Prepper Vs. Hoarder

Our time has come, sewists.

Admit it. Those of us with an unmentionable amount of fabric at home (not to mention all those UFO’s) are ready.

With the onslaught of the novel coronavirus #COVID19 , we have all become either preppers or hoarders. My husband came home from work a week ago and asked me, “Are we prepared to be stuck in this house for 30 days?” I took it as a challenge to stock up and, like all good Americans, I did what Americans do during any weather event, football game, or public health emergency.

I went shopping.

What I purchased will not last very long, but it may get us through the first wave of whatever it is we are expecting to come. In fairness, I have been following a number of highly educated medical specialists and they are sounding the alarm. The CDC has recommended that air travel be limited for those over 60 or 65 as well as anyone with a fragile health condition. I have an elderly parent who lives alone in an adjacent state. I’ve driven to his house and stocked him up with at least 2-3 weeks of food.

I’ve looked around my sewing room and determined that I have enough fabric to last for the rest of my lifetime (however short or long that may be.) Even so, I ordered some fabric online and I’m expecting a delivery soon.

But here’s the thing: Even if we are not going out in public as much as we used to, or gathering in large groups as much as we used to, we still need to keep our local quilt shops in business.

So what do we do?

Buy online.

Some of the shops in our area already have an online presence with all of their products available. Others do not, just yet. However, I will bet that if you called your local quilt shop and asked them to mail you fabric in a flat rate box, they’d be happy to do it. I know it’s hard when you cannot see the fabric, but I’m betting that they would rather send you a pic, have your business, then go without a sale.

Many quilters are in the high risk category for this illness.

So let’s check in with each other. This doesn’t mean sharing the illness, but we can move our social gatherings online for awhile. Text, email, stay in touch. And sew your way through it.

Preppers or hoarders?

Does it matter? At our house, I think it’s a little of both. In the face of uncertainty, my family eats. And sews.

The Joy of Choosing to Ignore the Mass Market

Have you ever spent hours on Pinterest? Wandered through quaint little shops in a seaside village or a charming midwestern town?

I’ve spent some time in local shops and in large home decor stores. I’ve browsed online and been to craft shows and art shows.

And I’m discouraged.

I am missing originality and I am as much a consumer as everyone else. Where are all the original thinkers? Where are the creatives out there doing what’s never been done? Am I just missing it? How can I go from an exurb of Chicago to a small town in Wisconsin, and find basically the exact same products?

I loved the inspirational script messages at one time, but to be honest, aren’t they getting old? If one more piece of wood or vinyl sticky for my wall tells me to “choose joy” I’m going to scream. (What does that mean anyway? Choose joy. Instead of eating chocolate? Instead of crying? Instead of reading the newspaper? Instead of choosing to make a change? Instead of choosing to work out?)

I even have a little houseplant pot that bears the message “grow.” The plant is suffering. And I think it’s because the pressure is too great and the obvious command on its outer shell is intimidating and off-putting.

I might also be watering it too much.

Nevertheless, it serves as a reminder that these constant, script-y, positive messages are numbing us to the reality around us.

If you are INSPIRED to paint the face of a cow in purples, oranges and teals, bless your heart and the artwork will be beautiful. But if you are purchasing the same one that’s shown in a chain of stores across the country, because…umm…”farmhouse”, well, what’s the point?

And I say this with love in my heart for all things farm. I’m descended from farmers.

But anyone who thinks that farmhouse style begins and ends with anything but manure and straw and hay is kidding themselves. And the farmhouse I knew was cramped. We didn’t have a whole lot of decorative items. Most of them were practical. You needed a broom nearby to chase the bats that flew in at night. You needed a vacuum cleaner to get at the flies that swarmed the window sills in the summertime. You needed plenty of logs in the basement to keep the house heated all winter. You needed hooks and pegs for jackets and boots and fishing poles. When I was out in the barn no one ever had to tell me to “choose joy.”

Joy showed up uninvited. So did laughter and tears and hugs.

This week, let’s all go out and find something original to do. Something one-of-a-kind.

That’s the beauty of sewing. We can make things that no one else has made, and make memories that no one else has experienced.

Let’s be more authentic. And let’s ditch the mass market.

Sewing for the Generations

My friends are all becoming grandparents.

Not just the ones who had children at a very young age, but also now those who had them at a normal or not-so-very-young age.

I first started quilting in my twenties when all my friends had babies. I made dozens and dozens of flannel baby quilts, most of them hand-tied and filled with the fluffiest polyester money could buy. The parents and kids loved them.

