Archive for April, 2009

June to the rescue

In January I bought a new sewing machine. The mini-machine that I could lift with two fingers and use only for straight stitching suddenly wouldn’t work. Diligent searching on the Web for the simplest machine I could find led me to this one:


The Singer Simple is a very easy to use sewing machine with many features seen on higher end machines.

· 18 stitch patterns including a 1-step buttonhole

· Drop feed

· Needle threader

· Adjustable stitch length

· Free arm with accessory storage (screwdriver, seam guide, seam puller/brush, needles, bobbins, spool holders)

· 4 snap on feet included (ZigZag, Buttonhole, Button, Zipper)

· Dust cover

· Manual in English/French/Spanish

· Easy bobbin winding

· Front loading bobbin

· Horizontal threading

My goodness, 18 stitches! Perish forbid! I didn’t want that complexity. I didn’t want to have to learn how to use it. But, unable to find a simpler machine, I ordered it.

Just now, I noticed that I was supposed to get a dust cover with it.  I didn’t. Since January, it has been parked under my floor stand that holds the Elizabethan panel that I have yet to begin stitching. It’s been there since January, too.  A trash bag keeps the dust off the machine, and a sheet of plastic protects the panel.


Two weeks ago, I needed to alter some clothes—just seams, and decided it was time to use my new machine. For two days, a couple of hours or more each day, I tried to get that machine to stitch—without success. In the end, I did the alterations by hand, in MUCH less time than I’d spent futilely trying to do it by machine. The Singer Simple.

The next time Ann, our housekeeper, came, I asked her, “Do you know anyone who uses a sewing machine?” “Oh, yes,” she replied. “A lady I work for does a lot of sewing, June Parr.”

While Ann was there, I looked up June in our Resident Directory and found her, right address, right person, and even an e-mail address. So naturally I sent her an e-mail. It said, after I introduced myself:

It’s been 30 or 40 years since I’ve used a real sewing machine. In January I replaced the mini-machine I had, that I could lift with two fingers and which sewed only straight lines forward, with the simplest machine I could find–the Singer Simple. But I simply (pun intended) cannot get it to stitch.
Evidence to the contrary, I am not mentally impaired, as you can see if you check my blog (link below) and Ann will vouch for me. I do complex embroidery. Nevertheless, I am completely at a loss as to how to use this machine.
If you would be willing to come show me what I need to do, just to stitch a straight line, I would be very grateful. At any time that is convenient for you.

After Ann asked her whether she had checked her e-mail, June saw my message and phoned me, leaving a message on my answering machine something like this:

“Every time I tried to Reply to your e-mail, I hit Delete; and I’m not mentally impaired either!”

I returned her call and we made a date for her to show me how to use my Simple sewing machine. When she arrived, I had the machine set up on my desk, with a spool of thread and threaded bobbin, all set to go, and the instruction manual with which I had labored.

Without a glance at the manual, June proceeded to thread the machine, apparently exactly as I had done and as the instructions showed.


But then she sewed a line of perfect stitches. How did she do it? I was astonished.

Here’s the secret. Can you see the shiny metal part inside the slit?


The thread, as the arrow shows, must wind around that metal bit. But that bit shows only when the needle is in a certain position. In other words, you have to use the hand-wheel to get the bit into visible position. All I ever saw was this:


Just an empty slot.

Now June, who owns an expensive Bernini and has been sewing and selling her creations for decades, was really impressed by this Simple machine. As she studied the stitch options, she kept exclaiming about what a great little machine this is and how much I would love using all these different stitches.


She also demonstrated how to do blind hemming.


My goodness, no more herringbone hand-stitched hems for me! (If I can actually learn to do it this way.)

Thanks to June, I have done some alterations using the sewing machine. By the way, it has an automatic threader that is a great wonder and so much fun to use. I think I will get to love this machine. And I’ve made a new friend.


June is not very adept at using her computer and the Internet, so I’ve been to her apartment to try to help her.

I think we’ll be seeing more of each other.

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A gift of lace

On Wednesday Gloria gave me this gift of lace.


It had been on the collar and sleeves of a dress she bought in 1941.

In September, 1940, following in the footsteps of two older sisters, Gloria became a freshman at Howard University, in Washington, D.C.

