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.



Fall Projects with Pens & Needles Friday, Oct 2 2015 

HF headshot

I have nothing new (that I’ve finished making) to share today, but as we enter the last quarter of the year, some annual traditions are getting underway. Really obsessive readers (are there any?!) might have noticed that we’ve had a wee bit o’ redecorating this fall: I’ve changed the name of this blog to “Elizabeth’s Pens & Needles.” Because Mirth & Matter from Elizabeth’s Pens and Needles would not fit on the banner. But mostly because I’ve shifted most of my news &c over from LiveJournal to this WordPress page, and it’s easier to manage a single site… particularly when stuff sometimes overlaps.

Anyway… we were talking about Fall Projects! Things to work on while you curl up by the fireside with your pumpkin spice whatever, while Other People go out and rake leaves and do other awful yardwork stuff. *shudder.* I will nuke your latte while you mulch. You’re welcome.

On the Business Side of things, story structure guru Alexandra Sokoloff is once again sharing her novel plotting tips in her NaNoWriMo Prep series on Screenwriting Tricks. Want the advice all at once? It’s all in her book, Stealing Hollywood (formerly the e-book only, Screenwriting Tricks for Authors).

I am a big fan of this book, and am glad to have a paper copy to scribble in at last. I have not yet decided whether to keep going on a current revision, or shake things up with an all-new manuscript in November… but I will be working along in the book all month either way.

On the Needleworky Side, I finished up the stitching on the little Hallowe’en Fairy, and intend to have a finished project to share soon. On the rarest confluences of events (thanks, no doubt, to last week’s Supermoon!) I have thus managed a gap in my stitching schedule just in time for my needlework group’s annual tradition, Teresa Wentzler October! Founded by Jen Harper in 2007 or 2008, TW October is responsible for the completion of one of my favorite projects ever, Peacock Tapestry, which sat as a UFO for four or five years (after four or five years of stitching). Jen got us all riled up about our TWUFOs again, and:

For the last several TWOctobers, however, I’ve mostly been consumed with Fair garb sewing, and rarely have a chance to stitch much. Not this year! I am a day or so away (now I’ve jinxed that) from finishing this year’s garb work (pix TK!), and have the whole month open to work on another TW WIP, Castle Sampler. Check out my spectacularly inspiring progress pic, as of October 1, 2015:

Castle Sampler WIP Oct 1 2015

Someday, it may even look like this:

TW Designworks, Castle Sampler. Designed by Teresa Wentzler, 1992.

I’ve had this chart in my stash for many, many, many a year. It was a birthday gift from my in-laws the first year I was married. Which was, if you follow me on Facebook,  you’ll know… a while ago. I didn’t start it until the TWOctober after finishing Peacock Tapestry, though… and I only work on it during the stitchalong, and only get a week or so each year to fit it in. I hope to make a lot more progress this year!

Stay tuned for progress pix and garb pix. I should have an update to a project started last year, plus a gift from a friend to share (!), and I’m gathering up all the odds & ends for my September entry at the Historical Sewing Monthly (still waiting on the arrival of last-minute lace).

Project musings… Wednesday, Sep 23 2015 

I have nearly finished a couple embroidery/cross stitch projects, so it’s time to kit up some more. I have Mill Hill/Sticks “Love Me, Love My Dog” almost ready to go:

I have swapped out the included perforated paper for evenweave, sorted & bobbined up the threads, and mostly colored in the chart. I know I’m an oddity that I do this, but honestly: See those nice bold letters in the motto/caption? You literally could make out nothing on the chart. The symbols all have very similar weights, and it was impossible to distinguish what was letter and what was background. Brown and orange colored pencils solved that in no time.

I have also recently acquired some glow-in-the-dark fabric from Fabric Flair. (Squee!!!) I have no idea what to stitch on it, but I have a fat quarter, so my options are pretty open.

Since I am nearly done with Mirabilia’s Hallowe’en Fairy (my first Mira!), and somehow managed to acquire about, um, 30 Miras and TIAG/Butternut Roads at an EGA stash grab… I am thinking again about Stargazer.

