Category Archives: Sewing

I made two tiny quilts and a little watercolor, and suddenly life is much better

When I wrote a few days ago, I felt quite grim. I’ve had to face the reality that the last few months have been the worst ever in terms of health. I’m constantly looking down at my rock bottom and wondering if the floor will fall farther. How does one cope with that? There isn’t a manual, I’ve checked. I’ve chosen two things to help: to work on my mind-body connection and to make art. I’ll write about the mind-body stuff later. For now, art!

On Monday, my new Bernina arrived. Oh, baby. It’s been a full year since I started sewing. I know because Amazon Prime Day just went by, and it was that day last year that I bought a Singer Heavy Duty machine to make sailboat cushions. I never made cushions, but I did end up falling in love with sewing, and the romance is still going strong. Greg, the best husband in the universe, to my total shock, said yes to a “better sewing machine”. I tried a bunch out and there was no doubt. The Bernina 530 was my girl. I named her Eowyn. We’re going to slay things together.

She's in my sewing room. I just unboxed her. I'm hyperventilating a little. #sewing #bernina #bernina530

A post shared by Sewbi-Wan Kenobi (@sewbiwan) on

I thought it would take me days just to learn how to use my new machine. Ha! I was so wrong! Berninas are so beautifully elegant, it took me about fifteen minutes to figure everything out. And then I sat there wondering what to do with her! Normally I have a bunch of projects lined up, but like I said, I’ve been really sick lately, and haven’t been spending much time up here in my sewing room. I specifically avoided getting any big projects ready to go because I didn’t want to feel rushed to learn the machine (and end up frustrated).

When I realized I had this gorgeous machine and “nothing to sew”, I just sat down and started putting scraps together. No rhyme, no reason, just see how she sews!

I had bought some batting and quilting thread, so I decided to piece together a tiny little quilt.

I loved it! I have no idea what to do with it, and it isn’t some great piece of quilting art, but it was a little piece of quilting art, and it could be hanging in a gallery for what it means to me. I was so surprised at this reaction within myself! I have a very healthy inner critic. A little too healthy – if any part of me needed to get chronic fatigue syndrome, it was that part. I’ve avoided artistic pursuits for years specifically because I didn’t think I was good enough, and I’d “just end up embarrassing myself”. Not good enough. What does that even mean? Good enough for what? Because anyone with a sketchbook has to be headed toward their MA in Fine Arts and a career in the international art scene?

Well, screw that. Maybe it’s the release of age. I’m almost 43, I don’t care about making anything into a career anymore, or whether I’d be good at something in comparison to a hundred other people. I just want to make things that make me happy. I could really use some happiness right now. And holy crap, okay? This little square of fabric? This little red-patched purple-trimmed little nuttin has been in my bag all day, just so I can pull it out and smile at it. I did it. I made art, and it made me very happy.

So this morning I got up and thought, “I should make another one!”

I cut out some octopuses and arranged them with some batik circles, and stitched them all up.

Then I put some batting in there and ended up with the piece you see at the top of the post. That funky stitch around the border is one of the new stitches on Eowyn. <happy sigh>

Since I can’t quilt away from home (at least not that easily), I decided to start trying to draw again. I have all these websites bookmarked – and a few actual books bookmarked – on urban sketching and watercolor, but I never do anything with them. Well, a couple weeks ago my friend Rachael was showing me her bag, and I loved it. I’d seen Rickshaw bags before but when I’d checked them out a few years ago, they didn’t have the little loop I need for a support strap for walking (<—-blah blah bag geekery). But Rachael’s had that loop! Apparently, the company had improved the design, woot!

I went to the website and ordered a bag, but not before doing some internet research on reviews of Rickshaw bags. That’s when I found a blog by a local woman who is an artist and also loves her Rickshaw bag. Oh, and she also happens to have a husband named Greg, which made me smile. Those Greg husbands are good people! AND, she happens to love urban sketching, so once I was done reading her thoughts about the bag, I began reading about her sketching. So inspiring! She mentioned a book that I thought looked awfully familiar:

It looked familiar because I’d bought it a couple years ago, started to read it, got intimidated, and put it on the shelf. Well, like I said, I’m done feeling intimidated, it’s time to just enjoy the process, whatever comes out. So I started reading it, and like Tina’s blog, it was also incredibly inspiring! It’s really a great book, I definitely recommend it. Go draw, everyone!

