Creative detour into machine embroidery

I’ve never been one for seasonal decor. Even the minimal Christmas decorations I put up have me feeling claustrophobic by Jan. 1. But I realized last year that by ignoring the holidays, I was missing an opportunity to recognize the rhythm of the seasons.

I decided that this year, I would at least have a nod to the time of year with some mantle decorations and changing out of the tablecloth on my dining room table. (The table is never bare. Too many Girl Scout troop crafts have happened there. There’s a swash of glittery blue something in one spot.)

I thought it would be nice to center the mantle decor around a seasonal framed picture. As charming as that sounds, it also sounds expensive. Instead, inspired by a recent experiment with machine embroidery on an ill-fated sewing project, I decided to get one matted frame and embroider a new seasonal picture to put into it about every month.

I’m really pleased with how the first embroidery file (from Embroidery Library) turned out:

If you look closely, you'll see jump stitches I didn't trim and the spot where the thread got tangled and I didn't back up the stitching enough to redo all of what was missed. But I still love it!

This pretty design is roughly 5 inches square. 

For it being my first serious foray into embroidery, I’m pretty happy with it. It took more than an hour to complete, and if you look closely, you might see jump stitches I neglected to trim and the spot where the thread got caught and I didn’t back up the stitching enough to redo all of what was missed. But it’s all part of the learning process, and I love it!

Here it is on the living room mantle:

The Valentine's Day mantle.

I think this is subtle enough not to be overbearing. 

The embroidery file cost $5.49, and the matted frame was on sale for about $10 at Jo-Ann’s. The flowers cost $3.99 at the grocery store. That seems reasonable to me.

Between Embroidery Library and Urban Threads, there are so many beautiful and intriguing embroidery patterns, it makes me dizzy just thinking about them. I have to figure out some creative ways of using them.

Meanwhile, I’m back to sewing. I’m in the middle of a project right now and have everything I need for the one after that.

Dear Vintage Secret Santa …

Thank you so much!

In my haste to clean up after Christmas, I neglected to save your address from the package! And there was no name, so I am using my blog to say Thank You for the thoughtful gifts and hope you see it.

The charming gifts from my thoughtful Vintage Secret Santa.

The charming gifts from my Vintage Secret Santa.

Adorable little perfume bottles.

Darling little perfume bottles.

I have read a number of vintage movie star biographies (Grace Kelly, Lana Turner, Gene Tierney) but have not about Gloria Swanson, so that will be a treat. The little perfume bottles will be adorable on my dressing table tray, and the box will be perfect for my New Year’s goal to be more organized this year.

I really appreciate your taking the time to send these lovely things to me.

Happy New Year to you, Secret Santa! (And If you feel comfortable revealing yourself, I’d love to know who you are!)

And a big THANK YOU for Jessica at Chronically Vintage for putting the whole gift exchange together. It was so much fun, and I look forward to participating again next year!

Jeanne Marie

The Great Dickens Christmas Fair

Victorian London is brought to life every Christmas season at the Great Dickens Christmas Fair.

As someone who enjoys elements of bygone eras, I have been intrigued by this event for years. This weekend, I finally decided to make the two-hour drive and brought along my teenage daughter and her girlfriend. We had a blast.

Held in a large exhibition building in Daly City (just south of San Francisco), the Dickens Fair creates a Victorian-era streetscape complete with shops, food, and entertainment. Modern elements of the building are camouflaged, and the floor is strewn with straw.

A clock on the street.

A clock on one of the buildings. The design of the event is beautiful.

A shoppe sign.

A pub sign. Food and beverage choices included spiced nuts, meat pies, fish and chips, pasta, Greek food, pastries, a large tea shoppe (reservations recommended), and several pubs.

One of the stage shows.

There are a number of stages with shows throughout the day.

Hundreds of engaging performers in period costume as well as several well-known Dickens characters are found throughout the event, and attendees are encouraged to dress in costume as well.

Gentlemen dining at one of the establishments.

This is one of the many tableaus that actors stage to add atmosphere.

The Ghost of Christmas Past helps Ebenezer Scrooge recall happier times at Fezziwig's Dance Party.

At Fezziwig’s Dance Party, we saw the Ghost of Christmas Past taking Ebenezer Scrooge on a trip to remember happier days.

We saw Queen Victoria several times throughout the day.

Of course, Queen Victoria reigns over the Dickens Fair. She and her entourage made several appearances.

