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I am a mother, a grandmother, and a teacher. But whatever happens in my life, I keep sewing. I have worked as a political communicator and now as a teacher in my formal life. I have also written extensively on sewing. I have been a frequent contributor and contributing editor of Threads magazine and the Australian magazine Dressmaking with Stitches. My book Sew.. the garment-making book of knowledge was published in May 2018 and is available for pre-order from Amazon

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Sunday, August 2, 2020

Knitting during a pandemic




I don't want to labour a discussion of the times. We have had a pretty easy time of it here in Nova Scotia and let's hope it stays that way.

However this affects everyone and we are all staying close to home more than usual and there is a sort of anxiety running in the background. I now only check the news once a day and told my husband that if he is going to listen to things more often than that would he please put on headphones - some voices I don't need to hear in this house.

I am trying not to add to anyone's angst myself and to focus on things that are more enduring than this moment in time. Nature, children, dogs, cooking, ordering fabric.

And I have returned to knitting in the evenings.

Now I am a garment sewist through and through and I put a lot of effort into my sewing. I am particularly interested in construction details and techniques.

To me knitting is about none of that. I realize how innovative and technical knitting has become but that's not why I knit. I knit like a sort of repetitive meditation. Round and round without a lot of thinking. Like those Buddhist monks in Japan who spent their lifetimes raking gravel into patterns as sort of a religious practice. When I first talked to someone who had gone on a Buddhist retreat and did just this for a couple of months I have to tell you it didn't make a lot of sense to me. My cultural background is big on the useful activity and sitting down or any activity without a meaningful output was just not on the books.

However these days when there is too much incoming to handle all at once the idea of stopping a raking the gravel, or knitting the same stitches for hours if not days at a time, is starting to make sense to me. It's like you jump off the train for a bit onto the platform to catch your breath and let a few of those trains just pass you by.

So committed to non-demanding knitting in my evenings has meant some basic circular knitting with easy patterns. I just don't need to be doing anything right now that requires me to stop and watch a YouTube video to figure it out. 

You get what I mean?

Any of you learning a new language at the moment?

See what I mean.

As a result I have been knitting a lot of socks and a few sweaters. The first of these, appropriately, was the "Homebody" pattern by Heidi Kirrmaier. I had some Eco wool in a bin and knit this up for my daughter. I left it at her house and she sent me back this picture with the message "It fits perfectly."


The fit around the shoulders and neckline in particular is outstanding and due to the placement of the raglan lines. Since this is a seamless top down pattern (I love hand sewing but completely hate sewing sweater pieces together) it is hard to get a nice fit without a lot of shaping but I think this one does it. I think I will knit myself one too once I have figured out a decent online yarn source. I know where to order fabric but not yarn and I am not feeling like hitting the stores at the moment.

As far as patterns go it was pretty cryptic. Heidi is an excellent designer but has a technical professional background and her instructions were very efficient but all charts and numbers. Being numerically challenged, and highly text based,  in a few places I wrote the instructions out in words to I would stay on track, but you wouldn't probably need to do that. I intend to knit more of Heidi's patterns and maybe won't even need to do that myself again now I have a better understanding of the logic of her patterns.

The second sweater I knit was for myself from Ann Budd's really interesting Book of Sweater Patterns. This is a great resource for folks like me who only want to knit something simple and hate fooling around with gauge. Basically you knit a swatch first with a needle size and yarn you like, measure the number of stitches per inch and then match the gauge you already have to the numbers you need to cast on etc. according to the size you want.

Did I explain that correctly?

Anyway it's a pretty relaxed approach to low key sweater knitting and that suits me just fine at the moment. Here I am in a basic dropped shoulder, knit in the round with no seams to sew, V neck. I am wearing my favourite poplin antique pull on shorts and some pretty weird glasses.

The moral of the story with the glasses is if you go into the optometrist's and announce "I need something bright and cheerful" and you only try on the glasses with a mask on over your whole face when you go back to pick up these glasses they might be pretty bright turquoise. The six-year-old thought they were outstanding, my daughter, his mother thought they would be just fine for wearing around the house. 

There is of course a real possibility too that at this stage of the game I worry more about cheerful than looking like a maniac.


Now tell me what you are doing? What are your own current self soothing activities? Any of you knitting too? Reviving lost activities? (I have also considered hauling out some 30 year old cross stitch patterns).

