Years ago, back when I still ran the bed and breakfast, I collected Pendleton blankets for all our rooms. When we closed the inn I had to decide what to keep and what to sell. My mom convinced me to keep the blanket you see below, which is called Turquoise Trail (at least according to some sources).
“Wouldn’t it make a great coat?” she asked.
So, that was the seed planted.
Of course that was back in 2014.
But what is a Global Pandemic good for if not embracing one’s haywire, insane coat-sewing dreams?!
Over this past Christmas my mom said, “I want to do it.”
Of course I immediately knew what she meant (we have a Vulcan mind meld when it comes to thinking up crazy projects)
I was under deadline for yet another book and said, “You’ll be on your own–I can help with cutting, but not the sewing.”
It turned out that both were challenging endeavors, but the sewing presented problems we never anticipated: that coat is HEAVY!
One sewing machine locked up and we had to switch to a heavier-duty machine, one used for quilting.
We also got my 1913 commercial Singer all tuned up and ready to go, but ended up not needing it.
When we hauled out the blanket we found something I’ve never dealt with before: moth toothmarks! Yes, while I thought I’d been saving and preserving this blanket by not using it moths had been chowing down. Luckily we could cut around most of it, but they sure did some damage.
BTW, if you are reading this and have a non-disgusting (ie: mothballs) way of repelling moths, please let me know. I have a couple more blankets I’d like to save.
So, (or should I say: sew, heheheheh) I took lots of pictures of everything except the whole, uncut blanket.
Luckily there is the internet and I found a picture to give you a good idea how it looked complete. Also some photos of the cutting stages.
Mom cut the first pieces and we seemed to be doing pretty well, until it came to matching up the sides (which had an insane number of pieces). Then we realized things just didn’t go together the way we’d planned.
Her eyeballs were fried, so I did the second batch of cutting (it’s hard to describe how much the blanket pattern messed with our heads and eyes).
We ended up having to cut the two pillow shams that I’d bought for it, too. In fact, our coat pretty much took up all the blanket and two king shams.
So, yeah, I wasn’t kidding when I said it’s a little heavy.
My mom had to take a break of a couple months before coming back to it in late March. She was so consumed with this project that she DREAMED about sewing it. Or maybe had nightmares.
If you want one of your own, you’ll have to sew it yourself because she said she would NEVER make another.
But it turned out FANTASTIC.
Here’s a picture of the whole pattern
This is the cutting of the second batch, when we had to re-cut a few pieces.
Here’s the coat pattern, which my mom ended up having to adjust a LOT. I wouldn’t recommend this pattern.
Tons of pattern pieces!
Cutting, cutting, and more cutting.
What was left after the cutting.
Our very messy work surface.
Putting the pieces together. This is the front of the coat.
My mom used these handy clips to hold the thick pieces together. Here are the pockets being set in.
And a crazy amount of clips on the armpit, which you can see has a bunch of seams.
Here is the spectacular back section all put together!
I’m going to put you out of your suspenseful misery and show you the completed project without inflicting dozens of piece-by-piece photos. I keep them on my phone, like they are grandchildren, so I can bore you with ALL of them the next time I see you!
Need some tasty snack food to eat when you dig into some smart and sexy historical romance?
My mom calls this pecan brittle “Two-Filling Pecan Brittle”
Sorry I don’t have any nifty pictures of my hands or pinch bowls full of ingredients, but I figure my readers are smart enough to cook without them.
1 1/2 cups toasted chopped pecans (the toasting is up to you and you can substitute other nuts if you don’t have pecans)
1 heaping tablespoon salt
1 cup water
1 1/4 cups light corn syrup (you could use dark but you’d get a different flavor)
2 1/2 cups sugar
4 tablespoons margarine or ultra-processed coconut oil (the one that doesn’t smell or taste like coconuts)
1 tablespoon baking soda
You can put chocolate chips on top of the hot mix after you’ve poured it into the pan and then top it with more chopped nuts. This will give you a sort of Pecan Roca product.
Heat and stir sugar, corn syrup, water and salt over medium heat until sugar has dissolved. Once it has dissolved crank the heat all the way up. Use a candy thermometer (clip it to the pot) and cook the mixture to the hard crack stage (290 °F). (see notes below)
2. Add nuts and margarine and cook to 300 °F stirring all the time to keep the nuts from burning. Pull off heat at 300 °F and stir in baking soda while beating to froth for 30 seconds (a wire whisk works best).
