The (sometimes scary) Life of a Freelancer

The (sometimes scary) Life of a Freelancer

Camel fashion in Petra.

Camel fashion in Petra.

If you hadn’t noticed, I’ve been traveling a bit recently (And I’m actually preparing to head out tonight for one more adventure in a far-flung land). I tend to go on trips solo, often joining an organized group expedition that most likely involves riding my bike through some foreign country.

…you can’t keep putting off the things you want to do or the places you want to go on the assumption you’ll have time in the future to do them.

I meet lots of different people on these trips from all sorts of places and backgrounds. But two of the questions that every single person on this planet always seems inclined to ask are:

(1) What do you do for work?

And (2) some variation of How do you get so much time off work?

Different strokes for different folks

How do you get so much time off work?

How do you get so much time off work?

I give different answers to the first question depending on who’s doing the asking. Sometimes I just say I’m a tailor and pattern maker, though this confuses many people, as the fact that such a thing could be a career never occurred to them. Their idea of a ‘tailor’ is someone like their grandmother sitting at home in a rocking chair darning socks and patching jeans.

Sometimes I say I’m a tailor for film and television shows which usually elicits an “oh wow, that’s interesting!” I always answer that sometimes it is but most times it isn’t all that glamorous (I spend a lot of time hemming jeans and shortening men’s jacket sleeves) though I do enjoy what I do.

If the conversation continues from there it usually enters into the murky waters of “so you’re a freelancer?” Well, yes, sort of. But also, sort of no.

Am I a freelancer?

I am a freelancer - in a sense.

I am a freelancer – in a sense.

I’m a freelancer in the sense that I’m never completely sure where my next job might come from but I’m not in the sense that I belong to a union and therefore have excellent benefits and salary protection. Not all movies and television shows are union ones (if they’re not we call them independent films.) My particular local in NYC does not have what they call ‘a hiring hall’, meaning I’m responsible for procuring my own jobs; the union doesn’t send me on jobs or anything like that.

And I’m also not a freelancer in the way I get normally get paid on a project. Almost all film and television jobs use one of two payroll companies: Entertainment Partners or Cast & Crew. I get paid through them with taxes taken out and a W-2 at the end of the year. The nice thing about both of these companies is that they keep track of all your earnings throughout the years with all the different shows you’ve worked on so you can use them for employment and salary verification when you’re applying for things like mortgages (banks like employment verification!). They are, legally and technically, your employer of record.

Each show or movie sets up its own production company (usually an LLC) independent from whatever parent company it may have (NBC Universal, Disney, etc.) that in turn, enters into contracts with the payroll company and the unions.

You’ve got to know when to hold ’em & know when to fold ’em

My answer is very simple: “I just say no.”

My answer is very simple: “I just say no.”

If I get through all this mumbo jumbo financial stuff and the person I’m talking to is still actually listening, they’ll then ask about how I get time off.

My answer is very simple: “I just say no.”

…its good not to be available all the time.

It’s taken me a very long time to get to the point where I’m able to say no to things. When I was just starting out, I said ‘yes’ to absolutely everything. You kind of have to when you’re beginning, before you’ve built up your reputation. But now that I’ve been doing this for a bit over 25 years, I can turn down things I don’t necessarily want to work on and say ‘no’ to gigs if I’ve planned a trip or vacation.

Free spirit

It’s a glorious thing to be able to say no to something that sounds horrifying (like, for instance: an over night shoot way out in Queens or a huge period television show that some network executive thinks can be made with half the manpower than what is really needed).

Nancy Reagan just says no - you can too!

Nancy Reagan just says no – you can too!

It can be scary, for sure, because I never truly, completely know if I’ll get another job (freelancing is wrought with all kinds of anxiety!). But, if history is any indication, I will. And I try to trust that.

Another thing I’ve learned is that you can’t keep putting off the things you want to do or the places you want to go on the assumption you’ll have time in the future to do them. Because you won’t. Sometimes you just have to have a little faith.

I’m not saying it’s easy to get to the place I’m at. It’s not. I worked extremely hard for almost 20 years while never taking any sort of vacation or going anywhere. But, in my old(er) age work/life balance has become more important to me and, my connections and work reputation are strong enough to allow me to leave town for a couple weeks without jeopardizing my career.

