Running in Pink Tutus

Running in Pink Tutus

I’ve written before about answering the question, “What do you do for living?” and how I really don’t like it and have trouble explaining it accurately.

Another type of question I find slightly troublesome as well are the ones that start with, “You’re into clothing and fashion, what do you think of…”

Or questions about specific names for types of fabric or techniques.

First of all, I would never say that I’m into fashion and clothing (If you saw the way I dress, you’d definitely believe this! I usually define my personal style as homeless chic). I just speak the language of fabric and patterns. I certainly have my own ideas about what styles I like but I’m no expert on whether or not that poofy princess dress you just bought for your niece is tasteful or not.

You go girl

If she likes it, is happy, and feels like a princess, then I’d say it’s perfect.

Humans have a wide variety of tastes and, ultimately, the things you like are the things you like. I’m a big advocate of never reading any article that has a title along the lines of What to Wear Now or Fashion Must-haves.

Wear what you want – be happy

I have an amazing, wacky friend, who is an ultra-runner – meaning she routinely runs 100 miles in a row. She’s also run the New York City Marathon a bunch of times. And sometimes she does this wearing a pink tutu. For no reason than it makes her happy. Just because.

I love this picture of her. So did the promoters of the marathon this past year as they featured it in subways and on the sides of city buses. I was on my way to work one morning, on my bike as is my custom, stopped at a light at the corner of Lex and 62nd, when suddenly this huge photo of my friend went rolling by. It was kind of amazing.

The other line of questions about names of fabrics and techniques annoy me (slightly) only because, honestly, I usually don’t know the “proper” name for things. Why, you may ask?

My big secret

Well, here’s the thing: my big secret. I never finished college. This was a huge deal at the time as I was valedictorian of my high school class and accepted into the Honors Tutorial College at Ohio University. I was considered smart and a brain.

So I went. For a year. But then I didn’t go back.

And I’ve never regretted it. Colleges and degrees are great for some people, if that’s what you want. But, honestly, I was sick of memorizing stuff and just “practicing” at doing things for life. There was no challenge for me at University. I needed, wanted, to be out in the real world, working at something I loved and was, quite frankly, quite good at in a very natural, intuitive way.

One size does not fit all

Put on your tutu & run.

Put on your tutu & run.

Sometimes I think the downfall of our education systems is the one size fits all approach to learning. (I’m allowed to say this because both my parents and two of my brothers are in education.) People learn differently.

And for me, at 18 or 19 years old, whatever it was, the best option was to be actually in a real working costume shop learning everything I could. Practical application, if you will. Developing new skills by trial and error (sometimes trial by fire) but ultimately, doing. Not sitting in a lecture hall listening or draping yet another sloper or princess seam bodice.

My main reason for bringing this up is that I’ve noticed recently that sometimes people are ashamed of the fact that the don’t have some fancy degree from some fancy college and think it makes them not as smart or talented as someone who does.

I can tell you with certainty that that is not the case. You either have the talent or you don’t. No college anywhere can teach you that. They can teach you the difference between organdy and organza in words but you won’t really know what that difference means until you’ve worked with both fabrics in a practical application.

The same with something as simple as the difference between cotton and wool. Its easy to say cotton is a natural fabric made from the cotton plants and wool comes from sheep but, in order to understand that difference, you need to use those fabrics and get to know them on a personal level.

I know its kind of cheesy, but I’m a big believer in the language of things. There is nothing inherently scientific about my belief. I just think people in general don’t pay close enough attention to their environments (in part because so many of us spend entirely too much time looking at our phones) and, as a result, miss a lot of the information that is right in front of us and don’t hear what someone (or something) is saying.

I know this post is a bit rambling and disjointed (I had a rather busy weekend lacking in sufficient sleep.) But, the point(s) I’m trying to make are put down your phones, put on your pink tutus, listen to your fabric, and make something unique and wonderful to let loose in the world.

I’m going to try and do the same today. And, then, I’m going to get some sleep.

Happy creating!

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.

A Little Bit of History from the Desert

A Little Bit of History from the Desert

Here's a picture from my balcony in Madaba, Jordan. I hope to find some interesting textiles in the bazaars as I travel through the country.

