Goodbye, Sweetheart Saturday, Aug 12 2017 

Once upon a time, there were eleven. Then, somehow, just one. Now, far, far too soon, we are empty nesters. Jasmine, the last of our litter—our kids, the family we spent the last 16 years raising—has passed away, just a couple months after a very Sweet 16.

What can I say about Jazzie, that would capture her bright, feisty, sweet spirit, without somehow diminishing her? What can I say about losing her, that honors her, and doesn’t put the burden of all our losses onto her? For I am only now, finally, beginning to feel the magnitude of what we’ve lost. She was a precious unique soul worthy of an entire heartbreak on her own accord, but as long as she was still here with us, in a way, so were her mom, and her 8 brothers and sisters. It was never quite over, until now.

I have a lot of thoughts about the experience of shepherding our family of dogs into old age and into the undiscovered country—thoughts about hospice and suffering (or not!) and how to say goodbye—but those will come later. Right now, I want you to know about Jazz.

She was loud. She had Strong Opinions. She kept abreast of all the neighborhood, family, and household goings-on–a true Newshound! She had a short, sharp bark that she employed freely, liberally, and with abandon. She was the inspiration for Pilot, the bright-eyed, bushy-tailed dog in my book A Curse Dark as Gold. She was an excellent communicator; a much better communicator, sometimes, than we were interpreters! (It took us ten years to realize she barked at us during dinner because we weren’t making eye contact with her!!)

With Gracie Pigeon, who we lost in 2015

She was sweet—so, so very sweet! When you saw her, you could not help the first words out of your mouth being “Hi, Sweetheart!” It came so naturally, that she grew to think it was her name. You could holler “Jasmine! JAAAAZYYYYY!” until every dog in the state got tired of listening, and she’d totally ignore you. But one quiet “Hi, Sweetheart,” had her trotting right to you. I can remember one of the very first times it happened, when she was a tiny pup. She’d woken up in the middle of the night (definitely not for the last time!) and CJ got up to let her out. Instead of going back to her crate, she wandered into our bedroom. I heard a little rustle by my bedside, switched on the light, saw her bright little face, and automatically said, “Hi, Sweetheart!” I guess she never forgot it, either. She never knew a stranger, because everyone knew her name the first time they met: “Hi, Sweetheart!” they’d say, just looking at her.

At 6 and 8 weeks old, already alert and watching! (She learned to sit on command by watching me train her brothers and sisters.)

She was even sweet to other animals. If she encountered a baby rabbit or fallen bird in the yard, she would stop several paces back, with a friendly tail-wag; or accidentally wander nose-to-nose into a visiting opossum. Never aggressive, she’d stop, say, “Hello!” and then go on about her way again. Last summer, I heard her barking worriedly from the back yard, and went out to discover the family of fledgling starlings who’d just dropped into the yard. She made sure I found all three babies—even the one hidden behind the deck screen—and got them all to safety again. (She got that from her mom.)

…But it’s just not possible to tell you Jazzie’s story without including her family. She got the name Jasmine because she was one of three black-and-tan sisters, who were almost indistinguishable as pups. Only when one of them unexpectedly grew a long, luxurious black coat at the age of 3 weeks could we tell them all apart. Grandma Judy named her Jasmine, after the princess from Disney’s “Aladdin.”

One of the rare times she was actually asleep.

Of all our pups, she was the least intimidated by our greyhound, her Uncle Whistler. The others regarded him as a god, to be worshipped from a respectful distance–but Jazzie instinctively knew what a gentle soul he really was. She’d walk right up to him to share dropped cookie crumbs or kibbles she knew he didn’t want. He probably just said, “Hi, Sweetheart,” and let her.

She had the most beautiful smile, which seemed to be her natural expression between barks, as if she wanted you to know she was barking at everything happily! She was happy to tell you what you should be doing! Happy to tell you that one of her sisters was at the back door! Happy to tell you Daddy was home!! The mail was here! Happy to direct your attention at dinnertime!

The Twins, Jade & Jasmine, with big brother Flint at foreground

She loved a belly rub, from the time she was a tiny baby. She hated having her nails done (unless it was by her pal Doc). She was a night owl and an early bird, an introvert who was happiest in crowds. She hated the rain, and yet always seemed to end up going for walks in the very worst weather. She liked her own space (and had her own room) when she was younger, but when she got older she loved to snuggle. When she was excited—which was often!—she’d do pirouettes… while barking.

