Making Peace With Nature

By now, if you’ve ever read anything from this blog, you know that I am on a mission to promote organic cotton and GOTS (Global Organic Textile Standard) fabrics. To read one of my previous posts about organic cotton, go here.

I tackle the business of organic cotton because, frankly, as sewists, this is one thing we can impact. We are the end users of a product we think very little about and we worry even less when we have a project in mind.

We like our fabric.

We love the feel of it, we love the bright colors and the textures, and the sweet, cheerful designs. But it’s very possible that if you saw the conditions under which your fabric is made, and the chemicals involved in the treating of the fabric, and the dyeing process, you might have second thoughts. If you are thoughtful enough, you might also be concerned about the livelihood and well-being of the independent farmer who grows the cotton and small villages around the world who must learn to live sustainably off this income. They cannot destroy their land in the interest of a short term gain and then have ruined land that cannot be farmed in the future. This is a real thing. Farmers understand regenerative practices. It’s obvious…just not to everyone else.

“The report serves to translate the current state of scientific knowledge into crisp, clear and digestible facts-based messages that the world can relate to and follow up on. It first provides an Earth diagnosis of current and projected human-induced environmental change, by putting facts and interlinkages in perspective, including by using smart infographics. In building on this diagnosis, the report identifies the shifts needed to close gaps between current actions and those needed to achieve sustainable development. The analysis is anchored in current economic, social and ecological reality and framed by economics and the 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development. By synthesizing the latest scientific findings from the global environmental assessments, the report communicates the current status of the world’s urgent issues and opportunities to solve them. “

Our small quilt shops only have exposure to sales people who bring the brightly-colored sample books to them every season for ordering.

Through social media, we are exposed to the designers (whom we love). They show us their studios and their creative ideas. However, their designs are simply licensed by fabric distributors. In other words, our favorite designers basically give up all their rights to determine the way fabric is created, other than seeing proofs for color and accuracy. They don’t get to tell manufacturers not to use toxic chemicals or not to pollute the ground water. They get a paycheck and that’s what matters. To them, at least.

In reading this UN document, it’s obvious to me, and I hope it is to you as well, that this way of living has made us blissfully happy, unaware and unaccountable to the planet we live on.

I know this sounds cliche.

But if we don’t soon change everything we’re doing now, in every supply chain, all the way back to the raw materials from the Earth, we may not survive as a species for much longer.

Here’s a tidbit: did you know that if current sperm count trends continue, by 2045, the median male will no longer be able to reproduce? Ha. Now I have your attention.

Look, all I’m saying is that everything around us now indicates that we are going to have to make BIG CHANGES.

And if there’s one thing that the human species is resistant to, it’s BIG CHANGES.

But I believe we have to start thinking seriously about how our food is produced, where our energy comes from, how much waste we produce, how much we consume, and on and on and on.

It’s daunting, I know.

So that’s why we need to start small.

  1. Make yourself more aware of the materials you use. Where did this really come from? What are the chemicals used? Do I know anything at all about this fabric?
  2. Ask your local quilt shop these questions. They are dealing with the distributors who make the decisions.
  3. Become a savvy user. Can you make it from your already-way-too-big stash? Can it be made from other textiles you already own?
  4. Start making yourself an educated consumer. Below are a few links that will assist.

Here’s a new fabric I’ve seen available: Lenzing Ecovero. “Take less, Give More”. You’ll want to watch their video.

UNEP Making Peace With Nature

Textile Exchange Global Non-Profit

Global Organic Textile Standard

Are you ready for change? Ready or not, it’s coming. Let’s be ready, willing and able. And start where we can.

My Heart’s Greeting, and Other Valentines

I found these Victorian themed Valentine’s Day designs on Etsy, and ordered them just printed out on paper. I think they were 3.99. per sheet.

In Photoshop, I flipped the images horizontally so that the words read backwards, like a mirror image.

Then I printed them out on Transfer Artist paper, and transferred them onto white Kraft-Tex.