Here’s a picture from my balcony in Madaba, Jordan. I hope to find some interesting textiles in the bazaars as I travel through the country.

I’m in Jordan today. Yes, the Jordan in the Middle East, northeast of Egypt and Israel. I woke up in Madaba to a beautiful sunrise and rose blooms over the desert. I’m here on holiday, to ride my bike and spend the later afternoons looking for textiles in the bazaars.

The Middle East has always been a nexus of textile production. Trade routes commonly known as the Silk Road terminated on their western end in the eastern Mediterranean ports. As a result, these markets were also the centers of textile production.

Textiles of the Middle East during the Middle Ages were highly prized goods. I’d venture to say they still are. Many of the words we use to describe textiles in the English language are derived from Persian, Arabic, and Turkish – terms like damask, taffeta, cotton, muslin, seersucker, and mohair.

Historical value

Long ago, textiles in this region were also often accepted as payment of taxes or other moneys owed. Visiting officials and ambassadors were given gifts of cloth or garments. In a part of the world where much of the population was once primarily nomadic, interiors were furnished with textiles used to cover floors, walls, cushions, and to create beds and storage of all kinds.

Traditionally, gifts of any kind were also presented in a textile wrapper. The more elaborate the wrapper the greater honor was intended. Textiles were thought to be able to hold powers of protection or harm, depending on the symbols and inscriptions incorporated into them.

After the death of Muhammad, representation of living creatures was banned in most cultures of the region. As a result, Islamic design developed a beautiful metaphorical language all its own, utilizing geometry, calligraphy, vegetal, and architectural forms (though in many Persian & Central Asian silks and carpets, human and animal figures do appear).


Elaborately patterned silks were produced throughout the Middle East in all sorts of complex weaves – such as twills, lampas, and brocades. Silks of a more simple nature, tafta and satin weaves, were also quite numerous. A cloth made from a silk warp and a cotton weft, known as alaca, produced a more “economical” textile.

Tiraz textiles are a silk fabric, particularly important from the tenth to the fourteenth centuries, embellished with a border containing inscriptions of religious quotations and often woven in gold thread. Baghdad was the best known source of tiraz but it was produced in many other Middle Eastern locations. The borders appear most commonly on upper sleeve bands. They are were also found on burial shrouds and ceremonial textiles.

Cotton and linen

Both cotton and linen, ranging more heavy canvas to lightweight gauze, were widely produced in the Middle East. Textile printing also existed and, by the sixteenth century, a printing industry existed in Syria, later expanding into Anatolia.

Mohair and wool

Mohair, camel hair, and goat hair – referred to as cashmere or pashima, is used to weave soft and beautifully patterned shawls throughout the region. These shawls became very popular in the west during the nineteenth century.

The patterns, woven in twill tapestry or other complex compound weaves, featured colorful and elaborate designs. One such design was a complex vegetal one known as boteh. In the west this design became to be known as the paisley motif, named after Paisley, Scotland where textile mills produced copies of the design in the latter nineteenth century.

The best known wool textiles of the region are the pile and flat cloths made as rugs, bags, wall coverings, and the like. The oldest surviving example of Islamic carpet weaving is the “Fostat” fragment from the ninth century found in Cairo.

Carpet design can be divided into 3 categories

  1. Tribal carpets, produced by nomadic or village households for their own use, tend to be geometric in design and reflect regional affiliations.
  2. Court carpets, created by the finest artists of the day, are usually the most intricate and finely knotted.
  3. Urban manufactured carpets are the third category. These are often technically fine but most often have less intricate designs.

Adventure time!

I’m excited to see what kinds of things I’ll be able to unearth over the next week as I wander about Jordan. Hopefully, I’ll have some interesting finds to share with you!

Textiles, especially those that are handmade, have such a deep history. I love learning about a design or technique that is unique or specific to a certain village or area. I also enjoy meeting local artisans who still produce works of art in the same way their ancestors always have.

This all ties into one of my previous posts about passing on skilled expertise to younger generations. Its a tradition pretty much as old as human civilization and one very much worth sustaining.

