My grandmother died 20 years ago this past  weekend. It’s hard to believe it’s been that many years. I remember packing my car to drive from the North Shore of Long Island to Upstate South Carolina for the funeral like it was yesterday.  It was packed with books, as I was to take my comps the next week.  So much has happened since then – in the blink of an eye.

Margaret and Ed Guy
Grandma, with her future husband.  He died when I was two.

Before she died, she spent about 10 years (or more) struggling with Alzheimer’s. Back then, we didn’t really know what Alzheimer’s was, and just thought she was a little kooky. As grand-kids, I don’t think we were especially kind, though by the mid-90s, and my mid-20s, we knew she wasn’t odd, but that something was really wrong.  I found my compassion then, but it was too late to get to know her.


Carol and Margaret Guy Christmas
Grandma, with my mom, and their dog Debbie.  My mom is fairly advanced with Alzheimer’s.

My relationship with  my grandmother was complicated. My grandmother didn’t like that I was in politics… she wanted me to find a husband, have children, settle down. I did that eventually, and even became the teacher she thought I should be. Along the way, she taught me to garden, preserve food, and to sew.

Ed and Margaret Guy in Knoxville TN
Grandma, with grandad just before he set out for WWII.

I’m going through all the family files and photos, and I’m seeing a different woman than the grandmother I knew.  She laughed a lot.  That’s what striking

My grandmother was a remarkable in ways that I can finally respect. She married young, into what became career military.  At that time, it meant raising her daughter while her husband was at war (three wars!!). Later, she returned to her homestead in South Carolina with a new husband (the man I would know as my grandfather, as her first husband died when I was 2). There she forged a career of sorts for herself at Converse College.

John and Margaret Melton
Grandma with her second husband, the man I would know as Grandpa.

My  grandmother was a really great seamstress, helping me to learn the finer points of sewing.  She was also into millinery.

One of the things I’ve learned about her in recent days is just how good a seamstress she always was – even if I didn’t appreciate it much as a middle school kid. In this picture, she is wearing an outfit she curated, sewing the dress herself. It’s 1940, she’s not quite 17, and she had just won the dress revue for the State of South Carolina 4-H club. She was headed for a free trip to Chicago to the national 4-H meetings.  Her budget:  $10.

Margaret Finch
Grandma, in the dress that won her the dress revue competition for the state of SC in 1940.



My sewing space is a disaster…

I’d like to say I’ve been sewing, but I haven’t for about a month.  Too many things demanding my time, and I’ve been exhausted.  I mentioned I start a new job in the fall (at the same place), but parts of that job have already begun, while I continue with the old.  And when I don’t sew, I buy fabric.  Ooops.

In any case, this is the state of my sewing room with two abandoned – no just set aside for now – projects in disarray (the Guy Laroche suit and a skirt/top combo).


Work isn’t the only thing keeping me busy.  I’ve been working on two side projects as well.  Project #1 is scanning, organizing, and archiving all of the family photos.  My dad died a year ago tomorrow, and we’re still cleaning out the house.  I’ve scanned 1000 photos so far – photos that go back to the 1880s. I’m not kidding when I say there are about 3000 more to go (though I think many are duplicates).  It’s a challenging project, as many of the photos aren’t labeled, so I’ve been in contact with other relatives for help.  It’s also a joyous one!  I’m seeing my parents and grandparents as children and young adults.  It makes them more complex, interesting. I’ve also found pictures of my grandfather’s flight crew in World War II (Pacific theater), and I’m trying to locate their families so I can send them these snapshots.


Ed Guy and Crew
“October 1945 Okinawa. Rebuilding of Enlisted Men’s Tent of the Crew. After Typhoon. LtoR: Bill Maher, Joe Collins, George Magar and me.” (my grandfather)

Project #2 is the ongoing re-landscaping of our yard and garden.  My window for planting is nearly gone – it will soon be too hot for that.

Meanwhile, here’s a picture of some of the fabrics I’m hoping to sew up in the next few weeks.  I have other projects mixed in there too, but I only pulled a few of the linens out for the time being.  I need tops/blouses, and I have some beautiful linen, silk, and cotton fabrics to make those.


Carolyn Pajamas for my niece

I sew in snippets, usually for an hour after my son goes to bed.  Sometimes I lose interest in a project before I finish because I feel like I’ve been working on it forever.  I dream of having a day where I can do nothing but sew.  We have had upper respiratory illnesses since Thanksgiving, so my gift sewing wasn’t happening at all (too tired nights).  I took yesterday off to sew my niece her gift.  All day sewing – yay!

Or not.   I was exhausted by four in the afternoon.  The longer I sewed, the more mistakes I made.  The grass isn’t always greener… perhaps having longer occasional sewing sessions would be nice, but not an all day sewing session, to hit a deadline, to mail the gift away.

Carolyn Pajamas Pattern // Pajama bottom + long sleeved pajama top // Closet Case Patterns
From the Closet Case website.

