The Queen's Quilt

When we were in Honolulu recently, we stopped off for a rainy-day tour of ‘Iolani Palace, the home of the last kings and queens of Hawai’i.  We’d driven past it countless times before, but it’s in such a funny place–right on one of the main drags through town–that we hadn’t really even noticed it.  I’ll be honest (because I know I can do that with you): I might not have put it on our itinerary except that before we left I bought a copy of The Aloha Quilt off Amazon.  Yes, I did.  It popped up while I was searching for travel books, and I thought, “Hawaii?  Sewing?  A Novel?  I’m IN.”  I read the whole thing cover-to-cover on the flight (and can I just take a moment to say THANK YOU to the baby who let me do that?), and part of the plot revolves around a visit to see the Queen’s Quilt.

In 1895, to save her kingdom from being torn apart, Queen Lili’uokalani signed over her authority to the US government.  Subsequent to that event, she was imprisoned in her own bedroom in her palace–‘Iolani Palace–for ten months.  Her closest companion stayed with her, voluntarily, throughout her confinement, leaving only on Sundays to see her family.  During the time that she was under house arrest, Queen Lili’uokalani worked in crazy quilt style–the most popular quilting style of the day–and created much of the 97″ x 95″ “Queen’s Quilt” that is now on display in ‘Iolani Palace.

The story of the quilt included in the novel is totally what got me to go and tour the Palace.  They don’t allow photography, but seeing this piece of art was genuinely moving for anyone who was there.  Encased in glass, the quilt is worn with age and very, very fragile.  The pieces are sewn of velvet, ribbon, silk, linen–most of them likely scraps of clothing from the ladies’ own wardrobes.  Every section is painstakingly embroidered and embellished with names and dates and icons and symbols of the Old Hawai’i.  It’s really an amazing task.

Because photography isn’t allowed inside the Palace, these images all come from my copy of The Queen’s Quilt, purchased in the gift shop (and also mentioned in the novel, which is how I knew to look for it).

When I asked as part of the tour if the quilt had been planned to be this size or if it evolved, the docent didn’t have a direct answer–he told me, and I agree, that it’s likely that it started out as two small squares and grew and grew as the length of the Queen’s undefined term of imprisonment wore on.

What a legacy to leave behind.  Worked by hand, there’s something very sad and sweet about this quilt, although I admit I might be reading that into it from the story: Lili’uokalani never regained her throne, and died living away from the Palace after her release.  The documents she signed, believing them to be temporary and with the President’s assurance that they would be overturned, were used against her (despite her law degree and years and years of travel to fight to regain rule over Hawai’i) and she was prevented from ever leading her people again.

I was surprised to hear that this topic–Hawaiian independence–is still a contentious one with some islanders.  In that way, Lili’uokalani’s work makes me think of Betsy Ross and her flag.

Great story to tell next time someone rolls a lip and sneers at your sewing, asking, “Is that ALL you did today?”  Sewing can start a revolution, baby.  Maybe it already has.

In yer face, doubters!

Also: Check out the new book by Allie of Allie’s in Stitches, Allie Aller’s Crazy Quilting. Really yummy, modern take on this classic Victorian style!

Project In The Works

I have a new project in the works.  I’m not saying anything definitive, but it might involve an outline.  Think happy, productive thoughts for me.


  • Are you following year 2 of Celebrate the Boy month on MADE and Made by Rae?  Some really awesome posts, tutorials, and piles and piles of giveaways.  Check out the goodies for moms of boys!
  • Lizzy House is liquidating her Etsy shop, and I think you might need to grab some stuff.  I bought one.  And then another one.  Because you can’t have too much Lizzy House.  Am I right, or am I right?
  • I took some time over the weekend to update the About and Welcome pages here on the blog.  I’ve added a list of “favorite posts”–did I leave out one you really like?  Let me know in the comments!
  • I just got a copy of the new Little Things to Sew by Liesl Gibson of Oliver + S. I am losing my mind, it’s so delicious.  Basically 20 patterns–the same amazing quality and attention to detail as her other patterns–and all of them are fantastic.  My girls have already placed orders for the bear carrier and the penguin backpack.