Plus, its good not to be available all the time. Unless they’re a close friend, I never tell people why I’m not available, I simply say, “Sorry, I’m booked up for the next two weeks.”

Booked up on my own personal vacation maybe,  but they don’t need to know that.

Don’t live the same year 75 times and call it a life.

Summer Trends: Embroidery

Summer Trends: Embroidery

Summer Vacation 2017 is upon us!

Summer Vacation 2017 is upon us!

Summer Vacation 2017 is upon us, and as could be the case for any season and time frame, it’s showing up with its own trends. There are a number of these that you can apply to your sewing, but the one that I primarily want to focus on is embroidery. According to one source, “[t]he biggest trend that is coming in 2017 is definitely embroidery,” which makes it a popular topic to explore and try your hand at. For me personally though, it isn’t my main focus in sewing, so there’s plenty of room for me to learn and grow within that category. What better way could I have to do those things than to explore and research for the sake of a new blog post?

Start at the beginning

Let’s start with the very basics, like what exactly embroidery is. In regard to the world of sewing, that definition has been given as the following: “Embroidery is ‘thread art’ used to embellish a garment, hat or some other product by adding a sewn pattern. Generally, this sewn pattern includes a design and can also include lettering and/or monograms.” If you find that a bit too far-fetched of a definition though, think of it like drawing artwork on a product or fabric. Just as you would take a marker, colored pencil, or crayon to create an image on paper, “thread or yarn” can be used in embroidery to build the picture you mean to make.

Clearly, embroidery has changed over the years, but the long-reach of this style of artwork speaks volumes to its appeal & application.

Clearly, embroidery has changed over the years, but the long-reach of this style of artwork speaks volumes to its appeal & application.

Embroidery, as it happens, is not a new concept either. It dates back to prehistoric times — “to Cro-Magnon days or 30,000 BC” — so prominently that “fossilized remains of heavily hand-stitched and decorated clothing, boots and a hat [have been] found.” Clearly, embroidery has changed over the years, but the long-reach of this style of artwork speaks volumes to its appeal and application. If it has remained for so many millennia and through the technological changes within the later centuries, it’s safe to say that it’s a topic and technique that has captured interest through the passage of time!

Your only limitation is your own imagination

One reason for that appeal is clear since, because of the many forms embroidery can take, the possibilities for design are almost limitless. If you want a picture of a flower, a bird, a house, a doughnut, or a dragon on your work, you can add any of the above — or whatever else you have in mind — so long as you don’t over-exceed your own abilities. If you can physically create it, you can do it! It’s important to note though that this is one area that merits consideration since if you try for something too large-scale on your first embroidery project, you could fall short and become discouraged with the whole process. When you start off with such a bad experience, it can be a psychological obstacle to overcome if you want to better yourself in the field. Keep in mind then where you are with embroidery, and choose projects that are fitting for your level.

If you can physically create it, you can do it!

If you can physically create it, you can do it!

In essence though, embroidery can be incredibly personal and project-specific. You don’t just have to rely on the fabric at your disposal to create a work that’s perfect for you and your purpose. If you want to sew a blanket for a friend’s baby shower, for instance, you could add to whatever adorable fabric you use for that work by personalizing it with the baby’s name. If you’re making some kind of wedding gift, you could add the wedding date right onto the material. That truly is a beauty of embroidery. Whatever you want, if you physically can do it, it’s an option — even if you have to use an embroidery pattern to make it happen!

Unlock your creativity & see where it takes you

Add to whatever adorable fabric you use by personalizing it with a name.

Add to whatever adorable fabric you use by personalizing it with a name.

Of course, this can be applied to your clothing, as is evidenced by the notion that “Gucci, Dolce & Gabbana and McQueen” have all been credited with embracing this trend. The level of creativity involved with this clothing idea, again, can’t be overstated because you can tailor your designs to what you have in mind. If you want a blue top with a colorful butterfly on the left shoulder, you could make that happen even if you can’t find it in stores.

Overall, I honestly don’t know if there’s a more creative way to make your own items unique, so if you want to create a piece that’s as yours as you can manage, you might want to step into the world of embroidery! It’s trendy this summer, and a number of the popular embroidery concepts are very spring/summer-inspired — like flowers and birds. All in all, if ever there was a perfect time to step into this creative category, it’s now!

