Lost Project: Beatrix Top in Liberty Cotton

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This is the Beatrix Top from Made By Rae, which I made up in Liberty lawn before ever making a muslin, and learned a valuable lesson.

The pattern itself is really excellent—I love the sleeve styling and length, and the buttons up the back (mine are faux, see below).  The pattern also includes adjustments for various cup sizes, which is great if you’re someone who always needs a full bust adjustment every time you sew up a new pattern.  Here’s where I went wrong, though: the bust adjustment used most frequently doesn’t work for me.  So I made up a “muslin” version of this top in the final fabric and didn’t take into account that I wasn’t sure the shaping would work for me.  #sadtrombone

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As far as I’m concerned, Liberty is basically the best fabric for pretty much anything.  It costs a fortune, I’ll give you that—but the softness and drape of it is unparalleled, and the patterns and prints are at a scale that seems to make every design look better.  This particular print is one of my two favorites (Wiltshire in red is the other one, although even typing that makes me feel like I’m betraying the other eleventy-billion Liberty prints that I adore and have been known to purchase yardage of when I’ve had too much hard cider), and appears to have been a seasonal colorway of a print called Manuela that’s only available in a few shops internationally.  Which makes the pain of having been careless with my fitting even greater.


My preferred full bust adjustment is one introduced by the late Nancy Zieman, an absolutely flawless technique that allows the increase of the bust dart size without the accompanying increase in the amount of fabric at the waist and hip, which every other FBA I have ever seen does.  We worked on Nancy’s technique as part of the League of Dressmakers two years ago, and I promise you that it changed my sewing forever.


So in this Beatrix, where I used the bust adjustment straight out of the package—which I should note is a solid method, and works for a lot of bodies, just not mine—I inadvertently introduced more volume along the torso of the garment than I really want or need.


The simplest solution is to take the volume out along the side seams.  It’s not ideal, because it changes the shaping of the shirt front and makes it ride up just a bit when I’m wearing it.  I would have been way better off if I’d used another bust adjustment method and allowed room at the bustline but not along the center front, because taking it out of the side seams means the garment is pulled toward the sides rather than narrowed from the center front outward.  But as a solution after the fact—like if you find a great top for a huge discount but it isn’t *quite* right, or if you use in-gettable fabric for a muslin without checking the fitting properly first—taking out volume at the side seams will do the trick.


Because all bodies are different, it can take some time to figure out the best way to fit yours.  None of this is about my body being the wrong shape, and it isn’t about the pattern drafting—it’s about finding the meeting point between the two.  I think one of the greatest leaps we all make when sewing is the moment when we say AHA! Because we see that even if a pattern is designed to correct for something, it might not be the *right* correction for my shape.


The neckline for this top is dreamy on me, for example. I am unreasonably prideful about my collar bones, and I love a boat neck that skirts the lower edge, like this one does.  In fact, I can think of very few women who aren’t flattered by a nice boat neck top or dress.


At the back the shirt is designed to have buttons, which mine does, I just never bothered to put in any buttonholes.  When Rae was writing about the pattern, she mentioned that she always puts hers on over her head even though it has buttonholes, and so when I got to my usual avoidance of installing buttonholes—why do I always insist on putting it off??—I realized I could just NOT DO IT.  These buttons are sewn through both facings, and are 100% faux closures.  I’ve never had a lick of trouble getting the top on or off.


The hem is a nice curved shirt-tail shape, and it hits very prettily at the mid-hip.  Looks great over skinny jeans, makes a solid addition to the mom uniform that requires that we not have to suck anything in, but that we look like we made some effort to take off our jammies before dropping off that forgotten lunch box at the school.


And there you have it!  The story of how I used up some irreplaceable yardage and learned a valuable lesson at the same time.  It’s basically an after school special that looks like a shirt.

Lost Project: Liberty Lawn Tuxedo Tank Top


This particular Lost Project actually got a lot of screen time, just not publicly: I originally drafted this pattern for my League of Dressmakers, and we worked with it in various capacities for a few months in 2016, and then re-visited it in 2017.  I used one of my all-time favorite Liberty of London lawn prints to sew this up, and honestly, if my budget allowed it I would probably have an entire closet filled with nothing but Liberty, linen, rayon and jeans.  I might be 95% serious about that.

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I love ALL Liberty, and it’s way too expensive to throw out scraps, so it’s nice that not only can you quilt with the teensy bits that are leftover, but they also work great for pocket linings, waistband facings, and bias binding.  You can sneak the itty bitty bits into all kinds of garments–even buttonhole facings, really TINY places–and get that delicious pop that can only come from a Liberty print.  So, so good.  (I get all mine from Pink Castle Fabrics, who usually has an excellent and wide selection of prints.)


What I really wanted was a basic tank with some simple bust dart shaping that would have space in the shirt front for an inset–the initial goal was that the League was working on pleats and gathers, and I wanted a top where we could try different pleating and gathering techniques within the same basic shape.  By creating an inset with a lower scoop, I figured we could make a tank top that had some tuxedo styling, and could also be super wearable and versatile.


The pintucks here were really fun to sew.  They’re just a series of very narrow pleat, but when you put them all together like a tuxedo shirt does, it has a lot of visual impact–even if, like on this fabric, the print seems to obscure the effect.

C69A9059I actually like that you don’t really notice the detail until you get a lot closer to the shirt.  Like, it’s a little surprise.  Because of the way the inset is created, the shaping of the shirt isn’t affected by it, it’s just a detail that lies flat against the breastbone.  So it could have a gathered panel, or smocked, or what have you, and still be the same basic top.


The lower edge of the inset is curved, which can be a little tricky to put in without distorting it.  We stay-stitched the curved edge to keep it from stretching out when we sewed this for the League, but since the inset goes in before the neckline is finished, it was pretty forgiving, and I like that, too.


The armholes and neckline are finished with single-fold bias tape, nice and clean.  I think the armholes on this version are a little higher than I would really like, but I mostly wear it underneath a cardigan, so I don’t notice it much.  I just don’t like to get sweaty stains under the arms of my tops from an armhole being TOO high–I also don’t like having an armhole so low that I can’t take my cardigan off without showing my bra.  So it’s a delicate balance.


The back is super simple.  I added a tag under the bias tape at the back neck, which I always think is a cheap and fast way to make a handmade garment look 1000% more professional.

If I did anything differently, I would probably draft this with slightly sider shoulder straps–I usually wear a racerback bra with this top, because I want to be sure that I don’t have any lingerie peeking out, but it would be nice not to have to think about what bra to pack when I travel with this top, which I frequently do.  I have consistently found, actually, that over the last two years the garments I am most likely to reach for when packing are handmade, and that most of my travel outfits have at least one handmade element.  I think ten years ago, the clothes I felt most confident taking with me when I had to choose just a handful were almost always store-bought, so it’s exciting to see that I have unconsciously been building my favorites into a wearable, everyday, “special” day closet.

