I like poetry, a lot. A shelf of my Favourites Bookcase is devoted to poetry books (and there are more in the basement). I also–as you may have gathered–like sewing and embroidery, a lot. So what better than to combine them?
A few years back, I was in need of a needle-book (a fabric book with fabric pages for storing needles not in use). There was a pattern in an issue of Inspirations magazine that I liked structurally, with its multiple pages and french-knot border, but at the time I was not a fan of stumpwork and wanted something different for the cover art. I took a Sublime Stitching bird pattern (I realize it is not a wood thrush) and combined it with my favourite Sara Teasdale poem to make this little needle-book, which is in more or less constant use.
It has a page for sharp needles, a page for crewel needles, and a page for beading needles, and little endpapers of crazy bird fabric scraps. The needle pads themselves are made out of wool felt, since it holds needles so nicely. The titles are just stamped in with regular ink, and the wool felt is held to the pages with regular zig-zag stitch–nothing fancy.
Sara Teasdale was not the world’s happiest poet, though she did win the first ever Pulitzer Prize for poetry. I once spent an afternoon reading a chronological anthology of her work, which became progressively more depressive; unsurprising since she died of suicide in her late 40s. Wood Song is one of her more uplifting poems, and it’s from comparatively early in her career. As you can see, it’s not so much the work of someone who is happy, as of someone who is trying very hard to be happy.
I HEARD a wood-thrush in the dusk
Twirl three notes and make a star—
My heart that walked with bitterness
Came back from very far.
Three shining notes were all he had,
And yet they made a starry call—
I caught life back against my breast
And kissed it, scars and all.
It is gorgeous work, if sad. As much as I appreciate its artistry and the portrayal of having found meaning and solace in an interaction with nature, I also wish someone had been there to hold her hand and offer her some solace.
I added a lining since the fabric was both slightly sheer and also would stick to tights. The wool silk, though lovely and soft, also is not happy about holding a crease, which made pressing the scallops tricky. But anyway, it’s done! And Simba approves.
I might unpick the stitches joining the lining and skirt facing, though. They pull a bit. And I took about an inch out of the hips by making the back darts bigger, since I found the hips too loose.
It’s a really cute skirt and I’m glad I made it, but I’m not sure I’d make another one. Scallops just don’t feel like me. Although, I don’t know. What about in leather or suede? Then the hemline’s a lot easier, and it might be fun. It would mean putting seamlines along the current darts and making a version with much less ease so that it hangs properly … but it might be doable. Hmm.
Last week, I finally got around to buying a big piece of cow skin to experiment with. It’s brown, which isn’t my first choice, but I wanted something less fancy to make mistakes on; it’s embossed to look like ostrich skin and should distress well, so I hope whatever I make will be successful enough to use. Even cheap leather is not cheap, when you’re buying what used to cover half an ungulate.
What I need now is a pattern. A pattern for a tote bag that is slightly slouchy, would look good in a brown bumpy leather, is roomy enough for all my work stuff but not excessively so, has good interior pockets with a nice cotton lining, a solid bottom so it won’t collapse when I pick it up, and handles suitable for a shoulder-bag.
I’ve pretty well resigned myself to making my own pattern. Which so far has involved looking through approximately 1,000 pages of fashion magazine so I can rip out pictures of leather bags I like, and squint at them to see if I can figure out how they were put together. Where are the seams? How did they attach the pockets? Does it have a top zip closure, or a clasp? What did they put in the bottom to give it structure?
I have previously made shoulder bags without a pattern. My favourite was the one that started with an old pair of jeans for the lining; then I cut some boiled wool for the top facing and attached it, used that to sketch out a pattern piece for the front and back, estimated a length and width for the straps and used cotton scraps to line them, embroidered the bag front, sewed it all together and added a gusset. It looks great and it’s very functional, though embroidering through boiled wool with yarn is no joke.
So I know it is doable. But the prospect is less intimidating when one is experimenting with old blue jeans and $5/metre boiled wool, rather than embossed leather.
I also thought about adding a bit of cross-stitching or other embroidery, and bought glover’s needles just in case I end up doing any hand-work. Glover’s needles are serious weapons. I could probably sew my fingers together with them.
Current thoughts are something like the Dior bag, but a titch smaller and maybe with some embroidery; a separate side piece to give it some good interior room and avoid the need for darts or gussets; and a top-zip, if I can figure out how to assemble and install it. I want rings for the handles, like in the aqua bag, and studs to reinforce joints and seams. I want it to have feet, and a base that is attached to the side piece for a bit of extra strength and structure. And maybe I’ll have my spring/summer work bag in time for fall.
In December of last year, I had an over-active thyroid.
In March of this year, I have an under-active thyroid.
