There are many things I love about working in a quilt shop. Talking to people about what they’re making is right up there near the top. It’s not unusual to hear people downplay their projects. “It’s just a quilt.” “It’s nothing special.” “I’m just a beginner.”

One of our regulars was telling me recently that she makes quilts for the high school graduates she knows but that the ones she made weren’t anything special because she’s still new to quilting. And it dawned on me that she really, honestly thought the quilts she was making weren’t anything remarkable — which couldn’t be farther from the truth.

If you take the time and love to make someone a handmade gift — especially something like a quilt — you are giving them something they will treasure for years, I told her. You may look at it and see all the mistakes you made but the recipient sees you and feels loved. If you gave that same person a comforter from Target, that blanket will go in the trash when it’s no longer worth using. But that person will seek out someone to repair the worn spots, the damage from years of loving use, of that beautiful handmade gift you think of as “nothing special.”

Whether or not we intend it, our quilts, clothes, stuffed toys — they’re all special for the love and thoughts that go into making them. If that doesn’t make it an heirloom, then I don’t know what does.

I’m not quite sure what happened to this year. Didn’t 2014 just get started? How is it possible that we’re already 10 days into November?

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At least I’ve already got a head start on my holiday sewing. Last year I picked up a copy of Simply Modern Christmas by Cindy Lammon. The projects were just lovely and I could see myself making so many of them — and not limiting myself to holiday fabrics. Of course, I couldn’t resist making a cute Christmas quilt.

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The retro Christmas fabrics from Michael Miller just spoke to me! And the Kona in Pool was a perfect match. It’s a lot of flying geese but chain piecing made the work go a little faster. It’s not a huge quilt — small enough to back with one width of fabric — but great for showing off a big chunk of theme fabric.

My buddy Elizabeth Beck did the quilting and I wish I had snapped a better picture of the quilt so you could see her beautiful work! The quilt is on display at Intown Quilters, if you’re local.

An open letter to my family:

I’d like to apologize for the meal I’ve prepared for tonight’s dinner. Out of the approximately 500 meals I cook and serve in any given year, it’s to be expected that a few will be not so awesome. Tonight is one of those meals.

In my haste to prepare the meatloaf I’d planned for tonight, I neglected to add any seasonings whatsoever to the ground beef. I did remember to put it in the meatloaf pan and pop it in the oven for about an hour. What you’ll find in the kitchen looks very little like the meatloaf you’ve come to expect from me and a great deal more like “old brown shoe.” Looks aren’t everything, folks, so I’d suggest you refrain from making comments about its appearance — unless you are planning to volunteer to make dinner for the next three weeks.

Please trust me when I say it is entirely edible and safe to consume. In fact, you could consider it a blank canvas, just waiting for the condiment of your choice to lend it flavor. Seriously, go grab some kind of condiment out of the fridge and pour it on because you’re getting overcooked, plain ground beef for dinner. At least the mashed potatoes have garlic in them (I bought them that way).

xoxo,
me

Another DragonCon is over and out! Four days of costumes, fandom and friends is really one of the highlights of my year.

This year was a little different in that I went solo Friday. My wonderful Honey had to work that day so we put Miss L on the bus Friday morning as usual, since he was working from home. It felt a little odd to head off without them and I was definitely glad it was just one day.

My professional commitments for the con were pretty minimal this year: two Costuming track panels, one Alternate History track panel, one fundraising event, a fashion show and judging a costume contest. Of course the hot summer weather that has been missing the majority of the season arrived just in time for DC. Yay?

Because I have been working on my next book, I majorly scaled back my costume plans. The only new costume I wore was the Snow Queen and my original plan was to wear my casual Wonder Woman on Friday, a geeky halter dress Sunday and the Snow Queen Saturday. (Most folks don’t costume Monday, me included.) Plans changed when I was invited to take part in the Vintage Vogue Fashion Show on Friday. I would have loved to include the Snow Queen in the show but it’s a major undertaking to put it on and I can’t do it without help. And it’s not exactly possible to drive while wearing it. I opted to reuse my aquanaut’s wife costume (updated with a new short-sleeve peasant top and my black wig) and managed to corral my son into lacing me up before he ran off to hang with his friends.

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Costuming is fun but costuming with your friends is even better! For me, the weekend really goes beyond that. Finding other people who love fabric and sewing as much as I do was so amazing and I feel so fortunate to have made friends who share that with me. Connecting with this crazy costuming bunch is like finding where I fit. I get to share this amazing career that I’m so passionate about where it intersects with these fandoms of so many things I love. I am constantly inspired and awed and able to help others achieve their goals, too. And this year I was able to spend even more time with some of my peeps, which made the weekend even more memorable (and maybe made for some unusually late nights, at least for me).

