Butterfly Bookmark (aka Merry Christmas/Happy Birthday Aunt Sue)

The is the long sad tale of a bookmark that was supposed to be a Christmas present, and ended up being a late birthday present instead.

Fully aware of the wonky corners. I swear they were straight as a pin until I got them under the presser foot.

Meet my Aunt Sue.

She loves to read, and if the gifts she’s accumulated in her house over many decades are any guide, she loves little embroidered things.

Either that, or people have been giving them to her for years and she’s been too nice to say she hates them. In which case, I have added to her stockpile of unwanted embroidered things, and I apologize.

The bookmark project is from Inspirations magazine. (Issue #82 if you’re trying to track it down.)

What it was supposed to look liked, plus the accompanying needlebook project.

Being me, I couldn’t leave the directions alone, and had to “improve” upon them. I did this in two ways: 1) The use of hand-dyed linen instead of the white irish linen recommended, and 2) using a bit of buckram in the middle to stiffen it, instead of cardstock or stiff paper.

The linen was maybe not the best choice. This was a piece from the bug juice test dyeing of a few years back, and it is a lovely shade of pink (Aunt Sue, please don’t think about it being stained with the blood of dead lady cactus beetles). The colour contrasts quite well with the butterfly colours. But the linen is quite fine which, while perfect for less heavy embroidery, turned out to be a challenge for thread painting. There is so much thread and it is so thickly layered, and it’s hard to be precise with needle placement when the fabric warp and weft are placed rather spaciously. I think it turned out ok, but it could have been better, for sure.

Post-surgical intervention
Post-surgical intervention

The buckram would have been a fantastic idea, if I’d remembered about turn of cloth and not cut out a piece exactly as big as the finished bookmark. Once I’d sewn it together, flipped it around, and then topstitched it flat, it buckled in the middle something fierce. Very disappointing.

I got that far just before Christmas but couldn’t bring myself to mail a wobbly bookmark to my Aunt.

And there it sat for three months.

Just before her birthday I finally straightened my head out, took out the seams, removed the buckram, cut off a quarter inch from the top and one side, put the buckram back in, and sewed it all up again, after pressing as many of the creases out as I could. So much better. Now it’s smooth and much less wonky looking.


I know some people are big fans of wonky but it’s not a look that works well with thread painting.

In its new home, sporting a new ribbon.
In its new home, sporting a new ribbon.


Aunt Sue is a lovely, warm-hearted, generous, and unbelievably positive woman with a kind word for everyone and a possibly limitless capacity for forgiveness. It was a lot of fun to make her a little something. Here’s hoping the next time I do, I’ll remember to mail it before at least one of its intended celebrations.

Positive Self-Talk Via Cross-Stitch, Hurrah!

I read a number of years ago in Snoop that motivational posters are essentially a form of self-talk, and one of the most reliable external indicators of a neurotic temperament. Science. Gotta love it. Apparently people buy them, not to communicate to other people their commitment to Excellence or Overcoming Fear or Success, but to remind themselves of the kinds of people they want to be.

Just for giggles.

It made me incredibly insecure about anything that might be considered a motivational poster in any of my spaces. Oh my god. I’m advertising my neuroticism. Laying bare my inadequacies for the viewing pleasure of any passing pizza delivery person.

One exception to this rule has been this poster:


Proudly displayed right above the sofa, for many years now. Except at Christmas when it’s replaced by a seasonal cross-stitch. Anyway:

Backstory is that our former PM, Harper, had a very anti-science and secretive attitude, and this artist, Franke James, was outright censored by the government for her views on climate change. You can read her story elsewhere, but James put together a series of posters and stickers, and a really funny book, about her experiences. And this is one of those posters. (I also have the book. Worth reading.)

True to Snoop form, it is of course a statement to myself of the kind of person I want to be: committed to environmental values, willing to take an unpopular stand to communicate my commitment to environmental values.

But since the election of Justin Trudeau in the fall, it is also out of date.

Cue parade, streamers, marching band. Hurray! So glad it’s out of date!

This meant it needed to be replaced. And the sooner the better. I don’t want to have to look at any Harper Era reminders for any longer than I have to.

