Tie another knot and hang on (suicide awareness and prevention)

Sew Paradise | May 18, 2017 | By

We’re going to deviate from sewing for a post here, because there is too much suicide going around these days.

It seems pretty easy to sit where you are as a (reasonably) mentally healthy person and wonder how someone could get so low as to contemplate or even succeed at suicide. But when you’re in that chasm, and the walls, dark and high, are closing in around you, it’s not hard at all to imagine that suicide is the only way out. In fact, it almost becomes so clear to you that this is the ONLY way out, that it’s amazing that more people don’t succeed at it.

Flash back to about 2004 and 2005, I was newly bereaved/miscarried mother. I’d endured infertility for a while. My hormones crashed. All of my friends were pregnant, including one that was the same week along that I was. And I fell, hard. I can still remember how it felt: like sliding down a long embankment of slippery, dark soil that was impossible to climb out of. I’d try, and slip right back down there, into the darkness with the bugs and the self-doubt, self-incrimination for whatever I’d done to deserve this. One night, in January, about two months after that miscarriage, my dog got hit by a car. I remember raging at the dark night sky, the stars out overhead and screaming at God: Why her? Take ME instead. My dog lived (she was in a cast for a month, recovered mostly to live a long life, full of arthritis from her injuries, but with four legs.)

It was about all I could take when a group of friends gathered one evening (January 17th, to be exact) and one friend began asking another about her pregnancy, and the pregnant one showed off her belly (albeit somewhat reluctantly.) I remember feeling the walls close in around me then, my breathing shallow, not really able to hear what people were saying to me. I left abruptly and nearly (intentionally) drove off a bridge. I didn’t, mostly because the thought of drowning was scarier than the pain and I had other options. Later that week, I grabbed enough prescription painkillers to do the job. I sat in my bedroom – unbeknownst to my husband in the next room, or my parents three hours away – that I had everything to do this job well. Chaser of beer, the will to do it. It didn’t matter that my friends had said “reach out to me, call a hotline” – it seemed the only way out was to do this thing.

In fact, the startling clarity of the decision to do it was and is still what amazes me now. I was convinced that this was the only possible solution to my never-ending pain. I was enduring emotional beating after beating, on my knees, unable to breathe, to get up, to get away from the pain.

Suicide seemed the only option. And it was such a clear one, too.

I have no idea what (or who) the divine intervention that stopped my hand – I had stashed away blades in my lingerie drawer, I had the pills out of the container and in my hand. It shook wildly as I let them fall into my palm. I was really going to do this. Something stopped me. Someone stopped me (someone not on this earthly plane.)

I took those pills into the other room and handed them to my shocked and bewildered husband, who finally (after arguing with me earlier that week about needing to “snap out of it”) understood the gravity of the situation. He phoned my parents. They arrived hours later. I have no idea what mad dash they made to come be with me. Everyone rallied. I got a therapist.

That wasn’t the end, though, it would be months in therapy with meds. I’d have setback after setback – those same friends whom I cleaved myself from (out of preservation of my own sanity) who then turned on me in anger. I grieved the loss of those friendships. I endured another miscarriage. And another. I turned to blades which, surprisingly, offered solace. The physical pain of cutting myself seemed to dull the emotional pain with a rush of endorphins.

I share this – probably my weakest point, my most fragile place – because I want those that say “call and get help” to understand that it’s not that simple. I believed, truly, that no one could help me and that I was better off not here any longer. You cannot expect the person in that place to help themselves. They cannot. It takes someone to step in and say “let’s call the therapist and get you in to some help right this moment. Let’s go to the hospital, right now.”

To those that are there, right now, I say to you, you cannot believe it now, but there is real and powerful joy ahead for you. You experience the lowest of lows – but you can also experience the highest of highs too. The flipside of where you are now, in that chasm, is a light that is powerful. If there’s an ounce of will left in you, tie another knot and hang on.

What I’d have missed: the birth of my two liveborn children, including a rainbow that is as fierce as I am. A quarter century of marriage to my best friend. The death at a ripe old age of my dog, and the birth of a new one who is my cuddly buddy. Several businesses, all of them successful.

I’ve been there, again, too. On a glittery, happy spring weekend full of friends, bike rides, brewpubs and fun, I was mired in a long and difficult business separation. I hung onto this world only because of my children and the fact that I wanted to see that situation resolve itself for them – to not leave that hanging by my death. I am not afraid to admit I got out my blades – but set them down after only a prick of blood.

I’m happy now. Somewhat anxious occasionally, but happy.  I am pretty sure that my depression either unlocked or created some cracks in my armor that I can’t ever quite fully patch.