Handmade Quilts – the Gift that Keeps Giving

Handmade Quilts – the Gift that Keeps Giving

I love to make clothes, but quilting isn’t really my thing. From afar, I admire and drool over gorgeous handmade quilts and ponder the patience involved in creating such intricate designs. In high school, my love of fabric crafts had me relegated to one of the unpopular groups – not that I fit in with any of them either. In college, I was lucky enough to have a roommate who discovered a passion for quilting her senior (my sophomore) year.

Friends and benefits

Handmade Quilts – the Gift that Keeps Giving

Her passion for quilting became a gift to me! One that keeps on giving, even though we’ve since lost touch. In college, it meant I finally had someone to geek out with me over awesome fabrics and different sewing machine options. I admit, I’m not the easiest person to live with, so the commonality of fabric crafts is what probably saved our roommate relationship.

After she graduated, she made me a quilt for my bed using my favorite colors: purple and teal. I still use it today. I’ve got it draped over my lap right now, in fact because in my part of the country, it’s cold and rainy. The quilt she gifted me has served me well in the nearly 15 years since I graduated college. Not only is it warm and pretty, it consistently matches the décor in my home, no matter how many times I move. And it reminds me of my first fabric craft friend.

Practice makes perfect

At some point, for practice, she also made me a smaller, square quilt with a variety of black and white fabrics. It’s not large enough to cover me and keep me warm, but I love it and the thought she put into. I’m not sure how’d she feel about this, but I used it to make a cat bed under one of the window sills. It’s great because I can easily wash it and the cats love the softness and cushioning it provides to what would otherwise be a wooden bench.

Just like the clothes I make are made with love, so too are homemade quilts. That love combined with the utilitarian factor of quilts make them the gift that keeps on giving. Whether they’re given for big life events like wedding or births or simply as a way to say “I care,” homemade quilts are a gift that the receiver may carry throughout their lives.

How to Hang a Quilt

How to Hang a Quilt

I recently wrote about this Dr. Seuss Quilt I made to donate to our local elementary school’s annual gala. Most of my donations have been made online so I hadn’t thought in advance about hanging or displaying the quilt at an event.

 

Dr. Seuss Quilt

Dr. Seuss Quilt

I poked around the internet and looked at the best way to consider hanging a quilt after it had been made. Many showed how to sew triangle pouches or hanging sheaths during the process of adding on the back of the quilt but not many talked about what to do after the fact. Here is what I decided on.

Let’s get started

There were still a few strips of my binding fabric on hand because I always tend to make too much.

There were still a few strips of my binding fabric on hand because I always tend to make too much.

I headed to our local hardware store and bought a small dowel. I was pretty sure that if I doubled over the binding strip, the dowel would slip in perfectly to the tube I created.

I was pretty sure that if I doubled over the binding strip, the dowel would slip in perfectly to the tube I created.

I sewed the top of the tube in advance of sewing it onto the quilt.

I sewed the top of the tube in advance of sewing it onto the quilt.

OK, easy part is over…

This part was the trickiest. I really didn’t want a super visible stitch on the quilt’s front so I measured front and back to align the fabric tube as perfectly as I could with a main seam on the front.

This part was the trickiest.

This part was the trickiest.

I pinned it and double checked on the front to see if I had gotten it right.

I pinned it and double checked on the front to see if I had gotten it right.

Then I used a basting stitch and sewed the bottom of the tube to the back of the quilt.

Then I used a basting stitch & sewed the bottom of the tube to the back of the quilt.

Nicely done

Moment of truth! And I nailed it almost perfectly. The seam is pretty invisible on the front.

The seam is pretty invisible on the front.

The seam is pretty invisible on the front.

Next up I slid the dowel into the fabric tube and voilà, it fit in just right.

Next up I slid the dowel into the fabric tube & voilà, it fit in just right.

Here’s how it looked from the front.

Here’s how it looked from the front.

With the dowel in place, I could roll the quilt for easy transportation.

With the dowel in place, I could roll the quilt for easy transportation.

Showtime

I contacted the hotel where the event would be happening and went in advance to see where exactly I could hang the quilt. The management let me know I could use Command Hooks on the wall so I brought the hooks, some rubbing alcohol and a cloth wipe (to clean where I’d be placing the hooks), a level to make sure I hung them evenly, the quilt, and some scissors to trim any stray threads.

