Let’s try this again

February 15, 2011

Well, it hasn’t been quite as long since I blogged as I thought: only about five months (if you’re counting). But it feels like forever, and I’ve missed it! The fall was very hectic for me, and (for those of you who don’t know) I spent about five weeks in December and January volunteering at an orphanage in Uganda…during which time I did not really sew at all (of course), although I did crochet and knit every day with the kids and mended more clothing than I will for the rest of my life!

Kids really love crochet–who knew? I left my apartment with about a dozen sets of knitting needles, three crochet hooks, and a suitcase full of yarn, and all of it was gone within three days. I had to troll through the markets of Kampala in search of more supplies for the kids, eventually coming up with only five more crochet hooks and four skeins of white and brown yarn. Not too exciting, but they loved it anyway.

You can see more pictures of my trip here if you’re interested! The one thing I forgot was probably one of the most important things to remember: the battery charger for my camera. I had only one battery bar in the camera when I left, and I made it last as long as I could…which wasn’t long at all, but I did capture a few good images.

So anyway, back to normal life I went at the end of January. I couldn’t even look at my sewing machine when I came back. I felt uncreative and unproductive, and I was out of good ideas for quilts. I was completely uninspired. I realized that blogging had actually helped me stay productive and inspired, even if obsessively reading blogs didn’t. So I trimmed my reader down to a few favorites, as well as the blogs of my good friends, and started to get back into the swing of it.

I traveled to DC for a grad school visit last weekend and snapped an inspiration photo of the wall of the burrito place at Logan Airport. I hope at least some of you know what I’m talking about so I don’t feel completely nuts. If you don’t, there’s a small shot of it on this website. It’s on the left side of the image. When I came home from DC, I turned my inspiration photo into this pillow, which I love:

I used only scraps for this one. There is a wide range of neutrals in many different shades and fabrics. The lightest value is Kona Bone, and the darkest is Essex Linen in Putty (I think…I last used that fabric quite a while ago, in one of my first quilt projects).

(I continue to have issues reorienting my photos in WordPress, sorry!)

Here’s a shot of the back:

I wish I knew what Kona colors I used, but I don’t. I need one of those color cards desperately!

Anyway, I moved in September into a place that has made it much more difficult for me to photograph my quilts. Yall may have noticed that I used to take pictures in the big park that was right behind my apartment building…now, there is nothing behind me but an area where people bring their dogs to go to the bathroom and a storage area for the garbage bins, so I am going to have to get creative! That was a major reason I stopped blogging, but now I really regret not taking pictures of some quilts I made and loved. The quilting on one of them was so intensive that it actually broke my machine, and yet I have no photographic record of it!

I’m also thinking of moving to a self-hosted blogging platform so I have more control over the appearance and layout of my blog (and I do want a new blog name), but it’s actually much more complicated than I anticipated. For those of you who do that…do you like it better? Are you happy you chose it over a traditional blog platform? I’d love to hear your thoughts!


Thank you so much for all of your amazing comments…I have just come back from my weekend away and am in the middle of responding to each of you. It meant so much to me to read all of your kind words. I have been feeling less than confident about my sewing this week because I have attempted the Double Wedding Ring block, and it is slow moving…I’ve spent almost a week on a single block. Yikes! Y’all are raising my sewing self-esteem.

Anyway, the winners were Molly (blogless–garment items) and Yahaira (quilting items). I am delighted to send each of them their packages! Thanks to all who entered, and hopefully I will have another giveaway soon.

Molyneux flapper dress, photo courtesy of The Costume Institute at the Met

I did go to the exhibit at the Met, as promised. I admit that I am not as passionate about the fashions of the 1900s-1930s as, well, any other era, but I really couldn’t wait to see the American Woman exhibit. I feel guilty saying this, but I was a bit disappointed. The trip was worth it because the Met reopened its American wing and created visual storage. I went to see the American Woman exhibit on the tail end of my visit because I got sucked in by the period rooms in the American wing. I thought I may not have enough time (an hour), but I was wrong.

I think the experience would be very different if you did not sew and were able to appreciate it overall, instead of fixating on the minor details. The collection was good, but not great. Each room featured about eight to ten mannequins wearing different outfits of the era, as well as sparkly and sequiny wigs that did not correspond to most of the exhibits or the outfits overall. The wigs themselves were interesting, but they were confusing in conjunction with the styles (particularly the House of Worth gowns).