Saturday morning saw me hustling to get ready and into downtown far earlier than my body desired. It was painful but my sweet friend Meredith had connected me with her friend Pat so that I could get some nice pics in the Snow Queen. Worth it! (Photos by Pat Loika:)

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I lost track of how much time I spent on this costume. The basque, trained skirt ensemble, corset and bustle petticoat patterns I used are all from Truly Victorian. The Victorian Riding Hat is a pattern by Lynn McMasters. The coat is made with an aqua cotton no-wale corduroy from Joann with some Timeless Treasures Pearle on the faux vest. The skirt is a white cotton sateen (also from JA) with a gray apron. Faux fur accents on the collar and cuffs of the jacket and the hem of the skirt (15 feet of it!).

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My necklace is a one-of-a-kind piece by Andrea Wilkes of The Brass Button. I met Andi at last year’s Yellow Daisy Festival at Stone Mountain and was utterly captivated by her jewelry. I asked her at that time about possibly buying a necklace from her to wear with a costume. We emailed back and forth and I was overwhelmed with what she came up with. It’s stunning and just pulled together the look perfectly. (By the way, if you are local and planning to head out to Yellow Daisy Festival this weekend, she will be here, booth 78/79.)

Remember my comment about the weather? Yeah, it was 94 degrees on Saturday and the Con was packed. The Snow Queen all but melted. It was…uncomfortable. And also one of my longest days there: my last panel was not until 8:30. I love how it turned out and am so pleased with the ensemble but it was pretty miserable and I stripped down to my corset and petticoat for the walk back to the car. Yes, I walked through half of downtown Atlanta at nearly 10 p.m. on a Saturday night in my Victorian underwear. Keepin’ it classy.

My sweet girl did a little bit of costume wearing herself. On Sunday, she wore her Polly costume from the graphic novel, Polly & the Pirates by Ted Naifeh. It is one of her favorite reads and I knew the artist would be at the comic artist alley so we headed over first thing to see him and buy his newest comic, Princess Ugg.

photo 4 (1)He was so complimentary of her costume and happily signed the new comics we bought after he took a picture of her. And I was so happy he agreed to let me take a picture of the two of them. It made her day!

My wonderful publisher, C&T Publishing, has a cool product called kraft-tex that I thought would really inspire the folks who come to the Costuming track panels. I was able to get my hands on a few rolls, which I then passed on during one of my panels. I can’t wait to see what these folks come up with!

photo (12)One of the highlights of the weekend was seeing my young friend Caden on her first DragonCon panel. We met during DC last year, which was exciting for me because I had seen her winning entry in the Duck Tape Stuck at Prom contest and loved having the chance to tell her in person how awesome it was. I’m lucky to have gotten to know her over the past year and thought she did a fantastic job talking about working with duct tape (she’s second from left, flanked by thrifting costume babes Andrea Mast Kassel and Paige Gardner of CostumeArt).

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10. My husband has completely forgotten how unavailable I was while writing my previous book.

9. Daughter’s nine hours of gymnastics each week equals prime writing time.

8. I finally cleaned my sewing room. Why should it stay that way?

7. The rest of my house needs to be cleaned.

6. My 30th high school reunion is creeping up and I need something to talk about.

5. Sleep is overrated.

4. Nothing motivates me quite like a deadline.

3. So. Many. Ideas!

2. Writing a book should make a dent in all this fabric, thus keeping me off Hoarders just a little bit longer.

And the No. 1 reason to write another book…

Stash Books/C&T Publishing accepted my proposal! Coming Fall 2015!

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(More details to come next year, like the title. And the subject. But yay! Another book!)

 

I’ve recently added a new tool to the Craft Addict arsenal: a Silhouette Cameo. I think I’m in love.

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The Cameo plugs into your computer via USB and lets you send cutting files so you can make die cuts, decals and iron on elements. But it really can do so much more. There are pens that allow you to draw. And you can set it up to do what they call print and cut, which tells the Cameo to cut around a particular design. So many possibilities! I’ve already used it to cut fabric appliques for a bag and now I’m exploring the wonderful world of vinyl.

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So far, I’ve thrown our initials on water bottles and the case for my iPhone. Last night was spent cutting and applying a rather large damask decal to my KitchenAid stand mixer. My dear friend’s daughter is about to head off to college and I’ve offered to make monogram decals to apply to anything she wants. Honey joked that I’d probably put decals on my laptop. Pretty sure that’s going to happen, too.

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There is a little bit of a learning curve (I’m probably going to need a new cutting mat soon because I keep slicing this one) but it’s not too steep. My biggest challenge is not being distracted by the Cameo when I have other projects I need to be doing! Of course, I had to start a board on Pinterest with tips and project ideas. I have a feeling this thing is going to get a real workout for Christmas this year.

I have always been a researcher. As far back as I can remember, I would read and study in great detail any topic that struck me. Birds, mythology, web design. You name it, I’ve been obsessed with it.

