A Scout Tee sewn from an old beach sarong…and how to fold your shirts for traveling

From beach sarong to T-shirt! I bought a beach sarong on a trip to Brazil a few years ago (made in Indonesia, ironically) and after a while the fine woven fabric had ripped. Ruing the loss of these great colours and print, I regretfully tossed it into my textile recycling bag, but a few weeks later I realized that this sarong would make a great lightweight T-shirt. I’m not normally a fan of tees made of woven fabric but these colours demanded I give Grainline Studio’s Scout Tee a shot.

Scout Tee

Much has been written about the Scout Tee as many sewists have made it, so I won’t say much except to add that the cut is way too generous. I cut the size that corresponded to my body measurements but was still swimming in it width-wise. I ended up taking it in along the sides by at least 2 or 3 inches. Oh and I’ll also add this comment: I don’t get the hype around the Scout Tee. This pattern costs $16 US which is a small fortune for such a basic tee. ‘Nuff said.


Recently I went to Berlin for a vacation. Here are a couple of shots taken inside the Hamburger Banhof museum of contemporary art in Berlin.




Having done a lot of traveling in my life, I was shocked to learn only a few months ago that there is a GENIUS way to fold your shirts for packing that I hadn’t previously known about. This is a life-changer, folks! Or, at least, a travel-changer. This method creates a snug little self-contained sausage roll that won’t unfold in your suitcase. Here’s how to do it:


Step 1: lay the shirt out face-down and smooth out any wrinkles


Step 2: turn up the bottom edge by about 12cm/4 – 5 inches as if you were turning up a pant cuff


Step 3: fold in one side by a third. Fold the sleeve neatly if necessary.


Step 3: fold in the other side to overlap and fold the sleeve in so you have a long rectangle.


Step 4: starting at the top, begin tightly rolling the shirt down towards the turned-up hem.


Roll all the way to the bottom, smoothing out wrinkles as you go.


Step 5: flip the turned-up hem to wrap around the rolled shirt to hold everything in place.


That’s it! Now you have a neatly rolled up bundle that you can throw in a suitcase and it won’t unfold into a jumbled mess!

Rolled up T-shirts in packing cube

It’s even better if you put your little sausage-rolled shirts into a packing cube like this one…they come in various sizes and make rifling through your suitcase a breeze, with no re-folding necessary.

As long as we’re on the subject of travel, please enjoy some snaps of street art I took around Berlin.


A model of the Titanic made of chocolate…and a chocolate Brandenburg Gate in the background. Spot the excited Lori.


Phew! Time for a beer…or two.

I made a point of taking pictures at two very different fabric depots in Berlin…will share those with you in another post.

Thanks for stopping by!

Female Genital Mutilation in Kenya: a call to action for the sewing community

Cast your eye upon these glorious colours worn by a group of Maasai women I met in Kenya recently! I travelled there with a group of my university students to learn more about the cultural tradition of Female Genital Mutilation (FGM; also sometimes referred to as Female Genital Cutting or FGC), and to meet young residents of a slum in the capital city Nairobi. What an experience!


One of our goals on this trip, in partnership with AMREF Canada (African Medical Research and Education Foundation), was to shoot a short documentary about AMREF’s efforts to help phase out Female Genital Mutilation in rural Kenyan communities. My students are studying media production, so this was an opportunity for them to put the professional skills they’re learning into practice while finding out about international development issues and immersing themselves in a different culture. And guess what? There’s even a sewing angle to all of this, so stay tuned! And guess what else? I’m going to ask you to make a donation to a great cause if you can, so be warned!

If you haven’t heard of FGM before, it’s a long-standing tradition in certain communities of ‘circumcising’ a girl to mark her passage from girlhood to womanhood. FGM involves partial or total removal of the external genitalia (the clitoris and labia). While the practice is technically illegal in Kenya, it is such a deep-rooted tradition in some communities that many families consider a girl to be unclean and unfit for marriage if she has not been cut. There is a belief that uncut women cannot be thought of as real women, and that they are likely to be unfaithful in their marriage. FGM, particularly in rural areas, is performed without anaesthetic in unsanitary conditions, sometimes even using cow dung to staunch the bleeding. The procedure causes excruciating pain, and girls can die of loss of blood or infection. We spoke with several girls and women who knew someone who died because of the procedure. They described to us in vivid detail how village men are needed to hold ropes attached to the girls’ legs and arms to keep them completely immobile and unable to run away during the procedure. FGM can also cause sexual dysfunction, complications in childbirth, and greatly increases a woman’s risk of HIV infection. It is generally carried out on adolescent girls as young as 8 years old. Once a girl is cut, she is considered ready for marriage and usually must also stop attending school. For obvious reasons, FGM is considered to be a violation of human rights.

That’s a lot to process — I know. A real-life horror show.

The United Nations Population Fund has an FAQ about Female Genital Mutilation here.

