Tuesday, December 19, 2023

The Well-Dressed Santa, 1920s edition


Do you lie awake at night, wondering what Santa wore in the 1920s? I have the answer! See the full posting on Unsung Sewing Patterns.

Merry Christmas, everybody. I'll be hibernating until the New Year.

Friday, December 8, 2023

Nice Try


I love the Search feature in Google Photos. It tries so hard. This is one of the photos it showed me when I searched for "gloves." I had even added a description to this photo reading "stockings."

This is the time of year for wool stockings. I knit these years ago, because it is so delightful to have a pair of stockings with secret purple feet.

(But on a serious note, the search results are a good reminder to us that recognition by machines is imperfect.)

Sunday, December 3, 2023

Almost Antiques


Christmas baking started this weekend, and a fair amount of ground nutmeg was required. My nutmeg grater and I aren't officially antiques yet, but we're both headed in that direction, long may it continue. I bought my grater new, about 35 years ago, in Bethlehem Pennsylvania, appropriately enough. I think I paid about $2.00 for it. These little graters were a pretty common item in gift shops in those days. They may still be, if there are still gift shops.

If you're ever in need of a small housewarming gift, a shiny new nutmeg grater and a jar of whole nutmegs might be appreciated.

My Christmas baking requires prodigious amounts of almonds, honey, candied and dried fruit, and chocolate. Some years, this was a significant bump in the grocery budget and I'd start laying in supplies in November. Some years almonds were in short supply. Or candied orange peel. Or the only other person on the planet who needed candied citron got to the grocery store ahead of me and cleaned them out.

Thus far this year there haven't been any hiccups, long may it continue. The lackerli are done, the dough for the pfeffernusse has been made up and is mellowing. Cinnamon stars are next on the list.

Saturday, July 15, 2023

Thoughts While Sewing on a Button

Over the last year or so I've been watching the conversations on the social media sites about the hidden costs of fast fashion, from the exploitation of garment workers to the environmental cost of cheaply-made clothing that ends up in landfills after only a few wearings.

I've never been a fashionable person. I don't have the mind-set for it, and I've never really had the money, so while I can observe the social and advertising pressures that drive people to purchase fast fashion, I don't really understand them.

My parents have vivid memories of the stories the adults in their lives told them of the deprivations of the Great Depression. They also remember the shortages of World War II, so they have a good sense of what you need to get by versus what's nice to have, and they passed this along to their kids. Largely, I buy or make the clothing I need in order to present myself to the world as a decent, rational human being. Now and again I'll buy or make something just for the fun of it and let me tell you, I've gotten a lot of joy out of these garments.

A few weeks ago I lost a button off a shirt I made in 1998 and wore several times a month until quite recently. I had spare buttons put away, so in a couple of minutes one of my favorite shirts was ready to wear again. It's become a little too faded to wear outside the house, but it's fine to wear around the house on a chilly day over a purple t-shirt. And those bright purple grapes just make me so happy.

Should everybody know how to sew on a button? Absolutely. Maybe those little sewing kits we all steal from our hotel rooms should also come with instructions on how to thread a needle, repair a length of hem, and sew on a button. This would be at least as useful as the Gideon Bible.

Should everybody make their own clothes? That's not realistic for a number of reasons. But I think that everybody should know that making clothes is an option. Everybody should know how fabric and clothes are made and how to distinguish good quality.

We've been talking about this for over a hundred years. The book Clothing Choice, Care, Cost was published in 1920 in response to high clothing costs after World War I.

While some of the information is outdated, there is still plenty of good basic information on textiles, fibers, budgeting clothing purchases, and clothing care and repair. 

Possibly the most intriguing idea is that of a Clothing Information Bureau, designed to educate the consumer (pp. 217, 218)

My copy of this book spent some time in the library of the Hudson City YWCA, and it's intriguing to imagine this Y having their own Clothing Information Bureau. Woolman also suggested that department stores could house Clothing Information Bureaus.

There are some significant hurdles to updating the concept of a Clothing Information Bureau to our more-or-less virtual lives today, from the tactile element of fabric, to being able to inspect seam finishes, grain line, and pattern matching.

In what physical space could a Bureau reside? Who gets to decide what information is included, and if it's accurate? But most importantly: is it even feasible to counteract the overwhelming social pressures driving fast fashion?

Monday, July 3, 2023

A Well-oiled Machine


Before I journeyed across the Oregon Trail in May 1997 I sold my treadle sewing machine. Space in the moving van limited and I'd decided that the machine was a Very Bulky Item that I could probably live without. On Independence Day that year I decided to spend the day sewing, using my portable electric machine. A few minutes after I started work, the power went out in my neighborhood, and stayed out until late in the afternoon.

I can take a hint. After that I poked around antique shops regularly and eventually found this nice old Singer 201K treadle machine, manufactured on June 5th 1945, in Clydebank, Scotland. The after-market electric light was a great investment of about $20.00, and with that and a new belt I was set. On a sunny day I could get along just fine, irrespective of the state of the power grid.

