Category Archives: Book Review

Sewing Machine Punk? Is there such a thing?!


I finally visited AllSaints Spitalfields on Wednesday. Here’s a travel log of my trip.

AllSaints Spitalfields is in the 900 N. Michigan Building—part of the Magnificent Mile in Chicago. The store sells clothing and accessories for men and women with a gothic/Victorian theme.

The entry is a cathedral to the Industrial Revolution: instead of stained glass, old black sewing machines are shelved over every inch of the window. No wonder people call this look steam punk.

What is this place? AllSaints Spitalfields.

What is this place? AllSaints Spitalfields, photo courtesy of Google Maps, Photo by AllSaints.

Inside, the display cases are adapted from large sewing machines and other real and pseudo machinery.

Thank goodness I don't have to pedal this treadle long arm.

Time or money has warped and smoked the mirrors.

Is it me, or is it dark in here? By the way, I am wearing the Ribbed and Cabled Sweater that I designed. I just finished it last week!

The store is successful at creating atmosphere. A fellow shopper gushed that it was an “eye meal”!

Here, there be monsters

AllSaints’ clothing whispers and grumbles in grayish champagne, black, white, and a few other dull but beautiful tones. The most colorful item was a dress printed with sea creatures reminiscent of monsters found on old world maps. Highlights of the spring/summer 2012 collection include miniskirts with matte sequins arranged in a “tribal” pattern, a white eyelet maxi dress tied with a leather belt, fitted jackets, a drop-stitch sweater in faded black, and draped and pleated dresses and tunics made of washed satin. They even offer a complicated get-up of folded and twisted fabric that looks like a dress but is worn as an onesy! Since I wasn’t shopping to buy, I didn’t notice any price tags. Online the store offers clothing from $40 for bikini bottoms, to $550 and up for leather jackets and heavily beaded dresses.

Which reminds me of a book…

It all reminds me of  Mortal Engines, a book. (Yes, I read Young Adult fiction from time to time. Please don’t let anyone know, it’s a carefully guarded secret!)

Mortal Engines, by Philip Reeve, tells of a post-apocalypse world in which portable cities scavenge Europe looking for food and resources. In this future, all our current computer technology has been lost and mechanical ingenuity rules. But, forget the plot! I enjoyed the descriptions of this alternate (hopefully) future and the reverence with which they held the past computer glories (such as, shiny plastic discs). Peter Jackson is working on a movie!? Similar, and better, is The Golden Compass series by Philip Pullman.

Tulips’ last stand

In contrast to the dark interior of AllSaints, the sun shone brilliantly outside. This winter was so warm, the tulips are nearly finished for the season.

Michigan Avenue in Chicago. April 18, 2012

Over the blue double-decker bus you can see the top of the Marilyn Monroe sculpture and Chicago Tribune headquarters behind that. This is also on Michigan Avenue in Chicago.

I hope you are having a beautiful spring and enjoying something new or beautiful today!

Be of good cheer!


Book Review: Create Your Own Free-Form Quilts by Rayna Gillman


Cover of the book, "Create Your Own Free-Form Quilt" by Rayna Gillman

I picked up Create Your Own Free-Form Quilts by Rayna Gillman from the library. (I love that they will text me when a book I have placed on hold arrives at my local branch!) Unfortunately, I couldn’t read it until late that night. Although I was yawning and my eyes were tearing up, I couldn’t put the book down. Finally, I went to bed, but I was too excited to sleep!

Such is the thrilling life of a quilter!

I see the light!

Cathy holding up fabric for a Kafe Fasset quilt

Getting on my hands and knees for fabric...I find it easiest to use my mat and rotary cutter on the floor.

I’ve dabbled with a couple of versions of free-form quilting, but nothing like this! To me, Rayna Gillman’s methods are a revelation. Rayna makes quilting sound like a mixture of cooking, math and mixed martial arts. In Create Your Own Free-Form Quilts, she explains how she slices, dices, multiplies, divides, rotates and flips!

Once you know her techniques you can find what works for you. As she says, there are no mistakes in free-form quilting.

One step at a time

Rayna gives step-by-step examples of her techniques, each with its own color photo. She auditions many possibilities. Later in the book you see how some of her examples fit into new quilts.