I contacted the hotel where the event would be happening & went in advance to see where exactly I could hang the quilt.

The hooks needed an hour after being hung to attain their full strength so I brought the quilt back home until the actual event.

The hooks needed an hour after being hung to attain their full strength so I brought the quilt back home until the actual event.

And here is the finished product hanging at the gala that night. Lovely, no?

Here is the finished product hanging at the gala that night.

After the gala I brought the quilt back home to remove the fabric tube on the back. The basting stitch I had used made it quick work to take off.

The basting stitch I had used made it quick work to take off.

I then recycled the tube of fabric and used to wrap up the quilt for gifting.

How to Hang a Quilt

Have you ever donated something you’ve sewn to benefit an organization you cared about? Let us know in comments!

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Charlotte Kaufman is a writer and sewist in Mammoth Lakes, California. She specializes in marine and home interiors and continues to fall more and more in love with quilting. You can follow her at charlottekaufman.com.
Beach Towels for Sewing Projects

Beach Towels for Sewing Projects

Much like the aforementioned buttons on a previous Pete the Cat related post, trends can show up for a while and eventually become memories. As they’re in the mainstream of their field though, it can be fun to jump on board and partake in them! These trends can bring brand new concepts, images, and characters to life, or they can just offer a new twist on something that’s familiar and ordinary. Those familiar and ordinary details are the case for the trend that will be explored in this post: Beach Towel Sewing Projects.

When I first saw that this was actually a thing, I was perhaps a little interested, but maybe just as uncertain. I’m not even sure what would lead to this trend beyond a creative eye that’s often looking for new possibilities. Whatever the reason for the trend’s existence, you can find a number of projects that are beach-towel based through some online browsing time or the links given in this post.

I think this beach towel concept is such a unique option for sewing projects, and I guess that’s for two reasons. One, using extra beach towels for projects could be a wonderful way to get your creative mind going while clearing out your closet space. Two, the end results to these possible products are so fluffy that they draw my attention like a child going after a stuffed animal! Maybe you share that appreciation, and maybe you don’t! Still, these are good options for how to put no-longer-used (or brand new) towels to use for your sewing hobbies!

This quirky accessory could stand out on your next beach adventure.

This quirky accessory could stand out on your next beach adventure.

First on the list, how about a beach towel tote? This quirky accessory could stand out on your next beach adventure, and it would be large enough to hold your sunscreen, your Frisbee, your sunglasses, and whatever else you could fit into this decently-sized bag! You can use something plain-colored like what’s shown in the image, or you can choose a more dynamic print on the beach towel to increase its stand-out quality! The needed supplies are few, and the unique look of it could be worth your sewing time! Why not give it a try?

While they lack the larger size of a tote, these can still be spaces to hold some of your beach bring-alongs.

While they lack the larger size of a tote, these can still be spaces to hold some of your beach bring-alongs.

But, then, maybe you’re more of a backpack person? If so, no worries! You can make one of those using a beach towel as well! While they lack the larger size of the tote, these can still be spaces to hold some of your beach bring-alongs, like sunscreen and a book to read in the sun. And, obviously, the use of these products wouldn’t need to be limited to the beach. Anywhere that you might think to bring a purse, these could be options if it’s a setting you’re comfortable using it in. Considering the site says this project can be finished in less than 24 hours, it might be worth your time to give it a shot!

If you’re looking for an option that deals a bit less with the carry-stuff-along-with-me aspect, there are possibilities to explore in other categories as well—like stuffed animals! These toys are a wonderful fit for this beach towel option because of that fluffy quality I mentioned earlier. If you’re going to make a stuffed animal toy—maybe a dog—it makes sense that the dog has fur, right? I personally like this elephant idea, but it’s very possible that I never got over the spotted elephant on Rudolph! If you prefer a different animal to make into a toy, browse through your options and find the right colored beach towel to match the standard coloring of that animal—unless you really do want a spotted elephant or something as out of the ordinary!

An intriguing option for creative towels use.

An intriguing option for creative towels use.

