Four Years On

I voted yesterday for Joe Biden. And as I stood in line to vote (we waited about an hour as a socially-distanced line snaked around the block) I took stock in all I have done during this past four years to unclench the dread in my stomach brought on by Trump’s election.

Ruth Bader Ginsburg mask for Election Day

Those of you not in the US may not understand or care much about what’s happening in the US, but for those of us in the US who oppose Trump, it’s all we’ve been able to think about for four years.

I used to be a journalist and was truly objective in my personal political views. I belonged to no political party, because I didn’t like either of the two choices I got. I found things to like in both parties, and things not to like. I trained myself to see both points of view. When voting, sometimes I chose Republicans and sometimes Democrats.

In 2016 I voted for Hillary Clinton for president. I was not an enthusiastic supporter, but there was no way I would vote for Trump. I posted on Facebook “Go Hillary!” It was the start of an awakening for me.

I arose after a sleepless night the day after the 2016 election in deep mourning over Trump’s victory. A mentor told me I’d better be prepared to fight like hell for what I believed in, for I’d better kiss it goodbye.

But what did I believe in? This crisis made it clear. I believe:

  • A woman’s body is her own.
  • Black lives matter
  • Love is love.
  • Climate change is real, and humans are responsible.
  • Science is real.
  • God is not real.
  • Greed is killing us.
  • Clean air and water are basic human rights.
  • Education is a basic human right.
  • A living wage is a basic human right.
  • Health care is a basic human right.
  • I could go on and on

In some ways, I have been radicalized by Trump’s election. I am responding to an existential threat. I don’t see how anyone can sit on the sidelines.

I sewed piles of pink “Pussy Hats” and participated in my first Women’s March that January.

Women’s March in New York City, January 2017, with Grand Central Terminal in the background

And I have been to one every year since. A sign I got from Planned Parenthood at a rally lives in my car trunk – I take it out whenever I need something to hold.

Women’s March January 2020

I opened my wallet to support organizations that were fighting against the Trump administration’s crimes against the environment, health care, education, immigrants, voting rights, and many more.

I wrote letters. I attended lectures. I read books. I made phone calls to strangers. I spoke out, early and often, to express my point of view.

Sierra Club’s letter-writing campaign

What good did it all do? Did my work convince anyone, move the needle one iota? Or did it just make me feel good? Was I naive to think that an army of women in pink hats was going to change anything?

Yes I was. I now see the depths my country can sink to. How so many people can disregard rampant corruption and incompetence, lying, cruelty, bigotry, misogyny, hatred, and embrace fantastical thinking, violence, and destruction, all because of what? A few more dollars in your pocket? A feeling of “white power?” The right to carry a gun anyplace? A stop to abortion? A gleeful feeling from making progressive thinkers cry?

And what about the Democrats? What a bunch of idiots! I really DO NOT like either party. They get a big share of the blame for taking votes for granted and for nominating some bland old career politican to fight Trump.

The next few days are going to be rough for me as the votes are counted and as challenges wind up in court. I have no sense of optimism. Regardless of whether Trump wins or loses in the end, this is my country – a place where millions and millions of people think he’s the best.

Martin Luther King said “the arc of the moral universe is long, but it bends toward justice.” It is hard to see that arc right now.

But, texting with a friend this morning, I was reminded that there will come a day when Trump is no longer President. Whether that’s in January 2021, January 2025, or some day in between, this too shall pass. And even if Biden wins, the work is not over – we will need to continue to fight, weary as we are.

For self-care I sewed some quilts this spring, as Covid-19 killed Americans even as Trump ignored it:

Persist!

We must keep going – must persist – no matter what happens.

Letting Gravity Do the Work

When you turn 50, as I did earlier this year, you start understanding the effect of gravity on your bod. Your ass be dragging. Your boobs be sagging. Your jowls be flapping.

Let’s turn this around and get gravity to work for us!

Ta-da! A gravity-fed iron!

Steamy…

This iron is a basic version of what you might see in a drycleaner’s or even a garment factory. The bottle at the top, which must be filled either with distilled or demineralized water, feeds slowly down the blue silicone tubing into the solenoid valve – that round thing sticking out of the left side of the iron.

Unlike a regular iron, which will produce steam as long as there’s water in the reservoir, a gravity-fed iron only releases steam when the steam button is pressed – that’s the red button on the handle.

Press the red button for steam.

The solenoid valve opens, water rushes in to the heat plates – and voila – lots of steam.

The iron has an aluminum “shoe” and a felted pad that wedges very firmly between the soleplate and the shoe, to diffuse the steam. The shoe attaches to the iron with the spring seen above.

