Part Two of My Semi Annual Shot of Inspiration

The fall post of my sewing retreat promised photos of clothing created by some of the participants. As was mentioned, the tables are full of yardage and remnants coaxing those who are extremely clever to put them to use. Helen is one of those who has no fear. She bravely goes where no sewist has gone before and emerges as the queen of creativity. I should have a Pinterest board just titled “Helen”. She has repeatedly demonstrated how to recycle clothing in the most unique ways. Here are some of her delightful creations.

Keep in mind that some of the garments in the following pictures are in various stages of being finished.

There is a love/fascination with deconstructed jeans over the last year. Helen and her daughter jump right in and make the most if it.

Its so much fun to have Helen and her two daughters with us. Below is a jacket that Alex is working on. It’s great to see the similarities and differences in their work.

It was Helen who introduced us to piecing thrift store t-shirts together. My sister, Patty, has made several but her latest is her “cocktail hour” t-shirt. After collecting an assortment of blingy shirts, she amazed us with this one. Perfect for happy hour.

Terry is another accomplished sewist. Having taugh Home Ec for many years, she sews at the speed of light and has mastered the pieced t-shirt. Her work is always executed with perfection.

The following tunic was made from two men’s sweatshirts. Looks cozy, eh?

Our group is honored to have such a thoughtful, contemplative sewist as Gwen. She leaves her sewing machine behind and brings handwork for us to drool over. She has mastered hand stitched embellishments on scarves and shawls, a staple in her wardrobe.

Some painted polka dots, some cut out, layered with another fabric and hand stitched. It’s beautiful and drapes wonderfully. Oh such patience!

JM started this piece when we arrived. It was a smallish piece of hand stencilled fabric that she was hand stitching onto a jacket. Oh how I wish I’d taken another photo at the end of our week. It was just so clever and yet so simple, something that I strive for in my work.

Janet was inspired by the wildlife on a recent trip to Africa. I am impressed by anyone who takes on thread painting. Nice work, Janet.

While Kay won the “lottery” for this dress, the woven piece she was creating was fascinating to study.

Vicky always amazes us with something extremely beautiful and thoughtfully engineered.

Annie came to us with just the basic sewing skills. She knocked our socks off this year with this stinking cute, adorable tunic top. Then she revealed that she has been taking sewing lessons! I think she could teach us a thing or two.Such nice work, Annie. And here she is modeling Janet’s purchased green crinkly vest. We loved the wonkyness of this with its asymmetry and tucks. A huge thanks to Jenny who worked to get this pattern copied while at the retreat. Although I made it from similar fabric when I got home, it’s that green color that really gives this vest it’s personality. The pattern is available from Jenny. It’s called Janet’s Green Vest!I hope this post leaves you with some inspiration for the new year. Do you have some creative goals?  Have you thought about how you will achieve them? Will you teach a new technique to an eager student? Will you finally take that class or retreat you’ve been putting off? Whatever it is, I hope it’s realized in a way that brings you joy and and a sense of accomplishment.


My Semi Yearly Shot of Inspiration Fall 2017 Part 1


Having just returned from what is now my semi annual sewing retreat with my tribe of like minded sewists, my mind is full of new ideas and my cabinets have a whole boat load of new fabric in them. Because we have so much fun, share so many wonderful garments and jewelry creations, and infuse each other with fresh ideas, another retreat was added last March. Yay!!!!!!!! Twice a year now!

Although it’s only been seven months since our last retreat, the racks and tables were as full as ever. Here’s just one of the things we look forward to: everyone is invited to bring fabric and/or garments to give away or sell. On Sunday night after check in, we “shop” the garment racks and put our name on the tags of items we would like to buy. If more than one person has their name on the tag, a drawing is held the next night. After dinner, we all gather in the large sewing room in eager anticipation and then applaud the winners good fortune. Here are some of the racks of clothes. Shoes, belts, scarves, etc. also are offered.

