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.

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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.

Coronavirus Couture and Other Projects

So much for my “Sew Edgy Work Wardrobe” plans for spring and summer. For who knows how long, I will be working from home, like a lot of people who are fortunate enough to be able to.

The #1 rule of working from home for me is to have something to look forward to after the workday is done. For me, that means creative outlets like sewing, gardening and cooking.

My “home” wardrobe is much more normcore than my work wardrobe. Plus I was in the mood for spring colors and textues. First up was this top from Butterick 6388.

It’s a bit boxier and roomier than the technical drawings and pattern pictures would lead you to believe. I ended up taking in the arm and side seams about 1/2 inch, and I made 3/4 sleeves for a more springtime look. I also did the triangular side panels and back yoke on the crossgrain to add some interest.

The fabric was from FabScrap, a charity in New York’s Garment District that sells scraps from fashion houses, schools, stores, tailor and upholstery shops etc. This scant 1.5-yard piece of very soft and comfy mystery poly knit cost $7.50. Sustainable to boot!

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The Fabulous Fab Scrap sign

Since I had white thread in the serger, next up was a basic white T-shirt. Boring, ok, but likely a wardrobe staple I will wear for years.

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Deer & Doe Plantain

I wanted to try the Deer & Doe Plantain t-shirt again. The one I made several years ago did not get much wear because the shirt was a little tight and the fabric didn’t have enough stretch. This time I sized up and used some really soft and lovely T-shirt fabric I got from the Portsmouth Fabric Company in New Hampshire while I was visiting my mom in January.

Unforch, this is a still bit tight. Grr. Maybe it will stretch out. Here’s hoping!

It should take no time at all to make a basic tee, right? So why does it take me forever? Faff about with the serger. Break a needle. Replace the needle. Untangle a nest of thread. Cut some clear elastic for the shoulder seams. Lose one piece of elastic. Hunt about on the floor for 10 minutes. Give up and cut a new piece of elastic. Then find the old piece, exactly where I left it in the first place:

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Where are you, clear elastic?

The coverstitch hem is still a bit wonky. Whatever.

Third up will be … drumroll… a white cardigan. Hey – the white thread is in the serger. That’s saving me like 15-20 minutes right off the bat.

I got some slubbed French terry last summer and earmarked it for a try at the Helen’s Closet Blackwood Cardigan. Once that’s done, I will be ready for some color!

Refashion Runway Goes to the 70s

The 1970s were an ugly decade. Let’s face it. There’s not much to root for. But for this week of Refashion Runway, we have to go there. Luckily, I have two advantages:

  1. I was born in 1970, so I have some first-hand memories of the decade’s style and values.

Exhibit A:

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Me, 1976

2. My husband is a pack rat and has been storing ugly 70s clothes in our attic closet since we moved into this house 18 years ago.

Exhibit B:

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Mystery bags of moldy couture

Let’s get going!

These bags held so many treasures it’s hard to know where to start.

Should it be the plaid pants?

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Hard to tell where the bedspread ends and the pants begin

How about the Anderson Little brand (read: cheap-ass) polyester double-knit sportcoats?

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Salmon pink.
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Classic plaid

Note the demi lining (also poly, natch) – would not be able to stand a whole lining because in poly double knit you sweat. Like. A. Pig.

This leather shirt is actually beautifully made and possibly valuable as it came from Saks Fifth Avenue.

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Leather shirt

I played around with it, but regrettably there’s not much material to work with. I am going to see what it’s worth on the resale market.

And finally, the jackpot:

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Nothing says 70s like paisleys

The color story of this paisley print creepily reminds me of my school picture from 1977. I have to use it! No excuses!

It’s a man’s shirt, so I will need to feminize it a bit. I have some lace and crochet trims to play with from these old pillowcases and curtains. And I am going to make a 70s style denim skirt from a pair of my husband’s old jeans.

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Raw materials

So that’s the plan. The outfit is due Friday.

If you haven’t checked out last week’s fabulous entries, please visit The Renegade Seamstress and vote for me if you think I’m worthy. Thanks!

Refashion Runway Challenge One: Statement Sleeves

I just love a high-contrast look to jackets, so when the first-round challenge of Refashion Runway Season 5 was “statement sleeves,” I knew I had a great opportunity to create some drama!

