Company's comin'

Sadly, I'm missing Thrift Thursday this week. We have company coming for the weekend and I've been cleaning, making up the guest bedroom, and generally spiffing up the place. And finding no time for thrifting or shopping beyond the usual run to the grocery store. By next week, I hope to be back to normal schedule-wise. Because I'm not getting much work done either.

I don't entertain that much so this will be fun. Tonight I'm making pork and sweet potato kebabs and broccoli with lemon. And I picked up some lemon tarts for dessert, although my husband just called to tell me that he had just stopped at a bakery in NJ and picked up a tiramisu cake. But, I always say you can never have too many desserts! I'll make something homemade later in the weekend—probably with fruit from the farmers market.

And tomorrow is the big day. The hardwood is being delivered for our new kitchen floor! Finally, we're replacing the yucky raspberry-colored carpet that's been there since we moved in. I've never been a fan of carpeted kitchens—way too hard to keep clean—and I'm so looking forward to this change. The wood has to acclimate itself to our house environment for about a week before it can be installed. I'm not sure I can wait—it's going to be so pretty! I'll have to post before and after pictures so you can see.


A book recommendation

I picked up this book some time ago in the bargain bin at a local discount store. And didn’t really examine it closely until this weekend. Wow! The Embroiderer’s Floral: Designs, Stitches & Motifs for Popular Flowers in Embroidery by Janet Haigh covers just about everything you need to know about embroidering flowers. The author starts with some history:

“Flowers and embroidery are inextricably linked in the English language. In the past the verb “to flower” was a synonym for embroidery, and embroidered flowers are found recorded throughout textile history from ancient China to modern times.”

She discusses materials, making your own patterns and transfers, hand and machine embroidery techniques, and projects like napkins, cushions, and aprons. But the main part of the book is the Floral Directory where she focuses on specific flowers with beautiful pictures and specifics on how to create each one. Patterns for most of the motifs and instructions for individual embroidery stitches can be found at the back of the book.

Flowers include allium (done in star filling stitches and French knots)…

...anemone, convolvulus, cornflower, daisy, dianthus, fritillary, hellebore (shown on the cover), hydrangea (done in ribbon embroidery), iris, lavender, lily, narcissus (done in machine-stitched appliqué)…

…pansy, poppy, primrose (!), sweet pea, rose, tulip, and violet. This is a great book for when you’ve graduated from stamped-for-embroidery projects and want to create your own designs or to learn new stitches and techniques to expand your repertoire. The work shown reminds me very much of the projects you find in the magazine Inspirations, which is published in Australia but can sometimes be found here. I occasionally see them at my local Borders.

Copyright 2002 Collins & Brown. Text by Janet Haigh, Photography by John Heseltine. Krause Publications ISBN 0-87349-443-1


Feel like venting about PR?

Wednesday nights episode of Project Runway left me feeling kind of queasy—such nastiness. And an obviously producer-chosen winner (again!). I'm honestly getting tired of yelling at the television. So, I was happy to see a recent post at Blogging Project Runway. Titled To the Producers (and actually read by the producers of the show) it's your chance to tell them what you really think. No holds barred, although cursing is against the rules. Better grab a cup of coffee if you're going to read all the comments—it was up to 249 last time I checked. I knew PR viewers were smart and knowledgeable about fashion already but there are some really insightful comments and suggestions. Join the fun if you feel like venting. Who knows, maybe they'll actually listen. And your television will thank you.

And, for more PR goodness, tune in to Larry King tonight from 9-10pm (CNN). His guests will be some designers from Seasons 1 and 2 (Santino Rice, Chloe Dao, Jay McCarroll, Daniel Vosovic) along with Nina Garcia, Heidi Klum and Tim Gunn.


Thrift Thursday 8.24.06

After the antique show last Saturday we stopped in the town of Cazenovia for a late lunch. Then we walked up and down the main street, browsing in some of the shops. One of the antique shops had a bargain drawer where everything was $1.00. I found this vintage box of pink rick rack. The rick rack itself isn't anything special, but the packaging is wonderful. I've never seen it in anything but the flat cellophane packages. I love the little dressmakers dummy-shaped window!

rick rack

More Thrift Thursday here.



