Category Archives: Grandparents

hand sewn




It is pretty well know that I like to sew.  I try to work on some kind of sewing project everyday.  Often at my machine, but sometimes it may be cutting out a pattern or fabric.  I love that I can get a garment finished in a relatively short amount of time.  Machine sewing allows me to whip out a simple shirt or dress or shorts in an hour or two.   Rarely do I hand sew.  My grandmother taught me to sew, starting by hand sewing dresses for my Barbies.  The second thing I ever sewed was a bright yellow jersey dress with a gathered skirt and tank top bodice for my Barbie.  I hand sewed every seam and hem.  It felt like a long and arduous process.  I wanted to use the machine and get it done faster, but my grandmother thought I ought to learn hand sewing first so I could learn, slowly, how sewing works, how stitches work, and how fabric behaves.  She did not put it in so many words, though.  But, I definitely gravitated to quicker sewing when I was older.  I love using the sewing machine.  If I have to stitch down a collar or bodice lining by hand, I will, and I usually enjoy that slower process of sewing, realizing that I get a better product when I do spend a little more time and effort, but the machine is so convenient and quick.

That said, I made a tank top with a pattern from Seamwork Magazine the other day.  I made it from an organic cotton baby rib which I dyed with goldenrod from the meadow by our house.  I realized I am not a huge fan of baby rib for garments (shirts at least) because it stretches just a little bit too much.  It is such a soft fabric with a little bit more weight than a jersey, but I don’t think I’ll use it again.  I loved the tank top anyway, though, because it fit well and it was a little more complex than a normal tank top (pleat in the back, gathered straps in the front, and a curved hem).  I decided to make another but to do it more slowly.  I had just read Natalie Chanin’s Alabama Stitch Book and thought I would like to try some of her techniques.  I would hand sew the hems and do a reverse applique.  I used an organic cotton jersey which I dyed with marigold, and the reverse applique fabric was the same but dyed with black walnuts.  I used a dark brown top stitching thread for the hems and applique stitches.  I changed the hem to be straight because I wanted to the look to be a little more different from the first tank top.  I was really pleased with how it came out.  And, I really enjoyed the slower process of hand sewing my hems and applique.  I will definitely be doing this again – probably next on a skirt (I need to make a plan).

One of the reasons I thought about doing more hand sewing recently was because the end of summer can bring some of the best weather of the season, and we had the best of it over the last few weeks.  It was warm, not too hot, much less humid and with a slight breeze.  I just did not want to sit in my sewing room/mud room/laundry room to sew.  I wanted to be on the porch, in the breeze, with a beautiful view and a glass of wine.  With this mostly-hand-sewn project, I got it all.  It was fun!

There is a rhythm to hand sewing – a meditative quality that makes it go by quickly – and when I can stay in that meditative state (i.e. not thinking too much about what I am doing, not over analyzing my stitches and state) I find that I sew the most even and beautiful stitches.  Like my grandmother tried to teach me – hand sewing this was been a good practice to understand sewing, understand fabric, and understand how stitches work.  And, to get a beautiful garment at the end – wonderful!

tank top


retreat (to sew)

A few weeks ago, I went on a sewing retreat with 7 other women.  I was the youngest by at least 20 years.  And, that was fine because these women were wonderful – kind, fun, and expert sewists.  We got away to a gorgeous lake in the mountains, only an hour from my house.  We retreated to get all the time we desired to sew, uninterrupted.  We also did not have to cook or clean for 3 days!  I spent much of the time sewing in the open, airy, and light space the retreat center provided.   But, I also got out each day in those beautiful mountains to hike, run, and take a dip in the lake.

I came to the retreat with projects ready.  First up was a romper (pattern by Figgy) for Evva.  I bought this pattern because I wanted to make the romper for Evva, but I’m not sure I’ll ever use it again (maybe for the dress, though).  I’ve found that Figgy patterns are not always right, or the explanations don’t make sense, or the construction techniques don’t make sense.  Sometimes they are unnecessarily complicated.  I simplified this pattern a little, but it still took quite a while to make it.  But, Evva loves it.  She wears it quite a bit and says it is very comfortable.


Then, I made a pair of shorts for myself (pattern by Colette) with a great hemp/cotton blend that feels a bit like a linen.  I love these shorts.

picture by Hythe

I made a quick pair of shorts for Anne, so she would have something for herself from the retreat.



