An Upcycle 30 Years in the Making

College is a great time for trying on personas. Even if you’re like me, and you went to college to study and to get a good job, you also spend time trying to “find yourself.” I went to Boston University freshman year with “outdoorsy” affectations. I needed just the right look. The summer before school started, on a trip to Quebec I bought this:


It’s an iconic Hudson’s Bay blanket, 100% wool, keeping Canadians warm for centuries, in a style little changed over the years. This was a twin-size or “four-point” blanket, marked with four blue lines along the side. Growing up, I had understood that the points dictated how many pelts a trapper had to trade for the blanket, but the Hudson’s Bay Company says this story is apocryphal. Boo.

It goes with nothing in my home now and has been toted around for decades. (When I set the blanket out on the bed to photograph it, my husband said, “Where did that old blanket come from?”) I’d long thought of refashioning it into a iconic coat of my northern heritage, so the combination of the Refashion Contest and the Bargainista Fashionista contest left me with no excuses!

As long as there have been Hudson’s Bay blankets, people have been making them into coats, it seems. I’d see them around once in a while, growing up in the 70s in New Hampshire, and I just love these vintage ads:


While these looks are classic, I wanted something a little more modern. I almost keeled over when I saw this coat, from the designer Monse.  Cost: 1,990!

Monse coat

I figured I could make something similar for the grand out-of-pocket cost of NOTHING!

I’ve had Butterick 6244 in stash since it won a “PR favorite” award in 2016. The coat is semi-fitted and unlined, with the front extending into a draped collar. Seems like a good match, right?


The pattern calls for wool double-cloth or coating. The blanket was a bit heavier, so I had to adapt a bit. I added 1 cm to the side and center-back seam allowances to give me plenty of real estate for the turn of cloth into flat-felled seams. I hemmed the bottom and sleeves by hand to reduce bulk.

Instead of doing a bulky narrow hem on the front, I cut off the 5/8-inch seam allowance and finished the raw edges with a machine triple blanket stitch in navy upholstery thread. The stitch is a bit uneven, as the wool was heavy and was hard to feed through the machine. I have decided to pretend this was intentional, to give the coat a “rustic” look. Also, because the blanket’s right side was a bit pilled up and had a couple of small stains, I used the wrong side out.

I skipped the Monse coat’s buckled sleeve cinchers and the weird chest harness, in part because I didn’t want to buy buckles and grommets and in part because I just don’t like them. I sewed the original Hudson’s Bay label into the coat, to match the Monse coat.

It’s too hot (FINALLY) to wear it this year, but it will be perfect for next winter!


Me Made May at Work

Me Made May is here! This is my look for the first day in the office, with the gorgeous Grand Central Terminal in the background. The top is Simplicity 8058, worn with an RTW cardigan. I’m wearing trousers from McCall’s 6901.


What’s your Me-Made look for work? For more ideas and perspective from me, see this blog I wrote last week for Sewcialists.


Ever Wonder What Those Models on Sewing Pattern Envelopes Are Saying to One Another?

Picture this: a Kwik Sew sewing pattern envelope from the 1970s. View D is a white woman with a brunette bob, wearing a flesh-colored bra and a long green slip. View C, a white woman with a blond bob, is also wearing a bra and slip, but this slip has a slit in it. View A is a white woman in a short, lace-trimmed slip, arms crossed over her bare chest.

Miss View C says to Miss View A: “Come on, Blair! Do you want to pledge Chi Omega or not?”


So that’s what the models on sewing pattern envelopes are saying to one another! Passing along weed and birth control. Expressing their sexuality. Tormenting their siblings. Plotting against enemies. Expressing feminist positions instead of vapid fashion statements.

It’s all in the book “Pattern Behavior: The Seamy Side of Fashion” by Natalie Kossar.

Kossar started this book as a Tumblr a few years ago. I looked forward to new ones coming out every few days. Kossar has compiled many of the best into this book.

Kossar and sewing did not get along. As a child, she’d been bored many times at the fabric store, as her mother pored over pattern catalogs, and she could never get the hang of sewing. “Girls who liked sewing were weak and boring. And I refused to be one of them,” Kossar writes.

She saw sewing patterns in a different light when her mother asked her to find a vintage pattern online. A simple Google search bombarded her with thousands of pattern envelope images, including many that expressed outdated ideas about gender, race and class. She started thinking of putting these models into a new conversation. “The juxtaposition of the vintage images with modern dialogue generated a strong message of social growth and change,” Kossar writes.

“Average” takes on a new meaning.

If you like what you see and want more, please leave a comment below to enter a giveaway to win a free book! From all the comments received by 8 p.m. US Eastern Time on Tuesday, May 1, I will randomly draw one winner for the prize.

