Christmas Pajamas: the Ultimate in Deadline Sewing

I wasn’t going to sew Christmas pajamas two years ago.  Until my children heard about it.  They were actually speechless.  Aghast.  Appalled.  Couldn’t IMAGINE a world in which they didn’t launch into bed on Christmas Eve wearing new handmade pajamas.

We work hard not to go (too far) overboard for Christmas, to the point that we only get our children two gifts each.  We stuff their stockings full, though, and I personally love the tradition of wrapping new pajamas and opening them on Christmas Eve.  It makes for a nice preview, and for snappier Christmas-morning photographs.  Side benefit: since we have grown even more fond recently of giving gifts that are experiences over items–our children have gotten tickets for family trips the past three years, and will again this December 25–they can take their jammies with them when we travel, and have a little home comfort while we’re away.

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Which left me, three days before leaving town for a three day trip the week before Christmas that year, when I knew we’d be pulling into the driveway at supper time on Christmas Eve, ironing and cutting out PJs that I didn’t really have much hope of getting done.  Christmas sewing really is the ULTIMATE in deadline sewing.

But their faces!!  Their delight!!  Their wordless devotion to the tradition and warm sense of home that comes from handmade pajamas on Christmas morning:

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This year, I have fabric on hand leftover from…well, past years, let’s not be dishonest.  But!  Score!  I also have a fully completed pair for myself, which I made as part of the Carolyn Pajamas sewalong for the League of Dressmakers last year.


(You can see a slightly-outdated list of pajama patterns here, and find the always-timeless Carolyn Pajamas pattern here.)


I haven’t even cut out the ones for my husband or our children yet.  It’s getting down to the wire–ten days before Christmas is reeeeaaaaaallly close for a sewing project.  That handmade piping from last year’s jammies won’t be making a reappearance this year, which will save me some time, but honestly I found that it made the tops too stiff and the cuffs on the pants bell out in a way that allowed cold air to come in, so I might’ve skipped the piping regardless.


What I won’t skip are the tags.  Those Grumpy Cat jammies on our daughter?  Our son wears them now, and he’s just about to outgrow them.  Our youngest can’t wait for her turn to wear them (“In memoriam, Mommy. Because Grumpy Cat died.”).  I love, love that our kids hand down these handmades, and that when they’re finished wearing them, we can donate them to Goodwill and some other family will know what size they are, and maybe pass them along to their kids, one after another.



There’s a warmth to handmade.  Literal flannel, fuzzy warmth.  And metaphorical, family tradition, heart warmth.  It may require me to sew under-the-gun, up against the clock.  I don’t mind.  I’m investing, in me and in them and maybe in someone I’ll never meet, who needs the warmth.  Both kinds.


I want to share that same investment with you, too. Did you know that we have a vibrant community of makers that solve crime and sew quilts? And a League of Dressmakers where we sew adventurously to create a wardrobe we can feel confident and proud wearing?  None of us have to wait or imagine the investment of our hands–we can see it happening, in real time, and benefit from it today as we build the future one stitch at a time, and we can do that surrounded by others who want to build alongside us.

The year ahead is an open space to establish your own traditions, so that when the holidays roll back around you can reminisce about what you’ve learned, how you’ve grown, and friends you’ve discovered who offered you connection.  My time with these communities has given me that in ways I could never have predicted, and I would love to share the same warmth and encouragement with you!  I hope you’ll come sew with us!

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Solve Crime in the Ancient Pyramids in 2020!

Quilting club heads to Egypt

When I dreamed up the Murder Mystery Quilt, I never imagined even for an instant all the places it would take me.  Around the world, it turns out.

The short origin story of the Murder Mystery Quilt, when I tell it at cocktail parties to people who don’t sew and who think quilts are something they dig out of Gramma’s closet or see in a museum display, goes more or less like this: there’s a product in the world of quilting where portions of the quilt are sewn without ever seeing the finished design, like making a puzzle without the box top lid, but the word “mystery” always made me think, “If I’m going to make a quilt and not know how it’ll turn out, I should at least be solving a MURDER mystery!”  And thus I developed the idea of sewing a quilt to solve a crime.

Murder Mystery Quilt 2020


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Recursive Sewing

I have a clear memory of a single conversation that changed the way I see the world.  The initial memory is of feeling frustrated and defensive.  Then the scene skips to a moment when my husband, before he was my husband, says something that grabs my ears and won’t let go, something that makes my brain skitter just a bit, causes me to hold my breath and experience a sensation that I can only describe as twisting a kaleidoscope and suddenly seeing that what was chaos and jumbled color as geometric shape and order.  Pieces falling into place and making things clear.  A sensation of peace and conviction and the absurd obviousness of a solution I’d struggled to find landing squarely in my lap.