I’ve gone on to have even more challenges since then, but the resilience I’ve built up has been like a callous – my armor against going too far, again. I’ve learned some really powerful coping skills – journaling and  exercise seem to work the best for me.

If you think, if you even think you have a friend who is suicidal, do not ask them to reach out for help. GO to them. Take them to a therapist. Take them to the hospital. Take them away for a weekend. They may not have the power, or the will,  do this on their own.



Kwik Sew Swimsuit – You CAN Sew Your Own Swimwear!

Sew Paradise | April 14, 2017 | By

Sew Paradise Kwik Sew SwimsuitThis week, I’m sewing a Kwik Sew 3608 bandeau tankini swim suit out of gorgeous Chanel swimwear knit from France. I purchased this fabric last summer from Elliott Berman Textiles in NYC, and it’s luscious. It’s heavy 4-way stretch in a florentine pattern in aquas and blues. It’s spongy-textured and very, very nice. I’ve made this view B suit once before – I sewed it as a modified suit for breastfeeding my children, and wore it through both of their nursing careers. The modifications I made to the bust lining, which included openings in the lining for nursing, I taped back together as one piece for this suit, my kids are now 8 and 5.  I also made a tank style suit with really nifty nursing openings hidden in princess seams (Elizabeth Lee pattern) and that, also, was a huge success. I wore that suit til it wore out.

So what do I love about making swimsuits? I’ll dive back into my childhood for the answers. Growing up, I was a pretty awkwardly skinny kid, and my mom didn’t believe in bikinis. I thought this a travesty, of course, being a teenager. When I was twelve, an older cousin gave me a green terry cloth bikini and my mom wouldn’t let me wear it initially. I remember my mom’s younger sister saying “If she can’t wear a bikini at twelve, when CAN she?” Thanks Auntie for coming to my rescue. But she wasn’t fond of the suit and I never wore another bikini until I could buy them myself.

One summer, my mom gave me a suit of hers, a navy blue one piece bandeau suit. Today, I would love this suit, it had white trim on the top and on the sides and a white tie around the neck. I have a similar suit in red and white stripe and love it for it’s old Hollywood chic. But as a fourteen year old, I was mortified to wear this suit –  it was a MOM suit – and wore it with a tee shirt over it every summer I had to wear it. Which seemed like aeons! One summer, I purchased, with my own money, an aqua blue tank style suit at an inexpensive local store, and the very first day I wore it, I slid off the bow of my dad’s ski boat and caught the back of the suit on a cleat. I was hung there, on the boat, my brother howling with laughter, with a giant wedgie suspending me from the side of the boat. I was both furious and mortified. It was probably the worst day of my teenage life. And the worst part? The suit tore, and my mother wouldn’t buy another. It was the worst summer ever! I’m kidding, but my cheeks still flame thinking of hanging there while someone came to help me down from my cleat-hook swimsuit at the boat ramp.

I swore I’d learn to sew my own swimsuits that summer, but it wasn’t til I was a mother myself that I attempted this. I really don’t know why – they are ridiculously easy to sew! You don’t need a serger, although I did sew mine with one – a zigzag machine is sufficient, and it follows along with the directions which is shown sewn with a zigzag stitch.

And now, on my list is a white bikini. I purchased one of these specimens, a triangle-top, tie-side bikini when I was in my 20s living in Florida. I wore it in the ocean exactly once, and my husband told me to cover up when I got in shore, as it turned entirely see-through!  Now, in my mid 40s, I’ll make a bandeau tankini in white (THREE layers on the inside, two white, one nude) and finally have my white swimsuit day in the sun.

When I first learned to sew swimwear, sewists on PatternReview recommended Kwik Sew for it’s awesome directions and drafting of swimwear, and this was an excellent recommendation to take.

The tankini I chose has a bandeau top and hipster bottom. On me, they meet and overlap (depending on my hem length), but you can choose your own length, if you want more (or less, as the pattern shows) coverage.

I highly recommend making your own swimwear – they take a ridiculously small amount of fabric to sew (usually a yard, including self-linings) and they are very easy. The negative ease built into them makes for easy fitting. The most critical fit is the torso length measurement, and I highly recommend you follow the pattern directions for this if you’re making a one-piece suit. For a two-piece suit, this is not necessary.

One thing that is absolutely is necessary is to use swimwear elastic. This is natural-colored, natural rubber elastic with cotton that won’t get destroyed the first time you go in seawater or chlorinated pools. Don’t use traditional polyester elastic; it will disintegrate quickly. You can buy this at any big fabric / craft store, or online in bulk, in many widths. It’s cream colored, so it looks different. I buy it in bulk from SewSassy.

