Making a New Stufftie

Dear Liza,

One thing I love about spending time with Cousin Kestrel is that she is always thinking of new projects. These keep me on my toes as we work together to problem-solve.

All projects involve problem solving…. What fabric to choose? How big should it be? How will we connect the bits? What will we do next? These are the sort of teachable moments that I love to watch happen.

A few weeks ago, when Harold came home from San Diego, Kes said that we should make a new stufftie to keep him company. We dug through the big fabric box and she chose the remnants of the same fabric I had used years ago to make placemats for your mommy! It was very pretty, but there wasn’t a lot left.

Kestrel cut pattern pieces out of newspaper, trying to make them big enough to allow for the seam allowance. She pinned and cut and quickly got the hang of running my old Pfaff sewing machine.

Once we started hand-sewing the parts together, it became clear that our new friend’s head wasn’t big enough! There wasn’t enough fabric…. Or was there? Some clever piecing allowed us to make a head of proper proportion, and was barely noticeable on the back of his head.

By sewing and stuffing each section of the stufftie separately and hand-sewing the sections together, we created a delightfully floppy friend. Kes said the fabric pattern looked like a teacup, so we named him Chashka, which is the Russian word for teacup. Kes chose some weird, wonderful spiral buttons for his eyes, which she will attach later on.

Thursday afternoons sure are fun around here!


Grandma Judy

Using What We Have

Dear Liza,

I love making presents for folks. Usually, the only trick is to start early enough to finish on time. This year, though, there may be supply chain issues, as well. That exact color of yarn, that color of thread, might not be available. So I am taking a page from my Mother’s philosophy: Use what you have.

I started this scarf for Yen, the nice lady who cuts my hair, the day of my last haircut. It is now finished, just in time for my next haircut. I only know one knitting stitch and had bought the yarn a few years ago from BackStory Books and Yarn down on Hawthorne. The project went quickly.

I used to make gifts for folks because I didn’t have a lot of spending money, and I really enjoyed it. I like being creative, using the skills I have and learning new ones.

For Auntie Katie’s wedding years ago, the late, great Barbara Binder Kadden and I stayed up all night to make the huppa. The time spent problem solving with Barbara, I now see, was a gift. She passed away a few years ago, much too soon.

And if you need a gift that is not like anything on the planet, the best way to get it is to make it yourself! I created this odd dude for Cousin Kyle years ago.

I am currently up to my eyeballs in a new creation, which I hope to show you tomorrow!


Grandma Judy

Stepping Away from the Map…. For Now

Dear Liza,

A little over a week ago, I pulled out an old project to work on. It is a map of Portland done in appliqué and embroidery. I have been adding and adding, trying to recreate the intricacy I see in my head, on the fabric.

The East Side

Oregon Poet William Stanford was once asked, “How do you know when to stop editing?” He replied, “When it stops feeling creative.”

And that’s where I am, for now, with my map. In the last ten days I have added dozens of buildings, streets, and trees. I have gotten braver and freer with embroidery. I even think I know what I want to do with the river.

The West Hills, Downtown and the Willamette River

But it has stopped feeling creative. I feel like I am adding in desperation, thinking this next tree will make the difference. And it just isn’t. So I will set it aside again for a while and come back to it later, with fresh eyes.

Mouse likes to be right in the middle of the creative process!

That ‘later’ may be next week or next year. But it will be waiting for me.


Grandma Judy

Back to Map Making

Dear Liza,

A year and a half ago, I started a sewing project to celebrate and explore my new city. I love maps, and sewing them is a way to enjoy the process of city-building.

Bare beginnings…..

I got the basic sections laid out … the west hills, downtown, the Willamette River, and the east side, where we live.

I started by laying in the main parks, Laurelhurst ( and the smaller Lone Fir Cemetery) in the east, and Washington Park in the west hills. I didn’t forget the North and South Park blocks downtown. The dozens of trees in Washington Park took days to pin and sew!


I decided that I didn’t want to make a block -for-block exact map, but I did lay in some main streets so it would make more sense. Then I laid in the warehouse district on the east bank.

The Willamette River divides Portland east and west, and so far I have put in the Hawthorne and the Morrison Bridges. They require a level of precision that gives me the shakes, but I like the way they are turning out.