One of my goals to was to make a shirt from some cheap (and on sale) material that I found in Hancock Fabrics.  For some reason, I really liked the fabric.  And, I found a pattern in my Seamwork collection that I thought would work well.  I got the pattern cut out before I went on the retreat, and then sewed it at the retreat.  It was such a quick and fun sew and I learned a bit about making v-neck tees.  I love this shirt!  But, I want to hem it a little bit more.


I then made a shirt from a quilting cotton that had fishing lures all over it.  I made it with my nephew in mind, but thought Hythe could wear it until we get to see him.  But, my mom (who was helping with the children while I was gone) was still at home with my nephew when I got home, so I gave the shirt to him as they were driving away.  So, I don’t have any pictures of it.  But the pattern was this one by Oliver+S – made short sleeve.

Finally, I cut out a t-shirt for myself, but did not sew it up until I got home.  It was self-drafted, a quick sew, and I love it.  So comfortable and looks good.  I used a new-to-me technique from the ladies at the retreat to make the collar cuff.


Retreat.  I had not gone off by myself, for myself, in over 10 years.  It was so nice to have all the time of the day to call my own.  To do with what I wanted.  It was a pleasure.  I have the same feeling sometimes when I go to a yoga class.   It is something I want to do more often, and highly recommend.  But, I was also very happy to get home to William and the children, my garden, my home.



a sewing legacy




A few weeks ago, my aunt was working to clean out my grandmother’s sewing closet.  She called me to see if I would like her to send me the things she was getting rid of.  All the sewing notions and stuff that my grandmother had accumulated over her many years of fine sewing.  I said to send it on with my mother when she came to visit next (thanks! Sandy).
And so, last week my mother arrived and brought in (small) box after box filled with sewing tools, notions, and “stuff”.  I put the boxes on the porch and started sorting.  There were boxes of buttons, boxes of zippers and ribbons, boxes of needles (hand sewing and machine), boxes of hem and bias tape, snaps, hook and eye closures.  There were several boxes of metal bobbins with thread still in them.  There were things that I did not even know existed (like “perfect waist maker”).  There were 3 measuring tapes!

I did trash a few things like worn our elastic and some of the many, many rolls of hem tape (since I rarely use it).  I felt that most everything might be useful.  I found some real treasures, too.  I’ve been wanting to get a wing needle (which basically makes bigger holes in the fabric) to try hem stitching, and there was one!  And, lots of cotton and linen bias tape which is hard to find now.   Also, all those pins and needles!

I was a little overwhelmed with the amount of things and how to organize it all.  But, sweet Evva swooped in and took over the piles of notions I had put on the porch.  She somehow understood where things should go (zippers together, other closures together, buttons together, ribbons together, hem tape and bias tape together) and how to do it neatly.  When she had a question about something she would ask, but she even encouraged me to go off and make supper and do other work while she put everything back together.  I ended up with 5 neat little boxes (unfortunately, 2 of which broke almost immediately – they are functional, but will be replaced soon).  While she was putting everything away, I mentioned that I would never need to shop for supplies for sewing camp anymore.  Evva got excited about sewing camp and has been asking about it (so have some mothers of friends of our girls).  I was reluctant to do it this year, but maybe I’ll try to squeeze it in somehow.  After all, I do have all these great supplies to share!

I feel blessed to have inherited this trove of sewing supplies.  They make me think of my grandmother.  To wonder what her plans were for some of the things she had.  What did she make with that purple thread left on that bobbin?  Where did that silvery tennis racket ribbon come from?  What were her thoughts about how to use it?  And, how would she use some of those notions?  I would love to have a lesson from her about what to do with some of it.  I am mostly a self-taught sewer, so my techniques may not always be correct.  I wish I could get a short lesson from her every once in a while.  But, I am satisfied to have her “stuff”.

bread: part 3

Another special bread, to me and countless others, has been my mother-in-law’s (Susie’s) homemade loaf bread.  The first time I ever came to her house, I was in high school and visiting the Asheville area.  Her daughter, Elizabeth, was my friend and I went to see her.  Elizabeth invited me into the kitchen, cut off a large slice off a fresh loaf of bread and spread it thickly with raspberry jam from a large pot sitting on the stove, before we headed out for a tour of their farm.  I was very impressed that there were four loaves of this home made bread on the counter (and impressed about all that jam!).  Elizabeth said her mother made 6 loaves of bread every other day – to feed, I found out soon, 5 of her own children, 2 high school exchange students, many of the 10+ cousins who came through the house, plus all their friends, and her husband.  This amount of bread – delicious, fresh, homemade bread at that – was almost magical.  And, as I came to know Susie and her bread, I never really changed my mind about it – there was definitely some magic.