Go figure. According to the endo, there is a type of thyroid infection where it goes into hyperdrive for a while, completely drains itself, boomerangs low, and then rebounds to a normal level, and I am now in the tail end of this process. I don’t quite follow the details–I’m going to blame this on a hypothyroid-induced mental fog–but whatever. I’m too tired to care. I thought it was the hyperthyroid thing continuing or recurring, but apparently not.
I’m going to blame the whole mess on stress. It’s a stress mess.
I am now just under the normal range, so I can expect to start feeling better soon. As in, maybe I can sleep for 8 hours and wake up feeling rested, without my hands shaking.
On Monday, I turn 39; what’s more, Frances is with her Dad all weekend. If you think I’m planning an exciting and fun-filled Saturday and Sunday, you are exactly right; if you are thinking that exciting and fun-filled means being someplace other than my living room, you are maybe partially right. My favourite local fabric store has exciting! new! fabrics! in stock, and even though my stash is getting embarrassing, I cannot pass up exciting! new! fabrics! Also, it is my birthday, and I need to buy books. It’s a law, I believe: Thou Shalt Buy a Book on thy Birthday or Face the Wrath of the Bookseller. Or maybe that was just the fine print on the Chapters membership application. I forget.
I duly obliged with a bookstore visit yesterday, and three books, one of which is for Frances so doesn’t really count. But I might read it first.
I am also going to scour fabrics as part of my natural dyeing adventures. Scouring is basically boiling fabric with some heavy-duty detergents to get rid of whatever natural oils or pectins they have, so they will better accept dyes. I started with the linen last night–fresh, beautiful, never-used, brand-new linen–and the water turned as brown as dark tea. It was pretty revolting, but made a good case for the importance of scouring.
So there’s the bookstore, and the fabric store and maybe, if I’m feeling crazy, the tea store; there’s a haircut tomorrow; and also my basement for fabric scouring. There’s the short ribs in red wine & cinnamon curry I want to make for dinner on Saturday, in the kitchen. Plus sleep. Otherwise I will be in my living room, sewing. I want to finish my Meringue skirt and Jasmine blouse, and have them all ready to go for when the weather isn’t atrocious; I want to dig into Frances’s rain jacket; and I want to do some of my Farmers’ Wife Quiltalong squares. I also want to sew up a bunch of other things and add to the Someday Shelf, but this is unlikely, even with a slightly-more-cooperative thyroid.
If I emerge from my house on Monday pale, raccoon-eyed and covered in bits of thread, you’ll know why.
A Project Yet To Be Determined, with the heavy-weight alpaca wool I picked up at the Creativ Festival. It’s a flannel-weight fabric, incredibly soft, with a pin-stripe, in a nice warm neutral, and I have 1.5 metres of it.
A short-sleeved crochet sweater in Squishy, in marigold yellow (called poppy, for some reason). Because if you access to a yarn called Squishy, it would be criminal not to make something out of it. Currently in progress–a Vogue Crochet pattern that looks a bit like the Taffy Blouse. (Done!)
A sheath dress in creamy/tawny linen-silk blend with a bit of a subtle chevron pattern, also picked up at the Creativ Festival. Yes, that missing e bugs me too. Likely sheath dress pattern from the Built by Wendy Dresses book. (Done!)
A piece of hand-dyed clothing, or an accessory of some kind.
A hand-embroidered blouse. Maybe in a nice, light linen. Don’t you think a light-weight linen blouse that’s fairly fitted, with pin-tucks and some bits of colour in the embroidery, would be super pretty?
That Vintage Vogue dress I got the pattern for last year–then realized I needed 6.5 freaking metres of fabric for it. I am thinking of getting the freaking metres in a nice Liberty Lawn, though it might require a second mortgage on the house. Or maybe a trip-to-Queen-West fabric, so I can get something a little stiffer. Lawn’s lovely, but it might be too light for the skirt.
Curtains for pretty well every window in the house, but the kitchen and the dining room to start. I have yet to find a decent curtain fabric.
A new spring work bag. Maybe canvas? Heavy linen? Heavy linen would be cool, and it takes embroidery well. I could dye it, maybe. And/or smock it. Some kind of fabric manipulation would be a lot of fun. My last work bag used an old pair of jeans as the lining, which was super fun and very practical (and cheap), but I don’t think a summer bag is heavy enough to handle a thick denim lining. So it will take more brainstorming.
More button-up blouses. Work shirts. Boring as hell, but necessary. This pattern is one, with the long sleeves and narrow cuffs. It says crepe de chine is an option, which would be much less boring if I picked something like this.