Sewing with Kids, Lesson 5: Kindness

I think kindness is under-rated in our world.  When most of us think about “the way things used to be” or “the Good Old Days,” am I wrong in thinking that what we’re really longing for is simple kindness?  Just behavior that recognizes that we’re humans, and we’re surrounded by other humans, and none of us is perfect (which is part of what makes us great), and that just a little patience and understanding will go a long way to diffusing the anger and anxiety that seems to eat at our world day in and day out?  Just some kindness.

If you haven’t noticed, I’m working to make sure that I begin changing the world by starting at home.  Making sure everything is tidy on my side of the street.  No use casting stones from a glass house.  So we’re working on kindness right now.  I’m not asking everyone to always love everyone else, and I’m not saying we can’t be human and make mistakes and have crappy days sometimes.  I’m just saying, Be Kind.  And start with those you see every day.

Come to think of it, I once went out with a guy who wasn’t always very polite–didn’t want to hold open doors or press the button on elevators or pick up after himself.  He argued that because we were dating, he shouldn’t have to do those things.  Pardon me, home slice, but that’s WHY you do those things: the closer the relationship, the more you ought to work to be kind.  (Needless to say, I handed him his walking papers.  Girl’s gotta have her standards.)  So with the children, we began by talking about kind things we could do for our own family, and that lead to thinking about something we could sew that would show we care.

Something for the Furry Family Member

My husband has a very sweet dog.  I do not have a dog.  My husband has a dog.  I don’t dislike the dog; I just have four children and a business.  So I don’t have room for a dog.  But being kind is sometimes about sacrifice, about going the extra mile in order to make an effort, a gesture, for someone you love–even if you have to put yourself out to do it.  Today’s sewing activity: making a gift for the dog.

We really are at the point where it’s time for the kids to operate a sharp needle in their sewing.  At our house, I wasn’t quite ready to have my two-year-old driving the needle boat, so we did this activity while he was napping.  I think he might need a little more manual dexterity to aim the needle in the direction it needs to go to complete a “real” project (as opposed to the randomness of the embroidery), and I want to work to avoid making him feel frustrated.  So this one is just me and our four-year-old.


  • craft felt
  • embroidery needles and floss
  • template (get one here)
  • scissors
  • poly fiber-fill (“fluff”)
  • a pet (or small human) to whom to give the resulting masterpiece

The Lesson

Using craft felt (she chose red–regardless of the fact that it is very hard to photograph well), we cut out doggie bone shapes.  To make your own–for dogs or cats–download the templates of dog bones and fish!  Cut out two of each shape. Note: if you’re using craft felt with any polyester content, do this cutting with your PAPER scissors, not your fabric scissors–poly is notoriously hard on blades, and can dull them quickly.

Next, I demonstrated the whipstitch we’d be using to sew the front to the back.  With both pieces held together, I stitched over and around the outer edges to create the soft toy.  We used sharp embroidery needles and embroidery floss in a double-thickness.  By getting down close to my child and letting her peek at what I was working on, I could show her how to move the needle and avoid tangles so she could stitch one piece to the other.

Next, I had her do some guided practice, where I held the fabric and she moved the needle.  This puts my hands right next to hers to I can micro-correct her as she goes–avoiding pokes while also making sure that she got results she’d like (which in turn motivates her to keep trying).

She let me know–loud and clear–when she’d had enough guided practice and was ready to stitch on her own.  (Most kids do.)  She took over the reins and did some independent practice, moving her needle front-to-back and making tiny stitches.  As she worked, I did, too, moving ahead of her and preparing for the next step.  You might find that your kids get impatient and don’t necessarily use good technique or get tidy, neat results–dude, that’s cool.  Don’t expect perfection.  They’ll require whatever level of perfection from themselves that they’re ready for.  There’s no reason to encourage them to be sloppy, but at the same time, don’t suck all the fun out of it by asking that it be flawless first time out.

We left an opening a little more than 2″ wide along one straight edge so we could access the inside and stuff.  No need to turn inside out–we’ve whipstitched the outer edges of this craft felt, so it’s a pretty direct sewing project.  When I left the opening, I left floss on my needle and just allowed it to dangle on the side while stuffing–that way, when the bone was full, I could just pick up whipstitching where I left off and finish securing the outer edge.  I did the same with my little girl’s.

We busted out the polyester fluff and began to fill the shapes we’d stitched.  The trick with poly-fill is to use little bitty bits when you stuff–most of us want to grab a clump and shove it in, but the smaller the bits, the less likely it is to ball up on the inside (especially when laundered).  So little hands are perfect for this task.  Plus, who doesn’t love stuffing things full?

