Tomato Roulette

Gardeners in New England tend to judge our short growing season by one crop: tomatoes. It was “a good year,” “a bad year” or an “OK year.” Sure, the cucumbers might delight for months and the blueberries, packed in the freezer, might get you through the winter, but nothing beats a juicy summer tomato, fresh off the vine and warm from the sun.

Tomatoes, settling in for a summer of growing

The past few years have been blah for tomatoes. I think the soil in my raised beds was to blame. Even though I rotate the tomato crop between two beds and liberally supplement the soil with my own compost, raised-bed soil loses its oomph after a while. So this year, I’m trying four strategies:

  1. Replace about half of the soil. I had several yards of clean, screened topsoil brought in and dug in with the old soil. The result was a richer soil, but the screened stuff got mixed in with the actual ground soil, full of small rocks as New England soil ends to be. So I will need to rescreen next year. It’s fine for this year.
  2. Plant further apart. I’ve tended to overbuy tomato plants because of all the fascinating varieties you can get nowadays. The plants tend to crowd one another by midsummer, and inevitably tomatoes rot on the vine because I can’t find them through the dense foliage. This year I followed the directive to plant each 2 feet away from the next.
  3. Skip most of the heirlooms. Many lesser-known tomato varieties provide fabulous flavor and gorgeous looks, but a paltry harvest, less disease resistance or other drawbacks. I have labored with these tomato varieties many times and have concluded that while they’re fun, they’re really not worth the trouble to invest in heavily. Hey – if you’ve got the time and patience, go for it. But I have wasted too much time and money on plants that succumb to disease and insects,  or that produce only a few tomatoes late in the season, to get excited anymore. For heirlooms, Brandywine is our favorite, so I planted a few.
  4. Try a test garden for commercial varieties. Many common varieties produce bushels of tomatoes, but they might not win beauty contests or pack as much flavor as heirlooms. I decided this year to try out several common commercial varieties, in search of two I can rely on year after year for volume with decent enough taste and reliability to be my “go-to” tomatoes. . I’m trying these:
    1. Big Boy – the granddaddy of big-ass backyard garden tomatoes
    2. Better Boy – a variety derived from Big Boy that produces more, but smaller, fruits with a slightly shorter growing season
    3. Brandy Boy  – a hybrid of Brandywine and the “boy” varieties
    4. Big Beef – Big Boy crossed with a traditional Beefsteak tomato
    5. Fourth of July – An early variety that produces loads of smaller fruits

Finally, I planted go-to cherry tomatoes, Super Sweet 100s, and tried a yellow cherry variety, just for fun.



Upcycled Tunic Top Funky Fusion

I could not resist the Sewcialists’ mini challenge which featured a fun word-generator game that provided one word of inspiration for a quick weekend sew-up. The word I got was FUNKY.

Now, I am not a funky person. I grew up in the 1970s and 80s, so I associate “funky” with anything hippie-ish. Basically, if a garment looks like it should be for sale in a head shop or a health-food store, it’s funky.

Fortunately, I had the perfect material and the perfect pattern for the job!

I bought this Indian cotton block-print tablecloth in 1990. You know it’s from 1990 because one of the main colors is mauve, which made many hideous appearances in home furnishings around that time before dying a much-deserved death.

Funky… oh yes…

I shared an incredibly crummy one-bedroom apartment in Allston, MA with a friend. The bathroom stank of piss, mice ate any food we left out for 5 minutes, and the heat seldom worked. Oh yes…. good times…

Anyway, she got the bedroom, and I got the living room. To have some privacy, I bought this tablecloth at a flea market and hung it with thumbtacks across the door. Don’t believe me? Here’s a hole to prove it:

Hole in tablecloth, circa 1990.

I have wanted to upcycle this into something useful for a long time now, so I thought I would use it to make a tunic top based on the “Tunic Dress with Lace” from “Happy Homemade Sew Chic.” If anything’s perfect for the Japanese Hippie Doomsday Cult look, it’s an upcycled tablecloth tunic top, right?

