Saturday, May 31, 2014

T Shirts That Combine Fabrics

My favorite design technique involves combining fabrics. With all of last years fabric and a few new pieces I have enough fabric to play around and get some great combinations. I spread the fabric out on my cutting table and look for interesting combinations. Stripes, dots, and solids are a must to pull the combinations together. A good rule of thumb is to aim for at least three different fabrics. I love prints but sometimes the print is overwhelming when used for the body and the sleeves. I tone it down by using solids for sleeves and adding contrasting fabric at the neck edge. I also try to vary the hem edge with a shirt tail finish or some type of curve. 

Scale and color were the deciding factor in this T

The two main fabrics were purchased together. I added the navy to keep the fabrics from fading into each other. The picture of the hem shows how easy the two fabrics can get lost in each other. I also cut the body on the bias.

I love ikat prints, but they can be a tad bit busy if used all over. This is a great example of a solid color in the sleeve to tone it down. The white, beige, and charcoal strip was a nice accent to give a little punch to the effect.

Wednesday, May 21, 2014

Joan's Handspun and Handwoven Fabric

My friend, Joan Ruan spins cotton and weaves. She also teaches all over the world. I get to sew up some of her gorgeous fabric from time to time. The pink vest is mine and the brown is hers. The cotton in the brown vest is all natural colors. The colors are white, green, and several shades of toast. It is amazing that cotton can be grown in these beautiful colors. Be sure to click on the pictures to see just how beautiful the weaving is.

Friday, May 16, 2014

Another Summer of Sewing

I got way too busy last winter to sew and just closed the door on the sewing room. Projects were left wherever they landed when I quit. Now I am ready to get going again in the order I left the unfinished garments.

First a T-shirt from some fabric left over from one of my sister's T made last summer. Hers was made in the entire print. I like mine better with the black sleeves and dotted neckline. I think having limited fabric forces a more creative end result. The polka dot was just sitting there waiting to join the print. I am also partial to a solid sleeve with a busy print. It just tones down the total look.

A few more unfinished projects and then new fabric arriving.

Sunday, March 16, 2014

Adventures in Mata Ortiz, Mexico

I first visited Mata Ortiz with a group in October 2013. With no idea of what to expect I mentally made a decision to, maybe, buy one small pot, but only if I found the right one. Our tour leader suggested that the average person spends about $500. on the first trip. Clearly they didn't know what they were talking about or so I thought. I soon found myself writing checks and wondering how to finance more pots. Not being prepared to purchase all the pots I wanted it was evident I would need to return at some point soon. 

Westen New Mexico University offered a field trip in March 2014. I was the first to sign up and began planning which potters I would add to my collection. Sadly the trip was canceled due to lack of enrollment. A friend was also enrolled and equally disappointed. We had lunch, and I convinced her that we could make the trip on our own.

Making our reservations was very low tech. First I let the class instructor, Claude know of our plans. He agreed to facilitate the reservations through Spencer McCullum who lives in Casas Grandes and has an El Paso phone number that rings in Casas Grandes. Spencer would then get word to Lalo, the owner of the Posada in Mata Ortiz. With that series of connections we were set to go.

Once the reservations were confirmed I met with Claude and got recommendations of potters he is familiar with. With maps, lists and books I made a spread sheet of potential potters to visit. I now have a game plan and am ready to do some serious pot buying. I shouldn't mention it yet, but the game plan did not even get up enough momentum to even fall apart. It just didn't happen. But I am getting ahead of myself.

Our next hurdle was the bureaucracy to get across the border and begin the journey. First a stop in Deming to purchase Mexican automobile insurance, cash or check only. Next the border. Passports in hand along with original automobile title, current registration, driver's license and a friendly buenos dias we patiently waited for the very bored Mexican official to look over our credentials and stamp passports, papers, front and back and wave us on to the next station. Bringing an automobile into Mexico means paying for the privilege and posting a hefty charge on the credit card. This stage of the process involves lots of initials and highlighting of papers before we are given an official sticker to affix to our windshield. Upon leaving Mexico the process is reversed. Photos are taken of the vehicle registration number, the credit card has the deposit reversed, and the sticker is removed but with bits and pieces of it still clinging to the windshield. This sticker was not designed to be removed. The final stamp in our passport lets us exit and be on our merry way back to the states. 