Florence Kimono in rayon–with cherries!


I have a truly absurd number of garments hiding in my closet.  Things that I’ve made, for myself, over the past few years that have never been shared or blogged about.  Or more accurately, have made it on to my Instagram feed, but have never been written about at length in a format where I can actually archive them and make them searchable, like here.  I’ve been calling them Lost Projects.


And I’ve resolved to share about them, because sometimes I find that I don’t bother to write a post when “I don’t have anything to write about” or because I’m working on projects that I can’t publish yet.  That seems like such a waste, when I have all these lovely clothes in my closet that I wear regularly–part of the fun of maintaining a blog is that I get to write about and take photos of the things I’ve made that make me most excited.  Instagram has really undercut that, and when I posted recently about how I wanted to get back to archiving longer details from sewing projects on the blog, there was very enthusiastic response from folks like me who miss “old school” blogs where there was plenty of meat and not just one photo and a caption.

So here we go: Episode 1 in the Lost Projects Series.


This pattern is the Florence Kimono from Sew Caroline.  I’ll be honest, the pattern didn’t look like much at first from the photos, and I know I wasn’t the only one who felt that way, because when people would ask me and I told them, there was almost universal surprise.  But!  As with all patterns, if you really look at the style lines, this design has a lot going for it: very simple, classic shape with good proportions (none of this cropped kimono 90s-throwback nonsense); clean construction details; and plenty of room for adaptation and embellishment.  A lot of us, me included, really want to make staples for our wardrobes, and to supplement those with statement pieces that can carry the look alongside solids–this seemed like a great in-between-season lighter-weight cardigan alternative (because I never, ever, ever go ANYWHERE without a cardigan in my bag, EVER).


I specifically chose this Cotton+Steel rayon not only because THE COLORS MAKE IT LOOK LIKE THEY DESIGNED IT JUST FOR ME AND I CHOOSE TO BELIEVE THAT’S TRUE, but also because this fabric is suuuuuuper forgiving.  I’ve wadded this puppy up in my bag for an entire day, hung it back up, and the next morning it looked like it does here: barely wrinkled and totally presentable.  WINNING!


I also love the ridiculous softness of this fabric.  Seriously, if you have the chance to purchase any print of theirs at all in the rayon, I can’t encourage you enough to do it.  This stuff is silky smooth to the touch and wears like you never want to take it off, but it sews like cotton and is very easy to handle.  It presses up like a dream, too.  I even have some smaller cuts and some scraps which I’m saving to use for pocket linings and waistband facings, because I can get a really flat finish from this fabric, and it feels great up against my skin, so I end up with better-feeling interiors on my garments with less bulk (my other go-to fabric for the same effect is cotton lawn, and Cotton+Steel makes an awesome line of those, too).


From a construction standpoint, this garment is crazy simple.  Two rectangular fronts, a back, and two rectangular sleeves.  Add a simple banding around the entire front opening, and it’s done.  I can’t recall completely, because I made this almost two years ago, but I don’t think I 100% followed the directions on the band–I think she wrote the pattern so that it was on the interior?  But mine is applied to the exterior on purpose, because I like the look of it there to break up the pattern.


If I were to do anything at all differently?  I’d take care to cut my French seams MUCH more consistently.  You can see that I have a few threads here and there poking out, where the first seam didn’t get trimmed down enough before I inverted to sew the second seam, and that bums me out a little every time I wear it.  It isn’t super noticeable, but it bothers me.  More consistency with how much I trimmed away would have prevented that from happening.

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One of the nice things about having all these projects left lying around is that I have really, really worn them and can write about what I love and don’t love without having to guess–I have great data from two years of packing and traveling and daily life-living in these clothes.  This particular pattern is exceptional for daily wear, and makes me feel more put-together than a fleece would when I toss it over my jeans+tee on the way to a school function.  It’s got a great weight in this fabric, so I’m covered from the cranked AC in most public buildings, but not sweltering all spring and summer long.  And making it in a clean color palette means it goes with almost everything.  I made a second one last summer that I took with me to France, and like it almost as much, even though it’s a very lightweight cotton and has a totally different feel than this one.

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I absolutely call this pattern a success, and have it on regular warm-weather rotation in my wardrobe.  The two I have fill a niche in my wardrobe, and get a lot of use in both casual and dressier settings.  Maybe the reason I haven’t bothered to take photos is because it was in the wash half the time!

Part of the magic of sewing is getting to make fantastical, impossible pieces that spring from your imagination.  But part of the exhilaration of sewing is that I can sew something up and forget that it hasn’t been here all along–it’s such a perfect addition to my wardrobe that I forget it’s something I made, and almost take it for granted.  Do you have lost projects floating around your closet that you sewed up and made an integral part of your wardrobe so soon after they came off the machine that you forgot there was a time when you didn’t have them?  Doesn’t that seem like maybe it’s a silent superpower??


Registration Open: The Murder Mystery Quilt 2018

Murder Mystery Quilt a year long block of the month club

It’s back!  The Murder Mystery Quilt is now open for registration for next year.  I am so, so excited–will you come play with us?

For the past two years, I have had the honor and the pleasure of sewing alongside over 1500 quilters who love to read, and who have made new friends while sewing a mystery quilt.  These are smart, funny folks who enjoy a good story and a good puzzle, and who are having a ball putting the two together in a sewing project that lasts all year!  Registration is open NOW for an all-new quilt and an all-new story.  Come play with us next year and sew the quilt to solve the crime!

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The Murder Mystery Quilt is a monthly subscription club that reads along together and stitches up a quilt to find clues and solve the murder mystery contained in the story.  

Members receive a chapter from a mystery story each month, and a pattern for a quilt block.  The quilt block relates directly to the chapter you’ve read, and contains an additional clue (or clues!) to help unravel the plot.  There are 12 blocks, one for each month of the year, and every quilter gets one guess as to who the killer is.  All the correct guesses are put in a bucket, and a winner is drawn for a giant prize basket of quilting goodies and fabric!  There’s also a second prize for those who complete the quilt top, regardless of whether they made a correct guess, so that everyone has a chance to win–even if you feel more like a Watson than a Holmes.  (After all, Holmes was a little bit of an egomaniac who didn’t like to share credit, but it was always Watson who supplied the necessary connections to get to the solution, right?)

A year-long quilting project can seem like one more thing to keep up with.  I think the story alone keeps you motivated–like the original Sherlock Holmes mysteries, this one is a serial and so you’re compelled by the characters and the plot to read anew each month.  I’ve also added a layer of extra motivation: every month, when you complete your block and share your finish to our private Facebook group or on Instagram, you get an ADDITIONAL clue via email to help you find the solution!  That’s a total of 12 extra clues that will give you a glimpse of whodunit, on top of the clues in the text and the clues in the quilt.