So on to the good news: AMREF is working hard to implement “Alternative Rites of Passage” (ARP), whereby the girls still go through a ceremony to mark their passage to womanhood, but without being cut. In order for this to happen, AMREF must ensure everyone including the village chiefs (men) and the young men who would marry the young women understand the risks and outcomes and agree to stop the practice. AMREF does this through education, as well as providing training to the elder women who normally earn a living performing circumcisions. These women are retrained to become traditional birth attendants, so they can continue to earn a living but also contribute to healthy outcomes for girls and women. In place of the cut, the girls attend two or three days of sexual and reproductive health education as well as instruction on why they should stay in school and pursue an education.


Over 10 thousand girls in Africa have been through AMREF’s ARP program…that means over 10 thousand girls who have not had to endure the cut. Bravo, AMREF!


Above is Beverly (18 years old) and her uncle Lelein. Beverly was expected by her parents to undergo FGM, but when the time came, she ran away. Girls who refuse FGM or run away can be beaten and/or ostracized from their family and community. Luckily for Beverly, her uncle Lelein was sympathetic and took her in. She is still estranged from her father who believes she must be cut. But Beverly has now finished high school and hopes to be able to attend university to study law. We sat in on a talk she gave to a class of high school girls to encourage them to believe in themselves and finish their education. She is quite an inspiration.


That’s me with some women from a village called Oldonyonyoki. The woman in the centre used to perform the circumcisions, but these women and their village elders have embraced AMREF’s Alternative Rites of Passage so their girls will no longer be forced to endure FGM. And look at that amazing traditional Maasai beadwork the women have created. (Oh, and since you’re normally here to read about sewing and DIY, I’m wearing a dress I decided I HAD to make a couple of days before the trip using McCall’s 5890. Why do I put myself through that stress just before a big trip? Do you do that, too?)

Maasai woman

Beautiful Maasai woman


In the village of Oldonyonyoki, a traditional Maasai homestead or ‘boma’


My students shooting an interview with a former circumciser


Thanks to AMREF and the work of her village elders, this lucky baby girl won’t have to face FGM!

Would you support AMREF’s amazing work in helping to eradicate Female Genital Mutilation? Please visit my donor page to make a donation to AMREF. I wouldn’t ask you if I hadn’t seen for myself how effective AMREF has been at tackling this massive issue…not only are they saving girls from FGM but so many more girls are staying in school, which makes them better able to care for their families and better contributors to their society. The Alternative Rites of Passage program is making a real, tangible difference not only in the lives of these girls but also for their entire communities. What a great cause. I’ve seen how the sewing community can rally around a great cause before and I’m hoping I can fire us up for this one. 🙂


Some of my students and the villagers of Oldonyonyoki

At the risk of being frivolous (a-hem) after all that, here’s a better look at the dress I made from McCall’s 5890, View E, using a cotton jersey knit I had in my stash. We were told before our trip that we’d need to dress somewhat conservatively , so no mini skirts or shorts. This midi-length dress isn’t what I’d choose to wear normally, but it was the right amount of cover and loose enough to be perfect in the Kenyan heat.


I have so much more to share with you, including our time spent at AMREF’s drop-in centre for street kids in the Dagoretti slum of Nairobi — where kids can learn, among other things, how to SEW! — plus pics from our weekend safari. That’s coming up in another post soon!

Thanks so much for reading. And please do consider making a donation to support AMREF if you can.





I Was Smiling the Whole Time

There’s no doubt we could use more reasons to smile lately. It’s been a while since I’ve knitted something that made me excited to plan, happy to knit, and gleeful to wear. But this neck warmer was just the ticket!

Happy sheep cowl neck warmer

This is the I’ll Pack a Cowl for Rhinebeck by Deb Jacullo. Pssst — it’s FREE! Another reason to smile.

Sheep neckwarmer cowl

I made a couple of modifications to the pattern. I made the cowl smaller in circumference by leaving off one of the sheep from the chart, and since the chart is repeated twice, that means the width of two sheep were left off the circumference. This resulted in a closer-fitting neck warmer which I much prefer — I’ve never understood the use of scarf or cowl that gapes open around your neck…but then again, I do have a serious hate-on for any kind of cool breeze getting anywhere near my neck. It was a 7-stitch wide sheep, so I just cast on 14 fewer stitches to start and went from there.


Umm, those are snowflakes in my hair, not dandruff. Just sayin’.

I also made the neck warmer less tall by leaving off a few extra rows of ribbing at the top and bottom. If I did it again I would probably leave out some rounds below the sheep, as it’s still a bit too tall for me. Regardless, I feel happy whenever I’m sporting this cozy-cute thing! I highly recommend it as a pattern. And if you’re new to colour knitting, this is a great first project to give it a try. There are 4 colours in total but you only ever have to deal with two colours at a time in any given row, so it’s not terribly complex. It’s a great yarn stash busting project as well.

Here are a couple more things that make me happy: handmade knit socks. Watching the stripes and patterns develop makes them fun to knit, and wearing hand knit socks in winter is one of life’s great pleasures. Wool is naturally breathable like no other sock material I’ve ever tried, so it keeps you warm but if you do start to sweat you don’t get that horrible clammy feeling.

