Category Archives: pretty things

this woman in clothes

“Clothes at one time were a reflection of the inner reality of the person, were chosen to be a reflection of personal individuality.”  ~Dotty Coplen Parenting for a Healthy Future


There is a great conversation going on in the comments of my last post on this subject.  So I thought I would bring it back out here into the open where people can continue to chime in.


What I want is this; to be relatively clean and well kempt most of the time.  To have 3 or 4 ways of doing my hair that are quick, easy and reliably nice looking.  To have a small, manageable wardrobe consisting of clothing that is comfortable, flattering, aesthetically pleasing to me and that fits both my body and my life style.  As a bonus, maybe a pretty everyday-ish kind of necklace that pleases me and some sort of tinted, moisturizing lip gloss/balm made from natural ingredients, just to feel a little pampered, polished, luxurious.  Really, that’s all I’m looking for.  I don’t want to spend a lot of time or energy, because frankly I don’t have either and I’m really not that fussy*.  I just want to stop sighing and settling when I rummage through my drawers in the morning or downright panicking when I’m called upon to go out in public.


I know just what I want to dress my kids in.  I can tell you exactly how I’d like my husband to dress- basically how he does now, only with more sweaters!  But I’m not sure what I love for me.  Sometimes I think I know and it turns out to be all wrong in one way or another…or even in many, many ways.  So this is the thing that I’ve been trying to figure out.


I was thinking about this as I was reading Women in Clothes.  What do I love?  I love cardigans, dresses, the color grey.  But what specific parts of my wardrobe do I have right now that really make me happy?  And my first thought was my wedding rings.  A couple of chapters after thinking this I came to the project shown above.  They had all the women in an office photocopy their hands and talk about their rings.


When Steve and I were shopping for wedding bands, my ideal was simple, but not plain.  His was simple and as plain as plain can be, so we knew they weren’t going to match exactly.  I was looking at white gold, he was looking at yellow.  I wanted  them to at least be the same color, so I went with yellow and as I’ve gotten older, I’m really glad I did.  It’s classic.  He’s classic too.


My rings are unique and kind of unabashedly delicate and feminine.  The Celtic knot band reminds me of filigree or lace.  It’s an oval now, not a circle.  I love that I’ve left that mark on it.  Years upon years of wearing it while knitting.  One tiny effortless motion that when repeated over and over again has the power to bend metal and make it my own.


The other ring is newer (to me) and part of it’s story can be found here.  When we started getting serious about renewing our vows a few years in the future, I asked him to take any money he was planning on spending on me for any gift giving occasion, even if it was just a card, and put it into a savings account instead.  So I’d get a little note for my birthday or Christmas, though he often cheated and bought the card as well- to write the note in- and eventually, with that money, he bought me this ring (which really wasn’t as expensive as it looks, in case you are shaking your head at how frivolous all this was).  We had this ring and his ring engraved.  It was made in the 1950′s, but the design is based on a style that was popular during the Georgian Era into the Victorian Era.  It’s hard to see in these pictures, but it’s actually shaped like a flower.  The two rings together are obviously very different style wise, but I like that they both feature scalloped edges.


*Alright, well, actually I am, but it’s a weird kind of minimalist fussy where I don’t want much, but the things I do want are very specific.



for Finn, for me

A wee sweater set for the fourth baby boy of a dear old friend.

“When men want to dress as women, they want to be the sexy version, in lace.  Men never want to be a stay-at-home-mom still in her period underwear and nothing else at four p.m., nursing a baby and zombie-ing her way through the house, not picking up anything, crying in front of the dishwasher.” ~Christen Clifford, Women in Clothes

I was going to chose a more optimistic quote, but this is the one I read over again four or five times both chuckling and identifying with the emotion it evokes.  Though I truly don’t walk around the house in my underwear.  That’s kind of awkward with teenagers about.  Plus, it’s really bloody cold here.  If I were to describe my “look” at the moment, the way my style reads, I would say it downright screams, “my house is a mess, my life is a mess, I’m a mess”.  Yup, I think that pretty much sums it up.  It’s possible that I’m being a bit uncharitable with myself here.  It’s just I kind of, sort of, thought that there might be a point in my life where I was somewhat pulled together and I guess, deep down, in the back of my mind, I kind of, sort of, thought that would have happened by this point in my life?  Not so.

