Sunday, December 14, 2014

The Joy of Vintage Neckties: Unions and Silk

I'm in a  creative slump.  Really, I can't think of a thing (beyond potholders). And as you've probably discovered, when you can't think of something, the best thing to do is anything.

So I pulled out my box of neckties and necktie scraps, and started covering buttons with them, using cover-button kits.  
After making 6 or 7,  I was stuck again. What to do with them?

So I cut the point off a green-and-blue-striped necktie, made a couple of folds, and secured it with one of the covered buttons plus four tiny mother-of-pearl shank buttons:
The front looked plain, so over a week I tried 8 billion or so different embellishments. Each was worse than the one before.
Ugh. That looks like a medal for a banana republic dictator. Many iterations later, I tried a chain.
Finally! I stitched the chain's ends in place. On the back, the cut edge is folded inwards to hide it, and I stitched on a brooch pin.
That white lining says "Robinsons" - hey, remember Robinson's Department store? Thanks to the Internet, I now know they're out of business. No wonder I haven't seen them in years. Which probably means the necktie was highly collectible 'til I cut it up. Oh well. The content tag has regal lettering that says"UNION MADE All Silk." Unions and Silk! Diamonds and Rust! Fire and Ice! It's all good!

I cut off two more tie points - one from a  blue tie, and one from a red one - and folded the top of the blue tie point backwards. Then sewed shut the cut end of the red tie point and stitched it inside the blue tie opening. I wound up with this: 
 The tip of the blue-necktie is folded backwards, and hand stitched in a Y seam, to form a pouch.
I stitched a clasp to the back and added a chain. 
Open it, and there's another winning label: "Made in USA of Fabric Hand Printed In Italy ALL SILK" [sic].  It's all-American, yet Italian! Like Unions and Silk! What's not to love?
I stitched in a black snap inside to seal it. 
I still had lots of leftover necktie-covered buttons. So I sewed four of them to a conservative brown striped tie that I believe is from my late father's wardrobe in the 1980s. 

That mysterious white line of stitching above has to stay there because it's holding on the label in the inside, which you'll see in a minute. I cut the tie to about 16", which is the length that goes snugly around my wrist twice. I overcame my fear of snaps and hammered a snap in at either end. 
There are so many different snap kits -  the variety of methods, setters, and costs is all over the map. For this Dritz product, all you need is a hammer and a thread spool, I only ruined one in three attempts. So they work pretty well.

This tie has wonderful label too - so pink that I also want to wear this thing inside out - 
But who is Henry Grethel, I asked my Internet? Why, he's an American fashion designer born in 1931 in Syracuse, New York, who pioneered "elegant American sportswear," according to Wikipedia. His father was a plumber from Germany, and Henry is still alive, bless his heart at 83. Here he is winning an 'Icon of Style' award from Syracuse University! Thank you, Henry, for this fine bracelet with the elegant label! I am thoroughly enjoying it! 

I did one more striped tie/cover button strip necklace, this one starting with a red striped tie from my Dad's collection: 
The fabric on most of these buttons come from a scrap bag of fancy necktie silks that I scored at a flea market. 

Hiding inside I found a cardboard price tag. It says, "All Silk, $22.50." My Dad bought all his neckties from Filenes' Basement in downtown Boston, so there's no way on earth he spent $22.50 on this tie in the previous milennium (and indeed, this isn't a Filene's price tag.) He probably paid more like $5-$10. 
 Wherever you may be, dear Dad, I hope you like what I've done with your bargain!

Sunday, December 7, 2014

Holiday Giftmaking by the Creatively Blocked

I'm insanely creatively blocked. What to do? Make potholders. So over Thanksgiving, I stitched up these fruit-and-veggie potholders, accented with un frisson de junk food:
 The first one is all healthy (except the back, as you'll see):
Number two sticks its toe in the waters of non-produce with a grilled cheese sandwich top row, and some pretzels, 2nd row. (The less-healthy food fabrics were purchased for use in a commissioned wedding canopy/chuppah - really!)
And finally, we get wild with a Hostess cupcake in the center and some fortune cookies,
They are intended to be used,  so they have two layers inside: One of Insul-Bright, against the bottom, and one of Warm'n'Natural, right behind the top.
I like to use buttons to hold on the loops in the corners. 
This is is a piece of vintage twill tape.
And for the back, I went calorie-crazy:
The fruit and vegetable fabrics in these projects mostly come from Fabri-Quilt's Farmer John's line. To see more projects from this fabric go to  A free pattern I designed for a different potholder is on the Fabri-quilt website, at

Thursday, November 27, 2014

Happy Thanksgiving!

