Another Farewell for our little pack Tuesday, Jun 27 2017 

Once upon a time, our pack looked like this:

Our pups on their 11th birthday, the last they celebrated together.

And just last week, like this:

And now, it’s just CJ, Jasmine, and Sophiekitty. On Sunday morning, brave, beautiful Jade finished her sixteen-year tour of duty as our guardian and protector.

Patrolling the fenceline

When your family consists of eleven dogs (greyhound Uncle Whistler, Mama Nelly, and Nelly’s nine pups), you learn a lot about dog personalities. We had the Princess (Ladygirl), the Clown (Gracie Pigeon), the BMOC (Flint), the Golden Boy (Baloo), the Shy Hugger (Tess), the Newshound (Jasmine), the Boy Genius (Rusty), and the Sweetie Petity (Jenny). Well, Jadie was my Bodyguard from the time she was absolutely tiny. When she was about six weeks old, I was having a Really Bad Day. She climbed up a baby gate to get out of the nursery, ran to me, hopped on my lap, and said, “This is my mom. NOBODY is gonna mess with her while I’m around.” And I said, “You’re mine forever.” 

A recent DNA test confirmed what we knew—she was a coonhound mix, with a couple surprises: German Shepherd and Great Pyrenees. Her guardian spirit was coded into her genes, dogs bred to cling to their packs, work for the police, and guard their flocks.

But she wasn’t all work! Of all our dogs, she was the one who really ‘got’ toys, and would play her heart out whenever she was off duty:

As a baby with her favorite toy, the lion ball

Our gang was crate-trained, so we tried to give each kiddo a few hours a week of one-on-one time. Most of the others would use that time to… sleep. Jade would get out all the toys and bring them to me. “I have ONE day off a week!” she was saying, “I’m having some FUN!”

Jade was happiest in groups. Here she is at an impromptu KCRF tailgate in 2012!

A little wary at first, it didn’t take her long to warm up to her new friends:

That was my girl, Jade. Once she knew you, you were hers.

Jadie had the great good fortune to be pretty healthy for 16 years! A couple of ear surgeries a few years back, a tremor she ignored, and we seriously don’t know where she got that scar on her nose (you can see she had it as a tiny pup! I think she sported it because it made her look tough), and she was strong and hale and out training her apprentice (neighbor dog Hubley) at the fenceline as recently as two months ago. When her illness hit her, it hit fast. It was, of course, mega-esophagus, the Arch Enemy of our family—but one Jade fought off valiantly. Except for an initial scary episode that set her back, she tried not to let it slow her down. But she was, after all, over 16 (113 in human years!), and time gets even the bravest and strongest of us all in the end. I know she would have stuck it out until the bitter end if she could have, but I hope she knows we’ll look after her sister, her kitty, and each other for her. She trained us well.

I never had human daughters, and I guess my chances of raising an Alanna or a Buffy were pretty slim, anyway—but I got my fierce girl in Jade (who was named, after all, after Mara Jade and Jade Fox).

Thanks for having my back, baby girl.



Sausage & Popovers Tuesday, Jun 20 2017 

19 June, 2017

Gosh, it’s been six months since I’ve posted here. Ridiculous! It’s not because I haven’t been busy—it’s because this has been The Spring Of Many WIPs and Few Finishes (both sewing and writing), and because my last two old girls, sixteen-year-old twins Jade & Jasmine, require a lot of time and care (and, on occasion, Exceptional Forbearance). Some of you know that until Jade got sick a couple months ago, I was sending a new project through my weekly writers’ group. Exciting!!

With CJ and the girls at the park for Father’s Day.

Eventually, hopefully, there will be Quilt Updates, Cosplay Updates, and Book Updates (!)… but here, at last, are some finishes that are worth posting about.

I’ve been making popovers!

No, not these (because y’all know I don’t cook):


Isn’t this cute? It’s Butterick 5997/See & Sew 6270 (a rebranded, abridged release):


The pattern is meant for wovens, but I made this from some lovely lightweight cotton jersey. I made it straight out of the envelope as is—the only change I made was shortening it by three inches (I’m 5’4″), because when I tried on the muslin I got “bad nightshirt,” not “cute popover top!” I love the interesting details–the band collar, the (faux!) roll-tab sleeves in my favorite 3/4 length (so flattering on my T. rex arms), and the pretty gathered shoulders that take the place of bust darts and give a lovely fit to pretty much any figure. (Stay tuned for how I know this!)

In fact, I was so smitten with that antique violet top, that I immediately made another! This time, I salvaged a length of green & navy homespun cotton from the costume closet (I’ve been wearing it as a wrap on Scottish days at Fair for aeons).

Et voila:

Wait! I think I might like this one even more than Version 1! This is the first modern/mundane woven top I’ve ever made myself, and I keep pulling it out of the closet—three times the first week. I think it’s a winner.

I was already trying to decide just how many identical tops a woman can have in her wardrobe, when THIS appeared in my inbox, from FabricMart:



I might have waited a whole day before ordering that. Because I knew IMMEDIATELY that THIS had to be:

Happy birthday to my dear MIL, Judy! Doesn’t that color look stunning on her?!

Because we can’t get enough sunny happy yellow rayon:

Judy’s 4″ taller than I am, so I left the length as is for her, and its perfect. See what I mean about looking great on different figure types? Short and curvy, tall and lean, and probably any other configuration out there.

This fabric was an absolute joy to work with. The color is rich and saturated, and the print is a really nice scale, breaking up the brightness a bit. I wasn’t sure what to expect from “rayon broadcloth,” but it turned out to be a little bit like rayon crepe—lightweight with an interesting, almost faintly ribbed texture. At first I thought it was going to read quite dressy, but when I washed it, it crinkled up beautifully! I was delighted with the texture change, but it may not be what you’re expecting, so keep that in mind if you decide you need some of this fabulous fabric, which comes in several other colors/prints.

