European Inspiration: Ireland and the English Countryside

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I promised you some photos from our trip that we recently took early this fall, and whew… there are so many photos. About 2,000 actually, but I won’t make you look through all of them! I will definitely share a lot of the garments and costumes with you that I saw, because they were all incredible, but here’s a look at how our trip started out.

We began by flying from Portland to Chicago and then to Dublin, Ireland. We landed at 8:00 AM, and even though we didn’t really sleep on the plane like we were hoping to, we were excited to get going and headed straight out after dropping our bags off at our B&B. Our taxi driver, who was literally the oldest cabbie in all of Dublin (he was very proud of that) told us to head to the Temple Bar area. It was easy to walk to and right around a few other sights we wanted to see.DublinCityThe little streets and shops were adorable, and I couldn’t get enough of listening to everyone talk. I tried my best to not speak with an Irish accent, but it’s so hard when it’s all around you! We walked around, had a pint of Guinness and then found Dublin Castle and St. Steven’s Green, a lovely Victorian park. Next we went to Trinity College to see the Book of Kells and the library, which was amazing.



The ceiling of the library caught my eye. The curved roofline and the light playing off of the wood slats created a really beautiful ombre effect. DublinLongRoomCeilingAfter a bit more walking, we crashed. Our brains were buzzing and we knew we couldn’t make it much longer without some sleep. As much as people tell you to power through the time change, whoa. That was not going to happen. A 2-hour nap was required, and then we went out for dinner and walked around a bit more. I fell in love with all of the painted doors. If you only have one way to differentiate your house from all the others in a long row, I guess that’s it! It was quite colorful and very charming to see street after street of brightly lacquered entrances.DublindoorsWe only had one day in Dublin, and the next morning we flew to Glasgow. It was a quick trip and once we were there, we picked up our rental car. This is where I started to get nervous. Rob was doing all of the driving, but if you were expecting me to not panic about riding on the opposite side of road, then you were wrong. I did my best to close my eyes and not make comments, squeals and sudden “oh-my-gosh-we’re-going-to-die” noises, but it happened. Luckily, Rob is used to ignoring me while driving, and once we were on the highway it felt just fine. It actually made more sense, if anything. Cars merged with no problem, traffic circles/roundabouts ACTUALLY WORKED and everything went smoothly.

Our first stop was the city center of Glasgow, where we had lunch and, of course, walked around. I saw very tall towers and marched towards them, to find the University of Glasgow.


The main campus we saw has only been there since 1870, but the college was founded in 1451. I’m not shy about waltzing into buildings that I know nothing about, so we found a church, some offices, and eventually the Huntarian museum, which was quite a treat. The daylight was beginning to wain though, so we headed to Embsay, where we had reserved a room in a little English countryside cottage.

Do you know how long I’ve wanted to go to England and stay on a sheep farm? I could hardly sit still. Sheep! England! Tea! Sheep! Our GPS took us on a very, very narrow road into the little village of Embsay, which looked like a painting. Small stone houses, two pubs and winding roads were surrounded by vast green patches of land, dotted with white specks of grazing sheep and divided with stone walls.

England-sheepIt was so beautiful. We pulled up to our cottage when the sky was dimming and full of deep gray-blue clouds, and everything had a foggy, eery cast to it. It felt exactly like a rainy Portland evening.

England-cottageI couldn’t even stand still long enough to take a centered photo of our bed and breakfast. I was so happy and excited to be there!

The house was exactly as I had pictured it would be, and the owner, Liz, was so very kind. She cooked beautiful breakfasts for us every day, and told us stories about the area by the fireplace at night. Her two Labradors were as sweet as could be and I loved every second of petting them. And in the mornings, I got to walk out and try to convince the sheep to let me pet them as well, like a crazy woman. How could I not?!


England-sheep2They never fell for it. Not once. I don’t care though. I would haven’t trusted someone as excited as me either. I’m sure Liz laughed and shook her head at me, but I had to at least try!

