Sunday, June 29, 2014

Shakespeare and Pansies in a Union Jack Toss Pillow

Pansies, Shakespeare, lace and tiny rick-rack

I am still obsessed with the Union flag of Great Britain.  That tea cozy didn’t satisfy my inner Betsy Ross (or whoever designed and made the first Union Jacks).  In addition to the tea cozy, I also made a throw pillow for my friend the Birthday Girl.

She loves pansies, England and Brit Lit, so this is what I made for her from fabrics I had on hand.

Pastel Pansy take on a venerable flag.

I think this is a particularly pretty pansy print, but I adore the one with writing on it.  It is a list of flowers that are mentioned in each Shakespeare comedy.  (Oh look! It used to be available on Amazon! )

I like to make these pillow covers removable so they can be washed.  (This fits a standard 16” pillow form.) 

Spill a drop of tea? Just toss it in the wash.

The back opening is made with a buttoned envelope style.  I have a genius designer friend who uses re-cycled men’s shirts for the back of her pillows.  She just cuts the button-front shirt to size for the pillow back.  I, on the other hand, make work for myself.  (Though I guess I might have used a men’s shirt if I had found one with pansies on it.)

Buttoned up back of pillow

I have a zillion visions in my head for other takes on this design.  It's so versatile and can be personalized in so many ways.  I have one more pillow cover to show you.  But I have to send it to that Birthday Girl first (because I know she will recognize that it’s for her if she sees it here.) 

Thursday, June 26, 2014

Throwback Thursday: Remington Steele and I

In true 40s gumshoe style, Laura often donned a fedora.

Try this for a deep dark secret… The great detective Remington Steele? I’ve been sleeping with him.   

Well, not in the way you think.  I’ve just been playing the DVDs of the 1980s detective romantic comedy in order to try to fall asleep.  It has been working really well for me with none of the weird side effects of Ambien.  There is something incredibly soothing about knowing that Remington and Laura are on the case. No matter what, they will eventually figure out a mystery, toss in a lot of clever quips and then more likely than not, end up in a clinch.

For Throwback Thursday, I thought I would re-visit one of my favorite shows from a long, long time ago.  This is kind of the “at large” stuff I had in mind when I named this blog.  

He is so soothing. 

Remington Steele premiered so long ago I was still in college.  It starred a then-unknown baby-faced Pierce Brosnan as the title character and the smart, independent, beautiful and incredibly agile Stephanie Zimbalist as Laura Holt, the woman who invented the man.  The show was an instant hit among my crowd.  At the time, I thought we were watching it for the cute boys, but as I watch the show now, 30 years later, I realize the great appeal of the show was the way it matched the zeitgeist of the moment.

Laura Holt invents Remington Steele because no one will hire a female private investigator.  As feminists-in-training at a Catholic women’s college in the rolling hills of southwestern Pennsylvania, we were convinced we could do any job a man could and at least as well.  We took for granted the idea of women in leadership roles since we were taught by nuns and ex-nuns (and men willing to work for nuns and ex-nuns.)  
The college’s publicity materials referred to us as “Woman-centered Centered-women.”  We lived up to the woman-centered part, though centered-womanhood was still a few years off for most of us.
Grant and Hepburn for the 80s.

The show cleverly paid homage to 30s and 40s screwball comedies and mysteries like The Thin Man or pretty much anything with Cary Grant and Katharine Hepburn.  It was stylish and clever, an hour-long mix of light-hearted mystery, comedy and romance where the mystery-solving and romance were almost entirely on the woman’s terms.   To this day, I don’t think there has been a TV romance where the woman unapologetically runs the business and the relationship.  Can you think of one?

We loved Laura because she was one of the few characters on television who was her own boss.  Her “decidedly masculine superior” was just a bunch of empty suits and never-worn shoes in a hotel room.  She operated in a traditionally man’s world by her own rules and that’s what we were being prepared to
do.  She opened a detective agency with her pal Murphy Michaels (James Read) and had a secretary named Bernice Foxe (Janet DeMay) who was a bit of a retired party girl.