Along the way, you’ll receive monthly emails with encouragement and discussion, and access to our password-protected dedicated website where you can download chapters, patterns, instructions and little extras (coloring pages! connect-the-dots!) as we go along.  Our private Facebook group gives you a chance to chat with other quilters about this or any other project, and really get connected to community in 2018.

Any level quilter is welcome, and the patterns are written with lots of clear step-by-step instructions in full color.  You’ll find our community is super helpful, and that seeing their blocks posted is inspiring not just for this project, but for all your sewing!  Members come from all over the world to play with us, and in the past we’ve included quilters from the United States, Australia, the United Kingdom, Canada, France, Portugal, and more.

Are you intrigued?  I hope you’ll sew along with me!  This project is a dream come true for me, and I have loved, loved, loved every single second I have spent putting it together.  I can’t wait to get started.  Come hunt clues in 2018!

Join us!  We need your brainpower and we want to play with you.  Read more about the Murder Mystery Quilt here.  Registration is open now!  Sign up early, as spots are limited.  Last day to register is January 31, 2018.

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Destash for Charity: Selling What We Can’t Use to Give to Those Who Need

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I’m getting ready to do a huge de-stash.  When we finished our basement this summer and I moved out of my office space and into the new basement studio, I packed up box after box, and even though I was sure that I had eliminated every item I could POSSIBLY bear to live without, when I unpacked the boxes again in the new space–which combined the office with my home sewing space in our dining room–I found, really, appalling levels of fabric that I didn’t have room for and didn’t really need.

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It made me feel sad inside.

Sad because I have accumulated so much, sad because the resources necessary to purchase, store, pack, move and maintain all these things for years (decades, in a few cases) could have been put to better use.  Sad because many of these fabrics and notions and patterns are things I really LOVE, but that no one human could possibly be capable of utilizing in a given lifetime.  I want to do two things by de-stashing, by selling these items to someone else: I want them to find a home where they can live out their destiny, and I want to re-direct the investment I made in them into a project I’m actually going to sew.

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So here’s the deal.  Over the next week, I’m posting fabric, notions, tools, and studio equipment to my Instagram account.  I’m pricing them at or below what I paid for them when I purchased them, because seriously: they really need to go live with someone who loves them.  And I’m DONATING 20% OF THE PURCHASE PRICE to my favorite charities (more on that below).

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In addition, I’ve got some samples from both of my books, and some skirts from my Craftsy class, that I discovered when I was packing and unpacking.  A few of these were giveaways on the blog that were never claimed, and others are treasures that were shipped back to me from the publisher or from trunk shows and have lived inside cardboard ever since.  I’m going to auction these off to the highest bidder as part of the destash, and then GIVE 100% OF THE SALE PRICE of these auction items to the same charities.

Everyone wins, you guys.  I meet my goal that nothing in my house lives in a box, you get a great deal on fabric that you want for holiday gifts, the fabrics and tools get used, and the charities get funds to continue their good work.

De-Stash Benefits the Following Charities

There are a handful of philanthropic organizations I go back to again and again, because I admire their focus on sending the most funding to the needy, and because I appreciate their perspective on HOW they help others–not only by air-lifting supplies, but by getting on the ground, asking what they can do, and working with local populations both domestic and abroad, to do the most good.  As I sell my surplus fabrics + supplies, I’ll be sending 20% of all sales and 100% of all auction proceeds to these groups to benefit their work.

Charity: Water

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Charity: Water works to ensure that our earth’s only truly non-renewable resource is available, clean and healthy, to as many communities as possible.  By sinking wells and directing ONE HUNDRED PERCENT of their donations directly to the projects they plant, they have brought fresh drinking water to thousands of communities around the world with an unparalleled level of transparency in their operations.  Clean water that’s freely available in a community means more school for children, more time for family for mothers, fewer infectious illnesses, and better long-term environmental health for communities.  It is an absolute game-changer that most of us take wildly for granted–a fact brought home this past year when Flint, Michigan struggled with their own water supply.  I have donated my birthday to this group in the past, and love hearing the story of their founder’s journey to starting this incredible charity.

Days For Girls

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Like Charity: Water, Days for Girls works to win back educational time for girls around the globe.  In this case, girls miss school in their communities when they have their period and access to basic hygiene supplies is limited, forcing them to remain out of class and at home for the duration of their cycle–some of them finally quit school altogether, never to return.  This group not only accepts cash donations, they also invite volunteers to sew re-usable menstrual pads and build + ship kits to girls around the world that make it possible for them to remain in the classroom and grow into the leaders their communities need for the future.  It makes me tear up to think how something so small can change the entire world, but that’s exactly what this group does, and I am honored to donate to them.

Heifer International

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This has long been one of my very favorite charities for one simple reason: Heifer International works WITH local communities, in the US and around the world, to provide locally- and culturally-specific assistance that helps individual families and then asks them to pay it forward.  By sponsoring the purchase of one pair of breeding livestock for one family, not only can we allow that family to create a sustainable income for themselves over the long-term, but they can pass along the offspring from that pair to invite another family to do the same, creating a virtuous cycle that build up whole villages and communities with a very small gift.  I love that the animals that are donated are very specific to the area of the world and the cultural practices of the families who receive them, and that Heifer has training facilities here in the US that teach traditional methods to American students.  They also offer gift options that are perfect for the holidays–give something that isn’t a THING, but that shares a better life with others!

re:Loom Atlanta

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I think part of the theme of these organizations is that they ensure not just assistance, but DIGNITY for people in need.  Local Atlanta charity re:Loom does the same thing, and has my heart for that.  Some of the fabrics I discovered when I unboxed things weren’t anything that could be sold, they were just scraps–such small pieces that while they weren’t useless, couldn’t be easily used or stored.  I boxed them back up and took them to re:Loom, where they will be turned into beautiful weavings in their Weavehouse, which employs low-income and homeless women from the Atlanta area and puts their feet on the path to self-sufficiency.  It’s such a great concept, and the fact that they keep fabric out of landfills and turn it into something all of us would be proud to have in our homes creates a perfect circle of kindness.

De-stash starts TOMORROW on Instagram, details are posted there now!  If you can’t participate, please consider donating to one of these organizations, or making a purchase from their online store.  Let’s be the good we want to see in the world!

Knitting Fail: the Top-Down Turtleneck Cardigan

This is the first knitting project I’ve done where I finished and said, Huh.  I don’t really like this.  And that’s a little sad.


Let’s start by saying that this post is NOT about: this post is not about my out-of-focus cell phone photos, or my frowny face (mostly cropped) from the sun being in my eyes, or my lack of ironing on my tunic.  Stay focused, my friends.  This post is about the fit of this sweater.  Last summer, in anticipation of our Big Trip to Scotland, which I learned during my pre-trip research was going to be 30 degrees cooler than Atlanta, I knitted two sweaters: the Georgia sweater and the Top-Down Turtleneck Cardigan.  Both are made in the same Purl Soho Mulberry Merino yarn.  One is yellow and I lurve it.  The other is…this one.


