Tuesday, March 28, 2023

Floral Set for Fabricville

My latest project for the Fabricville blog is a little different for me - instead of a dress, I made a two piece matching outfit! Now I have separates that I can wear together for the dress feeling, or break apart to wear in other combos. 

I saw this floral rayon online at Fabricville, but the online image was a bit deceiving -- it looked like it was all floral stripes, but when I received it, the stripes ran along either selvedge edge with the centre more of an open floral. If I would have looked more closely at all the images, I could have seen this ahead of time - but I didn't.  Fortunately the print and colours are very cohesive, but it did mean that I had to make some decisions about how to lay out my pattern and how to use the print effectively. I didn't want the wide band of stripes running horizontally at the bottom of the blouse so I held the fabric up to me and asked for some opinions and finally decided that the stripes would run vertically down the right side of the outfit. I usually tend to put decorative elements on the left so it surprised me that this just looked better to have the stripe feature on the right! 

This is a rayon voile, and it's very lightweight and shifty. It is super soft and smooth, and the colours are so wonderful bright and deep against the dark navy background. But it was tricky to cut since it is so slippery and light. I got it cut fairly well, but I am glad that the busy print hides any mild mismatches! 

The blouse, Butterick 6731, was not a complicated project. And I only made a few minor changes. I shortened the body by 1/2", but did not shorten the sleeves at all. I raised the point of the V-neck as I thought it would fall a little low on me, and I'm glad I did. I also narrowed the centre of the neckline and the centre back by 1/4" each. The biggest changes were with the back darts - I found them extremely long so pinned them in to test it out, as I did not think this fabric would appreciate any stitch unpicking. I ended up shortening the upper point by one inch and raising the lower points by 4 inches - I wanted to leave more room across my butt ;)  I then shifted the dart centre to just under halfway between, a touch closer to the lower point. That pulled in the excess across my back but left lots of movement across the hips. Because of this, I also omitted the side zip. I basted the side seam and tried it on to see if it would go on without a zip and it was very easy to do as long as I had the front ties untied. All in all, it took some fiddling but I really love it. It fits nicely and is a super soft and comfortable fabric to wear. 

I added a lightly gathered skirt, using a pattern from my stash, Simplicity 1542 (a pattern I actually bought for the jackets). I thought this skirt had the right shape to go with the blouse. I had to alter this as well; first to add some length to it (3.5") and secondly, recutting the waistband as it is designed to sit 1.5" below the natural waist. I prefer my skirts at my natural waist so altered it to fit at that spot rather than below.

I added a side seam pocket to the right side of the skirt as well - the left has the zip so I didn't bother fussing around with that. I'm right handed so the right pocket is the main one I use anyhow! I was grumbling about the wobbliness of the fabric while cutting and sewing, but I love how it turned out and think this will be a very wearable set. 

Sunday, March 26, 2023

Weekend Review: The Little Ghost Who Was A Quilt


The Little Ghost Who Was A Quilt / Riel Nason
illus. by Byron Eggenschewiler
Toronto: Tundra Books, c2020.
42 p.

This is a sweet picture book about a little ghost who just doesn't fit in with this peers - they (classic sheets) can twirl and float but our little ghost, made of a heavier patchwork quilt, likes to lay himself over clotheslines or chairs since floating is so hot and difficult. 

One Halloween he ends up on a porch railing for a better view, and is mistaken for a blanket -- he's picked up and taken on a trick-or-treating journey. He keeps a little girl warm, gets a little sticky, and escapes late at night when everyone in the house is asleep. His adventures make him the hot topic in his peer group after that! 

This is a gentle tale, and the illustrations match the tone of the story perfectly. The colours are muted, and the images feel a little bit retro. If you're looking for a book that's sweet instead of scary, and you love the idea of a patchwork ghost descended from a checked tablecloth and a lace curtain - well, you'll love this charming story. Great for any bedtime reading for quilters and textile lovers! 

Friday, March 24, 2023

Literary Sewing Circle: Book Talk!

We have jumped right into the Spring 2023 Literary Sewing Circle round! Today's the day for some beginning book talk! How are you doing with the book? Have you started it yet? Finished it? Do you have any reactions you'd like to share? 