3. Pour onto a well-greased cookie sheet (use something big with a lip on it).
Spread it as thin as you want it. I sometimes leave it thick as it has a honeycomb texture that is really nice.
Don’t give into temptation and put any of this into your mouth (does that sound like I speak from experience?!?) since it’s the temperature of volcanic lava.
I stop stirring after the mixture starts to boil and I’ve never had it stick to the pot. But don’t take your eyes off it!
This process will really vary depending on altitude. I’m at 8,000 feet and this takes a long time and I have to use different temperatures since water boils at 194 degrees up here. If you’re at sea level, this will be a snap.
You can keep the brittle for months if you put it in an airtight container. It never lasts more than a few days around here …
Baker’s tip: keep nuts in the freezer to prolong shelf life.
I have always loved the look of quill pens and have often wondered what it was like to write with one. When you see the beautiful documents and letters people wrote with quills it is awe inspiring:
Psst, I’m pretty sure a machine wrote this…
If you read historical romance (and why wouldn’t you?!) you may have noticed that people often faff around with quills. It seems to have been an excellent way to get up to a little flirting: the heroine mashes or splits the end of her quill and then requires some hunky hero to trim the quill with his pen knife. Yeah, you know what I’m talking about….
People back then liked to paint other people with quills, too.
Elmira: Do it, Horatia! Do it! Break the nib already! Horatia: *I wish men still wore wigs–he’s DREAMY!*
Hmmm, my wig itches…
Here are the parts of a feather, if you are interested in learning something new today. If you aren’t, just move along, move along! Nothing to see here….
Anyhow, I’ve always saved the large feathers my turkey Wiccus likes to molt almost every year. I’ve also collected a few goose feathers over the past few years, although they don’t seem to have an all-over molt like chickens and turkeys.
Here is a picture of Wiccus in all his feathered glory:
Wiccus with a full set of feathers
Some of the feathers had become pretty dirty so I gave them a good scrubbing. Feathers are durable and get wet all the time. Birds usually preen them with natural oils to make them water-resistant so some of these feathers were remarkably clean. Those that had been left out in the sun and elements were harder to wash. You can give them a vigorous scrubbing with a brush in warm, soapy water if necessary.
Once they’ve dried they’ll be all nice and fluffy again!
After reading various “how-to” instructions (the website https://www.instructables.com/ is one great source) I decided to try my hand at cutting my own quill.
Now, before everyone at home rushes out to try this (as I know you all WILL) please be warned that cutting a quill is dangerous, tricky business. I’ve seen how durable a bird’s plumage is, so I don’t know why I was so surprised a feather would be so damned hard to cut–but they are!
But before I proceed I need to make a confession. Cutting and shaping feathers was not only dangerous, it was damned near impossible. So, I ended up cheating a little. You can read about that and see pictures below.
For those of you who are purists here is what you will need:
A feather. (Please don’t buy a feather from a hobby store as most of them have been taken from birds in inhumane conditions rather than voluntarily donated. Take a look on Craigslist as people often just save them and give them away. I have bags of feathers and I’m always glad to share!)
a cutting board (I used an old plastic board that I keep on hand for cutting non-food items)
a thin tipped marker
a VERY sharp Xacto knife (this is important! The feathers are hard enough to cut as it is)
safety glasses- you scoff, but an Xacto tip snapped off and I was glad I was wearing glasses. Glad.
And here is what you’ll need if you want to be a cheater, like ME!
HINT: if you soak the end of the feather in water overnight it will be a little easier to cut, but still difficult.
Anyhow, first you want to cut the end of the feather:
See how I’ve cut it straight. This is a tricky process as it is really easy to split the feather if you apply too much pressure. A split tip is a big deal if you are going to be a purist and hand carve your nib but not so important if you are a CHEATER. Like me…
Once you’ve cut the end off you can always clean the fluff from the center of the feather if you like.
Hold the quill the way you will want to hold it to write. Now, the truth is that actual quill pens were mostly stripped of their barbs (the fluffy part that makes the feather so pretty). Apparently they did this so the pen was easier to handle. I leave the barbs on my quills although I will trim them up if the feather has been damaged.
Anyhow, you want to make sure you hold the pen in the position you will use to write before you draw your marks.