Basic Ribbed Socks pattern by Kate Atherley, knit with Regia sock yarn


Basic Ribbed Socks pattern by Kate Atherley, knit with Turtlepurl Perfect Pair sock yarn

I must’ve knit myself about 8 pairs of socks in the last few years, and I’ve used this same Basic Ribbed Socks pattern by Kate Atherley every time. (More free pattern happiness!) Occasionally I think I should try another type of sock design but I’m so happy with the fit of these that I figure why mess with a good thing? But I must admit that a few patterns have  made me consider cheating on poor Ms Atherley, like these Dotty Knots Socks — because colour! Or these Watermelon Slice Socks — because, well, watermelon! Or these Nightingale socks — because, holy shit, drop-dead gorgeous show-stopping outrageousness! So many happy-making sock pattern choices.

Here’s another thing that’s making me happy: next week I am leaving for a trip to Kenya. I’m taking a group of my university students who will be producing a short documentary as well as content for a social media campaign for AMREF — the African Medical Research and Education Foundation. We’ll be visiting AMREF’s drop-in centre for kids from the Dagoretti slum of Nairobi, where at-risk kids can make art, learn media production, learn cooking, and learn SEWING! We’ll also be spending a week in a Maasai village learning about AMREF’s Alternative Rites of Passage project, which aims to phase out the dangerous (and illegal) tradition of female genital mutilation by helping girls, village elders, and the young men the girls might marry to understand the risks involved with FGM, and to implement new traditions for this rite of passage from girlhood to womanhood. Last week we were lucky enough to have a young woman from Kenya named Nice visit our class to tell her story. As an 8-year-old, she was scheduled to do her rite of passage, which involves having the clitoris and parts of or all of the labia removed without anaesthetic. She and her older sister ran away the morning of the ceremony, and were beaten when they were caught. Nice ran away again when the ceremony was rescheduled, and has been working with AMREF ever since to help spread the concept of an alternative rite of passage. Happily she has become a leader in her community and travels around the world to help raise awareness.


Nice, third from left, and part of my team traveling to Kenya next week. Photo by Jennifer Foulds.

AMREF is doing amazing work and I’m so happy that my young students have an opportunity to learn about a completely different culture and have their perspectives and minds expanded. Open minds are another thing we could use more of these days, don’t you think?

I’m looking forward to telling you about my travels when I return. But beware, I’ll also be asking you to help support AMREF! I figure an organization that is providing sewing lessons to kids in need would be A-OK in your books, and worthy of support. Here’s a link to donate if you’re interested. AMREF is a registered charity and can provide tax receipts for your donation. http://www.amrefcanada.org/ryerson

What are the things that are making you happy these days?

Thanks so much for stopping by for a read!

A Helluva Coupla Weeks

Hi friends! Wow, it’s been a whirlwind couple of weeks for me lately. First of all, Helena and I have just released Episode #2 of the Clothes Making Mavens podcast, in which Helena interviews Lauren Taylor of the very popular Lladybird.com sewing blog. Want to know what makes Lauren crazy-mad? People who have no idea how much time, energy, and creativity it takes to write a blog post and assume you’ll be happy to just write a post about [insert product name here] on your own dime. I agree! And I love how fired up Lauren and Helena get while they discuss it. Check out the podcast and let us know what you think!

Clothes Making Mavens - A sewing podcast about handmade fashion - Episode 2 now available

In other news, I have been away on a wonderful trip to Utrecht, Netherlands, Oslo, Norway, and Copenhagen, Denmark for the past couple of weeks.

I was in the lovely city of Utrecht for a conference. Utrecht hosts one of the longest-running weekly fabric markets probably in the world. Every Saturday for, like, centuries (if a simple Google search is to be believed). And guess whose flight was scheduled to leave Utrecht on a Friday? THIS gal here with the thumbs. 😦  So no Dutch fabric shopping for me.


My husband sent me this shot of the view from his kayak on the canals in Utrecht while I was sitting in a boring conference session. 😐 Karmically, shortly after Dave took this shot a little boy of about 5 came running out of his backyard on the canal with a giant pole, and tried to knock Dave out of his boat with it. lol


Dining by the canal in Utrecht

In Oslo I visited a couple of friends, one of them a former student of mine who is working on PhD in Oslo. It’s a good place to do one, as tuition is free and students get paid a salary while they’re studying. So very civilized. Scandinavians really have their shit together. I thought about fabric hunting in Oslo, but everything was just SO expensive there that I thought it best not to even look. Instead I enjoyed the impossibly blue skies and inspiring architecture.


The skies above the Oslo Opera House


Urban kayaking in Oslo


Buildings in Tjuvholmen, Oslo


Well hello, Norwegian sailors!


The monolith in Vigeland Sculpture Park, Oslo


Vigeland Sculpture Park, Oslo


Vigeland Sculpture Park, Oslo

In Copenhagen I got lots of sewing room inspiration…check out this amazing apartment I rented through AirBnB!