Work pants. I want to take the pants I made over the winter and tweak the pockets so they are more horizontal and less vertical, but this can wait. I’d also like to make them out of something heavier, a nice wool flannel maybe, so they are work-appropriate but also cozy.
A suit. Just for the challenge. Can I make a suit that’s nice enough to wear to work?
Another Chardon skirt from Deer & Doe. I made one last year (with a lining added) in a lovely wool-silk (Creativ again) that is very light and very soft, but stands out like a bell. It was just perfect. I think the next one will be linen, for summer, with the band and the ties instead of the belt loops. Apparently I want to make everything from linen right now.
Frances’s grade 5 grad dress. Light blue rayon with sparkly trim. (Done!)
A Moneta dress for me (Done!) And another, sleeveless one.
One of the most treasured objects in my house is a quilt a dear friend made for my daughter many years ago, when I was getting divorced (the pink one in the main photo). This friend has had a very challenging life, and carries many burdens and troubles; and yet, when I was getting divorced and some comparatively blessed friends disappeared, she made my little girl a quilt to help comfort her during a very difficult time. I can’t even put into words how impressed I am by her generosity and kindness to so many people (and if this paragraph has her blushing in her seat, so much the better). Seven years have passed since then, and that lovely little pink quilt is still draped over the back of a chair in the living room, Frances still requests it when she is sick or sad, and if my house were on fire I would grab it on my way out the door.
(Just now, when I went digging through her flickr feed to find a better picture of this quilt than I was able to take this evening when I finally got in from work at 8 pm, I learned two things: holy cow, this woman has made a ton of quilts; and this was the very first picture she ever posted on flickr! What a happy surprise.)
Still, time passes, children grow, and mothers like to snuggle under quilts with them while they may–all of which is to say that I wanted also a larger snuggle quilt that Frances and I could enjoy together. It ended up being a mite larger than it really needed to be, but that is getting ahead of myself.
I am a big believer in tactile comfort. Soft clothes, yummy food, hugs and kisses, warm blankets, hot baths–things that feel good help you feel good, I think, or at least better. This has been a tough year for my girl so far, and there has been a corresponding increase in the number of tactile comforts in the house. A good cuddle quilt was essential, so I moved it to the top of the crafty priority list.
Finding a quilt pattern was the main difficulty. It had to:
1. Be not too difficult to put together. My quilting skills are still very tenuous and I wanted to be reasonably certain that I could line up all the seams and end up with something that didn’t look ridiculously amateur. This meant squares and rectangles.
2. Not use tiny blocks or patches. I wanted the pieces to be large enough that you could see the raccoon faces, or what is the point of using raccoon fabric? (You may ask yourself what is the point of using raccoon fabric in the first place. If you saw our house, Dear Readers, you would know; it is fairly dominated by nature themes and objects throughout. How could we not use the raccoon fabric?)
3. Call for fabric quantities that I already had in my stash, to minimize new required fabric purchases.
The Giggle Box pattern from a recent issue of Quilty seemed best, though a few more solids would not have been amiss. It’s a bit busy. It claimed to be throw quilt size. IT LIED.
I cut out all the strips one night when I couldn’t sleep. Effective for distraction. Not so effective for accurate cutting, as I discovered when I went to assemble the strips into quilt blocks and discovered that all of my geometric orange print rectangles were one inch too short. D’oh!
This necessitated trimming an inch off all of the blocks before piecing them together, turning all of my giggle boxes into giggle rectangles, which means the quilt as a whole is 8″ shorter than it should be. Oops. Good thing it wasn’t meant for a bed–and maybe a blessing overall, since, well–
For a throw-size quilt this thing sure turned out to be massive once it was all pieced together with the borders and everything. Holy smokes. Even with the missing 8″, it uses most of a piece of queen-sized quilt batting. Will you look at this thing? Can you imagine it 8″ longer?
I put it together with the batting and backing about a month ago and got the whole thing quilted, then realized that (despite the instructions’ insistence to the contrary) my remaining binding fabric would not be enough to bind the whole quilt, so I had to wait for an opportunity to head back to the fabric store for another metre of the pineapple print. In the meantime, we used the unbound version for our snizza dates.
As of last weekend, and many hours spent stitching bias binding pieces together and ironing them into quarters, it is finally finished.
I know the traditional thing is to take a nice outdoor shot of the finished quilt draped over something so you can see it, full-scale and in good light. I have no intention of subjecting myself to that kind of cold or discomfort, however, so we’ll have to make do with my indoor shots. It’s big! It has raccoons, rabbits, foxes and moths on it. It adds a much-welcome touch of bright orange to our living room, what with this gloomy winter we’ve all had. It’s warm. And if need be, I can wrap Frances and myself up in it, cocoon-style, and we can imagine it into a magic force field to keep the whole world safely away.