As her own family dwindled, her life got quieter. Except for that voice! It was still going strong literally ten minutes before she left us. She’ll be letting everybody in Heaven know what’s what. Here’s a tip: She answers to Hi, Sweetheart, and she wants you to look at her.

The Good Life: with her new birthday beds, showing how it’s done

‘Bye, Sweetheart. Thanks for everything.

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My Crazy Ambitious Annual Personal Challenge Sunday, Jul 2 2017 

…And I need y’all to cheer me on.

For the past few years, each year on my birthday (tomorrow!) I set an ambitious personal goal. The first year, I challenged myself to complete 41 sewing projects before I turned 42. (I finished 47!!! That’s about seven times my normal annual output.) Last year, it was about writing: I would write at least 420 words, every single day. I didn’t keep track of my total word count, but I hit that daily goal—and more, most days—and wound up with almost a whole new novel! The point of the challenge is to choose something so wildly ambitious that it seems impossible—so that even in the pursuit of the goal, I’m guaranteed some measure of success.

(By the way, I got this idea from a needlewoman on “Quilting Arts,” who had challenged herself to completing a tiny work of hand embroidery every day, and I recently read about a quilter who took an annual block-a-day calendar literally! And here’s an article about an artist who made 50 self-portraits the year she turned 50. As you can see, this is a great tradition, and I encourage everyone to give it a try, too. I’ve gotten so much out of it, I’m embarking on my third one!)

This year, I’m focusing on fitness and health. The last couple years of caring for ill and elderly family members has taken its toll on my own health, and as that stage of our lives is coming to an end (HOPEFULLY!  You hear that, older relatives? STAY HEALTHY!!!), it’s time to regain my own well-being.

To that end, I’m committing to DAILY WORKOUTS. Yes, every single day. To some of you, this might seem senselessly easy, but although I’ve been a fitness enthusiast all my adult life, I haven’t always managed to hit those daily workouts (and even when doing very strict rotations, there are usually built-in rest days). I am really curious to see how I feel after focusing on daily movement. (Since, y’know, I have one of those Deadly Sedentary Sitting Jobs!) I’d like to feel like I’m 43—not old and cranky and stiff.

The goal, like the writing goal, is a small one to start: Just 20 minutes. Many days I expect to exceed this (a run takes about 45; a walk is usually over an hour), but I also know that some days it’ll be a struggle to find even that much time. I’ve actually been testing the feasibility of this goal for the last month or so: in June I missed 5 days. So it should be possible, if I make it my priority, just as I’ve done with writing the last year. Although I’ll be focusing on some favorites (RUNNING!), I hope to try out some new things, too (yoga? Maybe?).

I’m giving myself some exceptions: If I am totally incapacitated by injury or illness, or if I’m travelling (you know, 14 hours in a car or airports). I’ve learned, however, over the past two challenges, how to Embrace Imperfect Conditions. Can’t find your cardio shoes? Do it barefoot. Internet connection on the fritz? Find an old DVD. Bad weather? Run in the rain. Just get it done.

But here’s where YOU come in: I’m going to be posting my daily workouts on Facebook (which also kind of makes this a daily Facebook challenge!), and I’d appreciate it if you’d cheer me on. I didn’t share my writing goal publicly, because I was afraid I wouldn’t be able to make it. Now I feel bolstered by the last two years’ successes, and am less embarrassed to say, “Hey—I’m going for this, and it might not work out, but I’d love it if you’d encourage me along the way!”

So I’m stocked up on reward stickers for my calendar, a new fitness journal, new running shoes (thanks to my inlaws’ generous birthday gift!!), and a whole library of streaming workouts. Today I am taking this fitness assessment from the Mayo Clinic, and plan to revisit that quarterly. Tomorrow I’ll time my run. And all this will hopefully culminate next July 4 with a local 10k race!

If I don’t check in, y’all will pester me about this, right?

Thanks, friends! See you tomorrow, bright and early, with my run times.

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.

 

 

Stitching 2016 closed… Sunday, Jan 1 2017 

31 December, 2016

I MADE A QUILT!!!!!

dad-steph-quilt

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

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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!

all-finished-1

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!

fussy-20161109_195505

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!

looking-at-the-quilt

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:

sample-9-patch-for-blog

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.):

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…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-snip

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.

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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:

binding-sneak-peek

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

floor-finished

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!

july-3-snip

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.

TLDR?

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

…And I can’t wait to make another.

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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.

flint-montage.jpg?w=500&h=374

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

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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.

23054922.jpg

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.

23064738.jpg

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.

 

 

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