With the project complete, it was time to test our kindness.  We’d spent some time talking as we worked about how much Daddy would like it that we’d done something so nice for the dog, how much the dog would like what we’d made, and which of our two bones the dog would like better.  Our girl decided the dog would prefer her gift to mine, and made sure to tell me so.  More than once.  I figured I’d choose my battles and not insist too strongly that sometimes “winning” isn’t all that kind.  We’ll worry about that another day–plus, she might have been right for all I knew, and at least we were going to collect some empirical evidence one way or the other.  I can argue “nice” all day long, but it’s hard to argue in the face of cold, hard data.

At first, the dog wasn’t all that impressed, and was kinda wondering why we kept shoving things in her face.  Baby thought it was pretty great, though.

But what pup can resist something they’re allowed encouraged to chew to bits?  In the end, the dog DID enjoy my girl’s gift more than mine.  Take that, Mommy.

My Sappy Take-Away

In the end, it was easy to talk to my child about being kind.  Kids really are, at the end of the day.  They can be cruel, but when they see hurt in someone else’s eyes, most children are motivated to reach out and show kindness.  I found that by taking part of her day and playing with Mommy, I felt that she’d been kind to me, giving me another moment of what’s left of her little-girl-hood to remember when she gets bigger.  I can talk all day long about how I’m teaching my kids Life Lessons through sewing, but more important is having a minute to look back one when the world was closer to what I want it to be.

Thanks, kid.

Sewing Buddy Powers, Activate! And: Inspired to Sew Winner

Earlier this month, I sent out emails to over TWO HUNDRED Sewing Buddies. That’s 200, y’all.  I’m beyond tickled to see how many folks are jumping in with both feet, sharing ideas and getting motivated and buckling down to finally sew the stuff we’ve all been putting off sewing.  I’m already hearing back some seriously cool stories:

  • Pat and Shari are working together on the Pink Slipper Project (and they’d love to have other Sewing Buddies join them!)
  • Sewing Buddies are blogging and promoting one another’s Etsy shops
  • I’m getting Tweets and emails about how wonderfully suited Buddies are to each other (that science-y system totally works)
  • I’ve even met some Sewing Buddies who happened to be local, and were out and about coffee-ing together!

For those of you who are Buddied up and looking for things to do, check out these ideas from 2010.  Got suggestions for ways for Buddies to connect, like Pam and Shari inviting us all to participate in the Pink Slipper Project?  Leave ’em in the comments!

If, on the other hand, you’ve got a Buddy but the two of you haven’t quite hit it off, or if your Buddy has bailed, or if you missed the sign-ups and have been crying into your soup because you’re so irritated with yourself, FEAR NOT!  Everyone committed to an initial eight weeks of Sewing Buddy love, at which point, we’ll do another round of matches (and re-matches) for those who aren’t feeling the happy:  if you have found that your Buddy just isn’t Your People, that’s cool; we’ll match you each with another Buddy, no hard feelings from anyone. And if you missed out the first time, we can make sure that you get a Buddy the second go-round!  Keep in mind, though, that the next set of matches–set to open April 2, 2011–will be the LAST for this year.  So mark your calendars!

Inspired to Sew by Bari J: Winner!

Whoops!  Was totally supposed to post this winner yesterday, and got so caught up in all my math that I neglected to do so.


Congrats to Syd, who said:

I know you’ll love the book!  Shipping out to you ASAP.

Simple Slip Cover Tutorial

Thanks for all the nice words about the covered bench! I feel quite certain that it is THE KEY to selling this house.  Will keep you posted on its magical qualities.

A few of you commented or emailed to say that you’d love to have some specifics, so I whipped up some quick sketches of my math whilst making this bad boy.  Making a slip cover is pretty straight-forward in terms of the sewing, but there has to be some math on the front-end to figure out what things to sew together.  My goal is, as always, to avoid making it harder than it needs to be.  I do the math, figure out what size pieces of fabric I’ll want, and then I eyeball the rest.

Like any other largely-rectangular sewing project, making a slip cover is mostly about measuring and then figuring out the best order of operations.  Although when I write it like that, it makes me think maybe a bit more than I’d like about algebra class, which probably doesn’t sell most of you on making slip covers.