I started carrying my little sketchbook and my tiny watercolor set in my new bag. This afternoon, Greg and I took Miles to a dentist appointment right by Green Lake. While they were hanging out, I walked down to the lake, plopped my feet into the water, and sat down on one of the stone steps. I pulled out my book and started drawing.

Within a few minutes, a family sat down nearby, and two sweet kids, a girl and a boy, siblings, began asking me all kinds of questions. She was six, and he was probably three or so, and they were fascinated by the entire process. I chatted with their dad for a few minutes, and then the kids took over and we had a lovely time.

“Why are you doing this?”

“Because I love to make art! Isn’t it fun?”

“Yeah! Are you drawing the water now?”

“Yep! It’s not really blue, is it? It’s kind of a grey-green color.”

“Yeah, but the sky is really blue!”

“Yeah, let’s find a bright blue for the sky.”

“How old are you?”

“I’ll be 43 in a few weeks.”

“Wow. I’m six. Do you have kids?”

“I do! My son is almost fifteen.”

“WOW.”

“And my daughter is twelve! That’s twice your age. She draws all the time.”

“I like to draw, too. I draw at home.”

“Home is a great place to draw! Do you paint, too?”

“Sometimes. Hey, are you going to paint that dock? You should paint it black.”

“Do you think it’s black? Or does it look browner?”

“Oh! It’s dark brown.”

On and on, I loved it! Two little helpers, all three of us enjoying the process.

I spent about ten minutes just throwing stuff on the page, I wasn’t sure how much time I’d have. I came up with this:

Nothing special, and yet it’s so so special. I love that. I love how you can make a little piece of art that isn’t anything to anyone else, but means the world to you, you know? As long as I have this little watercolor, I’ll remember those two kids, and the warmth of the sun hitting my shoulders, and the gratefulness I felt at being able to steal away for a few minutes to dip my feet in a cool lake. I’ll remember them arguing with their dad about how they should really be allowed to take off all their clothes and swim, and it didn’t matter if they were wet in the car later or if they forgot to bring towels. And it didn’t matter that two days ago I was so weak I had trouble walking around the house. Today, I walked four thousand steps. And for a little while, I felt normal.

On the walk back to the dentist’s office, I spotted this guy, doing some beautiful work:

He looked so happy and peaceful, it was so calming to watch him. I really enjoyed it. Thanks for coming out, Mr. Painting Guy. Maybe when I’m as old as he is, I’ll be painting that well, if I keep practicing!

Style Arc’s Ethel pants are my new favorite pants

Pants should be artsy and huge. I’ve been looking for the right pant pattern for awhile, and here it is: the Ethel Designer Pant. It comes in a gazillion sizes, just go to the main Style Arc shop page and type in “Ethel” in the search, and you’ll see them all.

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I made a muslin first, a pair in quilting cotton with a house print all over it. They came out baggy and wonderful, probably too baggy for 79% of anyone who bothers to concern themselves with whether their sewing pattern is “on trend” or not, but I don’t know if I’d use quilting cotton again. It’s a little stiff. That’s okay, because they were just practice, a proof of concept. I didn’t get a photo of those pants, because that would require me to go change out of the pants I’m wearing now, and hello, all those of you with chronic illness know how much pain it can literally take to get in and out of your clothes. So instead I insert a swatch:

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I call them my “house pants”. HAHAHA. I’ll be here all week.

I used my stash of red linen to make my “real” pair. I’m not going to say that the night was without drama. I opted for patch pockets instead of side pockets, and used this gorgeous Guatemalan stuff. I sewed them on, and then realized that I’d sewn them to the rear instead of the front. Cursing my brain fog, I went downstairs and chatted with Greg while I laboriously seam-rippered them off. Then I went back upstairs and realized that I had just ripped off pockets that had, in fact, been sewn on the correct side of the pants all along. More cursing. I am a sailor, after all.