Lightweight rayons, like challis or jersey, can be a bit squidgy to cut out, so I was really extra super-duper careful with my tracing and marking. But it was exceptionally easy to sew, gliding through the machine and taking a beautiful press without obliterating the crinkles. I used a pretty fine needle, and all exposed seams were serged. There’s a fair bit of hand sewing (a lot of facings), and the rayon loved it—the stitches just disappear into that beautiful texture.

I want like six hundred more yards of the stuff. Happily, I have just enough left for Popover #4 for myself. I mean, it will be #3 for me, but #4 total. Because I’m not crazy. Sheesh.

First, however, I’m taking a break to work on other things, like… sausage! Keep thinking sewing, folks; I mean a seam roll (which is not like a cinnamon roll), aka a sleeve sausage:

Now that I’m making more things like pants and blouses, I needed a long, narrow pressing surface. Modern padded seam rolls are really short—around 10″. I could have gone vintage (around 14″), but the folks at Pattern Review convinced me to make my own. So a couple early mornings when Jasmine couldn’t sleep, I scrounged around in the sewing room for materials: some blue wool flannel scraps, and a coordinating quilting print. I lined the cotton side with wool batting to decrease lumpiness (the wool is really thickly fulled), and stuffed the whole thing with 2 years worth of serger trimmings! Commercial models are stuffed with sawdust, but I was too impatient to wait on the carpenter bees at work on our fence. (There was some discussion with Jenn about food processors + cedar pet bedding, but I went the free & easy route.)

I finished this yesterday and have only  had a chance to press one test seam, but so far so good! Looking forward to the next set of popover sleeves. For reference, I cut rectangles 18×5″, then rounded the ends off. It was an easy-peasy and supremely thrifty and practical project, great for 4 am sewing. That opening can be tricky to sew shut; my trick for that is to press the seam allowances well before stuffing, then use a ladder stitch to close up the seam. No curved needle necessary (but if you know how to use one, more power to you!). I made *very* tiny stitches, however, and knotted about every third one. Nice and sturdy. I kept stuffing until there was no room for even another molecule, closed up the last few stitches, then rolled it firmly between my hands to really firm up and smooth out the lumps.

So that’s the latest from Elizabeth’s kitchen! Er, dining room. Or really it’s the sewing room; we should just stop pretending otherwise.



Stitching 2016 closed… Sunday, Jan 1 2017 

31 December, 2016



This October, my mom turned 74. I made her a set of quilted placemats from an art deco-inspired jellyroll:


This was my third or fourth small quilting project, and I was slowly succumbing to what’s clearly going to be a big obsession. Only midway through Mom’s project, the ideas started brewing. Dad had a milestone birthday coming up in January—75. It was the perfect opportunity for a new project, the chance to stretch my new quilting wings and try The Real Thing. I’d make Dad a memory quilt!


One of the treasures in my stash came from Dad’s travels, this batik sarong he brought me from Indonesia almost 20 years ago:

batik scale

…And I was determined to use it as a centerpiece of the quilt.

At first I thought I’d do a traditional memory quilt, incorporating photos transferred onto fabric, but decided against it. It’s hard to coordinate the collection of other people’s photos, for one thing; and I couldn’t find a style that really appealed to me for this occasion; plus it’s fussy, potentially imperfect work—an additional challenging step in an already whole new skill set.

And also, I found enough memory-provoking quilting prints to make the photos unnecessary!


Thanks to the batik sarong, and the batik giraffe print from last year’s quilted sofa caddy, I had a color scheme: gold, navy, cream, dark brown, dark red, along with a splash of aqua that cropped up in other fabrics.

I set off to hunt down quilting prints reminiscent of Dad’s life and career as a journalist, college professor, and international educator. They make quilt prints for everything, after all!


Meanwhile, I needed a beginner-friendly pattern that would showcase the novelty fabrics. First I found this cheerful freebie, Cottage Mama’s Charm Jelly Roll Friendship Quilt:

I loved the modern design, the way each block was like a frame, and the piano key border. …But my fabrics didn’t like it as well. Digital mockups using some of my chosen fabrics weren’t working. Then I stumbled onto the Market Street Quilt from Quilts by Emily, and was instantly smitten:

The digital pattern is available on etsy and Craftsy. Those wonderful blocks turned out to be created by a super-secret method (well, to me, anyway! Experienced quilters probably spotted it right away): great big Nine Patch blocks, assembled and then sliced apart again and rearranged:


Arranging those Nine Patch blocks was the biggest challenge! I had selected a lot of novelty prints, and making sure I had a good balance of color, scale, and busy-ness, so the prints complemented each other instead of competing… Well, OK, that was probably half the fun of the whole project.

Since the blocks were going to be broken apart and rearranged, I found that looking at the Nine Patches as a whole confused me. So I rigged up a “mask” to block off everything but the finished quadrant (EXTREMELY high tech; definitely don’t attempt this without professional guidance–snork! It’s a block of foam and a used Color Catcher sheet from pre-washing the batik.):


…And then I photographed everything. I could look at the blocks with my naked eye and go, “Eh. I dunno.” But on my phone, it was immediately obvious whether I liked them or not. (You can see this block, top row center, below.)


Sashing for the first two rows

After the design phase was complete, sewing the blocks, then the rows, then the whole quilt top together went remarkably swiftly! I started cutting the first week of November, and finished the quilt top on Thanksgiving morning. (This was during NaNoWriMo, by the way! The quilt was a nice distraction from the writing… and vice versa! When one project started to hurt my brain, I switched gears.)