In any case, I made my niece the Carolyn Pajamas (Closet Case) for Christmas, using Harry Potter “Marauder’s Map” cotton and matching mottled red quilting cotton from JoAnns.  I started a pair of these pjs for myself back in the early spring, but never finished them. Not an issue with the pattern, so much as repeated operator error on the serger (I cut the shorts out three times).  For my niece, I went with the shorts and long sleeved shirt, with piping.

She’s still a little girl at heart, but nearly grown up at 12. Her measurements put her at the size 0, barely.  I have a feeling  it will be too big, and the button on the shirt will be too low.  On the other hand, she should be having a pretty big growth spurt soon.

The Carolyn pjs from Closet Case are pretty popular, and have been reviewed all over the place, so I won’t go into too many details.  Rather, I thought I’d give my impressions as someone who usually sews the big 4.

  1. The instruction booklet is very detailed.  It’s almost overwhelming.
  2. The instructions have little tiny errors every where, mostly in the artwork.  For example, on the shirt pocket, you are instructed to top-stitch above the piping, and the first picture shows this, but in the next step, the top stitching seems to be on the bottom.
  3. The wrong side of the fabric is shaded in the artwork, while the right side is white. This is opposite companies like Vogue, and took some getting used to.
  4. The instructors are definitely written for people who hate to hand-sew.  But you’d get better results if you basted, by hand.  For example, I sewed the facing on one lapel three times before it went in properly.  The next facing I basted and got it right on the first try. I basted often, actually: with almost all of the piping, the collar, and every place you were secure something with stitching-in-the-ditch (cuffs on shirt, short, waistband, collar).  Since I had already done the short for myself, I knew I’d get better results with basting.
  5. A recommendation for the piping on the shirt pocket:  open up the piping and trim the piping to the seam/foldline on the side of the pocket.  I didn’t, the instructions did not suggest it.  And as I was topstitching that pocket into place, I regretted it.  It puckers slightly at the edges, and is bulky.  Lesson learned.

In general, I’m very pleased with how they turned out.  I didn’t buy enough of the Harry Potter fabric – I bought enough for the short sleeved version.  And the pattern is very busy.  I knew, even with a single-layer layout, I would not be able to match the pattern.  As a result, I focused on pattern placement and aligning the pattern horizontally as much as possible.

For contrast, I made my own piping with the mottled red quilting cotton.  I had intended to do the lapel/collar in contrast as well, but the red faded to a brighter color than the red in the main fabric when I pre-washed.  Therefore, I used the contrast only where it helped with pattern matching – the top of the pocket on the shirt, the pockets in the shorts, and the under-collar.  When it made sense I used red thread, but mostly used the lighter colored thread.

Hope she likes them!



Visiting mom, easy pullover.

I just returned to Florida after visiting my mom in the nursing home in Tennessee.  I also spent two days with my brother cleaning out my parent’s home.  This weekend we focused on cleaning out their massive collection of genealogy records and started on the family photos.  Both are big tasks.  I’m taking over their research, and we plan to scan all the photos to distribute among family.  Here are two great photos of my parents as teenagers:

Visiting mom isn’t easy. She’s in her early 70s, but has late-stage dementia.  She doesn’t know who I am, exactly, but she was happy to see my brother and me.  The moment of real connection was after about 10 minutes when I said you need a hug.  I  leaned over to hug and kiss her, and she returned the hug.  But the hug was strong from her and warm.  It’s hard to describe, but it’s like her old self was there.  She said, “this is nice.”  She was a little like herself too, showing me around her “house” and trying to find a place where I could stay the night.  It was difficult to leave.


I knew it would be cold in Tennessee, so I made something, of course. I wore it as a jacket/ pullover all three days.  It’s very roomy – on the coldest day I had a long sleeve tee and regular sweatshirt on underneath!  I made Very Easy Vogue 9330 in a couple of hours last week.  I plan on making one for my mom to wear, too.


I had no problems with the pattern, though there is one error!  The pattern pieces are printed with instructions to hem 1/4 inch.  The instructions say 1.25 inches.  I went with the larger hem.  I made it a medium (size 12/14) with no alterations.  The sleeves are long – though they appear 3/4 on the pattern envelope, they skim my wrists.

I  often build Lego kits with my son.  And when I do, I sometimes think they have additional blocks to build a regular block so they can “up the difficulty” with more pieces.  This pattern is similar.  You could easily cut the back on a fold to eliminate a seam.  To get a slimmer look, you could eliminate the side and under arm panels.  You could add a sporty look with top-stitching (I top-stitched the hems, after serging).


Another note: you don’t get the sleeve shaping shown in the drawings on the front – and you’ll note there is no shaping in the line drawings.  The sleeve opening is MUCH wider as well.