And yes, Terry got the Kantha cloth coat she is admiring. It’s reversible! And it looks adorable on her.

The “freebie” table includes all manner of fabric. Scraps, patterns, yardage, patterns, decorator samples, patterns, vintage linens, patterns, old clothing, patterns, a huge container of old buttons, patterns, and then there were some more patterns! One participant moved this year and decided to thin out her collection of patterns. It was divine! Thanks Sharon!

That little corded basket was part of the gift exchange this year and it worked perfectly for gathering a stash of buttons.

Since there is no copyright on clothing, we spend quite a bit of time tracing off garments. What we can’t accomplish on our own, lovely Jenny makes the patterns for us (and anyone else who wants them). These are some of the ones I considered ordering from the box. It probably represents about a quarter of what’s available. And after last week, there will be about five more coming. Thank you Jenny.

Thanks to Janet, this was another year to enjoy her offbeat jewelry making. She uses everything from rubber bands to fabric covered wire to hair ties.

My sister and myself.

These are fabric covered wire balls/flowers. They can be manipulated into whatever shape you’d like.

Aren’t these the cutest lime green rubber bands?

The following picture is a necklace made of rubber bands and three great beads. My sister and I saw the same exact necklace MINUS the beautiful beads in a high end boutique in Berkeley for 79.00!

Who doesn’t like a black and white mix of patterns?

Lisa brought some huge rusty pipes along with some smaller rusted items, a big spray bottle with vinegar and some plastic tarps so we could try our hand at rust dying. No tetanus shots required. It was so simple and because it was quite warm, we got quick results. Terry’s shirt is a good example. Does her husband know that he “donated” that? 

Isn’t that yoke awesome?

It’s really appreciated when ones who have taken classes during the year share the results of what they’ve learned. Although eco dying has been featured before, I thought this was such a beautiful example and Lisa used the best part of it in this knit t-shirt.

This is just so beautiful. It looks 3D.

A huge thanks to Gayle who took a marbling class from a  “Master Marbler”. Who knew there was such a thing. She said that after following the teachers old world technique, she broke out her own esthetic. I love this. The colors, the large print, the garment, the asymmetry. It just looks like the person wearing it is having way more fun than I am.

In my next blog I will share with you some of the wonderfully creative garments that were made while we were there, some made straight from the scrap table! Stay tuned for Part Two in my next blog.

The last pictures are before and after pictures of Victoria’s painted canvas that she made while at Zephyr.  I love what she did with it after she returned home. Please excuse the blurry pictures.

Such a clever idea for a fabric container. Nice work, Victoria. Couldn’t you just see a few of these in your creative space?

Wishing you all fresh sources of inspiration whether it be rust, wire or rubber bands. Carry on and create!

For The Love of Artists

by Mary Boalt

The four of us are down to the wire getting ready for the retreat at Zephyr Point. Paint purchased. Check. Polymer clay. Check. Patterns packed. Check. Fabric folded. Check. Printouts printed. Check. Sewing machines oiled. Check. August has proven to be a month of list making and crossing items off, online ordering and packing up, getting kits ready and buying supplies. We certainly want our students to have the very best experience in the most beautiful location.

Despite being busy with that, my sweet husband drove us to San Francisco so I could attend the American Craft Counsil show at Fort Mason. I’ve wanted to go for years and I wasn’t disappointed. Neither was he since there was an “educational whiskey tasting opportunity” for bored husbands. The building was full of high quality vendors that I’ve only seen advertised in upscale craft magazines. To meet the artists and see their work up close was inspiring to say the least. Beautiful, amazing, head scratching techniques punctuated by comical and thought provoking works of art. I highly recommend it and would love to attend again next August. And if the whiskey “educators” are still there, I think Tom would be on board too.

Photos from every booth would have been nice but that is frowned upon and I didn’t want to ruin a beautiful day with that restraining order stuff. So the best I can do is to share business postcards and websites. These were some of my favorites.