The exhibit was organized thematically as well as chronologically, which left out some important pieces from each designer. The manner in which the models were placed made it difficult for them to display larger pieces as well. They were each on a raised platform, which you could stand relatively close to. The House of Worth had only four or five dresses in the 1890s section, and they were all “typical” House of Worth: sequins, lace, etc.

I would have liked to see some of their statement pieces, such as the following:

They were all very monochromatic in the 1890s section, and a couple of the more detailed dresses were black. The lighting was low, and it was difficult to make out the details (again, I think that is a sewer’s issue!).

The second part was the Gibson Girl, and I wish I could tell you about it, but I was being knocked over by crowds of rowdy teens, so I strode on through.  The women’s suffrage movement was next, and they had videos about the movement playing in the background. The clothes weren’t beautiful, but they revealed a lot about social concerns and attitudes about femininity at the time. The videos were projected all around the room…I’m still not sure how I felt about them. They were powerful, but distracting.

The flapper movement followed, and I enjoyed that very much. I think you would appreciate it less if you did not sew and did not understand how much handwork went into these dresses, but they were absolutely gorgeous, if not very fragile. The dresses were in remarkably good condition considering their fragility and delicate beadwork. The exhibit did a good job of highlighting both the enormous range of details and the similarity of the silhouettes. The glittery wigs also worked nicely with these mannequins. The room was simpler to navigate and digest than the others.

Finally, they did something about movie stars, and I honestly forget the name of the section. Sorry! This section displayed what many people would consider the highlights of the exhibit: the drapey dresses of Madeleine Vionnet and her 20s-30s contemporaries, which you would see worn by starlets in early movies. Like some of the other rooms, this one played movies on the walls. They showed the dresses in their original form, which I liked…context is always good. But my biggest issue with the entire exhibit was in this room, because they showed one of Vionnet’s dresses on a seated model. Vionnet is known for her draping…her work certainly does not belong on a seated model. It bothered me more than it should have, though.

Finally, they had you walk through a room with a video montage displayed on some gray walls into a rather annoying gift shop. The montage contained such “American women” as Candice Bergen, Janet Jackson, and Jennifer Lopez. They had, of course, 30 million copies of the book High Style, which is actually a very nice book that records their collection. I wanted to buy it, but I was being kicked out, and I had already been yelled at by a security guard for trying to take a FLASH-FREE photo, so I was sad. I made myself feel better by going and taking this photograph (legally) of my namesake:

Most important, though, the exhibit did NOT make me want to run home and sew a new dress, which was not a good sign.

I am so sad to be negative about it! I don’t want to say it was wholly not worth going because I am happy that the museum is exploring material culture and the history of dress. I am actually happy that there were a million angsty teens there, because I hope it will encourage them to learn more about the context of fashion and perhaps develop an interest in garment-sewing or textiles as well (even though they kept knocking me over like I was a frail, 90-year-old lady with a cane, rather than a relatively fit person in her 20s). To this end, the museum did a fantastic job of providing a great deal of historical and social context for each era…and everyone was reading and discussing the explanations. I do commend them on that.

Final verdict: If you are already in NYC, go to it, but go to the new American wing first.

*all photos were taken from the website of The Costume Institute

It’s my sew-iversary!

June 25, 2010

Dear friends,

June 26th is my six-month sew-iversary, and I want to share this momentous event with you by having a small giveaway. But first, I would like to take this opportunity to reflect on the first half of 2010.

I can’t believe I have only been sewing for six months. Truth told, I did own a sewing machine (a 1940s-era Singer) back in ’08, and then it broke after about three months (and I still need to have that fixed). I made a dress with my mom once, long ago, and then I incorrectly took in an area of a nightgown that had a gap in the bust sometime last year. I sewed it wrong sides together, and pinched it outward, instead of in…and I STILL wear it that way, partly out of laziness and partly as a reminder of everything I’ve learned. Those were really the only two things I had ever done before Christmas 2009.