I have been working on some fitting issues anyway, since the last dress I made from this pattern. What did I have to lose, except a chilly Sunday afternoon?

For this tunic, I tried both a “hollow chest” adjustment and a “high round back” adjustment. I made both adjustments 1 centimeter. The back looks good but I think I could have done even more in the front.

If you like to upcycle, tops and dresses from these tablecloths are fun and easy to do. This tablecloth happened to have a pretty wide border; some are narrower. I used a basic V-neck pattern as a starting point. Here’s how I adapted it:

I cut the pieces strategically so that the V would land between the flowers on the top part of the tunic, and the large diamond motifs at the hem would land at either side of center front.

I arranged for the tunic to be long enough that the first band of blue printed design after the flower motif in the center would hit at my waist, so I could accentuate it. I zig-zagged elastic to the wrong side, with a length of elastic 3/4 as big around as my waist, for a bit of gathering.

I eyeballed this. Hey, it’s just an elastic gather. 

For the V-neck, I stabilized the whole neckline with stay-stitching and then adhered a small rectangle of interfacing along the V for stability.

Stay stitch and interface to stabilize the V neck

The band around the V-neck was cut from a corner of the tablecloth, with 1 cm seam allowances on either side. I placed the corner at the V, right side of the band to wrong side of the tunic and sewed a bit scant (for turn of cloth). I snipped into the V almost to the stitching line, then turned the neckband right side out, pressed under the seam allowance on the bottom of the band, and topstitched both sides.

To be honest, I should really have understitched the neckband before turning it. But this is a top from a tablecloth from 1990. Ain’t nobody understitching that shit.

I cut the sleeves so they would start with the flower motif, and the border print would nicely frame the sleeve hems. I am not crazy about the sleeves – I think I need a dark band at the hem to mirror the tunic hem. I just barely had enough fabric. I will see how it wears.

Close call on fabric!

I kept the original tablecloth hem and just turned it 1 cm and topstitched.

Is this funky? Yes. Is it cute? I think so. It’s not my best work, but it was fun and I am sure I will wear it a lot this summer.

The Japanese Hippie Doomsday Cult, Predicting Fashion Trends?

My look has moved on from the “Japanese Hippie Doomsday Cult” looks I tried when sewing up garments from “Happy Homemade Sew Chic,” a Japanese sewing pattern book by Yoshiko Tsukiori. Yet every so often, like Michael Corleone in The Godfather movies, it pulls me back in.

godfather gif

Today’s fashion explosion shows how premature my look was. Behold, this full-page ad from the Ralph Lauren spring collection was in The New York Times last week:

IMG_20180311_094618 (1)

Look familiar?


The colorway is different, but the design is very similar. I got this fabric from Mood – it was sold as a Ralph Lauren panel, about 56 inches square. I made this beach coverup from Happy Homemade’s project P: Pinafore Dress, in August 2015 – that’s a whole 2.5 years before Ralph Lauren came out with that skirt. So I declare myself not just fashion-forward, but fashion-leading.

Take that, Ralph!

Tunic with Roll-up Sleeves Goes from Nice to Naughty

My favorite project from “Happy Homemade Sew Chic” is project O, “Tunic with Roll-up Sleeves.” I made one out of some gauzy cotton fabric with white ribbon for trim. It’s very sweet, very appropriate for the Japanese Hippie Doomsday Cult look.

But now it’s time to get a little badass.

Yeah, purple and black abstract snakeskin, metal studs and goth lace-trimmed sleeves. Not exactly my look, but since the end of the world is not coming and the Japanese Hippie Doomsday Cult is disbanded, we might as well reinvent ourselves.

I bought this fabric at Banksville Designer Fabric in Norwalk, Conn. last summer along with a few other things to update my work wardrobe. The fabric is a stretch shirting in what I thought was a black, gray, purple and fusicia abstract dot print. A little edgy for the office, but something different, and I liked it.