The Measuring

Begin by taking the measurements of your object-to-be-covered.  For our purposes here today, I’m assuming you’re doing a bench or ottoman or something of that nature (mine is an Ikea storage bench with padding that I no longer see on their site).  That means I’ll need the depth of the bench, from front to back (at the top), the width of the bench (from side to side, also at the top), and the height* of the bench (from top to bottom, to figure the length of the slip cover so it will reach the floor).

So for this project, I measured 16″ deep, 55″ wide, and 18″ high.

The top of the bench will be covered by one piece of fabric, cut to the dimensions you recorded when you measured it, PLUS a seam allowance on all sides.  I use 1/2″, since that makes the math easiest.

If the bench is 16″ deep, plus a half inch seam allowance on both sides, I need the depth of the top piece to measure 17″.  If the bench is 55″ wide, plus a half inch seam allowance on both sides, I need the width of the top piece to measure 56″.

The front and sides will be covered by a single piece that wraps around to the back, plus seam allowances.  This will be stitched at the upper edge to the top piece we just finished measuring.

So if the depth of the bench–the measurement at the sides–is 16″, and there are two sides plus a front, I need to add 16″ + 55″ + 16″.  Then, I’ll want at least 4″ on either side to wrap around to the back so there’s no seam at that back corner, which makes 16″ + 55″ + 16″ + 4″ (left side) + 4″ (right side).  Then, add seam allowances for both sides: + 1/2″ + 1/2″.  Total to cover the bench horizontally, across the front and sides: 96″ of fabric.  Make sense?

I also want to calculate how much fabric it will take for me to cover the back of the bench, where it will be hidden by the foot of the bed or the wall or whatever.  So I take the width, subtract the extra I allowed at the front for overlap, then add a little more so I can create a flap where the left and right sides overlap one another at the very back–that allows me to put it on and take it off easily, and will give some ease when big bottoms sit on the bench to avoid too much strain on the seams.

The part that throws most people is NOT the measuring. It’s calculating yardage. Let’s walk through how to determine HOW MUCH FABRIC I need for this bench so you can see the (bootleg) method I use, shall we?

I am using an Alex Henry print that measures 45″ wide.  I know that for the front piece, I need fabric measuring 96″ wide.  If I divide 96″ by 45″, I know I need a little over 2 panels of fabric that are selvage-to-selvage in order to equal 96″.  Yes?

If I know I need 2+ panels, I’ll have to determine how long each panel is before I cut it.  My height* is 18″, plus a half inch seam allowance at the top, plus a 2″ hem at the bottom.  So I want to measure my panels to 20.5″ long.  For the front piece, that comes to one panel at 45″ x 20.5″, a second panel at 45″ x 20.5″, and a smidgen cut of 8″ x 20.5″.  That means I’ll need yardage of 20.5″ + 20.5″ + 20.5″ (because even though the smidgen panel is only 8″ wide, it has to be the full 20.5″ long, and I can’t buy a section of a yard) = 61.5″ or 1.71 yds.  Which means, not including the top cut of fabric, I need to purchase at least 1 3/4 yds.

Add in the top piece, now: I know I need it to measure 56″ x 17″.  Divide 56″ by 45″ (the width of my fabric), and I know I need more than one selvage-to-selvage panel.  But look!  I have a piece leftover from cutting the top that measures 37″ x 20.5″!  So I take one panel that’s 45″ x 17″ and cut the rest of the bench top from the remainder piece after cutting the front.  That means I’ll need an additional 1/2 yd of fabric (since I can’t buy 17″ cuts).  Total yardage so far: 2 1/4 yds.


Let’s look at how the whole thing will be assembled.  I’ve got my front piece, which will have at least two seams, and probably three: joining the two full-width panels, plus joining the smidgen panel in either one or two bits.  I’ve got my top piece, which will have one seam.  Then I’ve got the back, which is really two separate pieces that overlap.  I know that the back pieces have to measure 20.5″ high (to be the same as the front piece), and I did the math to see how wide it ought to be, but honestly: since I plan to have them overlap at the back, it’s easiest just to eyeball those bad boys and use a whole width of fabric (45″), then trim if it seems too huge when it’s all pinned together.  I used stash fabric for this, but if you’re buying new and calculating yardage, you’d need two panels selvage-to-selvage that measure 20.5″ high, so 41″ total, or 1.14 yds = a purchase of 1 1/2 yds for the back.

