Sewing with less stress Front

Sewing with less stress Front
My newest sewing book

Sewing with less stress back cover

Sewing with less stress back cover
What my new book is about

Clothesmaking mavens

Clothesmaking mavens
Listen to me on the clothes making mavens podcasts

About me

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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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Saturday, May 12, 2012

Motherhood then and now

After spending three weeks with my daughter and the little girls living with me I am struck by all that has changed and all that remains the same about new motherhood.

At 2:00 a. m. this morning this is my list:

Then: We had basinets and blankets on the floor and maybe a kind of bouncy seat (I never did). We had strollers and baby carriers, and I used those a lot. A baby on the front so I could do things when they were little, and a backpack when they were older and I could make dinner. I felt super equipped and very progressive.

Now: Where do I start? There are exer-saucers and bouncy chairs with music and mobiles that move. There are strollers for two that have the kids one on top of each other like bunk beds and strollers for mothers who run. The are multi-speed swings with different tunes. Playmats for tummy time, tag blankets, small high chairs that attach to big chairs, big high chairs and, something I think is brilliant we used one last night at a restaurant, little quilted units to keep small ones safe in commercial high chairs and shopping carts:

Then: Car seats were for bigger babies. I brought my daughter home from the hospital in a basket set on the back seat. We all did that.

Now: Car seats are wonderful and everyone uses one.

Then: Having a baby meant no one, particularly yourself, expected your stomach or maybe even the rest of your body to ever quite "go down." I remember assuming I would have to start sewing one size up after my pregnancy.

Now: Mothers have flat stomachs at their six week appointments. This is one of the great mysteries of all time to me.

Then: Maternity clothes were smock-like. We didn't quite hide our pregnancies like our mothers, but we gathered over them.

Now: Pregnant women wear bikinis and tight Tshirts, and a lot of their old clothes only tighter. This is real progress to me.

Then: We put our babies to sleep on their stomachs because it was safer. The nurses told me this way they wouldn't choke when they spit up.

Now: Babies sleep on their backs because it is safer. Flat heads are back.

Then: We padded the cribs with bumper pads and filled up them up with stuffed toys. I was well into labour with my first one when I was still finishing a quilt  - to keep her warm.

Now: Bumper pads and blankets and stuffed toys are out of cribs and infants sleep in sleep sacs. 

Then: Fathers changed diapers and made meals and their own fathers were amazed and they themselves thought they were amazing.

Now: Fathers change diapers and make meals and no one thinks it's amazing at all.

Then: Women breastfed, in my own case quite openly, by pulling up their shirts and latching on with maybe a receiving blanket half falling off. Boobs were still just boobs. We were the hippy generation and most of us had gone to college braless.

Now: The Wonderbra generation feeds with elaborate covers that hide the entire child (I call them baby burkas). Stupid magazines like Time this week still think breastfeeding is weird and publish staged and hysterical  covers implying that this is anyone else's business. I am hugely disappointed that with all the things to think about in the world breastfeeding is used for shock effect:

Then: We had low expectations for domestic life. Unless you were Greek you didn't have olive oil in the cupboard, and herbs for most families where things that came in little jars that got dusty at the back of the stove. Casseroles were the meal of choice and if you were smart you had a three week supply of tuna/noodle in the freezer.

Now: New mothers have dinner parties with beet and goat cheese salad when they come home from the hospital with vinaigrette they make with walnut oil. They keep Ouzo in the freezer.

Then: At the end of your pregnancy you said to yourself, well at least I will have a week to rest in the hospital and someone else will do the cooking. I had my first child in Australia and was in for 10 days and the nurses watched me with eagle eyes while I practiced baby bathing. The last two I had in Canada and was in for a week. I read magazines.

Now: They go home in 24 hours. They have to, they have vinaigrette to make.

Then: We wondered if we would ever sleep and if we would ever stop being tired.

Now: They wonder if they will ever sleep and if they will ever stop being tired.

What have I missed?

Friday, May 11, 2012

Made our day

My daughter works in a unit just like this. 

So we loved this video, which of course has gone viral. You might already have seen it. 

This is what really matters.


On a style follow-up I have to share this link to a woman in court looking very stylish. Good accessories too. Who says a woman under duress can't look smart and sharp?  The first two outfits in particular should be in my closet.

So much starts with the shoes. 

My Heidi is catching on:

She can't believe her luck. What are those cool things? You have no idea baby how many great shoes there are out there.

 And this is how they will make you feel:

 Welcome to the Big Girl world.

