Sunday, November 24, 2013

Cat Tales: Lily

Hmm. What to say about Lily?

A lot of Lily's personality can be summed up from these photos - she does spend a lot of time looking down her nose, judging the other cats and finding them lacking.  She's the oldest cat now that Max is gone, Queen of the house of you ask her.

Probably if you ask me, too.  Her full name is Princess Tiger Lily, because when I got her, as a skinny nursing outdoor mom cat whose kittens had died in a heat wave, she was still ridiculously regal.  (Max tried to nurse on her and found out that queens, no matter what their condition, can rabbit kick pretty hard if you treat them like a soda fountain).

Lily's 14 now, the official sewing room mascot.  She also spends a lot of time with Mario in his office because what she likes more than almost anything else is being an only cat. And that's a situation in our house that's pretty hard to come by.

Lily and I have had our ups and downs over the years.  We haven't always been friends.  Her standard reaction to people for the longest time was to give them the long stare down the nose, turn her back and flip her tail up - a very obvious feline giving of the bird.

She's mellowed.

She also knows she's special.  She gets to nap on the fabric scraps, bat spools of thread around on the floor, and because she's skinny, she gets wet food twice a day and any people scraps she's willing to eat.  The skinniness is just age - and since she's a little arthritic, I figure being a bit lightweight is easier on her than being a chunk like most of my other cats.

We're coming close to the end of the pack here.  Thankfully, we're also coming close to the end of the year and craft show season - which means I'll be able to sew for myself some time very soon!

And Lily will supervise.

Friday, November 22, 2013


Monday, November 25, 2013 has been declared Handmade Monday! Handmade sellers all around the world will be celebrating with sales and promotions! Do you support artists and craftspeople?  Pledge to shop on Handmade Monday!

There's already Black Friday, Small Business Saturday and Cyber Monday AFTER Thanksgiving, but handmade artists are taking the Monday BEFORE Thanksgiving as THEIR day. Support handmade sellers!

I'm offering a coupon code in my shop - HANDMADEMONDAY10 - for 10% off any purchase over $15.  The coupon code is good on 11/25/2013 ONLY.

Wednesday, November 20, 2013

Sweater Mitten Tutorial

I had a request for a tutorial on how to make my new favorite item, the recycled sweater mittens.  Here goes; if I'm not clear on any point, please leave a comment and I'll be happy to come back and clarify.

The pattern is very simple, only three pieces: a top side, a lower bottom (with thumb) and an upper bottom (also with thumb).  The two under sides get sewn across, making a center palm seam which also encompasses the thumb, giving it free movement.  Then the flat underside gets sewn to the upper side, pressed, turned and pressed again.

There are loads of similar patterns online.  Since I don't have a printer at home, I just browsed the internets for ideas, then made my own pattern based on the shape of a pair of mittens I had.  The only odd part was getting that palm seam placement, but it worked.

This looks better with a dark or patterned sweater - the palm seam is very obvious on this light green, but then again, I want it to be obvious so you can see what I'm doing.  So there.

The two most important things you need for these mittens are a wool sweater, which either you have felted or some helpful thrift store donor has felted for you, and a very hot steam iron.  Steam is crucial in getting shape to your mittens, and also for getting the seams flat enough.  You don't need any special equipment; this might be easier and/or neater with a serger, but I don't have one.

Cut the upper side and the lower under side pieces, using the band of the sweater.  This will make the cuffs of your  mittens.  I like to cut them a little longer because I like my mittens to fit snugly up under my sleeves.  You may have to adjust the width of your band depending on its stretch; it won't likely be too tight, but it may be too loose and you may have to bring it in.  Cut two top sides, which will be identical, and two under sides, which will be left and right.

If you're making more than one set (you can generally get two sets from a sweater, if not three - but that's difficult; I have a hard time finding plus size wool sweaters), cut all those band pieces first.  The upper part of the under side can be cut from another part of the sweater.  I generally use the sleeves for this, since I try to get a stuffed animal or something from the remaining sweater body.  Greedy or thrifty, I'm not sure which.  The uppers are also cut left and right, following the grain of the sweater.

Press everything so that it's nice and flat.  Then pin your two undersides together at the center palm seam, from the base of the thumb across to the inside edge of the hand.  Stitch from one side to the other, taking care to give yourself a nice sharp corner where the palm meets the thumb.  Trim the seam, zigzag it for security and then press it, on hot, with the seam and the thumb facing up.

Pin the under side to the upper, thumb side facing up.  Pin your way around the curve of the mitten until you get to the thumb area.  Making sure that the edge of the thumb seam is caught in the side seam, but that the thumb itself is still flexible, pin all the way to the bottom of the band.  If you can, gingerly fit your hand inside the inside-out mitten to check the fit of the band.  If it needs taking in, it's easier to do it now.