The Actual Sewing

First, I stitch a seam to join the two full-width panels for the front of the bench.  I added the 8″ smidgen panel as one piece, so that’s a second seam, giving me a piece of fabric that measures 98″ wide (a littler extra than I need) with two seams.  Next, I stitch a seam to join the two pieces that will make my top, which measures (when sewn) 56″ x 17″.

Then, I stitch two seams to join the back pieces to the front, one at each side.  At the ends of these back pieces, I throw in a hem from top to bottom, just so I have a clean edge.  I now have a huge, long piece of fabric that will wrap all the way around the bench and overlap itself, made from two different prints, and a smaller rectangle that will cover the top of the bench.

It’s now time to finish the final seam, and be done with this!  Remember, a slip cover is just that: it slips over whatever it’s covering.  It should mimic the shape of what’s beneath it, and while you can embellish it, really shouldn’t get caught trying too hard.

To attach the front and sides of the slip cover to the top, follow the diagram above.  I wanted to mask the seam in the front so that it wouldn’t be so visible, so I added a pleat at center front where the seam can be tucked away in a fold and made more invisible.  Then I started stitching at center front, making my way down the front, pivoting at the corner 1/2″ from the edge, down the side, pivot again, and around to the back.  The overlap at the back was pinned together, so I stitched through those layers as one, stopping at center back.  Then I began again at center front and repeated on the other side–by always starting at center front, I guarantee that if I screwed up the math at all, any bubbles or flaws will be pushed to the back where they won’t matter as much as they would if they were right out front for the world to see.

Finish with a double-turned hem, and you’re done!

Alternate Method

Is all this math freaking you out?  I feel ya.  I do the math so I’ll know how much fabric to buy for a project, without too much leftover.  I think that’s the biggest challenge, and the part of the tutorial that I think is most useful.  If you super hate the math, then you can absolutely throw some fabric at your footstool/ottoman/bench and see what works.  There are no rules here.  It’s a bench, y’all.

Go get ’em!

*Pet peeve alert: there is NO SUCH WORD as “heighth.”  No such word.  Not in English, anyway.

Sewing Kids Clothing E-Course Registration Now Open!

Dreaming of sewing up a spring wardrobe for your little ones?  Getting into sewing because you remember all the beautiful things your mother made for you, and you’d like to do the same for your children?  We’ll be spending five weeks this spring sewing up eight patterns with more than 21 variations for boys and girls!  Join my next e-course and by summer, their closets will be overflowing.  But this time, it’ll be with super cute clothes.

Check out the details for the Sewing Kids Clothing e-course along with online registration–take advantage of the early bird discount!

Sewing With Kids, Lesson 4: Thoughtfulness

There is something magical and sweet about a child handing you something they have made all by themselves.  It might be the look on their faces when they offer it to you, or the joy in their voices as they crow over their success, or the delight they share openly when you compliment their work.  Children don’t seem to protect themselves the way adults do; they never apologize for flaws or play down their accomplishments; and they give freely and with no motive other than pleasure in the giving.  I love that, and wish that I had more of those qualities for myself.  So a simple sewing project that’s designed to lead to a gift for someone else, well, that’s pretty close to perfection.

Sharp Needles and Sharp Eyes

There is a lot about handwork that requires thought and time: planning the design, executing the stitches, imagining the look of the finished project.  There is also a lot that requires thoughtfulness: planning who will receive the objet once it’s done, planning the exact moment and manner of the gifting, planning what to say when you hand them the thing you’ve made with them in your mind the whole time.  I want my children to learn to be thoughtful in all those ways, about what they make–are my stitches even? do I have room for this design? did I make a knot in my floss before I began?–and about where they put what they make–who will get this?  is it the right gift for that person?  what can I do to make this gift an experience they will treasure?

A simple hand embroidery project can give all those opportunities to our children, and framing their work at the end can take it up a whole other notch.  Asking small children to handle sharp needles can be a little nerve-wracking.  They could get hurt!  They could hurt you!  They could ruin the finish on the table!  Most kids are pretty willing to try new things, and they’ll let you know if it’s too much for them.  Our children were sharp-eyed and excited at the idea of doing Real Sewing with mommy, and it led to a quiet, enjoyable, focused evening for us together.