The Krat-Tex paper means that if I threw them in the wash, it would hold up, soften a bit and the image would stay in place. I might experiment a bit with washing the cards to see how they turn out. For now, I have them hanging with ribbons on an LED-lit birch tree stand.

The image above is one of my favorites, as I imagine myself during Jane Austen times, wandering through the flowers, accepting a love note from a distant suitor via a barn swallow. My heart’s greeting. We can dream.

Actually, most of my young Valentine’s Days were spent hoping for someone to send a card from a Secret Admirer. Do you remember those days? I would have given anything to have a Secret Admirer, someone in the shadows who had eyes only for me.

As it turns out, no gift ever came except for ones from my Dad. To his credit, he always brought a small gift home every Valentine’s Day for my Mom, my sister and me. We each got a box a chocolates, or a necklace or some other trifle.

He never forgot. To this day, if I head over to his house, during this pandemic, he will likely have some chocolates for me and for my sister. (And I won’t know how he got them, because he is supposed to be staying home.)

Years ago, I worked in a chocolate shop for a while, and Valentine’s Day was peak insanity. But they had regulars, who came in and bought the same size heart box of chocolates every year, or a special box for every grandchild. Others would get the most elaborate heart box and fill it with their sweetheart’s favorites. The ritual behind it was a fascinating social phenomenon. It was the few days out of the year when all the men showed up in the store.

Happy Valentine’s Day to all.

May you receive all the chocolates you love.

Better yet, may you receive them from a Secret Admirer.

Here are a few links to previous Velentine’s Day projects:

My Practical Valentine

Valentine’s Day Kraft-tex Project

Buttoned Up Valentine

Cross Stitch Life Hack

I love cross stitch. But I am completely inept.

I have watched the YouTube videos. I have studied people moving those needles in and out. I purchased the right fabric. I can sew, machine embroider, hand embroider, knit, crochet, do hand quilting. I’m not afraid of stitching by hand. But for the love of all that is good, I cannot figure out how to cross stitch. I. Cannot. Do. It.

So I did the next best thing.

I digitized.

I found the most adorable designs (from Little House Needleworks on Etsy.)

Using Bernina Embroidery Software 8, I got the idea into my head that I could run a border of these gorgeous cross stitch patterns around the outside of a very simple tree skirt I was making.

But as always, it was not an easy task. Like Tina Turner, I never do anything nice and easy. I do it nice, and rough.

It starts with a scan of the pattern, which needs to be trimmed to the exact pattern size in some sort of graphics software. I’m used to working in Adobe, so that’s what I used. But Bernina’s software comes with Corel, so you can use that too. Then it gets imported into the Cross Stitch application in the software.

Now comes the tedious part. Every single stitch gets reconstructed with a click, and a color choice. If you look closely enough at the above image, you can see that some of it is filled in with color, and some of it still has the cross stitch symbols shown. It took me about an hour to get everything filled in for that design.

The next step is to move it into the embroidery program. The software then converts every click that you made in cross stitch into machine embroidery stitches. And it’s pretty magical. One moment it’s just a weird looking drawing, the next minute it’s stitches that my machine will understand.

And I am absolutely loving the way these turned out.

I still have a long way to go on this tree skirt, and each design from start to finish probably takes about three hours. Could someone do it by hand in that time? Maybe someone who knows what they’re doing. That would not be me, when it comes to cross stitch. But I am just so taken in by their charm and sweetness.

I hope you are tolerating this difficult holiday season.

I leave you with this December thought:

“Someday soon we all will be together
If the fates allow
Until then we’ll have to muddle through somehow
So have yourself a merry little Christmas now.”


Garment Sewing Mania

So, as you know, I’ve been sewing a lot of t-shirts for fun. I’ve basically created my own casual wardrobe this year…but only of shirts. I balance it out with a lot of stretchy pants I already own.

It’s not ideal, but it’s the thing I’m loving right now. Especially since I’m not going out and purchasing new clothes. These days I get excited when a new shipment of fabric comes in.

My next effort? A pair of stretchy pants. I know. I should aim a little higher. But I’ve never made a pair of pants. Seriously. And I’m not about to start with a pair of jeans which would be a tremendous amount of effort and I have no idea where my weaknesses are.