The town of Skipton was near our little cottage, so one morning we headed out to see what was there. Just more adorable little buildings and cute shops, of course! We wandered around a market, looked in a few shops and then headed up the road to Skipton Castle.


The castle is over 900 years old and is one of the best-preserved medieval castles in England. You can walk all over it, from the bed chambers and banquet hall, to the kitchens and the dungeon. The yew tree in the middle of the courtyard was planted in 1659 by Lady Anne Clifford, who was born there in 1590.

England-SkiptonCastleAfter our tour of the castle we drove over to Bolton Abbey, which is owned by the Duke of Devonshire. A hole in a tall stone wall showed us a magnificent view of the cow field we had to walk through to get to the abbey ruins. Go ahead and click that photo to get the full effect of those rolling hills!England-Bolton1A group of school children were on their way to the abbey, so we decided to take a hike around the property and save the abbey for last. We saw a pheasant, more amazing views of the countryside, and a peculiar tree on the trail that was completely covered in coins. I have no idea what the meaning of it all was, but it was certainly interesting.


The walk took us on a long circle up a hill, across a river, and straight up to an ice cream shop. How handy! Next door was the cutest little house ever, and I labeled it as my “someday I will build that in the woods of Oregon and everyone will think it’s haunted” house.


And then more fields and more cows…


…until we reached the abbey herself.
England-Bolton5The history of the abbey is quite extensive, and a kind tour guide told us all about it. Being in a place that was started in 1120 felt unreal. The amount of history within those walls was astonishing.

We were pretty tired from hiking and walking around all day and decided to head back to Embsay to get ready for dinner. The sights on the way home forced us to pull over and take another look around though. Plus, this guy looked so handsome against that backdrop, I couldn’t help myself but snap his picture.

The next day we took a trip to York. The ringing of bells lead us to York Minster, where we spent the majority of our morning. The church was started as a wooden structure in 627, but the present building wasn’t completed until 1472. It is a massive structure of white limestone, and it towers above every other building.


My favorite part of the church was not climbing up to the top of the main tower (oh, my poor legs) but looking straight up at the ceiling of the Chapter House. I saw a giant quilt waiting to be appliquéd!

England-YorkMinster1There were many examples of exquisite hand work that I noticed. This little crewel wool tiger certainly stood out and caught my eye.


The city of York had miles of streets that jutted out from around the church. The timbered houses labeled with dates like 1437 leaned precariously over the cobbled streets, and the shops on their bottom floors were often made up of many tiny rooms. We ended up buying sweaters because it was much colder than we had anticipated, and after purchasing those we got back in the car to drive to Leeds.

The only reason we decided to go to Leeds was to eat at Prashad. Wow, was it worth it! If you love vegetarian Indian cuisine, you must check it out. It was amazing, and we brought home a cookbook to try to make the recipes ourselves.


After a beautiful sunrise the next morning, and bit of time relaxing and journaling, we set out for London, which I’ll continue with in another post. There’s so much more to share!

Tips for Defeating Project Overload

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I should know better than to leave soft sweater knits laying on my cutting table for more than two minutes with a cat around.

My last post on fabric stashes and their effect on creativity was something that I thought about a lot this last week. There were so many good comments on that post, and it was really nice to know that I’m not alone. One comment in particular, from Julie, got me thinking of sharing a few thoughts and tips of my own that help me to get through times that feel creatively challenging. If you have some of your own, please add them in the comments! I always love hearing how someone else works towards a more productive and happy sewing/knitting/crafting life.