Sewing room

One of the owners of the apartment designs and sews clothes and sells them in a boutique in another part of Denmark during the summer. I didn’t actually do any sewing while there, of course (I wouldn’t dream of using someone else’s machine without express permission, and besides, I was way too busy sight seeing) but I did spend a good deal of time just looking around this room and sighing. It’s full of printed knit fabric (right up my street!) and has a lovely view out over a very large shared garden.

IMG_2680 IMG_5646


The rest of the apartment was equally inspiring…


…except maybe for the terrifying gnome (I think that’s definitely a death grip he’s got on that poor fawn).


If you’re planning on heading to Copenhagen anytime soon, let me know if you’d like the info for this apartment.

And, on a very sad note, Dave and I had to say goodbye to our beloved little kitty Miss Pie earlier this week.

We’re not sure how old she was when we adopted her nine years ago (definitely full-grown, although she was such a tiny cat that ‘full-grown’ doesn’t seem like an apt descriptor) as we got her from a rescue organization. We were told she’d had a very rough go in her early years. She had no teeth at all; she had to have every last one of them removed due to a chronic mouth infection which finally mostly cleared up after her last remaining teeth were removed. For the approximately two years prior to that, she’d regularly fling giant blobs of snot onto any nearby surface (including my sleeping face) every time she sneezed. I am grateful we didn’t have to spend all nine of the years we had with her being so rudely awakened and cleaning up dried snot from various corners of the house. Have you ever seen that book How to Tell if Your Cat is Plotting to Kill You? Well, Miss Pie was definitely out to kill me. Her favourite spot to sleep was on my throat, and no matter how often I pushed her off my trachea as I woke up suffocating, she always slowly edged her way back. And when we adopted a new kitten a few years ago, Miss Pie beat the SHIT out of him regularly for the first year or so that he was with us, even when he got to be bigger than her. I’m sure he’s mentally damaged from all the abuse. Sounds like a horrifying cat, no? Well, she more than made up for it with her cuddly nature. There was no lap that was off-limits; no tummy that didn’t require kneading with her tiny paws. That girl wanted to cuddle ALL THE TIME. And I was happy to oblige.

Miss Pie was quite sick with kidney disease and pancreatitis, and it was really time to let her go. On the day we had scheduled the trip to the vet, my husband and I spent the morning cuddling with her in the backyard under the sun. Just before we had to leave, we went into the house to get our things and left her for a moment. When we came back out, she was gone without a trace — which was quite out of character for her. She was obviously all ‘fuck this, I’m outta here’, which made me proud of my feisty little gal. A few hours later we found her sleeping on the neighbours porch, and she smelled of tomato leaves, which makes me think she must’ve traipsed through someone’s vegetable patch. So she had a very good last day on her own terms, and then we said goodbye.

Love you, Miss Pie. ❤


Miss Pie – forever a photobomber

And that, my friends, is my lengthy catch-up! I hope all’s well with you. Thanks for stopping by for a read.

You’re Kraken Me Up and Jamaican Me Crazy

Dear readers, I want you to understand the huge sacrifices I have made to bring you this blog post. I sewed this summer top in October. I couldn’t very well just take pictures of it while shivering outside in front of a flaming orange maple tree, now could I? My discerning readers deserve better than that! So after much deliberation, I made the tough decision to do a photo shoot on location in Jamaica. No expense was spared for your reading pleasure, dear reader! And I endured daily tropical rains and dozens of mosquito bites, not to mention the horrors of eating succulent jerk chicken and fried plantain along with soursop mousse for dessert! I know what you’re thinking…that I’m such a selfless person to go to such lengths for you. I know, it’s true.

Burda 7051 Tokyo Train Ride Octopus fabric

Ha! Of course it went nothing like that. The real story is that my brother moved to Jamaica over a year ago and it was high time for a family visit, which I managed to plan for the fall reading week. And I couldn’t help myself but to sew something new for the trip. (I did attempt to sew a bikini but only managed to finish the bottoms before the deadline. Luckily for me but sadly for my half-finished bikini, Jamaicans aren’t so big on going topless on the beach.)

I first spied this amazing octopus print fabric — Cotton and Steel’s “Tokyo Train Ride” — on Jolies Bobines. Then a few months later Annie from The Enantiomer Project posted the Scout Tee she’d made from a Craftsy kit featuring this fabric. I succumbed to temptation (and of course, to the sale Craftsy was having) and grabbed the kit. However, I didn’t find the Scout Tee design terribly inspiring, so I used the fabric to make Burda 7051 instead. The kit came with almost 2 yards of fabric, and I managed to eke this top out of half of that.

Burda 7051 octopus top

This is my second version of this pattern. I made one in summer of 2013 in green woodgrain fabric as one of my first projects after getting into sewing again after about an 11-year hiatus. While I think I mastered the fit on this one, I’m not in love with the shape of this top (somehow I feel a bit dumpy in it), and wearing it reminds me that non-stretch wovens don’t make terribly comfortable clothes. This isn’t UN-comfortable, but I find myself having to readjust it fairly constantly after raising my arms up or bending over or whatever. Maybe that’s actually a fit issue but all I know is that stretch knits don’t generally cause that problem for me.