Sewing with fibromyalgia can be interesting. Let’s use that word. INTERESTING.

At any rate, they finally got done, and I love them.

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This is me standing in our kitchen. You have to pardon my hair because I was, five minutes before this, rolling on the floor with the dogs.

Those socks? I knit those! I’m so proud of those socks. They’re Personal Footprint socks from Cat Bordhi, and they’re the only socks I’ve ever knitted that I actually wear on a regular basis. Mostly because they’re the only socks I’ve ever knitted that are actually shaped like a human foot.

The pants aren’t cuffed at the moment, but they look very cute when cuffed. The pattern is pretty easy, although I didn’t fully understand how to do the pleats. I just did what looked right, and I like how it came out. Eventually, I’d like to watch a more experienced sewist make a nice pair of pants and learn some of these little tricks. Or just watch one of the many Craftsy videos I bought during their big Thanksgiving sale. I must have a dozen.

This pair is perhaps one size too big for me. In a plus-sized person especially, a whole size off can often look a bit dramatic. I don’t care too much at this point, because I figure the more I wash them the smaller they’ll get. Not by inches, but I bet a little bit of shrinkage will just happen over time.

All that bagginess is useful for a yoga teacher. Want to see? WANT TO SEE ME DO YOGA?

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This is not yoga.

Finnegan’s like, “She’s doing Karate Kid again, isn’t she?”

The point is, were I able to do all the asanas there are, I could probably do them all in these pants. I like living with the knowledge that if – without warning – I had to scale a wall or take a gymnastics class or stuff an entire watermelon in my pants to prove some kind of critical point, these pants would be up to the challenge.

Sewing panels into a favorite old shirt, and the virtues of keeping your “skinny clothes”

Not until I became obsessed with sewing back in August did I realize how much clothes mean to me. How a single piece can be full of meaning and memory, how just seeing something in my dresser can make me smile or feel more secure in the world. I knew I felt this way about bags and backpacks, but that’s another post entirely. But clothes? How did I not see this before? Instead, for years I’ve told myself to just get over it and let things go when they didn’t fit or when they got stained up. I’d do almost anything to go back in time and collect up a big basket of all those clothes I let go of, and bring them back to my present-day sewing workshop, and modify the heck out of them.

Here we have what I call, “One of my favorite Betsy shirts.”

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For the life of me I cannot figure out how it shows up GREY in the photo, when it’s actually a lovely dark navy blue. Oh well! Anyway, waaaaay back in, what, the early 2000’s or so, I fell in deep be-smitten love with these hemp clothes I found at a festival here in Seattle. They were utterly fantastic, made from renewable resources (back then hemp was a big deal, people constantly joked, “Can you smoke your clothes?” [rolls eyes]), and the look was linen-like (I love linen more than anything) but it was a little thicker and very durable. It was the just the loveliest fabric.

So of course, being me, I walk right up to the woman running the booth, called Intertwined Designs, and begin telling her how much I loved her clothes. That woman was Betsy! This little booth was her operation, and she sewed all the clothes herself. We talked forever, and I was so happy to find clothes that fit me that I bought 4 or 5 things. At the time I was about a size 18, which was just outside of everyone’s range (unless you went to the MALL, ugh, barf, roll on the floor twisting in agony), but Betsy had a ton of stuff that fit me, and all of it was artsy and colorful and fit like loose linen. I was in heaven.

Over the next few years I would show up at her booth with a few hundred bucks, buy a bunch of stuff, have a nice chat, and go home very happy! Somtimes I made a big pre-order and would pick it up from her. Once, she sent me a special present for being her best customer that year. I beamed with joy.