The way that you choose to do this is up to you. I made a list on my computer that broke my projects down into six categories. Yes, these are my actual category names:

  • In-process items to finish: These are those half-done WIP’s that you lost steam on along the way. As you find and list them, think about your feelings towards each project. Is is unfinished because you decided you hated it? Then throw it away! If you won’t like the finished garment, there’s no reason to waste your precious crafting time to finish it, no matter how much time you’ve already poured into it.
  • Items I have the fabric and pattern for: Once I finish up items from the first list, I can move on to anything under this category, because I have everything I need to start and finish them. It can be a good idea to bundle the notions, pattern and yardage all together so they’re easy to grab and get started on.
  • Items that I have the materials and idea for, but no pattern: That fabric yardage or yarn that you bought because a brilliant idea popped into your head when you saw it? That goes here. I like to write down the yardage I have, and also the idea, so no matter if I end up buying the pattern or making it, I don’t have to question how much I have. Going back to measure the yardage slows you down! As you buy patterns, you can move fabric from this list up to the next category.
  • Items I have the pattern for, but no fabric: Let’s say you want to make a few more shirts from your lovely Renfrew pattern or a couple of tank tops. Whenever you have the itch to buy fabric, look for fabrics that you can use with patterns you’ve already tried and love, so that it doesn’t sit there, unused. By relying on already tried-and-true patterns, you’ll be more likely to dive in and finish your project, since you know you’ll like how it turns out. As you buy fabric, you can bundle it up with the pattern and move it on up the list!
  • Mending: We all (at least I hope it’s not just me) have a project that made its way back into a sewing basket because either a seam popped, a button came loose, or a sleeve needs shortened. Oftentimes my mending pile grows because I’d rather work on something else than a simple mending job, but getting it out of my room is important to keeping my space clear and my project options open. Bonus? Most mending takes 15 minutes and you feel accomplished when a pile leaves your sewing room!
  • Things I’d like to make: Sometimes an idea gets in your brain and you can’t stop thinking about it. Instead of rushing out and buying the supplies and adding to your plate, write them down as a “some day I’ll make this” option. You may choose to draw these instead of writing them down, to better process your idea.

As you go thru your projects, patterns and fabrics, think about how you like to spend your sewing time. Do you really want to sew with that suit jacket material that you’ve had for 2 years, or are you holding on to it because it was such a good deal? Let it go! Get rid of it and make room for something that inspires you. Have you kept a certain pattern for 5 years and never found the time to make it? Chances are you don’t even like the pattern anymore. Give it away and make room for something better!

On my “in-process items to finish list” was the burgundy knit Jul hat from my last post. I finished it and it felt sooo good to cross off of my list!


Under “items I have the fabric and pattern for” was my Lola Sweater dress. I also finished that, and it is so comfortable. I want to make more! I like it so much that I’m teaching a class on making this dress with a serger at Modern Domestic.


Lola-detailI promise that I was ready to go and use the fabric that I had showed you in my last post. If you can’t remember what it was, it’s the sweater knit that Duncan decided to take a nap on at the top of this post (he’s lucky he’s so cute). It’s a nice heavy weight that’s napped on the back. It feels amazing, and I was excited to make a Lola out of it.

The fabric didn’t have much stretch to it though, so I knew I’d have to buy the ribbing that the pattern calls for, instead of making bands out of self-fabric. I went in to Rose City Textiles and searched and searched, but there was nothing that would match it. Everything was either too white or too yellow. It was really hard for me to not come home with some more sweater knits. I love them so much, and RCT always has the best selection to choose from. I carefully considered my list though, and walked away. There will always be more fabric to love!

Overall, I’m pretty happy with how the List of Things I Can Make Right This Very Second is helping me to choose projects. Yes, I brought home one new pattern, but that’s only because I already have the fabric to go with it. Now I have moved that fabric and idea from the “Items that I have the materials and idea for, but no pattern” category to the “Items I have the fabric and pattern for” list.

I will conquer my fabric stash! What are you doing to work your way through your projects?


How a Fabric Stash Can Stifle Creativity

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How many projects can you work on at one time?

