyewear.
(Yes, I was the one student in the class to burn herself. Go me!)
The setup was pretty awesome. Each student had a workstation around a huge metal table that sat under the biggest range hood I’ve ever seen.
Those colourful rods are glass. That’s what we melted to make beads. For real, it was incredible. And chemical!
Believe it or not, the burn did not happen while I was taking this photo with my left hand while I held glass to a blowtorch with my right.
That’s one of the first two beads I made. We all started working with black glass because, though you don’t see it here, it turns a very conspicuous red colour when it’s hot. Super easy to see what’s going on.
The metal rod that’s holding the bead is called a mandrel. Same idea as the thicker rods ring-makers use. The end is coated in dried clay slip, which, when washed away, leaves just enough wiggle room for the bead to come off the rod.
In addition to beads, we learned how to make thinner/finer rods of glass we can use to do detailed colourwork (like adding dots, etc.). We learned how to twist two colours together, too. I didn’t manage to do it right this time. ¯\_(ツ)_/¯
The beads needed to cure in a kiln for eight hours after the class ended, so I went back to the Co-op a couple of days later to pick up my beads.
First I had to soak the mandrels to loosen the slip enough that I could wash it away. Then I wiggled the beads loose, washed more slip away, and liberated those suckers from their metal prisons.
After that, I used a diamond-crusted tool to file more clay away from inside the bead holes.
Et voila! It’s almost impossible to think that this is the entirety of what I made during a seven-hour class. But I learned so much. Lisa and I will go back to the Co-op for sure (she already has, actually). This is not something I plan to ever do at home (OMG the safety precautions), and I’m so glad there’s a place where I can drop in on one of their two weekly Newbie Nights to see if I can’t make it to the point that I produce something even and lovely.
Have you ever made anything from glass? What do you do with what you make? Share links in the comments!
PS After the workshop, before I collapsed from exhaustion, I told the kid that I’d tried to make a heart-shaped bead, just for him, but that it came out looking more like a wonky apple. Still, when I showed him the beads, he claimed that one for himself. ❤️
The last time I was back east visiting my parents, my mom’s friend brought over a homemade loaf of bread. Round and crusty, it was absolutely perfect. Hearty, doughy but not dense. She raved about making it and sent me the recipe for Jim Lahey’s famous No-Knead Bread.
I already knew I have a thing for making bread, but until now I’d focused all of my efforts on challah. I love making challah, but I don’t make it as often as I’d like because it’s so time intensive. I have to plan my workday around making it (which I actually enjoy doing, but can’t always).
This no-knead bread, though? Sure, it requires a lot of time, but it’s almost entirely hands-off. I make the dough in the late afternoon, let it rise overnight, do the second rise first thing in the morning and bake it before I have to leave the house for the day. After the first time I made it, I ordered Lahey’s book, which includes instructions to make more than just this bread (though honestly, I don’t know why I’d ever want anything more than this bread).
I made four loaves in five days last week!
As far as I can tell, this approach is utterly fool-proof.
I’m becoming that crazy bread lady who hands a loaf of bread to people wherever I go.
What’s your favourite bread recipe?
Over the last three years, I’ve taught over 25,000 people how to crochet through my online class over at Craftsy. Over 25,000! It boggles my mind, to be honest.
That class streams online through the Craftsy website, and though I stream pretty much everything these days – from craft classes to television to radio – I know lots and lots of people still prefer physical goods.
Which is why I’m excited that my class is amongst the first that Craftsy is offering as a DVD. And also? It means I can now offer signed copies of the class! Which may not sound all that exciting, but when it comes to giving gifts to people you love, I think a signed object is pretty special. Especially one that will teach them a new craft they’re sure to love. Just saying.
So if you love DVDs or you love people who want to learn how to crochet at their own pace, on their own TV or computer at home, now’s the time to order them a personalized signed DVD class!
Pre-order a DVD now!
Pre-orders will be accepted through June 1st. Note that the class price is listed in Canadian dollars (so a super bargain for you Americans), and that DVDs will ship in mid-July.