The color is divine.  The feel of the yarn is a dream.  It’s the fit that I don’t like.  At all.  I should point out that this sweater has not been blocked, a practice I am still a little scared to pursue, despite the fact that I knitted (knit?) seven sweaters last year.  And so I’m wondering: is that the problem?  Or is it that I just don’t like this shape on my body?


Because here’s the thing about this sweater: the armholes are WACKADOO.  I mean, like sooooooo low.  Can you see that in these photos?  I generally prefer a higher armhole anyway, and looking back at the design and still photos of this pattern from the Purl Soho website I don’t think that the error is in my knitting or in their design–it’s just that it’s hard to really appreciate that the armholes are way down the body when the sweater is lying flat.  You don’t really see it until it’s on.


And y’all, they are WAY down the body.  Like, almost my waist.  Certainly way below my bustline, which you can clearly see in this photo above.  Granted, my waistline is higher than the average person, but also: holy smokes.


The yarn is BEYOND spectacular.  It’s a wool/silk blend and it’s completely amazing to work with, the kind of yarn that makes it hard to purchase yarn ever again, because once you’ve gone fancy it’s hard to go un-fancy.  And I think the knitting is pretty good work, if I do say so myself, and I do.  But in the photo above, you can see that the armhole stitches start to veer off?  I think the armhole should end about where the seam changes direction.  And it doesn’t.  It goes on for another, what, six inches?  INCHES?  On my body, that’s hugely unflattering.  I’ve learned through years of sewing that certain shapes will NEVER look good on me, no matter how great they look on the pattern envelope–it’s one of the toughest things to ever learn about sewing, honestly, that your body WANTS some shapes and will STRONGLY REJECT others, and that it’s OK.  Transferring that idea to knitting is trickier than I thought, because a sweater is just a sweater, right?



I love the *idea* of this sweater.  It’s a turtleneck cardigan, and speaking those words together give me joy: TURTLENECK + CARDIGAN.  I love the simplicity of the construction.  I loved the near-mindlessness of the knitting, even the short rows on the neck for shaping.  But I do not love the final fit.




I don’t feel pretty in this sweater.  I feel frumpy.  I haven’t blocked it, true.  I haven’t added buttons, also true.  But I am not motivated to do so, because currently, I am pretty bummed that the fit isn’t flattering.


So here’s my question for you more experienced knitters: if I’m considering taking the whole thing apart and recycling the yarn (I believe the technical term is weeping frogging), should I block it first just to be SUPER SURE that I hate it?  Or do I call it now and just stop the hemorrhage?

Suggestions warmly welcomed, y’all.  I’ve had this experience with sewn garments before, and it can really derail your progress.  I made this sweater on purpose to pair with a lined vest, and there’s no chance it’s going to fit under those armholes as it is now.  Can it be saved with blocking?  And if not, will blocking make the yarn less usable for another project?

Side question for you SUPER experienced knitters: what measurements are you checking on the knitting pattern to ensure that this kind of thing doesn’t happen to you?  On a sewing pattern, I know just how to look for that information, and how to apply it–there must be some parallel in knitting patterns, but I need help finding it.  Thank you, internet friends!

How To Sew On Patches

How to Sew On Patches By Machine | Whipstitch

For our children’s Junior Ranger backpacks, I worked hard to plan the design to enable the maximum number of patches to be added over the years.  Every Junior Ranger receives a pin when they are sworn in, and I’ve seen some children at various national parks with dozens of these on vests and jackets.


Some of the parks, however, also award patches to their Junior Rangers.  They do these in different ways: some parks give the patch as a matter of course.  A few have levels of patch, based on the age level of the Junior Ranger in question, and kids can earn more than one patch at that particular park by completing more Junior Ranger activities on subsequent visits (this is usually only the very largest and most popular parks, like Yellowstone).  Other parks have it in the gift shop where it can be purchased–but only after showing the pin badge as evidence of Junior Ranger-ness.  Some, like Grand Canyon, also have them in the gift shop, but behind the counter where Junior Rangers must ask for them and then purchase.  A few (like when we visited Mojave National Preserve this spring) award the patch only if the Junior Ranger activity booklet is completed on-site, versus being mailed in after the visit.*  And others have no patches at all, or at least not any specific to the Junior Ranger program (although we have encountered a very, very small number that didn’t have SOME kind of embroidered patch available).


I can’t entirely explain why I’m so obsessed with these patches, but I am.  I love that each one is so unique, I love that the come in different shapes, and I love how specific they are to the parks.  And my kids feel so excited to really EARN each one–the Park Rangers who award them take the whole process pretty seriously, too, and we have consistently found that they look at every page and every activity the kids have done, ask questions about what they’ve learned, and then swear them in with genuine solemnity.  So preserving and displaying them was a big part of the design consideration for these backpacks, and making sure that they’re not going anywhere was a big part of attaching them.

After the recent Total Eclipse of the Sun, I had new patches to add to our kids’ backpacks!  So I shot some quick photos while I was at it, in case you’re hesitant to start your own collection because you’re (1) not quite sure how to put them on or (2) worried they won’t stay put.  Have fun!  [NOTE: these are not Junior Ranger patches, although there is a Junior Ranger badge for the eclipse; you can find these same eclipse patches here.]


Many, but not all, of the patches are adhesive.  You can tell if a patch does have heat-activated adhesive on the back by examining the wrong side of the embroidery–while many patches have a coating over the stitches, only heat-set patches will have a thick, slightly translucent or “tacky” backing.  It may even have a peel-away paper to protect the glue, which you can remove when you apply the patch.

fusible patches for sewing

If there is only embroidery thread and no coating, your patch is sew-on only; skip the next two steps at the iron, and instead consider using a sewable glue stick (like this one from SewLine) to anchor the patch in place prior to stitching at the machine.

press cloth for iron on patches | Whipstitch

If your patch is of the adhesive variety, you can stick it semi-permanently to the fabric with heat. Do this with a very hot iron and a press cloth.  Put the patch on the surface where you want it to stay, and be sure it’s squared the way you like.  For me, the heat setting is a temporary measure designed to hold the patch in place until I can stitch it down, but in some cases, it can be tough to sew a patch where you want it–existing seams can interfere, or the fabric may be too thick.  The adhesive on most of these patches is very strong, so if you do a good job of fusing it now, it will hold for a long time.

iron on patches | Whipstitch

Cover the patch with the press cloth, taking care not to jostle it out of position.  Lower the iron over the press cloth, and DO NOT PUSH.  We’re not ironing the patch in place, we’re pressing it down, so this is a vertical movement of lowering the iron, not a horizontal movement of pushing it across the fabric.  Hold in place for a solid, slow count of 10, then lift and lower again in a new position, slightly overlapping the spot where you previously fused.