Stitch around the mitten, following your pins.  Again, trim the seam and zigzag it, then press it again.  Turn the mitten right side out, reshape as needed, and steam it one last time.

And there you have it - warm woolen mittens made from someone else's discards.  Suddenly, putting that sweater in the hot dryer with your jeans might no longer be quite the tragedy it once was.

Happy making!  I'd love to hear about your results.

Sunday, November 17, 2013

Get your Christmas shopping done early

Gifts in the Galleries took place on Friday and Saturday in an exhibition space at the University of Pennsylvania Museum of Anthropology and Archaeology.  It's a great big beautiful space, full of huge windows and light and tile floors that echo everywhere.

There were 50 vendors, side-by-side down a long gallery, through another big light-filled room and then onto a third room with a stage at the end where live music was performed throughout the two day event.  There was a table of sandwiches and snacks, and even a small bar.  (Shopping with beer -- something to be highly encouraged, as long as they don't spill!)

Though it was very well publicized, and got a lot of press, it wasn't well attended.

On the other hand, it seemed like most of the attendees stopped at my table.  Quite a few of them even bought something!

It was hard in the beginning of this, doing sales and talking to the public, but I've gotten more comfortable with it.  I spend so much time alone with my sewing machine, it's really gotten to be fun to interact with people and watch them react to my work, hear their comments and suggestions.  I've gotten quite a few ideas from talking to people at shows, so I always listen (and sometimes eavesdrop).

My newest item, the recycled sweater mittens, were the hit of the show.  I only had 6 pair, and I sold 2 on the first day.  On Saturday, the last 4 pair were gone by noon.  When I got home on Friday evening, I cut out a few more pair, but then I fell asleep on the couch.  So much for good intentions.

I only have a few shows left before the holiday -- a two-week-long event at my local Arts League starting on December 6th; a one-day event on December 7th; and one more on December 14th.  Right now I think I'm good on most of my pieces, but I'm going to make a big pile of mittens and a few more knit critters to get me through the shows to come.

Thursday, November 14, 2013

Everyone should have warm hands

Apparently felted wool sweaters are good for more than just stuffed animals.

But if I cut carefully, I can still get a stuffed animal or two out of the remaining fabric after I cut off the lower portion to make . . . mittens!

I made a pair for myself recently, just to see if I could, and then it got cold. Other than for typing and sewing, I haven't taken them off - my hands haven't been this toasty in ages, and the snug sweater band cuff means that the most important half inch of skin ever (that bit that always gets exposed between your glove and your jacket) is actually staying covered.

So I made a load of them for the craft show this weekend.  Everyone should have warm hands.

Wednesday, November 13, 2013

Contents under pressure

In case you've ever wondered, this is what happens when you open a ten pound box of fiberfill.

Were you one of those children who felt the need to unzip their bean bag chair to see what happened?

It's kind of like that.

You can't get this genie back in the bottle.

Monday, November 11, 2013

Saturday, November 9, 2013

I'm not Worthy

I just sold 4 Christmas stockings to Kathleen Fasanella, the woman who changed my sewing life with one blog post.

I'm so not worthy.

Thank you, Kathleen.  For the purchase and the blog post.  One of these days I'll even get back to setting in sleeves.  I have great plans for January.

Friday, November 8, 2013

Cat Tales: Ozzie

This is Ozzie.

Ozzie was actually born in the house. I picked up his mom, Sabrina, off the front porch and had intended to pass her along to a friend after getting her initial vet checkup.  I thought she looked a little bit pregnant, and passed that info along to the vet.  Vet said that would be no problem, just to bring her in. That was on Saturday; her appointment was for Monday.

On Sunday, she gave birth to one kitten, Ozzie.  Being very young herself, she didn't much know what to do with him.  She sat on his head a lot, and left him on the wrong side of the room until he cried.

We ended up bottle feeding him and keeping him clean, and Sabrina moved on earlier than expected to her new home because she just got in the way of kitten care.

Baby Ozzie
Ozzie's not the brightest of cats; I think she did some damage with all that head-sitting.  He sits with his head cocked quite often, like he's trying to understand what's going on but it just doesn't make any sense.  He's a big boy, but gentle as they come and scared of his own shadow.

He spends a lot of time with Archie in the front room.  My two big boys, sitting in the front window and watching the neighborhood go by.  Ozzie, despite his meekness with us, is a ferocious guard kitty and freaks out and howls and throws himself at the window when an outside cat dares to approach the porch.  Of course, if there wasn't glass or a screen between him and that other cat, he'd probably wet himself with terror.

Thursday, November 7, 2013


For those who pay attention, there's a new tab at the top of the blog.  I tried to clean up the living room tonight and realized I have no shelf space left for books.  And I have more books.

