Cloth Napkins Featuring Watson the Cat
I was extremely lucky to make a trip to Japan’s Nippori Textile Town about a month before 2020 showed its true colors. The suitcase full of fabric that I brought home fueled months of dreams and adventures in my head, even as I was trapped in my sewing room. Of course, now I’ve barely made a dent in that stash of fabric, and I’m itching to return. What can I say, fabric shopping is the best part of sewing.
And only in Japan would I get so excited about fabric featuring cats.
I’m not a cat person, but I found this fabric and just loved it. The cat is giving the most cat-like, don’t-mess-with-me stare, and it’s fantastic. More than anything, this made me think of Watson, Hannah’s (okay, technically Hannah’s husband’s) black cat. He’s particular, as cats are, but more than anything he loves trying to escape to the outdoors as often as possible. So it seems incredibly likely that he’d end up under a tree, like this cat, staring back at the house like, “What.”
I don’t often sew for other people, I tend to be a selfish sewist (luckily I’m not alone, currently #selfishsewing has almost 95k posts). But when sewing for someone else means I can buy more Japanese fabric… well… I guess that persuades me to become more generous.
This fabric is a mid-weight cotton, thicker than quilting cotton, so it’s great for home dec. I decided it would make a perfect table runner + napkin set. Blue is a good match for Hannah and Adam’s Fiestaware dishes, and they always use placemats because they’re fancy like that. So I figured they’d get good use out of cloth napkins, or maybe they could even use these as placemats.
For the napkins, I used the Purl Soho mitered corner napkins tutorial. Highly recommend! They were simple to make and have such nice, clean edges. There was lots of ironing but that was the only tedious part. For the table runner, I used the remaining long strip of fabric and bound the edges with a coordinating blue bias tape. I’ve mentioned this before, but thanks to good luck at estate sales, I have a collection of bias tape that never fails. This blue was a perfect match and I also managed to use all but about 2 inches of it.
At the edge, I folded back the selvedge to keep it as part of the project. I love that it shows that it was made in Japan, plus it has another tiny little Watson cat. I love selvedge details like that. I added a little loop to the back for hanging, just in case, because it felt like a fun fancy touch.
Napkins are fun to make because they’re a great way to show off fun fabrics, and they’re also a nice palate cleanser in between more involved projects. I have a few more cute Japan fabrics that I bought with the intention of making napkins, and I think that would be a good upcoming project – I haven’t been motivated to sew much lately, and an instant gratification project like this always helps me get back into happy sewing mode.
This was also fun because I got to send Hannah surprise mail! And we all know that surprise mail mid-pandemic was about 1000x more exciting than normal surprise mail (and even normal surprise mail is pretty dang exciting).
Black Ikat-Print Dress (Me-Made May 2021)
The beauty of Me-Made May is sharing those projects that haven’t fully been shared. I’ve worn this dress often since I made it two years ago, and shared it on Instagram, but this is its blog debut!
I found this fabric at Fabric Planet, a delightful fabric store in Venice, CA, just outside Los Angeles. If you’re ever nearby (or looking for something to do near LAX, like we were when my mom and I spotted it the first time), I highly recommend a visit.
For the pattern, I traced a ready-to-wear dress that I own. It’s a comfy dress that I wear often, and I love the elastic waist. The only downside of the RTW dress? No pockets! Of course I added pockets to my pattern.
Lately, a lot of my me-made clothes have started by my tracing a garment that I already love. For me, this is often much more enjoyable than working with a manufactured pattern, because I know the item is likely to fit well immediately, without a lot of fit adjustments.
That was definitely the case with this dress – the bodice fit perfectly! But one change for next time: this first make of the pattern ended up a little shorter than I wanted. The RTW dress is made of a stretch knit, so I think the stretch pulls the fabric a little bit closer to my knees. This fabric, a cotton blend with a slight 2-way stretch, didn’t behave the same way. I didn’t even do a real hem on this dress, I just serged the bottom edge and folded it up once before stitching in place. The fabric is very stable so it’s not a problem (and it was a very easy way to hem!) but next time I make a dress from this pattern I will lengthen the skirt.