Elizabeth and I tried to reproduce her bread when we were in college (even attempting to sell loaves to other home-deprived students).  But, ultimately, our bread lacked something.  Elizabeth would make new suggestions about how to make the bread, based on many observations and conversations with her mother about bread baking.  We finally gave up trying to make Susie’s bread – it just never turned out quite right – edible, yes, but not like hers.  We decided there really must be some magic in Susie’s kitchen that made her bread come out so well (and so much better than ours using the same recipe).  Was it the oven?  Her large, blackened, finicky thing filled with random objects from egg shells to pottery to cookies and bread?  Was it the general fermentation happening in her kitchen at all times?  All those fermenting (some might call it rotting) jars of jam, pickles, leftovers, and who knows what else, scattered over nearly every surface of the kitchen.  Was it her bread pans?  Old, blackened, thick – that she never washed, ever.  Was it the flour?  She claimed she thought it was important to use some pastry flour, but I’ve seen her use any kind of flour on hand and turn out great bread.   Susie was a conjurer – churning out great loaves of some of the best loaves of bread.  However she did it, her bread never lasted long at her house.  Which was good, because those homemade loaves did go stale more quickly than any store bought, less tasty, less textured bread.

Now, I incorporate some of all these bread traditions and some of my own into my cooking.  I make biscuits and cornbread.  I knead dough and form loaves.  I’ve now also made the no-knead bread – which is wonderful and easy but requires planning and time (and I tend to fall short on both).  I also enjoy making tortillas – corn and flour, and occasionally make batch of one or the other to keep the family fed with burritos, quesadillas, and tacos.  Even though we have no Latin roots, the influence is definitely felt and influence has become important (the food is so delicious!).  Will that get passed on to the next generations’ bread traditions?

Anyway, below is a simple recipe for the most basic bread I make a few times a month – a yeast-risen loaf bread.  Do you have any bread traditions or culture in your family?

Simple loaf bread (makes 2)

Mix 1 cup oats with 1 cup hot milk or water.  Let sit for 10 minutes

Add 1 Tablespoon (or 1 package of yeast) and 1 1/2 cups more of water or milk.  Mix and let yeast dissolve.

Add 1/4 cup honey or molasses (or brown sugar) and 3 cups of whole wheat flour.  Mix with a spoon for about a minute.  Let sit for about 30 minutes.

Then, add 1 T salt, 1/4 cup oil or melted butter (and an egg if you want).  Mix in well, then start adding white bread flour until the dough is too hard to mix with a spoon (about 2 more cups).

Turn dough out on counter and start to knead, adding flour as needed.  Knead for 5-10 minutes and shape into a ball.  Put the ball back into your original bowl after you sprinkle flour in the bowl to keep it from sticking.  Put a damp towel over the bread while it rises.

When it has doubled in size, take it out and cut in half and shape each half into a football shape.  Put each shape into greased (or buttered) loaf pans.  Let rise again, with a damp towel over the loaves.  After about 30-45 minutes you can bake the loaves (when they’ve doubled in size again).  I like to slice the tops a little with a serrated knife just before baking.  I bake at 350 for about 30 minutes.  There are a lot ideas about how to know when your bread is done.  I tap the loaves on the bottom to see if they sound hollow, but I also bake until they are golden or browned on the outside.  Susie says she can tell when they are done when she put a loaf to the tip of her nose and it does not burn.

Let cool out of the pan.

We eat lots of toast and sandwiches, so this bread does not last long.  I’m lucky if it lasts a week, but usually, it’s just a few days.






bread: part 2

Being a good Southerner, cornbread and biscuits played predominate rolls in my culinary upbringing.  My mother made good cornbread and we absolutely loved it with butter and molasses.  So good . . . such a treat.  This is still a treasured supper dish in our house now.  Our children adore cornbread and molasses – finding it as big a treat as I did as a child.

Mom-mom, however, was not a born Southerner, coming from Oregon, but she endeavored to make a pan of cornbread nearly everyday for farm dinners (mid-day meal).  Her cornbread was very different from my mother’s.  Hers was flat and dense and quite sweet – everything my mother’s wasn’t.  You didn’t put molasses on that flat bread, just butter.  I don’t know where she learned how to make it like that, and I’ve never seen cornbread like it anywhere else.  But, it was good.  And, my grandfather liked it – and that was all that really mattered.