Continue like this until every edge has been thoroughly heated–it’s the EDGES that really matter here, because that’s where the patch will peel up if it does.  Taking time to make the edges super fused and secure will ensure that the patch stays put.

checking the fuse iron on patch | Whipstitch

From there, determine if you want to stitch your patch in place in addition to fusing it.  For almost all of the patches on the Junior Ranger backpacks, that’s what I did, only skipping the ones that I just couldn’t get to on my machine (for example, the ones near the base of the front pocket).  You can test the quality of your fuse to help you make the decision: wait at least ten minutes, then gently tug at the edge of your patch.  You should feel no movement or tearing of the patch coming away from the fabric.  If your patch does peel away, either fuse again or move on to sewing it in place.

sew on patch | Whipstitch

For best results, and easiest sewing, I use lower feed dogs on my machine and use the free motion presser foot, which prevents me from having to rotate the bag or drag large amounts of fabric under my machine arm while I’m stitching.  If you don’t have a free motion foot, you can try your regular foot with a little Scotch tape on the bottom to help it glide; if you can’t lower your feed dogs on your machine, try setting it to a straight stitch at length ZERO.

Before sewing, be sure to match your thread to the outermost ring on the embroidery.  This will help it to blend and disappear the best.

free arm to sew on patches | Whipstitch

As you sew, stay in the rolled outer edge to best hide stitches in the “lip” of the embroidery.  Keep your stitches short and even, and slowly rotate the patch until you’re able to stitch the entire circumference.  For square or triangular patches, pivot at each angled edge to change directions.  Using your machine’s free arm makes this easiest with bags and the like, to give more freedom of movement.

sewing on patches | Whipstitch

Stitched on this way, these patches should last years to come! The same technique will work for adding patches to jeans, jackets and tees.  Easy fix for rips and tears, simple way to show off your affiliations and interests, and fun way to embellish your clothing.

Junior Ranger Backpacks with Patches and Pins

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I make a lot of things for my children.  I don’t often make things for them that I want to get out and play with when they’re not home.  This time?  Yes, I totally do.


These are one of my very favorite projects I have made for my children: their Junior Ranger backpacks.

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We love, love, love the Junior Ranger program.  Sponsored by the National Park Service, it invites children from the ages of 5 to 15 to complete activities related to each of the more than 400 locations governed by the park system and earn a Junior Ranger badge.

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Channel Islands National Park, California

Kids can collect the badges, chart their visits to the various parks, preserves, recreation areas, monuments, trails and historic sites in the park system, and learn a ton along the way.

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To earn a badge, they request a booklet at the visitor center at the entrance to the park, complete the required number of activities–which range from mazes to writing an original story to designing a logo to searching the site for answers to clues or questions–and then turn it back in to the Park Ranger to be sworn in as an official National Park Service Junior Ranger.


After our kids earned their first three or four badges, I really wanted them to have a place to keep them safe and to showcase them.  They worked hard for these!  They should get to display them.  We considered the Junior Ranger vests, and I thought about doing another bandolier, but neither of those seemed to have the practical use and over-the-years staying power that I prefer in a project.

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Enter: the Junior Ranger rucksack.


This is an original pattern that I drafted based on measurements from my children’s bodies.  I was trying to strike a balance between being an appropriate size for my elementary-aged children now, and being something useful to them over the long term.  I have an image in my mind of them still treasuring these when they’re older, carrying them ironically in high school, even passing them along to their own kids.  Delusional?  Isn’t ALL the best crafting + parenting a little delusional?

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I used a very heavy green brushed bull denim for the exterior of the backpacks, and it was super dreamy to work with.  For once, I didn’t pre-wash, because I wanted to preserve maximum stiffness and body in the finished bags.  To the same end, all the exterior pieces were interfaced with black Shape-Flex to give them support with stiffness and no loft–I learned about this interfacing from Sara at Sew Sweetness, and have loved it ever since, especially for bags.


There’s a large front flap that extends all the way to the base of the bag, giving a huge amount of acreage for future patches and badges.  There’s also an interior pocket with a zipper.  We’ve found over the past couple of years that the pin badges have a tendency to pop off if they’re exposed to rough handling and stress, so we’ve been adding them to the interior pocket to keep from losing them (I’m also considering anchoring the pin mechanism with a blob of hot glue, but I haven’t tried that yet–I’ll let you know how it goes).  The flap is held in place with two large magnetic snaps–the youngest got two small ones, because I ran out of the bigger size, and they really do need to be the larger snaps to hold snug.

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The zippers are standard off-the-rack zips (got mine from a dear friend who was de-stashing on Instagram, a shopping practice that I highly recommend!) and then I added these sweet little zipper pulls.  They make the zippers way easier to operate, but also lend a little professional look to the backpacks in general.


The interior of the entire bag is lined in this National Parks fabric, which I think was released limited edition for the National Park 100th Anniversary celebration (you can still get some here, and from various sellers on Etsy).  I love, love this fabric, and was super excited to add it to these bags.  Like the exterior, I didn’t bother washing this before sewing, and I interfaced it lightly with a pretty standard off-the-rack fusible interfacing–similar to my all-time favorite Pellon 906F.


There’s a small interior pocket on the back of the backpack, with the same little zipper pull as the front exterior pocket.  Doesn’t it just jazz the project up?  I matched the zipper pull to the zipper color on two, but on the third I didn’t have a good match, so it has pink zippers with yellow pulls.  It’s very ice cream-y and I lurve it.


All the edges are bound with bias tape made from the same denim.  It was thick to sew through, but the denim is kinda squashy (in a good way) and my machine + a heavy duty needle crushed it, maybe literally.  I love the roundness of the bias tape, and how simple it made it to create clean edges around the whole backpack.


As I assembled the backpacks, I added some of the existing patches in places I knew I wouldn’t be able to reach later–so all the patches on the gusset were sewn before the bias binding was applied.  I measured the sides to be just wide enough to accommodate the average round patch, and then spaced them out to leave enough room for a D-ring on the side.


These bags have backpack straps, obviously, but I wanted to leave the option of a shoulder strap at a later date, or for carabiners to hold water bottles, flashlights, and accessories.  Plus, doesn’t the little tab with the bright pop of yellow look RIGHT?


Straps are made similar to the shoulder strap in Elizabeth Hartman’s Sewing Circle Tote, which makes a wonderfully sturdy and soft shape that’s just the right size.  They’re padded with Annie’s Soft and Stable, which I adore–just the right loft, plenty of support and softness.


At the lower end of the strap, it’s attached to the body of the bag using standard slider hardware and this delicious poly webbing.  I accidentally ordered 25 yards of this stuff, but not really accidentally, it was just a way bigger roll than I expected.  But it’s so good!  And I’ve used it a ton.  Very sturdy and can put up with a lot of abuse, but the color is rad and it works so well with the forest green.