Here she is as a freshman in a portrait taken at the studio of a famous photographer.


According to The Washington Post, “For years in black Washington, having one’s portrait hanging in Scurlock’s window was a sign for all to see that the person had arrived socially.”

Not yet 17, and the last child in her family, she was much younger than her siblings, and her mother dressed her as though she were 12.

This is Gloria at 13, wearing the style of dress her mother favored for her. Notice the puffy sleeves and round collar.


A few years later, in the same style dress, with her mother and sister:


When her mother brought her to the campus, Gloria was wearing a pink, dotted-swiss dress with a bow tied in the back that was as large as the satin bow in her hair, knee-high white socks, and black patent-leather Mary-Janes.

Until then, Gloria’s mother had chosen and bought her clothes, but now that she was away from home at college, she had her first real allowance–$8.00 a week. Naturally, she went shopping with other girls on 14th Street. In one of the shops, she saw a lovely black velveteen dress. It had a collar and puffed sleeves of white-dotted black velveteen, giving a pinafore effect. The lace was the edging on the collar and sleeves. Fortunately, her mother approved of the dress, mainly because she loved the lace. But it was also similar to dresses she had purchased for Gloria.

When she could no longer wear the dress—her first self-bought dress that she remembers with great affection, Gloria was unable to part with the lace, and she has kept it all these years.

Howard University was and is one of the most prestigious historically black educational institutions in this country. For Gloria, it is the family school.  Her grandfather had been part of its early law school though she doesn’t know whether he graduated, and her father had taken some kind of religious course there after graduating from Livingstone College, originally founded as Zion Wesley Institute for the purpose of training A.M.E. Zion ministers.  Not only had two of her sisters graduated from Howard, but the husband of her doctor sister and their two sons, as well.  And an uncle who graduated in the first four-year class in dentistry.

So now I have the lace from Gloria’s dress. What a treasure. Here you can see a bit of it up closer.

Can you see the single petals strewn about?

Notice the raised petal flower:


And this other motif:


Does anyone recognize this lace? How was it made? I know how to make raised, needlelace flowers, but I don’t know how they were incorporated into the lace. Please let me know if you have any ideas about how this lace was made.

When I tried to photograph it against black velveteen, my camera went crazy. Here’s what I got:


It will be such a pleasure to find a use for this lace, and I will be sure to show you what I do with it.

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Sick day

Well, yesterday was a sick day. Not feeling like doing anything at all, I got a surprising sudden urge to do something about an old vest I like a lot that was looking kind of worn.

As some of you know, for as long as I’ve had CFS-ME, and no longer had to wear business suits, I have bought clothing from Marketplace India—clothing made by village women in India. These women are taught to construct and hand embroider clothing, accessories, and home decor items that are sold by catalog and Internet here in the U.S.

From their website, this is their mission statement.


MarketPlace: Handwork of India is an innovative fair trade, not-for-profit organization increasing economic opportunities for low-income women in India and empowering them to bring about changes in their lives, their families and communities. MarketPlace works with 14 co-operatives consisting of 480 artisans in India who produce high-quality women’s apparel and home decor items.

MarketPlace: Handwork of India is not a strategy, a program, or an academic exercise. Rather, it is a way of life that brings about change in the lives of the women artisans, in their families, and in their communities. Earning a living to support their families gives these women the independence and self-confidence to explore different aspects of their lives. They have found the courage to question age-old traditions and beliefs and to develop their own opinions, values and dreams. Combining the old and the new, they have fashioned new lives incorporating self-respect, ambitions, and strength. And at the center of each woman’s new life is family. Above all they will not compromise their absolute belief that they want a better life for their children and that they will do anything in their power to accomplish this.
Their communities benefit, as well. Leadership-building initiatives and decision-making in the workplace have given the artisans the tools and confidence to become social activists. They have tackled such problems as lack of clean water, corrupt shopkeepers, and insufficient garbage collection.

The fabrics these women use are hand-dyed by traditional Indian artisans. (They are not color-fast.) Trained by MarketPlace India, the women construct clothes designed by Westerners using traditional styles, techniques, and motifs, and they hand-embroider them. The stitching is simple and primitive, or perhaps said in a more artsy way—“naive.” It looks very homemade, and I love it.