Handsome stranger slips into Remington's shoes and Laura is not pleased
In the first episode a mysterious man shows up and literally slips into the shoes of Remington Steele.  He spends the rest of 4 seasons applying his "eclectic" skills to detective work, trying to earn Laura’s trust and falling in love with an impossible woman he can’t resist.  Meanwhile Laura spends 4 years yelling at him, demanding to know his real name and insisting that while they can snog all they like, they will draw the line at the bedroom.  Sounds like Kate and Cary, doesn’t it? (Laura even uses the name Tracy Lord when she goes under cover, a nod to Hepburn’s character in The Philadelphia Story)

I started watching the Remington Steele DVDs again thinking that it would be a soothing nostalgic show to watch while trying to fall asleep. Today’s procedurals make me anxious and grossed out, which is not helpful when one is trying to relax.  There is too much gore and explicit violence against women by both the criminals and the macho males going around shooting everything in NCIS or CSI or SVU or even shows with actual characters in the name like Castle. In an interview, Stephanie Zimbalist says their motto was “The blood isn’t real on Remington Steele.”  And thank goodness.

Armed with trophies, vases and 2x4s
Back in the days of Steele, there was a running joke about never knowing where the agency’s lone gun was because they rarely used it. Finding bullets for it was the second problem. Remington regularly makes a point that he hates the things.   There is plenty of running after crooks in the show, but rarely with firearms.  Almost always, Remington, Laura and Murphy have a vase, a trophy or a 2x4 conveniently at hand to absurdly conk their foes in the back of the neck with.  Nobody really gets hurt, just knocked out temporarily.  I find that soothing when I am trying to fall asleep. And it’s much less noisy than all of today’s gunfire.

Unlike a lot of shows from the 80s, Remington Steele holds up fairly well visually.  There was careful attention to details as the designers tried to evoke the 30s and 40s. Pierce’s British/Irish accent has a certain Cary Grant cadence while Stephanie does a great job imitating that studio-trained Englishy accent that actors used in old movies.

Big 80s hair, shoulder pads and Jane Fonda workout garments are kept to a minimum.  Steele’s apartment is decorated as homage to art deco style with a few framed movie posters to reinforce the call-backs to the period.  In the second season, the agency acquires an old Austin to chase suspects with when the limo seems too flashy.

Annoying Carole Little for St Tropez West dress
Mercifully, Laura’s hair is worn long and carefully pulled away from her face in 40s styles.  Even when she wears a pony tail, there is no scrunchy in sight. Many of her suits have the broad shoulder jacket with straight skirt to match the hairstyle.  (Though there are a few “sporty separates” supplied by Carole Little for St Tropez West that annoy me) Remington just wanders around with thick dark hair that's perfectly coiffed or tousled artistically on his forehead while modeling impeccably tailored suits, tuxes and the occasional riding breeches.  Beyond the plots and the non-graphic violence, even the clothes are soothing.

The plots are usually stolen from Agatha Christie stories or Hitchcock films whether the reference is Psycho, Rear Window or The Trouble with Harry all mixed up with a dollop of Preston Sturges.  Suspend your disbelief and go along for the ride because this is meant to be fun.  “Reality” is so overrated.

Long before the IMDB, Remington was a vintage movie buff who was always comparing their case to some scene in those old caper movies.  I had no idea what he was talking about then, but 30 years later, I have caught up with Remington’s references and they are much more fun now that I’ve actually seen the old movie.
Under cover tour guides
It’s amusing to catch James Bond references in the stunts or the score knowing in hindsight that Pierce Brosnan would eventually play the role.  The number of museum break-ins Laura and Remington pull off surely inspired him to star in a remake of The Thomas Crown Affair

I thought that first season was perfect.  But the powers-that-be decided that there was “character clutter” and they couldn’t find enough for Miss Foxe and Murphy to do. Kindly, they freed the actors to go do other shows while consolidating both characters into one for the rest of the series. 
At least Murphy and "Miss Wolf" got sandwiches.

I can understand why they did that, but I have never been able to forgive them for replacing the gorgeous James Read and the world-wise Janet DeMay with Doris Roberts as Mildred Krebs.  Mildred arrives at the Steele agency as a member of the IRS Fraud Squad investigating why Remington Steele didn’t file income tax returns.  She spends the rest of the series as a comic relief sidekick.