After that, it was on to backing, batting, and basting! I used a pieced backing (because I didn’t have enough of the blue ticking stripe) and Hobbs Heirloom 80/20 batting.


As a novice quilter, I wasn’t bold or foolish enough to try free-motion quilting, but my walking foot and the serpentine stitch on my sewing machine came to my rescue. Quilting (as in the actual quilting, sewing the quilt sandwich together) feels very similar to making corsets to me–all those long straight lines, over and over. But a throw sized quilt is a lot harder to wrangle than a wee tiny corset! I may have an extension table on my wish list now.

The quilting thread (top) is a variegated cotton thread from Coats called Sandstone:


And it gives the whole quilt a wonderful allover texture similar in feel to the lovely meandering from the pattern sample:


Woo-hoo! I never, ever thought I would be interested in making a quilt—all that cutting, all those fussy tiny pieces to sew together, all that time… Well, who knew? It’s actually a blast—like playing in a box of crayons made of fabric. Like being 7 years old, watching “Betty Lou’s Magic Window” and making paper chains with construction paper, Dad’s stapler, and magic markers. And it went so fast! It’s pretty safe to say I’m hooked.

Fabrics Used

Although the following images were clearly grabbed from the Internet, I was lucky enough to find all but a couple of these fifteen prints at local brick & mortar quilt shops!

Tim Holtz Eclectic Elements

Tim Holtz Eclectic Elements “Airmail Stripe” Used for the patchwork, pieced backing, and binding.

Tim Holtz Eclectic Elements Airmail Labels

Tim Holtz Eclectic Elements “Airmail Labels”

These two caught my eye right away, and set the theme for the whole design. I remember eagerly waiting for letters from Dad bearing that distinctive Par Avion stripe on the envelopes. At the very last minute, I had second thoughts about the striped binding, but I love how it turned out. It adds just a little extra pizazz, and the whole quilt now looks like international mail—just exactly like I hoped.

Tim Holtz Eclectic Elements

Tim Holtz Eclectic Elements “Expedition”

I loved the colors in this—the background is a sort of beige-aqua—but it had a surprise I didn’t even discover until I was almost done with the very last rows of quilting. Hidden in tiny letters in one block, is the name of the city where we lived in Ecuador:

Guyaquil, Ecuador--home sweet home in 1984

Guyaquil, Ecuador—home sweet home in 1984

Tim Hotz EE

Tim Hotz EE “Ticking Stripe” Backing

Timeless Treasures Safari

Timeless Treasures Safari “African Map”

This is one of my favorite prints—the colors are just gorgeous, the rich golds shading into deep red, the accents of dark blue in the silhouettes of the baobab trees and elephants… beautiful. Dad has been to Africa many times, all over the continent, and many of the countries he’s visited most often, like Uganda and Nigeria, are specifically marked on this print. It pretty much covered everything.

Tim Holtz EE

Tim Holtz EE “Stamps” in Neutral

Dad’s father was a Linotype operator, and this amazing print of letterpress tiles was a must-have! The blue version I used is very hard to find, but the black (neutral) one shown here is still readily available. They look just like the real thing… except for one pesky detail. They’re backward. (The stamps should read in reverse as we look at them.)

Kensington Studios

Kensington Studios “Amazing Grace Lyrics”

Like I said, they make quilting prints for everything. Even the lyrics to your dad’s favorite song!

Paintbrush Studios Tribal Council

Paintbrush Studios Tribal Council “Allover Giraffes”

This print is getting hard to find now; etsy might be your best bet (that’s where I got mine last Christmas).

Carrie Bloomston Story

Carrie Bloomston Story “Indigo Newsprint”

Paintbrush Studios Cityscapes

Paintbrush Studios Cityscapes “Newspaper”

Dad’s career in journalism included covering Washington, DC, during Watergate, for Voice of America. But the really perfect thing about this print? It has my birthday in it!


I don’t have bolt-end info for the raccoon fabric; CJ found it in the shop where we bought the Expedition map fabric. But I snagged the image from this etsy listing. Our family surname is Coon (it’s the C. in Elizabeth C. Bunce), so this was kind of a natural.

Collegiate Cotton Broadcloth

Collegiate Cotton Broadcloth “Iowa State Block Print”

Kaufman Dream Vacation

Kaufman Dream Vacation “Tossed Postcards”

Dad’s favorite city in the whole world is Rio de Janeiro, so I was thrilled to find this print featuring a poster (not postcards!) of Christ the Redeemer. Shown here is the “bright” colorway; a local quilt shop had the “vintage” color I wanted, which has more of the warm tones and the aqua. (But I’d have bought this one anyway if I had to!) I was really glad to find this in person, because it was hard for me to judge the scale (even with the ruler). I knew I’d be fussy cutting and wanted as many Rio repeats as I could get.

Kaufman Studios Let Me Entertain You

Kaufman Let Me Entertain You “TV Variety Retro”

Nobody loves the medium of television more than my dad. From his early-adopter sci-fi fandom (The Twilight Zone and Star Trek were comfort TV in my house growing up!), to his career in broadcasting, and beyond, TV is a big part of my memories of Dad. And this print of the evolution of TV models (see the flat screens?!) had all the right colors. The background looks like a rich cream in the online images, but it’s just barely off-white (I had to check the selvages to make sure it wasn’t white!).

Oh! I nearly forgot!

Moda Rustic Weave

Moda Rustic Weave

After all those glorious novelty prints, one of my favorites is the sashing fabric. It was actually the very first fabric I bought, in the first shop I walked into. It reminds me of coffee bags, and ties together the world travel theme. I joked with the shopkeeper, “I’m looking for a beige… with some more beige!” But it’s true! It’s the most beautiful beige fabric ever. Although the photos make the Rustic Weave look creamier and pinker, and the Indonesian batik golder and brassier, they’re actually a dead perfect match for each other. There are a couple dozen or so Rustic Weave shades, and I truly don’t know which color this one is.