There’s also the option of creating something from a beach towel for the sake of gift-giving, if towels are a part of a gift you have planned for someone. One such option that stuck out to me was a bridal shower cake. True, this might require something less bulky than a beach towel and wouldn’t necessarily help to clean out your closet, but it’s still an intriguing option for using towels in general for creative endeavors. This cake is a method of giving very typical housewarming gifts, like towels and other items, in a lovely and out-of-the-box manner. It’s unique and striking, and a way to show the gift recipient that you cared enough to craft something artistic with your gift just for the sake of presentation. A towel cake, after all, is more memorable than some towels and utensils waiting in a box or a gift bag!

This cake is a unique twist on giving very typical housewarming gifts.

This cake is a unique twist on giving very typical housewarming gifts.

For a beach trip, a random toy, or a bridal shower, there are interesting projects that can make use of towels! These are just a handful of them, but maybe they’ll get the ideas rolling in your head enough to spark your interest!

Sew a Rice Pack Whole Body Heating Pad

How to Sew a Rice Pack Whole Body Heating Pad

How to Sew a Rice Pack Whole Body Heating Pad

You can sew a rice pack heating pad to any size at all.

The first one I ever made was a rectangle maybe about four by six inches. Okay, maybe it was a little bigger than that, but in use, it turned out to be silly small and I wanted a larger one.

I have made smaller rice packs that serve a neat purpose, though.

These make sweet pocket warmers when stuffed with rice.

These make sweet pocket warmers when stuffed with rice.

For a heating pad, bigger is better. So I made a large one with a folded kitchen towel and a big bag of rice, and this was a helpful friend for some time.

But have you ever wanted a full body hugging heating pad? I have, every month for some time now. I have wanted one to wrap around my tummy, and my dear and I have both wished for something bigger for pains in the neck and shoulders, too.

So I bought a huge bag of rice in bulk and decided to finally sew a rice pack heating pad big enough to wrap around.

So I bought a huge bag of rice in bulk & decided to finally sew a rice pack heating pad big enough to wrap around.

So I bought a huge bag of rice in bulk & decided to finally sew a rice pack heating pad big enough to wrap around.

Here’s how I made it:

Materials

  • 2/3 yd sturdy fabric
  • 20 cups rice

Of course you need a sewing machine, thread, scissors and/or a rotary cutter and mat.

Step one

Fold the fabric for your heating pad in half so that it makes a long rectangle approximately 44 inches (it will likely be shorter than 44 inches after pre-washing your fabric) by 12 inches, and press.

Then, make a narrow hem along both of the long (~44”) edges. Or you can serge along these edges with your serger.

Step two

Now fold it again, with right sides together. Sew along both short edges. Leave the long end open.

Of course you can serge these seams, too.

Clip the corners, and turn right sides out.

Step three

Now you are going to measure and then sew four lines of stitching to section the rectangle into five sections. These lines will run parallel to the end seams you just sewed.

I found the middle, then measured four inches out from there on either side, and marked my first two lines to create the middle section. Then I measured eight inches out from each of these to create the other sections.

Sew these lines from the bottom but end them approximately 3/4 inch before you reach the top.

Step four

And there is your whole body heating pad, which will wrap all around like a warm & heavy hug when you need it.

And there is your whole body heating pad, which will wrap all around like a warm & heavy hug when you need it.

Scoop two cups of rice into each opening.  Hold the bag and be sure all the rice flows to the very bottom of the pockets.

Now, sew a long line, parallel to the open edges, to bisect the five sections into ten.

Step five

Scoop two more cups of rice into each of the remaining five sections.

Then you can sew the long opening closed. I turned this over and sewed it down again to make this seam stronger, too.

If you want to be extra careful to prevent the rice from spilling out while you sew, then take the extra time to baste the long opening closed with quilter’s safety pins.

And there is your whole body heating pad, which will wrap all around like a warm and heavy hug when you need it.

To use:

Microwave the heat pad to warm. Microwave ovens vary a lot, so you will have to determine for yourself how long you should heat yours. Five minutes seems about right for mine, but be careful not to burn yourself.

Remove the pad from the microwave, shake it up a bit and evenly distribute the heat. Wrap it around your tummy, your shoulders, even your legs. Or lie down and use the whole length along your back from top to bottom.  And feel better soon!