Last, the fabric:  a cotton/rayon/poly blend French terry from Emma One Sock.  I really like it (and she still had some two days ago).  It’s soft and drapey, but it does shed.  I stitched all seams on my regular machine and serged to finish the seams. The pattern recommends sweatshirt fleece, ponte, or wool knit with 35% stretch, but the amount of ease really negates the need for stretch mostly.

I took these photos after arriving home from the airport, so forgive the wrinkles and fatigue.




Halloween Photos

I’m so tired!  You know what happens when a seven year old goes to bed more than an hour late, still wound up?  He wakes up an hour early (at 5 am).  I feel bad for the teachers this morning.



This year we went as vampires, though, because we were running late getting over to my son’s friend’s neighborhood, we didn’t finish the makeup.  And, that big giant wig I was wearing covered most of my costume.


Patterns:  Simplicity 1045 view A (dress); McCalls 4139, views B & C (adult capes); McCalls 7494, view D (child cape and vest); McCalls 2447 (men’s vest).  Note: the cape run long on me, but the dress was soooo short.  I added two inches at the waist, as I normally do for my long waist.  I still didn’t have enough length for a 1.5 inch (much less proper) hem, so I turned and stitched a 3/8th inch one.  I also dropped the sleeves from the dress and changed how the back drape was done.  Other than that, no issues with the patterns.  DH and DS wore their own pants and t-shirts (it was 80F/27C degrees out, but no humidity).

Fabric:  Lots of polyester here.  I means yards and yards!  All the satin and chiffon was from Mood Fabrics.  The satin was nicer quality than I would expect, medium heavy with drape.  The weight on the dress meant I didn’t have to worry about cling.  The braid for the dress was also Mood.  The bemberg rayon lining was from Emma One Sock, in my stash.

The two vests are layered.  I used the black satin as the base in the front, and layered it with the spiderweb mesh/tulle from JoAnns (they seem to carry it every year – Witching Hour brand).


After I made the buttonholes and attached the buttons, the boys decided they wanted skull buttons.  Given I’d already made the holes, I was limited in what I could buy size wise.  After many searches, I settled on what turned out to be very small, but very high quality buttons from Joyce’s Trimming on Etsy.


I know it’s a lot of work and more money than purchasing costumes.  But the year we bought costumes they were so cheap it wasn’t worth the money or time saved.  We carefully box away the costumes for another year.  Some day soon, the boy won’t want to match us and we can recycle.


Halloween Preview

Catching my breath.  It’s been a busy past couple of weeks.  My husband and I hosted a spooky luau for 45 people (including kids) – and cooked/smoked all the food.  I’m still putting things away.  I also made a major life decision – to cut back at work to focus on my family and me.  I put in my “retirement” letter last week – as well as an application for a new position at the same location (bureaucracy/budget lines make this necessary).  Hopefully, in a week or two, I’ll know if that maneuver is successful.  I do know that once I made the decision,  my sleep improved immediately.

Anyway,  the sewing I’ve been doing?  Halloween costumes.  Some preview pictures:

A family of vampires!  I have to cut out those chiffon sleeves tonight…
DH wanted skull buttons. So, they are on order. And, more pressing.
Did this last night for a fitting.  Need some adjustments, then I can press out those seams!

And, still fasting.  More than a year since I bought RTW.  The RTW fast ends at the end of this year, and I’d like some new workout clothes. I have no interest in making my own!


Life sometimes takes a difficult turn.


I haven’t posted in some time, but I wanted to say that I’m okay, or I will be.  In the last few months I’ve buried my father and institutionalized my mother.  It was unexpected.  It started with a phone call last January from my sister – who never calls – to say they had been in a car accident, but were okay.  But they weren’t.  The trauma pushed my (unharmed) mother into late-stage Alzheimer’s.  My dad cracked his sternum, but was okay and recovering.

But then, March 4, my dad called to say he wasn’t doing so well, and was headed back to the ER.  I flew up to visit, pay bills for him, clean house etc. While he seemed well, I froze.  Everything stopped.  My dad seemed so fragile.  My mom was so happy in her new situation – chatting away about all the old days (I got lucky and saw her on good days).  She talked about her husband, and how proud she was of her children (even though she didn’t know who I was).  But I froze.  Every day – phone calls.  Then my dad got better, though he still hadn’t gone home.  Then last month, he contracted pneumonia in the nursing facility, and died three days later.  None of us expected it.

I told my sister-in-law, who lost her father nineteen years ago,  that I finally understood her pain.  I told my students that you cannot understand and that no one prepares you for the loss of a parent.

It’s been almost a month now, and I’m not nearly as frozen anymore.  I’m partaking in things I enjoy again for the first time since my dad called March 4.  I’m still writing letters to my parent’s friends, and that helps work through the grief.

My mom was the artistic one, the one who taught me to sew.  My dad was the introvert, and he was the parent I was closest too, the parent I am most like.  He was the one I called and emailed.  He encouraged me to learn, study hard and pursue my degree.  He is with me always.  I’m reminded of him everywhere.