Making your own swimsuits – particularly out of this expensive and awesome fabric – is easy and rewarding. For me, the making of my own suits allows me to come full circle on awkward teenage-hood life. I made this myself, it’s exactly what I want and I can make as many as I want to!

Hot Patterns Urban Gypsy off-the-shoulder top

HP Urban Gypsy Sew Paradise

I’ve had this on my must-sew list for at least a year. I wanted to make one for last year spring break, but ran out of time. This year, I planned ahead (and I sew more now), and it’s done, a full 10 days in advance. That’s the new me 😉

I love this top for several reasons – first, it’s very on-trend with the off-the-shoulder look. I made this in a gifted-to-me super light cotton lawn that is gossamer thin. The fact that it’s cotton is it’s only saving grace – in silk, I’d have drunk the entire keg of beer just trying to sew it. The cotton behaved well with a hot iron and some serging.

The pattern goes together very easily – the instructions are clear, and even though I charged ahead and sewed the fronts and backs together at the shoulder seams (like a raglan tee), I did note later in the instructions, that I wasn’t supposed to attach the front sleeves til I was ready to connect the flat, interfaced front band to the elastic-cased back band. It was simple enough to pick out about 2″ of seam and sew it back up once the neckbands were sewn on. I did read them first, I just missed that part. There’s a lot of “If you’re doing A, skip to 7” and things like that, so I missed the part about not sewing on the front sleeves til later.

This top has a shelf bra! Yes, you heard that, a shelf bra is built into the design of this top – there’s a stretchy white bra under this, so I won’t have to wear a strapless bra (who loves those? no one.) I used white ITY for the built in bra. You could sew some cups in there, but I don’t really need them.

I ended up making the back of the top longer than the front, quite inadvertently. I knew from other reviewers of this on the HotPatterns sewing club on Facebook, that petite people had shortened this top. I wanted to wear it with shorts (see below) and not have it look like I wasn’t wearing pants. So I shortened the pattern by folding it up before the hem makes it’s curve – but apparently, I was not even in my fold-up on the front and back (and fortuitously, it was the back that was longer.) Sometimes happy accidents happen. I’m going to actually measure that out and mark the pattern with a slash and tape to make it shorter next time.

I’m showing this with some of my capsule wardrobe for the spring break trip (six days, no laundry facilities) – the shorts are ones I bought at H&M in an emergency “how’d I gain weight?” in Europe this summer, after the shorts I brought with me were suddenly too small. And they’re snug-ish, but I’m working on that. I am wearing them as well with wide leg Perfect Pants from Christine Jonson Patterns.

I love this top, it was very easy to construct, and with the number of light cotton lawn prints in my stash right now, I’ll definitely be making a couple more of these. There’s a tie-sleeve version (seemed like a guacamole catcher to me) which I might try for my next version. There are also front pockets which I will also try in a future version. I did NOT make a muslin – in HotPatterns, I generally get a good fit right out of the envelope with tops (pants, I do have to muslin and adjust.) Besides, with a large stash, a good deal of it things gifted from friends, I really have wearable muslin fabric to work with. And a lot of it.

I highly recommend this pattern. It’s easy to sew, there are nice details and it’s very fashion forward. I’ll replace these images with pool and beachside ones once I’m on spring break!


Ann Normandy Maxi Dress

Sew Paradise | February 25, 2017 | By

This is a really cool dress! I recommend this for intermediate sewists.  It is a dress with many wonderful details that make it a joy to sew, but, there are a few tricky spots. Let’s break it down:

This is a classic maxi dress – floor length, sleeveless, and designed to be made in a mid-to-heavyweight linen (or similar fabric). I chose a textured heavy cotton with a herringbone weave to it. It’s close to the hand of a heavyweight linen. I wanted to test out the dress and I have a lot of fabric. It’s perfect for tall people (that is, if you are tall, you’ll have no issues making this dress and having to lengthen.) I removed 9″ from the dress during the layout stage. Fortunately, for me, the perfect spot was right at the vent opening (you can see the high side vents in this photo.)

I chose a size M from the measurement chart, and it fits beautifully with no alterations. I’m a C cup, and it works on me in this size. I like that the top of it is fitted, but it opens up below the bust and slides right over all the squishy bits. It stands away from the body, which will be great for spring break and for this summer. Normal years, it would be chillier in early March in Florida, but this year, they’re having record high temps down there. I’m under no illusions: this summer is forecast to be hot, and this dress will be perfect for work – it’s polished enough to wear to a client meeting but casual enough for work at home and weekend.