I have a hard time throwing away any of their clothing, and I have found ways of using some of it when I could no longer wear the item. My old vest came from Marketplace India at least seven or eight years ago. The fabric is still in good condition, but one of the embroidery threads was badly worn. It looked shabby.

So yesterday, not feeling like thinking or working on anything demanding, I simply stitched over the old brown-gold soft Indian cotton thread with DMC #8 pearl cotton, while playing some VHS recordings of PBS programs I’d collected. Now I can record over those tapes. (Easier than recording DVDs.)

Here’s the vest, refurbished.


Here’s a closer look. The label says, “Dignity, not charity.”


And here you can see my stitching—just the gold, chain stitches and stem stitches. The true color is shown in the shot of the whole vest above. This was the only way I could bring out the gold stitching.


Today I feel fine, and my vest looks fine. Glad I got that done.

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My grandson wants to stitch!

On Saturday, my grandson Josh, with his brother Matt (physics guy), came to take me to their house for their grandfather’s birthday celebration. (You’ve seen the card I made for him. Just before I gave it to him, I learned that it was his 82nd birthday, not his 80th, as I had been told.) I wore my embellished jacket because I wanted Matt to see it. Looking at my jacket, as I sat beside him in the passenger seat, Josh said, “I want to do that.”

Oh joy! We are going to stitch together—some day.

Josh will be 17 in July. He got his driver’s license just over a week ago and I was thrilled when he volunteered to pick me up. We talked almost non-stop, Josh and I, on Saturday, finding so many interests in common, making things being only one of them. At his house, Josh showed me the black-and-multi-colored trench coat he had made with duct tape, as well as the vest

Duct tape vest

and the tuxedo jacket.

With duct tape tuxedo

Yes, you got that right: he made them with duct tape. First, he creates sheets of “fabric” by weaving strips of duct tape. Then he cuts out the parts of the garment and tapes them together.

What he aspires to do is to make and embellish his own clothes. He wants to work with textiles– to sew, to tailor, and to embroider. He wants texture on his clothing. Well, he came to the right grandmother, as I struggle to learn highly textured Elizabethan stitchery.

Meanwhile, Josh has made an art form of duct tape. His principle object is the wallet. Some years ago he made himself a wallet with duct tape, and has made others since, ever more sophisticated in their designs. Let me show you one he made for his girlfriend, Kate.

Here’s the front cover of the wallet.

Front cover

Here’s the back cover.

Back cover

When you open it, you see this:

Inside facing

I believe it says, “co-exist.” Notice the symbols used as letters. (Josh is a diversity leader at his school.)

Here’s one side of the money slit:

Money slit right

And here’s the other side:

Money slit left

Pretty neat, wouldn’t you agree? I repeat: It’s all done with duct tape, all of the construction and design, that’s it!

Now here’s one for Obama:


At present, Josh takes commissions from his fellow students and friends for custom-made wallets. Not self-supporting yet, but getting paid for his work.

Also interested in interior design, Josh recently painted one wall of his room. I think he’s already added other decor to the room, but it was too messy for me to see it Saturday. Here’s the one wall, though:


He made the circles by rotating his arm. Said he’d been thinking about it for a long time.

Girlfriend Kate is an impressive young woman herself. She’s an accomplished pianist, studying at the Peabody Prep (where I was once a student) and working on a Bach Invention when I met her. She plans on teaching music. Here she is, with Josh:

Josh and Kate

What a happy grandmother I am!

Oh, by the way, Karl didn’t mind at all that I got the wrong number for his age. I told him that two years from now I’ll make another card for him with 82 on it. We all laughed. He liked the card anyhow.

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Simple card

In contrast to the Elizabethan stitches and fundamental physics and metaphysics I’ve been dealing with, I made this simple card for daughter-in-law Carolyn’s father’s 80th birthday this weekend. It’s just sequins held with beads,  plus French knots and chain stitch in Eterna overdyed silk twist thread on felt. I printed the numeral on cotton, painted it, then ironed it on to the felt, and I painted the ric-rac with the same Dye-Na-Flow Lumiere metallic paint.

The greeting was also printed on cotton and the front and back were fused to Pellon fleece stabilizer with Wonder-Under. To cover the edge, I used Kreinik metallic ribbon. Can you see a glimpse of it at the edges of the front view? The finished card is as firm as cardboard.