I moved on to more traditional quilting, took classes, and eventually started teaching. But I never forgot how I got started.


These days, I’m doing a lot on diapers and onesies. It took some experimenting, but I have found the best methodology.

Keep it simple.

Onesies absolutely do not support a whole lot of stitches. Even some fonts are iffy, depending on the number and size of the satin stitches.

Use two layers of polymesh stabilizer.

I use OESD cutaway polymesh. I experimented with one layer and just didn’t think it was enough. Depending on your design, you may even want three layers. A traditional cutaway adds way too much bulk and stiffness, so go with a polymesh. I also tried fusible, but that distorted the look of the onesie. I’m not a fan of 505 spray so I don’t use it when hooping.

Use a ball point needle.

If you’re familiar with embroidering on knits, you already know this. But if you usually embroider on quilt cotton, it’s easy to forget to change out the needle. Onesies are very stretchy and the fabric really separates when you use a ball point or “jersey” needle. It makes a difference in the longevity of the embroidery, because a ball point separates the threads of the fabric instead of cutting right through them.

Washing Instructions.

I use rayon thread (Isacord) which is bleachable and holds up well when washed. I throw onesies right into the washer and dryer…even in hot water and high settings.

The fabric, 100% cotton, always shrinks a bit. And the embroidery may curl because of that. The best way to fix this is to lay a towel on your ironing board, and lay the onesie face down against the towel — with the embroidery against the towel. Iron the back of the onesie without steam until everything is laying flat again. No problem.

I sew on a Bernina and you can see that with their free arm, it’s really easy to stitch on a onesie without a lot of pinning, clipping and gyrations to keep the back out of the way.

Finally, use a 9 month size or larger.

Maybe it’s possible, but I never attempt to embroider a newborn or 3 month size. I just don’t see how I can stretch it enough around the hoop. I’d have to switch to the very smallest hoop which has a tiny field of embroidery. Most of the onesies I’ve done are size 12 month. They still look relatively small, and get smaller after washing. But they are large enough to work on comfortably.

Sending love and blessings to all my friends and co-workers and friends of friends and co-workers who are keeping the earth populated. There’s really nothing quite like participating in the ritual of welcoming the very newest generation.

The Ubiquitous Old Red Truck — And Other Holiday Icons

C’mon. You know you’ve seen this truck everywhere.

I’m not sure when it became the definitive retro/vintage/holiday symbol. But somewhere along the way it did. I’ve seen it in catalogs, in charming shops, on TV (Hallmark Channel has at least one movie where the truck is a co-star.) I’m sure this old truck obsession is a simple longing for tradition, simplicity, home-baked cookies and the scent of actual pine. But let’s remember: this cute, sentimental old truck could put out enough dangerous fumes to choke a horse pulling an open sleigh. We are excellent at suspending reality during the holidays.

That said, my grandfather had a dark green/blue one just like it on the farm. (You can see it in the pic with Mom and me below.)

Since I’m as sentimental as everybody else around the holidays, I found myself purchasing the truck machine embroidery shown at the top. Buy it here.

I stitched it out on Kraft Tex.  If you’re not familiar with Kraft Tex, it’s the miracle textile that the Levi’s logo is made of.  It doesn’t rip.  It’s washable. It lasts forever and takes a beating and doesn’t show wear and tear. And you can sew with it and on it.

I wasn’t sure how it would hold up with 22,000 stitches on it, but I used Stabilstick Cutaway stabilizer and it was perfect.

Then I started getting more ideas about holiday decor using Kraft Tex and machine embroidery. You can find some cute and simple designs here.

I stitched them out, again using the Stabilstick cutaway stabilizer.  I put a design on the front and on the back, trimmed them to size, rounded the corners, and stitched in black around the outside.  They are the perfect shape for mouse pads.  But I added ribbon and will give them out on Thanksgiving as a holiday decoration.

Once I did those, I started testing ornaments.

CAUTION: Don’t just resize the designs.

I tried to take them from 7 or 8 in. wide down to 4 in. Even in software, they did not size down properly.  They were not originally .ART files, so the software was struggling to reduce stitches. I tried it anyway, but…

Yuck. Big mistake. So I went back to the website and ordered some new ones in smaller original sizes.

These turned out just fine.  I’ll be adding ribbon and using them as ornaments. They will have different designs on each side. I’ll share more when I get them completed.