SQUEE!!! I made a quilt!!!!

…And I can’t wait to make another.






































Old Man Flint Monday, Jul 18 2016 

Our little pack has gotten a lot smaller. On Saturday morning, my mama’s boy Flint passed away, here at home, quickly and peacefully. He leaves behind two last sisters, Jade and Jasmine, and the new kitty.


For the past several months, he’d been coping with a number of various health problems that still didn’t manage to quench his good spirit and easy-going, what’s-next attitude. He had neurological issues that eventually made him unable to walk; chronic GI problems; and an undefined malabsorption syndrome that meant he couldn’t gain weight, no matter how much he ate. When he got extremely finicky in January, we thought he was going to starve to death within weeks. None of his conditions responded to the standard treatments.

Earlier this year, with Grandma

But we all pressed on together, finding food he liked and a routine that kept him happy and comfortable. It seemed every couple of months he’d get hit with another problem that we thought was The End—a vestibular incident (like vertigo in humans; it’s not serious but he already wasn’t eating or walking well) in February, then mega-esophagus in April, the same horrible condition that ultimately killed his sisters Ladygirl and Tessa last fall. We were devastated to get that diagnosis a third time, and we thought it was over then.

But Flint still pressed on! He adapted immediately to his new complicated feeding protocols and even started eating better than he had in months. We settled into a new, happy, comfortable routine for almost three months. He was alert and cheerful and still our old buddy Flinto.

Flint's ramp

Flint’s ramp, where he ate in a semi-upright position for the past several months. This is where we did all the epic huggling. With best pal Jasmine in the shot.

Still, we knew it couldn’t last forever—our “pups” were over 15, after all. And he started winding down about three weeks ago—he’d dropped to just 35 lbs (a good 20 less than he should have weighed), was struggling with the physical actions of eating (trouble chewing and swallowing, dropping food, drooling excessively), and just getting weaker. I’d already been supporting him every time he had to go outside; for the last few days I was carrying him out. Friday night he developed a congested sort of cough, and we thought he was showing his first signs of aspiration pneumonia–the deadly complication of mega-esophagus (the esophagus doesn’t function properly, and they can aspirate food or water into their lungs). We’d been through that before, of course, with Ladygirl, so we knew what to do: antibiotics, chest thumping to loosen up the lungs, supplemental oxygen. At 5 am we gave him a drink of water—his favorite!—and at 6 he settled down at last into a comfortable sleep… and stayed that way, passing away peacefully about half an hour later.

flint mommy pirate pals

Flint was our pack leader, alpha male, and all-around cool dude. He was so relaxed and easy-going, very little ever phased him, even when he was ill. Taking care of him these last few months was a lot of work, and most of our time, but it was so worth it. I’ve gotta say this—if you have to lose a best friend, spending your last three months cuddling with him (we had to hold him up after he ate to help the esophagus work) is really not a bad way to do it. We got in a lifetime’s worth of hugs and quality time in those few months, and I don’t regret a minute of it.

Proud Flint shows off his sit 8 wks

8 weeks old, showing off his “Sit.”

Thanks, pal. You were a great son. Take care of your brothers and sisters for us, just like you always did.

Team White

Team White: Ladygirl, Rusty, and Flint








Some recent pictures, so it feels like I’m actually doing something… Monday, Feb 22 2016 

grandma flint 1

Senior Supermodels: Flint and Grandma posing

In my last update, I mentioned I hadn’t blogged much because some of my handmade Christmas gifts were still delinquent. (Well, I would describe the recipients as delinquent, but whatever. They didn’t have their presents, so you didn’t have any pictures.) This weekend, my parents finally rescheduled the Christmas/New Year’s visit they had previously canceled (yes, they went to visit my aunt and my brother/nieces instead. That’s two separate trips, btw, from the very center of the country to each opposite coast. We live 3.5 hours away. Just sayin’.)

At any rate, I was finally able to grab some good “action” shots of the things I made, and I also have a picture brought back from one of Those Other Trips to share, as well (so I can’t begrudge them too much. We had a lovely belated Christmas, and I didn’t even have to cook. Win.)

So… chronologically: Last Christmas, I made my mom a wool walking cape, but never got a picture of her in it. Despite the fact that our temps over the weekend topped out around 75 degrees, Mom gamely donned the cape for me. Doesn’t she look amazing?!

Mom cape small

The finished cape looks absolutely smashing, but for some reason I really struggled with the construction process. Which, inevitably, meant that when it came time to think about Christmas gifts the following year, my natural thought was, “Hey, I’ll make MORE of those awful things I hated so much!” Because that makes sense.

…Except shrink-rayed. Et voila:

twins capes edit

My nieces, almost holding still long enough for Grandpa to take their picture in their new “ponchos.”

Teeny-tiny toddler twin versions!! It really is the same pattern, it just comes in adult and children’s sizes, so grandmas everywhere can have Mini-Mes. (Mini-them?) The children’s version is Oliver + S’s Forest Path Cape, and the adult version is the Woodland Stroll Cape, from adult-side line Liesl & Co. Lots more to cover in this post, so if you need more details about those wee darling things, see my post at Pattern Review. There are some more pictures of the capes, but this is the only one I have of the girls in them. (Thanks, Dad!!)

The next project up was a total dark horse for me. I was so enmeshed in Project 41 Thinking (and other assorted life drama), that I honestly could not come up with normal Christmas present ideas for everyone in my life. My folks are in their 70s now, and my dad’s birthday is in January, and it’s getting harder and harder to think of new things, so I wind up in a rut of book, book, book, CD, book, book. Well, this year I decided to do something Wildly Different, and make him something.