She’s flexible about her methods. If you want to fuse bits and pieces, go for it! (Although she generally sews.) Her rallying cry is, “What if?”

Rayna’s Method: Part A

Rayna encourages you to dive in and sew strips together. She calls this therapy sewing. It helps you see unexpected combinations and gets you moving. If you are really stuck, she says, “Don’t look, just sew.” As you sew you’ll see things you like, then follow your instincts.

Rayna’s Method: Part B

Once you have “strip sets” and modules you like, it’s time to move to the design wall. This begins the “slow design” phase. It is the time to rearrange and reflect. If it works, great! If not, go back to the first phase and more play!

Rayna to the rescue

Rayna Gillman shows how to rescue “the dogs.” By “dogs” she means quilt blocks and tops that you’ve abandoned. You probably are tempted to toss them. Instead, give them therapy! This is my favorite section of the book. She takes some really horrible blocks she made in the 1970s and 1980s and turns them into something current and interesting. Some of her blog readers also accepted the challenge to transform the dogs. I love to see how different people solve the “problem” blocks in different ways.

Quilting color

Rayna includes a terrific chapter about fearless color. She learned from her grandmother, “Nanny,” who embroidered unexpected colors. Her Nanny told her, “Darling, there’s no such thing ‘as doesn’t go’. You can use any colors together as long as you repeat them somewhere.”

Like all the C&T Publishing books I’ve read, the quality is top-notch. (When I write a book, they are one of the publishers I will contact.)

Initial blocks that I created following, "Create Your Own Free Form Quilts".

Blocks on the Quilting Room Floor: Here are first modules that I created following, "Create Your Own Free Form Quilts".

What’s my vote?

I love this book. I’ve already started sewing and slicing a new quilt based on it. Beginning quilters might find this book too free-form. Don’t expect any projects in this book. All the same, you’ve got to check it out. Or, buy it!

You learn more about Rayna and see lots of her work at her website:


P.S. In an up-coming post, I ‘ll show you step-by-step, how I followed Rayna’s methods to create my own free-form quilt!

Book review: Bust DIY Guide to Life

Bright pink, girly cover of the Bust DIY Guide to LIfe

The Bust Do It Yourself Guide to LIfe: At 368 pages--That's a LOT of book to love!

My first exposure to Bust magazine, I wasn’t even aware of the connection. A friend invited me to a “Stitch ‘n Bitch” in Lansing, Michigan. The name was humorous and perfect – an event for stitching and talking with other women! To be more kid-friendly, we abbreviated the group name to SNB.

Although most of the others were knitting or crocheting, I decided the word “stitch” entitled me to do any kind of stitching. At each monthly gathering, you’d find me hand stitching strips of fabric into quilt squares!

As an aside, I wasn’t the only one with a loose interpretation of stitch. One creative soul used her iron and Stitch Witchery® to make curtains. (If you are not familiar, Stitch Witchery is a fusible “tape” that can be ironed with other fabric to make a hem.) That day the weather was so nice, we sat outside. The girl making the curtains set up her ironing board in the yard and made magic!

Jump to the present. I’ve moved away from Lansing and the SNB crew, but I still quilt, sew, make soap and any other crafty project I come across.

Getting to Know You…

In the last 6 years I started knitting too. As a result, I learned that the founder and editor of Bust magazine, Debbie Stoller, helped to popularize the term stitch ‘n bitch.

Debbie Stoller was one of the 1st feminists to embrace DIY (do it yourself) and helped change the perception of crafts from old fashion to hip. Having a PhD in Psychology of Women from Yale makes her an authority on the subject and an inspiration to me.

Since learning to knit, I have read several of Debbie Stoller’s books including Stitch ‘n Bitch Nation and Stitch ‘n Bitch Superstar Knitting: Go Beyond the Basics. I have even picked up a few second-hand issues of Bust magazine. The magazine is empowering, gritty and gets below the shellac of modern life. It is feminism for now.

The latest book from Debbie Stoller is, “The Bust DIY Guide to Life: Making Your Way Through Every Day” (published in 2011 by STC Craft). This book is empowerment through know-how. The premise is the more we know how to do, the freer we are and the more choices we have. Crafts aren’t to be rejected as some domestic carry-over from the past, but rather, embraced as enjoyable arts and skills.