Here are a few questions to ponder today and for the next while -- whether you have begun reading, or you've only read blurbs & author interviews so far and still have something to say, join in! Although there might be a few spoilers in the questions and discussion below so if you haven't got too far yet you might want to come back to this post.

I'll add some of my own thoughts and you can reply to them or add your own impressions. If you want to hear other takes on a part of the book that you are curious about, leave your own questions in the comments, too.

1. If you decided to pick up this book and read it for this round, why? Do you usually like slower paced literary fiction, or is this a new genre for you? 

I found this book a few years ago, as the author is a Canadian who is in the same bookish circles online that I'm in. She's known for her essays and poetry, and I really enjoy her writing style. Literary fiction is my usual kind of reading so this one was on my to-read list for a long time.

2. How are finding the style of the book? The story weaves back and forth between past and present with porous boundaries -- did you have any trouble with that technique, or was it enjoyable for you?

I like these kinds of flowing narratives, with memory and story and voices intermingled. Sometimes it takes a second look to see where you're at when the perspective changes, but I thought this style matched the dreamy atmosphere of this book very well. 

3. Anna's textiles that she is collecting for her exhibit lead to many stories and reflections on the past. Are there any textiles in your life that you think would do the same for you?

I always enjoy looking at Ukrainian embroideries and thinking about who made them. But I don't have any personal family heirlooms of this kind. I do have a small afghan my grandma crocheted for me when I was quite young, and always think of her when I use it. And I do love anything from the 40s or earlier, even if they don't have any personal connection, as somehow that age or older feels like it evokes something historical for me. 

4. Margaret is skilled in horse husbandry and is a part of the land she lives on. And when she discovers photography, she finds new elements of her connection to the Nicola Valley. What did you think of her experiences behind a camera? How do you feel her extra talents fit into her story?

I wasn't expecting Margaret's photography to have that extra element to it. It's like she's experiencing what Anna experiences when she handles the museum exhibits. And it brings up older experiences on the land in a visceral way. With the very nature-based, practical focus of the rest of the story, this was an unusual element but I thought it fit with the reflective feel of the whole narrative.

5. Is there a particular character that you found especially compelling? Any themes or symbols that really resonate with you?

Besides our two main characters, I really liked Grandmother Jackson, and also the way that everyone seemed connected/linked in the family. The themes of reflection, memory, almost nostalgia, and the sense of place were all things that I found powerful in this book. The structure of a museum exhibit and the physical items in it leading to stories of the past is something I will always fall for -- my university degree was in history & literature because I love the way that the past and language can work together to create something resonant. 

6. Were you familiar with the historical context of this book? Were there any parts of the story that you found surprising or illuminating?

I was vaguely familiar with the area but learned a LOT about the natural setting of this area through the story. And I enjoyed how historical events like Bill Miner the train robber or Emma Albani's performances were folded in. I wasn't really aware of the Indigenous history of this location and found that it was explored in a way that made me curious to find out more - what happened to the local population when the valley was settled, and things like that. 

7. Is there anything specific  in the book that has sparked an idea for a project yet? Are you mulling over any ideas?

There is a lot of evocative imagery in the story that is sparking some ideas for me. Like others who commented on the last inspiration post, I find the grasslands and the natural world to be such strong images here. I have some general ideas using place names or descriptions in the book but haven't decided on anything yet. The second inspiration post next week will look more at some of the imagery in the story and I might know by then! 

Tuesday, March 21, 2023

Purple Dolman Top for a Retro Feel

This fun top was inspired by the fabric -- I got this soft double sided knit in a fabric swap at my Garment Guild in December. I've been wanting to make an 80s style dolman top ever since! I finally got around to it, and I really like it. I used McCalls 8024, View B -- that's the view with the longest length and sleeve cuffs. The shape is fantastic, just what I was looking for.

I didn't really make many adjustments to this at all. I didn't shorten the body or sleeve at all, the only thing I changed was to narrow the neckline at centre front and back by 1/4" each and shorten the neckband slightly to match. This one cut and sewed up very quickly and easily. 

The only real issue I have with it is that it is a bit staticky so sometimes clings to bits I'd prefer it didn't cling to ;) But I love how the soft knit drapes and how soft it is to wear.