White shoes after Labor Day? Of course!

The shoe has many many tiny holes for the steam – way more than a regular iron. It’s coated with a nonstick substance to prevent it from leaving scorch marks or shiny spots on fabrics. I bought two shoes, so that I can swap one out if it gets gunked up from interfacing or whatnot – but that hasn’t happened so far.

Shoe and pad

The iron takes some getting used to. For one, it’s pretty heavy. It’s also smaller than most regular household irons, so while it’s more precise it also takes a little longer to iron things.

For another, you don’t ever turn it on its end between uses – it lies flat on a silicone heat pad. Also, unlike modern household irons, there’s no automatic shut-off safety feature. It’s on until you turn it off. I like this – the auto shut-off ALWAYS used to kick in at the most inconvenient times. But it means that you have to watch it every minute and shut it off when you’re done. You know, like a responsible adult.

Resting the iron flat takes getting used to

Also, you only get steam when you push the button, so you have to get used to pushing it and holding it down for a second or two. If you hold it down too long, water floods the iron and will spurt out. So in sum, yes, this iron can be dangerous.

The water bottle must hang at least 1 yard above the ironing surface. I hung it from a wall-mounted IV hook so it can move freely and stand away from the wall. I suppose you also could hang it from the ceiling if yours is low enough. To keep the power cord out of the way, the iron comes with clips that attach it to the water hose. I also used a conduit kit that attaches to a standard household outlet to plug the iron in up higher.

Paging Doctor Steam Iron!

The bottle has a little spigot to control the water flow – you only turn it a tiny bit – about 1/8th of its full rotation – so that enough water gets to the iron. Too much water, and the iron may leak. The water hose is plenty long enough to cover my board’s area, but you can buy extra-long hoses if you want.

Speaking of the ironing board, I bought a heavy-duty one to go along with the iron. It’s as long and quite a bit wider than a regular ironing board and includes an iron rest at one end. It’s very sturdy and stable – as much a safety thing as a convenience. It came with a nice pad and a wire shelf, which is handy for storing pressing supplies. I keep my old board around for those times when I need to iron yardage or other big pieces.

New board pulls it all together

In sum, I am really happy with this set-up. It wasn’t cheap – the iron, board, shoes and hardware for installation set me back about $400. But it was a great investment and much more convenient than a regular iron. I blow through an= regular iron ever year or two, so this ought to last a lot longer.

Persist! Persist! Persist! Persist!

I’ve finished my quilt. It’s a hot mess, just like the women’s movement I’m honoring – in a good way.

Persist Quilt

The quilt is made of four modules, each using only fabrics, threads, batting and other materials I had in my stash. Many letters were scraped together from scraps of projects as far back as 20 years ago. I chose colors for each that were opposites on the color wheel, both to symbolize conflict and to make the letters stand out more against the background. The pattern is “The Proverbial Quilt” by Denyse Schmidt.

The textiles are mostly quilting cottons, but there are scraps of ultrasuede, silk, linen, African wax print, brocade, batiks, denim, shirting and upholstery fabrics in there too. Each quilt contains some fabrics that have metallic accents, and each has a bit of an overall rainbow-gradient fabric to tie them together. I 100% used stash fabric, batting and thread – truly a sustainable project.  This meant that I had to compromise a bit on some fabrics and colors. Compromise is meaningful – some fabrics a teenage girl would like, some fabrics my grandmother would like, and all kinds in between. Kind of like the women’s movement. We don’t have to love every piece of it; we just need to love the overall message and the energy that sustains it.

I call the pink and green one “Preppy Is Forever,” because this color combo was big during the preppy fashion fad in high school. It’s for a friend who’s a bit preppy.

It was a little challenging to make this one because I didn’t have a lot of pink or bright green/lime fabrics in my stash. I resorted to some charm squares leftover from a quilt I made my nephew 14 years ago.Preppy Persist

You can see the echo quilting pretty well on this one  – I stitched in the ditch along the letters in lime green thread and then echoed those stitches out 1 cm to the end of the quilt.

I call the orange and blue one “Sunrise to Sunset.” It’s for a friend who’s had a lot of physical, emotional, financial and relationship challenges in her life – she works every day against some major obstacles to keep going.

Persist Sunrise to Sunset

The orange, gold and lilac African Dutch wax fabric in here is leftover from a quilt I made for her 20 years ago. She lost it in a fire at her house last year. I am happy I still had a bit to use again. I was short on orange fabrics so I had to use a bit of coral. And I didn’t have enough to do the binding all in one fabric, so it’s pieced.

The purple and gold one is the prettiest, I think. 