When I first began embroidering, I thought I’d need to go out and get gobs of floss and needles.  Not only did I find that embroidery floss is absurdly inexpensive–around 35 cents a skein–but that I had inherited boxes of it from Sandra (all numbered by color, naturally).  We brought out a single box to use with the children, but you can easily purchase a multi-pack of two dozen colors for under $5.  I see them frequently at Michael’s in a variety of color combinations.

For needles, I opted to give both my children a blunt-tipped craft needle (the lower one in the image).  This comforted me in terms of their ability to gouge out their own (or each others) eyes, which didn’t happen and probably wouldn’t have, but one can never be too careful.  I was more concerned for my littlest one, who is just over two, since he doesn’t have much experience with needles.  Our four-year-old has done some hand work in her Montessori program, so I was less worried about her. The fifteen-year-old is on her own.  One must prioritize one’s worrying.

Needles were threaded with a double-thickness of floss, tied in a knot at the end, to keep them secure.  Few things frustrate a child while sewing as much as pulling on that needle and watching the tail of the floss go flapping off into the distance, no longer anchored.  Doubling makes the floss substantially thicker, but the blunt needles are also thicker, and the doubled floss fills in that hole better.

All our stitching was done on white Kona cotton, using a 4″ wooden embroidery hoop.  I like a larger hoop myself, but for little hands, smaller is better.  I think having a smaller hoop also limited the sheer area of embroiderability, which is good for learners: giving them a limited palette prevents them from feeling overwhelmed at the outset.

To start with, we worked very free-form, using the needle to push through any old place on the hoop, moving from one part of the fabric to another, just getting the gist of going from front-to-back as we sewed.  Our boy, especially, spent a lot of time focusing on how the needle goes through at the front and where it will come out at the back, like an infant who has just discovered that when you put the ball under the bowl, it’s still there.  He was fascinated by the way the needle drew the floss through the fabric, but he couldn’t really see it on the other side, a whole step up from the plastic canvas, where all the work was really in front of him the whole time.

Our four-year-old wanted to work with something more structured pretty soon, though, and moved on to using a pen to draw shapes to follow on the fabric.  These were pretty free-form, and of course Little Brother wanted to do the same thing.  So sometimes, it was kind of a mess:

I encouraged her to start working on geometric shapes, so that not only is she working out how to handle the needle without getting stuck and how to follow a line she’s drawn, but she can see that her stitches will mirror whatever is beneath them.

She loved the repetition of the stitches, the way she could draw the floss up through the fabric, and having the power and control to really guide the needle.  It was kind of surprising to see–I knew she would be focused and get a little lost in it (as I do), but I didn’t expect her fingers to feel so commanding to her, or for her to express verbally how much of a sense of creation this task gave her.

As she went along, we talked about gifts and giving, and who might like to have a piece of her sewing for their very own.  I want to communicate to my children not only that the things they make are valuable and worthy of giving, but that we can make for someone else as an act of thoughfulness and kindness and love, that using our hands, we can offer them a feeling and create a moment for them that will last long after the giving itself is done.  I don’t want them to grow up thinking that the love is IN the gift, that the reason we give things to others is because we’re obligated to do so; I want them to really internalize the idea that BY giving we communicate something from our hearts, and that we can build relationships through the caring act of making something for another human being.

We began embellishing the embroidery, adding buttons and seeing how those interacted with the floss.  Now, our two-year-old had full-on lost interest at this point and had gone to play trains with his Daddy.  I’m totally down with that.  Again, my purpose is to make this a playground, not a prison, and I have a vested interest in asking my children to craft only when they’re feeling it.  That way, when there is a need to craft–when a gift-giving occasion arises, for example–creating something is an act of joy, which translates itself into the gift.  So by this point, it was just me and Miss M at the table, buttons and floss flying.

We talked about giving a gift to Daddy, and how he would like to see her work.  She knows she’s valued, she knows her work is worth sharing, but I wanted to communicate that to her AND the rest of our family by framing a piece and offering it as a gift:

Because it isn’t just about her putting thought into the making of it all.  And it isn’t really just about her being thoughtful toward others in giving what she’s made.  It’s about us all thinking, about me being thought-full, about me acknowledging that our words and actions today will impact her for a long time to come, and that something small–like framing her embroidery with all its imperfections–can really have meaning for her.

