Month: February 2013

For my mom

I figure it’s safe to post this now, but just in case:

Mom, if you are reading this post before you open your birthday presents, please stop now.  🙂




The February  Stashbusting Sewalong theme is selfless sewing; sewing something for someone special in your life.  Appropriately enough, February is also the month in which my mom’s birthday falls.  And who better to make something for from my stash than my mom?


My mom is such a special person to me.  She raised two kids (and two dogs) in a military household, moving and adapting to new countries every few years.  No matter where we were, we were having fun, being silly, and being creative.  Some of the early photos of my sister and me were playing in the kitchen.  I remember sewing little things together, like rag dolls (inspired by the Little House books), when I was in 2nd and 3rd grade.  We were inquisitive kids and mom fostered that.  We’d cut out and frost cookies for holidays, make papier mache easter eggs, and so much more.

My mom was an elementary school teacher for many years.  In one of her classrooms (or a friend’s classroom, I forget which) one day they were coloring pictures of squirrels.  (This was back in the day where kids could use crayons in school without fear of lawsuits about choking hazards.) There was a little boy (if I remember correctly) who was coloring his squirrel purple.  When told that squirrels weren’t purple, the boy replied something to the effect of, “If I want a purple squirrel, I’m going to color it purple, damnit!”  From that point on, Mom embraced the idea of a purple squirrel as an symbol of personal creativity.

My mom taught me to sew, to cook, and even gave me the serger that she purchased when we were stationed in West Germany.  I still use that serger today, to express my creative side.  Every year for her birthday is quite a challenge to come up with a good idea, as my parents aren’t big on “things”. I thought I would make her something.

Over a year ago, I saw a print in my friend’s etsy store that just screamed out for my mom.  My mom loves blues and purples, so when I saw a purple squirrel (!!) on a blue background, I knew I had to have the fabric!  It sat it my stash, waiting for something to inspire me.  I only had a fat quarter, so it had to be a small project, but something that my mom would use.  When I saw the potholders in a zakka sewing book, I knew immediately that I wanted  to make them for her.  (You can always use another potholder, right?)  And so, I made her a pair of potholders for her birthday.

There are four below, because I kept a pair for myself.  ^_^;  My mom’s are the two on the bottom row: the blue one with the purple squirrel (squee!) and the purple one with blue dots.  The blue fabric is backed with the red polka dot fabric as seen in the top pot holder.

This was my first attempt at quilting, machine or otherwise, so I was a little nervous.  It turned out just fine, I think. (Although I did have moments when marking the stitching lines that felt like I was back in high school geometry class or something.) They do have that special potholder insulating layer in them, too, so they are properly functional as well.

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I hope my mom likes them.  They’re just a small token of thanks to a mom who has been so influential in my life.

I love you, Mom!  Happy birthday!

J2K12: Izumo Taisha

(You have been warned: this is an image heavy post.)

Not far from Matsue is the city of Izumo, home of the second most scared of shrines in the Shinto religion.  (Only the shrine in Ise is considered more scared.)  As we were near, it seemed like we should go see the shrine.


Faded torii at the shrine across from our inn in Matsue (above), Matsue manhole covers (below).

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I had studied Izumo Taisha in my Japanese Art course in the spring, and hubby and I had seen an exhibition on it at the beginning of the trip in Tokyo.  We all piled into our friend’s car and headed to Izumo for the day.  (That in itself was an adventure, having never really traveled on the expressways on Japan before.)  Thankfully we left somewhat early, and were able to find a parking spot at the shrine.  While off of the usual route for foreigners, Izumo is a huge tourist spot for Japanese.  And for gods.

During the tenth lunar month (although they now celebrate it in October of the Gregorian calednar), it is believed that the 8 million Shinto gods from all over Japan gather at Izumo Taisha to discuss the upcoming year’s marriages, deaths, and births.


Above, an example of moral education that happens in Japan.  Below, the ginormous flag near the shrine.  (One doesn’t see a lot of Japanese flags in Japan.  Perhaps it is perceived as being too nationalistic?)

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One of the statues on the grounds outside the shrine.  And the ladies’ toilet sign was suitably Heian period.  (Or thereabouts.)



There’s not much to recount about visiting the shrine itself, other than the fact that the main building was closed for renovation.  The shrine was raking in the money on the day we visited, as tour bus-load after tour bus-load of Japanese tourist were ushered around on a strictly controlled schedule.  We, however, just wandered, photographing whatever caught our eye (that didn’t have a no photography sign).  Below, some of the sights from the shrine.