Dad sofa caddy

(Pssst—this is the first thing I’ve made my dad since a clay otter in 5th grade. Which he still has. Despite my short-lived, clearly illustrious career as a potter.)

It’s a sofa caddy! Specifically, the Five Pocket Sofa Caddy from this Sew 4 Home Tutorial. Dad is a semi-retired journalism professor who still teaches media workshops all over the world. When he’s not lecturing in Mozambique or Croatia, he’s entrenched in his favorite armchair, emailing us weird news clippings. And he has a thing for giraffes. This seemed like the perfect handmade gift, because a clay giraffe will not be forthcoming.

caddy loaded

The fabrics for this were so fun!  The great giraffe print and coordinating orange are from “Tribal Fusion” by Paintbrush Studio, and came from my favorite etsy quilt shop, Meandering Thread (waves to Iowa!). My parents’ decor is a mix of mission style and world travel souvenirs, and I thought this would fit right in, without screaming GIRAFFES! the way a lot of prints do.

This was my FAVORITE thing I made last year, and I made a lot–A LOT!–of things! (My tally since my birthday in July is 34!) I had more fun putting this together, from choosing the fabrics to doing the surprise quilting (had I read the instructions more carefully….), to finding that perfect-match binding in my stash, to the really professional results. And the kicker? It took a day. A DAY! One day. The whole day, but even so! It looked completely fussy, and I was putting it off, then finally sat down to just cut out the fabrics… and then got completely sucked in. It was like the Nutter Butters CJ just brought home–I could not tear myself away from it.

A back view, because I’m still crushing. And a link to more details on the construction, if you care.

caddy back

I am thrilled to say that Dad loved it, too. Even before he knew I made it!

LASTLY (no, really, I promise!) is another topper for Mom. I liked how she looked in my version of McCall’s 6844 so much, that I decided to make a version for her, from some darling glen plaid knit. Of course, I got carried away while making it, and decided it needed petite alterations, and some menswear-inspired suede elbow patches and collar:

mom tree

I have those shoes, too. Easy Spirit Traveltime in houndstooth. (Also a Christmas gift!) That gorgeous necklace? She gave it to me.

glen plaid cardi back

cardi side view

This is View A, the shorter version without the peplum. I love the subtle shaping at the hemline–just a little longer in the back, without being overwhelming. Like many other people, Mom and I aren’t crazy about the weird way the collar band falls; she’s thinking about tacking it down (as others have done). For my first attempt at fitting Mom (without her mmx, no less!!), I think it’s OK. For future versions, I wouldn’t do the petite length alterations (she’s mostly petite in her limbs, not her torso), but I would shorten the arms even more, and increase the biceps width still more. The top she has on underneath is bulkier than she’ll normally wear with this, and it’s tugging the sleeves off her shoulders a bit.

Overall, though, it’s a big hit, and I heard that it was going to Lunch With the Ladies today.


That’s pretty much it! I have been tinkering a bit with more on the big Historical Sewing Fortnightly Year-Long Project, which I’m still not quite ready to reveal, but you can have a couple teaser pix:

catalina embroidery sample snip

cords WIP

Early Costuming Progress for 2016 Sunday, Jan 31 2016 

I know I haven’t posted for a couple of months, but that’s not because I haven’t been sewing. I sewed up a storm—a superstorm! A veritable Winter Storm Goliath!—at Christmas… so I couldn’t share any of *those* projects until after everyone had their gifts.

…Which they still don’t. Sigh. At least two handmade Christmas gifts are STILL wrapped, upstairs, in the guestroom, waiting for Certain People to deign to come pick them up.

How much sewing, you might ask? Well, my Project 41 tally stands at 34, as of this morning, because I just finished the first garb project of 2016! Or, if you like, the last garb project of 2010. Ahem. Yep, it’s a UFO!

St Cath corset front

This is a version of Simplicity 2621, Elizabethan pair of bodies/corset, which you might recognize, because I’ve used it twice before. My pink corset and purple kirtle are both from this pattern. What’s unusual about this version is the boning. I used hemp cord (one of my favorite ways to stiffen period bodies. Gosh, that sentence sounds weird, doesn’t it? Large blocks of ice also work, but the logistics are terrible….), which gives a slightly softer/curvier silhouette. And, you know, it took six years to finish, so.

I started it way back a million years ago, got all the major construction done, and then for whatever reason stalled out before binding & eyelets. A couple of years later I pulled it out, trimmed down the hemp cord ends and added half the eyelets. Yes, half. Don’t ask me what happened to the other half; I have no idea. When the Historical Sew Monthly announced the 2016 challenges, and specifically that the January challenge was Procrastination, I had the perfect candidate!

…And then put it off for another three weeks.

St. Catherine corset back

Excuse the wonky lacing; all I had was a too-short shoestring. If I were starting this project now, I would probably have set the eyelets for spiral lacing; modern criss-cross lacing is faster for CJ to manage, so. That’s my excuse.

The eyelets are done by machine; my Viking has the wonderful feature of making lovely, functional lacing eyelets with the addition of this little gadget:

eyelet plate

The eyelet plate, which attaches to the machine bed like so:

eyelet plate in situ

And just like with hand-worked eyelets, you open the hole with an awl, then fit it over the (I don’t want to say “nipple”)… raised part of the plate. You then zigzag around the hole, while steadily turning the fabric by hand. It’s magical!

eyelet making

You would normally want to use thread. 😉  These are done with Gutterman silk sewing thread, and I lowered the presser foot pressure as far as it would go. Sometimes with the bulk of the fabric + the bulk of the thread, it can get hard to turn, and you can get too much thread built up in one place. Lowering the presser foot pressure makes sure you can turn smoothly. Two passes, the first one narrower (4.0) to cover up any raw edges; the second wider (4.5) to get beautiful full coverage, and there you go.