When I laid out the fabric to make a blouse for work, I realized that the print was really a snakeskin abstract print. Oof. I am all for mixing it up in the office, but I couldn’t swing this, so the fabric curled up in shame in the back of my stash.

The Tunic Contest inspired me to try the fabric with the good ol’ Happy Homemade pattern. This fabric behaves very differently from my original, and I actually think the original looks better.

To deal with the hand of the fabric, I made a few changes:
* Curved out the sides a bit and added two fisheye darts in the back for shaping.
* Understitched the neckline binding before turning to the right side (instead of just turning and topstitching), because I thought it would help the ribbon tie lie flat, and not bunch up the neckline.
* Omitted the roll-up sleeve tabs. The tunic has bell sleeves, which don’t play well with a roll-up look. I never wore the original ones rolled.
* Shortened the sleeves 6 inches to just above the elbow and trimmed them with a bit of black lace for a bit of a goth look. I cut the lace to size and joined the raw ends with an applique seam.
* Added a couple of metal cord end finials to the ribbon ends, again to goth it up a bit.

All I need is a motorcycle and a bad attitude, and I am ready to wear this in public.

Done and Dusted

Here’s the finished lace duster based on “Tunic Dress with Lace” from Happy Homemade Sew Chic:

I used an applique seaming technique to get the hems to match the front’s scallop-and-eyelash edge. For more on that, see my other blog, Distaff.

Because the lace has all these black lines running every which way, I just finished the seams with a rolled seam on my serger. The only other little thing I did was to sew a very narrow strip of black twill tape along the shoulders, for support.

I can’t wait to swan around in this, while sipping a Martini.

Turning a Dress into a Duster

We’re going luxe at the Japanese Hippie Doomsday Cult Sewing Club. Next up is lace!

Oh yeah – let’s get all fancy! Slinky! Sexy! And put these simple sewing patterns from “Happy Homemade Sew Chic” through their paces.

I had an idea to make a lace duster for summer. I love the costumes on the Australian TV show “Miss Fisher’s Murder Mysteries” so I figured, why not adapt a Happy Homemade pattern?Miss Fisher

Trusty ol’ “Tunic Dress with Lace” fits the requirements nicely. I picked out some black Art Deco style lace from Mood Fabrics in New York and got to laying the thing out. I wanted to make as much use as possible of the scalloped edge with the eyelash detail, so I laid things out carefully. You’d cut the front of “Tunic Dress with Lace” on the fold normally, but instead I lined it up on the edge to take advantage of the scallops.


(Note on the pattern how I’ve marked several Happy Homemade patterns on the same piece. The book’s patterns are somewhat modular, so tracing onto durable patternmaker’s paper is totally worthwhile. See here for the how-to.)

I estimated that I could make a duster below the knee and also squeeze bracelet-length sleeves out of the lace I bought, so I lengthened the pattern a bit accordingly.

Now all I needed was a way to  carry over the scalloped design to the hem and the neckline. More on that technique next time.

Art Deco Lace and Japanese Style? Just Might Work

Now that the Japanese Hippie Doomsday Cult is dissolved and the end of the world is NOT coming (not anytime soon, anyway) we’re glamming up the garments from Happy Homemade Sew Chic.

Next up is a lace duster. Again, Tunic Dress with Lace from the book is the inspiration. I had considered buying a proper duster pattern, or even adapting a cardigan for the job, but my recent adaptation of good ol’ Tunic Dress with Lace inspired me to play with its blank canvas some more. Besides, “lace” is in the title, so it makes sense. Kinda.


The V-neck is a good shape for the front of the duster. Instead of cutting on the fold for the front, I cut two fronts in a single layer with the decorative scalloped edge along what would have been the fold line. I cut the back out of one center panel – again cutting not on the fold but in a single layer. Finally, I did the sleeves with the scalloped edge along the sleeve hems. I have to figure out how to use the scraps of the edge for the hem of the duster itself and the V neckline. That’s for another day.