We were not a strong biscuit family.  Sure, we ate biscuits, made good ones and liked them, but I don’t recall anything special about them – no important techniques, recipes, or ingredient secrets that were passed on.  In fact, the first biscuits I remember making were with my great-grandmother, Grammy.  I thought it was amazing and I loved helping her.  First, you took a cardboard tube and peeled off the top, then you whacked it hard on the counter and pulled doughy biscuits out and set them on a pan.  We baked them for 10 minutes and you were done.  Grammy was a farm wife with four children, and many time-consuming tasks, who did not really enjoy cooking.  For her, sliced bread really was one of the best inventions . . . canned biscuits, a close second.

I make biscuits like my mother (and mother-in-law) did – from scratch and almost once a week.  They are easy to make, and often I make them because they are fast and filling for this small brood of mine.  This past fall, I checked out a book from the library called Biscuit – part of the Southern Foodways Alliance series.  It was a great little reference and had many rifts on biscuits I wanted to try.  I turned the book in after a few weeks but my mind kept coming back to it every time I made biscuits.  So, when I was in a book store in Raleigh last month, I bought this little gem.  I’ve made a few of the different biscuits and it has been fun.  One of the most popular in our house has been the fried pie recipe.  Basically, a biscuit dough, rolled thin, filled with spiced pumpkin or apple, deep fried, and sprinkled with cinnamon sugar.  So good!


mixing dough


currant, gorgonzola, pecan biscuits
fried apple pies


bread: part 1

One of my new favorite magazines is a quarterly called Taproot.  It is homestead-y, literary, artsy, sweet, and ad-free.  Each issue has a theme, and this winter’s theme was Bread.  It got me thinking about all of the breads that have been important to me throughout my life (so far).  My grandmother’s sourdough, corn bread, biscuits (a Southern staple), my mother-in-law’s bread, tortillas, and my own manifestations of bread as I feed my husband and growing children.  Bread is important and it can tell as story.   It can be difficult and surprisingly easy – to make, to understand.  And, it can be delicious!

The first homemade bread I remember was my grandmother’s sourdough bread.  She made two loaves at least once a week, every week, when I was young — and she had done so for many years.  That bread had a slight sourness, and a good kick of sweetness (I found out later was from a fair bit of sugar in the recipe).  The bread was absolutely delicious warm from the oven – even without butter.  I loved peanut butter and jelly sandwiches with that bread.  I loved the smell of that bread, and I loved seeing Mom-mom make the bread.  Her house would fill with it’s aroma when she was baking and that smell always made me feel at home and happy. I think she got her starter from a cousin in Oregon, and she told me once that she made the best bread of her life when her mother was dying of cancer.  She said she put all her anger, frustration, and sadness into the kneading of the dough, and would knead for long periods of time, working it all out.  That bread would come out wonderfully light.

Mom-mom gave me some of her starter when I was in college and I tried to make bread as a way to link me to some semblance of family life – probably I wanted that feeling that her bread gave me of being at home, loved, and happy.  It was hard moving to a city of over 100,000 people (and a dorm of a few hundred), when I’d come from a town of 15,000.  I wanted some security, to belong.  But, Mom-mom’s starter did not last long.  I could not keep it going with the erratic schedule of classes, breaks, and dorm living.  I also could not get quite the right result.  The taste was right, but the texture and rise were not.

Mom-mom never did give me any formal bread baking lessons, as she did for making cakes and cookies.  I guess I learned from just watching her work dough through on the counter and shape her loaves to rise – gently laying a wet towel over the bread while they rose.  I still use her techniques, even if I don’t use her recipe.




quick trip to the coast










We made a quick trip (that seems like an oxymoron since the whole visit seemed quick but the travel there and back seemed quite long) to the coast this past weekend.

The weather was beautiful on Saturday, but a bit chilly.  The children played and splashed in the river, and then begged me to let them go swimming!  Hythe was quite angry with me when I told him that, no, I had not packed his swim suit.  It was hard to convince them that getting in that frigid water on a cool day would quickly make them hypothermic (words, of course, they did not understand!).

We celebrated Anne’s birthday a few times over the weekend since we spent most of her actually day driving.  She loved all the attention and gifts.  And, they all loved playing with their cousin.