As you can tell, I loved the raincoats made by Mau. I’m a sucker for anything with text on it. Painted, printed, stenciled or silk screened. I love it. And this was all done on Tyvek!

It was my good fortune to run into some extremely creative friends, Shams and Margy. But not so lucky to have a social media person from ACC ask me to pose with them.  I was so underdressed in comparison…I cropped out my cropped pants and black and white converse tennis shoes! Oy! It’s been a while since I’ve “been down off the hill”.

If you aren’t familiar with these artists, you can follow them on their blogs. Shams writes Communing with Fabric and Margy writes A Fool 4 Fabric. Taking a class from Shams and seeing her trunk show was jaw droppingly good. She is a technical wizard. And Margy has exquisite taste in packing a travel wardrobe. I have learned a lot from her and used her ideas for a couple trips to Europe. Another favorite blogger of mine is Gayle Ortiz of Gayle has the willingness to learn any textile technique and then turn it into beautiful creative garments we would all want to wear.  We would love to know who your favorite bloggers are.

Please excuse the lightweight blog this month. Must get back to checking things off the list, crossing the i’s and dotting the t’s!  We look forward to seeing about 40 of you in just a few days. And don’t forget to bring your scissors for sharpening! Tuesday is scissor sharpening day. Also, one student, Patty Blesso, who hails from Orangevale is looking for a ride buddy. Leave all the driving to Patty B. Email her at if you are interested.

We will be posting pictures of our classes over the next month so that none of you will feel left out. In the meantime………

Carry on creatively!



I Don’t Lie, I Embellish!

by Mary Boalt

Do you get excited by the unexpected addition of hardware on clothing? Perhaps something unusual for closures? Or something ordinary used in an unordinary way?  I’m a sucker for all of it. The weirder the better. I love those clever details that make a garment unique.

Let’s start with some images from Pinterest and go from there. I’d love to know what kind of staples these are. I would definitely start stapling my clothes together.

Or these! What cool buckle/clips!

And now let’s move on to grommets with a kind of jump ring to connect the pieces. Or not.

Or laces.

And this from Diane Ericson. I’ve used grommets before but not quite like this. This darling idea is going on the list of things to try very soon. This type of grommet is extremely easy to install. You can find them in the drapery section at Joann.

And now for things that I have tried. These parachute clips will be revisited on another garment. They were easy to add and I like the way they work.

This is Butterick 6381. I added the hanging pocket.

This one keeps the hanging pocket closed.

This is a Marcy Tilton pattern from Vogue. #8934.  It’s a preprinted stretch denim that I found at an outlet store in San Francisco a few years ago. The idea to use carabiner clips came from my friend Helen. She has been known to sew door hinges onto her garments!

The back features a giant “snack pocket” with the upper flap piped with zipper teeth.

And speaking of zippers…..I found these zippers at the same place I bought this fabric. My sister, who lives near Phoenix, takes me to SAS fabric warehouse. We humorously refer to it as the Topless Bar Fabric store since it is around the corner from….you guessed it, a topless bar. But hey! Fabric can be purchased by the pound there! What’s not to like about that?

Zippers closed.

Zippers open.

Again, zippers used as trim on the outside of the pocket opening.

I bought this bicycle panel from Diane Ericson and then went to work adding the hardware; zippers, brass jumbo hook and eye tape and iron on metal dots.

This is the zipper that goes to no where. It’s just trim.

This is jumbo hook and eye tape. And a shirt “borrowed” from my husband.

Grommet tape down the sleeve.

No piece of zipper goes to waste. This extension is inserted in the collar and wraps around and snaps in place to keep the collar closed.

This is The Peony Vest from The Sewing Workshop.

Interesting button found at Ben Franklin in Grass Valley. It’s layered with a copper button that was gifted to me.

And the addition of grommet tape with jump rings. This comes in black or white at Sugar Pine Quilt Shop in Grass Valley.