Family Persistence

It’s titled “Family Endures” because most of the fabric came from family sewing projects over the years – scraps from niece’s and nephew’s quilts and Halloween costumes, a vest I made my mother, a craft project for a great-aunt, a quilt I made a cousin for her wedding, a Hanukkah table runner I made for my in-laws, linen pants  made for myself, our Christmas tree skirt, fabric from kitchen curtains and placemats I made when I first was married. It’s a gift for my sister.

The final one, titled “Blow Through Stoplights” was for me:

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The color scheme matches my sewing room and I had planned to hang it on the wall above the shelf where I keep my threads, manuals, buttons and whatnot.

But then a friend called me and she was really down. So I decided to give it to her instead. I’ll miss it, but I can always make another for myself. I still have scraps to spare, but not as many!

 

Persisting with a Quilt

My “Persist” quilt gas been on Hiatus while I sewed coronavirus masks. I have made 92 – mostly for nurse friends to take to work at a hospital and a nursing home. I also made many for friends and relatives, and donated a dozen to our neighborhood food pantry for whomever needs them. A sampling of those that I remembered to photograph before they went out the door:

I have a little elastic left that I will save for now, in case more masks are needed.

On to the quilt! The first of four rows is done:

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Here’s a close-up of how each letter is made, using the “R” as an example:

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The “R” in “The Proverbial Quilt” by Denyse Schmidt

I made cardboard templates of the letters and marked the positive and negative spaces (R for positive and G for negative, since my first row used red and green fabrics).

I got a but fussy with the cutting – with only six letters, and one word repeated four times, every piece needs to count, and I strive to find harmony in the chaos of colors, shades and prints. Or so I tell myself. I am working only with stash fabrics, so the look is not ideal, even if it is sustainable. I wish I had a solid orange, for example, but I don’t, so I’ve made do.

I cut the fabrics then lay them out to assess the look. Here’s the R with a mock-up of fabrics:

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Template with mock-up of fabrics

I am using mostly quilting cottons, plus a few other bits and bobs – the orange-and-blue line fabrics include some African Dutch wax with a metallic element, some plaid shirting and some denim leftover from the jeans I made last fall. Other parts of the quilt have bits of linen, silk, upholstery fabrics and ultrasuede.

To assemble each letter, sew the pieces in order; 1 to 2, then 2 to 3 and so on.

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Quilt letter assembly

The pieces include several bias-cut bits, so it’s s challenge not to stretch them while sewing and pressing.

Here are the modules ready for final assembly. I found that I needed to add 1/2 inch more seam allowance to long pieces that run the length of the letters, such as the left piece of the R, to get them to fit. Then I trim any excess.

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Occasionally the pieces need a bit of trimming too, such as the R crosspiece above. I am not the world’s most accurate quilter. Who cares? The little goofs add interest to the design in this case, which is intentionally a bit freeform in its vibe.

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PER-chance is this working out?

Here are the first three letters in the orange and blue colorway. The E is quite large and I don’t love it. The quilt includes two designs for vowels so that you can mix and match a bit, but I using just one here. I think I may trim down the E’s a bit – I will leave them as-is for now.

Quilting for Healing and Power

I haven’t made a quilt in years – about 15 years to be exact – when I made a baby quilt for my newborn niece. I had moved on long ago to home dec and then to apparel sewing, but every so often I would look through my quilting cotton stash and grow wistful at its possibilities.

That feeling grew stronger last week when I sewed up some stash to make masks for nurse friends of mine. I felt the pull to quilt again – partly to commemorate these homebody Covid-19 days, and partly to keep my hands busy, and partly because I had something to say in the fabric and colors and lines.

I heard about a Quilt-a-Long of this pattern by Denyse Schmidt, a quilt designer who lives nearby. I had bought this pattern years ago during a studio open house. While I loved it, the color choices and bias-cut edges daunted me. I thought, however, that with help I could do it.

quilt

The quilt includes an alphabet of block letters done in a slightly rustic style. The letters are cleverly constructed to nest together with design options for the positive and negative space. And while some letters are quite complex, each piece is numbered so that it’s easy to sew them together, step by step.

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Letter T is an easy one

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The D is pretty complex – pieces D2, D5 and D6 are the negative space

So I had my pattern. But what to say? I thought of one friend who had started me on quilting more than 20 years ago but cannot sew any longer because of illness. I thought of another friend who I’d made a quilt for back when I had been a raw beginner – she lost that quilt and her other possessions in a fire last year. I had sewn pussyhats for them to wear to the 2016 Women’s March. I wanted to make them something else. Finally, I thought of my sister, who I also made a hat for and have marched with a few times.