I wish you all a week of amazing discoveries (whether they be ancient or not). Next week I’ll be posting from Cairo. Arak qaribanaan.

Choosing the Right Batting

Choosing the Right Batting

I have definite plans and goals for the new year, and not just the ones that I’ve mentioned in previous posts. I want to take another class. I want take better care of myself. I want to read more. But one thing that I want to do under the sewing umbrella is to finish up the quilt I’ve been working on for a while now. That goal happens to come in steps. Firstly, I need to finish with the patchwork design I have going on (the goal is to have twelve rows of patches) to get this top layer ready for the next two.

The quilt I’ve been working on for a while now.

The quilt I’ve been working on for a while now.

That step, though it’ll take time, is pretty cut and dry. I plan, I pin and I sew.

The steps that follow are the ones that merit consideration beyond those general details — like how I plan to join my quilt sandwich. Do I stitch? Do I tie? Do I spray? Decisions! (Details can be found here).

Hungry? Have a sandwich

Quilt sandwich.

The more immediate topic to debate is what kind of batting I’m going to use for the middle of my quilt sandwich. This will be, by the way, the first time I’ve used batting since I only recently realized that quilts do, in fact, need three layers to fit the official definition, thus the term “quilt sandwich.” Before, I just used the backing and the front, but I want to be more by-the-books for this one! Given that I have little to no experience with batting though, it seemed reasonable to do a bit of research on the matter so that I could make the best decision for me.

Research, I did, and I’ve come to a potential fabric for the job: Cotton.

The fabric of our lives

There are plenty of batting types to choose from.

There are plenty of batting types to choose from.

There are a number of reasons for this choice, and I urge anyone who is going to make a quilt to consider their own purposes and situations when choosing the right batting. While cotton might be a good choice for me, it might not be the best option for another person or another project. There are plenty of batting types to choose from — polyester, wool, blends — and to make the best decision, maybe spend some time looking into the pros and cons of each. You can find details about the possibilities here and here.

So with those other possibilities in mind, why did I choose cotton? There are a number of reasons. For one, it’s cheap. Yes, I know, cheaper isn’t always better, but for a learner on a budget, price can definitely be something worth considering! Remember that this is my first time adding batting, so it would be not-so-good to spend a bigger amount on a batting type just to mess the whole thing up! It’s also worth noting that this quilt will be for personal use, which leads into the reasoning that everything doesn’t have to be top-of-the-line quality like I might strive for if a company name was on the line. It’s for me, it’s my first experience with batting, and I think testing the waters on a smaller money scale is a good idea!

Synthetic but equal

Now, this might make you wonder why I didn’t go with polyester. Simple answer: Itchiness leads to polyester not always being my best friend! This is a personal decision, but the idea is something to keep in mind should you choose to make any kind of sewn product. If you have an allergy or a bad reaction to a certain fabric, keep that in mind so you can steer clear of it!

Choosing the Right Batting

There’s also the issue of loft, or how thick the batting is. Something like wool is high loft, meaning it’s very thick, so a quilt made with wool would be thicker. If you’re a person who gets cold all the time, wool might be your fabric for batting! For me, I want something with a lower loft so that the final product will be thinner. For one thing, I like the size that the first layer of my quilt will be, and I don’t want to shrink it too much by having it cover a thicker middle layer. For another thing, to me, higher loft looks more like a comforter, and I don’t want to go that route with this product.

Cotton is a better choice then, and it’s a fabric that I know is easy to work with on sewing projects. There’s no known itchy detail that I need to worry about, and I can feel comfortable knowing that I’m accustomed to it. I like cotton and — as weird as it might sound — I trust cotton. In addition, the recommended stitching distance for cotton is wider than other fabrics, giving more freedom in that respect.

And all of that, my readers, is a pleasant combination to deal with for my first dive into batting! How about you? Do you have a preferred batting option?