For now, I’m wishing all of you a wonderful Thanksgiving and a relaxing weekend with loved ones. My holiday will be spent with 10 close family members and 2 dogs. That’s charming and sentimental enough for me.


Patience and Persistence and (Im)Perfection

15-year-old:  Wow, that’s cool.

Me: Thanks!

15-year-old: It must be teaching you patience.

Me:  Child.  Raising you teaches me patience. Sewing is what I do to relax.

15-year-old: That’s wonderful.  That you could find something other than food to help you relax.


In fairness to the tactless adolescent living in our house, I have been making a concerted effort to eat properly, and he is fully aware of that.  I actually think that *he* thinks those are words of encouragement. It’s almost like he’s new around here.

The other day I found a “journal”, a spiral bound notebook, from when I was 14. I looked over the scribbles and cringed myself into a fetal position…pages and pages of teenage angst. So-and-so likes this guy, but he likes another girl and this one didn’t talk to me today at school, but another guy wanted to call me after meeting at the roller rink.  OMG. Could I be any more of a living breathing cliche?

Anyway, the point is, I wrote pages and pages about my weight. At 14, I went to Weight Watchers for the first time, and I weighed 104 lbs. It was the end of the world.

Yes, that’s Donny Osmond.

A little more digging and I found the rest of them.  An archive of my weight, my life, my loves.  You know you have them too, somewhere.

And I started thinking about the themes that run through our lives.

What are yours?

Do you have a way to revisit some of them and see if you’ve made any progress?

I imagine that this is the work of our lives…to choose the colors, to find the patterns, to do the hard work, and to make something out of nothing. Again and again. Over and over, and with any luck, we evolve.

We learn a little patience, a little perseverance, and we learn from mistakes. (Well, at least some of the time).

And, maybe, like me, you have some battles that just drag on and on.

As we get a little softer around the edges, those old battles aren’t quite so fierce any more.  We can slow down and enjoy the details and the journey.

And maybe, at the end, when all the quilts are done and all the notebooks are filled up, we’ll have something to show for it.


New Chair vs. New Upholstery

We needed new counter chairs.  I went to furniture stores, I got pricing online and read through dozens of reviews on popular (and some not-so-popular websites).  Honestly, I tried.

New counter chairs are not outrageously expensive.  Decent ones range from $80-200 each.

After much discussion and deliberation, I realized that none of them were as sturdy or as absolutely perfect for our bottoms as the chairs we already owned. Even worse, I would fall in love with a new style, read the reviews and find out in some obscure review that the chair was an inch shorter than described.  To some, that may be of little significance. To someone of my stature, it’s a deal-breaker. Without that extra inch, I am Lily Tomlin in the rocking chair. (Kids, you can google it.)

As you can see from the image, our old green fabric is worn, stained (I think my son may have spilled something on it 12 years ago), and finally, it is just plain disintegrating.

I know absolutely nothing about attempting even mild re-upholstering, which never stops me from actually doing it.  Folks, it looks easy enough, it really does.  Examine how the chair is put together, take it apart and then put everything back in reverse order.  You can do this!

Until, of course, you begin to take out the old upholstery staples.  And then you are in for a surprise.  Hope you are someone with upper body strength because that’s what it takes. But I’m getting ahead of myself.

–The first step, is, of course, the most fun.  Get yourself over to a JoAnn’s or a Hobby Lobby and find some choices of fabric.  I know I have said that I am not inclined to purchase garment or quilt fabric at these places (still believe this).  The same is not true for their Home Dec fabric.  They have a really nice selection, unless you are insistent on designer stuff.  Even so, I believe I have seen Waverly and other reputable fabrics there.

— I chose two fabrics, and this one was quickly dismissed as my teenage son said             it looked like vomit.  (My deep apologies to the designer. Perhaps you’ve never had a teenager in the house.)

–After that comment from someone who normally has no strong feelings about anything decorative, I went with the red paisley . I also purchased a couple of 2-inch cushions made of foam.  They seemed likely enough to do the job.

–The next step is to take apart the chair from the bottom and begin removing the old backing, cushion, and fabric by removing the staples. I did not have the special tool for removing upholstery staples and ended up using a hammer, screwdriver and pliers for the task.  I don’t recommend this.  Spend $12 and get the tool.  For my next project, I will have one.

Everything on these particular chairs was attached to a piece of 3/4 inch plywood, which was perfectly fine for re-use.

The old cushion was so smashed and unuseable I could not possibly refer to it as a template.

