the captain’s new hat

a head and shoulders view of a child sized mannequin wearing a striped engineer hat covered in badges from steam shows, in front of a window with plants on shelves.

My brother gave me a wonderful gift yesterday: our granddad’s steam show hat. It’s the hat Granddad always wore to steam shows, which he went to nearly every weekend during the season, with engines from his collection to display and often with my brother in tow. It’s covered in badges from just a few of those shows, all dated between 1982 and 1986. It’s got a patch on the front that says “Pioneer Steam Railroad” which you can barely see for all the badges. My brother has had the hat since Granddad died in spring 1995.

It just barely fits my huge head but that’s okay, because it looks great on my plastic pal, the Captain of the Tiny Print Shop. They look just like a real captain now.

swamp hag

a white woman with brown hair and tattoos, viewed from the neck down, wearing a sleeveless olive drab dress and standing in front of three mannequins draped in philodendron fronds.

I made some alterations this week on this dress that I call my swamp hag gown, which has been through a few different iterations already. I originally made it for my 50th birthday, out of a thrifted gray cotton curtain ecoprinted with leaves from my garden, using the Woolfork dress pattern by Jacqueline Cieslak (pattern link: Woolfork pattern). It’s a gorgeous pattern but I felt like I had too much coverage around the shoulders for my wild hot flashing perimenopause lifestyle, so I chopped it off just below the bust dart and added a new bodice using the lining pieces from the Ogden Cami by True Bias (pattern link: Ogden Cami pattern). Then after a while I bundled the dress back into the dirty pot and ecoprinted it again with leaves off our cherry tree, to ramp up the swampiness.

I had to cut the front of that new bodice just slightly off grain due to fabric constraints and of course that caused the whole dress to shift slightly to my left, which I lived with for a while but my sternum tattoo made the off-centredness very obvious so finally, a couple of weeks ago, I made another new bodice. In the meantime I had found a huge piece of the original fabric (there’s enough for a whole second dress) so was able to cut it luxuriously straight. That’s when I had to accept that the Ogden bodice doesn’t work all that well for my body and you’re not even going to see that version because it pushed my breasts down too uncomfortably to even pose for a photo. Meanwhile I had overdyed the whole thing to an olive green much richer than what shows up in the photo, using goldenrod flowers from the alley and a dip in ferrous sulfate.

Fourth time’s the charm for this dress as I’ve now gotten it pretty close to perfect, using the bodice from Caramiya Maui’s Yesterday Dress (pattern link: Yesterday Dress pattern), which is quickly becoming my go-to pattern. I did a simple narrow shoulder adjustment by shifting about 7mm from the centre fold to the side seam, as my earlier dresses made from this pattern tend to slip off my shoulders. It’s much better but still a little slippy so next time I’ll angle the straps inward a smidge and maybe also shorten them just a little.

close up of the chest and upper arms of a white woman with brown curly hair and tattoos wearing a sleeveless dress in brown and olive green.

The new bodice is a handkerchief weight linen that I dyed with black walnut hulls; not quite the same shade as the new colour of the dress but this walnut fabric has already faded a bit in another dress so I know it’ll be closer one day. Probably just in time for another trip through the dye pot.

Here’s a peek at the lining, indigo dyed cotton from the Bleachery in Aurura, IL, and the hand finishing stitches on the bias binding. I love me a sweet hand finish. I even found a brown thread in my Gramma’s sewing stuff that’s an exact match for the walnut dyed linen.

close up of a needle and thread stitching a hem of brown linen down over blue cotton.

And these are the earlier versions of the dress. Left, an ecoprinted Woolfork on my 50th birthday. Middle, with a new skimpier bodice more appropriate for the heat of middle age. Right, overprinted with rusty cans and cherry leaves.

a side to side comparison of three different versions of a gray sleeveless dress, modeled by a white woman with long hair and tattoos viewed from the neck down.

hello shorty

a black squirrel with a short tail creeping towards the leg of a white woman, in the foreground, on which is a tattoo of two squirrels and a cherry branch.

This wonderful tattoo of my two short tailed squirrel friends, Shorty and Stubby Jr., was done for me earlier this year by the amazing Suzie Woodward (instagram link: Suzie Woodward tattoos). We finished up in late July and I spent the next month sitting on the concrete front steps in my jean shorts, nuts in one hand and phone in the other, waiting for Shorty to visit so I could try to get a photo of her next to her portrait. I got loads of photos, because Shorty is comfortable enough to take nuts straight out of my hand, but sadly she’s not very photogenic so this one is the best. Please ignore her embarrassing bald spot; Shorty is at least three years old, a pretty advanced age for an urban squirrel. She has enjoyed life and it shows.