I should note, though, that the poly webbing must be heat sealed before sewing to prevent unraveling.  If it isn’t, as we learned, the weave will come apart, and even though it’s sewn securely, the webbing will fall out of the stitches and fall apart.  It’s easy to prevent that: use a lit match or a lighter and hold the flame under the cut edge for just a few seconds. It will melt with just a little heat, and the ends will fuse, so that the weave holds over time.  Take care not to heat it too long, though, or it will scorch and blacken.

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We have used the stink out of these this year, from our Spring Break trip to Southern California, which included Disneyland and five national parks; to visiting local national parks in our region; to flying to France this summer.  If I were to change anything–and I still may–I would have added a large chunky plastic zip at the top of the main compartment, because the kids really wanted to overstuff these, and gravity had a habit of working against them.  Other than that, they are very nearly the perfect kid hiking backpack, and I am excited to travel as many national parks as we possibly can with them as our kids grow!

Organizational Tools for Creative Folks: On My Desk

planning and organizing for creative jobs | Whipstitch

Over the years as I have grown Whipstitch and altered focus or direction, I have developed an ad hoc system for keeping organized through both short-range and long-range projects.  This isn’t a “system” so much as the means I use each day to keep myself on-task, to keep ideas in order so that they don’t get lost or misplaced, and to enable me to meet as many deadlines and goals as possible.

I have two big needs each day: I have to both keep track of HOW I spend my time, meaning the hourly obligations and expectations for each day as the clock ticks by; and I have to keep track of WHERE I spend my time, meaning which tasks I have prioritized above others and which ones I have gotten going but want to keep on track.  I have learned over the years that no planner really has space for both of these goals–my daily planner, which I’ll share below, does a great job with day-to-day and hourly, but doesn’t give room for note taking or brainstorming or long-range detailed planning (which includes taking a sewing project from “idea” to “on the hanger”).

So this isn’t a professional system by any stretch, and I see parts of it that represent a certain level of redundancy.  It’s also not at all, even remotely a system for people who desire to go all-digital, because I am a paper planner and writing ideas and tasks down makes them much more concrete to me than adding them to EverNote.  But it is a system that gives me room to keep track of my ideas AND my time, so I thought it was worth sharing for other folks who have a creative endeavor plus an actual life, because both of those are worth organizing.IMG_4125

All of these, with one exception, are tools I have used for at least three years, and that I rely on every single day–nothing that gets shelved and forgotten, these are what you’ll find on my desk, next to my laptop, every morning when I come into the studio to work.  I keep them up to date, and I review them occasionally to make sure I’m not being delusional about how much I’m getting done.  There is no question for me that they’ve helped me accomplish more in the last three years than I did at any other point as a business owner–and maybe as a human.  So when people on Instagram tell me I’m organized, or they seem impressed that I popped a casserole in the oven on delayed start before taking the girls to ballet class, I have these tools to thank.  Being organized is a habit and a skill–one that took me a LONG time to learn, but that has totally changed how I feel each day about how much I have accomplished.

organizational tools for creatives | spiral notebook | Whipstitch

SPIRAL FIVE SUBJECT NOTEBOOK: every idea + long-range plans

About six years ago, I bought a large spiral notebook during back to school shopping for my children.  I love school supplies, I love the excitement and the options and the designs and the PROMISE they invoke.  So I don’t know that I had a particular plan in place for the notebook when I purchased it, just a vague sense that I could find a place to put it.  Nothing could be simpler than a basic school notebook for tracking ideas, goals, plans and projects.

creative organization tools | spiral notebook | Whipstitch

I use mine to jot ideas, to make long-range plans that have multiple steps, to keep track of projects and how close they are to completion.  I’ve been using a modified “bullet journal” approach to making a table of contents that helps me know what’s where (although I was much better at this last year than this year).  I have one five-subject notebook per year, and have usually almost filled it up but not quite, which means I’m working with the perfect size.

One of the unintended benefits of using a different notebook from January to December is that if I remember an idea from some distant time in the past, I can usually narrow down when it was and then go find it in previous notebooks, all of which I keep shelved in my studio for reference.  I generally tuck smaller pieces of paper with measurements, sketches or corrections into the pages, and tab the pages with ideas that I go back to again and again.  Flipping through the notebook on occasion reminds me of Really Great Ideas! that I was super excited about but put on the back burner, and that’s fun, too.

organization for writers | moleskine | Whipstitch

MOLESKINE: one specific project, start to finish

Additionally, I have been using smaller moleskine notebooks to organize my writing for the Murder Mystery Quilt.  Each year, members of the clue receive a monthly mystery quilt pattern, which combines with patterns from all the other months to form a lap size quilt that helps them solve the crime in the chapters of a mystery story, which they read in a serial manner, one chapter at a time, delivered with the pattern itself.  The mystery stars Dr. Kitty Campbell, archaeobotanist, who uses her archaeological and botanical knowledge to solve mysteries in various delicious locations.

organziation for writers | inside a moleskine notebook | Whipstitch

Each small moleskine, aside from being easy to carry around and having wonderfully smooth paper, is just the right size for keeping a single storyline organized so that I have lists of characters, plot points, an overall outline, and a place to jot questions and ideas as a I write.  Plus, since these come in a six-pack from Costco, I have plenty of future stories that I can add details to over time, meaning that when I sit down to outline the plot, I already have a bunch of background information to guide me.

organization for creative jobs | day designer planner | Whipstitch

THE DAY DESIGNER: hourly and daily plans to combine regular life + creative work

My primary planner, though, in terms of getting me organized each day is the Day Designer.  I went on a hunt for the ideal planner for a creative business a few years ago, and looked at all the options.  This one was by far the best for me, and there are a few different details that make me feel that way.

organization for creative jobs | inside the day designer planner | Whipstitch

First, I love that every month has a monthly overview, and then each individual day has its own page (except weekends, which share a page).  I need to see BOTH in order to feel I have a handle on what’s happening hour-by-hour and day-by-day, and I love that a couple years back they added monthly tabs to make it simple to flip between overview pages and get a clear picture of travel, commitments, long-term projects and downtime.

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For the daily pages, the absolute GAME CHANGER for how I function and how much I get done is the two column design: on the left, I get an hour-by-hour schedule so that I can add in consistent tasks that create obvious boundaries for my time (when the kids go to school and get picked up, what days they have after school activities, when I have meetings), and then on the left, I have a bullet list of “to do” items.  Having these side-by-side seems like such a simple thing, but the truth is that it makes ALL THE DIFFERENCE.  I can easily see when my to-do list will absolutely not fit the windows of time I have available, and make allowances (and forgiveness) for when I know I won’t get to certain tasks.  (You can download a free sample of this page to try it out.)

