a philosophy of sewing



Or, why I took a break from sewing, and why I'm back at it.

I worked myself raw in the years after Lachlan's birth and first two heart surgeries. I filmed my Craftsy course, came out with a ton of new patterns, and attended my first Quilt Market. Sew Liberated was our primary source of income while Patrick was in grad school, and since we had such high medical bills, it needed to grow. Sewing became work - something that took me away from my little family. But Sew Liberated wasn't cutting it. We made the decision for Patrick to teach himself programming so he could jump off the history PhD ship that was sailing to oblivion. We needed to be able to stay near Duke for Lachlan's cardiology needs, and we needed a more stable income. When he landed a programming job, I became a full-time mom, and no longer had the time to work on Sew Liberated, even if I had wanted to.

We hired Danica to run the show, and I took a deep breath. Lachlan's third open heart surgery was on the horizon, and I did a ton of mental work to prepare myself for that sickening moment when I handed my baby off to scrubbed and masked strangers. I meditated. I did yoga.  I tried to get us out into nature as much as possible. Tried to create a nurturing cocoon of a home. Tried to do anything in my power to equip my little ones with love, attention, and good memories. I birthed a sweet baby girl. I felt my ability to focus on anything other than my family slipping away into a pleasant, homey blur. My family became my creative outlet. Months went by, and I didn't touch my sewing machine. Then a year passed. I didn't miss it. It was work. I didn't want anything to do with it.


I didn't miss that rushed feeling of trying to sew "just one more seam" before the baby awoke. I didn't miss feeling frustrated when I didn't finish a project in the allotted time frame. I didn't miss the constant stream of project ideas that would hound my thoughts when I could have been enjoying the present moment with my kids. I didn't miss the creative to-do list. I didn't miss the stacks of yet-to-be-used fabric, beckoning me from the shelf. They used to cast a shadow of resentment over my children for their incessant needs that took me away from being a more productive creative person. 

The surgery day dawned. If I hadn't focused on Sew Liberated since before Sadie was born, now I didn't even give it one thought. Facing the tender, fleeting, mortal nature of being human gives you tunnel vision. This little boy of mine had his heart mended and fit by a tailor far more skilled than I. His surgeon's skilled hands touched Lachlan's heart, stitching pieces of previously-used human cloth onto my baby's own fresh tissue. Weaving gortex with muscle, he re-designed a circulatory system that would, for the first time, provide Lachlan with near-normal blood oxygenation levels and the energy of a typical three year-old. Lachlan's heart is re-purposed. Fully functional, yet beautifully flawed, like sashiko mending. 


Nearly six weeks later, after battling with accumulating fluid on his lungs and the subsequent dehydration of his treatment, Lachlan's little mended heart slowed and stopped. I was at home, nursing a stuffy-nosed baby and five year-old. Patrick was with him as they rushed him to the pediatric cardiac ICU, soon starting chest compressions. When I got the call, I was eating a veggie quesadilla, which I spit out while I screamed and fell to the floor. I thought he was dead. I guess, in a way, he was. Had he been at home, 30 minutes from the hospital, he wouldn't have survived. (Hence our eventual move downtown. Covering bases, you know.) 

Lachlan recovered. But what does it mean to recover? To cover again. To mend. The mending is visible. Like his heart, life for our family would never be quite the same. There is a patch that covers our physical and psychological wounds. There is stitching that holds it together. Sometimes the stitching is pristine, in other places it is knotted with fear and anger. But we are functional. And achingly, imperfectly beautiful. 

We are still mending. A well-rubbed piece of cloth will, eventually, break down. When it does, we take up a needle and thread and piece it together any way we can. In my family, the cloth is often made threadbare by sibling bickering, hidden scary medical memories, and parental stress. But it can always be mended. Re-covered. Made functional. Unique.


At some point, perhaps when that subtle shift occurred and my toddler started to spend long stretches playing with her dollhouse, a few minutes opened up in my days. I wanted to make her clothes as a gift of love. I cut into some soft cloth. She sat on my lap and removed the pins as I sewed. It was slow. But it brought me so much joy. I didn't take pictures of it. I didn't have to market the design. It was just that, a physical manifestation of love. An expression of my creativity and a happy investment of my time. I never want to sew for any other reasons.

Sewing has an important place in my life again, along with writing. But I have a personal manifesto that I now follow.

  1. Begin each project with the intention of expressing love and gratitude for the intended recipient, be it my own body or the vibrant bodies of my children.  
  2. Breathe deeply while cutting. Breathe deeply while sewing. Sewing is slow, and the act of slowing down is a gift of mindfulness. Accept any interruption in the process as a gift to be present. Find joy in the process, and appreciation for the amount of time it takes.
  3. Buy less. Make what you need, but not more.  When clothing wears down, mend it. Bring a mindset of minimalism to the fiber arts.
  4. Sewing is an act of self-care. It is not selfish. It is practice of mindfulness mendfulness. I sew because it helps me on my journey to be a more aware, loving mother and creative person. 