It’s been replaced by this:

Just a minor shift in tone.

Soon to be joined by the most adorable little threadpainting. It’s going to be a corner of nauseating sweetness. Frances and I will snuggle up with Simba and talk about our days under a nice little “LOVE” banner (plus the threadpainting), possibly while using the critter cuddle quilt. Maybe I’ll call it the Saccharine Seat.

The backing fabric is a hand-dyed aida bought at Gitta’s Charted Petit Point (favourite embroidery store in the known universe, Dear Readers. Did you know you can buy embroidery fabric off the bolt?). What I love about hand-dyed aida is, well, first off the colours are fabulous, but I also find the slight mottling introduced by the hand-dyeing process tricks the eye into seeing it as a regular fabric, at least from certain distances, rather than a grid.

Never let it be said that I lack self-awareness, Dear Readers. (Though it’s true sometimes.)

I could say I made it just because of how wonderfully the colours work with the grey-blue walls. I love the contrast between warm and cool. Give me a room to decorate, I’ll put a warm or cool colour on the walls, and then the opposite for the furniture and fixings. And the golds in the cross-stitch work so well with the golds in all the other art hung over the couch.

Not sure that I love that the one in the middle is the only one with so much white in it. Might be a smidge too heavy. Hmm.

And I could talk about how mentally I have just not been up for sewing. The massive purge has contributed, yes–but even then. Sewing (even pouches and tote bags) requires a kind of focus and concentration I haven’t had much of. Whereas cross stitch is like paint by numbers on fabric. You can set yourself up on the sofa with something on the TV and just plug away, one little x at a time, and as long as you count correctly, you’ll end up with something gorgeous. But that begs a whole other question, doesn’t it?

The TV appears to be important, because otherwise I end up fruitlessly ruminating on unhappy memories.

And you don’t want to hear about it, but fruitlessly ruminating over unhappy memories is, in the main, incompatible with a hobby that requires focus, concentration, some math, and the use of machines with strong engines and sharp edges. An easy, mindless project that can be carried out on the couch while watching sci-fi shows is much more the thing.

According to WordPress I’ve written about 25 versions of the rest of this post. Not that I’m indecisive or anything, but apparently I can’t decide how to end this. Dear Readers, let’s try #26:


Once upon a time, a young girl at daycare stared, puzzled, at a boy who was sobbing brokenheartedly as his mother left. “Why would you cry,” she wondered, “just because your mother is leaving?”

She thought about this hard all day, but her thinking brought her no closer to an answer. She decided to try this for herself, the next time her mother dropped her off there, and she did. Wailed. Her mother left and the daycare workers comforted her. “Nope,” she thought. “I still don’t get it.”

She would never cry for missing her mother. Not once, in her entire life. There was nothing to miss. Her relationship with her mother was like a three-prong electrical cord trying to fit into a two-prong outlet, like the outline of where a person should be.   Fear, anger, and sadness were subject to evaluation and her reasons for being scared, sad or angry were never good enough. Eventually nothing would make her cry–not disease, not death–not where anyone could see, but she suspects the jewelry box she hid a scalpel and a bottle of aspirin in is probably still in storage with the rest of her childhood things.

One day she would find herself in a psychologist’s office, after having made so many mistakes that she could no longer chalk them up to circumstance, and realizing that she didn’t know what to do with her life except try to fit three-prong electrical cords into two-prong outlets. That psychologist would have a number of things to say, like, “I don’t know why you still have a relationship with those people,” and “Asking why is pointless. A doormat can ask the feet that walk on it for a million years why they’re walking on it. If it really doesn’t want to be walked on, it needs to roll itself up and go under the chair,” and “You are more disconnected from your emotions than anyone I’ve ever met.”

A lot of it wouldn’t make any sense at the time, but would become clearer as the years passed, until she was able to say to herself, “I don’t know why I have a relationship with these people either.” Until she became the kind of person who regularly wore waterproof mascara and carried kleenex in her purse, who was teased by her daughter for crying at everything. Who learned that crazy doesn’t look like crazy from the inside, that the people closest to a situation often see it least clearly, that children normalize whatever it is they’ve grown up with. That Philip Larkin is at least a little bit wrong, and so are The Clod and The Pebble.