But Wait There’s More!

The Bust DIY Guide to Life isn’t just about crafts. It literally covers life from the cradle to the grave. To give you an idea of the scope of this book, topics include: camping, clam digging, natural skin care, cooking, but also… home births, DIY funerals (really), plumbing, financial security, among many other topics. As the introduction says, “…DIY is not just about making things – it’s also about making a life.”

Each topic is a stand-alone article that was originally published in Bust. As a graphic designer I enjoyed the fun design, project photos and illustrations curated by Laurie Henzel, Debbie’s co-founder of Bust.


Some people might not enjoy all the double entendre, but that’s simply the Bust coming through! (Did I mention that Bust is sexy like a librarian?) If you have young ones or certain sensitivities, I have to issue a “potty mouth” alert!

This book is smart and sassy. It holds 15 years of accumulated wisdom expressed in the way only Bust does – worldly wise and cut the crap!

Check it out!

P.S. has sample pages from the book, so you can see for yourself!

The Gutsy Dressmaker

Book Cover Image - The Dressmaker Khair Khana

The Beautiful Cover of The DressMaker

Last week I finished The Dressmaker of Khair Khana: Five Sisters, One Remarkable Family, and the Woman Who Risked Everything to Keep Them Safe by Gayle Tzemach Lemmon. The book is a non-fiction account of Kamila Sidiqi during the 5+ years of Afghanistan life under the Taliban.

Life Under the Taliban

The day that Kamila Sidiqi graduated from teaching college was the same day the Taliban entered Kabul, the capital of Afghanistan.

Blue veil to cover the entire female form, with the only opening a small mesh for the eyes.

Screen capture of the traditional Afghanistan chadri or burqa.

Immediately the Taliban enforced a super strict version of Islamic law—with rules such as:

  • Women must not work
  • Women must stay home
  • Women must be escorted by a male family member when outside the home
  • Women must be covered with a full chadri in public

Showing too much wrist or laughing in public were taboo also. Rule breakers were beaten on the streets and could be taken to prison.

Women weren’t the only ones targeted. Her eldest brother couldn’t work for fear of being forced into fighting for the Taliban. With his background in the army, Kamila’s father was at risk too. Persecution became so bad that her brother and father fled their home. Missing her husband, Kamila’s mother went to be with him. This left Kamila as the head of the household.

Although Kamila’s family was better off than many, there were still Kamila and her 7 sisters and a younger brother to encourage and feed. To bring in money and give them something to do, Kamila started a sewing business.

Living Dangerously

After learning to sew and teaching her sisters, Kamila risked danger by traveling to a local up-scale bazaar with a sample dress for sale. She dressed as conservatively to avoid notice but then broke the rules by – gasp! – talking to the shop owner. As a result, she received her first order of dresses.

This is the start of her home business that grows into a sewing school, and eventually leads Kamila to work for a United Nations agency.

Inspiration, Ready Begin!

I enjoyed the The Dressmaker of Khair Khana immensely. The book reaches the same excitement as a spy thriller. My eyes were glued to the page. As someone who is starting a business myself, I loved hearing how Kamila made her new family business work. Her keys to success read like “Rules of Life-101”: Kamila was dedicated to delivering the best quality, on time; She partnered with people she trusted; She worked hard; When questioned by the Taliban, she treated the enemy like a brother, differentially and without showing fear. The true lesson though was that Kamila dared! She was optimistic. She expected the best and was head strong enough to make it happen. She was devout and wanted to help others.

Reading this book enabled me to see another country. The writing is so clear, it’s like watching a movie, with the camera zooming in on important details and explaining the cultural differences so I could understand the significance of what was happening.

The author, Gayle Tzemach Lemmon, is also inspiring. She is a Fellow at the Council on Foreign Relations. To get this story, she traveled to Afghanistan many times. As a foreigner, she was a potential target of terrorist attacks and kidnapping. To protect herself, she learned to speak Dari and dressed more conservatively than the locals. She spent years interviewing everyone she could. Ms. Lemmon’s hard work also shows!

Read this book!