I've had a couple of requests for closeups of the silver I bought at the show, so I took a few more pictures of it and the china it goes with. It's almost scary how well the patterns match. Like they were made for each other. And no, I didn’t carry a piece of the china with me :)

pattern comparison

Maybe it’s because I’m such a visual person. I’ve been known to come home with articles of clothing that exactly match things I have in my closet. So, somewhere in my mind I’d stored away the visual information on the china. The triple band, the little dots, the flowers. Incredibly, the flowers on both are practically an exact match!

silver pattern

china pattern

I inherited the china from my grandmother and, since the pattern is from 1918 (Noritake ‘Croydon’), I suspect it was a wedding gift—the timing is just about right. It's very formal and I use it only occasionally—for fancy dinners and holidays—because it's fragile and has to be washed by hand. It amazes me that, with all the times I've moved over the years, only a few pieces didn't survive. I love that it has so many colors in the pattern and that it goes as well with yellow linens as it does with pink.

And I especially love that I now have silver to match it. Must plan some fancy dinners soon :)


Road Trip: Madison-Bouckville Antiques Show

This is my second year attending this show in upstate New York (midway between Syracuse and Utica). The show is always held the third weekend of August and this is their 35th year. It fills a big open field and spills over into the towns of Bouckville and Madison, with tents and booths lining the streets and filling every square inch of space. Make sure you wear comfortable shoes!

The bad news is that it rained. And I discovered that it’s very difficult to look at things while juggling umbrellas and bags and trying to avoid puddles and patches of mud. The rain seemed to keep the crowds down but it got very crowded in the tents.

But enough of this—you all want to know what goodies I found. Since this is an antiques show not a flea market, prices were sometimes very high and I had to pass over lots of lovely things that were just too expensive. Like that $350 1930s watchmakers box with lots of tiny drawers and a tray under the top lid. Sigh...so perfect for storing buttons. But I did find some bargains from sellers who were willing to deal—the bad weather helped in that regard.

I found lots of buttons (and don't you love the ones with the leaves)…


And a cute embroidered tea towel with a lovestruck kitty…

kitty in love

vintage fabric (this one’s my favorite)…

tiger lilies

And several stamped-for-embroidery linens that will make great projects for this coming winter. Like this cute hungry bear linen tea towel…

hungry bear

…and this beautiful tinted Vogart pillowtop of a girl with flowers

vintage embroidery

I also bought some things just for me. An antique laundry drying rack that will be a great display for embroidered towels. And a set of 1934 Oneida silverplate with service for nine and matching serving pieces that goes perfectly with my grandmothers china.

vintage silver

We stopped in the town of Cazenovia (cool artsy place with lots of small shops) for a late lunch. And then headed home. It poured buckets all the way—the kind of rain where you have to keep your wipers all the way on high. Yikes.

Next year's show is August 18th-19th—mark your calendars!


Plum Crazy!

As you know I'm on my way to the Bouckville-Madison antique show bright and early tomorrow morning. The car is gassed up (gas down to 2.77/gallon today - woo hoo!), my wallet is stuffed full of small bills (yes, they thought I was nuts at the bank) and I'm good to go. You probably won't hear from me again until Monday, so I'll leave you with a recipe.

This is from the July 2006 issue of Bon Appetit magazine. It was super easy to make and used up the rest of those plums I bought at the farmer's market last week. I won't know how it tastes until after dinner, but it got 15 perfect reviews on epicurious.com!

plum buckle

Almond-Plum Buckle

Nonstick vegetable oil spray (I used butter)
1/2 cup whole almonds, about 2 1/2 ounces
1 1/2 cups all purpose flour
1 teaspoon baking powder
1/4 teaspoon fine sea salt
1 cup (2 sticks) unsalted butter, room temperature
1 cup plus 4 teaspoons sugar
2 large eggs
1 teaspoon vanilla extract
1/2 teaspoon almond extract
1 1/4 pounds plums (about 8 medium), halved, pitted, cut into 1/2-inch-thick slices
3/4 teaspoon ground cinnamon

Position rack in center of oven and preheat to 350°F. Spray 9-inch-diameter cake pan with 2-inch-high sides with nonstick spray. Line bottom of pan with parchment paper round.