I have, however, been exposed to the language and practice of sewing for my entire life. My mom sewed clothes and home goods while I was growing up (and now she makes a living doing it), my grandmother sewed, and my great-grandmother and great-aunt quilted, as you can see in the photo below (thanks, as always, to Caro):

My great-grandmother's quilt top

I followed sewing and quilting blogs for a while, but I mostly knitted and crocheted; I always saw sewing as my mom’s “thing,” and I never thought I could be as good as she is, so I just never picked it up. And I think I took it for granted when I was growing up, too. She had tried to teach me to sew at some point by drawing shapes on paper plates and making me sew along the lines–my earliest exposure to paper-piecing! 🙂 I had also looked at a lot of quilting and textile traditions, taking a more studied and less practical approach to them through 08 and 09.

But I became obsessed with owning a sewing machine in October of last year, and my parents gave me one as a Christmas present. I bought myself a copy of Joelle Hoverson’s Last-Minute Patchwork and Quilted Gifts in anticipation of the event. I got my machine and made this Amy Butler bag I have actually never posted about the next day:

My mom and her quilting friend Beth took me to the local quilt shop the day after that, and I bought up a bunch of Civil War repro fabrics. This was my first quilt:

From there, quilting kind of took over my life, and then garment sewing did, too. A month or so later, I posted on Alissa’s blog that I would definitely join a modern quilt guild in the New England area if one existed, and she e-mailed me and two others and asked us to create one. The other two people had a lot going on in their lives at the time, and even though I knew basically nothing about quilting, I did know a thing or two about creating groups, so I just plowed forward. Starting and then running NEMQG has been an absolutely incredible experience, and I can’t say how proud I am to be a part of an organization full of such beautiful, kind, and inspiring people.

Along the way, I’ve made so many amazing blog friends, and I’ve learned more than I ever thought possible in six months. I’ve also completed all of this (and thrown away several ugly things I made, but never photographed):

Including all of the trashed FOs y’all have never seen, it’s an average of five FOs a month (and I always complain about not having time to sew!). It’s very clear to me that I slowly developed an aesthetic that is true to who I am over the last six months. My preferences in both quilting and garment sewing lean heavily toward vintage and traditional, but with more modern/ brighter color schemes. After trying out a few of the quilting trends (wonky, red/ gray, etc.), I can safely say that I am more drawn to traditional patterns and vintage/ thrifted or vintage-look fabrics. Obviously, the same goes for garments, as I sew almost exclusively from vintage and vintage-inspired patterns, despite their difficulty (and oh, how difficult they have been at times!). My craft bookshelf consists mostly of books that describe old quilting traditions and established quilting communities, as well as late 40s to early 60s fashion.

Looking back makes me very emotional. So much has changed for me since I started sewing and the guild. I feel like I have established a true connection with a community, and created a stronger bond with my family as well. I want to thank each and every one of you for reading my blog, for your support and inspiration, and for being a part of my life.

Now for the giveaway!!! There are two. One is for garment sewers. I have two vintage patterns, Simplicity 3358 and Simplicity 5054:

I’m also offering about 1 3/4 yards of the fabric I used to make this skirt:

It has vivid color, good drape, and is very wearable.

For all you quilters out there, I have quarter-yard cuts of these fabrics (from Paula Prass’ Woodland Delight and Denyse Schmidt’s Hope Valley):

A full yard from Amy Butler’s Lotus:

…AND a surprise from this line:

photo copyright laurie wisbrun

All you have to do is leave a comment telling me what your favorite hobby is! I don’t care if it’s quilting, sewing, or tatting lace. Actually, I’d love to see someone say that tatting lace is their favorite hobby. I’ll draw a winner on Tuesday, June 29 when I return from seeing the new exhibit at the Costume Institute in NYC (and stopping at Purl).

Thanks for entering…and for reading all the way to the end! If you’re here, I commend you on your stamina.

It’s Tuesday…

June 8, 2010

…and I think I’ve got the Tuesday blues! Do you? I’m looking at my little quilt and trying to figure out if it matches my original vision.

This might be one of those projects that needs to sit in the closet for a few weeks before I decide how to proceed. Seeing it on the wall makes me think a border would detract from its look. I know I’m vacillating quite a bit, but I think that’s a good thing…you should always be engaged with your quilt, not simply follow a schematic and disregard your intuition, don’t you think?

I hope you’re all having a productive week!

Is originality dead?