I'm not a huge fan of polka dots, so used the striped side as my main fabric. But then I thought, why not use the dotted side as a contrast, so cut the neckband and cuffs the opposite way. I like it.  But stripes don't like to photograph too well so there are some funny distortions in these photos - and these are the best ones!

This was a fun one to make, and the pattern worked out very well with hardly any adjustments. The fit and natural ease in it are just right - not gigantic but nice and full. I have fulfilled my 80s dreams with this top, and it pairs so well with my thrifted beads! Super fun to make, and really comfy to wear - plus in a colour I love that doesn't show up in my closet enough. A win for sure. 


Sunday, March 19, 2023

Weekend Review: Blueprints of Fashion


Blueprints of Fashion: Home Sewing Patterns of the 1950s / Wade Laboissonniere
Atglen, PA: Schiffer, c1997.
176 p.

This was a fun discovery I made recently via OpenLibrary. It's a history of home sewing patterns, focused on the 50s, created by a man who was a collector and a costumer. It's so pleasing to look through! 

There's text for about half of it, and then images of patterns divided by types of clothing for the second half. It's so great to see all the examples, many of which were patterns I've never seen before. Looking at all the details was entertaining -- although only the front of the pattern envelopes are shown, without many examples of line drawings or pattern information. 

The text consists of some history of how paper patterns were used in schools and in the sewing world in general, specifically in the US. It's really only looking at the US, but still has lots of interesting info. The final bit is a little section on monetary values of patterns, but this book was written in the 90s and that info is now out of date and not very useful other than as historical data. 

I enjoyed reading this, with the details of different pattern brands and how they were marketed and sold to consumers. He goes over which patterns focused on designer knock-offs (the more expensive ones!) and which were more aimed at everyday wear, as well as those made for schools and home ec students. I thought the organization of the book was well done, and I learned about a couple of small, short-lived pattern companies I hadn't known about before. 

A good find and one that will entertain anyone interested in the history of paper patterns, or just in looking at LOTS of full colour pattern envelope images. 

Friday, March 17, 2023

Literary Sewing Circle: Author Feature!


This week we have a special feature: an interview with the author. Theresa Kishkan is both a writer and a sewist, and has shared some of both of those worlds with us. Read on for more!

photo credit Alexandra Bolduc 

1. Welcome, Theresa, and thank you for taking the time to do this interview for the Literary Sewing Circle! Can you tell us a bit about how you came to write Sisters of Grass? What was the genesis of this story?

It’s a pleasure to answer these questions, Melanie. When my children were young, we camped in the Nicola Valley every summer and explored it widely. It interested me in so many ways. The Indigenous and settler histories are entwined, the ecosystem is very lovely, and its social context seemed almost like a microcosm of so much of what our society was grappling with: land use and values, reconciling histories, and so on. I remember driving up onto the Douglas Plateau one October with a picnic and feeling the extraordinary sense of the present and past existing in a series of layers. A truck filled with fly-fishers on their way to the old lodge on Pennask Lake passed us, dust rising from the truck’s wheels while an Indigenous man repaired fences. As I was thinking this, a little herd of horses, turned out after the cattle had all been brought down to their winter quarters, approached us and one of them, a bay mare, came right up to me as though we’d known each other all our lives. The moment shimmered (I can only describe it that way). And in my attempt to write a poem about it, because in those years, I was a poet, I realized I’d need more time, more space (both imaginative and actual; I needed pages...) to write about where the encounter with the lovely horse was taking me. I hadn’t written a novel before and learned as I went along how to shape the narrative, organize elements of plot and so on, but I felt I was so deeply immersed in the place itself that I really just needed to pay attention. I wanted to know what it might have been like to grow up in that area at a time before my own and writing my way into the story was the best way to do this.

2. There is a theme of material history through textiles in this book, as Anna, our modern-day curator, imagines the life of Margaret Stuart a century before. Was museum work something you had training in yourself, or was this interest due to your own experiences with textiles?

