Thursday, October 18, 2012


"Be not forgetful to entertain strangers, for thereby some have entertained angels unawares." -- Hebrews 13:2

Cheryl at Thinking About Home has been writing a series, 31 Days of Hospitality.  Today she is making it a linkup, which allows others to contribute to the subject, so I'm throwing in my two cents.  I have desired to write on hospitality for a long time, but couldn't quite get my thoughts together.  It is a central value of my life.  Perhaps that is why it has been so difficult for me to write about it.

A lot of my convictions about hospitality began with my maternal grandparents, who were strong influences on me from an early age (you can get a little flavor of this from my Easter post).  My grandmother had NOTHING fancy, she never drove, she hardly got to go to the grocery store herself (my grandfather would go), they were not perfect people at all, BUT throughout their long lives they sheltered, fed and comforted many, many people.  They were a stabilizing presence in their rural community.  This made a deep impression on me.

Then, when I was around 12 or 13, I read an interview with Mother Teresa that was published in McCall's magazine (this would have been late 1970s).  In that interview she told a story of a young nun who was washing some very repulsive wounds on a patient.  The young nun was doing a deed of mercy, but with an attitude of distaste.  Mother Teresa said no, no -- like this:  and then she lovingly and with grace washed those same wounds in a way that preserved the dignity and worth of the patient.  Her message was 'Do it like it was unto Jesus.'  That article has always stayed with me, and I have pulled it out of my memory to ponder over the years.

Then, early on in my marriage, I read a book by Karen Mains called Open Heart, Open Home that was a major influence in my thinking on home.  Other things I read by Edith Schaeffer (for example, Tapestry, The Hidden Art of Homemaking) and Elisabeth Elliot reinforced some of the ideas or fleshed them out.  Basically I believe that our homes are gifts from God for our personal shelter but are also to be used to minister to others.

My home has looked very different over the years.  I've lived in apartments, rental homes, owner homes, big cities, small towns.  I've lived in different parts of the country.  I've really never been flush with cash.  I don't have someone clean or decorate my home, and every part of my home is lived in.  I've had no children, lots of small children, and now lots of older children.  When they all leave the nest my husband and I will be back to no children.  The hospitality we are able to offer looks different, too.  Many, many people have been through my house for meals, hanging out, spending the night, and a few have even stayed for an extended period.  These people themselves have all been different:  friends, college students, people from other countries, family (although far rarer than I would like), troubled people.  Some people are repeat guests while others are one-time visitors.

If you mistakenly think I'm 'the hostess with the mostest', think again. I am not the kind of person who does anything formal.  I have friends who are great at planning elaborate brunches or dinners, and I thoroughly enjoy being invited to one, but that is not my forte.  My house/yard is never all the way clean or decorated.  In fact if you come over you may immediately feel better about your own housekeeping, or parenting, or cooking;)  However, I do think my particular gift is to make people feel welcome, to give them a safe spot in which to BE for a little while.  A friend of mine stopped by one day unannounced, and she said she had never done that before in her life but somehow she thought I was the kind of person that it would be okay (it was).  I was pleased that she said that because I do aspire to be that kind of person.

Through your home, no matter how humble, you can offer a refuge even if it is just a drink of water (Matthew 10:42).  This is part of our mission as Christians in this world.  If you are lonely or are new somewhere, don't wait for others to extend hospitality to you.  You go ahead and extend hospitality to others.  It can be very simple -- most people would be delighted just to be asked.  And remember the types of people Jesus asks to his wedding feast (Luke 14:15-24)  and do likewise.

Hospitality is not easy or convenient (as Cheryl says so eloquently in her series).  It is not designed to bring you glory or praise.  Hospitality is challenging.  It's a lot of work.  It requires you to spread your food further than you thought it would go.  It inflates your grocery budget.  It makes for a lot more dishes.  It infringes on your privacy.  It exposes your dirty laundry (both figuratively and literally).  It can sometimes make you feel taken advantage of, or at least resentful that YOU don't get invited anywhere.  Sometimes guests are awkward or are in very serious trouble and you feel in over your head.

But we are not required to have all the answers.  Hospitality just asks us to give a cup of cold water in Jesus' name, to share a meal together with someone in Jesus' name, to offer them a safe place just to sit or maybe even to sleep in Jesus' name.  Hospitality does not solve the problems of the world, but it does give rest to the weary soul and buoys up the downhearted.  We will never know in this lifetime what good it may do; we must trust God Himself to bless our efforts to be lights in a dark place.

The plaque at the top of my post was made and given to us by a young woman who once was a frequent guest at our house.  She now has her own house of hospitality.  I hang the plaque by my front entrance as a reminder.  Who knows but we too may have entertained an "angel unawares"?

To read some other thoughts on hospitality go here.

Tuesday, October 16, 2012

Simplicity 2373 -- Sundress

This little dress, from Simplicity 2373, was made pre-blog (summer 2011), but since I'm on a sewing jag here I thought I'd throw it in.  It's a sundress, made out of a cotton print fabric from Hobby Lobby.  I don't remember where I purchased the turquoise grosgrain ribbon trim.

Again I made a size 10.  I was concerned about the front pleats being too 'poufy', especially with the stiffer cotton (and they were), so I sewed the pleats down probably another 6 inches, but far enough to keep the abdominal area flat.  I think that was the only place I deviated from the pattern instructions.

This pattern is classified as "easy," which I find to be a relative term.  A more accurate terminology would be "easier than some other patterns you could try but still takes effort (and concentration, and seam-ripping.)"  The trickiest part was topstitching all that ribbon down.  I used a gray thread to sew the dress together, but the ribbon top-stitching needed to be done in turquoise to match. 