I did these AFTER construction (I believe I mentioned!), because I knew the hemp cording would be flexible enough to maneuver through the machine’s harp space. For a rigidly-boned piece (cable ties, steel, reeds, synthetic whalebone, etc), you’d want to do the eyelets first. There’s some tight turning in a fair hurry involved here!

St Cath strap

My previous versions of this corset all have straps that are too long. I knew these would be, as well, but was too lazy to try it on (since it only had half its eyelets!), so I held my breath and lopped off 2.5″. Having straps that don’t meet the bodice is period, so I figured I’d be safe either way.

Orazio Gentileschi, The Lute Player, Italian, 1563 - 1639, c. 1612/1620, oil on canvas, Ailsa Mellon Bruce Fund

Orazio Gentileschi, The Lute Player c. 1615

I used French binding (which is bias binding with both raw edges pressed to one side, instead of toward the middle) made from ivory quilting cotton with a lovely soft olive/tan ditsy floral print that matches the khaki canvas perfectly. I love the muted colors, and it’s nice to finally see them together after all this time. I did NOT LOVE the French binding, less so with the cotton. It just didn’t ease as nicely as the microsuede I prefer to bind corsets with, and the two layers shifted and wrinkled on me. Meh. It turned out OK, but I’ll stick with my regular binding from now on. (I made the binding when I started the corset. It was also the first and one of the last times I ever did continuous binding. I *far* prefer to piece my binding strips! This Colette tutorial changed my binding life.)

I am hoping (that it fits; it’s been six years, after all, egad) to also construct the rest of the ensemble that goes over this pair of bodies, but you will have to stay tuned for future HSM challenges for that.

Challenge Details:

What the Item is: 16th century pair of bodies (corset)

The Challenge: January, Procrastination

Material: Cotton canvas, quilting cotton binding; hemp cord boning

Pattern: Simplicity 2621

Year: Mid-16th century (conjecture)

Notions: Hemp cord, silk sewing thread

How historically accurate is it? Eh. Really, not so much. This was the very beginning of stiffened bodies in Europe and England. This pattern, in its original incarnation (with rigid boning and tabs at the waist), is inspired by and very similar to the only two extant “corsets” from the period. My version, intended to be used in Italian costuming, is going farther afield still. Italian gowns of this period generally had stiffened bodies, not separate corsets, and although the use of cording to stiffen bodices/corsets is more widespread and earlier than costumers have traditionally thought (Salen, 2007), the use of hemp cord to stiffen Italian Renaissance bodies is thoroughly the theory, conjecture, inspiration, and work of Jen Thompson (Festive Attyre) and other experimental historical costumers. THAT SAID, it has been a proven method for re-enactors to achieve the soft, gently curving silhouette common to Italian costuming of the period. So, assuming the gown to go with this ever gets made, the LOOK should be correct, if not the underlying construction.

Hours to complete: Um…. This is the procrastination challenge, after all! I started it in 2010, worked on it again a couple years later, then pulled it out this month to finish half the eyelets and apply the binding. Maybe 4-5 hours this month to finish everything up?

First worn: Not yet. Praying that it still fits. Or fits again. Or will fit again. Or something. It’s finished, what else do you want from me? Sheesh!

Total cost: Hmm. It took about a yard of canvas at US ~$7.00/yard (2010 prices), plus a yard of the quilt fabric for the binding, plus maybe another $6-7 for the hemp cord, around $5.00 for the silk thread, and around $850 for the sewing machine that does eyelets….

The sad reason I’ve not been around much lately Wednesday, Dec 9 2015 

I love and have loved ALL of our dogs, each in their own way. But Tessa… Tessa was my heart. And on Friday afternoon, she left us.chris-steph-tess-sept-26-2015.jpg?w=750&

At Fair this fall, just before she started having symptoms from a nasal tumor that destroyed the bones in her face and made it hard for her to breathe. In November, DH took her ten hours by car to Colorado State University—the first road trip any one of our pups had ever taken!—for radiation therapy. The therapy worked, but there were complications from the anaesthesia: It turned out she’d developed a condition called mega-esophagus, which put her at risk for aspiration pneumonia, the same d@mn thing that killed her sister Ladygirl three months ago.

She never regained her strength after the first round of pneumonia (in Colorado). When she was well enough to travel, DH brought her back to KC, and she spent five days in ICU here, getting no worse and no better. With heavy hearts, we finally brought her home for hospice care, and she spent her last few days here at home with her two sisters and brother, resting comfortably, still “our” Tess. She died in DH’s arms on Friday, quickly.

A comfy spot jpg

On her third day in the world, still unable to see, hear, or walk–yet scaling mountains, nonetheless.

Tessie was a late bloomer. When her brothers and sisters were playing together, learning The Doggie Rules, she was in the corner, eating cardboard. smiley: embarassed Consequently, she missed out on early socialization and ended up at the bottom of the pack, picked on by her sisters and shy around people. She didn’t want to be petted, picked up, cuddled, or held. She’d struggle and try to bite, and she was afraid of everything. I spent her first year trying to figure out how to reach her. It crushed me that this gorgeous dog didn’t love me like her littermates did.


For my birthday the year they turned one (so she was 14 months old), my mom gave me Patricia McConnell’s book The Other End of the Leash, about primate-to-canine communication. McConnell, a zoologist and animal behaviorist, explained that dogs see “ventral-ventral contact” (chest to chest… or hugging) as aggressive behavior, and if you want a dog to approach you, you need to lean back, arms held open. Tessa just happened to be walking past me as I read that very passage. I set the book down, said, “Hey, Tess,” leaned back—and she THREW HERSELF into my arms, as if she’d been waiting her whole life to show how much she loved me, but I’d never given her permission before.