I will skip the paragraph describing the drive down to Mata Ortiz as it is just a drive on a relatively nice two lane highway with very little shoulder. 

We stopped in Casas Grandes to visit Spencer and give him a thank you gift of some chocolate. He graciously offered to show us a local church that had been painted inside by a local artist. Every inch of the walls was painted. It was quite spectacular.

Back in the car and another ten miles and we are now in Mata Ortiz. Nothing has changed. The village is quiet. I remember the land marks and we drive straight to the Posada. While I am opening the gates a young man next door pokes his head out and asks if Lalo knows we are coming. "Si". We drive in and proceed to unload the car. No one is around. Presently Lalo shows up to let us in our rooms. I take the "suite" this time. It is a large L shaped room with two beds and a couch. No electrical outlets in the bathroom but I can make do. The potters begin to arrive. Tables are soon filled with pots. As more and more potters arrive we tell them we will wait until after dinner to shop.

I like to think of myself as having an open mind with no real expectations of what our experience will be. I am deluding myself that our present trip will be like the trip in the Fall with a group. Their is a certain safety in a group. One can move from table to table of pots with no quilt because someone else will fill in and make a purchase, or you can just mingle and look interested while hiding safely in numbers. Now we are completely exposed as the Americanos who have come to buy pots. We can not hide. It would be rude to hide in our rooms or just sit and pretend they weren't there. I stall by asking, "Como se llama?" and replying with "Me lllamo, Donna". I can pick up each and every pot exclaiming how beautiful it is. "Muy bonito". The experience is new to Claudia and she quickly catches "pot fever" and begins to buy, giving me a slight break from my guilt.

I had big plans of going door to door in search of specific potters but the potters were coming to us in droves. The potters of lesser talent seemed to be the first to appear with the more talented potters coming later. Before each meal they would line up. We had to make it known that we would first eat and then look. This did not prevent them from occasionally poking a head around the corner to make sure we knew they were waiting.

After breakfast on our first full day we escaped to drive around. I had a map of each barrio and check marks by the potters I hoped to see. I wanted a pot from Leonal Lopez who lived at the far end of Barrio Lopez. We found the road by the river and drove along it, but nothing looked familiar. We passed a group of cowboys hanging out around some pick up trucks and then reached what looked like the end of the Barrio. I turned around and approached the cowboys. A woman came out from the house. I asked, "Donde esta Leonal Lope?" He was right there with the cowboys, and his house was just across the road. I was elated. He did not have the pot I wanted, but I did buy a lovely "fish" pot in the esgraffito style.

On our second day while eating lunch a well dressed woman of great composure entered. I thought she looked like Lydia Quezda but thought, no, it can't be. She briefly stood in front of us and left. A gentleman then approached to tell us that yes, indeed that is Lydia. When Lydia enters a room you know a woman of great determination and force has entered. She walks with purpose and does not look to the right or left nor does she acknowledge the other potters. She is wearing a long black skirt and a blazer. Her husband is wearing dress slacks and  white shirt. The other potters are in jeans and T's. Everyone says that she rarely comes to the Posada so I was on pins and needles to see her pots. She made an appearance during the Fall trip, but I failed to grab a pot fast enough to purchase. Now I have a second chance. Lydia had two pots to show us, one by her son, Moroni and one by her. I did not hesitate to make my purchase from this woman who carries herself with such dignity and presence. Not only do her pots stand out among the many beautiful pots, but she also, does not fit in with the other potters. I told her my name, and she made a point of letting me know that her son, Moroni is now at the University in Chihuahua. Clearly this is a woman to be reckoned with.

I now have  pots from two of the better known potters of Mata Ortiz. I am satisfied that our trip is a success. Claudia is still making purchases and is easily making the day for some of the lucky potters who have sold to her. 