Burda 7051 octopus top

Look! This empty snail shell I just found is going to become a piece of silver jewelry soon. Either that or it’s going to give me a bad case of schistosomiasis.

I picked up a selection of empty snail shells as well as some coral skeletons to use in a mold-making workshop I’m going to be taking soon. I’ve always wanted to craft a silver ring out of a snail shell (I was really inspired by this Shell Ring by Helena Perez Lafaurie) and these shells seem to be the perfect size for a statement ring. I can use the coral as a texture for silver metal clay.

Burda 7051 octopus top

I used navy blue bias binding on the armholes and neckline, accidentally creating a funnel neck — the collar stands up rather than lying flat — but I actually really like the way that looks. Well, either that or I am deluding myself in order to avoid having to rip out the neck and shoulder seams to resew it.

Burda 7051 octopus top

I know it’s practically expected on sewing blogs to apologize for the slightest of wrinkles showing in the pictures, but I have to say that  that drives me around the bend. Since a freshly pressed cotton woven shirt only stays crease-free for about 4 seconds into wearing it, this is exactly what this top will look like in real life every time it’s worn. Full of wrinkles. I’m thinking about trying to start a #StopApologizingOnYourBlogForWrinklesAnd PointingOutThatTopstitchingMistakeYouMadeOrThatYourHairLooksABitFunny OrThatThere’sCatHairOnYourShirt CuzNobodySeesItButYouAndThat’sRealLife movement. (Even tho’ I’m guilty of such transgressions, too.) Let’s shed the shackles of perfection! Who’s with me? I promise to try to come up with a shorter hashtag. 😉

Anyway, it was a lovely few days in Jamaica. If it makes you feel any better (if you’re the envious type like me), it actually did rain every day we were there…but it was warm rain and didn’t stop us from enjoying ourselves, so please continue to be envious.

Here’s a little fellow that liked to hang around in the garden of the hotel we stayed at called Goblin Hill.

doctor bird

The Swallow-Tail Humming Bird (or “Doctor Bird”), the national bird of Jamaica. This fellow defended his territory around the feeder with surprising viciousness.

And the little fella below was clearly VERY happy to see me.


And here’s me trying to impersonate an octopus, and failing miserably. #outtake


Thanks for stopping by!

Fabric Porn: Fabric Shopping in Rome (with some Shoes, Cats, Ancient Ruins, and Cheesecake thrown in for good measure)

While I was on vacation in Italy last month I got a little obsessed about finding fabric stores wherever I went. Yelp was being cheeky and sending me to anything from card & gift shops to a grungy little hole-in-the-wall where a couple who should’ve long since been retired were presiding over some dusty old packages of sheet sets and were NOT happy when I wandered in asking “Tessuti? Avete tessuti?” (fabric? do you have fabric?) in broken Italian. Despite that, I managed to find some fabric shops and I thought I’d share my adventures with you.

I visited three fabric shops in Rome, all within a couple of blocks of each other.

Basetti Fratelli Tessuti (Corso Vittorio Emanuele II, 73)

This was the most extensive fabric shop I visited….room after room after room of fabrics stacked to the (very high) ceilings:


Bassetti Fratelli fabric shop: view from one room into another


Another room choc-a-bloc with fabric


I’m getting sucked into the Bassetti vortex here…it just keeps going.


A stack of designer fabric. Versace, anyone?


The old-school ‘cashier’.


My long-suffering husband kindly colour-coordinated himself for the shirting room.

I was actually way too overwhelmed to buy anything in this store. Option paralysis overcame me and I wandered out in a fabric overload haze.

Azienda Tessile Romana (Via S. Nicola Dè Cesarini, 13) & the The Largo di Torre Argentina Ruins

Just a short walk away from Bassetti Fratelli was Azienda Tessile Romana.


This was a much more manageable store, although I also left here empty-handed.



The most interesting thing about this shop for me was its location directly in front of a giant hole in the ground containing, oh, you know, ho-hum, ancient Roman temple ruins over 2,000 years old — the Largo di Torre Argentina. Apparently Julius Caesar was assassinated on or just adjacent to this site. NBD as the kids say ironically, or as as us oldies translate, No Big Deal.


The Largo di Torre Argentina, ancient ruins just hanging out in the middle of a busy Rome intersection.

This archeological site is in the middle of a fairly large and busy intersection, and you can wander around the edges having a look without buying a ticket or anything. It’s also home to a big feral cat colony who took advantage of all the nooks and crannies and respite from people and cars. You’re allowed to go in to a small area to one side during certain hours to visit the cats, and there’s a small shop of cat toys and souvenirs that help fund the cat shelter.


Did I visit the cats? Yes. Yes I did.

Did I visit the cats? Yes. Yes I did.

If this were anywhere else but Rome, this spot would be a VBD (Very Big Deal), complete with lineups of tourists anxious to part with their Euros to have a look around. But because it’s Rome, there seems to be something like this on just about every street corner. It’s an amazing city.