Well, OK, I know that I sit on my biggest weakness, but that doesn’t mean I know how to fit it. So I’m starting with something forgiving. I’ll let you know how it goes.(I’m not terribly optimistic.)

But just to give you a bit more information on my process: As many of you know, I have resolved to only purchase organic fabric for the foreseeable future. As time has gone on, I have only furthered my resolve in this area. The good news, is that the industry is slowly moving in that direction, since traditional cotton-growing is proving unsustainable to even the most stalwart purchasers. We’re talking about Levi’s and Lee and H&M and folks who are serious purchasers of cotton.

I wrote about organic cotton in detail here.

But another big concern of mine as I’ve been sewing, has been the amount of waste…fabric waste, that goes into garment sewing. Making a t-shirt requires the front and back of the pattern to be cut on the fold.

But that leaves a large amount of fabric untouched above the fold. Like half of it.

So I started something new. Of course I started editing the pattern. Instead of laying fabric on the fold, I placed it higher up on the fabric to make two pieces instead of one. I added a quarter inch to the area that would normally be placed on the fold to compensate for the additional seam allowance.

This gave me the ability to make a whole other shirt from leftover fabric. A few more seams, yes. But more clothes, yay! But what about the sleeves? What I found with the sleeves was that I often did not have enough width of my leftover fabric to accommodate the width of the sleeve pattern.

So I folded the pattern in half. I laid it out on the fabric and added the quarter inch seam allowance. I found that the slim line of the sleeve usually left me with enough fabric to make the sleeves with a seam. Instead of two pieces of sleeve fabric, I ended up with four pieces, two each per sleeve. One seam up the middle is barely noticeable.

These additional seams turned out to look structural on the garment. Before assembling, I gave them a topstitch over the side where the serger seam allowance rested. It holds the extra seam allowance in place perfectly, and adds a bit of interest. Voila!

I found that the looser tees left me with enough fabric to make a v-neck closer fitting tee, and the opposite was true of the cut of the v-necks.

Then I feel absolutely no guilt throwing away the remnants after that. they are just tiny bits and pieces.

Bit by agonizing bit, I’m learning about garment construction. And it’s only agonizing because I am not a perfect beautiful, lovely size. Well, actually, I am. But I’m just not what would be considered a model size. So I modify everything to fit in a comfortable way.

And I’m having fun playing with the absolute simplest of patterns. I invite you to try it. It’s fun, entertaining, creative, and most of all, utilitarian. It’s empowering.

Everyone, stay calm and sew on. These are crazy, unsteady times. Do something that steadies you.

(Pattern from Grainline studio. V-neck tee is my own pattern. Fabrics are from Hawthorne Supply Co., various lines, but all organic cotton interlock.)

Halloween 2020

I like Halloween. I have friends who despise it. They think of it as an evil holiday. I have others who find it fun and still others who’ve just outgrown the whole business.

Me, I just like the cool weather. I enjoy the turn of the season, the spookiness is my favorite part. Have you ever walked through a decorated neighborhood at night…alone…while the cold wind is blowing and the crunchy leaves are swirling behind you making unexpected noises? I have. And those things your neighbors have hanging from the trees? They’re scary as all getout without the light of the sun to cast away the shadows and secrets.

In my neighborhood, when my son was younger, we had 12 kids on the block that all started kindergarten together. Most of them had older siblings. Halloween in our neighborhood was pure chaos. The doorbell started ringing at 4 pm and didn’t stop til long after dark. Parents in large groups wandered around with their drinks in red solo cups, or warm toddies in a Thermos. They all waved and laughed as they stood near the sidewalk.

One neighbor set up an outdoor theatre with Young Frankenstein blasting on speakers and projected onto the front of his house as kids came through. Another stood as still as one of the mummies on his porch while dressed up as Frankenstein, and then jumped out at little ballerinas and Ninja turtles. The screaming could be heard for blocks. The kids loved it. And yet another neighbor dressed as an ogre and chained himself to the front lawn. He growled and shrieked and the kids attempted to get their treats from him.