It was at this point, about a year ago, that I ran out of ideas. I couldn’t figure out what to put in next. So I folded up the map and set it aside.

And this week, after months of painting, baking, and writing, I figured it out. The map came back out and I started putting in the Laurelhurst and Sunnyside neighborhoods, where we live. I used a blanket stitch to show the rows of Victorian houses, and added dozens more trees.

The last three days work!

And today, while listening to the Impeachment hearings, I put in most of the buildings downtown. There will be more streets downtown, and more embroidered details as they are needed.

I’m sure there will come a time when I run out of ideas again, and will pack the map away for a while. But for now, I’m sure having fun with it!


Grandma Judy

Cats at Christmas

Dear Liza,

You know our cat, Mouse, is part of our family. She is 9 years old already, older than you! She enjoys many of the same things we do.

This is my mommy….

Listening to stories….

This is my mommy, too…..

Decorating for Christmas,

My lights….

and getting to know the neighbors.

Interspecies detente

Sometimes she is even part of the decor.

You know whose Bear this is, right?

So of course she gets Christmas presents.

I have sewn cat toys for our Mouse and Auntie Katie’s cat, Pixel. Pixel is 15, and a real old lady cat, but she likes toys, too.

For Mouse

It doesn’t take much! Some felt leftover from other projects, part of an old shredded sheet for stuffing, and some cat nip from the grocery store. A little bit goes a long way! And since cats are not very critical, this is a low-stress art project.

For Pixel

I like being able to celebrate Christmas with all my loved ones, even the furry ones!


Grandma Judy

Not Quite Rainy Day

Dear Liza,

Looking like Crow weather!

This week I got to spend a day with the Cousins. I had expected it to be pouring rain, so I thought we would to catch the number 70 bus to Lloyd Center to watch the ice skaters and play.

But it wasn’t raining, and we didn’t go. Friends of Auntie Katie had been hit by tragedy and needed help.

A house fire had burned up a whole family’s things, including every stitch of clothing, doll and stufftie. Auntie Katie had collected some clothes that would fit the children and Kestrel quickly pulled out some of her toys to donate, including a Cabbage Patch doll from many years past. “Cabby”, as we came to call her, had only one flaw: she was naked. It seemed rude to give a naked doll.

Kestrel and Cabby

Kestrel found a doll sized blouse in a box, along with
some red fabric. We decided to make pants for Cabby. Kestrel, who is eight, knows the theory of pattern making, but needed a little help. We worked for about an hour and finally produced a presentable pair of pants, got Cabby dressed, and put her in the bag to join the family.

After we took care of a few more chores, it was time for me to head home through the very cold, darkening afternoon. The leaves are just about gone now, and many trees are loaded with fruit that will keep birds fed during the winter.

For the birds!

This pyracanthus tree will keep a whole flock fed for a month!

There were other sights in gardens that made me smile and happy that I live in Portland.

Kindred spirits…


Grandma Judy

Clothes Make the Doll

Dear Liza,

I had fun yesterday, making an old doll pretty again. Cousin Kestrel got her from a shop, and she needed some love.

My Client

First, I washed her up. Years of living in toy boxes had given her some grime. A soapy wash cloth and Q-tip helped a lot! While she was drying, I headed downstairs to the fabric box. I chose a few pretty prints, but a bright stripe seemed the best bet for a simple summery dress.IMG_9331.jpg

I made a pattern out of newspaper, starting big and snipping down, making sure it was symmetrical and had a nice quarter inch seam allowance. Then I laid out the fabric and cut. I was happy with the shape.

Before I sewed the front and back together, I turned and stitched the neckline, armholes, and at the last minute, remembered the slit in the back so the dress could come off over the doll’s head. Then I sewed front to back, and put the dress on.

It was baggy, but a simple fabric belt took care of that. Getting the belt on made her look almost perfect!

But there is no fixing her hair, so I made a nice elasticized head wrap to focus on her pretty face, letting her one earring give her a whimsical charm.

Ready to play!

I had so much fun with this project, I may adopt some more dolls for make overs!

Love, Grandma Judy

Super simple edging

Inside Projects

Dear Liza,

My at-least-50-year-old machine

We are having the second (or maybe the third) heat wave of the summer, with temperatures predicted to be 103 degrees by Thursday afternoon. Needless to say, I will be inside.