And she never stopped hugging, for the next thirteen years.


Tessa’s supervillain name was “The Pounce,” because you never knew when she would sneak up and bury you with a hug. Even her villainy was all about love.

Tess was—I’m not kidding here—perfect. She was as close to a pure soul as has ever been; full of nothing but love for everyone else, not a drop of malice or selfishness. It was an absolute joy watching her come out of her shell over the years, get over her initial shyness and reservations once she discovered that SHE was free to shower the world with affection. And she did. I have funny memories of Gracie Pigeon, exasperating memories of Ladygirl… but all my memories of Tess are ones of love. (Well, and that cardboard thing. Ahem.)

Oh, yes: And she could fly.

Miss you, AngelPuff.

Hallowe’en Finishes & Projects Update Sunday, Nov 1 2015 

magic potion for posting

“Magic Potion” by Sandra Cozzolino

Boo! My favorite holiday has come and gone, but not without some making! Here are Finishes 21 and 22 in my Project 41 Challenge. (It’s only been four months, and I’m more than halfway through!)

First up is that fun wallhanging, a piece of cross stitch I finished several years ago. It’s been sitting in a drawer forever, because it unexpectedly turned out huge (you can’t really tell from that photo, but it’s sitting on my office chair and totally obscuring the serger behind it!), and I didn’t want to go to the expense of framing it. But this summer while rooting through my stash, I stumbled upon that fun bat fabric, an anniversary gift from C.J. a couple of years ago (I love bats, so this wasn’t weird. Or it might be weird, but I love bats.), and everything clicked into place!

First I finished the edges of the needlework with the Wave Stitch on my new Babylock serger, using Wooly Nylon in the loopers:

magic potion detail

Then I sewed it directly to the top of the bat fabric. I then fused the bat-needlework sandwich to some thick double-sided craft interfacing backed with black cotton sateen (the lightweight stuff for quilting), and did another round of Wave around the whole perimeter. The stitch turned out beautifully, although I did snap a needle thread a couple of times. I swapped out the needle for a topstitch needle—MUCH better!—and managed to pick it up right where I’d left off. You can’t even see the join anywhere (correcting a serger mistake can be tough, since the machine has already sliced off the fabric you were going to sew on!).

I just love the colors, the verse, and those jolly old witches:

magic potion witches

I left a pretty wide border around the needlework, because I wasn’t quite sure how to attach the stitching to the backer board. I thought about using buttons, and I found these that matched so perfectly:

…But then I just ended up sewing the needlwork and bats together, so I didn’t need them, and when I went to attach a couple just b/c… I decided I didn’t like them. Ah, well. They’ll find another use eventually, I’m sure!

Next up is a little quick weekend sewing. And by “quick” I mean, I was planning on working on it while answering the door for trick-or-treaters, but I was finished with it by noon. That quick. 😉

I made this tunic, McCall’s 6796, from some luscious charcoal shimmer ponte I’ve been hording for a couple of years:

Charcol Ponte Tess FOR POSTING

I’m not totally sold on it, but C.J. said it was awesome, so. Tess is divided.

I do really like the fancy little collar treatment:

Charcoal Ponte three quarters

…Even though I screwed it up:

collar error labeled

And had to fix it by hand.

All fixed! Another invisible repair.

All fixed! Another invisible repair.

Incidentally, those are the same buttons I used on the rose cardi.

Charcoal Ponte Tree FOR POSTING

The fabric is super soft and feels really luxurious, so I’m sure I’ll get some wear out of it, even if I’m not 100% thrilled.

I will have a final Teresa Wentzler October update soon (I made a fair amount of progress on my Castle Sampler this month!), too, along with some musings on the Project 41 Challenge, its effectiveness, and its relationship to my sewing & writing.

Enough making! If you’ll excuse me, I have a NaNoWriMo quota to fill!


Everything’s coming up cardigans! Tuesday, Oct 20 2015 

New Look 6330

Once upon a time, a middling seamstress’s wandering eye chanced to behold a certain knit blazer emblazoned with fairytale roses, and she instantly wanted it, more than anything else in the world. Well, other than food, shelter, and rampion, perhaps. At any rate, moving along. Alas for our poor seamstress, said blazer was forever out of reach—too costly, too large, and then, poof! Discontinued.

Rosie Blazer

What was our poor heroine to do? “Why,” she said, “why couldn’t I make one, just like that?” And then, by stroke of fantastical luck, she thought she had found the Perfect Fabric. But oh, lackaday! When the fabric at long last arrived, it was not all she had hoped. It was flimsy, unreliable, and had plainly Misrepresented Itself.

Still, not to be deterred, our plucky seamstress forged on in her hunt, over hill and dale, through many a dark midnight, seeking an alternative… when what should appear but the most unlikely of patterns, in a guise that was so thorough, she might easily have overlooked it:

Resigning herself to her fate, our Seamstress began her Epic Labors, seeking to undo the curse of bad fabric.

This tale has a Very Happy Ending! Behold our bold seamstress now:

Rose Cardi BLOG

The wild, beastly, thorny fabric, TAMED! Huzzah! There was much rejoicing throughout the land, and the seamstress and her new rose cardigan lived happy ever after. Or they had a pretty decent week, anyway.

Mannequin BLOG

A closeup of the featured closure, elastic loops with pewter rose buttons:

rose button closure

I am giddy by how well this silly thing turned out! This fabric has been haunting me, ever since its disappointing arrival a year ago, when the Good Advice from the Collective was to simply send it back. But I stubbornly hung on to it. I don’t even remember buying the New Look pattern; I was probably looking at the sharkbite-hem version initially, but what fabric I had in mind, I have no idea! This is better.