So I hit on this idea:

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My quilt message and color scheme

The entire quote is “Nevertheless, she persisted.” The vile Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell uttered this sentence while moving to silence Senator Elizabeth Warren during a debate on the Senate floor. It became an instant rallying cry for women everywhere who are told to stay silent, be obedient, and defer to the patriarchy. (For the whole story see this excellent Washington Post article.)

The whole phrase would be a lot to quilt – the thing would be over 10 feet long – but the simple verb says it all anyway.

I designed this as four quilts that can be tied together to form the whole or used individually as wall hangings or other decoration. Each word uses lettering in one color and negative space in the color wheel’s opposite side to symbolize struggle and opposition. I don’t know yet if the background will be black or white – it’s more graphic in black, but I don’t think I have enough fabric in stash and I am using all stash materials to be sustainable. I’ll decide that later. In any event, the binding will be in the opposite color of the background.

I had plenty of fabric to choose from, for most colors:

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Stash – stash – stash – stash

I needed four fabrics for each of the eight colors. I didn’t have much orange or pink, but I have enough to go on with some creative use of “near enough” colors.

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Selected fabrics

The long piece at the bottom has elements of all the colors in it, so I will use it in all the letters as a way to tie them together.

The fabrics are mostly quilting cottons, some with metallic designs, but I am using some scraps of apparel fabrics too.

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The reds include silk and ultrasuede from jackets I’ve made, as well as red and gold cotton leftover from a Christmas project and some upholstery fabric in a dragonfly motif. The greens include some Irish linen scraps.

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I am using coral to fudge the oranges a bit. I also have some African Dutch wax with lilac and gold motifs. The blues include seersucker leftover from a bathrobe project from 20 years ago and velvet leftover from my husband’s smoking jacket.

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Yellows include some gold linen from a pair of pants, batik sunflowers from a quilt I made for my cousin’s wedding, and sunflowers from a vest I made my mother years ago. The purples include more leftover Christmas fabric and some brocade from a Halloween costume for my niece.

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Because I am using green opposite of red, I needed a grassy yellow-green to go opposite the pink. Some of this fabric is leftover from a quilt I made my nephew. The pinks include a red seersucker that reads pink.

In truth, the quilt is going to be kind of ugly – I mean, this is a metric fuckton of colors, textures and styles for one quilt. But that’s also the beauty of it. My friends, sister and I are all different people, after all, united in some things but with plenty of individuality.

Face Mask Couture

I don’t know whether Fendi was prescient or callous, but suddenly a face mask is everyone’s must-have accessory to cope with COVID-19.

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Fendi – brilliant and stupid

I made 12 myself this week, for nurse friends who have to work during this crisis. A homemade mask is quite literally better than nothing, as we in the United States can’t seem to get a supply chain of medical supplies going.

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Face masks – Samizdat style

I used closely woven quilting cotton for these, following a pattern demoed by Deaconess Health. I only had enough elastic on hand to make 12, and some of that is lingerie elastic, so those masks are sexy AF.

The quilting cottons were left over from quilt projects I did 15 to 20 years ago. A table runner for my great-aunt. Baby quilts for nieces and nephews (who are ages 14 to 20 now). A wall hanging quilt gift for a friend’s wedding. It was bittersweet sewing these up. I’d help on to that fabric in hopes of making more quilts someday for the next generation. Maybe the fabric will save someone’s life instead, or at least put their minds at ease a bit during this crisis.

Best and Worst of 2019

I am happy that I met all my sewing goals for 2019 and ended up with quite a few useful and well-made pieces!

My single biggest achievement (and #1 garment for 2018) was actually a three-fer. I made jeans! And I used the embroidery attachment of my machine for the first time! And I went to a sewing retreat!

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Jeans, bitches!

The jeans are Workroom Social’s Claryville Jeans. I can’t say enough awesome things about this pattern. LOVE. And as the jeans have worn (I have worn them a ton since I made them in September) they have conformed nicely to my bod.

Here’s another look at the embroidery on the back pockets:

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While the sewing retreat part of the jeans-making experience wasn’t for me, I am glad I did it. I learned a lot about myself and I have been thinking about how to apply that learning to next year.

Another goal was to make a garment for my mother. I made her a top from Lekala patterns, and she liked it so much, she asked for another one, in fancier fabric that she can wear for Christmas/New Year’s events. I sewed this up for her birthday in December.

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Lekala 4114

She picked out this gold polyester satin. Not the best, but I made it work. It looks better on than in this photo (I promise). I used the fancy buttons I got at LouLou in the Garment District in NYC.