Even Doctor Who tries to silence Mildred Krebs.
I am sure Doris Roberts is a perfectly lovely person, but when the series first aired, I had no need of that clueless old fuddy-duddy wasting my time in this show when it could have been the smart, young and attractive Bernice and Murph.  To my disbelief, I looked Doris up on the IMDB and learned that she was just a year older than I am now when she took that role.  OMG! Is that how people see me?  Or is 52 the new 42?  (Oh please let it be the latter)

At 52, I do have a very different perspective on the Laura/Steele relationship than I had in my 20s.  In those days, Laura made perfect sense to me.  She was independent and didn’t need a man around and was frustrated with her own weakness falling in love with a man she knew couldn’t possibly be good for her. She constantly tested him and accused him of not being trustworthy.  She always assumed the worst of Remington despite the fact that he stayed around no matter how badly she treated him. 

Laura, put the phone down and listen to him!
I didn’t see any of that in my 20s.  Because that was pretty much how I was operating.  (Gee, how did I end up a spinsta?) Now I want to shake both Laura and my 20-something self and explain a few things.  I would suggest that there are men who are human and have feelings. Not every single one of them wants to oppress women in every possible way.  I want them to know that they are sabotaging themselves by making assumptions rather than asking questions and listening carefully. 

I have so much sympathy for the lost character of Remington who never had a real home and family, who did what he had to in order to survive and who loves this impatient, proud, pain-in-the-ass of a woman that somehow feels like the first safe home he has known. 

It’s kind of amazing to me the way visiting characters I adored 30 years ago have given me a window to see who I was at the time.

So I am recommending this show that is apparently much more than a show to me.  It is a time-capsule of my own early adulthood as well as an entertaining series that holds up well because it doesn’t take itself too seriously, though it wears its heart on its perfectly tailored sleeve.   Or the occasional Laura Ashley dress.
A London adventure.


 There are some really gorgeous episodes because they somehow had the budget to film in Mexico, England, Ireland, and around the Mediterranean.  (It was extremely difficult to film Los Angeles locations during the 84 Olympics, so they just went to Europe)

Cassandra Harris guests as her husband's old girlfriends.
Pierce Brosnan’s first wife Cassandra Harris wanders in as a couple of different old girlfriends of Remington’s.  Don’t watch too closely or you will start to obsess (as I do) about whether her characters Anna and Felicia were twins or just doppelgangers.  Knowing Cassandra died a few years later of ovarian cancer makes her scenes with Pierce bittersweet.

Efrem Zimbalist Jr. as Remington's mentor, Daniel Chalmers
More satisfying are the appearances of Stephanie Zimbalist’s dad Efrem as an old con-man pal of Remington’s.  His rapport with Brosnan and the obvious fun he has playing opposite his daughter are delightful.

There are 22 episodes in each of the first 4 seasons.  To this day, my favorite episode is Vintage Steele in the first season where Laura and Remington investigate the disappearance and reappearance of an unidentified body. There are monks who have taken a vow of silence involved in this show, not to mention a very memorable game of Charades. And the kissing scene was good enough to appear in the opening credits for the next few seasons.

I can recommend the other 87 episodes in those first 4 seasons as well.  But then things went to hell.  NBC canceled the show.  Then it was announced that Pierce would be the next James Bond, so NBC un-canceled it and demanded 6 more hours.  Stephanie had already accepted another role too, so there was a lot of bumming going on as they shot that last season.  Most of the writing staff had left for new jobs as well, leaving those last few scripts in the hands of newbie writers and rather absent editors.

Upper Right: Jack Scalia as character clutter.
For some reason, the powers-that-be forgot about how they had gotten rid of  the first season’s “character clutter” and decided to add another character—another rival for Laura’s affections in the person of Jack Scalia as Tony Roselli.  None of us who loved the show can ever forgive them for that.  Those last 6 hours are excruciating to get through no matter how much we adore Laura and Remington.  No matter that Efrem Zimbalist shows up.  No matter that they shot in Mexico, London and a castle in Ireland.  Nothing could make up for Tony Roselli. 