Jose Martinez invited us to his brightly colored home along the river to watch the firing of pots. We met Susy, his wife and son, Ivan.  I purchased a graceful small pot made by Susy. She is distinguishing her pots with delicate etching at the base. 

My final purchase is a figure of a dog by Macario Ortiz. My decision to purchase this piece was to round out my collection with a figure piece. It was whimsical with personality and should you turn it over you will discover that it is anotamoically correct.

Hasta la vista, Mata Ortiz. Two days felt like two weeks.

Friday, December 13, 2013

China - Then and Now - Thirteen Years Later

I first went to China in 2000 in order to see the Yangtze River before the dam was completed. China was still emerging, and the tour included all the major cities and sights. Everything about the tour was highly organized and tightly controlled . I came home with a keen sense of the vastness and beauty of China but little insight into the every day people. The trip was a study of the romantic China and looking back it seems like a Disneyland experience. It was one of my last trips to take film pictures and I filled a shoe box with some really great photos.

I was content to have seen the China I saw and had little interest in returning as there are so many other places in the world I still need to see. That changed when my only granddaughter, Sydney went to China to teach English. I thought it would be fun to visit her but did no real planning until she mentioned that she lived close to Harbin where the Ice Festival is held. I have seen pictures of the Festival but due to its remoteness I figured it was just a place to enjoy in photos. Now it seemed like a possibility.

Sydney has winter break at the time of the Festival so my planning began sometime in August. First I checked the weather - minus 30 degrees in January. Oh my, now I have to figure out how to stay warm. I have plenty of long johns and wool sweaters and socks but need to secure better outer wear. Some internet research had me ordering ski pants, Sorrel boots and a really heavy down parka from ebay. I now felt I could move on to the next step and book airlines and two days of hotel before meeting up with Sydney. That done I was now ready to learn a few key phrases so I could at least take a taxi to my hotel. I found audio clips on the internet and managed to learn only three words, hello, thank you and please. 

I got my first glimpse of China before I left the airport in Los Angeles. I flew Air China so many of the passengers were Chinese. Signage indicated that only one carry on allowed with no mention of a personal bag. The weight limit posted was also ridiculously low for a carry on. Soon I noticed an official looking man randomly taking peoples bags as he said Thank You. Wow, I understood Chinese. Because I had a carry on and a personal bag half the size of my carry on I just knew he was going to find me eventually. Close to boarding people started getting up making what looked like a line to board. It was more like a loose mob. No matter how many times the desk attendants said, "Sit down", no one moved. I was never really sure when first class and others finished boarding and economy started. It was just one big flow of people moving forward. This was my introduction to how Chinese quietly defy authority in a small way and yet maintain an orderly flow of movement. China, here I come.

My plan was to take a taxi to my hotel and rest for a few days. Sydney had other plans for me. She would take the train to Changchun to meet me at the airport and get me to my hotel. I tried to tell her I could manage for a few days but she insisted. Well, I was glad she insisted because trip to hotel involved train and then a taxi in a very confusing atmosphere. Without Sydney's help I would probably still be trying to find my way around the train station.

Me at South Lake Hotel
Five star South Lake Hotel was way south of town and in a beautiful wooded location. The rest of Changchun is considered the Detroit of China. Check in required I put up a 1000 yuan deposit. This is how it is done. Lunch and breakfast hours are limited so  Sydney and I scrambled to get some lunch. My breakfast the next morning was another experience. Without asking I was brought an assortment of small dishes, about twelve in all. There was fish, sausage, egg, vegetables, pickled cabbage noodles, all cold. A waiter asked if I wanted noodles so I said yes just in case the small dished turned out to be not to my liking. The second morning I only got the twelve dishes. No one asked if I wanted noodles.

Rodin's Balzac in Sculpture Park

View of Changchun from Sculpture Park
Our first outing was to the world's largest Sculpture Park in the middle of town. I am sure it is better looking in the spring and summer than covered in snow. It was impressive anyway. Next we went to Puiy's Palace and a very large museum dedicated to the Japanese invasion in 1931. The museum was beautiful and the many attendants held signs saying "Quiet". The Chinese suffered greatly during this time period. It can be compared to the Holocaust in Germany.