Seems like only last year that Thanksgiving and Chanukah were the same holiday! Here's a quilt I made for both!
Blogged here. You still have time to make one for Chanukah!

(Crocheted turkey pattern is free, here. Scroll to the bottom.)

Saturday, November 22, 2014

Orphan Paper-Pieced Blocks and the Eternal Quilter's Sales Dilemma

Back in the 2000's, I designed a foundation paper pieced Aleph Bet (Hebrew alphabet), based on calligraphy principles, and made a couple of quilts from it, like this one:
I put the e-pattern for sale on my website, and have received images of quilts made from it, including this one by a wonderful quilter named Wayne:
Very gratifying! Designing such a complex quilt meant lots of experimenting and discards. I wound up with a stack of leftovers, including these:  
Here's a closer look at the aleph (first letter of the Hebrew alphabet), front: 
And the back, with most of the paper pattern still in place, 
Next, a 'hamsa,' a hand with an eye in it, an ancient amulet/good luck symbol common to Middle Eastern cultures. This particular leftover was a total fail:

Ouch! But even things as sad as this, I am very bad at throwing away. So I stuffed the orphaned blocks in a file, where they sat for about six years, until this week, when I decided to participate in a Hanukah boutique at a local temple (If you're in Southern California tomorrow, stop by and say hello. I won't be the only stitcher there. It's at Temple Beth David in Temple City on Sunday, November 23, 2014, from 9:00 to 12:30). 

I took two orphan hamsa blocks that were not fails, added borders, quilted them, put on a hanging loop or sleeve (respectively), and voila! 
 The second one has a button eye in the center:
They're quilted with gold metalic thread, and are about 10" square. 

The dilemma with any quilter selling her/his work, of course, is pricing. Though small, each of these hamsas that I made so long ago has about a zillion pieces. Here's what the pattern looks like: 
OK, not a zillion, but that's 22 pieces. The aleph above has 19 pieces! 

How would you price something like this? Would anyone actually pay an amount that reflects the time investment? Or should I just be grateful to get them out of my files? The other problem is that I love the results so much I'm not sure I can sell them! Argh! The eternal quilter's dilemma! Comments welcomed! 

(If you're interested in making your own, the epattern is here.)

Sunday, November 16, 2014

A Quilting Life is a Healthy Life, With Footnotes

Being a, um, mature quilter might mean your most innovative work is ahead of you!
Check out:

What's more, crafting is good for you, and this has got to include quilting:

It's all good! News item of the future: Quilting will be proven to be better for you than going to the gym! (If it can happen to wine, it can happen to quilting: Check out:

This is especialy true if you keep your sewing machine in the basement and your ironing board in the attic. After just a few log cabin blocks, you'll be cardiovascularly and intellectually enhanced, exhausted, and certainly deserve a nice glass of wine!

Monday, November 10, 2014

Quilting Mystery Book Review - 'Knot in My Backyard'

This new mystery is Mary Mark’s second – I loved her first, Forget Me Knot, and this one is just as good. Her heroine is Martha Rose, an expert quilter, hot mama, Weight Watchers recidivist, Los Angeles Jewish woman of a certain age, who solves gruesome murders in part by refusing to be silenced by the hunky men who desire her. Vivid characters and authentic settings make the book so much fun  - I learned a lot about the Los Angeles River, undocumented homeless people who live off freeway overpasses, the thorny politics of fancy private schools, bikers, Israeli falafel places, and much more that makes up the improbably diverse landscape of LA. There are even quilting tips. I could totally relate to Martha in so many ways, plus she hates to cook – we’d both rather quilt -  so we’re truly kindred spirits. Highly recommended!  