So I took the plywood up to the sewing studio, set it out on my cutting table, and put the cushion underneath.  I cut the cushion with about 1/2-inch to 3/4-inch extra on each side. This was important, as the cushion cut to the exact size of the plywood would actually be too small once the fabric is pulled down around it.

I gave myself plenty of “pulling” room when I cut the fabric.  That could always be cut down once the stapling was done.

–The biggest step required two people and an electric staple gun.  One person to pull the fabric, the other to staple. I’m sure it’s possible to do this alone, but it was a lot easier and a lot faster to have four hands…as long as both are careful with the stapler.

The end product honestly feels like two brand new chairs.  I’ve long been drawn to re-upholstery.  But there’s a definite learning curve and I needed to start small. You can also get hurt.  Staples don’t always come out whole, and there might be a fragment left in the wood, waiting to shred your arm or hand.  Or worse, the hammer or screwdriver can slip causing all manner of cuts and bruises.  Take your time.

In the end, I am thrilled that we did this instead of settling for new chairs we really didn’t like all that much.  This way, we have the perfect color and fit.

Small triumphs are worth it. And no one in the house thinks they look like vomit.







If You Have a Little Girl in Your Life

Oh, it’s irresistable.  If you have a little girl in your life, and you sew, you will want to make something for her with ruffles…or a little bit of lace, or some gathering, or bows or frills.

You won’t be able to resist, I’m not kidding.

I have a wee one in my life. But she lives far, and I don’t really know her size.  She’s two years old this week, but I decided to make her a 3T dress.

Isn’t that pattern cute?

Anyway, garment sewing is not really my thing, but I am more and more interested in it as I would prefer something that fits and is one-of-a-kind, than something store-bought and cheap.

I found these great fabrics, and in my head I had it all created before I even found the pattern.  You know how that is…then you have to go looking for a pattern that comes close to what you already had in mind.

Then the fun begins.  And frankly, the older I get the more difficult it is to follow a pattern. Sew this on the straight of grain, this on the bias, flip this piece backward, and this one sits on the fold.


(Not to mention that sometimes patterns have mistakes, so it helps to know a little about what you’re trying to do.)  Moreover, I usually just want to do something my way and not the way it shows in the pattern.  For instance, on this dress, I replaced the waistband with a ribbon, and I used a ruffler foot to gather the bottom ruffle.The pattern called for the more traditional method of manual gathering.

I also changed my color scheme a bit from the original layout.

My tip for sewing any garment pattern:  Read the pattern from start to finish.  (Every pattern will tell you this.)  But read it again.  And read it again if necessary.  Unfold the pattern pieces and stare at them as well. Get comfortable with the whole process in your head before you even lay out your fabric. Trust me on this one.

This turned out almost exactly the way I pictured it.

I learned a little about the zipper on the back…I would raise it a bit higher.  But all in all I am happy with the result.




I found out this week that they are coming in to town, so I will be able to give it to this little one in person.  I know at two years old, she won’t care.

But what can I say?  I couldn’t resist.

I only hope it will fit her for at least a few weeks so she can wear it. The matching bag is an in-the-hoop project in machine embroidery, and I added her name there.

Maybe we can get a few pictures of her wearing it before she eats her birthday cake!

Hard Working Hands at Rest

I’m not OK.

Oh, if you ask me I’ll say I am.  But I’m lying.

Sure I can go through the motions without crying at least some of the time.

But every now and then I’ll be driving along and suddenly be overcome with a panic and my mind screams, “MOM!

She’s not here any more. I can’t call her and tell her the funny or moving thing that only she could understand.  Half my grief is for me and half is for my Dad.

When you lose your mom, you feel like you lost the one person in the world who knew you best–the one person in the world who loved you no matter what. She knew your history.  She gave you much of it.

It’s only been a few days, but I miss her. I miss how much she loved not only me, but my husband, my son and everyone else who needed a little mothering.

I recently read that when you lose a parent, you lose your past.  When you lose a spouse, you lose your present. And when you lose a child, you lose your future.

I’m not OK with that.  But no one ever asked me if that’s OK.  No one ever promised me life would be fair.

No, I’m not OK.  I’m sure someday soon, I will be.

But I will never be the same.


God saw you were getting tired, and a cure was not to be.

So he put his arms around you and whispered, “Come with me.”

With tearful hearts we watched you fade away.

Although we loved you dearly, we could not make you stay.

A golden heart stopped beating, hard working hands at rest.

God broke our hearts to prove to us,

He only takes the best.

–from Mom’s holy card

mom and dad