Mending Mabel

Mending Mabel

Hi! Good to see you. Hope you are having warm weather like here in Texas!

Today, I want to just give you a quick lesson for mending project.

My current task is to shorten a pair of my hubby’s leisure pants. They are a pair of soft flannel pants that he bought a while back, and they (uhhh) kind of surfaced as I was packing my sewing studio to move. I secretly panicked when he reminded me, he hasn’t seen them in a while! I sweetly said, “Oh yes, dear, I have them. They are on the mending list.”

That’s a call to action for me! So he went out to do his errands, and I scrambled in to find the buried pants.

So as quickly as possible, I found my also found a few necessary tools to accomplish this goal, hopefully in the time he was gone.

I assembled:

  1. Pins
  2. Olfa 45 mm Rotary Cutting mat, the one which is 18″ x 24″
  3. Rotary Cutter
  4. Acrylic Ruler (these packages at SewingMachinesPlus.com come with everything you need all together – great deal!!)

I also keep on hand a few smaller rulers, such as the June Taylor Shape Cut/Sprint as well as the Handi Quilter Mini Ruler for smaller projects. SewingMacinesPlus.com has a great selection of rulers and other supplies for your sewing needs.

Back to the project, now

  1. The first step was shortening the pants which were about 4 inches too long. I turned the pants inside out so they were ready to measure and sew. I measured and cut the 4 inches off both legs.
  2. Turning the edge toward the top of the pants about ¼ inch, I pressed with my iron. They can be pinned first if you want to be precise, however, actually I just winged it, but hey, I was in a hurry.
  3. Then turning again approximately an inch, (actually two finger widths) I measured a press a crease again.
  4. I changed my bobbin thread to black since it would show on the right side, and carefully stitched a new hem very close to the fold.

Ta da!

Last, stitch very close to folded edge on both legs, press the hem flat & you are done!

Last, stitch very close to folded edge on both legs, press the hem flat & you are done!

Last, stitch very close to folded edge on both legs, press the hem flat, and you are done! Or you can also blind-hem stitch by hand. I find that hand-stitching is very relaxing and gratifying when the stitches come out nice and neat.

So, what kinds of project do you have waiting to be mended? It’s a rewarding thing to do when you compare the cost of new clothes to some time devoted to thinking through the best way to refurbish something that takes just a few minutes to fix. Please be assured, measurements with rulers are better than measuring with fingers, and results are more professional. Rushing never works for me without tearing out something.

Back to packing and discovering other projects waiting for me. Nope, maybe tomorrow. Hubby is home!

Happy Sewing until next time.

Carpet Magic from Egypt

Carpet Magic from Egypt

Some of the beautiful silk & cotton rugs can take up to 14 to 16 months to make.

Some of the beautiful silk & cotton rugs can take up to 14 to 16 months to make.

I visited a carpet making school while I was in Egypt.

The school, on Sakkara Road in Giza, was called ‘New Egypt for Oriental Carpets’. The building was a vast stone structure, wide stone steps leading up to the second floor showroom and into the main entrance on the ground floor.

Back to school

The front wood doors opened into a vast, high ceilinged, airy room. Looms of varying widths, reaching from floor to ceiling lined the walls. On two sides, children manned the looms. They were of all different ages, the youngest appearing to be around 7 –  all the way up to 16 or 18.

Each child sat a wood bench in a front a loom longer and wider than at least three or four of himself. They were all boys.

The children, along with learning how to make hand tied rugs from wool and silk and cotton, also study reading and writing. Acquiring the skill of carpet making allows them the opportunity to stay in their hometowns and earn a good wage for a trade. They can also continue their education elsewhere if they desire.

My guide and I stopped behind one of the youngest boys. He turned with a toothy grin to wave at me, then turned back to his loom. The speed and dexterity of his fingers as he tied the long strands of wool into knots was mesmerizing.

The oldest group of carpet makers at the school were no longer pupils but artists. They didn’t work from a preconceived mapped out design but from pictures in their own heads.

The youngest pupils work on the simpler designs made predominately of wool. They have long sheets of paper that show the colors required to complete a specific design – kind of like the directions that come with any rug latch-hook kit you can buy at a craft store. But much more complicated and a lot more extensive.