It should come as no surprise, then, that my Snow Queen hat-making adventure comes after seven years of periods of intense research, acquiring appropriate supplies and working myself up to actually making a hat. “Obsessed” is probably the nicest word I can use to describe my approach.

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While there are a lot of resources for purchasing ready-made buckram hat forms, I opted to make my own. Drafting a pattern was definitely a consideration but I decide, instead, to use a Victorian Riding Hat pattern by Lynn McMasters. I liked the idea of having a solid starting point so I could focus more on the technique of making the hat rather than the trial-and-error exercise that drafting a pattern for an unfamiliar object can be.

The pattern was a bit of a leap of faith. I found really no reviews online. I had previously used another LM pattern to make a Regency-era bonnet, so I figured I would at least end up with a usable product. I was right but having plenty of sewing experience under my belt — plus all that research — really came in handy since some of the pattern instructions could have been a little more clear.

If you have ever been tempted to make a real, honest-to-goodness top hat, then you should know that 99 percent of the sewing is done by hand. Through buckram. I used a curved upholstery needle for most of it with a metal thimble and a pair of needle-nose pliers on standby. No joke. I only drew blood two or three times, which is less than the amount I bled on my first corset. (Hey, I’ll celebrate any victory!)

The crown and brim are edged in millinery wire and I wish I’d picked up some shrink tube plastic to finish the ends of the wires. I also wish I’d done a better job of snipping the ends. There’s one spot in particular that’s a little bulky because the wire overlaps. I don’t think it will be noticeable while I’m wearing it but I still know it’s there.

The biggest mistake I made was sewing the crown fabric to the fabric on the sides of the hat. You’re supposed to stitch by hand through all the fabric and the buckram just below the wire at the edge of the crown. I decided to cut corners and sew it on the machine, then slip it over the hat. In theory, it seemed like a good idea. The reality, however, is less pretty. The millinery wire really affects the shape  so it’s nearly impossible to get the seam to meet right on the edge of the crown. And oh my bulky seam allowances! If I’d had more fabric, I would have re-cut those pieces and done it the right way. I also think I should have used narrower binding.

I still have more embellishing to do and need to decide if I’m going to add some ribbons inside to use for anchoring the hat to my wig (a frothy blonde concoction that weirds out my husband), but that can wait.

 

 

Another June and another session of Fashionista Sewing Camp is done. This year I had six girls, aged 10-17, for six hours a day. I’m not going to lie: It wears me out. But it’s also incredibly fun and rewarding to work with these kids, who inevitably teach me something, as well.

Most years, my campers don’t know each other. Occasionally, I’ll have a pair who are friends sign up to take camp together but usually Monday morning is the first time any of them are meeting each other. One of the first things I do is randomly assign partners to complete an activity together. This year, they had to interview their partner and then design an outfit for that person to wear. Each person then shared the design and explained the reasoning behind it. As I listened to the descriptions, it was clear how seriously they each took the assignment and the depth of questions they’d asked each other. Lesson: Engage the people you meet, ask questions and really listen to what they have to say.

After sharing their designs, I set up all the drawings on a table and asked each person to write down what they liked about the piece. Comments like “I like the colors you used” or “The design on the shirt is really interesting” may not seem like much but I think it’s important to encourage positive talk among kids that age. As the week wore on, I listened as they would compliment each other’s fabric choices or congratulate someone on finishing a project. Or commiserate on having to “un-sew” something. Lesson: Be supportive of others.

One of my sneaky ways of reinforcing a skill or technique is to have my students help each other. Even though they all work on the same projects during the week, they don’t work at the same speed. Having someone who has already sewn the rise of a pair of pajama pants explain to someone else how to handle that curve helps both of them. It doesn’t take long before they volunteer to help each other instead of waiting for me to suggest it. Lesson: Help when you can because sometimes you’ll be the one who needs help.

As the week wears on and the kids warm up to each other, they inevitably find out they have friends in common. It happens every year and it’s always fun to hear the kids discover the connections. This year two of my campers found out they are going to be together at another camp this summer. “I’m so glad I now know someone there!” I heard one say as they departed today. Lesson: It’s a small world — so be nice to others.

My expectations regarding their work depends on how much sewing experience they have. This year, I had two campers who have been sewing for a while, one who’d just completed my Sewing Basics class, one with a little bit of experience, and two who’d never sewn. My experienced two had a much higher bar to meet than the others, so I’d send them to rip and re-sew or press again if needed. The others? Well, I’m generally a bit more relaxed: if it’s workable, we can live with it. Otherwise, it gets redone. Regardless of who it was or how many times I sent her to fix something, not a single person complained. And when someone else made the same mistake, they’d happily share about what they did and how they fixed it. Lesson: Everyone makes mistakes. It’s not a big deal.