This dress has pockets that are sewn to the inner front,  and it has a very nicely sewn folded pocket edge that’s captured in the side seam. This was one of the really nice details of the dress to sew and it came out very well.

There are some tricky bits – the sideseam (which is flat felled) and the vent really threw me on this one. I read the instructions again and again (and there are pictures, too, which are detailed.) But I still messed it up on the first try.

The instructions are to create a lapped vent with 3/8″ folded and narrow hemmed seams. And then, to connect a flat-felled side seam to this vent. I screwed it up by cutting away the wrong side of the seam allowance on the dress, so my flat fell would be on the wrong side, and my only save was to serge this seam to capture both raw edges, and then flat fell it the correct direction. I serged it with white thread, no less (I was not about to rethread my serger at this point.) I will not be showing you those interior photos. I vowed to make it correctly the second time and screwed something else up – but this time, I’m not quite sure what it was. So I plan to digest the instructions again and make a test sample of a sideseam and vent. I’ll report back. Fortunately, overall, it was a save; I was able to get both vent and felled seam to work, but they did not go together as beautifully as instructed.

At this point in the project, I required a beer. Ann Normandy Maxi Dress Beer So my choices were: “Do I feel sufficiently distressed to have the big beer, or can I just chill with a smaller one.” Fortunately, it was the latter. It wasn’t a crisis – it was more determination to see if I could make the dress look good on the outside (with that faux serged-flat felled seam. What will I do differently? I’ll probably make a sample sideseam. In linen next time, although this cotton pressed really well and was not difficult to sew.  It’s hard to justify buying more fabric when I have (nine or ten) big bins full of it and a cabinet besides.

A tip: When sewing the flat felled side seam the first time, the dress is ‘open’ – so it’s easy. But the second side seam, you should sew from the vent UP to the underarm, because that that point, the dress is tubular and you’ll have to keep the other side of the dress from being captured in the seam as you sew the flat felled seam. I still ended up catching a collar tip, but it was one stitch and easily removed. Be careful to sweep the underlayers out of the way as you go.

The squared neck AND the unique squared off underarm facings are really a lot of fun to sew. They are interesting without being too complicated, and there was something so deliciously satisfying to pivot 90 degrees at an underarm facing seam. So precise!

For the first release of this review, I’m in my bedroom. It’s February, and it’s snowing out and I’m not even bothering to adjust the photo. It’s a bit of a mess up here (I had to move my laundry hamper and some other things out of the way), but I did put on lipstick, and fancy long earrings. A big win for me tonight is that, in this photo, I’m sporting my natural hair, which is growing in very well now, and probably I will go on vacation without a wig. I have an autoimmune disease and this was my second round of baldness, which has lasted nearly 16 months. This time last year, I was almost completely bald and wore scarves and headwraps on vacation.

This dress is definitely a must-sew-again. It has distinctive details and a great fit. It’s a bit of a challenge, but I think that if you’re making such a simple dress, a challenge is a good thing; you learn how to do interesting techniques on an otherwise very simple garment.

I will update this review to include a poolside photo once I’m in sunny Florida!

A note, I was given this sewing pattern in exchange for some marketing and web site consulting work for Ann Normandy Patterns. The review is my honest review, I was not compensated for it. I do this type of consulting for a few sewing pattern companies and love it. I love helping these independent designers – and these are GREAT designers – get their beautiful patterns out to the world. This review, and my sewing of the garment, is entirely for me personally.

DIY funnelneck / turtleneck sewing pattern and a great striped top

Sew Paradise | February 13, 2017 | By

Christine Jonson Funnelneck Travel Trio Two

Today (and yesterday) I wore my October boots in February. Yes, I have October boots. Just look at them! Dove gray suede. You’d be a fool to wear them when it’s anything but cool, sunny and perfectly dry. Which, generally, is not February. Except this year. Yeah, yeah, global warming is a hoax, so why have I worn my October boots in November and February in the sunshine, but I’ve only cross country skied three times? #science.

The October February boots are paired today with the Christine Jonson Patterns funnelneck top. I actually made this last winter out of a moderately  heavy striped knit fabric. It shrunk a bit (despite prewashing) and so now my gargantuan long arms plus shrink, they are back to the 3/4 sleeve that the pattern actually comes with. I do lengthen these sleeves when I make this turtle (just draw them down to your preferred sleeve length, that’s it!) I am also wearing the Ruana in fleece from Travel Trio Three also from Christine Jonson Patterns and my Levis High Rise Skinny (perfect for riding bikes to meetings, which I did earlier this morning.) The gloves are a beautiful soft leather long glove, to be worn with capes, ponchos and my cropped faux fur vintage coat.