I should point out that I am very much like the dad in A River Runs Through It on this one, though: he made them write and re-write and re-re-write their essays over and over–and when it was done and perfected, he threw it in the trash and sent them out to play.  I am all for empowering our kids to create by framing a piece of work to put on the wall, but at the same time, when that piece has had its say, it comes down to be replaced by another.  Because if we are truly thoughtful, and truly thinking, we recognize that it’s all transient, there is no perfect, each piece is unique and beautiful and worthy of treasuring but that in the end, it will be replaced.  And SHOULD be.  Because it’s the memories we make while we’re making that are worth saving, and those last longer than fabric and thread.  I don’t want to accidentally teach my children to hang on to every scrap of ribbon and every shred of art with the false idea that it matters in and of itself.  I hope that they will see that we applaud it as a reflection of who they were at a moment in time, and who they are becoming, and that nothing in our home matters as much as they do.  Make the best you can make when you make it, but remember that in the end, it’s just stuff, and stuff is never as important as people.

Something to think about.

Martha Stewart Just Threw Up In My Laundry Room

As long as I’m airing out all my icky secrets, how about another?  And can I start by saying how nice it was to hear that I am not the only one with a vile dog who sheds stinky dog hairs all over the house and leaves puppy shadow on the furniture and makes me feel like a crappy homemaker?  Because your comments made me laugh so hard that I startled the children.  If it weren’t illegal to check email in the car here, I would have swerved off the road.  Which I didn’t do, because I never read email in the car.  Because it’s illegal.

Back to what I was saying: it makes me feel better that I’m not the only one who yearns to not have to mask the dog shedding in my home.  And seeing all your replies made me wonder why all of us wait so long to take action, when clearly these animals (who we love, naturally) are preventing us from having the homes we dream about.  The homes that Martha (that Martha) wants us to have.

Take my laundry room, for example:

I took this photo the third time I was thinking about re-doing the laundry room.  Notice I didn’t say the first time, because this was not that.  I’d known I needed some laundry room help for a while, through a couple of realtors, through a couple of births, etc.  I always tidy the shelf when we’re on the market, but dagnabbit, I was ready for a real change.  At last.  At long last.

Why do we do that?  Why does it take selling our house (or having house guests or throwing a party) for us to finally feel motivated to do something we want to do that will make us happier all the time?  Why don’t we just DO it already, for ourselves?

This is what the laundry room looked like this past Saturday:

I was so ready to do this thing that I didn’t even think to grab my camera until I’d already hauled the dryer out the door and kick-started the paint tray.  Tee it up, now!

The results:

It’s gorgeous.  I already spend something like 20 hours a day doing laundry, but I find myself wanting to be in this room even more than I have to be, and I never thought I’d say that.  It’s like Martha came over and waved her magic wand and made something magically magical happen in my laundry space.

Now, I should admit that not only did I skip some harder tasks (like adding another shelf up higher, so I could have more storage, or waiting until the paint was totally cured before moving the appliances back in) because I couldn’t be bothered to work quite that hard on a Saturday afternoon (and I was already pushing the boundaries of nap time), but also: I called my mom toward the end with serious painter’s remorse, convinced I had chosen the wrong color and that it was going to look like a low-rent hospital.  She assured me that no paint is the wrong paint and that it would be fine.  And once again, she was right.

These photos were taken at the same time of day, one day after the other.  Can you even believe the difference in how light and large the laundry room looks now?  Cuh-razy!  What is it with builders never using a white when they want white?  Or with translating the word “neutral” to “unbearably ugly and soul-sucking”?  While I admit that a good cleaning-and-eliminating might’ve done some good, I think it really is the paint that made the difference.  My husband came home and saw that I’d been attacking the walls with rollers, and was not only impressed by how much better it looks, but that I’d painted the ceiling, too.  But clearly it had to be done.

Le sigh.  Le happy laundry sigh.

Giveaway: Inspired to Sew by Bari J

When I was working on Stitch by Stitch, I spent untold hours hunting for the very most perfect fabrics to showcase the projects.  One night, in a rush of final decisions, I ordered yards and yards and yards of beautiful cottons to be delivered so that I could make the samples that made up the bulk of the book. 

Days later, the boxes arrived, and I sifted through and chose a print here, a coordinate there, prepping for the sewing.  I carefully packed my first picks and some alternates for the trip to my publisher’s to shoot the step-by-step photos for the book.  When my editor and photographer and I were laying out the color story for the projects as a group, we finalized selections, and most of the fabrics I had ordered were lifted and rearranged and mixed and matched so much that I lost sight of which fabrics were from which designers and collections.

