Category Archives: Sewing

Woot! Azura in Rehoboth

I love Azura Clothing in Rehoboth, Delaware. Alyssa and Andy are helpful but laid back, the shop is a feast of color and texture, and the racks aren’t just more of the same. I pop in when I’m in the shopping mood and always put it on the tour when I have house guests at the beach. I love them more this week, though, for putting a few of my headbands and accessories in their shop.

Love them. Go there.


Sunday Corona Beans

The rosemary, sage, and thyme are just gangbusters in their pots on the deck, despite inches of snow weeks ago, and are no doubt loving the unseasonably warm weather. Yesterday morning  I was gazing out the window at those herb pots and thinking about spending the day in the sewing room* when I decided to soak some beans for dinner. Easy meal, fragrant herbs, quality nutrition – done.

Corona beans, aka white runner beans. These were bought in bulk from Whole Foods.

I quick-soaked a few cups of corona beans (the fast method, of bringing them to a boil, covering, and then soaking for several hours) and cooked the beans later in the day. Once they were ready I slivered several cloves of garlic, tossed them into a few tablespoons of olive oil in a large cast iron skillet, and warmed the oil. I added whole stems of rosemary and thyme to the pan, and a dozen leaves of sage, before stirring in the beans, salt, and plenty of fresh ground pepper.

Garlic, herbs, olive oil, and beans – the simplest dish.

The beans simmered, with the addition of some of the cooking water, until everything was flavorful and the rest of the meal was ready. The rest of the meal, in this case, was kale chips and a bit of this pasta.

I don’t know why I can’t ever remember the name of this particular cut of pasta.

Whenever I serve beans prepared this way, I simmer until all the liquid is gone. The herb stems are, of course, removed. A drizzle of olive oil over the top is required!

*I did spend a large percentage of the day in the sewing room, carefully fitting a princess-seamed knit tunic pattern, making all the adjustments, and working up a nice enough knit that it could have been a wearable muslin. Hated it. Hate. Ed. It. It’s easy to burn with frustration over “wasted” time, especially during December when there is so much to do, so much fun stuff to do, but ultimately, it’s all valuable, all a learning experience. At least that’s what I tell myself.

Ed the Barber’s Wife

I have waited to open this shoebox for a few months. It’s just a box full of someone else’s sewing supplies, but that someone is gone, and I have her stuff. It seemed that I needed to give the box my attention, or maybe intention, before either incorporating or donating its contents. So it was set down in my sewing room, glanced at now and then, and moved out of the way until today.

Carol was Ed the Barber’s wife, and I never met her or her husband. Ed is my brother’s friend, barber, and fellow business owner in a small community and yes, we refer to him as Ed the Barber. After his wife’s death Ed gave my brother her sewing machines and supplies, and a machine and this box passed on to me. Carol sewed for many years and was by all accounts accomplished at her craft.

My brother and his wife kept a sewing machine in a beautiful furniture-quality cabinet. I have her 1962 Singer slant-o-matic – the Rocketeer! –  which I am in the middle of cleaning and oiling, and will share when it’s ready for its close-up. It is pretty awesome.

Back to the box.

I opened it this morning, with my coffee, and discovered that Carol was a lot neater than I am. Every single loose end of trim is either secured with a pin or thread. Elastics are wound around cardboard, opened hem tape is pinned and reinserted in its original package. I am embarrassed by the contrast to my jumbled drawers of supplies: tangled black and white elastic of all lengths and widths, ends of bias tape looped around odd pieces of cord and piping.

Wide trims are secured by two pins. I am in awe.

Red is a theme in this box.

There are lots of thimbles, needles, zippers, trims, and elastics. 
This thing, I love. I wonder if it was a small part of a box or kit, because two of the sides are squared, as if it was inserted into a larger piece. The top comes off and can hold needles and thimbles; the stems will hold bobbins. Right to the sewing room.
There are no unfinished projects here to give one pause, as when I opened boxes of my grandmother’s sewing and crocheting. Instead I smile at how neatly stacked the worn thimbles are, at the rainbow of zippers, and the pennies-per-yard price of the trims. I will add her supplies to mine and will know where they came from when I use them. It’s a continuation. For years I’ll be able to say, “Hey, the hem tape on that skirt was from Ed the Barber’s wife.”

Thanks, Carol.

Cover for the Cover

Some things are meant to wear and show distress marks as they age, like the table in these pictures or my favorite wallet, and look beautiful the whole time. Other things, like ipods or cellphones, are meant to be eternally scratch-free and are instantly encased in high-tech protection the very moment they are opened. Or so it goes, if you are me.

My Kindle Touch cover doesn’t fall into either of these categories. For one thing, it is the protective cover. It’s a nice shade of green, the Kindle is tightly nestled into the wired recess with its built-in book light, and it protects the screen. All good. But. What protects the cover itself?

And this, I know, is where it gets weird. There’s some kind of line one crosses when considering protecting the protective apparatus. 