Finely grind almonds in processor. Transfer to medium bowl; whisk in flour, baking powder, and salt. Using electric mixer, beat butter in large bowl until fluffy. Add 1 cup sugar; beat until well blended. Add eggs 1 at a time, beating well after each addition. Beat in vanilla and almond extract, then flour mixture just until incorporated.

Transfer batter to prepared pan; spread evenly and smooth top with spatula. Gently press plum slices, flesh side down, into batter in spoke pattern around outer rim and center of cake, placing close together. Mix cinnamon and 4 teaspoons sugar in small bowl. Sprinkle over plums.

Bake cake until tester inserted into center comes out clean, about 50 minutes. Cool cake in pan on rack 20 minutes. Run small knife between cake and pan sides to loosen. Invert cake onto platter; remove parchment paper. Place another platter atop cake. Using both hands, hold both platters firmly together and invert cake, plum side up. Cool cake completely. Cut into wedges. Makes 8 servings.

Have a great weekend!

(Edited to add that it was really good, but a little tart (my plums weren't that sweet) and the cake edge dries out easily. The solution to both is to serve it with lots of sweetened whipped cream!)


Thrift Thursday: 8.17.06

I found this stack of old knitting magazines at a church basement sale—a paper grocery bag full—for $1. I don’t knit but I wasn’t going to pass up a deal like that—a couple of them are from the late 30s!! I figured I could resell them on Ebay or on my website if I don't take up knitting myself :)

vintage knitting magazines

The magazines include patterns for socks and mittens, sweaters (men's and women's) and jackets, military wear, and children's things. Some of them have great graphics, like this from Woolies for Infants (1940):

vintage knitting magazine
Love the stork!

And this cover with cool fashion illustration, also from 1940:

vintage knitting magazine

This is the same church sale that I went to last year where I found a reversible feedsack apron for 25 cents that I resold on Ebay for $12. It's also where I bought the china plates that I blogged about here.

When you're out hunting for vintage treasure don't pass up church sales. I've had amazing luck with them! I suspect that people where I live are more likely to donate things to church sales than they are to thrift shops. At least the older people—and, frankly, they're the ones with the best stuff.

More Thrift Thursday here.


Anatomy of a Pillow

chicken waitress

I bought these Vogart stamped-for-embroidery towels a couple of years ago on Ebay. I loved the designs of chicken waitresses carrying coffee and bowls of salad. But I didn’t really have any fabrics that went with them so set them aside. Then I found this fun fabric with yellow chicks and some vintage yellow and brown polkadot napkins and things started to come together. The striped fabric is a leftover piece of vintage feedsack from another project and I’ve used it for the thin border around the embroidery. It has the same browns and tans but some turquoise, too, and I’ll add some matching buttons from my stash. It needs a bright color to keep it from being too monotone.

pillow makings

So, with all the details worked out, I chose embroidery floss colors to match. I gave her a funky yellow and turquoise apron. And the soft red that I used for her comb, waddle, and the coffeepot is the only color that won’t get picked up anywhere else.

embroidery close-up

Next, I’ll complete the pillow top by adding the polkadot fabric to the triangular corner spaces and an outer border of the yellow chicks. And I’ll probably use that for the back, as well. The buttons will go in the corners.

turquoise button

I always name my pillows and I wanted it to be something chicken- or diner-related. So I did a little research and found a great list of diner-speak at the American Diner Museum’s website. And several options. I think I’ve decided on Sunny-side Up or Blue-Plate Special. But it was great fun to read the list. See if you can guess what “foreign entanglements” is. Or “nervous pudding”. Or “bossy in a bowl”.

Sadly, with so many fast food restaurants replacing old-fashioned diners, this slang is fast becoming a thing of the past. Destined to be listed on websites for people like us to laugh about. Although we still have a few diners where I live—the Glider Diner in Scranton (famous for their hot roast beef sandwiches), and the Bluebird Diner near Keystone College. I don’t know what they’re famous for but it sure is crowded most mornings around breakfast time!