If I returned to my old way of sewing - the resentment, the oppressive to-make list, the feeling of being squeezed for creative time, I would need to stop and reassess. My time with these three little children is too short. With this healthier creative mindset, I hope to mend together my creative nature with parenthood.  


I made these Rainbow Shorts for Lachlan using the Basic Pocket Pants pattern in my book, using Kaffe Fasset's Exotic Stripe in the Earth colorway.  It took me two weeks to sew them - a seam here, a seam there. He helped me. So did Sadie. He is clothed with love. 


knits for baby girl - korrigan and retro baby smock

 Knits for baby girl - Korrigan on the left and the Retro Baby Smock on the right. The newborn-sized Korrigan was knit with unlabeled yarn from my stash, and the Retro Baby Smock is an unabashed copy of Alicia Paulson's darling version - info here 


It was such a huge leap to decide to have another baby. Back and forth we went, between not wanting to upset the (currently) calm waters of parenting two, to thinking about what it might be like as our children grow into adults and Lachlan's half a heart begins to grow weary. What will our family look like in twenty years? Thirty? How could we possibly have a baby while Lachlan is in the hospital for his third surgery this coming summer? Folly, for sure. And what if … what if we had another baby with a heart defect?

And yet. We wanted another baby, as much for ourselves as for our boys. We knew we had a short window. We couldn't have a newborn, and we couldn't have a mobile baby. But we could have a four to six month-old baby, right? The baby could accompany us in the wrap while we sat with our big boy, in that oddly plastic-like blue recliner that they so generously (ha!) provide for weary parents of heart babies, while we held our big boy's hand, sang to him, and read to him while he recovered from surgery.

I find “expecting” to be such an odd way of describing pregnancy. These past two pregnancies have been nothing like my first. With my first, I knew nothing of the process of pregnancy or birth (or parenthood), but I did fully “expect” for things to go well. I was bull-headed in my expectations, I'd say. Natural birth? Check. Breastfeeding? Check. I just went down that list checking things off.

With my second pregnancy, the shit hit the fan at the halfway point. I went from “expecting” normal to not knowing if my baby would survive. It was a heart-wrenching, soul-searching, balls-out emotional journey, that pregnancy. I'm still not sure if I can find the words to describe to you what that was like. Think tsunami crashing into the home you once knew, pulling you out to sea and depositing you on an island where you had to rebuild your emotional home from scratch.

You think you're alone in your sorrow, but then you look around and see other islands close by. You step into the water and wade across the shallow, sandy-bottomed channel separating your island from the next. Then you see her. Another mother, walking your way. Another mother, her own hands rough and blistered from rebuilding her own emotional home after the storm of parental sorrow. Perhaps she miscarried. Perhaps she had a difficult birthing experience. Perhaps breastfeeding didn't work out. Perhaps she couldn't soothe her colicky baby. Perhaps she bore a child with health challenges. Perhaps she was gradually worn down by the daily rain and wind of parenting a child whose behavior is not in-line with societal expectations. No matter the reason. We are never alone. The very act of becoming a mother is an opening of our lives to the ebb and flow of sorrow and joy. The respite is found in coming to a place of peace in our hearts, knowing that this ebb and flow is a natural and communal experience.

So here I am. Joyfully expecting my third – most likely our last – baby. Once again I've opened my heart to the ebb and flow of sorrow and joy. It would be untruthful for me to not mention that I truly desire a natural, peaceful birth and an easy transition to a family of five. I need to be honest and disclose that it (often) irks me that our baby girl has to be monitored by a pediatric cardiologist just because her brother has a heart defect. Sometimes, I desperately want to scream at the allopathic medical institution to just leave us the hell alone. But that is not our reality. After all, that very institution gifted my child with life - an amazingly rich one at that. The medical and the “natural” are contradictions that are surprisingly intertwined in our family's life.

All that to say that I don't really know what to “expect” anymore, but not in an exasperated, hopeless way. Quite the opposite. I do know that there are certain, small things that I can control, and many more larger things that I can't. I do know that, no matter what happens, there is a certain peace that comes with knowing that there will be both hard times and wonderful times, and that this experience is one that I share with all mothers, past and present. I do expect the opportunity to grow as a person, knowing that peace is not an external state, but rather my inner serenity. I know that hard times are natural, and will circle back once again to shining delight.

little things

booties for my friend's baby girl

Oh, it's SO good to be back! Hello to all of you sweet people. Your words of congratulations and encouragement fill me with gratitude for this technology that connects us, despite the temptation to use it to escape from reality. It is my hope to continue to use this space to share our family's committment to (and often, our struggle with!) enjoying the present moment with our children. That the future is uncertain was branded on our hearts the moment we received Lachlan's diagnosis, but it has, in some ways, been a bittersweet gift. I hope to write a bit more about our healing journey in the coming months. I feel ready to open up about that and put down in words some of the mess of emotions which has characterized these last three years for me. 