Me standing by Puiy's car

View from train heading to Harbin
We rest at Sydney's apartment in Siping before proceeding to Harbin. By now I understand Sydney's craving for western food. In general the food is too salty and too much oil. No matter how varied the dishes look there is a sameness in flavor that one tires of. I did like some of the dishes but Chinese food is not one of my favorite cuisines. 

Scratch my belly
Nicki, one of Sydney's students joined us in Harbin. Another colleague, Steven meet us at our hotel and made all our arrangements during our stay in Harbin. I am now into the idea of having a taxi or driver whenever we go anywhere. Harbin is the northern most city in China and I am now feeling like I am seeing the "real" China. We do repeated ten minute walks to go places that are closer than a taxi ride. We are schlepping to small hole in the wall eateries. I overlook the dinginess and trust that I will not pick up something and become sick. Sydney's friends know enough Mandarin to order knowledgeable from a menu and can answer questions about the dishes. One evening we trudged over to Steven's apartment and climbed six flights of stairs to enjoy a dinner prepared by Steven. We have a cab and driver to take us to all the sights and wait for us so we don't have to find a cab back to the hotel. One of our drivers, Joe wears aviator sun glasses and a light jacket in spite of below zero temperatures. Joe's English is really good. He learned by watching TV. Joe's father has one of the cleanest taxis around. It is immaculate and had a red light in front that sparkled like an elaborate Christmas ornament. We go to the Tiger Park and I buy a live chicken to feed to the tigers. You can buy a chicken, goat or whole cow that the workers toss out to the tigers.

Me, Steven and Micah Eating Harbin Ice Cream

While in Harbin we saw the Ice Festival, Snow Park, Tiger Park, Saint Sophia Russian Orthodox Church (now a museum) and ate the famous Harbin ice cream. We walked the streets and watched a troop of older Chinese ladies doing what looked like Chinese line dancing. They were quite good for performing in such cold weather.

Small problem - I got busy during this past year and never finished writing this post so it is unfinished and a bit late in making it onto my blog nearly a year late. I think it conveys the spirit of my trip.

Saturday, December 7, 2013

Cranberry Pumpkin Pie

I found a recipe for Cranberry Pumpkin Nut Bread in the holiday Penzey Spice catalogue. I liked it so well I thought it could be adapted for this years pumpkin pie. As much as I like traditional pumpkin pie I now have a new favorite.

Makes one 9 inch deep dish pie.


  • 3/4 cup granulated sugar
  • 1 teaspoon ground cinnamon
  • 1/2 teaspoon salt
  • 1 - 2 teaspoons grated orange rind
  • 1/2 teaspoon vanilla extract
  • 2 large eggs
  • 1 can (15 oz.) Libby's pumpkin (plain)
  • 1/2 (6 0z.) can evaporated milk
  • 3/4 cup orange juice
  • 1/2 - 3/4 cup chopped fresh cranberries
  • 1 unbaked 9-inch (4-cup volume) deep-dish pie shell
  • Whipped cream (optional)
  • Directions

    MIX sugar, cinnamon, salt,orange rind and vanilla extract in small bowl. Beat eggs in large bowl. Stir in pumpkin and sugar-spice mixture. Gradually stir in evaporated milk and orange juice. Fold in cranberries.

    POUR into pie shell.

    BAKE in preheated 425° F oven for 15 minutes. Reduce temperature to 350° F; bake for 40 to 50 minutes or until knife inserted near center comes out clean. Cool on wire rack for 2 hours. Serve immediately or refrigerate. Top with whipped cream before serving. 

Sunday, September 22, 2013

Two Articles

Article I
  Why I Don't Sew for Other People Any More

Way back in the 1960's I sewed for other people. I did it because I was a stay at home mom with time on my hands and I liked to sew. I didn't have a large clientele, but the people I sewed for understood the art of fine garments and appreciated good fit and one of a kind designs. I made career suits, gowns for balls and many fun outfits for very appreciative clients. 