I almost always line my dresses, but this fabric isn’t at all see-through so I kept it one layer and therefore more Miami-friendly. I finished the neckhole and shoulders with hot pink bias tape, my favorite detail of this dress! I also applied bias tape at the waist seam to tidy it and make sure the elastic + seam allowance lays flat against my skin.
I love using bias tape in fun colors, and I’ve learned that it’s worth taking the time to finish my edges well. I realized that I see my clothes often even when I’m not wearing them, because they’re in my closet or a drawer, and it makes me happy to see the clean seam finishes and colorful bias tapes.
I wore this dress recently to Mass and got David to snap my Me-Made May photos of the day in front of this amazing mural. The mural is almost finished, and it’s been delightful to see the progress they’ve made! I also love how well my dress matches the giant brain coral.
Speaking of sea turtles… their nests have started to pop up on Miami Beach and it’s the most magical process. I highly recommend learning as much as you can about sea turtles, it’s fascinating!
- Baby Sea Turtles Hatching from their Nest (video) (i love their little flippers so much)
- How Sea Turtles Hatch
- Sea Turtle Species found in Florida (there are 5!) Along the Florida coast, sea turtles annually make between 40,000 and 84,000 nests!
They’re such beautiful, amazing, and important animals. Here are some ways YOU can help sea turtles:
- Refuse Single Use Plastics – 100% of baby sea turtles that are washed back to shore, rather than making it out to the ocean to continue to mature, are found with microplastics in their digestive tract. 🙁 Do everything you can to eliminate single-use plastic in your daily life! Even when we think it’s “recycled” it’s usually either sent to a landfill or burned (locally now, instead of in China, not that that was better), or it ends up in the ocean anyway.
- Fill holes you dig at the beach – Holes left in the sand overnight can get in the way of mama turtles trying to lay eggs, or baby turtles trying to get from the nest to the ocean.
- Reduce your light pollution – For turtles, this is crucial in shoreline communities (but in general, less light pollution is better no matter where you are!). Bright artificial lights can confuse the turtles, who are looking for the light of the moon to guide them toward the ocean. If you live near the ocean, make sure your exterior lighting is sea turtle friendly! And contact your local businesses to encourage them to modify their lighting – I’ve started writing letters to the brightest stores in our area.
Vintage Vanity Chair with Recovered Seat
Re-covering chair cushions is so much fun. It’s very easy and it’s a huge upgrade to existing or thrifted furniture. Plus, I love an excuse to show off my favorite fabrics. When I use a fabric on something like this chair, I know I’ll get to see it every day, and that’s such a treat!
I recovered the seat of this chair a few years ago, and shared the progress in my Instagram stories but never here on the blog. Instagram is never enough to get to the heart of the project, and I wanted to share more of the construction details but also more of the history.
This chair belonged to my grandma, my mom’s mom. When I was little, I loved to sit and spin in it while I waited for my turn in the tub.
Grandma and Grandpa’s house had a big clawfoot tub in a bathroom with floral wallpaper and carpeted floor. There was a drawer in the kitchen that held the plastic teapot, cups, and saucers that we were allowed to take upstairs and play with in the bathtub. And when I got out, I’d sit in this chair again, often in an adult-sized bathrobe, while my mom brushed the tangles from my wet hair. I always felt grown up, elegant, and special. When I picture that bathroom in my head, even now, I can smell the peach-colored Caress soap.
This chair still feels very special. I’m so glad I get to own it, and I was excited to give it a happy, new cushion. Its original cushion had long been replaced with one of those bathmat-coordinating toilet lid covers with an elastic band around the edge, so there was nothing to lose by adding some new fabric.
I found this wonderful modern floral print in Bangkok, and it felt like the perfect choice for this chair. I love the way the gold lines echo the brass of the chair, and the colors work well for a piece of furniture in my house.
Once I had selected a fabric, I took the chair apart. I traced the round piece of wood and cut a piece of foam for the top. For cutting foam, I usually use a bread knife – I find the serrated blade does a good job. For big projects or thick foam, an electric turkey knife works very well. That’s what we always used to cut foam at Joann’s when I worked there (pro tip!).