In the meantime, there's a jar of sequins that has just been spilled on the floor of the kitchen that needs to be dealt with, and another request to help sound out a word. You know - the reality! 

A few things:

- I made the above booties for my friend's baby daughter who was born last month with HLHS. Baby Annie will be home very soon, thank goodness. I'm sure I'll have to knit another set for our little girl! The yarn is Madeleinetosh sock in the Night Bloom colorway, and the pattern is called Stay-On Booties. Dude, I'm going to have to start keeping up with things on my Ravelry account. It's amazing what opens up to you, crafting-wise, when you're expecting a little girl! It's ridiculous, really.

- I'm now on Instagram! Follow along at instagram.com/meghanmcelwee 

and he's (almost) two

a train trip to celebrate two

a train trip to celebrate two

a train trip to celebrate two

a train trip to celebrate two

a train trip to celebrate two

a train trip to celebrate two

a train trip to celebrate two

a train trip to celebrate two

My dear little Lachlan,

Tomorrow, February 27, it will have been two years since I first gazed into your calm eyes. Two years since you had your one and only nursing session. Two years since the bright room full of specialist onlookers waited for you to pink up, then take you away while I lay there, dizzy with oxytocin and yearning for you. Daddy was with you as much as he could be. I didn't sleep but for little spurts in the blue lounge chair in the pediatric cardiology ICU. Your brow was swollen and blue, your nose a bit bruised, too. I'm not sure any other heart baby in that ICU was near your whopping nine pounds.

Two days later, we kissed your unscarred chest and they wheeled your bassinet to the operating room. We held it together until we couldn't see you anymore, then we collapsed and wailed in a dark family waiting room. Other people ate breakfast while you were under. I just thought that was weird, but life does go on, somewhere, doesn't it?

And life went on for you, in the most amazing of ways. You emerged from surgery, had some ups and downs, but mostly ups, in your recovery, then we were home (only after having been told by a geneticist that you were missing a miniscule piece of one of your chromosomes, which could make you prone to autism.) I carried that worry with me. The fear of your second surgery. The fear of your genome print-out. 

Yet you smiled. You cooed. You were oh-so-easy (except for the nursing/feeding thing.) But look at you now! Two years later, you have a husky little voice, speak in eloquent sentences, memorize entire songs, run along behind your brother, and eat phenomenally well, I must say. No one on the street would guess that you still have half a heart, and that your blood oxygenation is at 80% of normal.

What you are is a wonder. A medical wonder, a human wonder. You are hilarious, spunky, cheerful, and wise.

At two, you like reading books, singing, playing with cars, "washing" the dishes, and being with your Mima and Papa. You occasionally like your brother, who will occasionally play cars with you. You are starting to engage in imaginative play with puppets and cars, and start off many conversations with "You be this one, and I'll be this one. Hi! My name is car! What's your name?"  

At two, you don't like sharing Mama, and you don't like it when I can't play cars with you right now. You give the funniest looks, and you like to practice saying "no." But mostly, you're a carefree fellow. And we can't imagine life without you.

Happy birthday, love.

giving thanks







Inspired by the fat brush strokes in Giving Thanks, Finn sat down at his desk and started to work with a selection of brushes and paints. We chit chatted about colors, lines, and curves, then I walked away. An hour later, he presented his interpretation. Then he flashed that "I'm three so I never smile in a normal way when asked" smile. 

I'm awash with gratitude for all the little things this year. If I had known that this is the way it was going to turn out two years ago at this time, I would have saved myself those truck loads of worry. I'm still pretty amazed that I get to spend my days with two healthy and vibrant little boys.

Have a wonderful Thanksgiving, friends! I'll be back here in a week.

fun was had

the fun we have

Before I left for Denver, I found myself with a bit of senior-itis when it came to my sewing course. You know, I had to pack, attend to small details, etc., but all I could do when I sat down in front of the computer was search for sensorial play ideas for the boys. 