I remember attending one of Galen and Mairi’s shows last year.  I was really struck by the other mothers and how fashionable and well, finished they were…make-up, hair, outfit, the whole package.  Me? As I was running out the door I tried to grab the burp cloth with the least number of stains and I made an effort to smooth my hair down a bit in the car.

I don’t really have any desire to be fashionable.  For me the longing is for something else entirely.  I have this conversation with Steve often.  I’ll say how so-and-so always looks so nice.  And he’ll say that what they do to their nails is strange or that he doesn’t like their haircut or style of dress.  Most of the time I agree with him that their look isn’t my cup of tea, as it were.  That’s not what I envy them, it’s that they clearly took the time to consider who they were, how they wanted to be perceived by the world and acted on it.  My appearance says a lot about me as well, but it’s rather haphazard and generally not done with much, if any, intention.  I’m not really sure that’s what I want to be putting out into the world.  Like it or not, everyone has a style whether carefully cultivated or entirely accidental.  I think I would like mine to be more about who I want to be.



Galen crafted matching headbands for all the girls, Mairi Rose rolled candles, together they created a mess of glitter that extended the entire first floor and beyond.

A couple of years ago I started the tradition of taking photos of Steve and I together on Valentine’s Day, not because I’m ridiculously sentimental about the holiday or anything like that, because I’m really not at all (though we also have a tradition of making cinnamon rolls and that I am attached to).  It’s just that having a specific day means it’s more likely to happen and this is as good a day as any other to serve as a friendly reminder.

It’s such a simple idea, but looking back I’m amazed at how revealing it is; the photos captured are so very specific to each point in time.  Two years ago we were planning our vow renewal.  Our youngest child was reaching a more independent age, leaving us with a bit of time for the first time in 13 years (!), to be frivolous, silly, flirty.  I had just gotten over being really ill and we were both just so ready to focus on enjoying each other and life again.  Last year was moving slow, big bellied, full of excitement, but more of a quiet and comfortable expectancy.  She was essentially our honeymoon baby.  In many ways it felt like starting all over again, only this time we were able to enjoy it in a way that we weren’t capable of with our first child, while we were so busy trying to learn how to live together and be a family.

And this year- a day late*, rather frazzled, somewhat haggard, kid made accessories, clingy-cranky baby way over-due for a nap, but still crazy in love (perhaps with extra emphasis on the crazy…see below).  I had thought I would take some time to really make an effort and do my hair nicely and put on make-up.  I must have been completely delusional.  I think I managed to scrape together five minutes, total, including dressing.  I was mostly just happy that I managed to brush my teeth.

I started making my dress, oh, about a year ago now.  And then I had a baby… and it sat and sat and… sat….  It’s the Sis Boom “Jamie Dress”, with modifications to make it a nursing dress (tutorial here.  I substituted ribbon for old bra straps).  Since we are trying to save money I thought I could finish this up and it would be a little something to make things special.  Instead of an act of love, I think it may have come across more as making myself crazy while trying to sew a dress on Valentine’s morning, because my earlier attempts were thwarted time and time again, while subjecting everyone else to my crazy self.  Which wasn’t quite what I intended.  Sometimes the big picture is a little lost on me.  At that point I just wanted it to be finished and wearable for the future.**

* It’s possible that on Valentine’s Day proper I was a bit on edge and that by the time dinner was on the table I was ready to be completely done with everything in the world and everyone within a certain age bracket.  As an undeniable signal of my total and absolute defeat I had already changed into my pajama pants.  Throughout the day as I was metaphorically ripping out my hair, usually while the baby was literally ripping it out, my husband would occasionally look at me with maniacal gleam in his eye and exclaim, ” Day of L-O-ove!”.