That people who have grown up in houses with empty outlines instead of people develop a sense of humour that is quite distinct and often not appreciated, and she could find her tribe by telling a joke and seeing who laughs.

That people only change when they want to, and they almost never want to. Dragged  to the edge of a cliff, held  by the collar of their shirt over the edge, while life says “change or die.” They’d rather fall. They do fall, reciting a litany of reasons why falling was inevitable, why falling isn’t actually falling, why they’re falling up instead of down, why actually everyone is falling and those clowns standing there looking so smug are falling too even if they won’t admit it. It was a kind of gift, she knows, to have been dragged to the right cliff at just the right time. It wasn’t a given.

Eventually plenty of tears would be shed over what should have filled that outline–the words, gestures, and expressions that might have existed, but didn’t–a kind of meta-missing. Like missing a friend you’ve never had. A country you’ve never seen. But decades of looking for what wasn’t and couldn’t be there would eventually drive home the point that if it was to be found, it would need to be found elsewhere; and that regardless, it would need to be begged, borrowed, stolen, bought, or created out of popsicle sticks and duct tape, for her daughter.

(That part didn’t turn out to be so hard. Her daughter is pretty lovable.)


Rectangles in Suede (sort of)

I don’t post for months, and then when I do, I go ahead and post a Scout.


A Scout.

Surely you’ve seen three million Scouts already.

And now you’ve seen one more!

This was a shirt inspired by a fabric–a very light, double-sided faux suede with a lot of stretch and a lot of drape. I spent a lot of time looking at suede shirts, real and fake, on the internet (probably more time than I spent actually making the shirt), and decided that I liked the look of loose, boxy tops more than button-up shirts for this fabric.


I didn’t have a single loose, boxy top pattern–how is that possible?–so I picked up the Scout and altered it to be even looser and more boxy, primarily by dropping the armscye and lengthening and widening the sleeve. There’s clearly no concern about fitting with something like this, so as long as the shoulders were in the right place, and the bust wasn’t snug, I considered it a success.

For something so basic, it’s been getting a ton of wear, usually on casual Fridays in the office.

As a matter of fact, this is pretty much exactly how I look on casual Fridays.
As a matter of fact, this is pretty much exactly how I look on casual Fridays.

This is exactly three rectangles joined at the shoulder. But that’s what I wanted, so I’m counting it as a success.

Let’s Stereotype!

One of my favourite things about the internet is that everywhere, you can find articles, posts and memes about different kinds of people.

Right? You’ve seen a million of these.

Now I am going to embark on my own gross over-generalization:

There are two kinds of sewing bloggers:

Sewing bloggers who like to sew.

Sewing bloggers who like to make things.

Sewing bloggers only sew. Their sewing may even be incredibly specific: authentic medieval costumes, say. Cosplay outfits for conventions. Knit t-shirts.

Sewing-bloggers-who-like-to-make-things may blog primarily or exclusively about their sewing, but if you visited their home, you’d see an enormous crafting stash for everything from candle-making to wood-carving to books on constructing custom rocket-ships for “someday.” Do I get to make it with my hands? Does it involve fun toys and the chance to accumulate highly specialized tools you can really only use for one thing? Fantastic! Sign me up!

I am part of the second crowd. I cook, bake, make candles, sew, embroider, occasionally refinish furniture, make cards, carve stamps, draw, paint, make things out of old books, take photographs, do calligraphy and hand-lettering from time to time, crochet, have sadly neglected knitting supplies, dye things, etc. Basically, if it’s an object that can be made by hand rather than by machine, I’d prefer to.

It’s really fairly hopeless.

There are also two kinds of sewing blog readers, I’ve found.

Those who are only interested in reading about sewing. They will turn away if a blogger starts blogging about something other than sewing, or even something other than sewing what they used to sew (such as when a sewing blogger has a baby and starts sewing baby clothes).

Those who are mostly interested in the person doing the sewing, and will happily keep reading even when sewing is not the only subject of posts.