May 29, 2010

I know this is a hackneyed argument, bandied about frequently in various craft communities when someone, somewhere, feels upset that their ideas have been copied (and haven’t we all felt like that?), but it was bothering me for quite a while. I had to take a break from reading quilt blogs because I was suffering from some strange form of quilt exhaustion, which I later realized was probably just internet exhaustion! All of the quilts I saw began to bleed together, and I started questioning some of the tried-and-true methods and styles that I love. I was especially bothered by the “wonky” log cabin, for some reason. I couldn’t help feeling like there was a disconnect between the influences (like Gee’s Bend) and the way it is recreated by quilters (myself included).

Let me explain (and try not to criminalize the wonky LC in the process): I wondered if it was inherently wrong to recreate the styles typically born from poverty (like the improv quilts made from scraps by women in isolated communities) using expensive fabrics and intentionally lopsided cutting. No, I decided, it was probably the opposite.

But still, I felt like I kept seeing the same things over and over…same fabrics, same styles, same everything. There are some fabrics I love (30s repro fabrics) that I felt I “couldn’t” use because they weren’t modern enough, and that bothered me. Nobody ever said this to me…it was entirely a product of my imagination, and thus ridiculous.

But then we had our May NEMQG meeting, and afterward I saw two amazing quilts that were so beautiful and original that they turned my thinking around. They made me realize that originality certainly wasn’t dead, even in frequently used styles. The first was a  gorgeous log cabin made with modern fabrics by Rhea of Alewives Fabrics (and the equally gorgeous photo was taken by Caro of splityarn and can be found with the other photos from the meeting here):

The second was made by Yahaira, a quilter and knitter with a very unique aesthetic.  Both of these quilts used traditional shapes  (and in Yahaira’s case, traditional fabrics…hurray for repro prints!) in a stunning and original way.

The other quilt I encountered that expressed a remarkably strong point of view was Amanda’s:

Seriously, ya’ll. I LOVE this quilt. The craftsmanship is incredible, and it’s completely different from everything I’ve seen before. I’ve seen a LOT of house quilts, and this one blows me away.

So I realized that my worries were, essentially, ridiculous…and also that my feelings were a symptom of blog,  online fabric store, etc. overload. I have an unmanageable number of blogs in my reader, and I get concerned when I have so many left unread and un-commented on (I hate doing that). I felt so overwhelmed I could barely look at my own blog, which means I have several things finished that I haven’t even photographed, let alone told you all about!I promise all of you that I will be better about leaving more thoughtful comments on your blogs.

I’ve also decided that I’m going to quietly take part in the Process Pledge going around in blogland and try to be more conscious about posting while I work, and not just when I’m finished. Tomorrow, I’ll write about one of the quilts I’m making, a completely improvised design. Here’s a sneak peak:

I hope you’re all having a wonderful weekend!

On embroidery

May 24, 2010

A few weeks ago, I unearthed a couple of embroidered samplers from my grandmother’s attic, which immediately begged the question: Why don’t I do any needlework? I love hand sewing, portable crafts, and flower scenes, and I have inherited a small collection of Erica Wilson‘s embroidery books from my great-aunt. Wilson’s books are very inspiring, and I have leafed through them before bed on countless evenings. As I became more interested in embroidery in recent weeks, I decided to do a bit of research on Wilson herself.

For a period between the ’60s and ’80s, Erica Wilson had no equal in the embroidery/ needlepoint world. Her output was prolific and included many types of needlecraft, though she established her name through her work on crewel embroidery. This was her first book, which you can currently buy on Amazon.com for 45 cents (used):

Wilson’s 15 (or so) books contain a cornucopia of embroidery projects, and she delves into the history of needlework through showing many works featured at the Smithsonian and the Met. She also features beautiful works by women whose names she notes without any biographical information, unfortunately. Some of the works are absolutely gorgeous. These two have always captivated me:

[ignore the wallpaper, see the butterfly]

I am determined to make that pillow. It looks just as fresh and vivid today as it did in the ’70s!This was the work of a dedicated woman with amazing color sense…I wish I knew more about her.