I have two more of these towels—another of the same design and one where she’s carrying a salad bowl. I’ll be making more pillows but probably not exactly the same because I hate to repeat designs. I’ll start this process all over again with different fabrics and colors. And I’ll have to name it something salad-related, like “rabbit food” or “cow feed.”



I've been neglecting my blogging the past few days. I went to the local farmers market on Friday and brought home bags of fruit—beautiful peaches and plums and blueberries. I had planned to make some desserts but they were perfect all by themselves. And I spent most of the weekend working outside in the garden. There's so much to do. The veggies are bustin' out all over the place - and the weeds aren't far behind. My Casa Blanca lilies are blooming and smell heavenly—like vanilla and cinnamon.


It's starting to cool off quite a bit now (around 50 degrees most mornings) so working outside is more do-able than it was a few weeks ago.

Next weekend I'll be on the road to the Madison-Bouckville Antique Show. I went last year for the first time and found tons of cool stuff, so I imagine this year will be the same. I'll do a road-trip post about the trip and my finds next week.

In other news, my indie shop interview is up at Miss Evil Kitty. A little free press never hurts!

And finally, now that it's cooler, I'm getting back into embroidery. I hope to have a few things done this week so I can post some pictures and also start working on the pillows they're supposed to be part of.

There. I'm all caught up :)


Thrift Thursday 8.10.06

I found this little flower-shaped bowl for $2.00 at an antique store this past spring. It's very small—2.5 inches tall and 4.5 inches in diameter and has five petal-shaped "sides" with a ribbed design on the outside. The photo makes it look like it's butter yellow in color but the yellow actually has a bit of green in it.

yellow bowl

I've seen newer versions of this design in wildly bright colors and without the ribbing that aren't nearly as pretty as this one. I think mine is older and is, perhaps, the inspiration for the copies. There are no marks on the bottom so it's bit of a mystery.

yellow bowl

It's the perfect size to hold beads and buttons, and that's exactly it's purpose in my studio.

More Thrift Thursday here.


So, what's a yoyo anyway?

If you watched Project Runway last week you saw Angela's winning design for Macy's I.N.C. line. Now, we could argue about whether she deserved to win because, let's face it, she seems to be the designer we love to hate this season. But, whether or not you liked her design, you surely noticed her interesting use of yoyos in place of buttons on the jacket. She called them rosettes but yoyos are what we quilters call them.

So, what's a yoyo anyway?

Yoyos were a popular way to use up fabric scraps during the depression (1920s to 1930s). Thrifty sewers cut out small circles and gathered the edges to make little puffs of fabric. And they sewed them together into quilt tops. Coverlets are probably a better way to describe them because they have no batting and aren't quilted. Some nice examples can be found here, here, and here.

And, if you want to try making these yourself, there are some nifty directions here.

And that leads me to introducing a new addition to my website called—ta da—Gramma's Yoyos!

My illustrator friend Tara has a mom named Elena Larsen who sews the cutest little girls dresses. And we’ve been talking about possibly selling them on my web site because they fit so well with my vintage products. Actually they’re very close to what I might make if I had time to sew children’s clothing. Which, unfortunately, I don’t.

So, we've been working out the arrangements and there are now seven dresses up for sale on my site. Called Gramma’s Yoyos because each one has a yoyo on the pocket. They're handmade, feature a colorful mix of fabrics, and are designed to fit sizes 18 to 36 months by way of expandable tie waists and tucked skirts that can be let out as your little girl grows taller. And each one comes with a matching hat—how cute is that?

Elena hopes to join her daughters on their trip to Italy next spring. So, if you buy one, not only will you be getting a super cute vintage-inspired dress but you’ll be helping to send Elena on her trip. And everyone should visit Italy at some point in their life, right?

Read more about the dresses here. And here's hoping that yoyos or rosettes—or whatever they're calling them these days—get really popular :)


Vintage Button Swap

I recently took part in the vintage button swap organized by Sally at Shim + Sons and was partnered with Zoe in England. She's posted pictures of the buttons I sent to her here and these are the buttons she sent me:


The yummy chocolate bar and little bag of trims were bonus gifts :)

There were more than 70 participants for this swap from Australia, Canada, Denmark, England, France, Germany, North Ireland, Norway and the US and I'm glad I got to partner with someone from another country because I got some unusual buttons that I hadn't seen before. Aren't they cool? I especially love the little green ones.