Which are you, Dear Readers? What do you look for in your bloggingness, either as a blogger or reader (or both)?

This is Not a Stowe

The Market Tote bag as made up in the book. Yes ok, theirs is prettier. But I like my owls. See in link: http://www.chroniclebooks.com/blog/2011/06/23/in-praise-of-totes/

This is the Market Tote bag from 1, 2, 3, Sew. I made two, a stash-busting project to use up the laminated owl-print cotton I bought years ago to make bags, and then didn’t.

The book contains 33 projects, most with full-size paper patterns included. And the Market Tote bag is better than the Stowe.

For one thing, it’s fully lined. And for another, the contrasting panels make for a more interesting design.

Because it’s lined, should you want to add interior pockets, you can do so without the stitching showing through to the outside. It’s also tougher. The book recommends burlap and cotton outers with a canvas lining, but I imagine you could use about any kind of fabric you like, so long as either the lining or the outer fabric is canvas-weight. Regardless, it’s two fabric thicknesses, which is nice and durable.

On these, in addition to the laminated cotton used on the outer bottom, I used a medium-weight linen in a coordinating colour for the top, and lined it with a heavy canvas. They are sturdy, tough bags that carry a lot of groceries. And because the bottom is laminated, I can put these on the ground if I need to.

Also, Simba approves. Or maybe he just smells the port.
Also, Simba approves. Or maybe he just smells the pork.

The instructions are fairly clear and the bag sews up quickly. The only downside–and I imagine this would apply to a bag with any similar profile, including the Stowe–is that it uses up a lot of fabric. Most tote bags are made out of an assemblage of rectangles, which means you can jigsaw the pattern pieces around on the fabric to get the best fit and stretch the fabric farther. When the handle is cut on to the bag with all the swoopy curves and such, you can’t do this. It uses a surprising yardage and the leftovers are odd shapes that are difficult to use for other projects.

The other downside is that the lining piece appears to me to be a bit longer than the exterior. Double-check before you sew them together to make sure you won’t have lining puddling in the bottom of the bag, just in case. 1, 2, 3, Sew does have issues with their projects in measurements of pieces, so I’d recommend double-checking before cutting and/or sewing, just to be on the safe side. I’ve identified a few others in my GoodReads review.

From this book, in addition to the Market Tote bag, I’ve made the pencil holder (x4), plaid coasters (x approx. 12), doodle bag, lunch sack (x2), and lawn cosmetic bag, with plans to make up the mouse pincushion someday. Technically I’ve also used the other zippered pouch pattern, but it’s the same as any other zippered pouch pattern pattern you’d find anywhere, so we won’t count that one. $25 for the book on-line, divided by 7, is about $4 per pattern.

$4 Cdn. Not US $18.

I think I can handle being hopelessly uncool, under the circumstances.

2016 Anti-Resolution (sewing and otherwise)

I used to be so good.

Every year I would start thinking about my New Year’s Resolutions in November.

By December 31, I’d try to narrow the list down to 10. Each would be specific and measurable, and have been broken down into steps with defined follow-up dates.

Does this sound exhausting to you? It’s a bit mind boggling to me in retrospect. It’s not like I had more time, I just flogged myself like a draft horse in pursuit of some nebulous image of perfection, or maybe flawlessness is a better word. I didn’t think I was ever going to be perfect, but by god if I wasn’t going to make every (un)reasonable effort in scrubbing everything from myself or my life which anyone might even possibly conceive of as a flaw!

DSC_00830015 (2)

For the past couple of years, I’ve followed along on the recent trend of coming up with a Word for the year. One, a couple of years ago, was Warmth. The others I’ve forgotten. This is, as you likely don’t need me to tell you, a change. I’ve got a Word for this year, too–one I haven’t forgotten yet; it’s Flaws. Yes, indeed. How the mighty have fallen.

I know I know. It’s supposed to be something like Achieve or Grow or Learn or LiveInTheBahamas or something aspirational and surrounded by a lit-from-within glow suitable for motivational posters. Fuck it. After decades of examining myself with a microscope to identify and destroy anything that does not live up to whatever ideal(s) I was trying to embody at the time–and to be sure, missing plenty, that being a key part of humanness–I’m going to spend 2016 being ok with having flaws and not being perfect or growing or trying to achieve anything in particular except a wholehearted appreciation of those imperfect quirks that make us individual humans.