What do I love about this turtleneck? It is just two pattern pieces. That’s it! A front/back and a sleeve. You can make a turtleneck in 20 minutes, and that’s not much more than browsing your favorite online catalog website and checking out your cart. I’m going to see if I have any spring like colors of knit in my stash and make some of these in some yummy colors. They look ah-mazing with a Chanel-style jacket and jeans. And your October boots. In February! I had this fabric in stash for a long time and it’s been so wonderful to wear it. Friends, stash is bad. You need to be wearing all those gorgeous fabrics. You can’t even remember what you have. Get that stuff out of your closet and sew it up! I know, I know, we all think, well, we’ll screw that up and that gorgeous fabric will be gone. So I sew tried -and-true patterns with the special fabrics. Things I’ve made, that worked, and that will work for similar fabrics.

The Ruana is one that I have also worn before and may have even posted about it here. It’s a bit chilly in this picture, sun nonwithstanding, but later this week I’ll actually be wearing the ruana as outerwear and I might be too warm. I might need February sandals and not in Florida either. Christine Jonson Funnelneck Travel Trio Two


Sewing a Spring Break Capsule Wardrobe

I love Spring Break! Warm sun, sand, a southern location. It gets me invigorated again. And as all sewists know, there’s nothing more fun than planning a trip AND sewing for it! My 2017 capsule wardrobe for Spring Break features three independent designers*: Christine Jonson Patterns, HotPatterns and Ann Normandy Patterns. All three are well-drafted by professional sewing pattern designers and produced in digital download formats.

Spring Break Sewing Pattern Capsule Wardrobe

Christine Jonson Perfect Pants Classic Wide Leg

First, I selected pants. I live in a cold climate and I have to wear pants on the taxi / bus / plane trip. I chose the Christine Jonson Perfect Pant in classic wide leg – nothing more perfect than a palazzo style pant for the beach. Yum! I dived into my stash and found a deep purple rayon/lycra, which will be drapey and still substantial enough with the folded over doubled yoga waistband that these pants feature.

Then, I added in the Hot Patterns Urban Gypsy off the shoulder blouse. This blouse features a built-in bra, so you can really wear it strapless. I chose a lightweight floral cotton lawn fabric from stash that a friend gave me. Cost? $0.

Hot Patterns Urban Gypsy

Christine Jonson Draped Vest & Jacket

I really wanted a vest and cardigan, so I selected the Christine Jonson Drape Vest & Jacket. This waterfall cardigan and vest is pretty ingenious; there’s a small H-shaped pleat in the front that helps hold the cardigan’s shape and neckline drape. Leave it to Christine to design this and tweak every tiny detail to perfection. THIS is why I sew independent patterns from actual fashion designers – they know their stuff. I’ll make the vest in a near-army-green crinkle rayon knit and the cardi in a dusty smoke blue crinkle rayon knit.


Last, I’m a sucker for a great maxi dress, and I chose the Ann Normandy maxi. I’m interested in this because when I inherited a lot of woven fabrics from friends (I have a large stash of knit fabrics), I wanted a pattern to help me sew these fabrics up. I’ve chosen a navy blue textured cotton – not the heavy linen the pattern loves, but pretty close in hand and drape to it.

Here’s how I’ll wear it:

Travel days: I’ll wear the Classic Wide Leg Perfect Pants from Christine Jonson with a simple tee and the Drape Jacket. Most likely this will be worn with a Gore tex parka (because, winter) and my running shoes (because, small suitcase, and chasing six and nine year old kids.) We fly through Metro Detroit, and if you’ve ever been in the Delta (McNamara) terminal there, there’s a giant fountain as you enter the main departures hall after security. It takes my son eleven seconds to run from the escalators after security to the fountain and climb on it while I am still fumbling with our carry on luggage and shoes! I love business travel for the simple reason that I get to walk silently with a cup of coffee, my roller bag behind me, looking calm and collected. When I travel with my loveable yahoos, I’m hollering all over the airport.

Upon arrival (at 11:30pm), I’ll collapse into bed, BUT the next day, at the Hilton (most likely; we move around during our trip, staying in up to three different hotels depending on our location and activities) I will don a swimsuit and the Ann Normandy maxi dress and head to breakfast and then the pool. I’m excited about making this dress for the first time because of the design details. These are elegant details on a simple dress. I’ll wear this with t-strap flat sandals.

For sightseeing, I’ll wear a tee with the Christine Jonson Drape Vest and (most likely) white shorts.