“Hey, does your wife know what you’re doing?” I called to him.

“Who do you think chained me up out here?”

We were a fun bunch. The kids even had a house that they refused to visit, because they thought a “mean, old man” lived there. Probably the only sane person in the neighborhood.

But now, times have changed.

And for the first time in 20 years, we made the decision to avoid a public Halloween. No candy, no treats. Our lights will be off. It matters that many of the kids in the neighborhood are grown–off to college, working their own jobs. But there are still young ones of new families that have moved in.

We will celebrate at home: a cozy meal, warm orange lights over the fireplace, decorations. But no treats will be given. The door will go unanswered. The pandemic is too much. Better for kids to be safe (and us as well). Parents can splurge on candy. Young ones can find another way. I’m out this year.

Despite the changing times, you can still enjoy a decorated house. Here are a few of my past Halloween posts, and a video at the end of a display at our house. Be safe, enjoy, carry on.

Creaking door at the end is not a special effect. Ha. That’s our back door.

A Picture’s Worth a Thousand Words

June was…I don’t really have the words. I managed to get out and take some pictures. Which, to be honest, is pretty important for my mental health.

So I’m just going to share some of the things that ended up in my folder for June.

Each pic has a story. Like the roses I saw at the gas station with the two bums sitting on the curb. Or the ugly blue spruce stonecrop that faithfully comes up every year. Or just local fields that I appreciate. Wildflowers are so underrated. These things sustain me.

I hope you are finding your joy.

Tips on Scalloped Edges for Your Quilt

Almost two weeks left before the Fourth of July and all I have left is the label. (Have I harped enough about labels? Every quilt needs one.)

At the very last minute, I decided to scallop the edges of this quilt. Don’t ask me why. Because I don’t know. It was lovely without it, but I felt like I wanted a bit more…maybe a touch of femme or softness, or something to make it distinctive.

The pattern comes from a book called French Farmhouse by Marie Claude Picon. The quilts are all designed for rustic simplicity, which is lovely. But I never found a pattern I didn’t adapt at least a little. So same with this one.

The quilting, as you can see on the back, is all stars and stripes, in keeping with the theme. I always quilt on my domestic machine, a Bernina 780 (which was a precursor to the current 790.) I don’t enter my quilts in competitions–for obvious reasons. They are purely for the pleasure of creating. So you can see that I have a lot of fun with quilting, and I’m not hung up on perfection. As the Amish like to say about their quilts, “Only God is perfect.”

I like my quilts to be functional.

About the scallops. Don’t overthink.

I literally dumped some thread out of a Polish pottery bowl in my sewing room functioning as storage. I turned it upside down and started drawing the scallops. I did not measure. I did not plan. When I got to the last two or three at the end of a row, I just made minor adjustments so it fit. I don’t even know the size of the bowl.

So I assure you that you can enjoy creating scallops as a quilt edging. However, I DO have some tips because when you get to sewing, you just need to be prepared.

Scallop-Edge Quilt Tips

  1. Cut before you sew. I know this sounds crazy, but a lot of books and instructions will tell you to draw the scallops and sew your binding on before you trim the scallops into shape. The argument is that the fabric is less inclined to stretch or distort. It’s stable and you have a straight piece on which to work. Feel free to go ahead and try it that way. Maybe it works for you. But I really need to see my cut edge. I like to work directly on the shape that the quilt will be in the end. It may not be ideal for everyone, but this is about what works for you.
  2. Pin each scallop one at a time before you sew. Not gonna lie. This is a slow process. But you will get better results.
  3. Use bias binding. Yes, you knew that. Of course you did. But, I’m always surprised by the number of quilters who don’t ever use bias binding on their quilts–even those that are meant to be passed down as heirlooms. When a binding is on the straight of grain, all the wear-and-tear is on about two or three threads going longwise over the edge. When the binding is cut on the bias, you have hundreds of threads that support the edge. It will last so much longer. I wrote about this in a previous post.
  4. Don’t stretch. When you work with anything on the bias, it’s easy–really easy–to pull the fabric. It’s easy (and tempting) to stretch it into position. But this will just cause the quilt to curl and not lay flat. Fabric is very compliant and is happy to work with you. But you have to understand the ways it wants to be handled. The puckering that you see in the pinning, is exactly what you want to see. This gives the curve enough “give” to flip around to the back side.