A Common-sense Guide to Pruning Rose Bushes

If you want to try pruning roses, here’s two pieces of advice from me:

  • Get a tetanus shot before you start. You will prick yourself 100 times with thorns.
  • Don’t tell anyone what you’re doing, or you’ll start a fight. Everyone thinks they know the best way to prune rose bushes.

OK, fine, here may be some do’s and don’ts with pruning. Here’s how I do it. If you disagree, don’t take it personally.

Basically, you need to prune the bush a lot more than you think you have to. I know I’ve done a thorough job when I feel a little pang of guilt about it and worry I’ve pruned too much. I never have. Yet, anyway.

To start, here’s a prime example messy rosebushes I have to cope with each spring:

IMG_20180414_140023 (2)
Wild rosebush on the loose!

If you just cut off last year’s hips and spent blooms, OK, you did something. You can stop there. I have, plenty of times, said the hell with it after that little chore. You can see those bits on the outside and top of the bush. But let’s say I want to do a proper job of it.

Next, cut off anything that’s obviously dead. This is also pretty easy. If the cane looks brown and dry on the outside, prunes off with a crisp snap under the shears, and is brown on the inside, you’ve done it right. There’s more of this than you might expect, if you’ve had a hard winter.

Dead canes at the top, a nice healthy green cane at bottom left.

Take little bites at a time with the pruning shears. It’s easier to handle the debris (hello, thorns) and also ensures you don’t overdo it.

Now things get tricky. You also need to prune the stuff that is mostly dead.


You will know the canes on your rosebush are “mostly dead” when the pruned cane is slightly green on the inside. It may be brown on the outside, but there’s a bit of life left. “Bummer,” you may think when you prune such a cane, “this was OK after all.” Well, it really wasn’t. Miracle Max isn’t going to revive that cane with bellows and a chocolate-covered pill. The cane may have produced some offshoots, but it’s a second-best cane anyway. Gotta go. Prune it down to the first offshoot that’s heading in the direction you want the offshoot to head – outside and up from the bush, not inside or down. See below, where a few red offshoots at the top right had to go because they were headed in the wrong direction.

This rosebush cane is mostly dead, so I pruned it back to where it was 100% healthy.

Then things get tricky.  Some perfectly good canes will need to go because they don’t play well with others. One cane may crisscross another. Look closely and you’ll see both canes have a little dead spot from the friction. One of these has to go, maybe both if the dead spot is extensive.

I prune canes that are also headed for trouble – pointing to the inside of the bush, pointing down, or going off at a weird angle that likely will break later on. I also prune very low canes that run close to the ground, since the dog likely will step on them and get thorns in his paws. This is all very subjective and debatable.

I don’t stop, however, until I feel like I have done a little too much. Here’s a before and after picture, with the finished job on the left:

Pruned bush on the left, two unpruned ones center-right. The upper right bush is a river birch and needs its bushy shape, lucky for it!

One down, 11 to go! And yes, I see all the damn weeds too! No rest until frost!

Paper Patterns vs. PDF and the Future of Indie Sewing Pattern Companies

It seems Colette Patterns is doing away with its paper pattern collection and is selling its remaining inventory at 50% off. This is a actually smart business move by Colette. The company is freeing itself of costly inventory and is relying on a subscription-based business model instead, which is a great model for a small business. I expect more of the indie sewing pattern companies will move to this model, or die out, in the coming years.

The vagaries of a paper-pattern model rely on seasonal variations in sales, printing and shipping costs, inventory headaches (Grainline Studio goes through this all the time) and dealing with middlemen at retail outlets. Unsold inventory really drags on a small business – hence the sale to unload the rest of those paper patterns. A print-to-order model sounds good in theory, but it costs much more than bulk printing and relies on someone to manage the process.

Subscriptions allow a business to more easily track its revenue, since most subscribers keep coming back year after year (even if they don’t use the product that much – think of all the unused Burda mags lying around). Subscriptions allow a business to collect revenue before they provide any service to the client. A subscriber pays in advance on the expectation that the product will be worth it later on. So the business can put revenue toward product development, marketing etc. before it has given the customer anything. And that business can more or less count on that revenue over the long haul, which makes it more attractive for financing or sale.

Because you a subscription-based business can count on the revenue, it can charge less per pattern than it would have to if selling patterns a la carte, The subscriber gets something – or the promise of something – for a lot less per item than if she bought just what she wanted. This can be a win-win for the subscriber and the company. Would you rather pay, say, $6 a month for the chance of getting two patterns you’d like, or $14 – $18 for one pattern you really want? Many people would take the chance if they really like the Colette product.

That said…

You have to actually value the product and trust the company to deliver what you like, most of the time, to subscribe!