Every once in a while I like to take stock of the things in my sewing studio. I go through my fabric bins, rifle through my patterns, pull out any half-finished projects and stack them up. For me, I count a project as being “in the works” if I have both the fabric and the pattern to make it, whether or not I’ve started or cut out the project. Sometimes I’ll have an entire project cut and ready to be sewn, other times I’ll have made the pattern and selected the fashion fabric, but not yet tested the pattern out of muslin.

Other times I have a great idea for a particular piece of fabric, but I haven’t made time for constructing the pattern yet. As I’ve said in past posts, I’m not someone who buys a few yards of something with the intent to think of how I’ll use it later on. If I buy it, I have plans for it. Yes, those plans may change, but it all has a purpose.

The problem is, I’m finding more and more often that I’m creatively weighed down by the amount of possibilities that I have. I’m not whining about “having too many choices”, I promise. I’m trying to explain that with more and more options to choose from, I waste time thinking of what to work on next, instead of grabbing a project and going with it.

I spend a part of each day in front of my see-thru bins of fabric thinking about what each piece is meant to be. I’ll dig through my yardage, pull a couple of options out, and then ultimately question if I’m choosing the right pattern for each piece of fabric. It leads to me feeling frustrated and eventually putting everything away and going back to working on the computer or abandoning my studio entirely. Nothing gets sewn, and my creativity takes a nose dive because I’m not actively making anything. I’m procrastinating making choices because I’m afraid.

I have a fear of sewing something and then not liking it. I’m not sure where it comes from, because I feel like it’s not even based on anything. I’m lucky in that I don’t have many project failures. However, I don’t have a gigantic fabric stash, so each piece feels very precious to me. The perfectionist part of my brain says every garment has to be absolutely meticulously executed. What if I screw it up? What if the fit isn’t just right and I never wear it? What if? What if? I don’t want to waste the yardage I have.

It’s exhausting. It kills my desire to draw and cut and sew. I’ve had enough of it.

I made a list of all of my projects and have slowly started to make my way through it. A few of the items on the list were related to future side projects that I can’t share yet, but others have been gifts and one was just for me. It was Grainline Studio’s Hemlock Tee. I absolutely love it. Did I fret about cutting up the tissue knit I used for the shirt? Yep. Of course. It sat on my table for a good week and half while I debated if it was exactly what I wanted to use it for. Am I happy that I told myself to get over it and just cut it out? YES. It felt so good to sew it up, and I love the result.  I need more of that.

These are the items that I’ve chosen to work on first to cut, sew and finish. This is going to be great!

KnitJulHatThe Jul Hat by Wiksten has been knitting up very quickly in a maroon baby alpaca yarn. It feels like heaven and I like to work on it in the evenings while curled up on the couch under a big blanket. I can’t wait to finish it. Knitting is a no-pressure activity for me because I can always frog what I don’t like!


I’ve saved this sweater knit for the longest time to make a shawl-collar sweater dress out of it, but I don’t know when I’ll ever have the time to make the pattern for the dress in my head. Instead I’m using the Lola from Victory Patterns because it is going to feel like heaven. Those 3/4 length sleeves and deep pockets are going to make me very happy!

BlueSweaterKnitCardiI bought this deep blue sweater knit from Bolt last winter, and I kept telling myself I’d make up a great knit cardigan pattern for it. Has it happened? Obviously not. I picked up this McCalls M 6803 the other day so I can spend my time sewing instead of perfecting patterns. I don’t always trust Big 4 patterns, so this one will get a careful screening before I cut into my fabric.

What does your list of projects look like? Are you good at finishing what you start, or do you need a little push from time to time?

Sew News Magazine and Sewing Plaids

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About three weeks ago, I came home from a grand European adventure. It was absolutely amazing! I plan on writing about some of our travels here on a weekly basis. We were in Ireland, England, France and Germany, so I have a lot of inspiration to share!