Sunday, November 9, 2014

Finishing Other Women's Quilts

It's a wonderful thing when you can finish quilts started long ago by other people. Sometimes you're not just the second person to work on an old quilt; there can be more.

This story starts when my best friend Sue and I went to vintage fabric and fashion show, I think in Santa Monica, CA, in the early 2000's, and we came across this stack of blocks:
 The design is often called "Dresden Plate," with petals and a central circle. These appeared to be cut from 1960s -80s fabric, much of it shirting, much of it related to surfing.
 Above, note the word "Bend". It appears a few times in the quilt. What on earth could it have been from?
 Love that rainbow plaid, above, not to mention the leopard skin.

There are palm trees and beaches galore, plus airplanes.
I was dubious. All I could focus on was the godawful black thread zig-zag that held the petals down, around the outer edges of each plate.  What's worse, in the centers, the purple shadowed through the yellow. Technically, it was pretty bad. But Sue, with her amazing eye for good design, astonished me by falling in love. She saw something more. Maybe it was details like this:

Whatever, she was so enthusiastic that I didn't even try to dissuade her. She bought the stack of 18 blocks. We talked a lot about how to set them, but didn't get around to it.

Eight years later, Sue was diagnosed with brain cancer. She had an immediate surgery, and its short-term result was that her formidable math and spatial abilities vanished overnight. We decided to finish the quilt together, and for the first time ever, she needed my help with simple measurements. We set it with purple sashing that matched the purple blocks' interiors. The blocks, of course, weren't all the same size, so we had to do some funky fixing. Don't look too close.
We shopped together for border fabric, and at the time, there was a quilt book (I can't remember the name) that had vintagy blocks with a red-and-white polka dot border. We were both entranced. Plus a couple of the quilt blocks actually red-and-white polka dot leaves.
So we bought a bunch of this fabric to border the quilt:
Sue believed in using good fabric. 

She got sicker and could no longer sew. When she was very sick, and could barely talk, she asked me to finish the quilt for her. Of course I assured her that I would. "No rush," she whispered.

No rush. Sue was all about compassion. She gave generously to every charity that crossed her path.  Her job was as an occupational therapist, working with children. At one point during her long illness, I got sick with something miserable but non-terminal. She called me every day to see how I was doing.

Asking me to finish was the last thing she ever asked me. A few weeks later, she was gone.

I didn't rush. Two years later - which was a couple of weeks ago - I felt ready. I added the borders, and quilted the whole thing. Whenever I worked on it, whenever I had it open on my floor or table, it didn't depress me at all - in fact, it made me laugh. The colors were cheerful, the details wacko, and the juxtapositions priceless - partridges with the word "sun," calicos with groovies.
For the backing, I was planning to use the same red-and-white polka dots, but I didn't have enough. I added some black fabric from Sue's stash  but the polka dot fabric bordered by black looked appalling. 

Sue always cared as much about quilt backs as front. Before I met her, I used to throw anything I had on the back of my quilts, but Sue had taught me to use the good stuff, whatever the price. 

So  I headed for my local quilt shop to see what they had in an extra-wide fabric.The first fabric in the wide pile, right by the store entrance, was this: 
Shortest shopping spree ever. That was it. I knew Sue was smiling. 

So here's the finished quilt, from the front: 
Next week, I'm going to ship it to Sue's older daughter in New York, who is very excited about it. To me, this quilt is of course a little bit messy, and a little bit sad, because Sue couldn't finish it, but it's also so joyful and funny, and crazy. 

On each the two plain purple blocks, I quilted a shadow plate. 
I like to think that each one is for each of my two collaborators - Sue, and the unknown person whose sense of humor way exceeded her technical skills, who cut up the family wardrobe and put these blocks together in the first place. 
I hope Sue's daughter thinks of it as a group hug, from all of us. 
Nov. 9 2014 Update: I put the quilt in the mail today. As I walked outside with it, I spotted a huge monarch butterfly on my patio, not a common sight. It flew off. I'm a believer.