Above, wish tablets.  Usually, every shrine in Japan has a certain specialty; Izumo is known for marriages.   Below, one of the outer buildings at the shrine.  If the main shrine were open, you would go through this building to enter it.IMG_1173

The shimenawa, a rope fashioned from rice straw which demarcates a holy spot in the Shinto religion.  This is by far the largest I’ve ever seen.  Note the people in the photo for scale.IMG_1174 IMG_1179

Below, omikuji, or fortunes, tied to trees.  I believe it’s the bad fortune ones that are tied to trees or other structures on the shrine grounds in order to mitigate the bad fortune.  I think it’s a play on the word ‘pine tree’ (松, matsu) and the verb ‘to wait’ (待つ, matsu).  The bad fortune waits by the tree or on the shrine grounds instead of traveling home with the person who drew it.

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Strolling around the grounds, we came across a much-less frequented shrine to Inari, the fox god.  There was an offering box with coins and pencils, so this one was probably related to success in exams or schoolwork.


The main shrine building, as much as we could see of it.  Although, with the new archaeological evidence they’ve unearthed, it is woefully out of scale.  Still, impressive and beautiful.


Photo op!  With hubby being a sweetie and keeping the sun out of my eyes.


Needing a break, we headed outside the shrine to one of the several restaurants in the area.  Not fabulous, but filling.  And where I spotted this.  White cook?  Hm, I wonder what that contained?


After this, I think we were all about ready to head out, and head over to the beach, but our plans changed.  We were approached by an elderly lady who spoke to us in English.  She was one of the volunteer guides at the shrine, who simply wanted to share her knowledge with us, and practice her English at the same time.  (It was pretty good, but sometimes it was good that we understood Japanese.)  In any case, she took us to another part of the shrine grounds, where there was a festival in progress.  In fact, the day we visited was the last day.  We saw a cheezy video/live action performance of the myth of Susanoo descending to Izumo and slaying dragon Orochi.  And we saw some kagura, I believe.


By then we were tired and it had started to sprinkle.  Time to head to the beach.

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Above and below, the beach at Izumo.  We had to go dip our (shoed) feet into the Japan Sea.  The beach was surprisingly dirty, with garbage washed ashore.  It was pretty sad.  Still breath-takingly beautiful, though.IMG_1220

After that, we headed back to Matsue for dinner and grabbed our backpacks from the coin lockers in the station.  That’s where I snapped this poster about train manners.


Oh, and the (wallpaper) mural in the party room attached to the boys’ room at the inn.  I don’t know what battle it depicts, but I’m sure someone would know.


J2K12: Takayama to Matsue

(I really need to finish documenting this trip!  Here’s another installment.)

After our short stay in the mountains of Takayama, it was time to head to western Japan, namely Matsue.  I didn’t originally have it on our agenda, as it is far out of the way.  However, a friend of ours is teaching in the JET program in far western Japan, so Matsue was way to get closer to where he was and still see some sights in the Matsue area.

We strolled around Takayama in the morning and caught the 11:30 Hida Wide View to Nagoya.  (Our friend and Kodanbo on the Wide View, below.)


And what would a train ride be without 駅弁 (eki-ben, or box lunches designed for the train).  Here I was trying one of the fancy new heat and eat ones; you pull a tab and chemical magic happens below the food container, creating steam that heats the bento.  Mine was pork vs. beef.  I don’t remember which I liked better; I think they were both pretty yummy.

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The rain from our stay in Takayama was gone, revealing beautiful skies on the way to Nagoya.


Our train was arriving 4 minutes late into Nagoya, which doesn’t seem like a big deal to Americans, but it was a big deal to us.  We had exactly 8 minutes between arriving in Nagoya and departing on the Shinkansen.  That was 8 minutes before the delay.  Needless to say, we weren’t sure if we would make our Shinkansen, so we got our luggage ready, waited at the doors, and sprinted through the station (as best we could) to our bullet train.  It was just pulling in as we got to the platform, so we jumped on, then made our way to our reserved seats.  We wouldn’t be on it for long, as we were headed to Okayama, where we would transfer to another train for Matsue.  All in all, I think we spent about 5 hours on trains that day.  But that’s so much more comfortable than 5 hours in a plane.  Train travel in Japan is really civilized.

This day was Election Day back in the US, so we calculated the time difference and figured we might find out on the Shinkansen who had won the election.  They have a scrolling news ticker at the front of the cars (in Japanese, of course), so we tried to pay attention.  We caught the end of one and weren’t sure if Obama had won; we just knew that it was tight.  Our friend was just as curious as we were.  Finally we saw a headline of the message that Obama tweeted to his followers, thanking them for their support in his victory.  やった!  Hooooooray!!  We then planned to celebrate on the next leg.