Rose Cardi front hands down BLOG

More details on the sewing and fit are here.

Postscript: Although the middle (technically) of our tale is one of triumph, there may indeed be a more Sorcerer’s Apprentice-style Act II. In her initial panic over the fabric, and still pining for The Blazer, the seamstress may or may not have ordered additional rose-print knit fabric. So my thinking was that I’d use the new fabric for the blazer (a Kwik Sew pattern), and this fabric for a drapey cardi… which this really isn’t. It’s far more structured and jacket-like than I was expecting. So now the burning question: How many rose jackets does a person need? Because I already have more than one. Really.

For anyone keeping track, this is Project #19 (since my 41st birthday in July). Project #20 is an infinity scarf from the remnants of the rose print knit, for my embroidery guild’s holiday charity drive. Projects #21 and 22 are supposed to be a couple needlework finishes (using the serger—really!), but I have somehow talked myself into Finishing Block again. Time to whip out the Stephen Pressfield and just do the work.



Cauled out for cockading & hattitude Monday, Oct 5 2015 

post serious ps

I saw an interview with Cindy Crawford last week, where she said, “Have a story in your head when posing for photographs.”  Here I evidently suspect this fence post of foul and nefarious doings, and am attempting to ascertain its guilt via mind meld. Glamorous! 

5 October 2015

Huzzah! It’s FINALLY really finished. Do you remember my big garb project from a year ago, an English fitted gown? At the time I had only completed the gown itself, with its epic short paned sleeves-of-a-million-pieces. But it was missing the appropriate period accessories: hat, caul, and proper sleeves.

Not anymore! Thanks to inspiration from the Historical Sew Monthly September challenge, Brown, I have at last completed the ensemble.

EFG complete ps color

Yond fence post hath a lean and hungry look….

The sleeves and caul are lovely, but the hat is the star.

brown feathers

I’ve made plenty of other hats before, but this was my first time working with buckram and millinery wire to construct a period hat completely from scratch. What fun! I can’t wait to try another one.

I used the Lynn McMasters Elizabethan Arched-Brim Hat pattern, which also included the pattern for the caul (made from these scraps).

caul shot crop

Believe it or not, this thing actually just stays on the head like that! For a whole windy day….

I really wanted a hat like the one Lucas de Heere gave his English townswoman, with the high, slanted crown and a narrowish brim:

de Heere Englishwomen

But I couldn’t find a commercial pattern with exactly that silhouette. The Lynn McMasters one came close-ish; but the mockups were not encouraging! It seemed like the crown was too short, the brim too wide, and the whole thing not quite large enough overall. Still, lacking enough understanding of hat architecture to alter the pattern, I forged ahead anyway. And it looks a gazillion times better finished than I feared!

Chris Steph Tess Sept 26 2015

This project involved a lot of hand sewing, wearing out thimbles, needles, and fingers along the way! I used black microsuede for the fashion fabric, and lined it in the same bronze taffeta as the fitted gown. Trimmed out with extra fitted gown trim, the most perfect feather cockade from Michaels, and a lovely vintage brooch from etsy.

hat snood morning glories

For the sleeves, I used the basic sleeve pattern from The Tudor Tailor and reprised some of my favorite fabric. I’m very pleased with them–scaled straight out of the book as drafted, the only alteration I made was lengthening them a wee bit. All of my previous sleeves have been far too large for me, so these are a vast improvement.

with jade ps cropped final

That might be it from me for garb this year (although the sleeve pattern is tempting me to make a couple more pairs—and I just cut one out this morning!—so who knows!). If anyone is still keeping a tally, I think this brings me to seventeen or eighteen finishes since my birthday.

Thanks for looking!

Historical Sew Monthly Challenge Details!

What the item is: A Trio of Elizabethan Accessories (Hat, Caul, Sleeves)

The Challenge: September Challenge 9: Brown. Brown is my favorite color (yes, really!), and I needed a set of proper period accessories to complete the duck green and bronze fitted English gown I made last year. I loved working with brown as an accent color—brown embroidery and lace on the caul; bronze trim and glorious brown feathers on the hat; and the small tan-and-cream motif on the black sleeves.

Fabrics: Hat is buckram base, covered in microsuede and lined in taffeta; sleeves are cotton jacquard lined in cotton sateen; caul is pre-embroidered muslin.

Pattern: Hat & Caul: Lynn McMasters Elizabethan Arched Brim Hat; Sleeves: Tudor Tailor

Year: 1560s-70s

Notions: Feather cockade, brooch, and braid for the hat; golden brown Cluny lace for the caul; just a bit of grosgrain ribbon to tie the sleeves on.

How historically accurate is it? Except for the fiber content of the fabrics (linen, silk, and wool would have been period), it’s pretty good. The patterns for the sleeves and caul are from reliable sources and are dead on. I am a little more iffy on the hat. It doesn’t really look like like hats of its type from period sources  and illustrations (the brim seems too wide, and the crown is too short); and I read that the designer’s original source/model for the pattern was a book whose research and silhouettes are now considered out of date. So I just can’t say for sure. Construction was a mix of hand and machine. I’d give myself about 85%.

Hours to complete: Hat: About two weeks, so maybe ~30? Caul, a bit under 2 (some fitting and fussing); sleeves, about 1.

First worn: Kansas City Renaissance Festival, Oct 2015.

Total cost: The sleeves and caul were all scraps left over from other projects, so free! The hat was about $40, all in, with the pattern and specialized millinery materials. The cockade was the real bargain! I stumbled across that lovely thing, as is, in the floral aisle at Michaels (large US craft store). It was on sale for something like $2.00, and I instantly knew it was meant to be on my hat!

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