My Kindle (nicknamed Star Trek Reader) is on my nightstand 95% of the time. The rest of the time it’s traveling with me, in my purse or suitcase. The cover is getting a little scratched in spite of my care when transporting it. It’s not the kind of leather that’s going to wear and soften; it’s just going to look beat up. I decided the cover needed a cover, so I made this sleeve out of one of my favorite fabrics.
Insert a triumphant “ah ha!” here.
Along the way I decided it really needed a little pocket for a mini Moleskine, to be used for jotting down books for the TBR list, and a pencil sleeve. I raided the box of vintage buttons and found this dusty black one. It is fasted with a narrow black elastic loop.
I love it.
It is lined with another of my favorite fabrics.
Pretty cozy in there, yes?
While I caught some flack from family members about my aversion to scratches and dings, I might put one on etsy for the “others” out there. 

A Bag, a Tag, and a Nickname

Bags like this are a labor of love, taking dozens of hours to knit, an hour or two to felt, and several more to design and sew a lining. They are the ultimate in relaxing knitting – no pattern, no rules, just create a palette and start knitting. Throw in some shaping, increase here, decrease there, change a color, and make an edging dictated by how much yarn you have left. (Don’t save the i-cord handles for last. You might not have enough yarn to make the two long pieces needed. Ask me how I know that.)

I already loved this bag and wasn’t aware that I could love it even more until I was asked if it could be monogrammed. Ok wait, back up. Not just any monogram, but the nickname Nanchantress. Nanchantress! How great is that for a term of endearment? Annachantress. Doesn’t have the same lilt, but I could ask everyone to give it a shot.

While I have a nicely equipped sewing room, none of my machines embroider beyond the basics. My friend Eleanor, however, has a Bernina artista 640. It is a sewing machine with magical computer capabilities, allowing her to do crazy things like scan a picture/resize it/embroider it onto fabric. Hands-free, while she sips a coffee and watches it work. I’m pretty sure it vacuums up the room when she finishes. She was, as usual, willing to help. We brainstormed and came up with a plan for a luggage tag for Nanchantress.
It was fascinating to watch Eleanor and the Bernina work, so I started taking pictures with my phone to show my husband so I could start dropping hints document the process.

I will try to walk you through it with a minimum of pictures (phone-quality, sorry). Before the actual stitching she had used her software to find a luggage tag shape, decided on the font, and digitized the design. 
Eleanor sprayed some temporary adhesive to my white fabric and placed it on a hooped piece of stabilizer.  She used a grid to mark what would become the center of the design.

Bernina drew an outline box, which would later be satin-stitched, and Nanchantress emerged from the needle.
The hoop was removed from the machine and a piece of lining fabric was placed, face up, on top of the design. The original outlining box was stitched on this fabric as well as a larger outline of the tag itself. Eleanor cut along the original box, below, revealing the name.
See the outline of the luggage tag shape, before trimming?
Bernina satin stitched the small box.
At this point Eleanor trimmed along the perfect satin stitching then turned the whole thing over and affixed a piece of lining fabric on the back of the hoop, creating a sandwich of my lining fabric on both sides, and Nanchantress in the middle. Again the machine stitched the larger outlining box, and Eleanor cut away the excess in order for the machine to satin stitch the edges.
The machine stitched perfectly along the edges, then went back and created an eyelet along the edge, which I later cut to insert a swivel hook.
Front and back, the finished tag. Notice the eyelet in the picture below, on the right, with a tail still attached.
A beautiful finish to the bag; a lovely gift. I have ordered a few luggage tags for myself now, after seeing this one!
Nanchantress, enjoy!

Cute Aprons!

I made these two aprons and matching headbands as a special order for two young women. I love the fabrics and hope they last for years in their kitchens! I am so grateful for my daughter who rarely refuses my request for a model, even after a long day.

Michael Miller. Double pocket with contrast trim, purchased bias.
Really bad lighting but you get the idea. Super cute headband.

Love this fabric but I can’t remember the designer. No pocket because the center motif was so pretty, handmade bias to match, and a selvedge hem.
I love these headbands.

I made this apron pattern around 15 years ago, and I’ve lost count of how many I’ve made. Last month I also made a trio of them in a beautiful red and green plaid Kona broadcloth for myself, my daughter-in-law, and her mother. They were lovely, but I would like a break from bias tape and ties!

The Iron Maven

Iron Maven, J420. Best name for an iron ever.

Well, for a steam generator, technically.I’ve been debating a steam generator for over a year, and after finally deciding to buy one I agonized (hey, it’s hundreds of dollars, I agonized!) over whether to go with the Reliable Iron Maven J420 or the Rowenta DG8030. With a difference of only $50 between them I couldn’t use price as a factor, and since they both have their supporters on the sewing boards and are established manufacturers, I went with the one that looks way cooler.

I have a shelf under the ironing board that can hold it, but DH and I decided it would be best to reinforce the shelf first since this unit is heavy. For now I have set it on this (recycled newspaper) hamper that I use for storage in the sewing room, placing it right in front of the ironing board, opposite me. This works well because….

…I have this heatproof ledge on the wide side of my board. Handiest thing. If I didn’t have a ledge I could remove the plate from the unit and leave it on the ironing board:

That’s a nice feature, allowing the iron to rest where you need it when doing close work.