Above, you can see how the binding is pinned in place. When you get to the deepest part of the scallop, you’ll leave the needle down and turn the quilt. Stitch a tiny bit down onto the next scallop and then pin the rest into place. Here’s a book called “Happy Endings” which gives a good illustration of attaching binding to a scallop. It’s not hard, but it’s not something you can just whip right through like a straight binding. It takes a bit of patience and maneuvering.

And I think patience is something we could all use a bit more of these days. I know that quilters sew love into every stitch. It’s what moves us forward.

The Positive Pleasures of Pursuing Puzzles

No one in our house is allowed to use the phrase “new normal” or “in these uncertain times”.

For obvious reasons.

But for reasons mostly unknown to me, I dug deep into a closet not long after the stay-at-home orders began, and I came across a puzzle we never assembled. It was the only one in our home. 750 pieces. Challenging but not discouraging. It was an illustration of a floral shop during Valentine’s Day, which, of course, had passed at the time we were assembling. But it was loaded with cheer–flowers, cards, knick knacks, doodads and color. Lots of color.

I set it out on our coffee table and worked on it during the news (which was quite a bit at first, if you remember). Then I started doing it during briefings from the task force, from governors, etc.

Then one day our teenage son walked over and started working. He was in the midst of preparing for AP Exams. In case you hadn’t heard, they were canceled in their normal form, and were replaced by a very stressful, time sensitive, online interpretation. A year’s worth of studying and work reduced to 2 questions…and half the battle was the stress of wondering if all your technology would hold up. He sometimes stared at those puzzle pieces with me.

I understand if you’re not a puzzle person.

I guess not everyone is. But if you are visual–as I am–or spatial–as I am, you very likely find them relaxing. I do crosswords from time to time. But I find I just am not that up on pop culture or TV or movie stars or Greek mythology. When I used to play Trivial Pursuit, my default answer was always “Barbra Streisand.”

Neverthless, there’s also something meditative and calming about the images. I am very particular about the images I choose for puzzles. I don’t want a loud abstract spiral of pure color. That just seems frustrating and vague to me. But a homey scene with quilts and puppies and red barns and all the reassurances of a time that was simpler? Yeah, that’s for me.

The puzzle above was probably one of my favorites. If you find it anywhere, and you enjoy doing them, I highly recommend this one. And shout out to artist Chris Bigalow. His outstanding illustration is so full of tiny details, that I found myself studying and appreciating every piece. Inside the windows? All those little scenes are tiny puzzles…puzzles within puzzles. What a fantastic graphic. From the details in the upstairs windows to the coffee mug that says “I heart puzzles”, this is just a gem.

What’s the next one in line? I decided to try having a puzzle made from one of my own images. As much as I enjoy floral photography, I prefer illustrations on my puzzles. But I did have one image that I thought would make a fun puzzle.

So this next one is a photo I took while on vacation. It’s always been one of my favorites and the color, cheeriness and general tchotchkiness (is that a word?) would be fun.

Puzzles calm me. I know that people attribute a lot of good things to puzzle-solving. But for me, when working on a puzzle, I am distanced from the chaos and scary-as-hell reality we live in. I’m wrapped up in a world of shapes and color. I used to shun them because, really, what in the world is productive about jigsaw puzzles? You spend hours and when you’re done, you put it all back in the box and move on.

But that’s become a metaphor for me. A metaphor for life. We scramble, we work, we delude ourselves into thinking we must always be productive, but when it’s all over, it’s over. And has anything that any of us done had true lasting value? Our quilts, maybe. But only if someone truly appreciates them. Otherwise, they are just a way to keep ourselves going.

We all do what we have to do.

Next post I’lll share some sewing.