Unfortunately I don’t think Stubby Jr. lives in our neighbourhood anymore; also pushing three, she showed up for the last time in May, about a week after we had finished the outline on this piece. That was the first time that both Shorty and Stubby visited me on the front porch at the same time and both accepted nuts (Stubby only from a distance, Shorty right up in my face as usual).

Here’s a photo of the two of them together at the backyard buffet, taken in August 2021 when they were young and bald-spot-free and our cherry tree, around which they’re chasing each other in their tattoo portrait, was also young and still needed a rope in case it toppled.

view of a backyard with flagstone patio in the foreground, steel vegetable beds in the background, and a young cherry tree in the middle with a bird feeder and two black squirrels.

And here’s Shorty last summer, viewed out the dining room window, demolishing a sunflower that, admittedly, she probably planted there herself.

a black squirrel sitting on a sunflower head, eating seeds, while suspended over a flagstone patio viewed from above.

quilt update

a blue and gray quilt draped across a gray couch.

I’ve got enough of the quilting done from the centre outward that I feel confident taking it off the frame and doing the rest of the quilting with it across my lap on the couch. Much better for my back and also for my eyes, as the lighting in my sewing room is extremely unworkable. It’s lovely to be able to use it and stitch on it at the same time, and I’ve even taken my first nap under it.

I decided against using multiple colours for the quilting, as the indigo and walnut dyed sashiko thread completely disappear against the quilt fabric. I’ll be doing the whole thing in the navy blue. It’s the only colour in the quilt that I didn’t make myself but I like the high contrast.

a blurred view of a tortoiseshell cat hiding under a quilt frame.

Skeeter thought the quilting frame was a pretty good blanket fort.

wip wednesday

close up of the texture of knitted green wool.

Last winter I made a few aborted attempts at knitting Norah Gaughan’s Ginsberg shrug/cardigan from Brooklyn Tweed (pattern link: Ginsberg Cardigan by Norah Gaughan), trying to find the right mix of different yarns held double because I don’t like buying materials and never have enough yarn for anything. Every attempt fell short and I gave up when spring came.

For the past fifteen years or more I’ve only worn cardigans, but I woke up one day and realised they weren’t really working for me the way they used to and I started unraveling all of my hand knitted cardigans and reknitting them into big sloppy pullovers with lots of ease. I still get violently hot at the drop of a hat, and being able to strip off in seconds was a real benefit with cardigans, but I like my belly swaddled and having a cardigan done up makes it actually slower to strip off than a huge sweatshirt. Right now the slatternly huge pullover falling off the shoulders suits me better.

I had knit up this green handspun merino/silk blend, Peppercorns colourway from The Fibre Garden (shop link: The Fibre Garden) along with a coordinating handspun of blended olive, navy, turquoise, and white) into a gorgeous Isabel Kramer cardigan that you’ll probably hate to hear I’ve unraveled, because it was really very lovely. But I never wore it and it was too fancy for me and came too close to my throat. Fast forward a few years and this glorious green yarn is finally about to live its best life as this big squishy cardigan I hope never to want to unravel (but you never know; life is long). Yes, I know, I just said I don’t like cardigans anymore but this one is huge enough to keep my belly cozy and also, has no fastenings. Perfect for those cold day hot flashes!

The merino/silk is held double with some truly terrible merino I accidentally fulled in the mordant bath and then went ahead and dyed and spun anyway even though the spinning was torture, and it’s clumpy, uneven and has zero sheen. It was all shades of gold and tan dyed from things in my garden and I overdyed it with indigo and held double with this nicer yarn you can’t tell at all how awful it is. I ran out of that just 20 rows from the end of the front panels and switched to holding the merino/silk with that colour blend it had been paired with in the original cardigan, which I’d intended to do for the ribbed borders anyway and the change is subtle enough that I doubt anyone will ever notice the colour changes a few inches higher on the front. Not that it’s any big deal if they do.

You don’t get pictures of any of this because the lighting in my sewing room is dim and unworkable. This sweater is mere days from the finish line, right in time for the return of sweater weather.

the kitchenening, part six

view through an opening in the wall of an unfinished room, with bright light coming in through a window beyond.

And just like that, where for a hundred and twelve years has stood a doorway, there is now a wall.

view through an opening in an unfinished wall, into a room beyond that is under construction, with construction tools in the foreground.

Here’s the view from the living room side, which has had a layer of new drywall added on top of the crumbling original plaster. After all this is finished, we are going to install built-in bookshelves across this wall, right up to the opening, with space built into the centre of it to house our stereo and record cleaning equipment.