Since then I’ve been catching up my email inbox, Craftsy questions and trying to regroup my projects and remember where I was on each one. I’ve actually made up a giant (scary) list of all of the projects that I currently have going on at once, and just looking at it has me wondering if I can run away again. As of right now I have 20 (eeeekkk!) projects listed on it, but I’m veeerrryyy slowly making my way thru them. I honestly had no idea just how many half-started garments and patterns I had floating around my studio. I think I’ll share my list here sometime this week and cross my fingers that it helps to give me motivation to check some things off.

I did come home from our trip to a very lovely package in the mail; my very first magazine article!


I know a few of you have come here recently to read my posts on identifying, cutting and sewing plaid, and now you’ll be able to have that information in a lovely printed format. This first article discusses the history of plaid, finding the balance of its pattern and identifying your plaid. There will be a second plaid installment in the Sew News Dec/Jan issue that covers much, much more, and I’ll be sure to let you know when it is available.


UPDATE: You can now read the entire article online! Check out here: Sewing with Plaid, Part One

How to Remove an Industrial Blind Hem Stitch

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IndustrialBlindHemPerhaps you’ve noticed the stitch used on the hem of your purchased pants before. It’s definitely much different than the blind hem that your home sewing machine makes, but it’s still invisible from the outside and only grasps a few threads. This, my friend, is the industrial blind hem stitch.

The machine that makes this stitch is quite curious looking. It sews only the blind stitch, and uses a long curved needle to hook the fabric. Because the machine makes a chain stitch, there is no need for a bobbin. The fabric is fed into the machine so that it makes a circular motion, while the needle picks up the fabric hem and only a thread or two of the actual pant leg fabric. A monofilament thread is often used in the machine to ensure that the hem is invisible.


Often times, the thin threads used with the machine can get snagged on your shoes or simply break while the garment is being cleaned. If you’ve ever snagged this stitch and then mistakenly pulled on the thread to see where it came from, you probably realized you were pulling out your entire hem. Sometimes though, pulling on the hem thread, especially when you want to remove it to shorten your pants, only makes it tighter. It can be hard to see exactly where the thread starts and in which direction to pull it (much like the coverstitch), so let’s look a closer look at the stitch.

*If you would like to see more detail in these photos, click on them to have them pop up in a larger size that is less grainy.*

Like I said earlier, the industrial blind stitch is a chain stitch. You can see the way that the thread loops in and out of itself.


To begin to undo the stitch, you’ll want to look for the area on the hem where the stitch overlaps itself. A small length of thread will likely be hanging off of the end.


I made a quick (very quick) drawing of how a chain stitch works. This should help you understand how the thread tail will need to be removed from the first loop on the stitch in order to be able to pull the thread cleanly from the hem.


Find the tail of the thread on the overlapping stitch area.

blindhemstitch-threadNotice how this thread goes thru the last loop of the chain stitch.

blindhemstitch-loopIf you were to pull this thread, the chain stitch would simply get tighter. If you don’t want the stitch to come undone, pulling this will tighten the stitch to lock it in place.

blindhemstitch-pullBut- we’re removing this stitch. Or rather, I was removing this hem on a pair of smokin’ hot Anthropology pants I got this summer that make my butt look great and decided to take pictures. Whatever. The thread tail will have to be pulled out of the very last loop on the blind hem/chain stitch in order to easily pull out the thread.


Once the thread tail is pulled out of the eye of the thread loop, give the thread a gentle tug and it will all come undone. Sometimes the thread will snag on the fabric, especially if it’s been washed a few times. If that happens, you can clip into the chain stitch anywhere you want, pull the thread out of the last loop and begin to pull the thread again.



I don’t own a fancy-schmancy blind hem machine, so I couldn’t put back this exact same hem once I shortened the pants. Because they are made of a very thin rayon, I ended up hand sewing the new hem with a catch stitch. It worked really well and is invisible from the outside, thanks to silk thread and one of the best needles ever.

Have you ever seen this stitch used somewhere other than on a hem of a garment?