But that’s all right! I have lots of projects.

First, I am replacing the bags that our park chairs came in. These are comfortable, lightweight chairs and great for seeing Shakespeare, a parade or a concert in the park, but the ripstop nylon bags are very fragile and two of the three have torn through.

Old bag

So, once I got my old Pfaff sewing machine set up, I found some fabric from previous projects and went to work. They were easy to replicate, and I was able to use all the cord and hardware from the originals.

New bags!

My project for this morning is a “Coffee Cozy” for Auntie Bridgett. We enjoy our french press coffee every morning, but by the second round, the pot gets cool. We have been wrapping it in a towel, but Bridgett has asked for something prettier. She chose some fabrics from the box and I sewed most of the morning. This is what I ended up with, a quilted, reversible coffee cozy for my girl.

Coffee Cozy fabrics

One side!










The other side!

Tomorrow, I have a bigger job. Cousin Kestrel adopted an old doll from a shop, and she is in need of hygiene, care, and wardrobe.

When I was younger, my Camp Fire Girl Troop ran what we called The Doll Hospital, where we would collect old dolls and give them clothes and charm and donate them to children’s shelters. It was very rewarding and taught me about sewing as well as helping. I will use all my skills on this young lady.

I hope you are having a good first week of kindergarten!


Grandma Judy

Wearing a modesty tube….


Return to the Library

Dear Jasper and Kestrel,

If it’s Sunday, there’s an adventure. Today Auntie Olga, Cousin Liza and I had our walk to the Steinbeck Library, to return our due books and get some new ones. Cousin Liza had read through “No, No, Word Bird!” and was ready for a new story with words she could read (mostly) on her own.

We packed cheese, fruit, and granola bars for our snacks along the way. It was warm and sunny after being chilly in the morning, so I just took my light jacket. Auntie Olga loaded her backpack with fleeces and hats I was sure we wouldn’t need.

off to adventure.jpg
Off to Adventure!!

We were just a few blocks from home when Cousin Liza stopped and stared at a flower in the parkway. “Let’s leave the flower here, Liza,” her mommy said. “It will grow and stay for everyone to enjoy.” Liza just stared at the flower. Olga and I walked away, and Liza picked the flower! I was upset and Liza could see it on my face. I held out my hand, she gave me the flower, and I set it down on a nearby tree stump.

Liza staring at flower.jpg
Liza staring at the flower

We had a talk about being on the same team and needing to cooperate to get where we wanted to go. I gave her the option of going back home with her mommy, but she decided to continue on the adventure, and was fine after that. On our way, we saw our friend Wiley Reeves, a teacher who retired this past year. He has been enjoying traveling.

Liza swing.jpg
Just keep swinging, just keep swinging…

We walked east on Acacia and turned to walk on Clay street and found the tiny but pleasant Clay Street Park. It has a bench in the sun and a wonderful play structure that matched Liza’s coat colors of pink, purple and teal. Liza practiced swinging and pumped by herself! It will take lots of practice, but she will learn.  Once we had a snack and rested, we continued to the John Steinbeck Library!

On the east side of the library was another of the big boulders with a quote from John Steinbeck. It said, “Books are the best friends you can have, they inform you and entertain you, and don’t talk back.” Very fitting for the lawn of the library, I think.Liza and boulder.jpg

After some playtime with another little girl, we found the books for this week. Happy Birthday, Word Bird!, a few Eric Carle books, and a Russian Folktale book that Auntie Olga wanted, and a science book about water. We saw Mark Vinas, a teacher who retired the year your mommy was 10 years old. He is still charming and just a bit old fashioned, since he is 87 years old! We  chatted for a while and headed home.


The Salinas wind had come up and it got cold! I was now grateful for Auntie Olga and all her extra jackets. She loaned me a fleece to wear under my jacket and she found an extra hat to put under her hood. We zipped up Liza’s puffy jacket and pushed through the wind all the way home, and happily took naps.

After dinner Liza and I used some fabric I had, a decoration (made by Auntie Bridgett)  from a favorite tee shirt from Grandpa Nelson’s sail boat, and made a pillow for her dolls! It was a quick, fun project. Off to bed now.

Love, pillow1.jpgGrandma Judy