The opening will stay as-is for now, with tile around it on the kitchen side. Later on we’re planning to make a grillework panel to fill it. We think we’ve settled on this classic breeze block pattern, seen here on a building I photographed in Milwaukee in 2013:

the façade of a building with glass doors and windows on the left and breeze block on the right, with a fire hydrant in front.

Or this similar pattern, shown in a more domestic context on the front cover of Mrs. Mills Party Pieces:

The cover of a record entitled "Mrs. Mills Party Pieces", depicting a woman seated at a festive table laden with food and wine.

Please note the roast turkey on Mrs. Mills’ party table has the name “ROBERTO” written on it in what looks like mayonnaise from a squeeze bottle. Mrs. Mills really knew how to party.

BONUS, because I am a huge fan of Mrs. Mills: here’s a BBC documentary about Mrs. Mills that you can watch for free on Youtube: Let’s Have a Party: The Piano Genius of Mrs. Mills

the kitchenening, part five

the corner of a room under construction, with new drywall and a plastic draped doorway

We have walls. That unfinished mess of uneven drywall and original plaster, left behind when we had the addition (visible through that plastic draped doorway) put on, is finally about to be integrated into a seamless wall again.

the corner of a room under construction, with a plywood covered doorway and new drywall

Someday we won’t remember there was ever fake brick here. This corner is where the pantry cupboard will go, and the built in bench (next to the plywood covered doorway).

looking through the doorway of a room under construction

Farewell, elegantly rounded doorway that we loved. You’re on to bigger and better things.

the kitchenening, part three

looking through a doorway and up towards the ceiling of a room under construction

Our kitchen has a ceiling! And it’s NOT STUCCO.


Our living room is also getting a new not-stucco ceiling as part of this job. We found out when the ceiling came down that there’s no subfloor upstairs, just beams with a floor on top and a ceiling below and a bunch of empty space in between, which explains a lot re: privacy in this house. Here’s a buffer insulation being put in so that you’ll soon be able to visit us and go upstairs to the washroom safe in the knowledge that nobody in the living room can hear you pee.



the cozy wozy

A nine-patch quilt square of blue and gray hand printed fabrics.

This past month I’ve been working on my first ever full size quilt, made from cotton muslin fabric I printed and dyed over the past few years while learning about indigo. It’s a snowball style, inspired by a beautiful orange and black quilt that I love made by Sarah Gagnon (link: Pelican Quilts). I like the simple square block with its tiny counterchanged corners. My gray fabrics are printed with leaf tannins and with rusty objects, and dyed with different combinations of tannins (walnut, myrobalan, gallnut) and iron water made by slowly dissolving a cast iron skillet in diluted vinegar. The blues are all of those things overdyed with indigo, plus some of my screenprints overdyed with indigo (some straight and some in combination with red iron oxide).

After weeks of making the squares with the tiny corners, and after soliciting advice from my quilt artist friend Lisa (link: asil) for how to start putting them together, the blocks came together fairly quickly and the final assembly of 4×5 nine-patch blocks took only a day. Here it is all laid out ready to be basted.

A blue and gray checkerboard quilt laid out on a floor.

And here’s the back, cobbled together from whatever pieces of the same fabric I had left. I got lucky and still had pieces of every major colour from the front: screenprint, printed walnut and maple leaves, rust marks, and pale indigo on top of a piece I had used as a screenprinting dropsheet.

The back of a quilt, composed of large blocks of blue and gray fabrics, laid out on a floor.

Good news: it already meets the approval of our household’s most discerning seeker of coziness.

A tortoiseshell cat lying on a blue and gray quilt laid out on a floor, with a cone of white thread and a tiny pair of red embroidery scissors in the foreground.

Here’s the part that’s going to take forever. I’m quilting this with a fairly large stitch and sashiko thread so it really shows, half a centimetre in from the edge of each large square, in order to really accentuate those counterchanged diamonds at the corners. You’ll notice that I took absolutely no care in making the corners consistent, and I love how janky some of them are. Precision isn’t really all that important to me in quilting, and as long as the 90° corners of the little triangles line up well (most are bang on, and those that aren’t are very close) then I don’t really care how out of whack the other corners are. A good thing, because some of them are extremely out of whack.

I’ve started quilting in the centre with navy blue thread. As it moves outward it’ll shift to a lighter blue dyed with walnut and indigo, then to a paler one dyed just with walnut, for what I hope will be a subtle pixelated sunburst effect.

Closeup of a blue and gray quilt, with quilting in progress and a pair of red embroidery scissors.