I feel a little decadent about admitting this, but I used two sewing machines on this dress:  my Singer 401 for the main construction, and my Singer 301 for topstitching the ribbon.  This worked wonderfully because the way the dress is constructed, you can't save all the topstitching for the end.  It needs to be done as you go along, which would have necessitated changing the threads out several times, along with the stitch settings, etc.  Also, because the Singer 301 is a straight-stitch machine, the feed dogs are closer together, helping it to do a great job of stitching right on the edges of the ribbon.  So if you need justification for picking up a vintage straight stitch machine, this could be one of your excuses:)

Here's a back view:
There is an invisible zipper underneath the left arm.

Again, I am just happy to have made something my daughter does actually wear.  Prior to this dress I had made her a corduroy dress, and I had worked very carefully on it, but it was simply not wearable:  the style was just "yuck." I try not to let those kind of failures discourage me (remember Mrs. Frizzell:  "Go ahead! Get messy! Make mistakes!:), but instead just chalk it up to more experience and keep moving forward.  I advise you to do the same because it's very rewarding when things do turn out well.

Friday, October 12, 2012

New Look 6095 -- Shift Dress

This pattern, from New Look 6095, was chosen by my daughter.  It looked very easy, and she found the fabric she wanted, a missoni-style knit stripe, at Joann Fabrics.  She liked the dress featured on the front as well as the giant tote bag, which is still on our to-make list.  But after I got the pattern home and looked at it more carefully, I saw that it was for a woven fabric, and not for a knit like we had assumed.

That made me a little uncomfortable as to how it might turn out.  Sewing for your daughter is already fraught with danger.  It's very difficult to exactly match those exacting expectations, especially when you are just an average seamstress like me.  I didn't want the cards stacked against me before they were even dealt.  But there was no changing her mind about the fabric.  I did know that it was a bad idea to use woven fabric with a pattern drafted for a knit, but sometimes you can go the other way with acceptable results.

So.....I tissue-fit the pattern (pinned the pattern to her to see any corrections I might make at this point).  I used the size 10 but took 1/4 inch out of the front and back width.  I checked the darts to make sure they were in the right location (they were), and I checked the length (even though she wanted the dress to be short, my daughter is 5'10" so I added some to the length just to be on the safe side).

I lined up the stripes by lining up the BOTTOM of the skirt pieces before cutting them out.  This was because if I had lined up the TOP, the darts would have messed it up.  Lining it up from the bottom kept the unmatched portions up under the arms where they won't be as noticeable.
Since I was using a knit, I left off all facings and using my iron-on knit tape folded the edges under and stitched.  I left off the back zipper and stitched the center back seam up because it was easy to get on and off. (I did a better job matching the center back seam.)
Thankfully, the dress turned out cute as a button, although more credit goes to the lovely wearer than to my dressmaking skills. 

Wednesday, October 10, 2012

Another McCalls 6559

This is the third time I've made McCalls 6559.  The other two are here and here.  I think this is the first time I've ever made three items from the same pattern, and I have to say if I find the right fabric I can think of at least two more ways I would like to make it again.  I have temporarily put the pattern away since cold weather is coming, but I think I will be getting it out again next spring.

This time I cut a 14 on the top and graded out to a 16 at the waist, which helped the top to fit more snugly along the neckline.  I still had to raise the armhole considerably.  The fabric is a stretch gray lacelike fabric with an attached under layer from Joann Fabrics.

Let me say up front these are not the most flattering pictures, I need to figure out what to do with my arms and obviously this isn't it, but the dress wore pretty well in real life.
Again it was super quick to make, just two pieces, and I simply turned the edges under and stitched to finish.  The back is a slight racerback, but not so much you can't wear a regular bra under it.
Yes, I have very broad shoulders
If I could find the right jacket, I might be able to extend this dress's wear into the fall.  

Monday, October 8, 2012

Simplicity 2369 -- Mock Wrap Dress

I have several summer sewing projects that I want to have on record, so I'll be playing catchup for a bit.  This dress is Simplicity 2369, which is a mock wrap dress or top with raglan sleeves.  The pattern also includes some pants, which I have not yet tried.  Many people on the internet have made this dress, and it generally looks very flattering on them, so I thought I would give it a try.

The fabric I used was some pink and black slinky, thin knit from Joann Fabrics.  I debated which sleeve version to use, but I decided on the kimono sleeves just as an experiment.  I cut a size 16, which fits about right on this pattern.
Frowning into the sun

I did use some new techniques.  Rather than turning the neckline under and stitching it down,  the pattern had you line the neckline with a facing, made out of the same fabric, that is stretched to fit as you sew.  I did not do the greatest job, but from the outside it looks fine.  Also, I found some good tips at The Slapdash Sewist on how to sew the ties so that no seams show.  In addition she had a great tip in there about sewing a few gathering stitches on the front (hidden underneath the wrap portion), which keeps some of the fullness in the front to mask your tummy.

Here's a back view:

From this angle I see that I've got it pulled too tight and ought to loosen the knot on the tie a little bit.  I don't think this dress is as attractive on me as the tank dresses were.  Since I've made this, I read somewhere on InsideOutStyleBlog that "H Shapes" (which is me, one big rectangle) should avoid wrap dresses.  Her other style advice seems to be right on as far as my shape is concerned, so this may not be a great pattern choice for me.  However, the dress is still WEARABLE (which is my main goal at the moment when sewing clothing), and if I find a fabric that I like I may try it one more time, only using the shorter sleeves.

Even though this was a slinky, rather cheap-feeling, knit, very slippery, I had no problems sewing it with my machine.  And I did learn some new techniques.  And it's something else FINISHED, which is always a plus;)

If you are thinking about sewing a particular pattern, look online to see who else might have made it and what their experience was.  Then, just try.  The worst thing that can happen is you won't like it, but even then you will have learned something and added more sewing experience to your repertoire.