But for now? We keep a puzzle on the coffee table.

How to Purchase a Sewing Machine in a Pandemic

So I see a lot of people taking a renewed interest in sewing these days. First and foremost to make masks, second as a hobby, and third as a new skill.

But how do we shop right now in this state of retail confusion? I looked over the websites of some of the top sewing machine manufacturers and while they are all taking somewhat different approaches, they are definitely finding ways to sell machines.

Bernina

Regardless of your location, or your region’s status with regard to COVID19 (Stay-at-home or not), Bernina is offering nation-wide curbside pick up or local delivery via Fedex or UPS. So if you know of a dealer you can trust, you can call and purchase a machine and receive curbside pick-up. Or, you can ask them to have that machine delivered via Fedex or UPS. Now, when it comes to shipping, I’m not sure who picks up the charges for that…likely the customer. But don’t underestimate your negotiating ability during this time. I’m sure a dealer would rather sell a machine than argue over shipping charges. Bernina does have a limited online sales venue on bernina.com , but at the end of the day, that sale just gets delivered to a local dealer where you would pick it up. Far easier to call a dealer directly. There are a limited number of Bernina and Bernette sewing machines available on Amazon (that look to be sold directly by Bernina–not used.)

Babylock

I found it harder to get information on Babylock because their consumer website does not have any updates with regard to the pandemic. I also left a message on their customer service line, and have not received a return call. However, my local Babylock dealer is taking orders over the phone and doing curbside pick-up. I have to believe that Babylock dealers are left to their own devices with respect to each states’ executive orders, and each dealer is making their own decisions. No Babylock machines appear to be available for purchase on Amazon.

Janome

Janome does not have a statement online about coronavirus or whether they have any business changes. So I imagine that each dealer is handling it in their own way. Janome does, however, have a wide variety and price range of machines available for purchase on Amazon. Is it their top of the line? Perhaps not. But the Memorycraft is available on Amazon and that’s a pretty decent machine.

Pfaff/Husqvarna/Viking/Singer

Curbside pick-up is available for all dealerships that are open. Also, singer.com has a wide range of all these brands available for purchase. HOWEVER, they have a huge warning on their website that their delivery response time has slowed, and they are having some inventory issues, which they are trying to manage. This is not unusual. If you have purchased anything online in the past month or so, you know that delivery times are sporadic at best, and frustratingly non-existent at worst. Your best bet would be to contact a dealer who handles these brands, find out what they have in stock and go from there. Singer appears to be the only brand in this category that has some availability on Amazon. However, a reminder that you get what you pay for. You will have no quarantees that a $150 machine will last or will handle the sewing you require. And if you purchase online, who will service? Just some things to think about.

Brother

Once again (and I hate to be down on them because I know they have decent embroidery machines) but once again, Brother is a black hole of information for consumer sewing machines. I recognize that they are a large corporation with lots of sales and supplies to manage. They do have a generic note on their corporate site that explains that they are doing their best to manage inventory and their supply chain. What that means to consumers is less clear.Their sewing machines are available in a limited capacity on Amazon. Again, buyer beware, as brands sometimes only offer online the cheapest machines around. If you simply must own a Brother, please find a dealer and ask them how they are selling at this time.

In Conclusion

I think it’s safe to conclude that, as always, it is best to contact your local sewing dealership and tell them which machines you are interested in. If it were me, I would put off a very high-end purchase until you are more comfortable going in to test drive the machine. Unless, of course, your local dealer is open, and even then, please try to practice social distancing.

If you are wanting to make masks, some decent machines are available for purchase online, but I would recommend spending at least $500 to get something that will be dependable. The Bernina 215 for $799 is a great machine to purchase online. It is made like a Bernina, with metal parts and sews like a dream. I would call a dealer first to find out if they have one. I bet they would sell it for less than that price, and you could just do a curbside pick-up.

Whatever you decide to do, I am encouraged that so many are interested in sewing again.

Who knew we’d all get back to sewing and growing our food?

Please, please, stay safe, stay healthy, listen to your local officials, and help each other.

On we sew.