Above that–both literally and figuratively–there is a TOP THREE list, and again, this is a feature that is such a game changer for me.  Donald Miller talks about making a top three, and paying attention to the fact that we don’t work at 100% all day, so scheduling yourself as if you do is foolhardy at best.  We work great at the top of the day, then at 75% and then at 50% and then we’re cooked.  So thinking through that to-do list and pulling out the three tasks that REALLY must get done each day while we are at our best, and ordering them apart from the other little tasks that eat into our time, makes a world of difference in terms of how much gets accomplished in those limited windows of time.

best planner for creative jobs | day designer | Whipstitch

I also love that the Day Designer leaves room to plan dinners, and to track income/expenses, and to offer gratitude each day, and to make notes to myself.  It really does cover a lot of bases, and if I were to only have ONE planner to replace everything else here, there’s a chance I could almost get by with this one alone–seriously, if looking at FOUR notebooks makes you feel crazycakes/think that I am, that’s cool, just go with the Day Designer.

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BEST SELF JOURNAL: turning long-term goals into short-term realities

I’ve added one more this year, however, and I’m liking it so far, although I confess it has some level of redundancy.  I found the Best Self Journal, and am using it to track and motivate my progress through shorter-term goals.  It’s set up on a 13-week cycle, which is right around three calendar months.  It allows me to drill down super specifically on THREE goals/projects/plans and then map out how to make them real in the space of three months.

It’s always so much harder to take ideas in our heads and make them concrete–I was really drawn to the idea that if we step back and look at how much time we really have (finite time, not “someday” time), we can figure out what it will take in practical means to actually see it happen.  If I want to learn to sew with leather, it helps me to select a project, but then I have to actually nail down the time to execute the project.  If I want to lose ten pounds, I can’t just visualize that–I have to have steps in place to get me there, incrementally.  If I want to launch a new sewing pattern, I have to be honest with myself about how many hours it will take to get that in gear, and then prep and plan those hours into my (already busy) days.  This tool helps me do that in a way that the Day Designer doesn’t.

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image via BestSelfCo; not my personal journal

I really like that the journal is set up to track weekly and daily, but even more than that, I like that I am forced to REWRITE my goals again and again, every single day.  I can’t really communicate just how much clarity you get when you have to re-phrase and re-define what it is you hope to achieve when it’s tied to a SPECIFIC END DATE.  It totally gets your rear in gear, you know?

I don’t use the hourly stuff on the left page (above), because I’m already doing that in my Day Designer.  Instead, I use this as an actual journal, like a diary of sorts.  I use the entire left page to write about where I am and how I’m feeling, what I’ve learned and where I’ve failed, and to brainstorm solutions to problems that haven’t quite worked themselves out yet.  I do this as a writing exercise each morning, and spend under five minutes on it.  But the effects last the entire day–I am more aware of the impact each chunk of time makes, and I am more reflective about what’s getting written down in my other three tools.

I appreciate that for some folks–in particular my ALL DIGITAL folks whose faces are absolutely horrified when I bust out a paper calendar–will look at four notebooks and think, Boy howdy, she’s making it harder than it needs to be!  (Spoiler: that’s my jam, don’t knock it).  But my focus is always on making the most of my time so that I can enjoy my PEOPLE more.  I have lots of ideas, and I could pursue those all day and all night–but I’d be in isolation, sewing and cutting and plotting in the dark.  What I want more than that is to narrow down my loooooong list of Things I Want To Do and drill into the few that will pay me the biggest returns, emotionally and professionally and creatively.  When I do that, I can use all the other time to spend with my husband and my kids and my friends and my community.  I hope at least one of these tools will help you do the same!

Great Women in Sewing: The Seamstresses of Manzanar

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I taught tenth grade for a long time.  Part of the curriculum for that level in the state of Georgia is to cover the Holocaust, a tough topic no matter where you live.  Here in the South, discussion of any type of racial or cultural discrimination inevitably leads to discussion of the legacy human slavery has left in our backyards.  As Oprah pointed out in an interview with Elie Wiesel, survivor of Auschwitz and author of Night, we don’t compare our pain, and the heartbreak of the concentration camps can’t be held against the heartbreak of African slavery in the 19th century, but they both beg the question, according to Wiesel, “What is there in evil that becomes so seductive to some people?”

Heavy stuff for a sewing blog, I know, but I promise that I’ll bring it all back around.

When I was teaching this topic, I used materials provided for free by the Southern Poverty Law Center, whose mission is to combat hate, intolerance and discrimination through education and litigation.  They not only include primary documents related to the Holocaust and to the Civil Rights movement in the American South, but also the Japanese internment camps in the United States during the second World War.

The who in the what?  I had no idea what that was.  Japanese internment?  Like, concentration camps?  IN AMERICA?


Yes.  In America.  And this year during spring break, my husband and my children and I visited the most famous of them: Manzanar.

You may not think you’ve heard of Manzanar, but you have.  If you watched the original Karate Kid, you saw Miyagi mourning the death of his wife and son–the telegram tells him they died at Manzanar.  If you loved the original Star Trek, you are familiar with Lieutenant Sulu, played by George Takei--who spent a part of his childhood living at Rohwer, another camp similar to Manzanar.  If you’re younger, in the past fifteen years you may have read a young adult novel called Farewell to Manzanar, about the experiences of children living there.


It’s a hard story to tell.  Fearful that Japanese living in America would feel greater allegiance to the Emperor of Japan than to their adopted nation, the United States government made the decision to centralize Japanese-American citizens in camps like Manzanar for their protection.  The argument was that they were a security risk, and so the entire West Coast was made off-limits for anyone with Japanese ancestry, including both issei (those who were born in Japan and emigrated to the US, and who may or may not have obtained citizenship) and the nissei (those of Japanese ancestry who were born in the US, and were by definition all American citizens).


The area of California set aside for Manzanar, west of Death Valley but east of the Sierra Nevada mountain range, is breathtakingly beautiful.  The mountains rise 6000+ feet above the valley floor, and the wind whips the snow from their peaks with a constant, tugging power.  The wind, the wind, the wind there never, ever dies.  It is an all-encompassing presence at Manzanar, as real as the buildings and the sandy soil that gets into every crack.  This is desert country, with desolate stretches that seem devoid of all life.  It is not a hospitable place to live.

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At the time of the Japanese attacks on Pearl Harbor in December 1941, approximately 120,000 men, women and children of Japanese ancestry were living in the United States.  In a nation already rife with racial prejudice, the Japanese community found itself under concerted efforts to isolate and eradicate them.  Although many were born on US soil and fully citizens, processes were put in place to move all Japanese Americans away from the “military areas,” in this case defined as those parts of the country closest to Japan and thus at greatest risk from spies and Japanese on US soil loyal to the Emperor.  This included the entire west coast, from Southern California to Washington state.

In February 1942, with the US fully at war with Japan, Franklin D Roosevelt signed Executive Order 9066, and while it was not specifically worded with this intent, it authorized the removal of all individuals of Japanese ancestry, both immigrants and born citizens, away from Military Areas and to neutral territories–mostly to the central United States.  The camp at Manzanar was one of these evacuation areas.  Called internment areas or relocation centers, they were for all intents and purposes concentration camps for American citizens, on American soil.