How are you mediating? How do you manage to actually do that? What is your mediation equivalent?

Seems to me ideas on this are worth sharing.

Thursday, July 23, 2020

Flypaper thoughts: catch up edition

  • This week I finished the manuscript on my next book
  • Publishers aren't keen on revealing that you are writing a new book
  • Since it will be about a year until it is out for sale
  • For six months I have been sewing and writing every day on this project
  • This has cut into my blogging time so much
  • And I think you should know why
  • So I would appreciate it if we kept this info between us
  • But we're friends
  • And I thought you should know the why
  • Writing this one was hard
  • I put in all my best ideas
  • But thought that there would be more than a few readers who would think
  • That's not the proper way to do it, is she nuts
  • But you can only write what you have to write
  • Nuts or not
  • It's what you've got
  • It was extremely strange to write a sewing book in the middle of a global pandemic
  • The fabric stores were closed so I cut up coats and scrounged for materials
  • You'll see 
  • These are such strange times
  • Here in Nova Scotia we remain Covid free
  • The premier said stay the blazes home and we did
  • We are in our own little world right now, living normally
  • With the understanding that if a case comes in we will slam shut again
  • When you are small and have a tiny border you can do that
  • And when you more or less know or are related to everyone
  • You aren't going to let them down
  • It isn't that hard
  • However I am cut off
  • From my son and his family in California
  • I never thought I would have a child I couldn't get to
  • So just so you know I don't have any patience for those who won't do what they need to do and are prolonging this
  • You are part of a community
  • We all are
  • That is our learning opportunity here
  • As we used to say when I taught
  • Now I am not sample sewing
  • I am going to sew for myself
  • Stay tuned on that one
  • I have been knitting though
  • Learning continental because it is faster
  • I think it is important to live richly
  • What are we waiting for?
  • I have moved the crystal into the ordinary glasses cupboard
  • I have been growing herbs and cooking Greek food because it uses herbs
  • I have been treading water for whole afternoons and catching small boys barrelling off the water slide
  • And landing with a belly flop
  • I have realized that I made a mistake with my sewing
  • I have been caught up on making the next thing
  • And home now
  • I am wearing what I have in the closet and appreciating it
  • Maybe all the focus on making the new
  • Has taken the enjoyment out of appreciating what we already have
  • Seems like that is a mistake
  • And another learning opportunity
  • My husband is one of those older guys who loves apps
  • Right now he is renting his tools through something called Good Neighbour
  • He is a good neighbour and apparently 4% of all the rental tools in the greater metropolitan area are in my garage
  • I did not know that
  • I don't go into the garage
  • It is the kind of place that you feel if you went in you might not find your way out
  • Sort of like the Amazon jungle but with weird devices instead of trees
  • Sometimes the kids have me lift the garage door for a look
  • They stand outside, quiet
  • And say "wow that's a lot of junk"
  • And now it seems that there are things in there that other men want
  • Mysterious things that are left on the front step when they are done
  • My husband realizes that this funny extra income will allow him to buy more tools, off book
  • I have fabric he has things that plug in
  • Or screw together to help you screw more things together
  • He is a super renter
  • I didn't know that power washers came in two strengths
  • One that cleans the deck and one that removes it
  • But that's another story
  • We rent both
  • Apparently
  • So I guess I wanted to tell you where I've been and that I am back
  • Strange times or not
  • But I am here
  • And this is where that place is
  • The anthem of my culture is in my head right now
  • The right song for these wrong times
  • It will be OK
  • I promise

Tuesday, June 30, 2020

Peekaboo patterns review

I sew all the time. Every day, that's what I mean by all the time. And I find that now I am retired from a regular job I am doing even more sewing for even more people.

I love it.

As my family grows and expands I am sewing a lot for children too. 

One pattern company I use a lot is Peekaboo patterns. I find these patterns quite simple to sew (I feel they are designed for newish sewists in mind) and the instructions are excellent. When I am pressed for time but really want to make someone small something, the Peekaboo site is one of the first I go to.

A case in point was this paint smock for my youngest granddaughter in California. My DIL is savvy. When the lockdown started she got in more outside toys. One of the most popular of these was a water table, but of course this meant multiple wet outfits. So I was asked to make a waterproof sort of smock to try to keep Anika dry.

This is the Peekaboo pattern I used. A super fast sew and of course my own lockdown sewing room had exactly what I needed. Here it is on my beautiful model.



