Adventures in flora, fauna, food, and the great unknown.

1 Comment

Sew easy, sew hard

For months now, I’ve been talking about how I wanted to learn how to sew. Both my mother and my mother-in-law had sewing machines languishing in basements, just waiting to be used and loved, and both offered them up to me. Last weekend, I finally got my hands on one of them, and I got right to work.


Well, okay. Before we get too ahead of ourselves, let’s back up a moment. In truth, I got my hands on two machines. The first is that absolutely gorgeous Singer—which, based on a very limited amount of research, I believe to be a model 15-91 born in 1948. (Her name, if you’re wondering, is Evelyn.) The second is a newer (but not new) Singer Esteem II.


It’s the latter one that I’ve decided to use for now. I figured I’d have enough to learn without adding an older machine to the mix; most of the tutorials I’ve seen, including the Craftsy class I’m learning from, focus on newer models. I didn’t want to overcomplicate things unnecessarily at the beginning.

Don’t worry, though; Evelyn isn’t going far. She’s returning to my mother-in-law’s, where she will reside, in the table designed just for her, until we have the space to give her a permanent home.


Fast-forward again. That first day, I spent a bunch of time cleaning and oiling the machine; learning to wind bobbins, use the automatic needle threader, and bring up the bobbin thread; and sewing on some scrap fabric with a few of the available stitches, at various tensions and widths. Basically, I played—but I was also quite eager to actually make something.

Now, if you’ve been paying any attention at all, you know that I’m a knitter. It seemed logical, therefore, to make my first sewing project be a project bag. (It’s important to cultivate one’s Vulcan instincts.) I picked out some nice cotton quilting fabric and a similarly shaded trim for a drawstring, and followed along with this pattern from Purl Soho as best I could.


It was both easier and more difficult than I expected—suitably challenging.Cutting straight lines in fabric is totally different than in paper, and my edge was a bit ragged and uneven; thank goodness the rotary cutter I ordered gets here soon. The fabric wanted to tug every which way (I suspect that would be less of an issue if I had a bigger workspace or, better yet, a proper sewing table to set the machine into), so my straight lines aren’t straight. I had to relearn how to iron; I pressed more fabric for this small bag than I have in the last ten years. Some things were left unsaid that are probably second-nature to those with experience, but not to me; I improvised as needed. I struggled with folding the bag to mark off the gusset, and the first gusset seam that I made needed a visit with the seam ripper. But in the end, after  (all things considered) not all that much time and effort, I had a functional (and pretty) project bag. Goodbye Pretty Cheep—you were great for what you were, but there’s a new game in town, and her name is JD.


The colors in these photos are a little off, but trust me when I say that both the fabric and drawstring trim are lovely shades of silver; they really compliment each other quite nicely.

So what’s next? More of the same, but with this pretty blue fabric and a lighter gray drawstring. I’m hoping to make some adjustments, though—in particular, I’d really like to  add a zig-zag stitch to the seams to reduce unraveling. I had actually intended to do this for the silver bag, but it only dawned on me after I sewed the gussets that I really should have done that earlier in the process, when there was no interference from the perpendicular seams. That’s okay; mistakes are how we learn.


In case it’s not immediately obvious, I am hopelessly drawn to tendrilled, art nouveau-esque designs. But this is the fantastic thing about crafting—customization, coupled with the thrill of creation. I find so much satisfaction in making, even (and sometimes especially) in the fledgling stages of learning a new skill. And more and more, as you improve, you find that you’re able to take your vision and make it reality.


Leave a comment

Rhinebeck: fiber paradise

Living in the Pioneer Valley, I’m blessed to be constantly surrounded by a beautiful landscape. I’m also lucky to be right nearby one of the greatest yarn stores in the world, Webs, and just a few hours drive from The New York Sheep and Wool Festival—a true fiber paradise. Webs runs a bus trip out to the Dutchess County Fairgrounds every year, and this year I finally decided to take advantage of it.