Somewhat related, thanks to that miracle that is eBay, these arrived in the mailbox for me today. I could not be more pleased:

In the middle of June I am going in for a hysterectomy and fix-up. All those big babies. Since I won't be doing this surgery myself I am focusing on my end of the business which is, of course, what should I wear?

Side story: Now you know sometimes I get nervous because my husband sort of thinks he can do-it yourself anything. Well, I had a dream a few days ago. I was in for my pre-op and when they went to write me up I had to tell them that actually my husband had removed my uterus already with the skillful use of a ballpoint pen. I told him this and he said that was completely crazy, he hasn't even read the manual.

So back to me not having much to do about my surgery except dress for it. In real life being done by a 12 year old surgeon, but then again kids are smarter these days.

It's a funny thing getting ready to be in hospital. 

Your average nightgown, slippers and housecoat are meant for bedrooms not people's place of business, and then too you can end up with relatives coming to see you, sitting next to your bed talking, and reading the paper. That doesn't usually happen in your own bedroom.

So you sort of have to come up with what you would wear to bed if your bed were in a department store window.

Which of course led in a direct line to me ordering in some mocs as my department store window slippers. I was also an excuse because I totally love moccasins.  I have always felt they speak deeply to my inner sense of style which has heavy undertones of domestic 1950's.

In addition I bought a nightgown covered with mini maps of Florida which I feel is another step in the right direction.

I generally don't look that hot after surgery.  I was also considering permanent make-up, you know eyeliner tattooed on, until my husband did a search and told me you aren't supposed to get a tattoo before surgery.

This is really too bad.

I had an appointment at a place called The Electric Chair because I had an idea that I should also get my children's initials tattooed on a finger so at least some part of my body still documented that they were here.

So in the end my daughter had to go alone to have the girls's initials put on her finger. It looks great, so as soon as I can drive post-op it's going to be off to the tattoo parlour I go.

Style being a verb.

Thursday, May 10, 2012

This internet is really something isn't it?

Sometimes I can hardly remember my sewing life without the world wide web. I mean this was the only thing missing from the perfect world of sewing wasn't it? 


Let's face it, as good as it was, sometimes sewing was a solitary pleasure, but we have fixed that haven't we?

I probably am spending far more on the social media side of sewing this month than on the actual sewing, but that's fine.

Today it was Craftsy's sewing patterns  that caught my eye.

Now these patterns are very similar to those on Etsy in that they are independently produced, most likely it seems to me by home sewers, a lot of them young, with smart heads.

But I find the Craftsy patterns a little quirkier. 

There are some easy summer projects here I might make myself just when I want to play around and do something different on an afternoon sometime in July or August.

Here are two patterns I noticed. Both free:

I don't know about you but I am a great fan of giant pincushions. Far more practical than ones than boxes that fall on the floor...

Small picture that doesn't blow up well but you get the idea. As a currently traveling sewer this appeals to me - the fact it is built around an old book, giving you a stable sewing service when you might need it, is I think brilliant.
The fun never stops. 

Wednesday, May 9, 2012

How busy does a person have to be?

I know, I know.

You are on vacation and as you get near the end you make these promises to yourself.

When you get back home you are going to be different. You have been leading the simple life and you are going to pack that away and unpack it at home and be someone different there too, a person with new perspective. 


Until you open the door.

You stand, your coat still on, and read the mail. You play back the messages. You negotiate who is going out to get milk and bread this late at night. It's like the windows of the house that's your head are suddenly open and the outside world starts pouring the stuff back in and you are standing up to your knees again, just like you were before, just about when you decided you needed a holiday.

Or you become one of those people like I have met here who decide not to go home. Instead you spend time trying to plant flower beds, not rocks and beach grass, in lawns and sit inside and wonder where the neighbours like in Buffalo is are. Or stand at the end of the driveway waiting for the grandchildren.

I remember once seeing a man sitting on a balcony in Daytona. Shorts, street shoes and black socks, staring at a sign on the other side of the highway "New York Deli."  He wished. He knew it wasn't.

But still.

Maybe you can't make vacation your whole life but you can check out just how busy you as a person have to be, and take that home knowledge home with you. Or use it to understand where you are now and why.

And I don't mean simplify

There are millionaires who got that way telling us to de-clutter and simplify and there are lists on how to do it. There are pamphlets in doctors' offices telling you to reduce stress by learning to say no. There are years of living sustainably and more mindfully blogs, there are pledges to not buy anything forever, and support groups to help you get through that.

There are foolish women asking you to sign on for ten white shirts and there are even folks who pack away Chanel jacket components when they leave town.