Dinner out will almost require the HotPatterns Urban Gypsy. I love this look and will wear it with the Christine Jonson Perfect Pant again. I think the Christine Jonson Draped Vest will be perfect over this, too, giving a cold-shoulder look to the outfit. Definitely flat strappy sandals with this look.

I can mix and match things all week long, by adding two basic tee shirts, two pairs of shorts and swimsuits. I always pack running gear and try to run every day I am on vacation, unless I’m walking around at a Disney park, in which case the 10 miles of walking will be sufficient!  There’s nothing that makes me happier than sewing…and traveling, and sewing capsule wardrobes is my kind of perfect!

*complete disclosure: I work with all three of these sewing pattern companies in some marketing capacity, and I consider them friends.  They make great sewing patterns, that’s why I love them.

Ann Normandy Maxi Dress




BurdaStyle 12-2016 Cape Poncho 

Sew Paradise | December 30, 2016 | By

BurdaStyle Cape Poncho Sew Paradise

This looks nothing like the cape in the magazine but it’s totally awesome! Let me start by saying this project was fraught with problems from the beginning.

This is the BurdaStyle Cape Poncho in the magazine (12/2016).  And here’s mine!

Exactly what happened to make this so awesome? Simple. I screwed up. Big time. I pulled this organic sweatshirting out of stash. I’d made some baby diaper inserts for cloth diapering out of this fabric a long time ago (six years ago). We’d layer up the fancy cloth diapers with these inserts (fuzzy side out) and call them ‘nighty-night’ diapers, so my son would stay dry and happy at night. My son is almost 7 😉 So it ‘s been around a while. I laid out the pattern, looking at the diagram (picture!) in BurdaStyle’s instructions at least 487 times while trying to get the pattern pieces out of this small remnant of fabric. One of the pieces said “attach piece ‘A’ to the bottom of piece 1” in no less than four places. Did I do that? Nope. Didn’t even cut out piece A (which you can see as the gray part here).

Plus, I was trying to eek out this pattern from this fabric and didn’t have enough to do a fold-over collar, let alone piece ‘A’, so I ended up piecing the collar and stitching the pieces at the top of the fold over collar. It looks pretty cool though. The front of the poncho is pieced like you see here, but that triangle piece…well….

I may have used some words. Some bad words. And maybe I sang them into a little song so they sounded better, to which my husband (who came upstairs after working on HIS project to hear me sing this song) said “you probably shouldn’t say that in front of the kids.” Ah, no. Probably not.

So immediately I thought, hey, that looks like an interesting shape and maybe I can stick something in that spot that looks cool since I totally screwed this up. I brought up mint green sweatshirting but the mint is a cool tone and this was very warm toned cream. It didn’t look right, so I brought up this really old piece of fleece. I used this for at least fifteen years, maybe more, as a “portfolio backdrop” for our graphic designed print pieces that I and my business partners designed for our clients. Voila! Insta-cool, and I didn’t even plan it.

It’s pretty generously sized – this is the 38-40 size. I’m normally a 40 in BurdaStyle, but honestly I could have gone down to a 36 to get more of the shape the model has on. And I entirely omitted the separate waistband, choosing to simply turn and make a casing and put elastic in it. I’d made everything else so hard, this waistband was easy.

I really like it! I do have other oversized, geometric ponchos like this (most notably my HotPatterns version here) But I would like to make one of these again, as it is shown, out of a sweater-ish knit, and probably will go down to a 34/36 size in this, as it’s roomy.

On Clarabelle (who’s at least six inches taller than me), it looks smashing. Those ARE my jeans, and that IS my top, but Clarabelle is all angles, and I’m not ;D

Here’s the BurdaStyle version. On the mannequin, they look pretty close, right?

But on the model, she looks like she’s wearing a top and I (and Clarabelle, my mannequin) look like I’m wearing a poncho. Part of that is the separate waistband (which I omitted as this was very oversized) and part is the choice in size and knit fabric. (photos BurdaStyle magazine 12/2016)

I am very happy with how mine turned out. Sewing is often happy accidents and solving problems that you both made and are encountering (isn’t that life?) It teaches me that things can come out well when I mess them up, and they can afford me the opportunity to find creative solutions (which I thought of almost immediately) to challenges. I can’t wait to sport this new poncho with some dressy track style pants (the model has on dressy pants) or jeans.

From my blog, you’d think all I do is sew jackets and ponchos (and you’d be right, kidding!) I do sew other things; I’ll get around to posting more of them soon (such as that top you can see under the poncho.)  Happy Sewing! BurdaStyle sells this pattern on their web site.