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My jacket refashioned from a friend’s old dress

My jacket started life as a dress that a friend gave me. She didn’t like it, but she thought the linen-cotton blend fabric was nice and the print was cool. She gave me a challenge to refashion it. Challenge accepted! Here’s the before look – big, boxy and shapeless:

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Old dress ready for new look
The fabric is rather stiff, so I began by washing and drying the dress a few times to change the fabric’s hand – it’s softer now but still crisp enough for a jacket.
I started by cutting the dress straight up the front and unpicking the neck facing.
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Unpicking and creating the blank slate
The front was turned and topstitched to create a self-facing. Then I created a pleat at the center back to take up some of the fullness, so it would fit better.
I trimmed about 8 inches off the bottom to create a more pleasing length, leaving side vents about an inch long just for style. I used the fabric from the bottom to create the collar and pockets – nice big pockets perfect for holding a phone and keys.
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Collar drafting

I drafted the collar just by measuring the new neckline and tracing off a collar from an RTW shirt to get the basic shape, then adding a 1/2 inch seam allowance. I cut the same in red so that the collar is two-tone.

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The red contrast came from a rain jacket with a broken zipper that I bought at Goodwill/ I was delighted to find something in a red with blue undertones:

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Raincoat – ready for some refashion fun!

I love the combo of red, white and blue – red is my favorite color and it it always delivers a nice pop!

I cut off the jacket’s cuffs to reuse them in the new jacket.

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Cuffs ready for refashioning

I tried several ways to work these in to the blue and white jacket, but nothing was gelling – I didn’t want them to look tacked-on but rather integrated into the jacket as an essential piece of the design. So I instead used the red as a contrast in the cuff. I sewed the cuffs so that they can be worn turned back for max drama or turned in for just a peek of color.

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Jacket without the peek of red

To continue the theme to another part of the jacket, I thought to add a button feature to the collar so that I can wear a bit of the red exposed or not, depending on my mood.

Here’s a flat view of the jacket, with the center-back pleat and my label showing.

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Flat view

And here’s the back view – love the cuffs!

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Back view

Voting is supposed to start today. Please visit The Renegade Seamstress for a look at all the entries, and if you like what I’ve done, I’d love your vote!

 

Meatless Monday Ideas for Carnivores

As part of my sustainability goals for 2020, we’re doing Meatless Mondays as a family. Except for the dog, that is.

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I must have… meat…

My husband is a carnivore second only to the dog, so I have been working on ways to keep him satisfied and not deprived. Here are some ideas for magical meatless meals:

Chick peas (aka garbanzo beans) – Protein and fiber in one place – what’s not to like? Sure you can buy them canned, sure, but for really nice chick peas, buy them dried and cook them yourself. It’s a lot cheaper ($2 or $3 / pound) and the texture is better. Soak them overnight in plenty of plain water (for at least 6 hours), drain, and then simmer in salted water for about 1 hour, or 30 minutes in the Instant Pot. They have a buttery texture and take well to spice – try some crushed red pepper in a hearty sauce!

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Italian style spicy chickpeas in tomato sauce

Lentils – Another protein and fiber one-two punch. These cook more quickly than chickpeas and have a texture that lends itself to soups and stews. I like the French style lentils, as they’re a bit more durable than other kinds, but it’s all good.

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Curried French lentils with butternut squash and spinach (and a few chick peas for good measure)

Chili – Purists will argue that chili should NOT have beans in it, but who cares? When you’re making a vegetarian dish, it’s a given that beans will star. I like to use either black beans or kidney beans, plus some plant-based meat substitute to bulk things up, plus lots of onions, peppers, tomatoes and corn. And a lot of spices – smoked paprika really works wonders to bring flavor to anything. Feel free to top with cheese or sour cream and some thinly sliced scallions.

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Vegetarian chili

More cheese, please! You need to be careful with cheese because it can pack as much saturated fat and calories as red meat. For Italian dishes, I like to buy part-skim ricotta and mozzarella to save some fat and calories, but I always use good imported Romano or Parmesan. Here’s some manicotti in a quick tomato sauce, getting ready for the oven.

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Vegetarian manicotti in tomato sauce

Go for grains – A lot of less-common grains make the base for salads and soups. Barley in particular is filling and satisfying, and its texture stands up to whatever you throw at it. I like to parcook barley in plain water until it’s almost done, then take it off the heat, add a generous amount of salt, and let it stand covered for 15 minutes or so. This barley salad is great for summer with watermelon, feta, cucumbers, peppers and other goodies.

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Barley salad

What kinds of meatless meals do you enjoy?

Refashion Runway, Here I Come!

Refashioning or upcycling textiles into new designs has been really fun and satisfying, so I resolved to push myself more in 2020. Here’s a gallery of projects from the past couple of years:

I didn’t have to wait long. I was chosen to compete on “Refashion Runway” – a friendly sewing competition sponsored by Beth Huntington, aka “The Renegade Seamstress.”