So if you haven’t seen those last 6 hours, go ahead and watch to see how it ends, but really, the first 4 seasons are plenty.  And the last episode of the 4th season is a good enough way to end the series. 
Season 4 Finale. It's all you need.

You can stream the first 3 seasons on HuluPlus and Amazon if you are looking for light entertainment or a bedtime sedative. If you catch up with my old pals Laura and Remington, let me know what you think.  Am I giving it too much credit because I am still in love?  Or is there something timeless there that you won’t find in other shows from the early 80s?  (I’m looking at you, Moonlighting)

Oh and be sure to watch all the way to the end for the MTM kitten’s take on the show.

What took People so long to figure this out?

The opening credits for Season One are probably burned into your brain, but just in case you missed them:

"Try this for a deep dark secret: The great detective Remington Steele... He doesn't exist. I invented him. Follow: I'd always loved excitement, so I studied and apprenticed, and put my name on an office. But absolutely no one knocked on my door. A female private investigator seemed so... feminine. So I invented a superior. A decidedly masculine superior. Suddenly there were cases around the block. It was working like a charm. Until the day he walked in, with his blue eyes and mysterious past. And before I knew it, he assumed Remington Steele's identity. Now I do the work, and he takes the bows. It's a dangerous way to live, but as long as people buy it, I can get the job done. We never mix business with pleasure. Well...almost never. I don't even know his real name!"

I do not own the copyrights for these photos which appear to be publicity materials from NBC or MTM.

Tuesday, June 24, 2014

Rule Britannia: A Union Jack Tea Cozy

I have been a little obsessed with the use of the British flag as a design element for a while now.  I even have a Pinterest board dedicated to all the ways you can apply it to furnishings, clothing, tea sets etc.  I am particularly fond of the ways other color schemes are substituted for the official red, white and blue.

Apparently these ideas have been cooking in the back of my head for a while.  Because when an Anglophile friend’s birthday rolled around. I had a couple of ideas of perfect gifts for her.

I thought a proper British tea cozy with a Union Jack design would be a fun and useful gift.  In my stash, I discovered a fabric with famous sites in London.  I fell in love with it when I saw it last summer, but didn't know what I might use it for.  It was meant to be.  I also came up with a navy fabric with tiny hearts on it—after all this is about loving England.  That fabric joined the stash some time in the late 1980s, I think.  Does that make it vintage?

I chose some flat cotton lace that seemed perfect for the white stripes in the flag and a simple tiny red rick rack completed the flag.  For the lining, I picked a heavy red striped cotton pillow ticking. It pays to have a good stash when inspiration hits.

Can you identify these London scenes? (Double decker bus doesn't count!)

So here is the completed cozy. I tried to feature different scenes in the London fabric on each side of it.  The pot should stay quite hot since I layered in cotton batting and an insulated one between the lining and the outer fabrics.  Just in case the handle gets too hot under the cozy, I included a small potholder which I rolled up and placed in the loop at the top. (The loop is very helpful for pulling the cozy off the teapot.)

Here is one side of the cozy showing the London scenes side of the potholder.
London scenes, lace and love

This is the reverse of the cozy and the potholder.  
I quilted a heart in the potholder which uses the same ticking that lines the cozy.

I think this came out well and have ideas about other fabric combinations that would be fun to do.  Because I am still obsessed with that flag. But next time, I am changing up the color scheme.

Friday, June 20, 2014

Throwback Thursday: Rescuing a 70s Plaid Couch in the 80s

I have been sewing and crafting for as long as I can remember—as long as you count the stuff I made in kindergarten that involved a lot of delicious paste.  I thought it would be fun to start using “Throwback Thursday” to share some of the groovy projects I created a long time ago. 

A few of the clothes I made along the way are probably documented in photos here and there.  But remember those olden days when film, flipflashes and developing were expensive? Oh and cheap cameras had fixed lenses.  You never really knew what would come out ok until you picked up the developed pictures.  And usually (as you can see from the images here) it wasn’t pretty.  I am combing through the few pictures I managed to take in the olden days to share here.

