Saturday, September 28, 2013

Lovely misfits

I have been praising the existence of misfits lately because my foster daughter, all 67 lbs of her, has become best friends with a towering goddess of a girl, 6 feet tall and probably three times her weight. Her friend takes her to volunteer at the very best of what my neighborhood has to offer, One Heart Equestrian Therapy. The lovely horses there started out as mistreated misfits, and found their niche helping other lovely misfits, who have cerebral palsy and other debilitating disorders, but oh-so winning smiles and laughter.

I have a lot of lovely misfits in my stash, as well. Here is one print I inherited from who-knows-where. It looks kind of 80's-ish, I'm not sure.

I love it, and yet, I have used it in exactly nothing. It is so bold and dark. No other fabric has had the guts to stand up to it. Here it is in closeup with a solid I have also found hard to use. I bought yards and yards of this periwinkle / lavender. I think they may be destined for each other.

Here's my idea. A unique-looking quilt I pinned on Pinterest. I wish I could credit the artist, but the link failed. Unique it is, yet easy to copy and execute!

I imagined the periwinkle for the red, the beautiful floral print as the quilt back (so it can sing its lovely song without competition), and for the patchwork? Another set of lovely misfits, my beiges and off-whites (so unpopular these days!) 

The bonus? I get to use possibly my absolute most-favorite fabric of my stash, a shy but gorgeous fabric that has been waiting more than 10 years (well past its prime) for its moment. Introducing Miss Hyacinth:

I love how Hyacinth's spent (brown) blossoms are part of her beauty. Misfits make the world so beautiful!

Sunday, September 15, 2013

Girl in da House!

I bought fabric here yesterday. But never fear, I'm still "on the wagon"! It's a long story, so let's start from the beginning...

Udderly Quilts and More, 922 Lincoln Way, Nevada, IA
This blog had a secret ulterior motive. On some level it was a prayer for a child. I figured if I emptied my sewing room, perhaps a child would come to live in it. (Never mind that we already have two empty rooms upstairs.) I just wanted to be ready. Then, last Wednesday, a week or so after starting the blog, I got a call. Could we take an emergency foster-care placement that very night? Darn those prayers work quick!

So 13-year-old B. came to our house. She loves being out here in the country. She's bright, fun, talkative--and hungry for one-on-one attention. Our hunger is for a child to give our attention to. (But who are we kidding? We also want a kid's attention to our infinite store of wisdom!)

So, of course, one of the first things I invited B. to do was to pick through my scrap bins. Here are some of the fabrics she chose for the quilt she is now (as I type!) sewing:

This is a pretty diverse scheme, so I figured we needed to find a solid or near-solid to pull it all together. Whatever we needed, it was definitely not in my stash. So I turned to Liz, at Udderly Quilts and More, a brand new store in my little "cow" town.

Liz has many of the same goals I do. Number 1: De-stash (all the fabric in the shop is from her stash). Number 2: Connect with quilters. Not necessarily in that order. I figure, buying a yard or two from her is okay. We're in this together.

So, what do you think can pull together blue, white, red, pink, orange, purple, brown and green? A neutral, you say??? How about the hottest of hot pinks (a vintage fabric from the 60s, at only $6.50 a yard--and prewashed)!

The last step was deciding on the pattern. B. is a beginner, so triangles were out (bias seams are tricky). I chose this simple pattern, as it is so "forgiving". If the blocks don't all turn out exactly the same size, they can easily be trimmed without changing the effect. If things get a little wonky, that just adds to the fun. (On a large scale, this design often has an optical vibration, even without hot pink in its palette.)

B. stitched and ironed all afternoon yesterday. It felt like we had been sharing the sewing room all our lives. Her plan is to finish the quilt today! (all 50-some blocks).

At one point, B. confessed that she had chosen what I would call "conversational" fabrics because she wants friends to come over to her room and give the quilt some attention. Well, by golly, of course she does!

The good news? Emergency respite has turned into an official foster care placement! She'll be here in our home 'til the cows come home. When that will be, we can't venture to guess.

Saturday, September 14, 2013

My Go-To Fabric Source

Posting this entry is a challenge. I have sworn off fabric purchases until my sewing room has been significantly emptied! Still, I want to share with you my preferred fabric site--and as far as I know, everyone's preferred The $10K question: If I go to the site to show off its features, will I encounter an irresistible $4.95 / yard sale? ($4.95 is an outrageously good price. Anything in the $5-$7 range is a good deal, if you like it. If you love it, go ahead an pay full price, $9-$10 on, or $10-$12 at your favorite brick-and-mortar quilt shop.)

Both of these prints are $4.60 on Tempting!
I like buying from, not only because of the fabulous sales, but also because of the great designers whose fabrics they stock. Huge chain stores like Jo-Ann's and Hancock Fabrics have a lot of vertical integration; much of the fabric they sell is made by their company. Their designers are just so-so--and yet the prices are full-scale.

Here are some of the designers I like on Click on their names to see their lines. There's Amy Butler, of course, who has become a household name in fresh, feminine home decorating.

These Amy Butler prints are actually $7.63 / yd. Also somewhat tempting!
Then Kaffe Fassett, whom I've already mentioned, known for his use of saturated colors and intense, primitive garden scenes.

Note how the rulers at the bottom are different size. That means that these fabrics are not, in fact, on the same scale--though they look that way in the photos. You need to pay attention to the rulers and account for the scale when choosing fabric.
Both Amy Butler and Kaffe Fassett (pronounced "Calf FaSET') are part of Westminster Fabrics, a house that works with other exciting designers. Free Spirit is allied with Westminster, and has other good designers like Joel DewberryMichael Miller has a whole stable of anonymous designers, and most of their lines are worth browsing.

Novelty fabric is always a fun category to browse. Of course, if you have a very specific hankering, e.g., for dinosaurs or cherry pie, you can simply do a search and see what comes up.

The kicker? If you spend $35 at, you'll get free shipping.

SECOND WARNING: it is very important to pay attention to the rulers at the bottom of the fabric windows. The website will zoom in or out to make the fabric look good. You need to imagine the print in the size indicated by the ruler.

Now I've told you all my fabric shopping secrets. Please don't abuse it like I have!

Saturday, September 7, 2013

Sew your own g-bag

It's quite simple to make a g-bag. You need very little sewing experience. Just keep in mind the basic sewing mantra: "Right sides together," and give a moment of thought to the larger picture with each seam, and you won't be forced to use your seam ripper too many times!

Start with four 12" x 12" squares, two each of coordinating fabrics. In addition, cut four 12" strips about 2-3" wide, 2 of each fabric. (Note: each piece of fabric in this photo has a second, identical piece underneath it.)


Make two pairs of coordinating strips, composed of one strip of each fabric. Place right sides together and sew a straight 12" seam along the edge.Then, using your iron, press the straps into their final configuration:

Top stitch along both sides of the straps, using a coordinating thread color if possible.


Place right sides together of the 12 x 12" squares of the same fabric. Sew along three edges.

Open up the bag and fold one side seam to align with the bottom seam as shown in the photo below. Notice the 45-degree angles. Pin in place. With a ruler, draw a line perpendicular to the seams at the place where the line is 4" wide.

Do this on both sides, and sew a seam along each line. (For a larger bag with heavier fabric, you would clip the "ears", but I don't bother with the g-bag).

Turn one of the bags right-side-out, and put it inside the other bag, right sides together. Align side seams and lay flat. Then, pin one handle at a time to the top piece only, in the space between the two right sides. Only the ends will stick out; the loops will be hidden. Aim for the outside of the handle being 3" from the side seam. When you are done, there should be four pins attaching each end of each handle to the outer bag.

Sew all the way around the bag opening. Leave a 4 to 6" gap between the start and end of the seam. (At this point I evaluate whether I have to adjust a seam to make the bags "fit" each other. If they don't, reduce the size of the larger side by sewing a second side seam just inside the existing one, angling it down to meet the existing seam. This is called "cheating" or "fudging". It is perfectly fine.)

Turn the bag right side out, tucking one bag inside of the other. Stitch a topstitch seam close to the edge around the entire bag.

And, voila!

Tomorrow, I will give you some ideas about where to obtain the fabrics for your g-bag. By the way, feel free to call it an m-bag, b-bag or k-bag, as the case may be. It's all yours!

Thursday, September 5, 2013

the g-bag

I just got a g-bag order from Wheatsfield, the natural foods co-op in Ames. Here are some of the g-bags I sewed up today from my over-large stash:

I kind of love this combination of cheesy, autumnal farm print with realistic barn-board fabric:

I started wholesaling these reversible gift bags / lunch sacks 3 years ago, in a very modest way. I had been given some gorgeous Kaffe Fassett fabric, and the fabrics looked beautiful together. The relationship between the fabrics is what keeps me interested. Anyway, I wanted to share the color, to create a kind of reservoir of color and pattern at the co-op to feed the eyes of the art-hungry who might be out shopping for essentials.

Some of the g’s go unspoken on the label. There’s “g” for “green”. The g-bag started as a concept for “green” gift packaging. How many times have I tried to save a paper gift bag, and then found it world-weary and inhabited with dust bunnies long before the opportunity for re-use? it might also be a grub-bag or grab-bag.

I later found out “g-bag” was slang for “gang bag”, the tote used for money, drugs and guns. I could only laugh. Somehow I just knew “g-bag” had caché.
Of course, it has caché for me because I am Greta. On her deathbed, my grandmother Dorothy, the formal, rather intimidating matriarch of our family, asked me about myself. I was in my late twenties. I lamely began to explain the topic of the dissertation I was working on. She got impatient, interrupted and insisted, “Who are you?” I mistook the question for a lapse of memory, and said softly, “I’m Greta.”

“And how are you going to say, I am Greta”? she demanded.
This question has haunted me. Those who know me well will smile and understand. I seem to totter between too much and too little ego. Too little ego to craft a coherent persona. Too much not to care whether or not I am noticed.

This is one of the little dilemmas I hope to address in this blog. I. Must. Practice. Not. Checking. [whether you have looked at or "liked" my blog].
Next post: a make-your-own g-bag tutorial!

Monday, September 2, 2013

What's [in] Your Bag?

My visit with S. went well. It was so rewarding to watch her unpack each item. She wanted to wear the stars and stripes on this national holiday, and it fit! Of course, she told everyone  we met that I had made it for her. Here is the bag I put the gifts into:

My mother, a fabulous fabric artist and a wonderful human being, supplied the special-order quotation applique. She makes her own fabric by taking photos of interesting colors, textures and shapes, Xeroxing them onto transfer paper, then affixing them to fabric using a hotpress. As a favor a while back, she transferred some quotes I selected onto fabric. My idea was to sell bags like this one, but I'm not sure people want to "announce their bag" this way.

Between stimulus and response there is a space. In that space is our power to choose our response. In our response lies our growth and our freedom.

We did have one moment in which she was putting up her habitual resistance to parental authority, on the verge of throwing a full-blown oppositional fit. I walked outside, stood stock still, and looked out into the distance.

"If only we could figure out what causes these reactions in you," I said. (Such behavior led to the failure of her last two foster placements, not to mention ours.) Before I knew it she was whimpering on my shoulder. No doubt about her baggage.

But the quote applies to us all. If we could find this space Frankl describes, couldn't we all empty our bags of the childhood survival skills that no longer fit our lives? And wouldn't that lead to even more space for mindfulness, power, freedom and growth?

Sunday, September 1, 2013

Sewing for S.

The reason for this blog.

I never thought that I would be materialistic. But I came to the realization the other day that not only had I filled my sewing room with so much fabric as to inspire dread, but I had come to a dead end in my quest to accumulate life accomplishments. After having suffered repeated failure and loss, I recognize it is time to detach from the notion of "achievement" and begin to accept myself as I am. Welcome to my blog, in which I record the course of my efforts to simplify my life, empty my sewing room, and study Buddhist and other spiritual teachings.

Know well what leads you forward and what hold you back, and choose the path that leads to wisdom.   ~Buddha*

One of the hardest choices of my life so far came after foster-parenting a deeply disturbed teenage girl for 2 1/2 years. I wanted a child; she was childlike. Though we knew her at ages 11, 12, and 13, my husband and I came to suspect she had been affected by alcohol in utero. This blog is not about our past struggle with S., but I begin with her because it was she who led me most deeply into sewing, and because I have used the fantasy of having a sewing business and the “retail therapy” (i.e., fabric purchase) that went with it to fill the void of her absence these past 15 months.
Also, Tuesday is her birthday. I will celebrate it with her tomorrow, Labor Day, at the youth shelter in Sioux City where she is now staying.

Here are two garments I made for S. to kick off my "material detachment", and to take with me tomorrow. The material in the skirt was also used in a dress for her 3 years ago, back when she was a girl size 12. Now S. is a woman, 5’ 10” and probably ~155 lbs. It was her favorite dress for a while, and as a fair-skinned blonde, she looked fantastic in red. The familiar fabrics, I thought, might serve to remind her of happier times. As for the patriotic top (Butterick 5495), S. is as non-conforming as one can get, by biology rather than choice, so if she earns some favorable attention for wearing the stars and stripes, why not?

It was S. who told me I should have a “label”, and that it should be “Greta’s Sewing Room.” We shared a "passion for [her] fashion" and the joy of creation, and it was this intense sharing that I miss and now seek.

*I love that Buddha does not say, “attempt to make the wise choice.” He says take the course that will lead to wisdom. Buddha was not risk-averse.