I have decided that Colette patterns are not for me. I had a Colette Seamwork subscription for about 6 months. A few patterns were good, but most were unappealing or with many weird fitting issues. At the time, Seamwork came with two simple patterns a month, and subscribers either downloaded those patterns or spent pattern credits on back-issue patterns. Colette separately published more complex patterns in paper or .pdf formats. Sometimes an issue of Seamwork would come out and I’d think “Ugh – I am not sewing these up. Let’s see what next month brings.”

Some hits:


Some “thanks but no thanks” patterns:

And that’s the beauty of the subscription business model. There’s nothing wrong with this – it’s how all subscriptions work. You can cancel anytime, but most people don’t. The subscription model, however, also allows a business to deliver an uneven product. I subscribe to The New Yorker magazine and the same thing happens – some weeks I read the whole thing cover to cover and some weeks I glance at the cartoons and put the mag in the recycling bin. As long as I get a few “worth it” stories regularly, I am happy with this arrangement. It beats buying at the newsstand.

It must have been very hard for Colette to keep up with two patterns a month, even as simple as the patterns were, AND do paper patterns that were more complex designs.

I got a survey a few months after I cancelled Seamwork that asked about preferences for future Seamwork issues, for simple vs. more complex patterns, and for .pdf vs. paper. Several months after that, Colette changed its Seamwork issue schedule, has promised to release more complex patterns. And now is phasing out paper patterns. I am not surprised.

This new model is smart, as I said, but it relies ultimately on a good product. I don’t think it’s good. I am not buying. I will be interested to see how it all unfolds. I expect other companies will follow suit, or will be winnowed out.



Not OK with “Queen for the Day”

Had my birthday recently. 48. Bah.

I don’t get the whole birthday celebration thing as an adult. As a kid, birthday is #2 to Christmas for hedonism, and even in my 20s and 30s it was a great excuse to party.

Then my 40s came along. Here are two images from that fateful event:

40th birthday

The picture of me with the cocktail is from a party we had for my birthday. I was not quite at my heaviest at the time, but I was pretty close. I have successfully lost and kept off 50+ pounds since then.

The picture on the left is my favorite photo from a vacation we took for my birthday to New Orleans. Yes, this is a picture of a cemetery – the famous one near the French Quarter, which we toured.

A woman’s life expectancy in the US is around 80 years, so at 40, I was halfway done with my life – a life which has been wasted quite a bit. Not entirely wasted – I mean, I feel I did some important work when I was a journalist years ago – but still I feel the pull of the undone more than the pull of the done, and the “good enough” mocks me, often.

At that time in my life, overweight and unhappy, I felt I needed to make many major changes to my health. I did – and I keep doing. A big change is to stop celebrating with food and drink all the time. Don’t get me wrong – I love to eat and drink – I just feel like I can’t anymore. The stupor of excess really bugs me at a time when I want to do so many other things.

My husband asked me what I wanted, so I asked him to cook a nice healthy dinner. And I want to relax, so that’s what I am doing today, working on a sewing project a bit and taking a break from all my obligations.

Tomorrow, birthday over, I will be a normal mortal again. And I’m OK with that.

The Tyranny of Hair Dye

You know things are bad when I start touching up my gray roots with brown mascara.

Every month, I go through this phase when my hairline isn’t gray enough yet to shell out for a color touch-up at the salon, yet I can see it and it looks awful – like some old Frankenstein staples on the crown of my head.


I resort to various cover-ups. I can part my hair in a different place. That usually buys me a few days. A ponytail looks OK too, although not for the office. And then I hit the area with some mascara or brow powder… just to get through the last few days until my salon appointment.

I used to pull out gray hairs when I saw them. That was a long time ago. If I did that now, I’d be bald.

I used to color my hair myself at home. That worked pretty well at first, but it smells bad and I ruined quite a few towels, pillowcases and shirts. Over time, my hair color became this strange mix of layers, like sedimentary rock formations at the Grand Canyon.

Nowadays, my stylist Tiffany is happy to take two hours of my time and $100 out of my pocket for a touch-up every six weeks.

Once in a while, pondering the hours and the expense, I consider going gray. Then I get together with my friend, Sharon, who said “fuck it” when her kids went to college and let her gray hair grow out. She looks old. She doesn’t care. I wish I could be as zen about it as she is.

Almost every man I know my age has some gray hair. Unless they’re bald, in which case they’d probably take gray hair, no questions asked. (File this in the “Count Your Blessings” bucket.) I know one man who dyes his hair. I hadn’t seen him in a few years, and then I ran into him at a party. His hair looked so ridiculous I nearly had a stroke from holding in the laughter.

I guess I will dye a little longer. Maybe say “fuck it” when I’m 50?