The 201K was Singer's top-of-the line machine at the time, and mine soon became my primary sewing machine. The only drawback was buttonholes. I'd worked with aftermarket buttonhole attachments on other machines and they were cumbersome and didn't make terribly nice buttonholes. Sometimes I'd haul out my portable electric machine just to do buttonholes using its 4-step button hole feature. Just as often I'd do them by hand. Or, more accurately, I'd procrastinate doing the buttonholes.

Finally, one year, income tax refund in hand, I bought a new electric sewing machine with a well-regarded buttonhole capability and set aside the 201K.

However, for an upcoming project, the 201K machine is right tool for the job, so I've opened it up and given it a good oiling.

Good quality tools are like good friends - no matter how long it's been since you've seen them, you're delighted to see them again.

Ahhh...the lovely sound of a well-oiled machine!

This well-oiled machine runs so quietly that I can listen to the radio while I sew. You just can't say that about an electric machine.

My recollection is that I bought that can of sewing machine oil at the Woolworths at 11th and Market streets in Philadelphia in the 1970s.

Monday, May 15, 2023

The Annual Rite of the Hose Bits

Last Friday our first heat wave of the season started and to make sure that my garden gets all the water it needs, I conducted the annual Rite of the Hose Bits. Every year I retrieve the Sacred Plastic Tub of Hose Bits, replace all the washers, discover which hose bits have mysteriously broken over the winter and which hoses have sprung leaks, and remember how to program the timer. The Melnor timer that I'm currently using is my favorite yet, with 4 zones, and each zone supporting 4 cycles. So, for example, I use Zone 1 for misting seedlings and young plants twice a day, at 8 am and 7 pm, for 20 minutes. 

Each year I usually find that I'm short a couple of bits that I absolutely, positively need, and this year was no exception. The trip to the hardware store is part of the ritual.

Once I have everything set up the way I think I want it, I test each zone. This always results in me getting soaked. This also is part of the ritual.

I'm proud to say that this year I threw away all the old washers and broken bits rather than absent-mindedly putting them back in the Sacred Tub.

There is a line of gardening hose that's made locally, and it's a great product, though expensive. Each year I replace one of my older hoses with a WaterRight hose. Watering the patio plants with a purple curly hose never fails to entertain me. This year they've added a soaker hose to their product line and it's the best soaker hose I've ever had.

Thursday, May 11, 2023



Physics is proof that God loves us and wants us to apply straight strips of fabric to curved edges.*

Woven cloth is composed of threads on two axes. Let's call them N/S and E/W.  (Technically, they are warp and weft.) If you pull the N/S threads or the E/W threads, there is very little give in the fabric because you're pulling directly on the structure of the fabric.

Bias exploits the weakness of the spaces between the threads. If you pull the NW and SE corners of the fabric - the red arrow - the little square spaces between the threads deform into little parallelogram spaces. (The same applies for the NE/SW bias axis.)

The gray fabric above is a straight strip that has been deformed to lie smoothly along a curved neckline. While a bias strip can be deformed with just the fingers, a little coaxing with a steam iron assures a very smooth curve.

Bias strips can be deformed on both inside and outside curves. In the example below there was a lot of questionable language as I repeatedly steamed my fingers.

Bias tape or binding is available commercially, but only in solid colors, and typically only in a cotton-polyester blend, so I almost always cut my own. I'll cut more than I need for the project at hand, so over time I've developed a nice back stock of bias strips. In many sewing projects, the bias strip isn't visible from the outside of the garment, and it gives me great joy to use several different prints in a single garment.

The edge-stitching in the black example a little wobbly - I'm between cataract surgeries, so I can only really see close work out of one eye.

*I've borrowed liberally from "Beer is proof that God loves us and wants us to be happy," which is wrongly attributed to Benjamin Franklin.

Saturday, April 29, 2023

It is a Truth


It is a truth universally acknowledged that a woman in possession of a tin box of knitting markers will drop the box on a hardwood floor on a day when she's having just a little back trouble.

I'm pretty sure this isn't all of them, but it's all the ones that weren't fast enough to roll off into the darkest, dustiest corners of the sewing room.

Tuesday, April 11, 2023



A year ago I went to a native plant sale and purchased three pots containing a lumpy sort of compost and a promise that they really did contain trillium plants, still dormant. I duly set them out and wasn't terribly surprised when nothing happened.

Until this week. No sign of the other two, but I'm pleased as punch to get even one plant.

Victor is intrigued by the dishwasher, so I let him go exploring, very, very carefully. I can't imagine what the attraction is.

Sunday, March 26, 2023

Let's see - where was I?


What a lot of water under the bridge since my last post! I could trawl through my journals for the last two years and try to pick out the interesting bits to list here, but I think it would be pretty short list.

Let's start afresh. Say hello to my new housemate, Victor Velluto. At the end of December I braved high winds and an atmospheric river event to drive to Seattle to pick up a 12 week old Russian Blue kitten, after being on the waiting list for about three years. He's about doubled in size since then and quadrupled in personality.

As I write this I can hear a few pacific chorus frogs singing. The red-winged blackbirds are quiet for the moment. It's time for me to take a look at the long list of gardening tasks I've been keeping over the winter and start working through them.