Hard as it is, I went through the sewing books and culled a stack.  Some are duplicates, some just aren't relevant (quilting, anyone?) and some, while good, are duplicative of other books in the collection and I've just kept my favorites.

So head on over and pick up a few bargains!  They're priced to sell, and if you want more than one, I'm more than happy to make a deal.  Just leave a comment on the book sale page or email me at sewingbytheseatofmypants @ gmail . com and let me know what you're interested in.

Happy shopping!

Wednesday, November 6, 2013

A trip to the apothecary

I started these embroidered apothecary label motifs back in the spring, just for fun.  I didn't know what I was going to do with them.

Then, in the summer, I got the bright idea to put them on bottles.  (That had something to do with finding a really cool pair of purple cotton velvet pants at the thrift store).

Idea stalled again, then I decided that they needed to be pillows, and scrounged through the remnants for something I had enough of to make 4 pillows.

Stall again, until yesterday, when I finally cleaned my workroom -- I can see floor!! -- and found the motifs, velvet bottles and olive green linen sitting neatly together, out of sight and out of mind.

Listed here.

Monday, November 4, 2013

Cat Tales: Bear

This is Bear.

Bear hates me.  I don't take it personally; Bear hates everybody.  She's not even fond of other cats.

When I brought her in as a kitten, maybe 3 months old, she was a sweetheart.  She purred and nuzzled and liked her belly rubbed.

She stayed in the guest bathroom for a while, until she had all her shots and the other cats became accustomed to her, and then I let her out.

What I think happened was that the other cats said, "Hey, you know what?  She feeds us even when we're not nice."  And Bear took that as a direction to never, ever be nice again.

She liked Max.  He was the only cat she ever really interacted with.  Now that he's gone, she's warmed up to Harriet some, and every once in a while I'm now allowed to touch the top of her head while she's eating her wet food.  She growls quietly, but she doesn't stop chewing.

My great hope is that someday I'll be able to comb her, because since she doesn't groom herself (Max always did it), her fur is standing up in big chunks and mats.  I just pulled a mat off her back that was literally the size and shape of a sandwich.  All I really want to do is shave her bald and start fresh, but I think if I tried that, I'd need reconstructive surgery on my hands.  And arms.  (If she doesn't get brushed, you know her nails don't get cut either).

Maybe someday she'll even like me.

But I doubt it.

Fighting with Fabric

I'm sharing these from the Etsy shop because I know that sewists everywhere can feel my pain.

These 5 bears were a custom order.  The buyer said that her mother had recently passed away, after being housebound for over a year.

While housebound, she wore what the buyer called "polyester loungers."  I don't know if everyone thinks the same thing when they hear those words, but an elderly, housebound woman in my family would have been wearing pink or butter yellow spongy polyester with little flowers or bunnies on it.

When she said that, I quaked.  When a very small package arrived in the mail, I was puzzled.  Then I opened it.  Her mom was not that polyester lounger lady.  She wore polyester charmeuse caftans - the box contained one with a blocky, jewel-toned animal print, another in turquoise with red, gold and magenta peacocks, and a third in emerald green and bright blue with gold scrolls, cherubs and leaves.

Beautiful for scarves.  Pretty for blouses.  Pretty damned glamorous for a housebound woman.  But to sew with?  Slippery as hell, let me tell you.  And every seam that had to be stitched shut after stuffing had to be interfaced first so it wouldn't self-destruct.

But in the end, I'm really happy with them.  Not as happy as the buyer will be - I sent her a photo and she's literally jumping up and down to get her hands on them - but happy that I survived working with such a tricky fabric.

It really makes me appreciate wool.

Jewel Box Bears

The set of 5 memory bears is finished and will soon be off to their new owners - well before the mid-November deadline!

I sent a photo of the first bear to the buyer, and got this in response:  "I can't wait to give these out!!!  I think there will definitely be some tears shed."

When I started this project, I was a little hesitant -- the bright colors, the vivid prints, the slippery fabrics --  but as I went on, I began to enjoy them more and more.

I started with what I thought of as the "easiest" fabric - the colorful blocks with animal print, and worked my way to the most difficult, through the turquoise peacock print with its swirling magenta, red and blue feathers, and in the end, the blue, green and gold "cherub" print.  This one stumped me for a bit, since the caftan was wide bands of green and blue, with strips of black in between.  There was no real way to use both colors/prints in the same piece, because of the black, so I settled on a green body and head, with blue arms, legs, ears and central forehead piece.

All 5 bears have black faceted button eyes.  These really add something in my view, because I look at these bears and think of jewelry strewn on a bed, magically turned into shiny, special memory bears.

These are so much more than they started out being.  I hope their new owners will love them as much as I enjoyed making them.