Thanks Zoe! And thanks Sally for organizing the swap! And if you want to see more pictures, check out the swap pool on Flickr.



Look at this cool nest I found over the weekend. It was lying on the grass under an old apple tree in our yard. It’s so tiny that I’m not sure what bird made and used it—maybe a hummingbird or chickadee—we have both. Guess I need to buy one of those bird nest identification books to add to our reference collection.

bird nest

And I noticed that my cats are spending quite a lot of time sitting in the window that looks out over the lilac bush at the corner of the house. There’s a nest of baby robins right in the middle of it. It seems kind of late for babies but there are three. With wide open beaks that mom spends all her time trying to fill. This is endlessly fascinating to my cats and, I have to admit, to me, too.

baby robins

One of the things I love best about living in the country is how close you can get to nature. That’s sometimes not so much fun when it’s a nest of yellowjackets or the deer that thinks my garden is her personal salad bar. But I love that I can hear coyotes running in the woods at night, and that the same broad-winged hawks return every spring and raise their babies here. I feel lucky to be witness to the cycles of life that occur all around me.

Edited to say that I now believe this is a Chipping Sparrow nest. I was at a used book store recently and paged through the pictures in a book on nests and that's my best guess. They are fairly small birds, too, and we probably have more of them than any other kind.


Thrift Thursday

My friend Carrie over at Sommer Designs started a group on Flickr last week where members can post pictures of their thrift store finds. And also blog about their finds on Thursdays. Sadly, due to my raging sinus infection last week, I wasn’t able to participate. But this is exactly my kind of thing so I'm all over it today!

I should mention that we don’t have very good thrift stores in the city where I live. One Salvation Army that's more cheap polyester clothing than cool decorating finds. So I’m interpreting thrifting in looser terms, and including anything I find a deal on, no matter where I find it. And since I’m saving my cash for a big antique show coming up in 3 weeks and it was too damn hot to go out today, I’m showing a recent find.

Chinese teapot

I found this little cat-shaped teapot in a shop that sells a mix of antiques, collectibles and just plain junk. In other words, you never know what you’re going to find. At a little more than 5 inches tall, it's very small and cute without being cutesy. White porcelain with painted details. The head screws off to fill the pot with tea and it pours out of the fish's mouth. Made in China. $3.00



The Kindness of Strangers

Every once in a while someone emails me about a collection of fabric, buttons, or trims that they want to get rid of. They find me on the internet and think my studio would make a good home for their rejects. Last summer it was a woman in Arizona whose linen closet was overflowing and wanted to weed out her less favorite things to make room for some new ones. All she wanted in exchange was for me to make a custom pillow from a piece of embroidery that she sent me and to chose a second one from my website. No problem! I got some very nice things in return.

I received an email from a man in Wisconsin late last winter about some boxes full of stuff that he wanted to sell. It took him until a month ago to send me swatches of the fabrics and he’s still working on the buttons and other things, but he had some really nice fabrics and good prices. So I bought a bunch of stuff.

When the mail carrier drives her truck up my driveway and honks her horn I know I’ve got packages—and there were two today. One full of lace trims, the other with fabrics. I also got an envelope with more swatches—he found another box! I’ll probably resell the lace because I don’t use it in my work, but there are some lovely larger pieces that may work for sachets. Some of the fabrics are gorgeous—bark cloth and cotton prints from the 50s. Others are polyester and I’m not sure why I didn’t catch that in the swatches. That’s OK. When it comes to fabric there’s always someone who likes what you don’t and vice versa.

What’s a post without pictures, so here are some of my “new” fabrics fresh from their box. Tomorrow they’ll get washed and hung outside in the sun to dry.

I'm not sure this is real barkcloth because it doesn't have the texture, but it has big flowers like you'd find on barkcloth.

Again, no texture, but flowers like barkcloth

1950s swirly turquoise and brown on dark pink

This was hard to photograph because it's really sheer so it's not really this faded. I think I'll need to back it with black if I use it for pillows.

Last but not least, black line sketchy drawings of flowers on a coral background

Is it terrible to love fabric this much? Now, where did I put those new swatches?