A Word like Flaws naturally introduces some logistical questions, particularly with regards to hobbies, such as: Am I going to purposefully read books I know to be awful? Will I make sewing mistakes on purpose? Should I embrace the Joys of Burnt Pasta? Well, no. I’m sure I’ll end up reading awful books, making sewing mistakes, and burning pasta without any special effort on my part. I’ll also say things to Frances I shouldn’t, do something I’m not supposed to at work, spend money on things I don’t end up using, miscalculate the carb content of a considerable number of meals, emit more greenhouse gases than the planet can safely support on a per capita basis, wrongly sort the recycling, and in many other ways both large and small, Fail to Live Up to My Full Potential. Hurray!

Who knows, maybe I’ll do some stuff, too. Maybe I’ll even finally take some pictures of recent sewing projects and post something here about sewing again, or finish a book review, or talk about something other than myself. Let’s hope, anyway.


What can I say about 2015? It was a year. It was a very year-like year, in that it had 365 days, divided into 12 more or less equal portions. On those days, many things happened. Some were bad things that turned out to be good, which was a relief. Some were bad things that stayed bad, which was unfortunate. Thankfully all of the good things that happened stayed good–none turned out to be, on later reflection, bad things.

Among the 365 dinners, lunches, and breakfasts consumed, hundreds of school days successfully prepared for and attended, dozen or so not attended, nights of more or less restful sleep, and other such mundanities, which even I yawn to remember, things happened which were not in the slightest mundane.

We exchanged a nightmare of a government for a government which seems, in its early days, to be at the very least fully awake and conscious of its surroundings. This is a positive development.

We had our hearts broken approximately 152 times apiece over the Syrian refugee crisis. Cumulative tears spilled over pictures of dead children on beaches and HONY’s ongoing refugee stories surely number in the billions. Scientists are still trying to account for the water usage in global models of rising sea levels. Further, we had the opportunity to discover which, of our friends, had been for many years absolute racists right under our very noses. We learned that the human capacity for hatred of other humans in distress remains tragically high in western culture, despite all the progress made in human rights and diversity over the past few decades. This struck a real blow to our collective hubris but not, alas, in the right quarters.

We learned that there are far too many people who are willing to support politicians and parties who build their platforms out of the wood of hate-trees, but not, in Canada at least, enough of them to win those politicians an election. Fingers crossed, America.

There were also events which were neither global nor national in scope. Some of them involved pieces of fabric which were assembled by hand or machine into various textile goods. However, in amongst navigating daily life and large piles of fabric, hugs were exchanged, tears fell, jobs were lost and gained, genetic conditions were considered and dismissed (all of them, in fact), deadlines were missed, bills were paid, cancer diagnoses were confirmed, birthday parties were held, friends were entertained and/or consoled as seemed appropriate; in short, it was a year. A year in which 365 days were experienced in a consecutive fashion, much like most other years. A year in which night followed day, which followed night, with periods of twilight mixed in for aesthetic impact. A year in which one person’s best day ever was someone else’s worst day ever, and most of us found ourselves squarely in between. A year in which beauty and ugliness were, as usual, so thoroughly co-mingled in most situations and places that there was no separating them.


2015: It was here. Now it is not.

2016: 365 days plus a freebie. Let’s see what we can do with this one.

Merry Christmas, Laura!

Laura is one of my oldest and most favourite of internet friends. We met back in the golden age of mommyblogs, and she impressed me right away with her generosity and kindness. Despite many, many significant heartbreaks in her life, she has remained open and loving. I can’t tell you how much I admire her for this.

Back when Frances’s father and I were separating, Laura made Frances a quilt. It was pink, as that was Frances’s favourite colour at the time, and lovely and just her size. The generosity and thoughtfulness of this gift blew me away then, as it blows me away now. We still use this quilt on days when Frances is in need of extra comfort, even though it is now too small.