IMG_2058It is a breathtaking place.  The air whips around you, the mountains tower over you, and the desert sand flies ahead of you as you walk the trails that were built by the hands of individuals who had only days to gather their worldly possessions, load onto buses with their families, and arrive at a destination where they knew nothing and no one, where even the buildings to house them had not yet been constructed.  The barracks would be built by their own hands after their arrival.

Left behind were businesses and homes, no longer considered the property of these individuals who had been denied due process and rights to citizenship.  When they returned, there would be nothing left.  The families were assigned registration numbers, their belongings were catalogued and confiscated, and by November of 1942, the relocation was complete and all those with Japanese ancestry had been transported to one of ten camps east of California.

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It is the reaction of this community that most astonishes me about this place.  They arrived at one of the most desolate and lonely locations I have ever encountered, surrounded by high fences and barbed wire–not that it mattered, because they were hemmed in by the desert and the mountains and they had nowhere to go.  In this place, they built gardens and ponds, homes and workplaces, cemeteries and hospitals.  The signs still stand at the National Site to mark where they would send their children to school over the coming years, where they would hold sock hops and weddings, where they would bury their dead and mourn their losses, celebrate victories and fight for peace.

Mrs. Mary Nagao | Seamstresses of Manzanar

We also saw there the factories that were built, built by Japanese who had been evicted from their homes and transported away from civilization, built so these individuals could voluntarily contribute to their nation’s war effort from behind their barbed wire fences.

The young men at Manzanar, as at every other relocation center, were given the opportunity to enlist.  They did so at disproportionately high rates, although doing so was challenging for many: in order to enlist, they had to denounce their allegiance to the Japanese Emperor, something the nissei (born in the US) could not do, as they had no loyalty to denounce–they were American citizens, and had no political ties to Japan.  The question was equally troubling for issei, born in Japan but immigrants to the US, because as Japanese citizens living in America, denouncing the Emperor would mean they could never return to the land of their birth, and despite their willingness to fight for the US, that was a difficult line for many to cross.  Eventually, the question was re-worded in a way that made it simpler and clearer to answer, without asking enlistees to claim or deny loyalty they did not hold, and thousands joined the 422nd Infantry, one of the most decorated units in World War II.

Back at the internment camps, women and men worked behind the scenes to weave camouflage nets for the army and to sew uniforms.  Alongside these factories, small cottage industries sprang up–tailors and seamstresses from their prior lives began to offer their services to the families inside the barbed wire and create clothing for them.  According to one source, one popular shop took in 220 orders a week, all sewn by hand until machines became available in 1943.  Residents of the camps refashioned World War I surplus garments into fashionable clothing, transforming pea coats and men’s shirts into dresses, dress shirts, slacks and skirts for families to wear.

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Having seamstresses inside the camps was essential not only for providing adequate clothing, but for basic necessities.  It took a full three months after the arrival of the buses before shower curtains could be sewn to allow internees to bathe in privacy–as many as FIFTY DOZEN to ensure that the common complaint that the communal showers lacked privacy could be addressed.

Eventually, seamstresses in the camp would also produce dish towels and aprons for the mess hall staff, and mailbags for the internal mail service.  They even made smocks for barbers.


Sewing in the camps served other purposes, too.  It allowed the culture and identity of these families to continue.  When they arrived, they had no idea how long their incarceration would last–even if it would ever end.  The attempts of these families to bring beauty and tradition and a sense of belonging was essential to getting them through the years that would follow.

It also allowed them to build trust and lasting friendships.  While all but a very few* of these families was Japanese in origin, they were mostly strangers to one another, and forced to start over building networks and relationships.  The ability to create small gifts and tokens in a place where every resource was appallingly scarce offered them an important link to one another.


I am tremendously grateful to the National Park Service for creating a memorial for the hardships that the internees endured, but even more than that, I am grateful for the snapshots of the lives they lived while inside the fences.  Many of the women and men who arrived at Manzanar did not know how to sew.  They learned while they were there–for work or for recreation or for connection and community.  For all those reasons.  And sewing was something that gave them meaning and purpose and relationship when all that had been taken from them.


In a very real and practical way, sewing tied a large group of strangers together into a community.  Tensions still ran high, fights broke out, and life was difficult.  But there was something tangible in sewing that improved their time together and that leaves a legacy for us today.


In 1988, President Ronald Reagan signed the Civil Liberties Act, acknowledging that the United States government had acted against due process and that the internment centers were unconstitutional.  It formally apologized for Manzanar and the other camps, and paid financial restitution to every family that resided there.  It took ten years of congressional lobbying by Japanese American groups to gain approval for the act.


Sewing was not ancillary to the events of Manzanar.  It was not an afterthought or a footnote.  It was central to the experiences of the people who lived in the camps.  It was a skill that was brought with them from the outside, something that had value to those both within and beyond the fences.  It was an activity that made use of the time they had once their homes and jobs had been taken from them, a way for them to be useful again themselves.  It was a connection to the war effort, a partiotic activity that allied them with the nation they called home, working on American soil for American soldiers.  It was a community they built amongst themselves, a means of finding security and interdependence with others who shared their circumstances, a method of making something beautiful from an uncertain future.

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Sewing creates the world around us, in no small way, every day–in wartime and in peace.  It is not a secondary part of our days, or a secondary part of our lives.  It is literally the thread that ties us together.  Manzanar is a painful reminder of this beautiful truth, and remembering the lives that were lived there gives power to the magic that your needle wields.  I am grateful that this part of our history is memorialized, and is shared.  I was deeply affected by our visit there, and startled by how moved I found myself of looking at images of women sewing, women who but for time and circumstance, could have been me.

I am grateful for the seamstresses of Manzanar, unsung Great Women of Sewing.

We are all seamstresses.  We sew the world, together.



Many of the images in this post were shot by Ansel Adams on a visit to Manzanar.  You can see a teacher’s lesson plan for using these images, and access full-size files with educational copyright permissions, here.  Other images are direct from the National Archives, here.  All other photos were taken during our recent visit to the National Historic Site in California, where honorable American citizens insisted that the words “concentration camp” be used to give weight to the sacrifice of the families who lived there, despite political pressure to tone down the language of the signs at the site.
*One of my favorite stories from the National Monument displays was of a white American wife of a Japanese-born husband, who on learning that her husband and son would be sent to Manzanar and that she wouldn’t “have” to go, flat out refused to be left behind.  Over the course of the days before the buses left, she repeatedly packed her bags only to have them rejected by the authorities, as she was not Japanese.  They finally allowed her to accompany her family, and she lived with her husband and son at Manzanar until their release in 1944, stating that if they were going, she was going, and the government wasn’t going to keep her out.