There is no shortcut to carving. You basically draw the lines of the nib onto the feather:Start shaping with your Xacto knife. I recommend cutting less and then slowly whittling toward the line. Here is a picture of the shape you want to end up with:
Once you’ve shaped the nib you will use the Xacto to make a split in the writing tip. Here is a picture of the nib. You can’t see the split because I’m not skilled at taking pictures…. Anyhow, you just use the tip of the Xacto to make the cut. It’s probably the easiest of the cuts since you can do it by pressing the nib onto the cutting board.
Here are some cool little pots of different colored ink I ordered from Dick Blick’s :
Okay, no laughing–here is a sample of my writing with my nifty new quill pen:
I have to confess that took a while. If writing a book with a quill was the only way to get the job done I’m not sure I could do it…
Okay, if you’ve stuck around until this point I can now show you the cheater’s way.
You can order yourself some of these little guys:
Again, I ordered mine from Dick Blick, which definitely had the biggest selection and best price. The only reason I ordered 2 is because I’m making 50 of these little guys as giveaways and have feathers that really vary in diameter. You can’t tell from the picture, but the top nib is a lot narrower than the lower one.
So, you’re going to cut the tip off, just like you did above, but this time you will make a slit in the quill. Make it long enough to accommodate the base of the nib. You can use scissors on this because it doesn’t matter if the cut is really clean.
Clearly you’re going to have to do something to secure the nib in the feather. Here is a use for all that embroidery thread you have just lying around! Okay, so maybe you’ll have to to out and buy some.
I recommend the sparkly kind, although it is a bit harder to use because it keeps fraying.
For demonstration purposes I’m going to use some regular, non-sparkly, blue.
See how I’ve laid the thread with the tail end away from the nib? This is a good idea because it will leave the area nearest the nib smooth. Start wrapping the thread around the nib end and work down the feather. Make sure to leave enough of the tail end to tie with the strand you are using to wrap. See below how I’ve tied the knot and cut the thread. I’ve done it beneath the quill so it won’t interfere with your fingers when you hold it. Take your glue of choice (I’m using Gorilla Glue here and coat all of the thread. Once you’ve covered it on all sides you need to leave it to dry (but you knew that, didn’t you?)
When it has completely dried you can trim the threads or tie them into a bow or whatever floats your boat. Sometimes I leave them, sometimes I cut them.
Here are a couple different feathers. I’ve stripped the barb from the one on the left, which is closer to what a real quill would have looked like. The one on the right is a feather in all its glory (well, except there is no turkey attached, which is the REAL glory!)
I’ve punched a hole in one of my business cards and attached the quill to a little pot of ink. These are some of the reader gifts I will be giving away at my debut signings.
Fabulous quill, ink, and historically inaccurate timepiece!
*Want to win a quill and other cool stuff? Go to my Giveaways page and sign up for my newsletter
Do you like animals? Do like to sew? Even if you don’t have a hobby farm you still might have some animal feed bags laying around you could “upcycle” into re-usable shopping bags, beach bags, or a hip bag to take to your local farmer’s market.
In addition to poultry and dog feed I buy a lot of bird seed, both mixed seed and black oil sunflower. Oftentimes the bags have very pretty designs, like this one:
The best bags are the ones that have a weave as you can use a sewing machine to put them together.
You can use other types of bags, like dog or cat food bags, but those cannot be punctured with a needle without damaging the bag material. You can always make a bag from them using my method, you just need to use glue, instead of a sewing machine.
Once you’ve found the bag you want you should take off both the top and bottom binding material and lay the bag out flat on a cutting surface and trim the edges of the top or bottom if necessary.
I am using a cutting wheel with a ruler made specifically for cutting wheels on my bag but you can use regular scissors.
Once you’ve evened up the edges you can cut off the top part of the bag so you will have some material to make a handle.
Don’t worry if the strip you have to work with is wrinkled or ugly, by the time you are finished flattening and folding and sewing it the handle will be fine.
I cut off enough so that I can fold it in half with the ends tucked in–so maybe 2.5 times the width of the final handle.
Here is the strip I cut in the first picture.
In the second picture you can see the piece is much flatter after “hand ironing” and clamping with binder clips. I use binder clips for this project because they are much easier than shoving pins into the stiff material.
Once your handle is folded, clipped, and ready to sew you can set it aside.
Turn your bag inside out and use binder clips to fold a seam on the bottom edge of the bag.
You will then sew the seam and also sew the handle.