Quite a change from what I’ve been doing!

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Modest progress


Huh? Huh? Is that okay? The knotted detached buttonhole stitch, on a practice cloth, using DMC cotton floss.

Now back to the plaited braid stitch. I’m still practicing that stitch on a curve, which is quite different from stitching it in a straight line. I’m going to show you the way I have devised to do this stitching. First of all, Eilzabethan stitching is traditionally worked on a frame held by a stand of some kind, so that you can use both hands for stitching, and so that the fabric will be held constantly taut. For my framed practice cloth, I’ve been using my Sit-on-it frame holder, working in my recliner.


That worked fine for the leaves, but the curved plaited braid stitching was giving me fits. So I took it off the holder and braced it between my knees, making it possible for me to turn the frame as needed. Here’s a glimpse of  me working the plaited braid stitch in this  manner.

The coiling vines are supposed to be 1/8 inch wide. That means very small stitches. Each pretzel-shaped stitch in the line  requires one stitch into the fabric under two threads of the linen, then the needle must pass under the right three threads of gold on the surface of the fabric along the top of the line, and then the needle must pass under the right three gold threads on the surface under the bottom of the line, coming out between two gold threads and over the working thread. The spaces between the gold threads where the needle must pass are almost non-existent.

Although I was wearing magnifying lenses, I found it exceedingly difficult to see exactly where to place the needle under and between the gold thread. Ernie said my nose was about six to eight inches from the fabric. You can see the various contortions I made in order to see where to put the needle. Here’s a closer look.

You can see me adjusting the tension of the gold thread and making spaces for my needle. This metallic braid is very springy. It coils, twists, kinks, and gnarls. I have constantly to straighten it, unkink it, even fight with it. Just letting it dangle, as you can do with cotton or silk threads that become twisted, doesn’t work. This braid is too stiff. Jane herself says, “Kreinik’s Japan Braid #8, used for all the stems and vine lines, tends to become rather ‘kinky’ and stiff as you work with it……difficult to handle.” Understatement.

Here’s a view from behind. You can plainly see the “kinkiness” and “stiffness” of this metallic braid. And how difficult it is for me to find the exact places for the needle to pass under it and to get the needle through them.

It takes me about five minutes to stitch half an inch of vine. It still doesn’t look as pretty as the most accomplished work. In Elizabethan stitches, so many of them raised, spacing and tension are critical; moreover, these must vary when you stitch curving lines and fill curved shapes. To get beautiful, or even acceptable results, it’s not enough to know how to make the stitch. Only by lots of practice can your hands get the technique–the right spacing and tension. It’s like the difference between being able to strike the right notes on a piano and making pleasing music.

I’m not there yet, and may never get there; but, as you can see, I’m still practicing. Here’s the bit of practice vine I was working on.


Still kind of rough. Quoting Jane again: “The finished appearance of this elusive [emphasis mine] stitch is very attractive and well worth the practice, practice, practice it requires to become proficient in working it. ….Do not be surprised if it takes a dozen start-ups before you begin to work out the repetitive movement and what is needed to keep the tension uniform.”

Yesterday I went back to trellis stitch, after the success with the knotted detached buttonhole stitch shown at the top. Not quite there, yet, but I think I’m about ready to start stitching the design.

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Last Saturday, grandson Caleb celebrated his graduation from the University of Washington with a family party outside Seattle. Since I live 3000 miles away, of course I could not be present. But I wanted to celebrate with them. The weekend before the party I made chipotle cheese crackers as my contribution to the potluck supper,


and packed them into a box Caleb had sent to us in

2007, filled with jars of jam and apple butter he had made.

The box:


Now it was going back to him filled with crackers I had made.


The package arrived in time for the party. In addition to the crackers, I sent a letter:


(It is a magnificent accomplishment: Caleb has been self-supporting since he was 18 and has put himself through college.)

a check for $250.00, and the recipe:


But when Caleb opened the package, recognizing the box,


this is what he found:


cracker bits. And no letter, no recipe, no check.

Oh my, frantic e-mails back and forth. He inadvertently threw them out with the brown wrapping paper! So I e-mailed him copies and asked about his PayPal account.

Since Caleb calls me “Gram”, these are (or were!) Gram crackers, of course.

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