Oriani Gioielli Shop, Rodeo Belt Shop, and Discount Italian Shoes

If you were to draw a straight line from the front door of Azienda Tessile Romana right through these ruins and across the street, you would find this little shop that sells jewelry, gloves, and custom-made sandals — pick the style, flat or heel, and the colours and they’re ready within an hour or two. I’m told this style of sandal was popularized around Italy’s Amalfi Coast and the island of Capri.


But I digress. (I always digress where shoes are involved.) From here I wandered a couple of blocks south and wound up on Via di Sant’Elena, where I found the Rodeo Belts Shop. Here I bought the elusive yellow leather belt I’d been looking for for a couple of years, as well as a black suede wrist cuff.

Just a little further along the Via di Sant’Elena was a discounty-looking shoe store where I bought a really cute pair of ivory-coloured leather high-heeled oxfords for just 39 Euros. The sign outside says “Calzature Donna – Tutto a 39 Euro” and they take cash only. This is the only pair of shoes I bought while I was in Italy, and those who know me personally will know that I exercised jaw-dropping restraint!

Discount Italian leather shoes on the Via di Sant'Elena

Discount Italian leather shoes on the Via di Sant’Elena

Fatucci Tessuti

Around the corner on Via dei Falegnami (#63/64) is a much smaller, more manageable fabric shop than the other two I visited earlier — this one was just my speed. Fatucci Tessuti doesn’t have a sign outside so it’s easy to miss; just look for the red-framed door and the number 63 on the wall.


The fellow running this shop was very helpful (but camera shy). Lots of lovely silks at reasonable prices, starting at 8 Euros per meter, like this one that the shopkeeper insisted I take a photo of…


…but it was this cotton print featuring cranes (or maybe geese?) for 12 Euros per meter that I fell in love with.  It has an incredibly fine thread count and it is truly very ‘crisp’ feeling. I love the contrasting orange dots sprinkled on the periwinkle-blue background.


Jackpot! This crisp cotton print is coming home with me.

I have since made a dress with this fabric, which I’ll share with you in my next post.

If you’re in this area you’d be remiss not to go another few blocks to the “Jewish Ghetto”, centred around the Via del Portico D’Ottavia, where you’ll find the Forno del Ghetto (Bakery of the Ghetto). This is another business with no sign at all out front, so look for the window with the burnt-looking cakes.

The window at the Forno del Ghetto on Via del Portico D'Ottavia. Don't let their appearance fool you.

Cakes in the window at the Forno del Ghetto on Via del Portico D’Ottavia. Don’t let their appearance fool you.

The appearance of these cheese cakes belies their absolute deliciousness! Don’t even let the super-grumpy women gruffly serving the cake deter you from sampling them. Stand your ground when they glare at you when you walk in, and do not waver in your resolve when they bark at you whether you want chocolate or berry! You will be duly rewarded for your courage.

Forno del Ghetto chocolate cheesecake. YUM!

Forno del Ghetto chocolate cheesecake. YUM! I’m only a little shaken after interacting with the shopkeepers. 😉

Have you been fabric shopping in Rome? What treasure troves did you find?

Ranta in Roma: iCandy T-shirt


World’s fastest sew: the iCandy T-shirt (a free pattern — link below). Fun design details: the shoulder seams sit forward on the front of the Tee, and the back is a couple of inches longer than the front.


This t-shirt was lucky enough to have its debut in Rome! (And its model is lucky enough to currently be on vacation in Italy!) Ironically, the fabric is Italian-made, but I got it in Toronto from Downtown Fabrics at 436 Queen Street West. Anyone who’s shopped there knows that the shop owner makes lots of lame jokes (“For you? Only one yard avail-ee-able!”) and also makes you read out the label on each fabric he shows you: “Look at this! What does that label say?” If you don’t play along, he answers for you: “Ee-talian!!!! Best quality! Look at this one! Tell me what’s on that label!” “Ee-talian!!!,” I shout back.

I think it’s viscose. One day I will start writing down what the hell I’m buying when I actually buy it. It’s got amazing drape. I have enough of both the patterned fabric and the solid turquoise to make something else…a swishy skirt, maybe?


In other news, I got brand new Brother electronic sewing machine! In related news, it doesn’t work properly! I used it on this T-shirt but it kept eating the fabric…sucking it right down into the mouth of the feed dogs. Since I got the machine only a few days before leaving for Italy, I didn’t have the time or the inclination to figure out WTF so I finished the T-shirt with a zigzag stitch on my old Singer machine, which chose this very same moment to simply refuse to sew a twin needle stitch. I got this MF done with only hours to spare before it was time to leave for the airport, nerves a bit frazzled, but calmed by the thought of vacation. I’ll wrestle the new machine into submission when I get home…I’ll need the exercise to work off all the pasta, cheese, and gelato I’ve been eating.


