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Sewing and Self-Compassion

sewing and the art of self compassion whipstitch blog

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.”

Whew.

Y’all.

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!

MMQ pistol wide 2019 blog post

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

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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

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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!

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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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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?)

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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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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.

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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.

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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.

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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).

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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.

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

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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”).

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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.

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How to Store Wool Yarn & Fabric

how to store wool yarn and fabric | whipstitch

When I started knitting, I realized I needed to think about storing my textiles differently.  For one good reason:  MOTHS.

Moths are the enemy of long-term textile storage, which we learned the hard way at our house from one vintage jacket purchased at a second-hand store that worked its way through three prized sweaters before we discovered what was going on.  Textile moths LOVE wool, which is why closets have been made of cedar and old ladies have smelled of naphthalene for decades.

With my fabrics for sewing, I admit that I didn’t think too much about storage, certainly not specialty storage.  I mean, cotton, right?  Fold it up, stick it on the shelf, done!  I have had a number of wools rolled up in a basket for years and never gave them a second thought, probably (and I’m ashamed to admit this, but it’s true) because I got them cheap at a closeout sale, so I didn’t ascribe any particular value to them.  Insert conversation about cost vs value here.  Sigh.

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