** There is a rumor circulating that in these pictures the nursing opening is being held up with safety pins.  I refuse to confirm or deny said rumor.


nursing dress take 2

This one is a winner, shown here layered over a nursing tank.  Yes, like the first one it more or less fits now, but in a much different way.  And yes, there was a point where I was close to tears because my clothes fit.  But it looks perfectly cute on my dress form, so I’m no longer worried about it.  I can see myself reaching for this one again and again, both the pattern and the actual dress!  The fabric is a baby blue organic jersey.  The pattern came from Meg McElwee of Sew Liberated‘s Sewing with Knits Craftsy class.  This is the Empire Dress, size medium.  I made a sleeveless version simply because I didn’t have enough fabric for sleeves.

A little tip: Several times a year Craftsy has a big sale and this class, which is usually $39.99 generally gets marked down to $19.99.  It comes with 5 excellent patterns for women’s wardrobe basics that can be combined and adjusted to make all manner of things.  I’m doing a lot of playing around with them these days.  Even if you aren’t interested in the class, which I’m sure is lovely, I just don’t happen to have time for it at the moment, that’s a pretty great deal just for the patterns alone.

p.s. My blog has been nominated for the Apartment Therapy “Homies” award, under the “Home Design and Inspiration Blogs” category.  If you are bored and feel inspired to vote, you can do so here.  My blog is listed under the name Bespoke.


Weekend in Maine

Some designs come to me in dreams that are hurriedly sketched in the morning.  For some, such as Elijah’s cardigan, I start off with a set goal.  In that case to design a classic, baseball inspired cardigan with certain elements, like color work, contrast trim and a v-neck.  Sometimes I’ll turn a design over in my mind for years, randomly sketching out the options, knitting and re-knitting it time and again in my mind.  And sometimes I just pick up needles and yarn and start knitting with no earthly clue where it’s headed.  Such was the case with this little caplet.

With the frenzy of getting ready for our vow renewal, I never got around to what is normally my very first packing step; making sure I have all the supplies needed for a trip appropriate knitting project.  I’m hardcore about situationally appropriate knitting.  There is a right and a wrong kind of knitting for almost every situation.  You don’t knit delicate lace or a huge blanket in the car.  This is the wrong way to knit.  You do knit hats, anything that has a lot of stockinette stitch done in the round, nothing too fiddly or cumbersome.  This is the right way to knit.  And always, always, always plan ahead.  Who wants to run out of yarn midway through a trip or movie?!?!?  Not I.

You can imagine my consternation when I had no set project for this trip.  I grabbed two skeins of yarn I’ve had kicking around with no particular project intended, they were a gift that I hadn’t quite figured out what to do with just yet, appropriately sized needles and a stitch dictionary.  I overlooked the need for a measuring tape.  Luckily my powers of estimation extend far beyond what I ever would have thought.  Or it was a total fluke that I could never again replicate.  Either way.

The yarn itself sort of determined the type of project.  I only had the two skeins, so it couldn’t be anything too big.  The yarn is a Malabrigo kettle dyed merino in the color ‘Paris Night’, a much more luxurious yarn then I would usually buy myself, as such I wanted to use as much of it as possible!  Sweater- too big, hat- too small, scarf- too boring….

I found a stitch pattern that looked like fun to work, starting playing with it, changed directions a few times along the way and ultimately ended up with this sweet little caplet here with a black velvet ribbon closure.

Details on the pattern can be found here.  It’s going out to test knitters later this week.  I’m looking for a couple of additional people to test knit.  If you are interested, you can leave a comment here or email me at


my gown

Oh my, this was an undertaking.  There is a reason why it isn’t odd for these things to cost thousands of dollars and it has very little to do with the cost of the materials.  I had just under 2 months to design and make my gown.  I could have used at least 10 extra sets of hands.  The experience…gosh, what to say?  It was frustrating at times.  Close your eyes for a moment and imagine trying to cut HUGE swaths of ivory fabric, on the floor, during mud season, with four kids constantly running in and out.  I think that’s the highest my blood pressure has ever been in my life.  I learned very quickly that my monitor is not to be trusted when is comes to fabric shades.  The caramel colored silk taffeta that I ordered for the bodice turned out to actually be salmon.  I ended up layering several layers and types of sheer fabric over it to mute the color to the nude/palest blush pink you see here.  I didn’t like the contrast between the new color and the ivory skirt so I ordered some “Pale Apricot” tulle….when I took the bright bubble gum pink bolt out of the package, I laughed so hard that Steve knocked on the door to make sure I was ok.   Yet more layering was the solution.  I used well over 100 yards of tulle.