Sunday was a cool, cloudy day and we took a ferry over to Knott’s Island on the very northeast corner of NC.  The ferry ride was very cold, but fun for everyone.  On the island, I was impressed with the marshes.  The marsh grass was a golden brown and tall.  Blue water wove in and out of patches of the grass and the whole scene was just beautiful.  We visited a historic duck hunting lodge that is for sale, situated near the edge of the marsh.  The place was very odd, but interesting — so much potential, but so much work for whoever buys it and fixes it up.  The barn has 12 bedrooms in the upper floor!  It reminded me very much of the Whalehead Club on a smaller scale.  What could a place like this be used for now?  Private hunting/fishing lodge or home?  Summer camp?  Retreats?  The property (and buildings) have conservation easements on them.  I love the history of properties and especially the history of northeastern NC, so I enjoyed seeing this little part of history – and the whole trip was a bit of an adventure, even if it did mean that we got home about 3 hours later than I’d hoped!

it is on the way







One of my favorite times of the year is when the crocuses and snowdrops bloom at the Big House (our name for William’s great- and grandparents house).  I love seeing all the flowers bloom at the Big House, as they do in a procession through the spring, but the first to bloom are the snowdrops and crocuses.  The “rock garden” is covered by a sheen of light purple with white intermixed.  The surest sign, for me, that spring is coming, is imminent.  It is hard to describe, or capture with a camera, the magic of turning the corner of the boxwood hedge in late winter and walking into the sweet, ephemeral beauty of those flowers covering the garden yard with moss covered rocks and English ivy in the background.  We always make special trips to the Big House this time of year, just to visit the flowers – to revel in the sweetness of coming spring and admire the tenacity of those tiny flowers to withstand so much and still bloom.  Also, to admire the forethought and art of William’s great grandmother, Elizabeth, who planted those bulbs (and boxwoods) nearly 100 years ago.

We are also enjoying the few ephemerals that have been blooming at our house.  We get southern sun, while the Big House faces north, so our flowers bloom a few days to 2 weeks before theirs.  Of course, I am inspired by Elizabeth’s example, and have planted more bulbs each fall.  I have doubts, but I hope mine will grow to bring beauty to the world, and those who come after, for many years after I am gone.






I heard an NPR episode the other day about aging adults in America – those over 65.  The episode explored what happens when their children or grandchildren realize they cannot live by themselves anymore.  The story was very apropos – my paternal grandparents are in this exact situation.  We (my mother, really) finally got them to accept the fact that they could not live by themselves anymore without full time help.  They said they were ready to move to an assisted living situation.

This is a pretty huge decision and it has been a few years getting to this point.  I encouraged them to move into a senior living community 2 or 3 years ago.  At the time, they were interested and toured a few places near me.  However,  they would not let me join them on the tours or allow me to talk to the marketing person at the communities.  They wouldn’t let me drive them, though they did not know the area well and were not used to the type of traffic or highways/bypasses around here.  The trip was a disaster.  My grandfather (who should not have been driving) got into an accident, luckily a very minor one.  They were unnerved and upset, and as a result hated everything that had to do with the trip, including the senior living community.  I felt guilty and sad.  Why couldn’t I help them?  Why wouldn’t they let me?  If my father was alive, he would have driven them around.  I’m the only relative that lives near them (still 1.5 hours away) and I was willing to help – to do what my dad would have done.  William offered good advice at that time, just let them do what they want to do – it is their life, their home, their choices.

But, my mother realized this month, after some hospitalizations, that they should not live on their own – and they agreed.  They’ve asked me to took at a few places nearby again.  I hope I can find what they are looking for – a place they will enjoy and be comfortable in for the last years of their life.  I feel better about being able to help.

Then, all the thinking about those last-years-of-your-life decisions, made me think about death.  We are all in a beautiful, sometimes tragic, dance toward death.  But, we rarely talk about it.  We do not make it part of our daily living, because it is sad and scary.  I read a great article about death by Caitlin Doughty (I cannot find the article on-line, though, but it was terrific).  She challenges us to look at death differently, and I really identified with that – to acknowledge death and meet it with grace and dignity.  Maybe because I was acquainted with death at a young age, I don’t mind talking about it as much as some.   William does not like talking about death, but I always felt we needed to, if just to know what the other wanted at their funeral or what to do with their remains.  We don’t know when or how we will die, but to be prepared mentally, spiritually, and practically, is a good thing.  We should try to make it easier on those left to grieve.  We should try to know what our spouse or our parents (or grandparents) want in or after death.  But, it is so hard – those conversations can be too difficult.

William and I took years to make a will, even though we knew we really needed to have one.  But, discussing and answering those questions, like what happens to our children or our home, was hard and we didn’t even want to consider the possibility.  We finally did it, though (and made a living will).  Even when we are thinking and talking about it, death is still scary and sad.  My hope and faith helps and the knowledge that the world continues on, that we are all part of the cycle, is awe-inspiring.

Whew, that was a serious post!  I’ll lighten up with some fun and beautiful things very soon!