I have had the chart and beads… and TWO fabrics (!) in my stash for a few years now, but I’m not totally sold on either fabric. One is a really dark mottled navy from Picture this Plus, and another is a periwinkle overdyed from Silkweaver. The navy is too dark, and the peri is too light. But the bigger problem is that neither fabric looks like the vision I have always had in my head for this piece. And that is for it to be on fabric that looks like she’s standing in the woods, gazing up at the twilit sky.

You know, like this:

stargazer inspiration 1

Or this:

stargazer moon

Although I have imagined it with that deep greeny-turquoise tint the sky sometimes gets (not, alas, last night when I was taking photos!):

stargazer fabric ps

I feel guilty about the fabric already in my stash (the PTP was especially expensive), but I’m in a wildly experimental phase right now (which NEVER happens), and I’ve had a crazy, zany idea.

I think I’m going to make my own fabric! (Or, more likely, alter the fabric I already have.) Heck, I’ve watched enough episodes of “Quilting Arts!” I ought to be able to figure this out. I’m not sure what my options are, but I am investigating various methods. Right now I’m looking into (ie, checking out Pinterest) water-soluble ink pencils, and other surface treatments.

Maybe Derwent Inktense?

Or Dye-Na-Flow?

Maybe even diluted acrylic paints?

I do know I’m not up for a big, scary dye project (our Radagast experiments indicated that our facilities are not up to snuff for much of that), but I think there are enough options for surface treatments that I can figure something out. (Have also realized that I don’t really know the difference between ink and dye.)

If anyone has ideas, suggestions, or tips–do please share!

And I will have more FINISHES to share soon. So stay tuned!

Off to my wool applique class tonight. 🙂


Good night, sweet Princess Sunday, Sep 6 2015 

I can’t believe I’m writing this. The very notion seems utterly impossible. But against all reason, somehow our amazing, maddening, crazy princess Ladygirl has left us.

LG montage

Ladygirl was one in a million. The first pup in our litter with a name, she resembled Milord’s childhood dog, Lady, and thereafter resisted any efforts to change her name to something else. Whenever anyone met her and asked her name, the response was invariable, “Of course it is.” She was all princess.

LG was bossy, demanding, uncompromising, and so full of life and love. She was convinced the rest of us were here to pay court to her. As we used to say, “It’s Ladygirl’s world. We just live in it.” Boundaries and rules did not apply to her—unless she made them up. Her attitude toward silly things like fences, baby gates, and the like was a scornful, “Pffft. That’s for dogs.” At age 10 (!!!) she discovered she could jump the babygate that blocked off the dining/sewing room, and routinely would sit on the other side of it, smiling smugly at me. “This room is Ladygirl’s. Those other rooms are for the dogs.”

River Snip

Photo 2011 River Templin

She kind of had delicate health (well, she was a princess, after all—you know how sensitive they can be!), but didn’t live like it. In 2013, when she was 12, she had massive, major surgery to re-route her digestive system (scarring from pancreatitis had crushed her gall bladder bile duct and was damaging her liver), and nearly died from complications. She spent nine days in the ICU… during which time the silly girl charmed the entire staff, who would put heart-shaped stickers on all her bandages.  Ten days later? She jumped over a babygate.

Sadly, one of the complications of that initial surgery and associated issues was a propensity for her to develop aspiration pneumonia, and she’d—we’d—spent the better part of the last year or so fighting off one round after another. Endless courses of antibiotics, daily respiratory therapies, and (the last few weeks) complicated new feeding methods, became her daily routine. And through it all, she bore it like the princess she was—even treating the indelicate task of taking her temperature as though it were a great honor… for me.

The latest round began in June, and we figured she’d fight it off eventually, just like she always had. But she didn’t. She couldn’t. The years of damage to her lungs made it impossible for her to bounce back this time, and when she aspirated again last week, it just overwhelmed her. Wednesday morning she was running across the back yard, barking at the neighbor dogs and informing us archly what she wanted for breakfast. And Thursday night she was gone. That fast.

She’s hopped over one last gate, and I hope she’s smiling smugly down from Heaven at me saying, “That’s for dogs.”

Good-bye, baby girl. Never another like you.

Next Page »