At the end of May I will have gone three months without having seen my house and being on my streets. 

I was thinking about my house last night, trying to remember it, when I realized that there are only a two things I have missed since I have been gone.

My serger and my interfacing.

That's it.

I have my dog with me.

I have my husband with me.

I have had my daughter and grandchildren with me and tomorrow my most wonderful son-in-law flies in and we are all excited tonight.

I have talked to and Skyped my two sons, my mother, and my sisters. I have spoken to friends on the phone and emailed some more.

I talked to my students today, locked in the bathroom away from toddlers, teaching my course.

I haven't missed anything about a life I work hard at to keep moving.

You know why?

I have gone lazy.

That's it.

I have done a few things well that mattered, my people and my course. But my Chanel jacket is on a hanger and I have been making loud shirts. When I felt like it.

Try lazy.

Try looking at a pattern and saying "do I want to work that hard?" Try not being bothered to go shopping. Try cutting it up and eating it in a bowl rather than turning it into a recipe.

The question is how lazy can you be and still keep your head on the upside of the water?

You would be surprised at how lazy.

Lazy people have more time to do things that make them happy. And you know what? Nobody notices much.

The first day I came here I decided to get fit and counted my steps on my beach walk to calculate distance, and then divided that by the time on my watch.

I have since lost my watch.

I am not sure I am even going to look for it. 

I may even go home without it.

Tuesday, May 8, 2012

Baby names, baby wipes and my beauty secrets

Very significant post this morning. All infant related.

Part one: 

I have started teaching a new course this month and am learning the names on a new class list.

My biggest challenge is, as always, the curse of the creative speller.

If your name is Megan why is it spelled Mheghaan?

Why is Cassidy, Kasidee?

Why is Britanny now Brit-anee?

Judy is Joodee?

I have taught Tifani's, Tiffany, Tifanee all in the same class.

It makes my head explode.

Listen I have a last name that requires spelling out every time I say it, and over time that is a nuisance. Why send your child out in the world with that handicap over what is an ordinary name? Why have teachers say "you're kidding" every time your kid says what the creative spelling stands for.

If you want your baby to have a cool name choose a cool name. Don't try to do it with creative spelling. It's making my class lists a nightmare.


I personally have some favourite names I was never allowed to use. Chester and Imogene are two. I also have tried to persuade my son-in-law that if he has a boy Woody, Skip and Dash (short for Dashell) are great boys names. He sort of likes Frank.


At least he wouldn't spell it weird. The spelling weirdness seems to be reserved for girls names.

Part two of baby themes:

If any of you are along SR A1A the next couple of weeks and feel like doing a few straight seams, I have a chair waiting. 

This is my baby wipes pile for the next momentrepreneur fair my daughter is doing. The last time she sold out and she is too busy with more elaborate projects to get all these done:

A daughter who sews and wants to go fabric shopping.

You know I am thrilled.

Part three of baby stuff:

This is my beauty secret section.

Now I know many of you have looked at the pictures on this blog and wondered how I do it. So I am going to go public now.

Over the last couple of years my beloved dermatologist has been burning off little cell change spots on my face that are the result of sun damage. All those readers in Australia in particular (where I probably acquired same spots) know exactly what I am talking about.

At one of our sessions I asked him about all the anti-aging products on the market and he said to me, doesn't make any difference at all.

Sadly soon after this this very nice man dropped dead (now there's a medical term from my childhood you don't hear much any more, along with the famous "they opened her up and they just closed her up"). I will miss our visits.

Anyway I did try some of those things that "dramatically reduced the appearance of fine lines and wrinkles in 98% of all women tested within three days" anyway, which by the way cost me about 2 yards of cashmere wool.

Within three days I noticed absolutely no evidence that 58 was the new 28 but I did notice that some of my little areas where we had been burning stuff off had flared up. I decided this kind of cell change I did not need.

I also remembered my grandfather.

He was a druggist and had one of those old-fashioned drugstores where there was a soda fountain where a full time person made ice-cream sodas and we used to get ice-cream cones with sprinkles. He also had a lady who sat on a stool in front of table of glass jars and custom mixed face powders.

Despite this lucrative part of his business I remember my grandfather, who knew a lot about making things, used to tell me that the cosmetic industry was a racket "I can make a lipstick for 4 cents" he used to say. And he usually didn't dis suppliers. In fact my dad was named after an executive at Modess.

Back to my beauty secrets. 

So this memory of my grandfather's view of cosmetics and my flared up face made me rethink things.