As I don’t have any Victorian garb, I opted to wear my Clara dress and a pair of riding boots. I almost brought a shawl, but thought better of it. It turned out to be rather warm inside.

Next year, I plan to FILL my shopping basket with purchases.

Next year, I plan to FILL my shopping basket. There are a wide variety of goods available, including Victorian-style clothing, jewelry, candles, soaps, and antique books.

Together, this all makes for a charming holiday outing. Now that we know what to expect, we can’t wait to go back next year to see more of the stage shows, sample a wider variety of the food, and buy more gifts.

The Great Dickens Christmas Fair runs for two more weekends this year at the Cow Palace.

You can find the rest of my photos on Flickr.


My new vintage-style blouse from Butterick’s 5846 dress pattern

For my latest project, I started off with dress pattern Butterick 5846 and turned it into a blouse. I love how this blouse came out, particularly since I my last attempt at a project had a sad ending.

Here’s my new garment:


This is a quilting cotton, so it’s a little heavy for a blouse, but it’s soft. I love-love-love the colors.


And the back.

Here are some of the fun details:


The pattern calls for top-stitching all over the place, which I liked.


The vintage buttons are fun and a good match.

As a reminder, here is where I started:

I think this will make a great blouse.

I originally had this darker green thread selected for the top-stitching, but as you can see, I ended up going with a bright yellow-green instead.

How a dress became a blouse

I decided the 1930s-40s lines of Butterick 5846 would be perfect for the vintage-style fabric I found that only had enough yardage left for a blouse. I made some adjustments to the pattern to turn the dress pattern into a blouse pattern and then made a few other changes just to customize it:

  • I made the bodice longer. The bodice originally ended at the waist seam with a total of 12 tucks into that seam. I extended the tucks an inch (the better to hide behind a waistband) and increased the bodice length about 9 inches.
  • I changed the gathered sleeves to regular set-in sleeves. Gathered sleeves are not the best look on me. I liked the sleeves on New Look 0134, which I had recently made, so I wanted to substitute those. I measured the armhole sleeve seam on New Look 0134, and it was a perfect match for Butterick 5846. Once I eased them, the sleeves went in beautifully. Love them.
  • I made the collar a little larger to better reflect vintage styles. Vintage blouses tend to have bigger collars than today’s blouses. I made a line bisecting the point of the collar, then drew a new point an inch out from the original one. I then blended the lines into the original collar where it joined the neckline and at the shoulder. It’s a subtle change, but it gives me confidence that I can do pretty much anything I want with a collar shape.
  • I turned the two-piece yoke into a single yoke. I couldn’t figure out why the yoke had a seam at the shoulder — until I was tracing it to make it a single piece. If it’s done in a plaid or a stripe, the lines on the front part of the yoke will be at a weird angle. That didn’t affect this print, and I was already tracing, so I continued on and made the yoke one piece. It was a simple matter of overlapping the shoulder seamlines and tracing.

Construction changes

I still don’t want to deal with my serger (which probably only needs to be serviced), so I am all about tidy seam finishes that don’t require one. Since I practiced flat-felled seams on my recent ill-fated project, I used them all over this blouse. I love the way they look.

Flat fell

How slick are these flat-felled seams? They were a little tricky here at the armhole seam, but I made them work.

For the yoke, I used a technique I’ve been reading about for years but had not had the opportunity to try. The yoke is sewn entirely by machine and then turned out. The trick is rolling up the bodice pieces before you sew. Style Arc’s website has a great explanation of the technique here. The top-stitching on the yoke is strictly decorative.

And here it is on me!

Front of Butterick 5846

My new blouse. Photos by Matt Henry, the 10-year-old.

Back of Butterick 5846

The back.

I am so happy with this blouse that I eventually want to make a long-sleeve version with a white collar and cuffs. And I have the perfect fabrics in my stash. Until I find something else I like, this will be my go-to blouse pattern. It’s already fitted, so the sewing is quick.

Meanwhile, I have this fab blouse and nothing vintage-style to wear with it. But I’m trying to take care of that with my next project. A muslin is underway and going well so far. I’m thinking dark blue denim.

Gemini Note (because it’s not all about the sewing)

After an amazing start, and a horrifying June Swoon, the San Francisco Giants won the World Series for the third time in five years. As much as I love sewing while watching baseball games (three hours of multi-tasking!), I canNOT sew during playoffs. Not with the way the Giants play. I’m too busy clutching a pillow. I’m so glad the season is finally over. My nerves couldn’t take much more, and I have lots of sewing to do!