I have used it a few times and am happy so far. I was pressing some bias strips and found myself reflexively pulling my non-ironing hand away from the iron until I realized that unless I press the steam button, this really is a dry iron. By that I mean that with my Rowenta Professional regular iron, I could not use a steam setting and keep my other hand near the tip of the iron without burning my fingers. This is amazingly good. The steam is a burst if the button is pushed, or continual if locked down. Let me tell you, there is steam.

Sauna steam, there-goes-your-hair steam. Now that, of course, is if you are keeping the steam on continually and doing a lot of work, as I did when testing it recently by pressing a large pile of pillowcases.*

It really pushes steam through the fabric, even thick fabrics. I tested it out on a pair of jeans and was surprised at how the other side looked without pressing. The pillowcases were so fast – everything is faster – that I stacked two at a time and it was fine. 

It does take about 7 – 10 minutes to heat, and can be refilled while it’s still hot. In the first few days I worried about my decision and wondered if I should have ordered the Rowenta as well and given them side-by-side tests, then I got a grip on myself and let it go. 
It’s early, but I think this is a good addition to the sewing room. The steam, weight of the iron, ability to hold more water than a portable iron, and genuine difference between dry and steam are all good qualities. I am concerned about leaving it running for hours at a time while sewing, and the instructions do indicate that it should be turned off to cool down after an hour of use. 
 *Yes, sometimes I press the pillowcases and my more expensive sheets. This helps prevent fraying and wear from the creases along the edge that will eventually “crack” the fibers. Since I’m not a pressed-to-perfection person I have to remind myself that this falls under the category of properly taking care of things and just do it.

Tutorial: A Better Dust Ruffle

Dust ruffles are practical (they hide the stuff under the bed) and pretty (they finish a bedroom nicely) and annoying (they never stay where they are supposed to and are often a little too short or a little too long) and sometimes hard to come by (in the right color, mattress size, and length).
I fixed every one of those problems. You’re welcome.
One of the bedrooms needed a black dust ruffle, full, ruffled-not-tailored, and with a 20″ drop. Impossible to find in town, easy to order online, although as a 21″ drop. After thinking through the steps of making a perfect dust ruffle for my master bedroom redecorating project, I came up with this method of altering a purchased dust ruffle to make it easier to install and live with. No velcro, no hot glue guns.
Keep in mind that a dust ruffle, or dust skirt, has two parts: the “deck” which is the flat piece of fabric that covers the box spring, and the ruffle, or skirt, which might be pleated or gathered. Either style of skirt will work with this method. You need your dust ruffle, shears, and a package of twisty pins, otherwise known as upholstery pins. You’ll find them at fabric shops, dollar stores, and sometimes department stores.
1. Cut the center of the deck out of the ruffle by leaving a 4 inch border on top of the seam where the dust ruffle is attached. In my picture the ruffle is black, the deck is white (they usually are), and I have left a 4 inch border all the way around the dust ruffle.

Keep cutting around the entire dust ruffle, maintaining the same 4 inches, being careful to only cut the deck fabric. You will end up with this,

a rectangle of fabric from the center of your dust ruffle. Rip it up, it will be a great addition to the rag pile. The dust ruffle is now a long strip, like this:

2. You need to finish the long edge you just cut, or it will continually unravel and be a nightmare after you wash it. You can serge the edge or zigzag it if you have machines. If you don’t you could press a small hem and use fusible tape, or put in a movie and settle in for a handsewing session. I serged.

3. Press the dust ruffle before attaching it to the box spring. The mattress does not need to be completely removed but can instead just be pushed off to the side a bit to give you room to attach the skirt border with pins. Start with a corner since the skirt has more gathers there, or possibly a split, to allow for a smooth turn.

4. Work your way around the bed, paying attention to the hem and how even it is along the floor. Use as many pins as needed to keep the ruffle from shifting.

Easy to remove for washing, it will stay in place when the sheets are changed, and it can be adjusted all the way around. Not a bad 30 minutes!

Sewing Machine Hypnosis

While thinking aloud to a sewing friend about the process of making this dust ruffle, I realized that I would be running 20 yard lengths of fabric through the machines several times as I hemmed, serged, gathered, and attached the pieces. I confessed that I like mindlessly sewing long seams. There is something hypnotic about the combination of the sound of the motor, sitting still, and basically staring into one focused spot.  My friend instantly understood, replying, “Listen – there are days when all I should do is take the needle out of the sewing machine and just sit there with it running.

I am still laughing. 

Bedroom Redecorating: Materials

New floors, freshly painted walls, “cloud white” woodwork and doors and finally – it’s textile time.

I’ve gathered floor coverings, quilts, shams, lengths of fabric, window panels and hardware and have spent the weekend sewing. It’s coming together. There’s a bit of a progression from light to dark: a fairly reflective shade on the walls, cool and light bedding, the windows are a little more saturated, and the rugs are vibrant against the dark floors, with pops of accent colors. 
Finished pictures just as soon as I’m finished, although it’s pretty scary to publicize your project. What if it doesn’t actually turn out all that well?? More soon!