And oh, my. The 'nets are chock-full of fantastic "activities," as we call them in our house. 

the fun we have

First up is shaving cream and ice paint from Growing a Jeweled Rose. Total hit. 

the fun we have

Lachlan had the idea of covering his hair in shaving cream. Finn and his friend thought this was the greatest idea ever. Somehow, we avoided shaving cream in the eyes, which was fortunate. 

the fun we have

What I like about Growing a Jeweled Rose is that Crystal has so many innovative ideas of her own, but she aslo posts thematic round-ups from around the web, which is very helpful for planning activities for children of different ages and interests. 

the fun we have

She does not shy away from messy play, and has great ideas for containing it in a bath. She calls them sensory baths

This was our first time trying a "special bath," as Finn now calls them. Both boys were awestruck with the glow bath I put together for them. 

the fun we have

the fun we have

the fun we have

I'm pretty sure if Lachlan's cardiologist saw this picture, he would be concerned! Black light + camera at work. Speaking of Lachlan's heart, I forgot to mention that, at his last quarterly check-up, he was looking so great that his cardiologist gave him a six-month pass! No hospital for six months! Way to go, Lachlan. His heart function is excellent.

I hope you all have a great weekend, and that you have the time to do something crazy fun. We are heading back to the beach (can't stay away!) for an impromptu, two-night camping trip to celebrate Patrick's birthday. 

Happy weekending, friends!

lachlan's little amigo doll

lachlan's little amigo doll

This little fellow was stitched together with so much love. Finn sat on my lap and helped trim threads, stuff wool, and guide the fabric through the sewing machine. I worked on him here and there for the week prior to Lachlan's birthday, taking those quiet moments to reflect upon the priviledge of having a little boy for whom I could make this red-headed doppelganger. 


lachlan's little amigo doll

He's a Little Amigo from Growing Up Sew Liberated - the knitted cap is the one Lachlan wore as a tiny babe, and the hat is a retrofitted Huck Finn. The pants and shirt are on-the-fly mama-made patterns. And, thanks to this doll, I also have a doll wig tutorial for you that I've been promising for a long time - it will be live tomorrow afternoon.

lachlan's little amigo doll

lachlan's little amigo doll

Finn, of course, was the one who noticed. "He has a scar, Mama, just like Lachie!" I felt it was important that both Finn and Lachlan have a doll with a beautiful scar. Finn often asks about Lachlan's "ouch" while bathing, and this is a way to address their feelings and questions about it through play. It's just a normal thing in our lives, and the scar certainly doesn't define the doll (as the real scar doesn't define the boy), which is made in the Waldorf tradition of minimal facial expressions so that the child is free to pretend that the doll has all sorts of emotions, not just the bright-eyed, fixed smile so common in playthings. 

lachlan's little amigo doll


Sweet boy. I'm glad you like your little friend. 

one year

skin-to-skin for the first time since surgery

One year ago today, we held Lachlan skin-to-skin for the first time since his surgery. 

Though we didn't dwell on all that he has been through in his one year of life, it has been a week of reflection for me. For, when you have a baby whose heart works only because of the skilled hands of his surgeon, a baby who struggled to nurse or take anything by mouth for the first five months of his life, who was fed with a tube ...


becoming normal

There's something so amazing about the pictures of him on his first birthday, February 27th. He takes it all in, this little one. He's full of sweetness and spunk. At one year old, he asks "waz dat" about every 13 seconds or so. He wants to know everything, see everything, hold everything ... eat everything in this world. Have your cake, little Lachlan. This life is pretty amazing, isn't it?

lachlan turns one

lachlan turns one

lachlan turns one

lachlan turns one

lachlan turns one

lachlan turns one

lachlan turns one

lachlan turns one

lachlan turns one

We ended up baking him the "Baby's First Birthday Cake" from Organically Raised: Conscious Cooking for Babies and Toddlers . It was plates-in-the-air yummy. 


baby doll's bath

baby doll's bath

Baby Doll got a bath yesterday, a warm bath with plenty of bubbles

I think Finn would bathe baby doll every day if given the option. Alas, his bathing fervor does not necessarily extend to his OWN body. Unless, of course, you count mud baths. :)

Given both boys' proclivity for dirt play, baby doll is often handled by little, messy hands. (What does this say for my house? Thank goodness I have an old, brown couch.) Baby Doll, although Finn's Mini Me, gets plenty of love from Lachlan, too. Lots of wide-open-mouthed kisses. Oh, Baby Doll. You're a forgiving little fellow.

The birthday preparations have begun for our little almost-one-year-old love. Finn's on board, Mama has Lachlan's very own Baby Doll doppelganger in the works, and we're perusing healthy "cake" recipes to make for this important milestone. Finn had a very mellow first birthday celebration - we had no party, just a few days at the seashore. But when you give birth to a baby not knowing whether he will live to see his first birthday, you celebrate when he does. There's plenty to celebrate this February 27th. Plenty indeed.