In Okayama Station, we picked up some more bentos for dinner.  Mine was pork three ways; all super tasty.  And some surprisingly spicy little peppers!  I had to give them to hubby, as they were too spicy for me.


And, yes, when we celebrate in Japan, there can be only one beer.  Sapporo!  The large can.  🙂  We were happy by the time we arrived in Matsue.


From the station, we made our way to the inn that we were staying at.  Although a little run down, it was a nice place.  The owners were so nice and very accommodating when we mentioned that we needed to do laundry.  Not only did the the old man drive us, but he waited with us at a huge bookstore nearby while the clothes were washing.

Detail of my room, with some magical wallpaper.  The window below opens into the hallway.IMG_1063

The inn was right across from a shrine.  And right next to the JR line as well, so we got to hear trains rumbling in at various times.  Thankfully they take a break in the wee hours.


Matsue manhole cover.


And a statue outside the station.  I can’t remember which manga this is from.  There were posters all over for Ge Ge Ge no Kitaro, but I’m not sure if this character is from that.


The friend of ours teaching in Japan was driving up, so we waited for him in Matsue.  Once he showed up, we headed out in his car to the Matsue Vogel Park (bird park).  Not exactly “Japanese,” but a uniquely Matsue experience.  We arrived just in time to see the afternoon penguin walk.  We could get close and take photos, but no touching.  These guys were super adorable, cheeky little birds.


Shortly after that was the afternoon owl show, where we met several types of owls.  The handlers put on a nice demonstration of the owls’ abilities, most of which I was unable to capture with my camera.  (They were usually moving quite fast.)  After the show, you could pay 300 yen and hold one of the owls, and pet it.  Our friend held both of them, and the handler allowed us all to pet them.  One, the Southern White-Faced Owl, was so fluffy!!!  OMG!  Really quite a fun experience.


Then we wandered around the park, admiring the plants, the birds, and the other animals, which we discovered outside.


Below, hubby feeding the emu.  It’s a really weird feeling when they peck your hand.  Fun!


And just some of the water birds in the park.  There were tons of them.  And well-fed, too.


Some of the giant plant-life in the park.  Amazing!  (Note: our friend is a normal-sized Norwegian.  That is a flippin’ huge leaf!)


We headed back to Matsue, goofed around in a shopping center for a bit, where I resisted some One Piece fabric.  Our teacher friend had brought some sake from Yamagata, where he lives, so we all bought little sake cups and some snacks at a 100 yen shop for the drinking party once we returned to our inn.

And lastly, a sign I spotted after we had dinner.  Small store.  In English.


The Rio girls are ready for summer

And so am I.

Bewitched Inspired by a couple of sunny, ~60F (16C) days, I started thinking of summer. Abandoning the more seasonally-appropriate black pinstriped lined skirt on my work table, I turned to summer stripes. Navy and white stripes, to be exact.

I’m not sure why it took me so long to jump on the nautical stripes bandwagon, but I’m sure glad I did. I first jumped on by mistake, last year, in testing a Burda top pattern out on some stash striped fabric. The fabric (a blue and very light pink) is probably designed for sheer curtains. In fact, that’s why I bought it at Fabric Depot a couple of summers ago, out on their super sale outdoor clearance bonanza. I saw it and immediately thought, “Breezy summer curtains!” It was a steal, too, at only a couple of dollars a yard, so I bought tons.

And then I got it home and threw a length of it over my current white sheers and discovered that the white stripe was actually a very pale pink. Oh, no! Oh, yes. 🙁  I have never been much for pink; as a kid I gravitated toward purple instead. I think it has something to do with my naturally ruddy (i.e. blushes at the drop of a hat) complexion. In any case, I was now stuck with yards upon yards of sheer blue and pink striped fabric. It was so lightweight that it was useless for any sort of muslining. But it turned out to be perfect for the 06/2009 Burda batwing top (#109). It was supposed to be a muslin, but turned into one of my favorite warmer weather tops. That was the beginning of my stripe obsession.

A last-minute opportunity to study at Waseda University in Tokyo for the summer appeared in my life last spring. “Yes, I will go! The heat will probably kill me, but I want to go!” And, since summer in sticky, steamy Tokyo is just a wee bit different than summer in mild Portland, I had to buy some summer clothes to take along. A full-time course schedule last spring only allowed for me to make one top before I left, a 3/4 sleeve, navy & cream jersey Renfrew. I purchased another sleeveless navy & white top from Ann Taylor. And although I had many other options to wear over the summer, those were my two favorite tops. I was smitten.