I mentioned the iCandy T-shirt is a free pattern. <RANT>Here’s the link, but be warned: there is so much extra advertising garbage on that page that your internet connection will suddenly slow right down while the page AUTOMATICALLY loads no fewer than FOUR unwanted video advertisements.  Seriously? What a pain in the ass. So if you don’t mind either paying for all that extra data download, or patiently tracking down all the video windows to click the pause buttons, then there’s a cute, easy T-shirt pattern waiting as your reward. I’m happy that crafty bloggers are able to pay themselves through advertising on their sites but visiting that page was just ridiculous.</RANT>


One other note about the pattern: it comes only in size medium, but it is such a simple design — it’s just 3 pieces: front, back, neckband —  that you can easily modify it for other sizes. I cut & sewed the medium for a slightly baggy fit. I like this combination of fabrics and I’m sure I’ll wear this T-shirt a lot.


Spring Farm Babies!

If you live anywhere within several hundred kilometers of where I do (Toronto), I’m going to safely assume you, too, are ready to poke your own eyes out with a dull spoon if this damn winter doesn’t f%#k the f%#k off really soon. Until then, here’s a little vicarious treat to tide you over: spring farm babies! I recently returned from a volunteering trip to Honduras, Central America, where my students and I went to shoot video productions for the charitable organization El Hogar and volunteer on their agricultural school farm, and it was baby season on the farm. It’s good to know it’s spring somewhere!

Winter-weary people, I give you…BABY CHICKS!

Baby chicks!

Lots of baby chicks!

Baby chicks cozying up under the heat lamps.

I think this might be love.

I think this might be love.

I give you…BABY GOATS!

Baby goat!

Just a few days old.

Three-day-old baby goat jumping its way towards me and straight into my heart.


More ridiculous jumping baby goat! So young it still has its umbilical cord attached.

Baby goat!

Baby goat snoozing in my lap! (Photo credit: Brooke Finkelstein)




K, this one's not a baby but that Mona Lisa smile is pretty irresistible.

K, this one’s not a baby but that Mona Lisa smile is pretty irresistible.

I give you…BABY COW!

One day old and mom is already able to leave this kid unsupervised. Why can't human babies be this easy??

One day old and mom is already able to leave this kid unsupervised. Why can’t human babies be this easy??


Lori patting baby calf

Happy birthday, baby! One day old! (Photo credit: Ashley Lewis)


Who is cuter? Tough call.

Who is cuter, the puppy or Brittany? Tough call! (Photo credit: Ashley Lewis)

Mikael figures it's time for this pup to learn to walk upright. :)

Mikael figures it’s time for this pup to learn to walk upright. 🙂



Look at the tiny spotted one! Look at those noses! Squeeeeee!


A Family of Turkeys!


Right, so baby turkeys win the booby-prize for least cute farm babies. But their father is rather handsome.

Unfortunately not all the farm babies were healthy. The little lamb below was born too early. One night about 10 o’clock a wolf came visiting the farm looking for a meal, and made one of a hen and some of her chicks pictured above, and scared the ewe below into early labour. In the morning, not realizing what had happened the night before, I came to the goat & sheep pen for a visit and the little lamb below was lying on its side, struggling, while its mother bleated piteously. The mother can’t feed it unless it can stand up on its own and reach her udder. We all thought the lamb would be dead very soon. I ran and got a towel to wrap it so it wouldn’t be cold in the cool air of 6 am. Miraculously, later in the day, I could see that the lamb was making incredible efforts to get itself up, and by late afternoon, it was standing! I never thought it would make it that far. I took the picture below using my zoom lens because I didn’t want to get anywhere near these two and risk disturbing the delicate feeding procedure they were trying to undertake. I went to bed that night worried, but optimistic that this lamb might just beat the odds.


Early the next morning things weren’t looking so good. The lamb was back on its side and weak. I helped a couple of the boys on the farm capture the ewe and lay her down on her side, and we gently force-fed the lamb with her teats. Unfortunately the lamb died right in my hands just a few moments later, and I’ll tell you what — it was super-traumatizing for this city-slicker. The mother was traumatized, too; she didn’t stop bleating for 2 days straight, maybe more — we had to leave to go home later that same day so I don’t know for sure. I try to make myself feel better by remembering that I did my best to make the lamb comfortable and happy in the few hours that it was alive on this earth.

And I focus on the happy, healthy goat babies that made me laugh and smile the whole time I was on the farm, and I am content. 🙂


I’ve never thought I could be so happy sitting around in piles of goat shit. 😀

A sock-themed road trip

This month I took a road-trip vacation with my best guy in our new(ish) car. We drove from Toronto to New York City to visit friends, then on to Cape Cod, Boston, and Vermont. Then it was home via Montreal (to shop at Simons, of course) and  a stop at my brother’s cottage north of Kingston, Ontario.

Being the first road trip we’d done in a long while, I was excited at the prospect of not having to worry about packing efficiently for a plane trip. While I did pack 7 pairs of shoes (!), which was ridiculous even for me, I did resist the momentary temptation to tote along my sewing machine. But sorry, sewing, you ain’t got nothing on knitting when it comes to traveling. So I packed up my trusty Wise Hilda’s Basic Ribbed Sock pattern, a couple of skeins of sock yarn, my metal double-pointed needles (with a weird worry as to whether they would let me cross the border with metal knitting needles, until I remembered I wasn’t going on a plane), and hit the road.