I took the “RTW Fast Pledge” and made a goal to not buy any clothing except for things like socks and tights. I would have made it, too, if not for my vacation in May! It was so cold (unseasonably and unexpectedly) that I bought a few things on an emergency basis. I donated both jackets to a charity that provides coats to the poor, and I have worn the sweater a few times. So…. I am going to call this “a win!”

On the positive side, I truly did “Me Made May” this year – wearing at least one me- made garment daily for the whole month of May. Yay!

Here’s my biggest swing-and-miss from 2019: I didn’t do so well in my resolve to participate in fewer sewalongs and sewing contests. I get swept up in the excitement and camaraderie. I also hope to make new friends this way. It doesn’t seem to work out that way.

On the bright side, I won the January 2019 PatternReview contest with this ski jacket:

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Ski Jacket from Simplicity 8843

I had planned to enter this contest – and this contest only – but then I went on a binge of other sewalongs, contests and such. What happens when I do this? Let’s just call it a mixed bag:

I mean, there are no disasters here, but also not much that plays well with “sew edgy” looks. I did some stuff for charity (napkins and scrap quilts center top) and I passed the first round of the PatternReview Sewing Bee with that blue cardigan before bowing out voluntarily when the second round didn’t inspire me.

The white top was not what I wanted. I entered a contest to make an outfit, so made a nice pair of black wool pants and planned a button-down shirt to go with it out of this pretty white striped shirting I bought. But, I had a problem with my sewing machine’s computer and it was in the shop for a couple of weeks, so I needed instead to do a top that I could construct on the serger or by hand. This top is the result. It looks really awful untucked, better tucked in. I am kicking myself that I used that shirting for something I don’t love.

I joined two Sewcialists sewalongs – one where I drew the color “coral” and other where I drew the word “funky.” I ended up with a wrap skirt (top right) and a top upcycled from a tablecloth (bottom left). Since these sewalongs really run on Instagram, and I am not an Instagram person, I miss out on the whole thing. Likewise for the charity projects for The People’s Sewing Army – if you’re not an Instagrammer, you get left out.

Finally, in my effort to stop making so damn many mistakes, I claim a partial victory. I have made my peace with the fact that I need to just baste a lot more. Basting does things that pinning does not (at least for me). So I resolve to baste even more in 2020!

Quilting for the Birds

I used to be a quilter, and I have lots of scraps left around from those days. So when The People’s Sewing Army put out a call to sew for the wildlife rehabilitation program with the Audubon Society of Portland, Oregon, I had to sign up.

The wildlife rehabbers needed small quilts for songbird cages and larger quilts for cages of raptors and other large birds. I had fun sewing these up:

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Scrap quilts for the birds

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Scrap quilts – other side

Fabric scraps are such a trip down memory lane for me. There were lots of scraps from a cat-themed quilt I made my mother years ago, and more from a garden-themed quilt I made for a friend. I sewed up some scraps from quilts made for my nieces and nephews (the oldest of whom is now in college) and from a batik dolphin quilt I made as a wedding present for dear friends.

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I also had some library-themed fabric leftover from pillows I made my brother-in-law. And then there were scraps left over from various apparel sewing projects, such as these:

The Audubon Society also asked for cloth napkins for its volunteers, so I raided my stash of linen scraps. Whenever you make pants, you end up with long, skinny scraps left over, so they were perfect for making napkins:

The fabric came from these projects (it cracks me up how inefficient I was with that yellow linen when I made the clamdiggers – live and learn!):

I took apart this muslin I sewed a couple of years ago out of some damaged linen and added that to the project also, saving the buttons to use again:

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Muslin of a skirt I drafted based on the Maria Denmark Yasmin Yoke Skirt

In the end, I made 18 napkins of various sizes. They were simple to construct – I just cut squares and finished the ends with a rolled hem on my serger.

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I used up some thread I didn’t need, too. The bright blue serger thread wasn’t great quality, but it was fine for a rolled-hem project like the napkins. I also used up sewing machine threads on spools and  bobbins of lesser quality in colors that I probably won’t need again.

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And I used up some odds and ends of premade bias bindings, including a few thrift-store finds. And I didn’t sweat these – they’re not perfectly rectangular, and the quilting is a bit wavy in places. I don’t think the birds will mind:

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Altogether, I used up 1 pound, 10 ounces of scrap fabric and quilt batting, oddball threads and leftover bindings – all getting a new and much needed life, instead of going to waste in my stash.

I get a lot of satisfaction about sewing for others from time to time. If you’re interested in helping out in the future, follow the link to The People’s Sewing Army or see my previous blog post.