Sunday, May 19, 2013

Sewing Camp: A Long Weekend of Fun!

I'm back from Sewing Camp, and I'm exhausted and exhilarated at the same time.

"Sewing Camp?" you ask.  Well, you can call it a camp or retreat or get-away, but what it means is five days and four nights of (nearly) non-stop sewing and fun.

I'm packed for Sewing Camp!
The Philadelphia Chapter of the American Sewing Guild holds a sewing camp every year around the third weekend of May at Eastern University in St. David, Pa.  We move in the week after the students move out, setting up in a very large conference room room and sleeping in the dormitory across a breezeway from our sewing space.  This year, we started at noon on Wednesday and the last camper packed up and left at 5 p.m. on Sunday.

We stay in the dorms at Eastern University in St.  David, Pa.
If it's not too crowded, each sewer gets two six-foot tables upon which to set up her machines and supplies.  We share a few cutting tables (raised to the proper cutting height by bed risers) and ironing boards.  And then we start to work on our own projects.  We break for meals in the dining hall, which is a ten minute walk through a beautiful campus.
Candace is set up with her serger, her sewing machine and laptop.   
What's the thrill?  "The best thing is knowing that the time is dedicated to sewing and I don't have to worry about anything else," says Sue, a first-time camper.  No cooking, cleaning or laundry, no husbands, kids or work, and (for me) a 'no-phone zone.'  

Having a room full of other women who sew is an invaluable resource.  If you get stuck on a procedure or need help with fitting, there is someone who 'speaks the same language' just across the room.  This year my sewing friends empowered me to charge a more realistic price for altering a prom dress that had three layers of skirts to hem and a circumference of 135 inches!

Each of us has our own sewing agenda.  My friend Sherrie spent the first two days working on a quilt top made from beautiful hand-dyed batik fabrics she had picked up when she visited Ghana in 2003.  The women of the village gave her many pieces of fabric and garments and she bought others.  She had packed them away years ago, waiting for a time when she could devote herself to creating a one-of-a-kind quilt.

Sherrie arranged four inch blocks into a colorful quilt top.
Another friend, Janet, makes teddy bears for families who have lost a loved one, using some of their clothing.  These memory bears  often become cherished possessions.  My friend Pat has been creating her own textiles for the past few years -- she spent several hours stenciling and embellishing her hand-dyed fabric.  Some people come to cut out projects -- they have limited space in their home, and being able to spread out and walk around a cutting table is a treat.

Lest you think we're all work and no play, don't be fooled.  There is plenty of laughter, a few 'road trips' to fabric and sewing stores and show-and-tell when someone finishes an item.  Sometimes there is friendly competition to see who can make the most things during the weekend.  It's not unheard of for someone to complete a dozen or more garments.

Marge is happy with her $1.99-a-yard fabrics purchased on a road trip to Fabric Mart in Sinking Springs, Pa. 
The sewing room is open nearly around the clock...a couple of ladies stay up until 4 a.m., and the early-to- bed, early-to-rise folks are back in the sewing room at 6 a.m.

Martha's quilt

We sleep two to a room in a four person suite, with a bath between the rooms.

I'll bet the dorm rooms don't normally get this dressed up!
Aunt Pat's first quilt

Phyllis' quilt features cardinals

One of the many t-shirt quilts I have made
Personally, I spent one afternoon shopping for fabric for my 'mother of the groom' dress for the upcoming wedding of my son.  I made a fitting muslin from the pattern for the dress, and transferred the adjustments onto the pattern.  The dress is underway, but not quite finished yet.  I was able to complete several smaller mending and hemming projects, including the aforementioned prom dress.  While I didn't get as many projects finished as I have in past years, the weekend was successful just for the fact that my wedding attire is well underway.  

This week, the board will book the dates for Sewing Camp 2014.  I can hardly wait!   

Tuesday, May 7, 2013

Scratch another "wedding task" (or two) off the list!

My son's wedding is fast approaching, and while the mother-of-the-groom doesn't have too many responsibilities, my sweet, future daughter-in-law has asked me to take care of a couple of things.

The first request was to find some sort of vessel to put on the gift table to hold cards.  The catering company wanted some ridiculous price to 'rent' a bird cage for the evening.  I mentioned this to my friends before Christmas, and shortly thereafter, one called me with great news -- she had seen a bird cage at a thrift store for $15 and picked it up for me!  This photo isn't too great, but here's what it looked like...

All it needed was a couple of coats of white spray paint, and it looked totally 'bridal.'  

I added a large white bow to the finial at the top, and wove some violet netting through the curlicues around the top edge, and it was finished.  Cards can slip between the wires of the curved dome, or the tray at the bottom can slide out to add a larger cards.  (For my friends in other parts of the country, it is customary on the East coast to give wedding gifts of cash or checks in lieu of a physical item.  This Midwestern girl doesn't claim to understand why, mind you.  It's just the way it is.)