See this couch?  The hideous greenish plaid? Grateful as I was to have hand-me-down furniture, I had to do something about the plaid, the back cushions and the yucky skirt on this thing. 
Hideous olive and gold couch. Unknown knee.
I had never taken on a project like this before, but I determinedly removed nearly every bit of that plaid.  It was a sofa bed, so I really had to reupholster rather than slipcover it.  I got a staple gun and went to work.  First, I replaced the pair of back cushions with 3 pillows.  (I machine quilted around the flowers on them to give some dimension.) I had a very limited amount of fabric and didn’t mess around with matching the florals on the seat cushions with the lower front of the couch.  But I did make lovely bolsters for it.  Oh, and did I mention this was 1987?
Check out those bolsters. That floral is a huge improvement on the plaid, right?
Happy as I was with my floral extravaganza, I quickly realized that a couch with giant chintz flowers can really limit one’s decorating options.  These are important lessons to learn when you are in your early 20s so you don’t make expensive mistakes later.    So, just a year after I banished the plaid, I bought a lot of hunter green fabric with a tiny cream floral stripe in it and banished the giant  pastel flowers.  I re-covered the couch, made curtains and still, 25+ years later have some of it left. 
Hunter Green couch, mauve and wedgewood country cushions.
Hunter Green will come back in fashion, won’t it?   I loved it.  It was so traditional in an English Laura Ashley sort of way. And it looked awesome at Christmas time- enhancing decorations rather than fighting them.  The floral on the right was fabric I chose to cover side tables with.  I made those throw pillows too.  You can tell it was the 80s because they are mauve and Wedgewood blue.  (I managed to dodge the peach and mint scheme, not to mention the excessive use of geese in decorating which my friends Bill & Renee referred to as “duckage”)

Feel free to share your decorating lessons from the past!  As far as I am concerned, mauve and Wedgewood blue are still far preferable to the torture of olive, burnt orange, harvest gold and poop brown that were in vogue in the 70s when I was developing my sense of taste…)

Tuesday, June 17, 2014

More Frozen: Costumes for Elsas

2 Elsa dolls

The Elsa costume actually came first.  Many years ago, my sister had sheer fabric with flocked snowflakes draped around her bedroom windows.  When she got tired of the snowflake motif, she passed it on to me.  I made these curtains with it. 
Snowflake curtains. Fun for cats to pretend to be brides with
I had been charmed by the idea that these curtains would make it look like it was snowing since we usually get very little snow around here (compared to Western PA, for instance) 
And then we had the winter of 2013-2014. We were socked with unrelenting snowiness from November to the end of March.  (Most of the time I count on the first real snow to come around my birthday in the third week of January and it's always gone by St. Patrick's Day.)

After a winter like that, I didn’t hesitate to channel my inner Maria von Trapp and make clothes out of  snowflake curtains.  (I suspect the charm of snowflakes as a motif will probably be lost on me for years to come.)

So my design ideas started with the curtains.  I thought if I made Elsa’s cape removable, the girls could just wear the blue dress as a generic princess costume rather than being limited to performing Frozen. 

I found these old buttons in my grandmother’s collection.  They were kind of snowflakey (and by now are probably antiquey too)  The cape can be buttoned on or off.  I used a tiny iridescent rick rack to trim the gown and the cape to give it a little shine.  
Snowflakey button and iridescent rick rack trim

 I left a couple of one-inch sections of rick rack unstitched on either side of the cape as to serve as buttonholes so the cape can doubled up and shortened if the long train is getting in Elsa’s way. 
Doubled up snowflake cape

The gown is McCall’s M5498   without the peplum or scarf.  I like the nice A-line it provides. 
Lily lets it go.

As you can see, Lily can completely channel the Elsa attitude. I would not mess with her. I made both costumes approximately the same size so they can take turns being each princess.  Their mother assures me Maggie will never get to be Elsa until Lily outgrows that costume.
Let it go! (Eat your heart out Adele Dazim!)

Here is the doll’s matching gown, complete with tiny buttons at the shoulders.  I used Butterick 5661 for it. 
Elsa for 18" doll
Here again are the 2 Elsa dolls:

Lily and an 18" doll whose name I don't know.

Maggie just needs a white streak in her hair and the two of them are dead ringers for the sisters in Frozen.
Annas and Elsa. Do you want to build a snowman?