Snatch the pebble from my hand, Grasshopper

Another young man of about 13 years of age was working on a rug made of cotton and silk.

“Slow down,” said my guide, “Slow down so she can see.”

He dutifully slowed his flying fingers. He worked across the loom width-wise, tying strands of silk to a sturdy cotton thread already inserted in the loom. When he finished a row, he used a wired brush to push the knotted strand down tight against its neighbor.

He demonstrated the trimming process that happens at the completion of a rug, using heavy scissors to trim the fuzz like you do to an old sweater when it’s balled and pilled up.

On the backside of the rug, I could see the long threads left where he changed colors of silk. After he’d woven in all the strands, he would go back and cut and tie all the ends so that the back of the rug looked as beautiful and clean as the front.

The student becomes the master

The oldest group of carpet makers at the school were no longer pupils but artists. They didn’t work from a preconceived mapped out design but from pictures in their own heads. They used smaller looms they could stand up at, manipulating the contraption up and down with a lever by their feet, tying and weaving the yarns with their hands.

Some of the rugs can take up to 14 to 16 months to make – truly astounding in this world of mass, quick consumerism. All of the students and artists I encountered at the school seemed to have a genuine pride for what they were doing, and a patience I suspect is increasingly rare in the instant gratification, selfie-taking, googling, internet shopping world of many western civilizations.

Works of art

As soon as I laid eyes on you, I knew that you'd be mine.

As soon as I laid eyes on you, I knew that you’d be mine.

The second floor of the school was the showroom filled with all kinds of stunning rugs. Drinking a complimentary cup of tea, I wandered amongst the treasures for a good part of an hour (or maybe two). I finally decided on two carpets I wanted to purchase.

But, since I was in Egypt, the actual buying of things involved a thirty-minute bargaining session. I pretended I hadn’t already decided which rugs I liked the best and asked to see some more similar to my initial selection. I remained undecided for a significant amount of time, especially once price came into question, hemming and hawing and murmuring and looking around.

After settling on a cotton and silk rug, I then asked about the tapestries. I’d spotted the one I wanted quite some time ago. It was one of the artist done ones with yellow and orange flowers, swans, and blue sky and water with pink water lilies. After some more back and forth, we finally agreed upon a price for both the pieces I wanted.

The cherry on top

My freebie tapestry. A nice touch.

My freebie tapestry. A nice touch.

Then, in true Egyptian fashion, the salesman offered me one more tapestry I could choose from a pile as a gift. I suspect this pile consisted of the practice tapestries done by the younger students but they were all alluring in their own right and I choose a long narrow hanging of yellow with camel silhouettes.

I left the school quite happy with my purchases and the opportunity to have seen the young carpet makers at work – and to contribute to the Egyptian economy and the school.

Now, back at home in New York City, my Egyptian carpets have been happily integrated into my home carrying with them the legacy and craftsmanship of centuries.

Sewing with Carpal Tunnel Syndrome

Sewing with Carpal Tunnel Syndrome

Carpal Tunnel Syndrome (CTS) is a repetitive motion injury in the wrist.

Carpal Tunnel Syndrome (CTS) is a repetitive motion injury in the wrist.

Carpal Tunnel Syndrome (CTS) is a repetitive motion injury in the wrist. Typing, hammering, sewing and other actions can be the cause. Those some actions can cause an existing injury in to flare up. The numbing, tingling, pain and stiffness CTS causes can make it all but impossible to sew. As someone who writes for a living, CTS is pretty much a given. I don’t want to give up my livelihood or my hobbies over it. So, I’ve learned to modify. Sewing with CTS was a challenge at first, but if I can do it, so can you!

Wear a Brace

My CTS started back in highschool when I worked in an ice cream shop. Back then, we called it scooper’s wrist. I bought a cheap brace from the drug store up the street from the ice cream parlor and managed to keep going. The next time it flared up was college – as an English major I did A LOT of typing. A sturdier, more expensive brace helped with that. The things to consider are how immobile the brace keeps your wrist and comfort. Don’t be afraid to try on several at the store to check for fit and comfort.

Use the Other Hand

I’m a bit naturally ambidextrous, so this wasn’t too hard for me, but if you’re not, it could be a little harder. Gripping tiny pins is much too painful for me to do with my right hand. The CTS makes it nearly impossible. Instead, I taught myself to pin with my left hand. This wasn’t easy since it also meant holding the fabric differently. Be patient with yourself and with the process. It will come with time and practice.