Many years later, in the 1990's after retiring from a career in teaching I decided to sew again for others. The world had changed, and no more were there ladies who wanted fine garments. Now they just wanted cute and cheap. Oops, I should have said inexpensive. I did pick up a few clients, and the surprising thing was that most of my clients were the morbidly obese who wanted nice garments like their thinner sisters. One sweet little lady said she used to be my size but when her husband died she just ate her heart out. She had tried a seamstress before, and the results were a disaster. I made her three well fitting dresses that made her very happy. 

Another client was a young high school girl who was as big as a barn. She was in desperate need of a good fitting bra and had no idea that bras could be purchased in such a large size. I am guessing something in the range of 50+ DDDD to J cup size might have helped. And, yes, those bras do exist. Fittings were a major challenge because I never knew where her flesh was going to land. We got through the fittings, and when all was done she had a prom dress and sweet little jacket to match. The expression on her face when she tried it on made the effort worthwhile. I think these very obese women were two of my most appreciative clients.

Now you would think I would continue sewing for other people but a move to New Mexico from California gave me a different clientele again. This time there were no redeeming aspects in the ladies who came to find out what dressmaking was all about. We would discuss what they wanted, I would quote a price and they would just stammer and gasp and tell me they could buy a dress cheaper. No kidding. Because I am happily retired I just didn't feel like wasting my time on these go nowhere interviews. Nor did I want to see the look of horror on someones face when I quoted a price. Heck, they don't hesitate to pay their plumber or mechanic more than I charge. And that is why I only sew for myself and family, if they catch me in a good mood.

Article II
Why I Sew for Myself When I Can Buy a Garment Cheaper (Maybe)

I have been sewing since I was 3 or 4 years old. That is a long time. Many of those years were spent sewing my own wardrobe. Why I continue to sew for myself can be summed up by three reasons, (1) I like clothes, (2) I like well fitting clothes, (3) I like clothes that I can't afford. It is easy to understand 1 and 3, but 2 is the heart of what fine garments are all about. 

Firstly, I am vertically challenged. I used to be 5'2" or 3". Age has brought me down to 5'1". No sense lamenting the garments that my tall sisters can carry off. Sometimes even 1/4" makes a difference in how something looks. The best I can do to off set this handicap is to stand up straight and walk well.

Next I will work my way up, starting with my  feet and look at why ready made garments just don't work. My feet are just about average, and my toes are fairly even and straight so I can splash on some polish and wear a nice pair of sandals. Ankles are trim and calves are a bit thin but fairly well shaped. Once I get to the knees it all falls apart. My knees are just plain knobby and well, the thighs are definitely not in proportion to the calves. If the calves are a bit thin the thighs are definitely hefty. And to make matters worse I had had varicose veins since I was in high school. The only way a dress works is with a pair of tights or leggings. Ankle length dresses, when they are in fashion are sort of OK. Regular pants are too long and petites are too short. I decided a long time ago that if I have to alter anything I would just make it.

My over all silhouette is a pear. I can live with that. But when I was younger my upper body was easily two sizes smaller than my hips. Age has helped. The difference is only one size smaller now. I am long from my waist to crotch and short in the torso. Compounding the fitting is a bust measuring 32 D. Shoulders are narrow and sloping with the ball of the shoulder rolling slightly forward. Chest is hollow which disguises the large bust but only in looks not it fit. 

When you sew as many years as I have you get to know your body really well. Now that I know all the reasons why ready made clothes just don't look good on me I can work on making garments that do work. Most of my pattern alterations are in the length except the increase in bust size. I can either draft my own pattern or make the alteration on a commercial pattern. Because I look best in classic lines without to many extraneous things going on I tend to use a pattern for years and vary it ever so slightly.

I started with my feet so I will end with my head. Thanks to good genes and a good surgeon I continue to look younger than my years. Somehow my hair is still its natural color. To sum up my feet and head are my best features, and what is in between requires careful fitting to compliment the good parts. And that is why I make my own clothes.