Fast, ruffled edge DIY fleece ruana

Fleece ruana ruffled edge Sew Paradise

I love a good Ruana, a sumputous cape and or cozy wraps, especially in the fall. Something about wrapping yourself in a beautiful warm piece of fabric just reminds me of autumn. This ruana is made out of Mill Direct Textiles (authentic) Polar fleece –  the real stuff  – in a beautiful peacock blue. I sewed a center gathered at ruffle along a curved edge to create this fun look. While this required a sewing machine, because of the ruffle, it’s a fast and easy project that makes a great gift. But this one is all for me.

This sewing pattern is Christine Jonson Patterns Travel Trio Three that also has a slim fitting raglan tee shirt,  an A-line skirt, a shirred turtleneck and a raglan turtleneck. Today is a cool, cloudy fall day with the maple trees ablaze with color. It feels like the kind of day you want to curl up and sew, a steaming cup of coffee at your side. It’s about my perfect thing to do on a day like today, followed by wrapping myself up in this gorgeous teal ruana and going for a walk with my dog. The best part about sewing these is wearing them! I love to wear my capes and wraps over a slim fitting sweater or T shirt and jeans and a pair of beautiful suede boots.

The ruffles were challenging, I’ll be honest. I don’t have a ruffler foot for my machine (and I’m unsure if it would work on this thick 200 weight fleece). So I ruffled five long strips about four feet in length (each). They ruffled down to about 30 inches each one and then I carefully sewed each one together. But as I got to the edges, the gathering thread (I did only one) started pulling out. I should have done a double row of gathering stitches – sometimes this does not work at all on thick fabrics like fleece, so I opted for one. But I ended up having to re-gather a couple of the strips. I also had to pin them all down, and as a I sewed, I flattened the ruffle on each side as it went under the presser foot.

About ten years ago this week, my husband and I took our then seven-month-old daughter to France. We spent a week in an apartment in Paris and a week in an apartment in Avignon in the south of France. It was a gorgeous fall trip, and while in Avignon, we stumbled across a farm market. There, a woman was making curved Ruanas with ruffles that looked pretty much just like this! They were beautiful – she had them in every color imaginable – camel, merlot, navy, red, citron, cerise pink, and of course, this beautiful teal. At the time, I said to myself, “oh I can make that”, which is every crafter’s promise (often unfulfilled). And it’s taken me a decade to make my rendition of it.

We walked around that market in the sun, the toasted hillsides and tall cedar trees rising above the terracotta roofs of the houses alongside the big parking lot where the market was held. We bought fancy soaps, now long since lathered up and loved, we bought delicious food (which we ate in our apartment) and I bought several lengths of fabric, A shower curtain with Provençale designs hangs in my guest bath (along with framed photos of that trip), blue-and-yellow-and-black print placemats and napkins now faded, and loved, lay folded in my table linen drawers in the kitchen.  While this fleece didn’t come home with me from France, the memory of that ruana in the stall at the market, that I can see so clearly, is now a reality.

I’ll love this ruana tomorrow with a cream sweater, jeans, a pair of light gray suede tall boots and a lovely scarf tied around my neck. Very French girl chic. Go, make yourself something lovely!

My favorite thing to sew: the knit blazer

Sew Paradise | October 19, 2016 | By

Knit blazer sewing pattern in stretch knit

Hands down, my favorite thing to wear is knit blazers. And it’s fast becoming my favorite thing to sew, because it offers me the opportunity to do a tailored project, with the ease and speed of a serged-together garment.

I’m partial to the Christine Jonson Fitted Jacket #905 because it was the first knit blazer I ever sewed. I made a rich camel / brown version (shown on my dress form) eleven years ago and I STILL wear it. It’s made from cotton lycra fabric – it feels just like a cardi!

This is a classic jacket, too, and when I first set out to make it, I was terrified. I mean, set in sleeves, a tailored notch collar and all those panels? But truth is, it’s super simple to sew, and because Christine is a ready to wear designer who made her garments in the USA (in metro Detroit), she had to have fool proof techniques to teach average seamstresses how to sew for a boutique in Royal Oak. I first met her at a sewing show and said to her that this was my ‘epic’ project – after having recently discovered the joys of sewing swimwear.

I learned right at Christine’s side for this first blazer, and I’ve since made four more (and two more are in the works this winter.)

The Fitted Jacket is a classic hip-length blazer with a two-piece slightly curved sleeve, set in sleeves, with a small shoulder pad, a darted, paneled body (so a front, a side front, a side back and a back with CB seam), three buttons and buttonholes. The buttonholes, a huge fear of mine, were surprisingly easy AND fun to make!