I lined up my fabric so that one of the motifs was centered on the cushion, then I used my trusty staple gun to tack it down. I always use way more staples than necessary, but that helps keep any wrinkles in check. My staple gun is pneumatic which makes stapling much easier. But a regular handheld staple gun works just fine for small projects like this (you’ll just get a workout!).
I try to work from the centers outward when I’m stapling: think of it like a cross shape or like directions on a compass. It works the same for a circle or a rectangle – but circles are easier to cover since they have no corners! I start with one staple at the top center (North), then pull the fabric taut and put a staple straight across at the bottom center (South). Then one staple at the center of the left side (West), and one staple at the center of the right (East).
From there it’s just keeping the fabric taut and smoothing out any wrinkles as you add staples in between the existing points. I’ll often remove the first staples after I’ve added a few more, because I either need more or less slack in the fabric.
I wrapped the chair’s swivel post in paper towel because it had a little bit of grease on it, and I didn’t want to get grease on my fabric or on my hands (which would then touch the fabric).
From here, the chair is already mostly done! I wanted to add a cover to the bottom to cover up my staples and the raw, crinkled edge of the fabric. I cut a circle of white cotton, then made a square hole in the center so the chair hardware could stick out. I sewed a little hem on the square to finish that edge.
I then used some bias tape from my magical box of bias tapes. I’ve found a few collections of bias tape at estate sales and thrift stores, and my stash isn’t enormous but now, no matter the project, I always have something that matches. Magical.
This bias tape was overkill for a part of the chair you don’t really see, but it makes me happy.
I tried to use fewer staples for this layer and only half succeeded. I poked little holes for the 3 protruding bolts.
Then I just had to add back the hardware…
And chair complete!
I love that I was able to bring new life to a piece of furniture that’s so special to me.
Here it is in the bathroom of my old house – and of course, it matches everything even though the bathroom was decorated before the chair came along. I still don’t have a vanity, nor would I really use one, but this chair is the perfect perch for painting my toes!
Make Veggie Broth from Food Scraps – in the Instant Pot!
Happy Earth Week! Today I’m sharing one of my favorite cooking tricks, and it happens to be a great way to reduce food waste.
It’s extremely simple. Veggie scraps and bones, covered in water and boiled, render a fantastic broth that adds flavor to all sorts of dishes. And in the instant pot, it doesn’t even need babysitting!
Here’s what I use:
- Celery bottoms and leaves
- Carrot ends, tops, and leaves
- Onion skins and ends
- Bell Pepper tops, ribs, and seeds
- Wilted herbs – just make sure not to use too much or it will be overpowering
The proportions aren’t important. We also add jalapeño scraps when we have them, but of course this will make the broth spicy! I usually add a bay leaf or two as well. I don’t add salt to the broth because I prefer to add salt later, according to the specific recipe I’m cooking.
This is a great way to use up vegetables that are squishy or on their last legs, but don’t use anything that’s moldy or rotten. And make sure you’ve rinsed all the vegetables, and removed all stickers!
You can make a broth with just vegetables, and that will be vegan/vegetarian. Or if you’re an omnivore like we are, save your bones as well to turn it into a bone broth. This can be any bones or meat scraps, so we save chicken bones, as well as bones from ribs or pork chops, and fat trimmings. We save all of our scraps in the freezer, constantly adding until we have at least two medium containers full (6-8 cups). Once there are enough food scraps, it’s time to broth!
Pour all your scraps into the Instant Pot, then cover with water until the contents are mostly submerged. I pull my scraps straight from the freezer and dump them in.
Close the lid, and cook on High Pressure for 60 minutes.
Let the Instant Pot naturally release for at least 15 minutes before opening the quick release. There’s a lot of water here so it’s important to let it release slowly for a while.
Let cool, then drain the liquid. I use this colander that fits perfectly in my biggest Pyrex measuring cup. The pour spout makes it easy to decant the broth into containers.
Here are a few of the many ways I use the finished broth:
- Cooking dry beans in the Instant Pot
- Cooking grains: quinoa and barley are SO much tastier when cooked in broth! Great for rice, too.