Fast forward to now, February in Portland. Like I said, a couple of 60F days with sunshine seduced me. I had a length of strange navy & white knit that I had gotten for a steal at Mill End Fabrics a couple of years ago. The knit is poly-cotton slub knit (is that the right word for it?) in navy & white stripe. With a surprise hiding in the middle: a quartet of Rio girls. I didn’t notice the Rio girls when I bought the fabric, as it was a flat fold in the bargain area. (Let this be a lesson to me:  always undo the flat fold and look for surprises.)


The Rio girls fabric.  The knit is so thin you can see the grid of my cutting board in the lower right panel.  (Yes, I did have this fabric up on the swap-a-thon, but then changed my mind.  I kept looking at it and, being a Duranie, knew I couldn’t give up my Rio girls; I would be sad if they danced on someone else’s sands.)


The girl from Duran Duran’s Rio album.  Raise your hand if you remember her.

This fabric sat in my stash, and sat in my stash, as I was puzzled by those Rio girls. What in the world could I make with the fabric, where the girls wouldn’t dominate?  My mind went to swishy caftans that I could wear while lounging by the pool.  If I had a pool and a lifestyle that involved lounging by it.

Finally yesterday, with visions of sunshine in my head, out came the Burda batwing pattern and a while later (after some strategic placement) I cut this top out. It was impossible to cut without the girls appearing on both faces of the garment.  And they were almost smack in the middle, making it tough to decide how to place them on the front.  The shirt itself goes together so quickly and easily (especially if, like me, you’re not a cuff girl). Since the pattern is not designed for knits, I stabilized the shoulder seams with twill tape. And, being lazy, I used bias tape to do the neck opening. A couple of hours of work, and the Rio girls and I were ready for summer.  Instead we got a stereotypical Portland February day: ~40F (5C), dark, with a cold rain.

*sigh*  I will probably be back to sewing seasonally appropriate pieces tomorrow.

(And yes, here I am making my blog debut with photos of me in my creations. I now have a new respect for sewists who post interesting photos of themselves. How do they it??  Prancing around my kitchen and extending my batwings for the camera, I felt like I was doing the Safety Dance.  You can dance, you can dance…)

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Stashbusting goal: Use 16 pieces from my stash in 2013.
Stashbusting progress: 6 pieces used, with a 7th in the works. Most of these were small pieces and not ones I had planned on stashbusting right now.  That’s what makes the monthly challenges fun!

Happy sewing and stashbusting, everyone!

P.S.  If anyone knows of any good fabric or notion shopping in Prague, Czech Republic, please let me know.  I’ll be visiting in April and would love to add to my stash to see what the Czech Republic has to offer.

Mid-month round-up

I’m not quite sure where February has gone.  It seems like just yesterday we started the month and now we’re more than half-way through.  Yikes!  I have gotten some sewing done in February, but some of it must remain unblogged until later in the month.

First up, a quick and easy grocery bag that I whipped up for a friend.  She gave me some of this great imported Japanese nylon fabric from her store in a super adorable frog pattern.  I said I’d make up a bag and send it to her.  It was super quick and easy, and done entirely with French seams, so it’s finished nicely.



Next up, some refashioning (ala So Zo). I finished my wearable muslin of Sewaholic’s Cambie Dress a while ago, but ended up not entirely pleased with the finished piece. I think it was mainly the pattern. I love this blue and white pattern, but I can’t wear this blue and white pattern. At least not all over my body. I also had some fit issues (read: I failed to properly fit the bodice before sewing, resulting in center front bodice dart to make it fit) which meant I wasn’t going to wear the dress as it was.

However, since the skirt portion fit beautifully, I decided to just chop off the bodice and turn it into a skirt. I finally finished that up today, so it will hang in my closet and wait for warmer days. As a skirt, the pattern is much less scary for me. I think I can deal with pattern either on top or bottom, but not both. Yet.

Also I refashioned this men’s dress shirt that I found while visiting Austin. I loved the color palette and pattern, but didn’t love the fit. (Again, the pattern. I’m like a moth to the flame with patterns lately.)
Wondering how to best transform it, I thought about the shirts I wore the most last summer: my quick and easy peasant-style shirts. So, out came the scissors and some elastic, and voila! A shirt I will now actually wear.

While none of these projects added to my stashbusting goal for the year, it was satisfying to get them done and off my ‘To Do’ list. I have some stashbusting sewing in the works, though, so hopefully another blog soon with more progress.

Happy sewing, everyone!