Sometimes it was amazing.  Elijah took an odd interest in the process, at times taking on the role of my assistant.  I’d come down from putting the littles to bed and he’d be laying out fabric swatches for consideration on the futon with a baseball game on in the background.  For his eleventh birthday he learned to lace up a corset back dress.

The whole thing was done in secret.  Steve wanted it to be a surprise.  I tacked up a sheet over the playroom doorway and only worked on it when he wasn’t around.  The picture above, of him looking so handsome in his waistcoat, was his first time he saw my dress as I walked down the aisle towards him.

I lined the bodice with old work shirt of Steve’s and used buttons from my grandmother’s button jar for the bustle, because I’m ridiculously sentimental like that.

The last photo, on the stairs, shows the full train.  It’s bustled in the other photographs, which dramatically altered the shape of the gown, giving it kind of a trumpet flair around the bottom.

Suzannah from Adventures in Dressmaking’s blog was invaluable to me, especially the posts on how she made her beautiful gown.  Reading her story made me feel just a little bit less crazy for even attempting this.

All the photos above are by the lovely and talented Dawn Joseph.


doily table runner and other pretty things

There were candles everywhere.  I emptied out my cabinets and the pantry of jars in every shape and size and filled them all with ivory candles.  Jam jars, honey jars, canning jars, vases, whatever I could get my hands on.

The candle holders on the table were made in the style of faux  mercury glass, only in gold instead of silver.   Steve sprayed the insides a bit with plain water, then a coat of metallic gold spray paint and left them upside down to dry.  It gives a neat, uneven crackly sort of effect.  With a candle lit inside it creates such a wonderful warm glow.  He also spray painted all of the cream colored vases that show up in various pictures.  All of the spray painted items were five to twenty cent yard sale finds.

I wish I had more photos of the table runner.  I guess I could actually go and takes some, but that seems like an awful lot of trouble.  The contrast of the shades of white, cream and ecru over the dark cherry finish of my sewing table was just lovely.  I started from the middle and worked my way out because I had a particular piece that I wanted to be the center.  I pinned on a few at a time, overlapping them a bit and sewing them on the machine with a straight stitch and matching thread.  Normally when you sew lace you used a zig-zag stitch because it blends better, but for whatever reason the straight stitch worked much better for this.   For stability I tried to make sure that each doily was connected at least two points.  It was a very quick, fun, free-form sort of project.

All the photos above are by the lovely and talented Dawn Joseph.


easter wears II

My sweet sister, who knows all about my theories involving the curative powers of twirly dresses got me two new Modcloth dresses for my birthday.  This one is the Join Us dress in purple, under a lace top I made a couple of years ago, but failed to post about.  Do you recognize the lace from my bathroom window?

Somewhat embarrassing confession: for a little while there I was writing a book.  Not because I had a book deal or anything fabulous like that, just because.  And this blouse was one of the patterns I was working on for it.  It was inspired by a blouse that belonged to my best friend’s grandmother when she was young.  At 15 we used to take turns wearing the original for special occasions.  Because yes, we were exactly the kind of high school girls that thought a vintage lace blouse was très chic (not cool.  never cool.  we were better then that you see…).

The red wrap is sometimes a wrap and very often a scarf, depending on my mood.  Later in the day it went back to being a scarf when I had to stop pretending I wasn’t freezing and put on a wool cardigan.

The denim look leggings from J. Jill are a staple for me.  I bought them on clearance and wear them all the time.  It’s still much, much too cold here for bare legs!

The earrings and bracelet where hand-me-downs from my mom.  I wired that piece of mother of pearl to a ribbon for a necklace back when I was working on the book as well.