By the time we got to Vermont, I had a nifty new pair of wool socks. And I almost managed to make them exact copies of each other, stripes-wise — totally by fluke, of course; doing so on purpose would require far too much forethought and planning for measure-once-cut-twice me.

Ribbed socks

Sock Selfie

Fun fact: the state of Vermont has a law against any billboards along highways. (Not so fun fact: the state of New Hampshire kinda scares my Canadian sensibilities with their LIVE FREE OR DIE motto on their license plates. Surely there is some room for discussion if it came down to it, no?)

Fun Vermont fact #2: Vermont is the home of the Darn Tough socks company, which has a lifetime guarantee on their socks. How could I resist buying a pair, especially after just having heard a radio program all about companies who offer lifetime guarantees and the crazy returns they have to accept, including weird stories about Darn Tough Socks? They aren’t as nice feeling on the feet as my own hand-knits, but my hand-knit socks will last maybe 18 months before there’s a big hole in the heel. (I must learn how to darn socks and completely solidify my reputation as a prematurely elderly person.) A lifetime guarantee for socks is pretty freaking radical. Perhaps it would be more fitting if Darn Tough moved their operations to New Hampshire. “GIVE ME HOLE-FREE SOCKS OR GIVE ME DEATH” could be their motto.

Darn Tough socks

By the time we were on the road back to Toronto, I had begun work on another pair.

Basic Ribbed Socks in progress

Upon my arrival back in the T-Dot, I noticed a preponderance of extremely well groomed male tourists in my neighbourhood, and was puzzled momentarily until I remembered we are proudly hosting World Pride this week. There are tens (hundreds?) of thousands of visitors and locals all having a wonderful time celebrating love and diversity. I am so, SO happy to live in a city that practices not just tolerance, but real inclusiveness. There’s absolutely no place like home. Happy Pride! And come visit Toronto sometime — it’s an incredible city!

I <3 TorontoWorld Pride Toronto


Going, Going, Ghana: batik dress and tales of adventures in Ghana


I’m really happy to have finally completed this dress. I started it almost a year ago! It was almost a wadder a couple of times…in fact, I wadded it up last night and chucked it dramatically in the garbage can when the zipper broke. (The same zipper that I had already sewn in and ripped out and sewn in again a second time.) Bless my darling husband, he fished it out of the trash and repaired the broken zipper for me. He knows just how to handle my sewing drama queen outbursts. He’s a keeper.

Anyway, thanks to Project Sewn’s Going Global challenge this week for giving me a good excuse to ‘unwad’ this and get it done. The dress pattern is Burda’s “Fatina” #6051 , a simple design that shows off this amazing batik fabric I purchased last year in Ghana to its best advantage. The market in the city of Ho in Volta Region has a bunch of stalls that sell gorgeous Ghanaian batik cloth in a riot of colours.

Batik Fabric Stall at the Ho Market, Volta Region, Ghana

Batik Fabric Stall at the Ho Market, Volta Region, Ghana


Close-up of the batik fabric


The fabric before I cut it for the dress

So how come I was lucky enough to have gone to Ghana, you ask? (Or maybe you didn’t ask, but I’m going to tell you anyway!) I was there on my second volunteering holiday with Disaster Volunteers of Ghana. The first time I went, in 2011, I helped raise money for and construct a new school house for the village of Biakpa. Here’s a picture of the finished 3-room school house, along with some of the kids who use it:

The new 3-room school house in Biakpa

The new 3-room school house in Biakpa

I wrote more about my experience with the Biakpa school on the Going Going Ghana blog…that’s the organization my friends and I run to help fund projects in Ghana.

The second time I went to Ghana, in 2013, I brought some of my university students along with me because I knew that spending 2 weeks volunteering in a rural village would change their lives like it had for me. So off we went to the village of Adaklu Dawanu, this time to build a school and a community radio station. But before we went, we spent months and lots of energy raising money to fund the projects. My sister and I turned my dining room table into what we called our “jewelry sweat shop”… we created lots of beaded necklaces and bracelets and my wonderful friends and even strangers bought them to show their support. You can view some of the pieces that sold in this Facebook album.  I was delighted to tally up that just with jewelry sales alone, I turned a $500 investment in materials into a $2000 donation to DIVOG. All told, our group raised over $25,000. Amazing.

Here are some pics from my second trip to Ghana last year.


Hanging out with some girls from Adaklu Dawanu. They had just given a dance performance. And that poor baby on my back looks rightfully worried. You need a decent set of boobs to hold up one of those baby slings.


My nephew building bricks for the new school. Everything was done by hand — no construction machinery!


Some children from Adaklu Dawanu ham it up for the camera.


Bringing donations to one of the smaller villages.

Digging trenches for the foundation for a new community radio station

Digging trenches for the foundation for a new community radio station


A village elder schools us with some dance moves. Just look at those gorgeous fabrics!


There’s always time to dance!

If you’re interested to know more about volunteering in Ghana, you can check out Going Going Ghana.com, DIVOG.org,  or feel free to get in touch with me! I’d be delighted to tell you more!