Yikes! There are 15 contestants who have put up some fabulous looks using textiles that had a previous life. Here’s a rundown of the competitors with some of their choice refashioned looks. I am so impressed with how these sewers combine textiles and shapes to create something super cool.

While I am no slouch in the sewing department, my refashioned looks have been a bit, shall I say, basic? I have upcycled and refashioned mostly large flat pieces of fabric, such as a sari, a blanket and not one, but two tablecloths. My most ambitious project was creating a nightgown out of an old bathrobe, and while I like how this project turned out, it’s not exactly a garment I wear on the street. In public. Or even in a photo on this blog.

So, I gotta step it up.

The first project, which starts January 18th, is “Statement Sleeves.” We were given the basic challenge parameters in advance, so we could start planning. There are few guidelines for each challenge; we’re meant to interpret it for ourselves. I assume this challenge means we need to create a big, showy sleeve in an refashioned garment. Statement sleeves broke through as a trend a few years ago as a kind of antidote to the sleeveless look of the early 2010s. It’s still going strong, to judge from all the ruffles, puffs, pleats, cutouts and other sleeve designs you see out there.

I really like a dramatic cuff on a sleeve, so that’s my jumping-off point.

RuPaul

In my closet, several misfit discarded garments wait for their chance to shine. That’s your cue, awkward linen dress!

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Awkward linen dress from a friend … can you carry the water?

My friend Emmeline gave me this dress last summer. She wore it once but found it … just … not … her cup o’tea. But the fabric was nice, so she gave it to me with encouragement to refashion it.

The first thing I did was to wash and machine dry it with other laundry three times to soften the linen-cotton blend up and to let any shrinking get nice and shrunken. Trying it on, you no doubt notice a few pros and cons:

Pros:

  • I like a high-contrast print, which this for sure provides in navy and white.
  • It’s big and long enough to give me some fabric to work with.
  • There are no darts or zippers and few seams to complicate a refashion project.
  • The hem and sleeve hems are split, offering some design change opportunities.

Cons:

  • I am not crazy about the “junior high school art teacher” swishy brushstroke motif.
  • It has no lining, and the “wrong side” of the fabric looks pretty bad, as the navy bleeds through.
  • The neckline is awkwardly proportioned and has a crummy facing.
  • The fabric remains a bit stiff and ungainly despite three journeys in the washing machine and dryer.

Clearly, this is not going to work as a dress, no matter how it’s refashioned.

My big idea is to turn it into a duster-style jacket. I think I will cut it right up the middle, self-face the raw edges, recut the neckline and add some darts for shaping, front and back. Maybe a contrasting lining? It will need some help as the wrong side will be on display even more as a jacket.

But what about the sleeves? That’s the whole point of the challenge. I am thinking a cuff – in the same contrast as the lining – with some accent hardware or other bling to edge this look up a bit.

I had nothing suitable in my closet of misfit garments, so it was off to Goodwill to see what they had.

Score!

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Goodwill raincoat for $9.89 – 10% off

This red rain jacket has a lot to work with as it’s fully lined. The zipper was broken, which is probably why someone donated it. And it has a cute drawstring in the hood, which can be repurposed easily.

Red is my favorite color! And the contrast with navy and white will look chic (I hope).

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Raincoat – ready for some refashion fun!

I have a good week to play around with my ideas before the contest starts. Wish me luck!

Resolutions for 2020 – Distaff Style

Self-improvement plans – what else would we distaffers do on January 1?

A few quick resolutions then, before we get to work:

  1. Style: I did Me Made May for the whole month last year (even while on vacation) and for most of the year, really. Now that I have a reliable jeans pattern, there’s nothing stopping me from wearing Me Made Everyday. So I am going to go for it!

I got started this morning with a nice long walk in the park with the hubs and the dog in Me Made Jacket (Simplicity 8843), the Jasper Sweater from Paprika Patterns, and hat by Green Pepper Patterns.

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Me Made Cold-weather outfit

I made the sweater last week out of some poly-cotton blend sweatshirt fleece with a muted plaid design.

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Paprika Patterns Jasper Sweatshirt

To add interest, I did the cuffs, side panels and collar on the bias.

2. Gardening: My vegetable garden really put out this year. Amending the soil in my two raised beds helped so much. I found a reliable set of tomato plants and other veggies to grow from now on. I was kicking myself for not doing a better job of tending to the plants and harvesting. So I am planning to do less, but put more effort into what I have and not let anything go to the bugs or go bad on the vine.

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Tomatoes anyone?