That revelation was an important moment for me, both because of the content of that particular conversation specifically, but also because the insight I had that day is an experience that every human shares: sometimes, it takes seeing things from a new angle, which can take only a breath or a syllable, to change how we view the entire world.


There is an on-going conversation about how social media reflects the highlight reels of our lives.  And it is easy to experience envy or even shame–that sense of worthlessness when compared to others–because what we are sewing isn’t as excellent as what is being showcased on someone else’s grid.  The woman in Austin you look up to busts out the perfect summer top in under an hour.  The dressmaker in Los Angeles parades past in flawlessly fitted handmade jeans.  We beat ourselves up because we don’t think we measure up.

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Sewing and Self-Compassion

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Years ago, I was teaching a sewing class to brand-new seamstresses.  It was an introductory class, and there were six women there.  I gave my usual second-day-of-class pep talk, and then outlined instructions for the next project we would tackle together before sending them off to the cutting tables with their fabric to work independently while I circulated and offered individual help.  It was a relaxed evening, and everyone was in good spirits and excited to try something new.

When all the other students got up and left the table, one woman remained.  She sat with her hands in her lap, under the table, her head bowed low to look at them.  She was very, very still.  Now, I’m not terribly gifted at reading other people’s body language, but even I couldn’t miss that this was a woman exhibiting signs of distress.

I sat next to her and in my best cheerful, please-let-this-be-nothing-because-I-lack-skills-here tone, said, “What’s up?”

And she says, her voice extremely quiet and filled with tears, “It’s just that I’ve been trying for three years to have a baby and I can’t get pregnant, and I just can’t have this be one more thing I’m a failure at.”



That is heavy stuff.  She was hurting, and her pain was very real and very deep.  It wasn’t about sewing, but it was also about sewing. You know?

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Quilt and Solve Crime in 2019!

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Four years ago, I had a wild idea.  I didn’t really think anyone would go along with it, if I’m being honest: who on earth would think a MURDER mystery quilt was a fun idea?

Not just me, it turns out.

Mystery quilts have been around forever, of course.  The idea that you’re building a quilt block by block, but without knowing for sure what the end result will be, is exciting and challenging in equal measure.  It asks us to trust the designer, trust the process, and maybe surrender a little of the perfectionism and second-guessing that plague anyone who works to create something new and beautiful.

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For a long time, I would ask, sort of as a gag, “Why make a mystery quilt when you can make a MURDER mystery quilt??”  In my head, in ways I didn’t really confess to others (because I haven’t always gotten good results out of wearing my heart on my sleeve, and this seemed like one of those times when sewing was about MORE than sewing), I liked the idea that not only would we then be surrendering the gremlins in our heads that poke insecurity and uncertainty into our creative endeavors, but that also the pieces could go together to answer questions.  It’s all for fun, it’s all pretend, but y’all: there are days when I will hitch my wagon to ANY illusion of certainty and control in this unsteady world.  Are you picking up what I’m putting down?

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Personalizing with Patches


I have self-diagnosed as having a massive patch problem.  I am a patch addict.

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I’ve written about the satchel-style backpacks I made for our children who vigorously pursue the Junior Ranger program at every National Park we visit.  They love these backpacks, and so do I (especially now we’ve upgraded them with an interior zipper to give it more structure and prevent their treasures from falling out).  But they have rapidly run out of space for new patches–we have taken trips to Southern California, Colorado, Kentucky, and Virginia in the past 14 months, and visited a stack of National Park destinations in each, so in addition to seeing the properties nearest to where we live here in Atlanta, we’ve added a couple dozen more park patches, and suddenly find we have no remaining backpack real estate on which to put them!

Compounding the problem is that there are so many great organizations supporting the National Parks since the centenary, and many of them produce patches of their own.  One is Every Kid In A Park, an initiative founded in 2015 under former President Obama to fund a program allowing every family in the US with a fourth grader to receive a free access pass to all the national parks for the year (that program runs through August 2018, and there is some question as to whether it will be renewed, so if you have a fourth grader this coming school year, jump on it while you have the chance! the program also applies to homeschool families with a ten-year-old this school year).

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Emerson Shorts in moss linen

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When our family took a trip to Maui this spring, I started packing pretty late in the game, for me: only a week ahead.  Because, for real, I get SO EXCITED when we travel that I am honestly thinking about packing weeks in advance, and have to hold myself back to only start putting things in the suitcase seven days before the wheels come up on the plane.

And the thought of spending a week on Maui in the last days of winter, with my family??  SIGN ME UP.

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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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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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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.

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