Hunter boots.  There is no navigating the ankle deep mud paths around here without them.

Hair very loosely inspired by this.

Clearly I was feeling very romantic from the waist up and practical from the waist down.  Which sounds more like some sort of dating advice for teenagers then any kind of fashion sense.


easter wears I

Several blogs that I read and enjoy do regular “what we wore” type features.  I can’t say that I’ve ever, to my knowledge, been considered a fashionable person and the idea of being the actual subject of a post (not the kids or a knitting pattern or something), honestly makes me feel more then a little self conscious.  The thing is that when I read those posts the over-all sense I get is one of fun.  Lightheartedness.  I could use some more of that in life.  Who couldn’t?  And frankly I’ve been on a bit of a frivolous kick.  I find this happens as I start to make my way out of periods of sickness when everything is so serious and practical and real.  Sometimes all I want to think about is finding the perfect pretty dress for twirling.  Something that in the grand scheme of things really doesn’t matter at all.  And yet…yet, it can be just the kind of pick-me-up that one needs in a period of mental torpor.  I am not beyond bribing myself into feeling human again.

Also…I want to play with my clothes, I want to feel playful with my wardrobe.  I wear the same old, same old, most of the time.  I think it’s time to mix things up, try some different combinations and see what happens.  Clearly I have the ability to not take myself too seriously, so we’ll see where this goes!

All of that said…I’m going to make Rosebud go first!

Don’t judge me.

You know you would rather see her anyway.

Besides, she’s really cute.

I think this is the first year of her life that I didn’t make her an Easter dress.  This sweet linen dress was my sister’s when she was a little girl.  It’s been sitting in a closet waiting for her to grow into it.  Rachel, my sister, wore it for Easter one year and then to my high school graduation after that.  If I had the time I’d go up to the attic and dig some pictures out boxes to scan and share.

It’s a coat over a sleeveless dress, but it was quite chilly, so she wore both all day.

The Wee Girl and I are lovin’ these painted min-bobby pins I found.  She picks out a new combination of colors to wear each day.

to be continued…


vintage inspired valentines

We went retro this Valentine’s Day, with a whole theme coming together in a completely unexpected, not to mention unplanned, way.  For me it all started with a dress.  I’m a little bit obsessed with Modcloth at the moment (p.s. follow that link for $15 off of a purchase of $50 or more).  I did not get myself a birthday dress, but I did pick out a dress that I thought Steve would like as a surprise for Valentine’s Day.  And since I was going for the ’50′s look already, I decided to go all the way out and do my hair and make up in period style as well.

Hair tutorial here.

Make up here.  I did skip the the fake eyelashes and the beauty mark.

related musings…

1) I’m pretty sure there must have been more like 26 hours in a day half a century ago.  How else was there time for all of this fussing?

2) I’m incompetent with eyeliner, lack of practice I suppose.

3) What are the odds that this makes up for all of the times when he comes home and I’m still in (or back in!) my pajamas??

Miss Màiri Rose was not to be left out of all of this prepping and primping.  With her brother’s dressed in head to toe red, she declared that she needed something special to wear as well.  Which put me in mind of the presumably (and accurately so) still too big, genuine 1950′s party dress I had airing out in the attic for the future for her.  Had I known she was going to end up wearing it, I would have made a slip to go underneath and replaced the missing sash.  As it was she wore it layered over another dress, with a random sash of pink ribbon about the waist.  And then, my goodness, she set about arranging her hair in a “hairstyle” of her own devising.

How very fitting, and terribly romantic, when after the kids went to bed, my love presented me with a vintage (yes, 50′s!) engagement ring for when we exchange rings during our vow renewal this spring.  It’s tucked away for safe keeping in a drawer just now, but it took me a solid 2 days to convince myself to take it back off.

My (other) gift to him; a vest to wear to that very event (Kwik Sew Pattern 2314, view B, with some modifications).

Unrelated to the theme, but still utterly delightful, were the ooey-gooey, grain-free (!) cinnamon buns we made.  We replaced the white sugar with coconut sugar and they turned out wonderfully.