A few weeks later, my son's bride asked if I could help with her gift for her attendants.  Since it is a summer wedding, she wanted to give them personalized beach tote bags, filled with goodies to take on vacation.  She found an on-line source for the bag, but wondered if I could embroider each girl's initial on the front of the tote. The black bags are heavy nylon, lined with a lighter-weight nylon in bright colors.  She thought white thread would look the best.

Once I received the bags, I realized my home embroidery machine would not be sufficient for the task, so I called upon my good friend Martha for help. I tease her about being the "Queen of Machine Embroidery" because she always has beautiful embroidered items for 'show and tell' at our monthly American Sewing Guild meetings (  A few years ago, she took her art up a level and purchased a Babylock Endurance six-needle embroidery machine (  It is a professional grade machine that allows her to change colors of thread effortlessly and work on larger-scale designs.

Baby Lock Endurance 6 Needle Embroidery Machine (BND9)
The six-needle Babylock Endurance
We met for dinner at her house (great pasta and wine!) and then got to work.  She had purchased a design disk of 3" and 5" alphabets, and we selected the font that had the best looking 'J,' since that was one of the letters that we needed to embroider on a tote bag.    (I don't know why, but many embroidery alphabets have an ugly or unreadable 'J'.  The look like 'I' or 'T' or a squiggle.)

I began marking the center point on each bag.  After hooping the bag, we put in on the machine, maneuvered it to the center point.
The hoop holds the tote bag on the machine and allows us to place the design right where we want it.  
Martha got the machine set up with white thread and downloaded the design to the machine's computer.

We decided that the 5" letters would look the best.  Each letter has between 3,000 and 5,000 stitches!  Once you press 'start,' the machine does all of the work.

The letter 'A', almost finished!
Martha kept a close eye on things, in case there were problems like a broken thread or the need for a new bobbin.

Martha at work in her sewing room.
After ten minutes, viola!  A perfectly monogrammed tote bag!  One down, 12 to go!

A $7 tote bag has become a $25 fashion statement!
So, check two items off of the list of wedding preparations!  I still have a few more things to take care of, plus my mother-of-the groom dress.  I sure hope there's enough time!

Friday, May 3, 2013

I planted my tomatoes today -- oh yes, I did!

While the weather has been unsettled in other parts of the country, the last several days have been just BEAUTIFUL in and around Philadelphia!  Daytime temps are in the mid- to upper-60's, with lots of sunshine.  I've also been watching the overnight low temperatures, and I believe we're past the last chance for frost in this area.  So...I decided to plant my tomatoes today!

Yes, I'm a week early (Mother's Day is usually when gardeners in this area get digging), but there were two reasons I needed to get them into the soil:  
1)  the plants I ordered were delivered last week, and a few of the leaves were starting to turn yellow; and
2)  the earlier I plant, the earlier I harvest!

I read about grafted tomato plants and found them through the  Burpee Catalog Company.   ( .  They take a sturdy tomato plant that is disease resistant and graft an heirloom tomato onto the stem.  The upper part of the plant -- the leaves and fruit -- are heirloom varieties, which taste delicious.  For my husband, I bought a Mortgage Lifter Heirloom, which produces huge, 16 to 24 ounce tomatoes -- the kind where one slice covers a piece of bread.  I also bought a Rutgers and a Yellow Pear tomato, which is a small, cherry-like variety.  

A few years ago, I discovered the book "The Square Foot Garden" by Mel Bartholomew.  He has a new edition out, which is available on Amazon.

Product Details

The idea is to subdivide your garden (mine is about 7' by 10') into one square foot plots, and plant your seeds or plants according to how much space each needs to grow.  Instead of planting a row of radishes for instance, and thinning them once they have sprouted, I make little holes, four inches apart, and plant just one seed in each hole.  When I harvest them later in the spring, I can re-plant radishes, or plant another vegetable in that one square foot plot. Mel is also a proponent of setting up a sturdy trellis for plants that grow up, like tomatoes.

Years ago, when we moved into this house, I found an old iron clothing rack behind the garage.  My d.h. rigged it up with wire fencing, and I use it in the garden as a trellis for the tomato plants.  As the tomatoes grow, I tie them up to the trellis with strips of plastic bags or fabric.

Following Mel's guidelines, I plant the tomatoes about 2 feet apart.  The red half-circles are something my husband found a few years ago...they are for slow watering.  You fill the plastic dish with water, and it seeps out through a few holes in the bottom of the dish.

In the background, you may be able to see my garlic plants...I planted them last fall, and they should be ready to harvest around July 1st.  I'm hoping to put in some green beans, radishes and at least one variety of basil in the next few weeks.

With any luck, I'll have fresh, home-grown tomatoes by the Fourth of July!

Happy planting!
While I was working, Lance decided a nap in the sun was in order!