Shopping in the New York City Garment District

Fabric Shopping in the New York City Garment District

Shopping in the New York City Garment DistrictWhen I first moved to NYC a lifetime ago, I worked for very little money as an assistant to a crazy hat designer in the heart of the garment district. The only upside to the job was that I spent a good part of every day out on the streets gathering fabric swatches and button and trim samples. There was another assistant who had been there for almost a year already and she took me around with her and introduced me to all the people and stores. The two of us had a great time digging through bins of buttons, wandering deep into the back corner of NY Elegant Fabrics, and convincing the nice people at Mood to let us into their “secret” warehouse (it really does exist).

I only stayed at that job for about a month, though it felt like a year, and the other assistant (who has since moved back to Korea to head up a fashion company there) and I still keep in touch. I don’t go to the garment district as often as I once did but I do have a list of must visit favorite places.

Mood – 225 West 37th Street

I’ll get this one out of the way first since most people at this point have heard of Mood which lucked into some amazing advertising when it became the fabric store featured on Project Runway. One of the coolest things about Mood is the building its in and the old elevator, still manned by an actual man, that you have to take up to the 3rd floor. Once up there, the rows and rows of fabric reach from floor to ceiling. Things are pretty well organized, the selection is large, and most bolts have swatches already cut and attached to the ends that you can take.

One little note about swatching in most all the stores in New York City: If someone asks if you are a student, say no. They’re asking because most stores have specific hours for student swatching and won’t allow you to do so if its not during those hours.

Also of note: Mood has a public restroom in the back right corner. 😉

NY Elegant – 222 West 40th Street

I love NY Elegant for its selection of light weight cottons, organdies, and batistes. NY Elegant is a family run store and is the last standing fabric store on 40th St. They also get a lot novelty fabrics – fake furs and things with glitter and sparkly threads.

Paron Fabrics – 257 West 39th Street

This is one of my absolute favorite family run fabric stores in the city. Sadly, they closed their doors for good just last month. I’m only including it to remind everyone to try and support their local fabric stores and if, you have the chance, come to NYC and shop in the garment district. You really can find almost any kind of fabric there by visiting the larger stores and just wandering down 39th street and stopping in to the small stores that still remain.

B & J Fabrics – 525 7th Ave #2

B & J is your best bet for high end linens, lace, and silks. The store is extremely well organized and always seems extraordinarily well lit in comparison to other garment stores. They are a little pricier than some of the other stores but the quality of the fabrics they stock is superb.

Lou Lou Buttons – 69 West 38th St

Lou Lou Buttons sells only buttons. They have bins and drawers and barrels full of buttons. They have wood buttons, shell buttons, mother of pearl buttons, and every funky, unique kind of button you could imagine. The people who work there are helpful and friendly and don’t seem to mind if you spend hours looking.

M & J Trimming – 1008 6th Ave

There are a lot of small trim stores in the garment district with beautiful things but M & J has by far the largest selection of trims in the city. And, unlike a lot of the garment district stores, they’re open on Sunday (you know, for those weekend trim emergencies.)

Tinsel Trading – 828 Lexington Ave

Shopping in the New York City Garment DistrictTinsel Trading recently moved out of the garment district to this new location on Lexington. They stock the most amazing unique vintage and new trims you’ll find (unless you’re shopping in India or Southeast Asia). Their stuff is expensive but much of it really is one of a kind. If you like metallic thread, fabrics, and fringes, this is the place to go.

If you’ve never had the chance to shop for fabric in New York City, I encourage you to plan a trip if possible – you won’t regret it. And, if you come during the month of December, you can also go visit the holiday windows at the retail stores along 5th Avenue – Bergdorf’s (always my favorite), Saks, etc.

Quilt A String-Pieced Scrap Quilt For Baby

Quilt A String-Pieced Scrap Quilt For Baby

Here is an easy scrap quilt idea that is great fun to make.Here is an easy scrap quilt idea that is great fun to make.

You could clear out your scrap stash to make this gorgeous gift.

Blue is my favorite color, so I had heaps of blue scraps. That is what gave me the idea to make this crib sized quilt for a special new baby boy. You could choose a different color of scraps for this, or you could choose to not restrict your palette and clear out a random colorful scrap pile instead.