(And hey, do you think I should sign the cellophane wrapping around the DVD case, or remove the wrapping to sign the actual case? The actual case, right?)
When I decided to make a spiral the science-y part of my Science Hat design, I was thinking of the ferns. (Also the snails.)
This spring has been a total mess here in Vancouver – way too rainy, way too cold. (I was also motivated to demand climate-change action when I designed that hat, to be clear.) And I feel like maybe the ferns have unfurled a bit later than usual (but I honestly have no idea about this at all).
But unfurled they have! Which I discovered the other day while walking through the woods.
Here’s how you can keep spirals around you all the time by crocheting them in two colours.
This is an FYI kind of post, which I’m writing out of an urgent need to shake my fists at the whole world.
For the information of the whole world: I ignore all articles, essays, blog posts and missives if I even sniff the hint of any of the following words or phrases:
- mindful, mindfulness
- Mommy Wars
- not your grandma’s x, y, z
- cleanse (food-related)
I feel better now.
Last weekend I had the house all to myself for two days, and I decided it was finally time to try sewing with knit fabric on my regular sewing machine. I’d read that it can be done. I’d bought some fabric on sale over months and months. I’d bookmarked a class on CreativeBug, and had even, ages ago, printed out the pattern for the Wanderlust Tee.
To be clear, I have only ever sewn two garments in my life: a robe for my son a few years ago, and a very wee pair of baby pants. I’m no garment-sewing expert is what I’m saying.
And though I’ve had fabric and a pattern for a simple shirt for years, I eventually realized that what I wear are t-shirts. Every day I wear one! Which is why I never got around to making clothes for myself out of woven fabrics. High time to just see if I could make a t-shirt, then.
Here, I’ll skip right to the end: I made myself three shirts over the weekend. And most of a fourth!
I was not speedy. At times, it was very slow-going and very tedious. But with each successive shirt, I worked a bit faster. With each successive shirt, I became more confident that I will make more (many, many more).
Now. Usually knit fabrics are sewn with a serger, which is a fancy kind of sewing machine that finishes and trims the edges of the fabric as you sew. (Don’t think I’m not thinking of stalking Craigslist for one now that I’ve broken the shirt-making seal.)
I’d heard rumours, though, that it’s doable to sew knits on a regular sewing machine. In fact, I read quite a lot about this as I nurtured my fantasy of making my own clothes while not actually making any clothes.
And I’ll tell ya, the rumours are true! Sure, using a serger would probably make the process faster and less tedious, but it’s not a required tool. And since even entry-level sergers can set you back more than a couple hundred bucks, I hereby encourage you to give it a shot using your regular machine.
Here’s the skinny of what I learned during my weekend knits-sewing intensive:
What I Learned Sewing Knits for the First Time Using My Regular Sewing Machine
- That cutting fabric around paper pattern pieces using a rotary cutter isn’t as terrifying as it looks when you’ve never done it before. Awkward? Certainly. But also efficient and satisfying. The very first shirt I made was the Wanderlust Tee by Fancy Tiger Crafts, and I followed their Creativebug class as I went. (The class gave me courage, but it wasn’t exactly filled with help. I still had to look up some things.)
- A walking foot is essential. I learned how to use a walking foot when I made a quilt a couple of years ago, and I’d read they’re very helpful when sewing with knits, because knits have a tendency to stretch and distort when moving through a standard sewing machine. A walking foot has feed dogs that walk on top of the fabric, coordinated with the feed dogs that walk below the fabric, so the fabric is fed through the machine evenly at top and bottom. It’s well worth the $30 or so for a walking foot – I had zero trouble with my fabric stretching while I sewed, because it was fed evenly through my machine. (These contraptions are a bit more complicated than other kinds of presser feet, so I recommend looking for a tutorial specific to your sewing machine to see how to install it. It’s not hard to do, but it’s not necessarily clear how to do it without instructions.)