I sew two seams on the handle, one on each side, which stabilizes it and makes it less likely to roll. (see picture on lower left)
Once you’ve sewed the bottom seam you next sew the corners so you will have a bag that sits up on its own.
You will open the bag up (still keeping it inside out) and use a triangle guide to mark the corners.
I just make a triangle guide out of a reinforced piece of paper.
It’s easier to look at the following pictures to understand what I mean.
First you will turn the bag so the seam you’ve just sewed is running vertically, make sure the seam is centered and place the triangle on the corner and mark it with a pen or marker.
See how the seam you’ve just sewn is facing you in the picture to the left (the one with my hand almost covering all the seam!)
That is the bottom of the bag and this is what you will stitch to make your bag stand up on its own.
Here it is after I’ve drawn the marking:
And then here it is after I’ve sewn both corners. I’ve left the picture larger so you can see what I mean. See how it is standing up, even though it is inside out?
Now you can turn your bag rightside out.
For the top edge of the bag you are going to fold the top over two times so there are no raw edges showing.
Once you’ve turned it over all the way around you can either pin or clamp it so that it’s even.
Now you will tuck the end of the handle under the fold at whatever two points on the bag you would like your handle.
Again I use binder clips to get everything into position.
Here is a picture of the back side of the bag all clipped and ready to sew!
Once everything is secure, you can sew it. It won’t be easy, the material is stiff and you will have to struggle with it. Just go slowly and keep checking that the slick material isn’t slipping.
Before I show you the finished project I’d like to share a bit about the sewing machine I’m using.
I bought this 1913 commercial Singer machine from a saddle maker who lived at the very end of The Santa Fe Trail (true story!) He was downsizing and had three commercial Singers just like this one. I already had 12 sewing machines at the time so I needed to make and sell a lot of these feed bags to justify the expenditure!
The machine was originally operated by a treadle but the saddle-maker attached a 1.5 HP motor to it and also added this (kind of ugly but very handy) formica top, complete with homemade scissor holder!
He showed me how to operate it when I bought it but it all dribbled out of my head before I actually got to use the machine.
Luckily, the Smithsonian Institute has a library of operator manuals, so I was able to download a copy of the actual instruction manual
You don’t need to use a 1913 Singer to sew your bag, I sewed my first 50 bags on the first machine I bought for myself back in 1986, which is the cheapest Singer made.
Just make sure you buy a heavy needle adequate to the task and use heavy duty thread.
Okay! Here is what you’ve been waiting for, the finished bag!
Voila! I hope you give this a try and upcycle a bag of your own. Please don’t hesitate to ask questions!
If you’d like to win the bag I’ve upcycled in this article please come and check out my upcoming Facebook Party on June 18, 2018, where I’m giving away not only a bag, but other goodies, too! NO purchase necessary. Link to Summer Reading List Launch Party!!
Those of you who know a bit about us know we used to operate a bed and breakfast. The one thing you have lots of when you close your b&b is space. We went from living in ONE bedroom in a 9-bedroom house to having all those rooms to ourselves. All those rooms to fill with junk! Yes, it’s a hoarder’s paradise. . .
Anyhow, back when the house was converted into a b&b all but 4 closets were changed into bathrooms. The result is a bathroom-rich, closet-poor house. My shoes were spread through the entire house, crammed in various closets. They weren’t happy.
Last year I decided to take a room we’d been using as a sitting room–which had become more of a dust-gathering room–and convert it into a dressing room. Yes, a real-live dressing room. Just like in those historical romance novels I enjoy so much. . .
I have FINALLY finished everything and taken pictures. But first, here is a little about the torturous process.
Here are a couple before pictures of the sitting room, which has its own bathroom and wet bar (yeeeeessssss, that means my dressing room has its own wet bar!!):
And here is another, taken from the other direction. That arched doorway leads to our bedroom. That cow scull on the wall is genuine, certified, organic longhorn. Seriously. Unfortunately I had no wall space to accommodate it in the new Shoe Palace.
Once I took everything out of it (almost–see how those boxes of shoes have already sneaked in to check out their new home?) it looked like this:
I knew I didn’t want California Closets closets for two reasons: one, they wouldn’t fit the character of the adobe and viga construction and two, I couldn’t afford them. I decided I wanted something more rustic and rugged, so I settled on plumbing piping, which I’d seen used in a swanky too-cool clothing shop on my last visit to Toronto.