Wilson also ran a very successful needlepoint boutique in NYC (which has since moved to Nantucket). Although most of her works were stunning, it was somewhat inevitable that Wilson would begin taking things too far after decades of designing. She apparently thought that there was no occasion for which an embroidered outfit was not immensely desirable:

[In the photo above, nobody is hugging Erica…that is a linking-hands belt she made to complement her outfit]

For the most part, however, she designed beautiful pieces and did a fantastic job of situating needlework in its historical context.

Many people have taken up the embroidery torch in recent years, though certainly not as many as have carried on the traditions of quilting and sewing. Jenny Hart of Sublime Stitching has breathed new life into the craft with her edgy, funky, and appealing designs. There are, of course, Japanese books on the subject. Kristin Nicholas, known for her knitting books, has a good title out as well. Although I admit to being drawn to more traditional designs, these books are a great place to learn about how embroidery can be adapted to a more modern home.

A quick (though ultimately incorrect) Google search of the store where my grandmother used to buy her embroidery kits, It’s A Crewel World, revealed that it was still open, so the two of us decided to make a day of it. After aimlessly driving around Salem and somehow winding up at the quilt shop, I looked next door and realized that I had stumbled upon a different embroidery store, B.F. Goodstitch. I picked out a few embroidery cottons, a hoop, some muslin, and a disappearing ink pen, and went to work on my own design. I had tried to do embroidery once in the past, but after choosing a design that was completely inappropriate for me, I demurred (it was a creepy hummingbird with its head stuck in a honeysuckle flower…totally my fault).

With renewed strength and vigor, I sallied forth, and here is the result of my first attempt:

A five-year-old in colonial America could have done a significantly better job, but there you go. It’s a start. And with all of the great resources out there, I am hoping that my skills will improve quickly. There is nothing like embroidery for when you’re sitting on the sofa, watching, for example, the last episode of Lost and weeping quietly to yourself.

The owner of B.F. Goodstitch assured me that “stitchers,” as she called them, abound. I was skeptical because I actually don’t know a single person who does embroidery, and I know a lot of crafters…even one person who tats lace, if you can believe it. She did lead me to an excellent online resource, Nuts about Needlepoint, where you can get some free information and instructions, but admitted that there were few embroidery bloggers out there. Readers, do any of you embroider? I’d love to see your projects!

Stay tuned for more FOs later in the week…I have several things in the works, including another embroidery project!

I have been greatly anticipating a new exhibit at the Met, which opens tomorrow (May 5): American Woman: Fashioning a National Identity. Imagine my extreme enthusiasm when I learned that the head curator is a fellow Smithie! As described in Victoriana magazine: “The exhibition, on view from May 5 through August 15, 2010, will explore developing perceptions of the modern American woman from the 1890s to the 1940s, and how they have affected the way American women are seen today. Focusing on archetypes of American femininity through dress, the exhibition will reveal how the American woman initiated style revolutions that mirrored her social, political, and sexual emancipation.”

Needless to say, I plan to make a weekend of my visit to this exhibit. For those of you that can’t be there, here are some of my favorite pieces from the as-yet-unseen collection (all photos are copyright Met Costume Institute):

From Charles James, master of draping, circa 1935-1940:



Not the most wearable garment, since I imagine it weighs quite a bit, but the draping is gorgeous. It’s silk and it isn’t a knit, if that excites you (it excited me).

The following pieces are from Madeleine Vionnet, who was known for what the Met calls “mathematically precise” technical skills and design simplicity:

Vionnet circa 1937


The black dress elicits an emotional response from me. The details are so beautiful and executed perfectly–look at the fluidity from the bust downward. Gorgeous.

Ordinarily, I would hesitate to include such an item (I am vegetarian, after all), but the design and craftmanship here are fantastic:

For those of you who notice such things, when the Met uses a true dress form (not a mannequin for presentation purposes), they use Wolf. It really is the fairest of them all <sigh>.

This Charles James creation lies a bit outside of the range the Met is covering and, fortunately, within the range of my own interests:

Beautiful pleating and draping again, no? I think the overall effect would be significantly enhanced if the dress fit the mannequin better…the gap in the bust and armscye distracts me (am I crazy?).

I hope anyone within the vicinity of NYC will see fit (pun intended) to visit this exhibit…maybe you’ll run into me there! I’ll be the one weeping in front of the cycling costume.

Note: does any other WordPress blogger know why my photos suddenly have blue frames?