I have made more Peekaboo patterns than I can list. I have made nightgowns, diaper bags, stroller covers, sleep sacks, baby nightgowns, and so many other things.

One of my go-to fast baby presents is this diaper clutch, basically a change pad with a place for diapers and gear. I also have the sock pattern I need to try.

I also have to make my grandson a suit. Peekaboo has a suit jacket and pants I can work with. The girls are big on dress up when they come over here, here's a shot of that. My oldest granddaughter is in my mother's going away suit and her sister is in a dress I made her mother when she was young. The crinolines are also part of my vintage clothing stash.


After this picture Billy had it.

"Babsie you have to make me a tuxedo! I have nothing to wear when I have to go somewhere fancy." I can so identify with how important it is to have something suitable for every occasion.

So as soon as I can the sewing room had better spit out a small tux!

Saturday, June 27, 2020

Catch up with my sewing: summer work outfit for my daughter






I am going to try and catch up some of my sewing projects with you. One of the things I have been doing this last week is to sew for my daughter. She needs something cool for work to wear under her lab coats.

She loved the shorter version of the Jalie 4017 skirt but I was stumped for a nice tank pattern that would hide her bra straps. I finally dug out my older Jalie 3246 maxi dress pattern and it was perfect shortened to a tank. I think that because this pattern has to open up for a bit more ease at the waist and hip, being a dress, it has just the right amount of skim in those areas but still is fitted around the neck and shoulders.

Katrina really liked this combination and if I ever get off the golf course this weekend I will be making her another top and skirt.

This will make it the fifth tank top I made for her this week. I had decided to conquer by coverhem binding process as part of this project. I had even bought a generic type binding attachment (my Juki 1500 doesn't have one from the manufacturer for this machine). However after struggling with that for most of a day I put that little unit where it belonged, in the bottom of the garbage can. I just couldn't get the right degree of stretch with the binding and my hands couldn't get in close enough for control.

I was disappointed with myself, since all of Facebook seems to get these binders to work. Then I remembered that the right way to do anything in sewing is your own way so I set out to figure out what worked for me.

Here is what I decided to do.

I did all my seams and attaching the first pass of binding on my serger. I used just a 3-thread and a long (4) stitch length to attach the strips of binding and shoulders to reduce bulk and switched to 4 threads for the side seams.

I used flat construction and hand tacked the seams to one side at one shoulder and the underarms to finish.

Here was the construction order:

1. Sew one shoulder seam, 3 thread serged.

2. Right side of 1" (2.5cm) binding to the wrong side of the neckline and along the armhole of the shoulder side that had been stitched. I just stretched the binding slightly by feel as I serged.

3. Fold the bindings to the right side and tuck the raw edge under. Pin and coverhem down, using the two left needles and keeping the edge of the binding nestled into the inner edge of the foot.


Here is what the binding looks like from the wrong side:




4. Sew the remaining shoulder seam, 3 thread serger, right up through the binding.

5. Apply the binding in two steps as above along the remaining armhole.

6. Serge the side seams, 4 threads, up through the binding.

7. Switch the coverhem to a wide hem, left and right needles the middle needle removed, and hem.

8. Tack the binding down to one side at the top of each side seam and along one shoulder seam. I threaded the serger tail back under the loopers of the seams before I did this. I was all surprisingly neat. Next one I should post a picture of that.

Not a bad little work outfit and fun to do.


Saturday, June 13, 2020

Jalie's Jeanne knit pyjamas in the smallest size

I grew up in rural Manitoba. We moved to Montreal when I was 15 so my youngest sister could go to the Montreal Oral School for the Deaf (she signs now) and my life changed considerably after that. 

I have lived in Canada, the US, and Australia. However I have been in Nova Scotia now for nearly 40 years and consider myself to be a true Nova Scotian. Somethings and some places are more yours by disposition than birth.

That said my Manitoba roots, my mom and one sister still live there, are deep.

I could write a whole post on how that peculiar Canadian prairie mentality has affected my life. One of the things that really sticks with me is the whole don't waste concept. When you grow up on the farm like my relatives did, or lived through the Depression in a farming culture, you really don't like to not use everything. It was too far to go to get anything even if you could afford it. I have a strong memory of my grandmother losing it when she saw me unwind some old thread from a bobbin and throw it away. What a waste of those few yards of thread.

During this pandemic stay at home time I have been grateful for my collection of sewing supplies, and all the things I put aside just in case. I have been living off all of that for months now.