And then when I got a new job and moved to Dundas–she made us a picnic quilt! Bright colours of blue and green, because she knows I love them, with star patches on them because they were windmill-shaped and I was starting to work in the wind energy industry, and one of the stars made of a newsprint patterned fabric because I was doing some freelance journalism. We have brought this quilt with us on picnics (and camping trips and outdoor concerts) many, many times in the years since. Again, her generosity and thoughtfulness blew us away.

I’ve given her gifts too over the years, but none as personal, meaningful or full of effort as these. Laura’s quilts are the kinds of gifts you make plans to take with you if the house is ever on fire. Books and gift certificates for fabric stores are not. But when I saw this project in a magazine, I knew it was meant for Laura: a sewing roll with gorgeous brightly coloured flowers, and a spot to put her initials:


Six little pockets for sewing tools, that folds up and ties with the bias-binding straps.


I put some of my stash fabrics in the box for good measure, but that’s more of a favour she’s doing me rather than a gift I’m giving to her. I’m sure they’ll be made into something beautiful. All of her quilts are gorgeous. A few little sewing goodies were tucked into the pockets, too.

Of course this is not the same as two full quilts (!!), but I hope she loves and gets years of use out of this little gift. And I hope she takes this post, too, as part of it. Laura is a person who makes the world better by existing in it.

Merry Christmas


To all of you who celebrate, I hope you have a wonderful day filled with good memories.

To those of you who celebrate something else, please forgive us once again our annual excesses.

And for those of you who are struggling right now, I wish you survival, good alcohol (if appropriate), and good company (if desired).

My favourite holiday song this year is Tracey Thorn‘s Joy, discovered from an internet friend many moons ago.

It puts the darkness and the light together in a way that I think is better and truer than the constant onslaught of Merry Merry Merry. I hope you love it as much as I do.

this is not a blog about refugees

Except for when it is. Today is that day, you lucky readers!

We’ve had an agonizing whiplash situation with respect to Syrian refugees here in Canada over the last few months. Of course, if you are Canadian, you know this already; but to recap for the readers in the outfield seats, early in the fall it looked like the Conservative party might win the federal election largely by appealing to anti-immigrant, specifically anti-Muslim, sentiment here in Canada. Perhaps those of you in America are having a well-isn’t-that-a-coincidence moment right now.

Then the Liberals smashed the Conservatives (and the NDP, unfortunately) in a wholly unanticipated landslide win. Since then, our new federal government has committed to taking in 25,000 Syrian refugees by the end of February (this is, to my mind, insufficient but at least it’s a good start) and the new national pass-time has become obsessively watching and reading stories of Syrian newcomers, at least if my FaceBook feed is any indication. Community groups all over the country have formed to sponsor refugees under the private sponsorship process, in which individuals, families or groups commit to donating or raising at least $27,000 per family of four, to support them for one year after they come to Canada while they are adjusting and looking for work etc.

There are of course a ton of such projects all over the country, each of them worthwhile and deserving and a great use of donation dollars, but today I am going to share with you one formed by a friend and former co-worker, Katie Meyer-Beck, who is working with a small group of people to sponsor two families of Syrian refugees (with three small children between them) to relocate to Hamilton.

Walking Together

The short story is that the first family (of four) came to Walking Together’s attention as relatives of a Syrian family already living in Hamilton, and they committed to almost the entire $27k required to resettle them here. Then they found out there was another family of three also related to those two initial families, and they are trying to raise the money required to bring them over too.

As of my writing, they are about $15k short of their fundraising goal. And hey, if you live in the States and you are wishing you could do something to directly support people living through this crisis, and you want to take advantage of the crazy US/Canada $ exchange rate, here is your chance! (Or anyone else too.)

There are a lot of ways to express financial support, and I’ll feel remiss if I didn’t mention them too:

Wesley Urban Ministries, coordinating the resettlement work in Hamilton
Immigrant’s Working Centre’s 20for20 campaign, through which Walking Together is planning their sponsorship effort
and the UNHCR

All of whom would, so I understand, make wise use of your donation dollars on behalf of refugees.

But if it seems ok to you, and there’s still room in the Walking Together campaign when you read this, please consider donating to this effort.

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