As usual, I’m kind of lousy with photographing every step. But the process is actually pretty straight forward. Decide on the size of unit you want and measure and then buy a whole pile of metal pipes, elbows, three-ways, and flanges for connecting the unit. The only tricky part (okay, so it turns out there is a SECOND tricky part, but I’ll get to that below) is accounting for the threads on each piece to make sure you end up with what you measured. That was a bit trial and error and many harsh words were spoken by me, to myself, because I had nobody else to blame.
Anyhow, I spray painted the pieces separately and then screwed them all together and spray painted them again. In the middle of all this it rained several times. Here is a picture I took after having to hustle everything back into the house when it rained, drag it back out afterward, and spray it again:
So, that’s a pretty eyeball-boggling photo, but you get the gist.
The second thing I hadn’t counted on was the irregular surface on the adobe walls and ceiling, none of which are flush or straight (part of the joy of adobe). This meant that each and every segment was a bit different and I had only measured in one place for each unit. Whoops! The good news is that plumbing pipes come in so many pieces and sizes! Yes, I just purchased a few 1/2 and 1/4 sections, spray painted and screwed those puppies on, and everything worked out just fine. The large pieces–the 4 and 5 foot hanging sections–I had cut at the lumber yard.
Here are a few pictures of experiments with different segments. You’ll notice, in the final picture, that some of the sections didn’t make the final cut. I realized that putting built-ins on small sections of wall wasn’t very economical. (For example, the picture below.) Luckily, I just propped up the pipe and used some scrap lumber for shelving to check this out before I actually screwed anything down.
Several months ago I promised a friend I would email her pictures of my (very few) paintings. Since I still haven’t gotten around to that, I decided to just post them here.
I decided to try my hand at painting when I wanted a mural around one of our fireplaces. I decided to start with the fireplace in our kitchen, a very small kiva fireplace we use often.
I didn’t want to waste a good paintbrush on my experiment, so I used a .49 cent chip brush from the hardware store. It actually worked out pretty well, in my opinion. You can see a little of the flame details in this picture (you can see the Sharpie lines on the bottom right of the drawing, where I couldn’t get the outline of the flame quite right), I thought they ended up looking very smoke-blackened and I really like it.
After that, I thought I’d try my luck with some chicken portraits. . .
Here is the first one, which is a painting of Zsa Zsa, who is a somewhat crazy bird:
I then painted Cordelia and Bernard on these two old Adirondack chair backs:
Here’s a better photo of the Bernard chair:
Right now I’m working on a “barnyard” mural, but finding chickens in action are a lot more difficult to paint than my portraits…
Several months back I began a post about the floor we removed between our first and second floor. The floor was built over a circular staircase over twenty years ago when the house was converted into a bed and breakfast. When we decided to convert the Cottonwood Inn back into a house we removed the floor.
Removing the floor left a “hanging” door to a deck which was accessible only from the second floor. We needed a solution. I spoke to an architect and a master carpenter but neither could come up with a solution to the problem.
Yes, my mother. She was a general contractor for several years and enjoys engaging in architectural projects for fun.
So, here is an image showing where we were at the point the floor was removed:
And here is a photo of the stairs from the bottom…
This was closed off and used as a storage closet. The stairs are quite lovely and massive. 52 inches wide by 10×22 pie shaped wedges.
Here is a picture of the stairs after I opened the doorway from 32 inches to 52 inches and then rebuilt the frame using lath and plaster (my first experience in working with lath).
And, here we are constructing our new set of steps to the “hanging door.” That is Eva standing beside the project, keeping an eye on my work…
Yes, those are magic markers laying on the step. We only use professional grade products on all our jobs.
Mom supervising me to make sure everything goes together okay.
Here are the steps once I’ve made a heavy plywood platform for the top. I used scrap lumber for the sides–tongue and groove pieces left over from my pine flooring project.
You can see that I have begun to attach metal lath to the sides in prep for the plastering. This is not fun stuff to work with and it really tears up even the heaviest gloves.
A closer picture picture:
I wish I had taken pictures of the plastering process, but there was just mud and water everywhere. That was unfortunate because I had already stained and polished the steps with Minwax and had to do it all again after!
Anyhow, here it is as of now.
And another from the bottom looking up:
So, there it is.
On order are custom-made wrought iron railings for the platform.
Oh wait…one more picture: Here are Dottie and Lola (and Gloria’s butt) They hung out with me and held lumber while I cut. My hens have skills!