Tuesday, June 10, 2014

Succumbing to the Lure of Frozen: Anna Costumes

A couple of months ago during the great Frozen obsession of the winter of 2013-14, a former colleague sent out an SOS on Facebook.  Did anyone have an Elsa costume that they could lend her for some special showing of the movie that she was taking her daughters to?  I didn’t have an Elsa costume just lying around, but was inspired to make one for Lily, whose birthday was coming up.    

As everyone knows, Frozen is about two sisters who happen to be princesses.   That gave me an opportunity to make a coordinating costume for Maggie.  And, as usual, if I make an outfit for the girls, I would make matching ones for their dolls.  

 So here’s Anna, the little sister.  (I’ll share Elsa next time)

Two Annas

This project took some research.  I looked for images on line but there seemed to be quite a few outfits on these princesses.  I broke down and streamed the movie to figure out which costumes were most emblematic of the characters.  Anna has an adorable costume that had this lovely floral trim around the hem.  I didn't have anything similar sitting around, so I substituted this snowflake fabric. 
Anna's dress and Cape

For the cape, I used purple velour that my sister had given me to make costumes for the girls.  (She had planned to make a princess dress with it. So a princess cape is close enough.) 
I didn't have a pattern for this two-layered cape, and if I had to do it again, I would make it shorter to be more like the movie.
I loved the detail of the ball fringe in the movie.  Pity the poor animator who was in charge of keeping those balls bouncing!  I actually did have ball fringe on hand, but it was hot pink and lime green, so that was one of the few things I had to hunt down at a local discount fabric store.  The gold trim isn't really kosher, but I thought a princess cape should have a little bling. 

Cape with dress

The doll outfit is very similar.  I substituted rick rack for the ball fringe at this scale because I couldn't find any that was tiny enough. The velvet I used in the bodice was too heavy for this little doll dress, so I used some satin left over from the Sleeping Beauty costume.

Anna costume for dollies
The dolly ensemble
As soon as she tried it on, Maggie wanted to go outside and play in this outfit.  I guess she liked it. 

Two Anna Dollies

Sunday, June 8, 2014

Fall Pajama Roundup

As usual, there were a lot of pajama bottoms made this past fall.  Here is a roundup of what I accomplished.

I was thrilled to find this blue dachshund fabric for my niece who is shooting up like a teenager.  You may remember I found this same fabric a couple of years ago with a lime background.  This niece happens to live in the Deep South where flannel pajamas have a limited season.  I lucked out and found this pale gray cotton with little dachshunds on it for warmer days.  
Dachshunds for all seasons

My nephews are into Doctor Who.  Although there are no Slitheens or Daleks on this fabric, I thought they would appreciate the alien monsters in the spirit of The Doctor.   My older nephew is into baseball, so he got this fabric with images from the sport. (I only follow figure skating, so this was a challenge for me. 
:) )
Baseball and Aliens

The younger one asked specifically for penguin pajamas.  I found this fabric which I thought was really sweet, though I thought he might think they weren’t quite mature enough.  Not to worry.   He was so thrilled with them he told his mom they were his “official” Christmas pajamas. 
Penguins and Aliens

For Lily, I chose this fabric with bright pink horsies on a black background.  Since she had a horse-themed birthday party,     I thought she would like it.  Well, you know kids.  As soon as you figure out what they are obsessed with, they switch.  Now her big thing is Monster High dolls.   As it turns out, this fabric thrilled her because it was Monster High colors.  She even wore them to school one day (I am so grateful we did not have pajama-wearing days when I was in grade school)
Monster High Horsies?

And that leaves Maggie, who really is quite a cheeky monkey.   I bought this fabric several years ago.  The niece I picked it out for outgrew it before I made the pajamas, so Maggie was the lucky recipient.   She probably is the cheekiest of my nieces –at least in the sense that she has such adorable apple cheeks.
Cheeky Monkeys

They even modeled their new jammies.  They are my favorite models. :)
Beautiful models
These pictures are from a couple of years ago.  Lily, Maggie, Owen, Sam and I are all pretending to be the Weeping Angels from Doctor Who. 
Don't Blink!!!!