Here’s another of Diane Ericson’s fabric panels. This time the Snap To It Jacket pattern from Louise Cutting was used. Along with lots of snap tape and the addition of another hanging pocket. Yup! Gotta love those hanging pockets… idea gleaned from a Diane Ericson pattern. Can you say “groupie”?

Snap tape in the split cuff.

One more. And yes, it’s another Diane Ericson jacket. The Ventana. I used cafe rings and clips for the front closures as well as for the side flaps that wrap around to the front. It’s a very interesting pattern that just screams for cool hardware.

Have you been inspired to put some hardware in your next garment? Use zipper teeth as piping? How about some drapery hooks or grommets. Although I can’t quite bring myself to use door hinges, there is some garter tape in my stash that’s calling my name.


Cooped Up Inside

by Mary Boalt

Oh this rain!!! It feels like day 40 of The Great Deluge. The sun has not made an appearance in about a week now and I’m not one who enjoys going out in the “wetness”. What an opportune time to catch up on some sewing projects. The first one was the last to be added to the list. I just couldn’t wait to try out this pattern that my friend, Jenny, made from our retreat in October. It is absolutely the most snugly garment I own. Perhaps you remember these pictures from my fall blog.img_2759img_2754img_2755img_2756img_2760img_2758I love that this can be worn so many ways.

The first one I made from a reversible gray polka dot knit. Sorry, no pictures. I made it for a friend who admired it from the blog. The second one is made from a gray ponte knit which was printed from my ever expanding supply of stencils.img_3345img_3365img_3368img_3375Because this is a single layer of knit, I layed down a single strip of fabric so that the buttonholes would be reinforced. I did the same for the row of buttons.img_3384

And two patch pockets added on an angle.img_3385

If you are interested in this pattern, you may contact Jenny Freedman at It takes 3 yds at 60″. It’s a great blank slate for embellishment.

The next garment was made from my stash. This piece of fabric was purchased in Paris about two years ago. I just fell in love with it but decided it was time to get something made from it. The pattern is an oldie for sure. But I wanted straight lines because of the stripe in the fabric. I have not finished it yet. I am waiting for a third set of buttons to show up in the mail.img_3358img_3383img_3382I hope our readers are mulling over their choices for our next Zephyr Retreat. I have already received my first deposit from a student. I’m so excited. All the stencils you saw in this post will be available for use in my Painting on Canvas class. I’m up to about 65 stencils and about to order more!

I hope this post finds you staying warm, dry and possibly enjoying some sunshine.

Going Postal

by Mary Boaltimage

I see potential in things about to be discarded. For some reason I feel I must rescue them from their demise. And it’s not because I have tons of time or the skills to refurbish them. I just love a makeover and want them to be pretty before I send them off to a new life. So last spring when my sister sold her home of 25 years, I agreed to take the ugly dresser that had been living in her garage. It had become a tomb for used golf balls, old party favors and an odd assortment of those mysterious leftover parts from DIY furniture. She had acquired the dresser in high school and it had been protected by a thick coat of “hello yellow” paint along with “go go boot” white trim and wooden knobs. It was in remarkably good shape for an inexpensive piece of furniture from the hippie era.image

But chalk paint has become all the rage and it just needed a coat of the latest fad lovingly applied to it. A rich taupe. With black stencils. Postal stencils. French postal stencils with script. Yes, that was the look I wanted.

It was simple to pick up the paint and coordinating wax locally. Pricey but worthy of this new painting experience. Some reasonably priced black paint from the hardware store was planned for the insides of the drawers. But the stencils? Much research on the internet finally proved fruitful when I discovered etsy. And there they were! Exactly what I wanted. Three large stencils. Each with its own very large price tag. For a brief moment I even considered cutting my own stencils to cut costs. However, when my husband reminded me that I’m known by name in the emergency room, I ruled that out. I do not have a good track record with sharp instruments.