I SERGED a set in sleeve. Yep, you heard right, blade down and everything. And it worked! But if you are really scared, single needle the sleeve in and THEN serge over that 😉  In my opinion the BEST part about this jacket (and what I dislike from all the unlined jackets I have from RTW) is that the facings are entirely stitched down! They appear as design lines on the right side and there are no floppy facings on the inside.

I wear this blazer all.the.time with jeans and cords. It’s long enough with a long tee to wear with leggings too. It’s designed for knit fabrics, but it can be made in a stretch woven too.

Here are my jackets! The pink one is my “Jcrew” jacket – it’s a bright color, I wear it with faded jeans and a striped tee.

Knit blazer sewing pattern in stretch knitKnit blazer sewing pattern in pink stretch knitKnit blazer sewing pattern in stretch knit


Who do I want to be today?

Alopecia Wig Sew Paradise

I love a good spy thriller. You get to be someone else in a chrysalis-shedding moment, complete with new passports and a secret cache of money. You might even get to be several someones, sloughing off cities and identities like a seal sheds water.  A good spy thriller requires the protagonist be comfortable with a blinding pace of change, to submit to the idea that everything and nothing is within one’s control. I think that’s what appeals so much about the genre. A good spy is the master of not just disguises, but reinvention, as each new circumstance requires a set of emotional and physical tools to solve a new challenge.

For someone who has lived in only a half dozen places in my life, I crave change. Travel soothes my savage need to reinvent myself (along with a string of self-improvement books and a fondness for regular goal setting.) More recently, though, I’ve discovered my autoimmune disease is giving me a power to reinvent in a way that is both scary and powerful. Alopecia areata stole my hair. It stole my identity, my definition of my own beauty, my eyelashes, my eyebrows, and, well, my sense of self. But it’s given me something powerful in return – the ability to see my beauty in transcendence. Separate, apart from my physical appearance.

More practically, it’s given me the chance to reinvent myself. For many years, my long hair was my armor against the world. My mother felt my childhood long hair was difficult for me to care for, and had my hair cropped short like her own.  I grew out my hair in high school, and even longer following college with brief bouts of a stark six or eight inch cut for some drama in my life. For nearly thirty years, I had long locks. Several months following the birth of my second son (when I was 41), I sported long dark tresses, shiny and beautiful. When he was two, it shed, as it often does for women postpartum. And deep in a very stressful time in my work life, it began falling out again.

All of it.

I bought two wigs, a “work” wig, similar to a hairstyle I’d had recently, so as to not jar any clients, and a ‘weekend’ wig. I spent a grand total of $500 on both wigs (this is a very inexpensive sum of money for wigs.) These were meant to be (to me) temporary. I would regrow hair and it would never happen again. Only it did, a year and a half after it grew back in. By this time, I sprung for a really expensive human hair wig, similar to a very cropped pixie cut I’d had in between alopecia flares. I knew nothing about having a wig cut to fit my face and head shape, and stylists who don’t have wig experience are understandably nervous. It’s not going to grow back if you screw it up. Neither of my inexpensive wigs were cut to perfectly match me.

I dropped off my old – and well worn  – synthetic wigs at my new stylist who specializes in wigs. She owns a salon called A Wig and A Prayer (aptly fitting, I think.) She worked some amazing magic with a steamer, a good cut and both wigs – the short spiky bob and the long layered – ended up refreshed as these gorgeous creatures. The dark long wig resembled my long locks after the birth of my son.

I was inspired to refresh my old wigs by a young woman’s video on the support website for alopecia patients. She records herself in 28 different wigs (three of them long human hair ones) in her bedroom,dancing to music. I loved the idea that I could put on an entirely new look as easily as a tee shirt. While I haven’t been brave enough to do this for work clients – it’s somewhat difficult to explain a red pixie on Monday and a long, sleek brunette on Tuesday – I am brave enough to try it on the weekends.

What alopecia has given me is the chance to be that heroine in the spy film. I can sport a leather jacket and jeans and a short pixie wig. I can don a long wig with a chic dress and statement jewelry. I can run errands sporty in a cropped spiky bob and yoga pants. I can be all of these women, even on the very same day. It’s rare that we can try on a different personality or look as quickly as this. If you cut your hair, it’s your hair for a while, not until next Tuesday. And it’s different than just putting on a costume. These wigs become part of me, for that day. I act different in a short pixie than I do in a long layered wig.

I’m grateful for all that I have in my life – my family, my talents that have offered me a prosperous life of hard work and energetic play. I’m grateful for the many lessons of challenge and difficulty my life has given me. I’m not quite ready to be grateful for alopecia, yet. But I do love a good spy thriller. And I love the chance to become someone new.






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