3. Fitness: Seek out a real posture plan. I played around with various posture exercises and finally found something that seemed to work. I need to hire the trainer who did this workshop for some private sessions, to make this a regular thing. I am hopeful that I can stop my hunchback development and maybe even undo some of the damage I’ve done.

4. Housework: I have one simple goal. Keep the kitchen floor clean! With a dog around, it’s a chore. I always feel like my home is at its best when the kitchen floor is vacuumed and scrubbed. So that’s the big goal here. Exciting, right?

5. Sewing: For sure, I am going to continue with my “sew edgy” look for the office. I need to find a simple dress that I can make a TNT. I also need a few blouses, and I really need to make a proper suit. For casual wear, I will perfect the jeans. I realize that while I have been playing around with a lot of indie pattern companies, I have been disappointed with some results compared with results from Big 4 (although there are exceptions), so I am going to focus more on Big 4. I have plenty of fabric and patterns at this point – so I am going on a “fast” at least for the first half of the year.

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Sew Edgy office outfit – a favorite

6. Sustainability: A friend who’s a sustainability consultant really made me think about the nature of consumption and waste. I am proud that I don’t do fast fashion and that I will mend and alter clothing. I take public transportation, walk or bike most places. I have a few “upcycle” and “refashion” sewing projects in my head for this year. I feel I could do more, however, when it comes to food. We are doing Meatless Mondays as a family, and on my own I will do more meatless meals (my husband will be challenged to do Mondays as it is). I also am going to buy fewer prepared things in plastic containers – I am talking to you, deli soups and salads! Seriously, it’s not hard to make soup. I’ll probably save $100 a year! I sewed up some simple reusable bags for produce, and I always use tote bags at the store. And I am going to stop buying the occasional to-go coffee unless I can get it in a reusable insulated mug. I already do this with water – why not with coffee?

7. Diet: I just gotta kick sugar. I feel that very badly. I can go for weeks without any, and then I have some, and it’s just a spiral from there. I am not sure how to tackle this one, except to go cold turkey. I need to research more, but it’s happening.

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The last pie, for a while anyway

8. Career: I started last year doing a weekly work reflection on Friday mornings. I’d write down a few accomplishments, networking wins, personal achievements and other notable events from the week. This is a great idea because at work, weeks turn into months, turn into years, and then you have to get a new job, and you go to update the resume and you can’t think of what to say! This exercise takes 5 minutes and it really helps. I am getting started by updating my LinkedIn profile and resume with key accomplishments from 2019. Also, I am trying to network more. I need to be “heads down” at work and more collaborative and social.

9. Family: This is a tough one. I feel that I have neglected my husband and family at times, especially my in-laws. There’s no excuse – we live so nearby – but weeks go by without a word to or from anyone. Even with my husband, we have well-established routines that make it tough to break out. So I am going to make more of an effort on all fronts. Sometimes a simple call to say “hi” or an impromptu date night is all we need to get out of the rut. I will take care of my mother when she has knee surgery later this month, so I can use that time to visit a bit with others to get the year started off well.

10. Reading: I have done well with reading more female authors, but I feel I need to do more to read writers from different nationalities and races. I got a Barnes & Noble gift card for Christmas, so I plan to pick up a few things to get started. I general, I am going to try to read more and do less “faffing about on the mobile” while on my train commute. Now that my grad school is done, I will have time to open my mind more in other directions.

11. Giving back: We made an effort  in 2019 to give more to charities, and we succeeded in increasing our contributions by a thousand dollars over the course of the year. I also have done a bit more charity work with groups I support by in-kind contributions of time and expertise. In fact, I won an award from one charity I support with weekly editing and coaching of college students. I miss volunteering with local groups, though – I managed one event in 2019 – a bike-a-thon – so I am going to try to do two events in 2020.

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Biking for charity – $500 raised

12. Activism. I will admit it: I dread 2020. I am terrified that Trump will get re-elected. I have little confidence that the Democrats will get their shit together. I worry that the economy will thank, and while that would hurt Trump, it’s going to hurt a lot of other people too, so I don’t exactly wish it. After he was elected, I made a plan to so something once a week to #resist. I wrote letters to Congress. I attended rallies. I got educated on the issues. I sewed a shitload of pussyhats. I donated money to groups under siege – Planned Parenthood, the American Civil Liberties Union, the Southern Poverty Law Center, the Anti-Defamation League – I could go on. I have kept up some of these activities but have let others slide. This is a do-or-die year. I need to step it up.

Thank you for reading! I wish you all a happy healthy 2020! (Except Trump.)