With all my tools and supplies ready I cleaned the dresser, painted it inside and out, quickly applied the stencils, waxed it and installed nice new drawer pulls. It was now ready for a beautiful new life. Apparently a life with me. After an unusually successful yard sale, I still own it. Sigh.  Perhaps the fact that I had pulled it barely three inches out of the garage might have made its availability questionable.imageimageimage


But those stencils. I still twitch when I think how much I paid for them. So I decided that they will find their way into all my artwork. I’ve stenciled them onto painted canvasses. Some of those canvasses have been made into purses. I decorated some clothing with them. And now I am currently accepting ideas on more ways to use them. Perhaps decorate my own postal receptacle with them. Anyone out there have ideas?





Here are some photos of a plain white blouse makeover using the stencils and embroidery thread.imageimageimageimageimage


This last picture of painted and stenciled canvas is an example of what I’ll be teaching at the Zephyr retreat in September. image

Announcing our Artistic Alchemy Retreat 2016

We have exciting news! Christine, Heidi and Sandra wish to announce the addition of Mary Boalt to Artistic Alchemy. You may have been introduced to her briefly as our Artist-in-Residence last year at Zephyr, or by her first blog post last week. We are over-the-moon happy, as Mary brings wonderful skills and creativity to our group, and they dove-tail perfectly with the three of us. If you do not know about Mary, you’re in for a treat. Welcome, Mary!

B Mary cute

We’re also delighted to announce the workshops for our 2016 Artistic Alchemy Retreat, September 5-9. Many of you have been asking about it, and all the info you need is now available via the link above. Please read carefully the description and supply list for the workshop you’re interested in, and let us know if you have questions. Class size is limited and spaces are reserved by deposits taken. We welcome Open Studio students as well. Here are brief descriptions of our workshops:

A portion of a Japanese X Plus block in Kaffe Fassett prints

A portion of a Japanese X Plus block in Kaffe Fassett prints

Christine Barnes: Color is a delight—and a challenge—for every quilter. Come learn how to conquer color in Christine’s new workshop, “It’s All About Color!” Mock-block exercises acquaint students with three simple concepts and the color wheel (an amazing tool for quilters). You’ll then put the theory to work in a quilt project using one of Christine’s designs or your own pattern.  All levels, all styles, though the emphasis will be on modern fabrics used in both modern and traditional quilt designs. Lots of individual attention from Christine and class critique of every exercise will leave you with a new understanding and love of color.



Rosemary’s bear project from the Zephyr 2015 Retreat

Sandra Bruce: Back by popular demand is Material Matrix. If you have taken my class in a guild or a shop class setting, or have seen my work and want to try you own image using my technique, this is your chance. (Heads up: my 2017 workshop will most likely be polymer and not Matrix.) This workshop is for intermediate to advanced sewers. Come learn something completely different and challenge yourself to a new technique.


IMG_20150409_160828Heidi Emmett: “Off the Grid Vest” is what we will be making in my wearable art workshop. Last year’s students were so successful! I can’t wait to show you how easy it really is to create your very own Art to Wear piece that will be a showstopper every time you put it on. This workshop is perfect for advanced beginners on up.


IMG_1521Mary Boalt: “Painting on Canvas & Painting on Steam-a-Seam” is for those who have no painting skills but want to produce a work of art. We will be layering paint, stencils, stamps, and hand applied details on canvas. You can choose how to use your canvas when you return home—will it be a wall hanging, a floor cloth or, like me, cut up and made into a one-of-a-kind tote or purse? Painting on Steam-a-Seam will show you how to raise your embellishment techniques to a new level of beauty and sophistication. These techniques are useful for clothing, quilts, wall hangings, purses, pouches and any number of gift items.

We hope we have piqued your interest and opened your eyes to the creative possibilities of our 2016 Retreat. Click here to be taken to the Workshops page, where you can download the registration form and see the fees and accommodation options. We’d love to have you join us at Zephyr this September—we can hardly wait!