I’d never been to Rhinebeck before, and I was prepared for it to be awesome (it was) and overwhelming (it was). What I wasn’t fully prepared for was just how stunning the scenery would be.

Autumn in Rhinebeck

How’s this for a lunchtime view?

Autumn in Rhinebeck

Within the first few minutes of arriving, I’d already spotted Amy Herzog and Stephanie Pearl-McPhee (yes, there was kinnearing), and of course I saw other famous fiber-types like Clara Parkes and Kristine Vejar in the book-signing area.  I was too shy to actually speak to any of them, but it was fantastic just to be in the presence of so many inspiring, like-minded people, familiar and otherwise.


But—and this will probably be no surprise—the highlight of the day was, for me, the animals—the sweet, beautiful creatures that make it all possible.



Llama and alpaca parade

Llama munching


I didn’t do much shopping, having spent much of the day petting sheep and taking in the overall atmosphere, but I did pick up some lovely, undyed alpaca yarn…

Alpaca yarn

…and a gorgeous Kundert spindle, with which I am completely in love.


It was an amazing, if exhausting, day; I loved every minute of it.

Who’s ready for next year?

Autumn in Rhinebeck

Leave a comment


Last year, we missed the prime of summer in the Pioneer Valley, instead enjoying the beauty of Ireland. (Amazingly, I have still not finished editing all of the photos from that trip, although I’m nearly finished.) This year, we stayed put—and folks, it was gorgeous.


As usual, we spent a fair bit of time hiking around Mount Toby—a favorite with us because it’s virtually in our backyard. It’s been nice to visit repeatedly, to gain a certain familiarity with the trails there, so that individual rocks and trees start to feel familiar, making the forest feel like an extension of our own home.


I think our favorite discovery was Cranberry Pond, a lovely little kettle pond that we’d seen on the trail map but had always just hiked past on our way to other areas of the reservation. In addition to the numerous sunning turtles and swimming fish, we found ample evidence of beaver excavation (although, alas, no beavers) and witnessed a stunning aerial display from a red-winged blackbird. It’s a lovely little spot in the early summer, and I’m sure it’s equally stunning in other seasons.

Cranberry Pond panorama

I went on adventure of a very different nature later in the summer. I’m lucky enough to live near what has to be one of the better yarn stores in the world, Webs, and in August I took a class there in which I learned how to spin on a drop spindle. Our instructor, Ashley Flagg, was fantastic (and I think something of a kindred spirit, as wool-people often are)—and although I still have a long way to go, I was really pleased with my first (and second!) full skein of yarn. (It is yearning to become a squishy cowl, but the twins need to become triplets before this dream can be realized.)

First skein of yarn

I also managed to finish my second sweater (pattern here). It was slow going for a while, as the fabric was extremely stiff and hurt my hands, but the end result is just so warm and cozy—perfect for crisp autumn days of apple-picking—and I’ve been wearing it nearly constantly ever since the weather started to turn cool.


One of the loveliest things about the valley is the morning fog—sometimes so thick that the rising sun could be mistaken for the moon. Such a view can definitely make training runs a little less onerous on brisk mornings, when it would be so much easier to hide in bed under the warmth of the covers (even when there are already other sources of motivation).

Valley fog, morning

Even though autumn is once again upon us, there is still green to be found in small corners.


But in the wider world, the hue of the landscape is clearly undergoing its annual transformation.

View from Mount Toby

Somehow, my blog posts always seem to be punctuated with seasonal changes—probably because I am so lax in my writing. But I am fortunate enough to be going to Rhinebeck, New York, next weekend for the annual Sheep and Wool Festival, so with any luck I will have tons of photographs of sweet-eyed woolly creatures to show off very soon.

View from Mount Toby

Autumn in New England just cannot be beat. And so much the better when one gets to spend it warmed by hand-knit woolens.