- How to thread a twin needle (it’s not nearly as complicated as you might think!). A twin needle is exactly what it sounds like: two needles attached at a shaft so they fit into your machine just like a single needle does. And what they do is like magic! Each needle is threaded from its own spool, and when you sew, they create parallel lines of stitches on the right side, and a decorative configuration of stitches on the wrong side. If you position the needles on either side of the edge of a hem, they’ll tack down the edge on the wrong side. Even if you use a serger to sew knit pieces together, you’ll use a twin needle to finish the edges. The first few minutes of this YouTube video got me threading my twin needles lickety-split. (I still have no idea what she’s talking about re: putting one thread to the left of something-or-other and the other thread to the right. As far as I could tell, I can’t access whatever that thing is on my Elna machine, so I ignored that instruction. No big deal.)
- How to sew with a twin needle. It’s tricky, but totally doable. I mean, the sewing itself is not tricky; it’s exactly the same as sewing with a single needle. What’s tricky is sewing a hem down with the right side of the fabric facing. Since you can’t actually see the edge of the hem, because it’s folded to the wrong side, this is an exercise in sewing by feel and having faith you measured properly. I know I rarely measure properly, so I had to focus hard on feeling for the hem edge. I bought both a 2mm and 4mm twin needle when I was preparing to sew with knits, not having any idea what the measurement was of. Turns out, that’s the measurement of the distance between the needles – so go for the biggest number you can find! I found 4mm a challenge, for sure, but I managed it. I sewed slowly and used my index fingers to keep track of the edge of the hem by feel. I was about 95% accurate, and I fudged the 5% where I missed the edge.
- To use awesome fabric. This is a lesson I’ve learned over time with yarn – I used to be tempted to save my most gorgeous yarn for something special, and what ended up happening was that I’d never use it. How dumb! I always encourage beginner crocheters to choose yarn they love, even though what they’ll make with it will probably be a total disaster. Making total disasters is what beginners are supposed to do! Which makes those disasters absolutely perfect. And we should make them with materials we enjoy using. So for my shirts, I used fabric I’ve been hoarding for a while because I bought it on sale for someday-maybe. The first shirt I made this weekend (shown in the photo above) is far more cropped than anything I’d normally wear. But I only had one yard of that fabric, and I love that fabric, and it was exactly the right amount to make a cropped shirt. So I went for it. I knew I might mess it up and ruin the fabric I love so much, but I decided I would rather mess up with fabric I was excited about than end up with a perfect shirt I wouldn’t actually want to wear. So a cropped shirt I made. And I love it. My hems aren’t sewn straight (I never sew straight, so whatever), and the bottom is a little too wide, but I just love it. I wore it immediately, layered over a long tank top. Which is how I’ve become someone who wears a cropped shirt.
- I made one Wanderlust Tee and almost three One Hour Tops. Had I realized how much simpler the One Hour Top is than the Tee, I would have started with it! But I’m glad I had the experience of sewing set-in sleeves. I wasn’t sure I was doing it right, but I did do it right! Still, the One Hour Tee is more my style, and I’m determined to make enough of them that I become able to actually make one in only an hour.
- The neck band on the Wanderlust Tee utterly defeated me. I was completely unable to make it work. So I ditched it and just folded the neckline 1/2″ to the wrong side and finished it that way (same as the cuffs and hemline).
- Always use a zig-zag stitch for sewing knit fabrics – it’ll allow the seams to stretch along with the fabric (and a straight stitch won’t).
- Finishing the edges (sleeve cuffs, hemline, neckline) was the part I enjoyed least. Not because of the twin needle (which produces a stretchy stitch – don’t sew a zig-zag with a twin needle!). It was that pressing knits is a pain, especially with lighter-weight fabric. The crease you make isn’t nearly as distinct or persistent as it is when you use woven fabrics, and I found myself winging it more than I would have liked.
- But who cares. Wing it!
When I posted a photo of my first tee over on Instagram, I asked which t-shirt patterns people love. Here are the recommendations commenters made:
Note: Some links in this post are affiliate links.