These clothes represented so much to me, they were a scrapbook. They represented adventure and going to these festivals I loved. They reminded me of meeting and connecting with a great human. Betsy and I aren’t close friends or anything, but we had a great rapport and I loved checking in with her about her life and how she was doing. Our birthdays are one day apart! Last summer, at the Oregon Country Fair, I ran into her again. We hadn’t seen each other in over five years, but she knew me, and it was so fun to reconnect. These clothes also represent my values, being able to wear something sourced sustainably, and made by hand without exploitation from someone I respected. And on top of all that, they FIT, and they were SO CUTE. It was the style I wished I could have, but could never find in my size. Betsy, a person I’d met and connceted with, made me things that I wore every day that made me feel great about myself and my body. I feel the same way about Cada!

Yeah, all that from some t-shirts and pants and a few pullovers and dresses. I know, right? But there it is. Clothes really mean a lot to me. Which is why, when I got bigger (I’m now about a 22 or 24, depending on the brand), I kept nearly everything she’d made. Of course I did. It wasn’t about making myself feel bad for having grown in size. I repeatedly read books and articles about fat acceptance, and over and over they encourage you to get rid of you “skinny clothes”, the clothes that are too small that are just taking up space, because apparently having these around are bad for your psyche.

Well, I got rid of bags and bags, all in the name of being “healthy”, and all I wish now is that I’d held on to them. I could cry for all those great memories I gave up. They never made me feel bad about myself. They just took up space. Big deal, lots of things we love take up space. Photos take up space, and all we do is pick them up, look at them, and feel good. These clothes were that, to me. I should have listened to myself more, but that’s been hard for me for a long time. I have a great therapist who I started seeing to help with my anxiety disorder. He planted a seed, “It’s okay to trust yourself,” and that has become a tree that I lean against on a regular basis.

I won’t give up clothes I love again. Because if I love them, then that’s all I need to know. AND, because I can modify many of them, now!

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First I dug into my giant tub-o-knit-scraps (I have another full tub of woven scraps) and I dug out two beautiful strips of paisley that I bought from Wonderground. Wonderground Fabrics is a great online retailer, I love their stuff, and Gabbi, who runs that store, is friendly, funny, and just gives the best customer service. Join the Facebook group and get in on the pre-orders! Score.

Then I took the navy shirt, and used fabric scissors to cut off the seam on both sides, from the bottom all the way through to the underside of the sleeve. I eyeballed how long the strips ought to be to fit into the shirt as panels. I left about an inch on both ends to fold under and coverstitch, at the end. And then I just serged them in. Voila!

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It isn’t perfect, but it looks and fits great, and I love it! I haven’t worn this shirt in years! It’s like bringing an old friend back. When I was done, I did something I’ve never done before. I took it downstairs, and while watching a show, I sat there and used a needle and lovingly threaded and wove back in all the end threads from the serging. Then I dabbed them all with no-fray liquid. This shirt is practically a pet.

And now everything else I loved about this shirt is combined with: I recycled it. I didn’t throw it out, or give it up. I made it mine again. I might even love it more than I did before.

Woot! My Les Fleurs is finally on its way!

I tried to buy some red and navy Les Fleurs back in September:

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Backordered is fine, but that was two months ago. Two months! Meanwhile all these great sewing bloggers are making post after post of their lovely new garments made with this fabric. Especially the red! Oh, it’s heaven. Often they mention how hard it was to find the fabric, or how they managed to find it but got the last of it. I’ve been under the impression that it’s really hard to get, so I’ve been biting my nails and holding on to this backorder of mine.

Last night I found Tanya of Mrs. Hughes had created a gorgeous 1940’s dress with it. She mentioned where she found her fabric: Missouri Star Quilt Company. Well, I checked them out, and not only did they have my fabric, they had it for less than fabric.com. So I cancelled my backorder and just bought from Missouri Star.

After I made the purchase, I couldn’t believe it was that easy. I checked my email. Did I actually get a receipt? Why, yes! Does the invoice say that I won’t get this fabric for another two months? Why, no! That means….it’s actually…..going to arrive here in the next week or so? I don’t want to get too attached.

And yes, I bought ridiculous amounts, because I’m an unabashed fabric hoarder. I’ll admit it. Also, I have a love for long, full skirts, and that often requires more fabric than I’ll think it will. What? I’m not justifying. I’m just explaining. Shut up.