You will need:

  • A variety of cotton scraps
  • 48 5-inch cotton muslin squares
  • 12 2.5 inch muslin squares
  • 1 yard border fabric
  • Crib size batting
  • 1.5 yard backing fabric
  • Quilt binding or fabric to make binding

To make the patchwork squares:

Press and cut your colorful scraps into approximately 1 inch wide strips. You will trim strips to the desired length as you construct the squares.

Take a muslin square and angle the first scrap strip diagonally, from the bottom left corner to the top right corner of the square. You can create a sort of uniformity in your blocks and allow for the Xs and squares effect achieved in this quilt by choosing one color scrap to use as this center piece in every square. In this case, I chose navy. All squares are made with navy as the longest, first piece in this quilt.

Next, choose another strip and place it right side down atop the first strip, then sew along one side using a quarter inch seam. Flip the second strip down to face up, then press.

Once you've added the last little strip to cover the corner, you can turn and repeat the process to fill in the other side of your square.

Once you’ve added the last little strip to cover the corner, you can turn and repeat the process to fill in the other side of your square.

Then add another strip, placing the third right side down atop the second, and sew using a quarter inch seam, then flip with right side up, and press.

Please do not skip the step of pressing each strip neatly down after sewing. Careful pressing makes the difference between neat and well made quilts and something that is more of a mess!

Repeat the process, using shorter strips and smaller scraps as you get close to the edges of the square. Once you’ve added the last little strip to cover the corner, you can turn and repeat the process to fill in the other side of your square.

Now you have your first completed square.

You have your first completed square.

Place the square right side down and trim excess strip ends from the muslin square. This is most easily accomplished using a rotary cutter, or you can trim the excess with scissors instead.

Now make 47 more.

Now make 47 more.

Now you have your first completed square.

Make 47 more.

Assembling the quilt top:

Once you have completed all your patchwork squares, sew them together into rows.

Different looks can be achieved by varying the placement of the squares. You could turn them all in the same direction or assemble them where they form the X’s and O’s pattern pictured here. This is one of the things that makes quilting so much fun, that the same simple block can be turned different ways to vary the look of the completed top.

When joining the squares, take extra care for the tiny corner triangles, as it can be easy to make a careless mistake and miss joining these “ears” properly. This is easy to avoid by being careful in joining the squares and avoiding rush.

You also have options in this design: once you have completed the joining of the strip patchwork, you could call the quilt top done. Or choose to border the patchwork with a solid fabric. You could make borders of equal widths, or you could choose to add an additional embellishment, as I have here, with smaller blocks set off with borders. I did mine this way to indicate the top of the quilt and bring the design to the right dimensions for a crib sized quilt..

To make this quilt as pictured, sew 3.5 inch border strips around all sides of the patchwork design.

Prepare the three smaller blocks in the same way as the larger ones, using 2.5 inch muslin squares for the base.

Join these into a row by alternating the small patchwork blocks with 4 4.5 inch squares of the border fabric.

Sew this strip to the top edge, and finish the top by adding one more 3.5 inch strip above this.

To make the “quilt sandwich”:

  1. Cut your backing fabric 3 inches bigger all around than the top, press well, and place it right side down on your table or workspace.
  2. Carefully smooth the batting atop the wrong side of the backing layer.
  3. Press the top and seams one more time, taking extra care, then layer it wrong side down on top of the batting layer. Smooth nicely.
  4. Then baste all three layers together, using either long running stitches or quilters safety pins.


Meandering stipple stitch.

Meandering stipple stitch.

You can quilt this using the quick and easy route: the “stitch in the ditch” method of quilting over the seams that joined the individual blocks, or drop your feed dogs and use a meandering stipple stitch in one long line that (ideally) never crosses itself, guiding the quilt using your hands, working in sections until you have covered the entire quilt.  I quilted this pretty closely, like this:


Trim the excess batting and backing, using your scissors or more quickly with your serger.


Use prepackaged quilt binding or make your own. Sew binding strips together and then sew to quilt top, beginning along one side. Leave approximately an inch free at the beginning of this seam to join the binding ends once you have sewn it down all around. Join them, then fold over and sew the binding down on the back of the quilt using invisible whip stitches sewn by hand or using your machine if preferred.

Now you have made a beautiful heirloom gift that will be treasured forever!