One of the things I have appreciated most is my collection of Jalie patterns. Because they come in over 20 sizes I have been able to play around with them making things up in different sizes for myself like the pull on pants in the last post, or make thing for family using patterns I already have.

One of those patterns has been the Jeanne knit pyjamas. I made a nice version for myself a while ago. This month made some with the same pattern in the smallest size for my youngest granddaughter in California.

They are in a monkey print, because, well, she is our monkey. I had to improvise a bit because I didn't have ribbing left in white. I used cotton lycra which means the neck band bows a bit, but I am pleased with them.

She's really a doll isn't she?


Friday, June 12, 2020

A sewing uniform

I have been sewing and sewing lately on various projects and I realized I have definite sewing outfits. Two days this week it has been some old standby Jalie patterns.

The first is these purple linen pants (I call them my Berkeley pants because I wear them when I visit my kids who live there in California so I fit in with all the ageing hippies) 3243 in a size bigger than I usually wear for extra ease. These are perfect for sitting a long time and intermittent running to the iron board, to let in the dog, or to make teas. Not particularly elegant but so comfortable.




I wear them with my favourite top V neck 2682 in cotton spandex knit. I like the print and not everything goes with purple pants. You might want to remember that.

I also have these same 3243s in a smaller size and cropped in grey with the 3890 top. I found that this rayon interlock in the spotted top stretched and stretched so I ended up overlapping the neckline and adding a button. Next version I sized down.


Thursday, June 11, 2020

Flypaper thoughts: June in Nova Scotia edition


  • Of the things I am grateful most for this pandemic season
  • At the top of the list has to be the neighbourhood animals
  • The two orange cats who run our street
  • I think they have a schedule
  • They take turns circling the houses
  • Coming to the back doors and staring into the kitchen
  • Confusing Daisy
  • The white cat with three legs who doesn't move aside for anyone
  • And Bailey
  • The young Golden
  • My dippy 89 year old neighbour bought for his wife after her twin spaniels died
  • Nice thought but not if you need a walker
  • So the neighbourhood is bring Bailey up
  • A most walked dog anyway
  • And the new puppy next door
  • The cheerful conventions being held on that lawn
  • Social distanced appreciation of that much joy
  • Six people cheering when he pees outside
  • Such a good boy
  • I am also doing a lot of Greek cooking
  • A lot
  • Have planted the backyard with more herbs
  • Going through a lot of mint, oregano, and dill
  • I think plants like people move towards the light
  • Need this kind of time to appreciate that
  • Also appreciate my neighbour behind me
  • She runs and she gardens
  • All day she gardens 
  • After she runs
  • She raised three successful boys
  • While her husband worked 30 years of double shifts
  • She didn't garden, or run, until that job was done
  • I look out my kitchen window and enjoy the view 
  • And her enjoyment
  • All her hard work gives me flowers to share
  • I have to get silver polish
  • I am letting the kids have tea out of my grandmother's teapot and in her teacups
  • This must be what she was saving them for in her china cabinet
  • Dusted and behind glass
  • Now on my back deck
  • I am assuming they still carry silver polish at the grocery store
  • Haven't checked that since 1972
  • My mother was big on polishing the silver
  • When company was coming you had to either do that or clean the bathrooms
  • I am old enough now to have had a father who used to say he didn't need a dishwasher because he had five
  • Four daughters and a wife
  • So happy to know that my kids would never believe he said things like that
  • Don't remember him doing the silver either
  • These weeks it seems to me to be a time that we clean out our cultural attics
  • Just because you don't use something now doesn't mean it isn't being stored
  • There should be a curbside pickup day for wrong assumptions
  • And old crap you used to hear
  • Yesterday the car stopped at the drugstore and I went in and took a box of semipermanent off the shelf
  • The kids thought it was a great idea
  • And after I was redder the oldest cut my hair on the deck
  • She's 10 and knows what she is doing
  • I was interested to hear all her opinions and views on hair cutting
  • You learn a lot on the head of an American girl doll
  • If you have been stressing about what to put on my eventual tombstone
  • Can I suggest
  • Anything for a laugh?
  • I should add
  • That the same father typed out my honours thesis on a tiny Royal typewriter
  • With a return and ribbon
  • Down in the basement late at night after work
  • Undoubtedly there was no curbside pickup in his day
  • Times were changing
  • Even then