After the book came out and I was planning the blog tour, I sent a note to Bari J, asking her to be part of the tour, since I knew I’d used some of her fabrics on a very popular project (the zippered piped pillow).  And then I flipped through the book, because something was nagging at the back of my head.  And there was the proof: I had used LOTS of Bari’s fabrics–a whole lot.  Without even realizing it, I had selected no fewer than five of her prints to be featured prominently on three different projects, and all of them are absolutely lovely.

So when Bari sent a note saying that her very first book is coming out and asking me to be part of her blog tour, I was more than pleased: I’m excited to see her style and sincerity come through in a new format, and can’t wait for those of you who don’t know her yet to meet her.

I am happiest flipping through the book and seeing that the things that I admired in her fabric designs really translate to the pages of her book.  I am especially drawn to Bari’s painterly sense of color and movement, and have loved that about her fabrics as each new collection is released.  That same sense of spontaneity comes through in the book, which is packed to the gills with projects and ideas and insights, and yes: inspiration.

Called Inspired to Sew, the book leads you through Bari’s own experiences with sewing in a way that I think is really personal and charming without trying too hard.  She’s super approachable and friendly in her tone, and it’s clear that she’s Been There in a way that makes her like an older sister showing you the ropes.  The book includes lots of instruction in different techniques, like freezer paper applique and free motion quilting, that newer stitchers have lots of questions about, and she offers it in a way that’s integrated into the projects so that you always feel as though you’re learning just what you want to learn when you want to learn it.

The photography is lovely and soothing and soft and dreamy, and features Bari’s fabrics and her aesthetic in a way that makes me want to flip through the pages over and over just to imagine myself in a bright, sunny room with the ease of a day of dreaming ahead of me.  I find the whole look of the book super relaxing and enjoyable and finding that satisfied place helps me to come up with new and exciting ideas–a pretty rare combination for a book that also includes clear writing and approachable projects.

I love that there is such a wide variety of projects–Bari says that she began sewing simply to bring some beauty and creativity into her home and her life, and it’s clear that she’s written this book with the same philosophy and desire.  Her warmth and clear pleasure in sewing come through, and you feel invited to try the techniques and projects she shows you.  I hope it doesn’t sound super trite, but I truly think there is a project here for everyone.  Bari has a long history of bag-making, so it’s no surprise that the bags are strong, well-rounded projects.  I personally am really fond of the home decor projects, and love the idea behind the keepsake memory quilt–Bari really does a great job of layering fabrics and threads and images into a frame-worthy piece of fabric art that makes me want to preserve my family’s memories in a format I’ve never tried before.

Stash Books, Bari’s publisher, is GIVING AWAY a copy of Inspired to Sew to one of you, and I think you’ll really enjoy skimming the pages and dreaming up ways to bring these projects into your sewing and your home.  More than anything else, I think I was most touched that Bari doesn’t make me feel pressured to do exactly her project through her writing–instead, I felt like she’d presented some inspiring ideas and then given me permission to make them my own, use the techniques to give a little twist and bring a new concept to my sewing machine, where it would easily translate itself to my aesthetic and sensibilities.  Totally expecting it to do the same for you!

To enter to win a copy of Inspired to Sew, leave a comment and let me know the most inspiring sewing project you’ve ever seen. I’ll start: in Pittsburgh a few years ago, I saw a king sized yo-yo quilt that looked from far away as if it was made entirely of lace.  It was amazing, and the very first time I have ever been stopped in my tracks by the beauty of a simple bed covering.  What sewing has inspired you? Leave your comment by midnight February 14, and I’ll choose a winner to be announced on the blog next Tuesday, February 15.

See the rest of the Inspired to Sew blog tour at these fine establishments:

January 31, Mary Abreu: Confessions of a Craft Addict

February 1, Jennifer Paganelli: Sis Boom!

February 2, Jona Giammalava: Stop Staring and Start Sewing

Feb 3, Rashida Coleman Hale: I Heart Linen

Feb 4, Sarah Fielke: The Last Piece

Feb 5, Jenny Doh: Crescendoh

Feb 6, Cara Wilson: Cara Quilts

Feb 7, Deborah Moebes: Whipstitch

Feb 8, Monica Solorio-Snow: Happy Zombie