 This is where I am:

I wash my face in oatmeal baby cereal - works like a charm and my skin has never been better, although I have to tell you 58 is the new 58. I have also started to use baby cream and a sunscreen stick from California Baby (so easy to use) with nothing in it I don't want to be absorbed in my skin. I had forgotten that the skin also absorbs, but people I know on "the patch" for smoking, or Mr. Rascal who had a big pain killer patch on his side after his surgery last year, have reminded me.

Oh and the cost per day? About 4 cents.

OK now you have heard everything. 

At least for today.

Monday, May 7, 2012

Style is a verb

The subject line here says pretty much most of what I have to say about style. Let me elaborate anyway.

What does a sewer mean when she says she has lost her style or wants to have more of it? 

That really is the most interesting question.

We are women who generally have tons of clothes (in our closets and in our heads or in various stages in the sewing room) and spend an awful lot of time thinking about things wearable. We should, because we can make what we want and make it fit, feel more stylish than the average bear, but we don't.

Why's that?

I think essentially because we put so much time into making clothes (and surprisingly some of the most stylish garments this season like maxi skirts are a cinch to sew) we think of style as a garment issue. If only we made the right stuff, if only we sewed up that classics or must-have lists (remember my 10 white shirts that stalled around 5?), if only we wardrobe planned enough or did enough style research, we would have style.

I don't think it works like that.

I have gone off all the elaborate advices.

I can analyze my body type all I want and calculate how I am going to maximize this and minimize that, but I don't think I am going to feel stylish - just analytical and tired. 

I can follow all the trends and stay as "on trend" as possible but I am really not sure I want to introduce large amounts of that wanting into my life, that amount of not being satisfied.

A person might want to watch that one a bit, or work hard on enjoying the fun stuff that works and walking by the rest.

OK some "rules" make sense. I think there are a few things to consider.

Scale matters. I caught sight of myself in the mirror recently going out to a formal event with my expensive little clutch.  I looked like a tall woman carrying a pencil case. I threw it out and got a much bigger bag.

But mainly I think we all go wrong trying to chase our style by thinking it's a noun and not a verb.

Style isn't what you buy or make or copy or find by following a prescription.

Really stylish people, the ones you want to be, don't have style.

They are styling.

I learned this from my students. During the occasional tedious group presentation (those happen only rarely of course) I have kept myself entertained looking around the class and thinking, who is the best dressed here? Most students of course have small budgets and tiny wardrobes but even still some of them are really styling.

They have taught me. It's not about what you have but how you put it together.

The putting together and not the components is where it's at. It's an assembly and composition job more than a planning and acquisition task.

It's in the styling that you introduce own self and your own style into the equation. Up to that point it's just stuff.

Listen a few years ago I started to look at fashion magazines and even Burdastyle and tried to imagine what that exact same garment would look like without the accessories, the details.

Try it. It's amazing.

Scroll down this page and look at that Chanel jacket. On a hanger, or posed like I would wear it in my back yard standing stiff in a black skirt, it might look like something you would wear to a church board meeting if you went to one of those kind of churches.

They didn't present it like that did they? The model was not standing in front of a stack of chairs on green linoleum was she?

No, she had on turquoise gloves and a matching motor cycle helmet and well that was one cool looking jacket wasn't it?

I am now going to make a global statement.

I think most sewers under accessorize.  I think if they were smart, smarter than me, they would sew less garments and compose more outfits.

Just like you do for a wedding.

What wedding do you ever go to where you buy a dress and on the day reach for the regular shoes, your pencil case, and the same old earrings? Of course not.

See where I am going here.

What if we spent more time putting every garment into context? Accessorized more. Thought more, sewed less even.

Then would we be styling?

Our own style.

Sunday, May 6, 2012

Thinking about style and just a little more family

I have been thinking for days now about my friend Robin's request for a style blog/inspiration a few days ago on her blog. This really has captured me. I think I will respond to her in a post, rather than a comment. I will write on this tomorrow I think.

In the meantime I have been consulting to my daughter about her own new blog and negotiating the terms of our agreement that I help her with an influx of orders for her baby wipes (if you had told me even 6 months ago that my daughter would be sewing like this I would not have believed you - and I am secretly thrilled.)

Our deal is if she cuts, I will stitch. No explanation necessary.

And finally for all those mothers of flown-the-nesters I have to share this story in this mornings NY Times.

Oh and be assured that my thoughts on style will not involve me volunteering myself as a fashion blogger.  Just refer to my latest collection of Florida shirts.

More later.