- Cooking meats in the Instant Pot: two of my favorite recipes are these carnitas and this pulled chicken
- Soups and stews, of course.
And my genius friend Hannah freezes broth in ice cube trays! We do this now, too, so I can always grab a few broth cubes to add to a dish. This is great when cooking vegetables or onions on the stove, because it gives some flavor (without adding oil!) and the added moisture helps everything cook evenly without burning.
As you can see, each batch yields a lot of broth! I freeze it in jars (make sure to leave a healthy amount of air space at the top) and pull the jars out of the freezer as I need them.
I realized recently that this veggie broth packs a double-punch of Earth Love: not only does it give an extra life to food scraps, but it also means that I never have to buy broth at the store. This means less cartons and jars to be shipped and discarded.
And, of course, you can make broth without an Instant Pot. I used to do it on the stove, but without the pressure it takes a few hours for the ingredients to really release their flavors.
I hope you try it! Enjoy!
Sewing Room Tour, 2021 Tropical Edition
It’s time for one of my very favorite blog posts! The sewing room tour. I love peeking into other makers’ studios; it’s always so inspiring to see where and how other people work. I love my creative space so it’s fun to get to show off, especially since I haven’t had any in-person visitors in over a year.
This sewing room is the biggest space I’ve ever had! I took over the master bedroom (thank you David!) and it’s a beautiful room. I love the giant window, the high ceilings, and the amazing floors.
This is also the first home we’ve shared, and it was quite the puzzle to fit all of my beloved furniture into a relatively small house. The sewing room holds all the furniture that doesn’t have a place elsewhere in the house, so it’s a little bit crowded, but my Quarantine Hobby of “rearranging furniture” paid off and I finally created a space that feels both beautiful and functional.
At the entry wall, I hung my vision boards from years past – I can never bear to get rid of these. I love that they serve a splash of inspiration immediately upon entering the room. My most recent vision board hangs more prominently in the middle of the room, but I hadn’t made it yet when I took these pictures.
The wall along the doorway is my “machine wall”. I like to have my serger and my sewing machine close to each other so I can move back and forth during projects. Finally, my third machine is my desktop computer, which is closest to the window in the hope that it will make typing and Illustrator work more fun. 🙂
The dresser in between my machines holds sewing tools, notions, needles, and trims. The mini wooden drawer unit on top holds my most commonly used tools: scissors, snips, seam rippers, chalk pencils, etc. I love that all these tools are within easy reach from either machine!
Having a small drawer for each type of tool has made me much better at cleaning up after (and during) my projects. I used to leave all my tools out until a project was finished, but that was often a long time and led to a big mess. Now my motto is, “since I know where to find it, I can put it away.” Turns out it’s even easier to find my scissors when they’re in the scissors drawer, rather than buried underneath my unfinished projects!
I found the yellow ironing board next to someone’s trash a number of years ago. The legs didn’t work anymore, but I fell in love with the color of it! I’ve used it as a magnet display board in three sewing rooms now and it’s one of my favorite pieces of decor.
My thread rack belonged to my grandma, and it’s a neat piece of innovation – the shelves tilt to allow the thread spools to come out, and each spool is on a peg that can slide so different thread diameters can be accommodated. It’s awesome. The topmost thread rack was my mom’s and I commandeered it when I started sewing… I don’t think she realized that letting me use it at age 12 meant I would bring it with me when I moved out. Mama, if you want that thread rack back I will let you have it! But I do love it. Right now it holds my vintage wooden thread spools on display.
The pendant lamp is mine. I found it at CB2 when they were selling the floor model (which was dusty, but otherwise flawless, because…it’s a lamp). I bought it even though we hadn’t found our house yet, because I loved it so much. And then this room had an unused light box in the ceiling – the perfect home for my gorgeous lamp!
Any sewing room that allows for a full-size cutting table is an absolute gift. I love nothing more than spreading out all my fabric and supplies so having this big flat surface is heavenly.