I have no training in either museum work or in the conservation of textiles but I’ve always been drawn to women’s textile work and how it is often a way of encoding and preserving history. (I hadn’t yet read Elizabeth Wayland Barber’s Women’s Work: The First 20000 Years but when I did find that book, I realized I was on the right path.) We spent time in the Four Corners area of the US when my husband was a visiting poet at a university there and we visited lots of Indigenous museums with displays of sandals woven of yucca fibre, beadwork, medicine bags beautifully decorated with quills, as well as community museums with the exhibits of a settler past; I loved the samplers, the quilts, the clothing, and the homely objects such as tea towels, often embellished, and tablecloths, etc. I realized that such work is almost subversive, practical and necessary, but also so satisfying to create, communally or individually. It’s a way of passing along knowledge and information.

My daughter, a child when I wrote Sisters of Grass, is a collections manager in a large museum, a position she arrived at circuitously. She was a graduate student in classical studies and worked part-time at a heritage site that had been damaged in a fire. She learned conservation skills and eventually took courses in museum studies and arrived at her current job that way. In many ways she has my alternate life, living in the city where I was raised, working at a museum I’ve always known, and when I visit her, I love spending time in the collections, looking at fragments of early baskets, textiles, and other evidence of women’s work as part of our foundational history.   

I did work for a few hours a week in the Special Collections department at the University of Victoria’s main library when I was an undergraduate student and I remember how exciting it was when a box of materials came from one of the writers whose papers the department collected – Robert Graves, John Betjeman, a few others. These weren’t textiles of course but the materials were eclectic – everything from drafts of poems to shopping lists and correspondence – and often I’d be asked to do a preliminary sorting. I know that Anna would have felt a similar excitement as she gathered materials for her exhibit and I took the opportunity to embed some objects owned by myself or friends into her curatorial findings.

3. The setting of the Nicola Valley is a character in itself in this book. I feel like all your earlier poetry and essays come through in its really beautiful evocation. Do you have any strong feelings about place in forming a person's identity?

I do think we are profoundly shaped by place in ways we understand and also in mysterious ways. I wrote Sisters of Grass in some respects to imagine what it would have been like to have been born in that landscape, in that intersection of history and culture, to have attended services in the Murray Church in the little town of Nicola itself, to have walked through its tiny graveyard and read the names of the dead on the weathered stones and wooden crosses, names that still echo in the valley: the Coutlees, the Lauders, the Guichons. In the most self-serving of ways, writing the novel was an excuse for me to go regularly to the Nicola Valley to visit the archives or to ride in the hills or simply sit on the shores of Nicola Lake with the remnants of kikuli houses around me and dream my way back.

4. Margaret's mother is Indigenous and Margaret has a strong relationship with her grandmother, learning traditional skills based in the landscape. Her character reveals two strands of life in the Valley. Why was it important to you to show both in this particular way?

From my first visit to the Nicola Valley, I began to understand that the Indigenous and settler histories are entwined. The Indigenous history is much older; though the settler history is the one you see as you enter the valley, passing old worn barns, cabins, the gracious hotel at Quilchena, built in anticipation of a railway that was never built. You pass through the Spahomin reserve enroute to the Douglas Lake Ranch, the Lower Nicola reserve if you drive from Spences Bridge to Merritt along a highway that has since been mostly washed away from the atmospheric river weather event of 2021. Higher on hills above the Coldwater River, the Coldwater band has had a village site for thousands of years. In the archival record, Indigenous and settler names show up on school lists, results of horse races, accounts of cattle drives, marriages, and so on. Reading between the lines in books such as Jean Barman’s Sojourning Sisters: The Lives and Letters of Jessie and Annie McQueen reveals a really complex social history in the valley. It was possible to be a cowboy at one of the ranches and also to participate in sacred ceremonies. Chief John Chilihitsa was a prominent Indigenous horse breeder whose animals were sought-after for cavalry and infantry during WW1.Many families married back and forth into both cultures, were both cultures.

Margaret’s life was held in this balance and for me it was a way to honour two strands of valley history as well as to learn more myself about the Indigenous presence and culture(s).

5. Art in many forms is vital to this story, from Grandmother Jackson's baskets, to Emma Albani's singing, to Margaret's own photography. What role does this instinct for art and creativity play in women's lives, both in your fiction and more widely, in your opinion?

I think in a class-conscious society, the women who were encouraged to participate in the arts were often those with money and privilege. But for others, they found ways to make the practical things they did daily, of necessity, a way to explore creativity. Margaret sort of straddled two cultures and had opportunities that were perhaps not available to others. But I imagine other young women in her community – the Indigenous ones as well as the settlers – finding ways to do what they could. The Interior Salish baskets are often works of art – their forms, their imbrication. Yet they were made to be used, beauty yoked to function. Like quilts. An aside: I once went to a quilt show at Kilkenny Castle in Ireland, featuring 19th century quilts. Most of them were made by Anglo-Irish women from the upper class. The quilts were gorgeous – stars and elaborate designs made with silks, velvets, and taffetas. But I lost my heart to a rough well-used log-cabin patchwork made of scraps of sugar sacks, ticking, and what seemed to be pyjama fabric. Each square was lop-sided and the piecework was clumsy but I thought how much pleasure the quilt’s maker had probably taken in her work. That maybe she’d even been a servant in a house with beautiful quilts and she was inspired to try one of her own. In a way it was a subversive act. No one can fault you for sewing and piecing if you’re using scraps and rags and if the project has practical intent. She might have known that it would have lasting plain beauty as well.

My older son worked for a few years at the History Museum in Gatineau (he’s a historian and was hired to develop exhibits for the 150th anniversary of Confederation) and when we visited while he was there, he arranged for me to have a tour of the textiles collection. What an amazing wealth of (mostly) women’s work! Hooked rugs, Red Cross quilts created for displaced people in WW2, clothing, flags and banners, the most beautiful and astonishing material archive. I think I draw on that tour and subsequent visits to the curatorial wing of the Museum in more ways than I know.

In my writing, I sometimes let my characters do things I can’t even begin to do myself. They’re painters sometimes (Winter Wren and my work-in-progress) or singers (one character in The Age of Water Lilies) or curators (Anna in Sisters of Grass). It’s a chance to live vicariously...


5. As someone who is involved in sewing and needlework yourself, do you see a connection between the making involved in textiles and in writing? Do they inform one another for you? If so, how?

I’ve always said (and I believe it’s true for me) that I don’t see a hierarchy in my own creative pursuits, that they feel like part of living an integrated life. Sewing, writing, gardening, simple book designing (I run a small micro-press with a publishing partner, Anik See, showcasing literary novellas) – they are all very satisfying. I’m better at some of these things than others but I still find myself drawn to one or another for reasons I don’t always understand. Sometimes when I’m stuck with something in a writing project, I pick up a quilt; I’ll often find that the meditative work of sewing allows me to untangle issues in my writing.

Recently someone asked me when I began to write seriously and I guess I was in my early 20s but as far back as I can remember, I felt compelled to write things down. I’d feel such an urgency to make stories of things I loved and wanted to remember, though I’d often not complete them because I didn’t have the vocabulary I knew even then I needed to make the thing true. Didn’t know to progress beyond the initial description. And I also felt a similar urgency to make things with my hands, out of wood or fabric, even though I came from a family without any interest in such things, so there wasn’t much encouragement. It wasn’t until much later that I saw how I could put that urgency and interest to good use and with the guidance of a couple of really good teachers, in high school and at university, I learned to take myself and this work more seriously.

6. I know that like the readers in the Literary Sewing Circle, you are also a sewist and stitcher, with a wide range of interests. What are some of your favourite creations, and where can people find out more about your creative pursuits?

I’ve always sewn in a practical way – curtains, mending, basic clothing (though I wasn’t very good at that; too careless...). I began quilting about 35 years ago after sorting some fabric and suddenly seeing harmonies in several of the pieces. I cut out squares in a sort of heat of inspiration, though most of them were a bit lopsided, and sewed them together in courses, figuring things out as I went along. I can’t say the result was beautiful, though one of my sons requested that I leave it to him in my will—my response was to make a few simple repairs and give it to him then-- but I learned so much and it ignited a passion which has endured to this day. I love the process even more than the finished result. I have a big wicker rocking chair in the kitchen by our woodstove and I keep a quilting basket near so that any time I have a little time, I sit and quilt. It’s very meditative for me—the feeling of the fabric under my hands, the way quilting itself creates texture. I almost always have two quilts in progress at once so that I can switch to keep things interesting.

 About 20 years ago I began to do some indigo dye work too, trying out various shibori techniques and discovered the extraordinary Yoshiko Iwamoto Wada’s book on shibori: “When the cloth is returned to its two-dimensional form, the design that emerges is the result of the three-dimensional shape, the type of resist, and the amount of pressure exerted by the thread or clamp that secured the piece during the cloth’s exposure to the dye. The cloth sensitively records both the shape and the pressure; it is the “memory” of the shape that remains imprinted in the cloth. This is the essence of shibori.” I think quilting in general and the craft of shibori specifically is about memory, how we imagine our work before and as we do it, how design can be a metaphor for containing unruly thinking, how our lives are somehow embedded in what we do. My quilts are often a way of figuring out a difficult issue or a solace during times of sorrow or a means to explore colour, texture, and the nature of love. They extend my interests in geography and mapping, in salmon cycles, working out representative geometry for house-building, and I’m always thinking of ways to add something new to the process.

I’ve written about quilting and indigo dye work, most recently in Blue Portugal & Other Essays, published in the spring of 2022 by the University of Alberta Press. There are essays about quilting in earlier books too – Phantom Limb, Red Laredo Boots, and Euclid’s Orchard. The title essay in Euclid’s Orchard is about the creation and abandonment of an orchard, mathematics, coyote song, and quilting as a way to communicate with my younger son whose personal trajectory took him far from home. (I made him a quilt based on the essay and describe the making of it in the piece.) My novella Patrin is in part about a quilt that is also a map, a map of a family’s history. I also write about quilting from time to time on my blog.

7. Are you working on anything else that you'd like to share right now?

I have a long essay forthcoming in Sharp Notions: Essays on the Stitching Life about working on quilts as I helped my husband recover from bilateral hip replacement surgery in 2020. During his surgery, which was successful, he sustained a compression injury to his sciatic-peroneal nerve which resulted in a paralyzed foot. It was a difficult time for both of us; it was during the first year of the pandemic; we were advised to consider him immunocompromised, so we couldn’t ask others for help, apart from health professionals; and while he healed, I sewed, and we both worked together on his therapy. There were many correlations between the seams I was making and the (partial) regeneration of his peroneal nerve. The story has a mostly happy ending in that he’s made a pretty good recovery, has about 80% use of the damaged foot, and we learned things about ourselves and our capacity for figuring out how to face difficult things. I’m also working on a novel set in a small fishing village, based on my own community, and there are quilters in it, knitters, and an artist who uses both paint and textiles to bring her dreams to life.


Thank you for sharing some of your writing and sewing journeys with us, Theresa! It all sounds so thoughtful, and I can't wait to read your upcoming work. We hope you'll enjoy seeing the projects we make inspired by your writing. 

You can find out more about Theresa here: 



Wednesday, March 15, 2023

Sweater Knit Skirt with Butterick 6525

After I made my Burda sweater recently, I had enough fabric left over to cut out a skirt. I didn't want to waste any of this fabric, so before putting the fabric away I found a suitable skirt pattern to try out! 

I have had Butterick 6525 in my stash for a while; I bought it for the dress view. However, the skirt included is a quick pull-on, elastic waist style, which was also just the right size for my leftovers. So I cut it out, with a few alterations. 

I didn't really like the hemline style -- so I left the hem straight but marked the curved lines on the fabric in case I changed my mind and wanted to follow them. Once it was done I really liked the straight hem so pulled out my thread markings and left it plain. 

I also used only one piece of 1/2" wide elastic at the waist instead of making two narrow channels. This fabric was just a little too squidgy to easily sew two neat channels and I didn't feel like futzing around too much! 

And then I also added some side seam pockets. Of course! I cut the pockets out of some black broadcloth, and made sure that the tops of the pocket bags were secured into the stitching when I folded the waist casing down. That way they are anchored neatly and always stay put in the front of the skirt. 

This is a very basic skirt, and I've made it even more basic by leaving out the hem detail. However, I really like the fit, and the gathering is just the right amount, not too bulky at all. It's very comfy and cozy -- I just hope there isn't too much stretching out of shape as it's worn. Sweater knit isn't really known for its recovery. Still, I thought I'd give it a try and get another wardrobe item out of this fabric. I'm pleased with it and think this will get a fair amount of wear. Now to make the other items in this pattern!