Get Lefty Scissors

Just like pinning with my right hand is nearly impossible, cutting can be equally as challenging. If you’ve ever tried to use your regular scissors in your left hand, you know it’s pretty difficult. The blades are one directional. Instead, invest in a pair of lefty scissors. You’ll find that cutting with your left hand is pretty simple after that. You may need to make other modifications to the layout of your cutting surface, etc. to accommodate using the opposite hand.

Don’t let carpal tunnel syndrome take away your sewing time. Instead, try out these modifications and keep doing your favorite hobby. And don’t forget to talk to your doctor – they may have treatment options that can help long-term.

Fabrics and Textiles in San Miguel de Allende, Mexico

Fabrics and Textiles in San Miguel de Allende, Mexico

San Miguel de Allende, in the state of Guanajuato, Mexico.

San Miguel de Allende, in the state of Guanajuato, Mexico.

I recently traveled to San Miguel de Allende, in the state of Guanajuato, Mexico for a five day writer’s retreat with two friends. Although famous in Mexico proper, many gringos have not heard of San Miguel, located the mountains at 6,200 ft. elevation, at approximately Mexico’s center (200 miles north of Mexico City and about 600 miles from the Texas border).

Although famous in Mexico proper, many gringos have not heard of San Miguel.

Although famous in Mexico proper, many gringos have not heard of San Miguel.

I’m a sewist and a writer and while I was there to work on my book, I could not tear my eyes away from the gorgeous colors of the city and the beautiful fabrics & textiles I found there.

I could not tear my eyes away from the gorgeous colors & textiles of the city.

I could not tear my eyes away from the gorgeous colors & textiles of the city.

Even the city itself reminded me of a patchwork quilt.

Even the city itself reminded me of a patchwork quilt.

Even the city itself reminded me of a patchwork quilt.

Mexico is not afraid to use color, in fact it embraces bright, vibrant colors in both private and public buildings, art, and culture.

 

Locals claim that the birthplace of the serape is San Miguel de Allende and I was inundated with options.

Locals claim that the birthplace of the serape is San Miguel de Allende.

Locals claim that the birthplace of the serape is San Miguel de Allende.

Other items on display were rugs, pillowcases, bedding sets, purses, bags, belts, guayaberas, and embroidered and woven fabrics.

The hand embroidery I found particularly compelling. I bought a bright yellow bag with hand embroidery and my girlfriend, Lizz, bought a hand embroidered panel she plans to hang on her wall at home.

This is the panel she purchased (photo taken with permission).

This is the panel she purchased.

This is the panel she purchased.

This booth was my favorite. It was located in El Mercado de Artesanías. I was so inspired that I had my pencil and paper out and took notes to plan out quilts I’d love to make with the huge, hand-embroidered panels.

This booth in El Mercado de Artesanías was my favorite.

This booth in El Mercado de Artesanías was my favorite.

They sold smaller squares too, similar to charm packs and layer cakes. I’ve worked these into some upcoming designs as well.

I’ve worked these into some upcoming designs as well.

I’ve worked these into some upcoming designs as well.

Mexico also has the best selection of oil cloth fabrics. Make sure to pick up a few yards for your stash whenever you visit.

Make sure to pick up a few yards for your stash whenever you visit.

Make sure to pick up a few yards for your stash whenever you visit.

After a long day in el centro, I spotted this Singer sewing table used for display at a local tienda. Sewing is everywhere.

Sewing is everywhere.

Sewing is everywhere.

Here I’m enjoying a hard earned beer after a long day of writing, but it’s the bag in the foreground I want you focus on. Check out that embroidery and the stunning color!

Check out that embroidery & the stunning color!

Check out that embroidery & the stunning color!

I cannot wait to go back. Have you ever visited San Miguel? Did you buy any fabric while you were there? Share with us your finds in the comments.

I cannot wait to go back.

I cannot wait to go back.

(All photos were taken with permission)
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Charlotte Kaufman is a writer and sewist in Mammoth Lakes, California. She specializes in marine and home interiors and continues to fall more and more in love with quilting. You can follow her at charlottekaufman.com.