Underneath my cutting table I store all my extra serger thread, plus fabrics that don’t fold well (leather, vinyl). I also store my yoga bolster and blocks under the table, because the floor space next to my machines is also where I do my daily yoga. The space is a little bit narrow (can’t quite “swan dive” into my forward folds) but it works!
On the other side of the room, opposite from the “machine wall”, is the “storage wall”. Also known as the “furniture I love and crammed into this room” wall. The bookshelf holds all my patterns and notions. The big dresser holds supplies for my narwhal kits, packaging and shipping supplies, and most of my art supplies. The metal drawer unit on top is one of my heaviest and favorite possessions. It holds tools: upholstery staple removers, glass cutters, pliers; computer cables and chargers; and all sorts of other little things, each with a home.
My white magnet board is a table top I found in the Ikea as-is section. I like to be able to rotate through my favorite things and change the display every few months.
And then in the corner, we have my newest piece of beloved furniture (I can quit whenever I want…): an old drafting table I found recently on OfferUp. The shelf drawers slide out, and it’s absolutely amazing for storing unfinished sewing projects, and even laser cuts awaiting sanding. I’ve always wanted to own a flat file and this is like a beautiful version that suits my needs even better!
I tucked my ironing board under the edge of the cutting table. I use it too often to put it away completely, but this allows it to take up a little less space when it’s not in use. When it’s time to iron, I just slide it out and raise the height a little bit.
The tall shelf unit on the window wall holds my most-used art supplies. The little table by the window is my painting table because it gets the best light. That’s also where I usually sand my laser cuts. I love sitting by the window because the big tree out front makes this room feel like a treehouse.
The other best part of stealing the master bedroom for my sewing room? It has the BEST closet.
Mirrored closet doors would not be my choice for a bedroom, but for a sewing room they are perfect. These mirrors were key to my solo wedding dress fitting sessions! The third mirrored door didn’t slide well, so it lives behind my computer desk where it helps more light reflect into the room.
The drawers on the right side of the closet hold packing supplies, envelopes, boxes, hoarded bubble wrap, etc. The wooden dresser holds our off-season and fancy clothes that we don’t wear often. The ceilings in this room are nice and high, so the closet is tall! The topmost shelves (behind the wall with the clock) hold more clothes, blankets, and other general storage things that don’t have a home in our small house.
On top of the dresser is a shoe organizer cubby that I use for unfinished projects. It’s important for me to be able to take a break from projects that get frustrating or stuck, and putting them away is much better than staring at them and not starting anything else. However… a lot of those cubes have been occupied for a long time. I’ll say it now, for accountability: working through a few of those WIPs is going to be my Me-Made May challenge.
On the left side of the closet is FABRICLAND! I use under-bed bins for just about all of my fabric now (these). They hold a surprising amount of fabric, but they’re small enough that they don’t get too heavy and it’s still possible to dig to the bottom. I also love that they’re clear and I can see most of the fabric I’ve stored inside. This system has really allowed me to treasure my fabric and know what I have, and I’m much better at sewing from my stash since I’m always aware of how great my stash is.
I’ve learned a lot from each of my sewing rooms. I like to take advantage of wall space for storage, but I don’t like my walls to be TOO cluttered because I want the current project to have most of my focus. I like to split the room into “zones”, like I’ve done here, especially the small table that I’ve dedicated to painting. And most importantly, I work best when I have as many flat surfaces as possible. I used to have a lot more decorative objects around the room, because I love my cute stuff! But it’s way better to be able to have the top of the bookshelf clear, for example, so I can set my pattern pieces there while I cut everything else out on the big table. This space has become extremely functional – specifically for the way that I work – and I love that.
Thank you for joining me on this tour of my sewing room! It’s constantly evolving – with each project I think of better ways to organize my supplies or accommodate my workflow – so it’s fun to share the room as it is right now, knowing that it only ever gets better. (even if it will never again be this clean!)
My sewing machine is the Juki HZL-F600. I’ve had it for 4 years now (a long overdue upgrade) and I LOVE it.
My serger is a Babylock Evolution and I love it even more.
and p.s. if you’re not familiar with the story of my Independency flag, it’s a fun read.
Other art on display: