Category Archives: Uncategorized

Retirement Sewing Room

My sewing room/workroom has always been a large basement bedroom downstairs. I have a large window that looks out on the garden, a store room, and a large closet. When I was working I was always in “make it work” mode. I also got stuck in a rut. It was not very conducive to try different space use things out. Why bother painting when the room gets trashed with dirty tents and gear?

Retiring gave me a chance to rethink my space. One of the goals of retirement was to find my joy in creating again. So what would that look like? More/better storage, a cutting table, freshening things up and slightly improved organization was the plan.

I have a huge cutting mat. It’s 70 x 48 and it’s 35 years old. It’s pretty worn. It will be hard to replace as I have not seen one that big in years. I saw an IKEA hack for a cutting table that looked amazing. My hub builds furniture for fun and hates IKEA, so I ordered up my own version of the IKEA Kallax hack table. My cutting mat is on the top which is perfectly sized to fit. The table is custom height for me. The cubbies are customized for storage bins and it’s on wheels. The best part is you can break it down into two cupboards if you don’t need the cutting part. It’s fantastic and I love it.

I wanted a sunny color. I wanted yellow: not too yellow to affect my color use but enough to augment daylight and be a happy color. I’m thrilled with my paint color. I put up some new shelves and my prayer flags. I acquired a bookcase from my retired husband that fit perfectly under the window. Last but not least, I played with various floor plan configurations of cutting table and machines. The fact that I sold my walking foot industrial made it much easier to squeeze four machine into the space. The table being on wheels is excellent.

What would complete the dream is a suite of industrial machines: a cover hemmer, a serger, and 5- or 6-thread flatlock.

Machines currently in use from L to R: Artisan needle feed, Babylock 644 serger, Elna 780 and a Brother 3550 coverhemmer.

Sometimes I am annoyed that I didn’t do this sooner, but as I’ve mentioned before I’d kind of lost my joy. Why would I be motivated to spruce it up when all I wanted was to close the door at the end of the day.

Zipper Magic

Sometimes being considered an expert is an awkward place to be. Sure, I know a lot of things and have cultivated that knowledge for many years, but also – there are many things I DON’T have a good knowledge of. And there are many areas where I know just enough to be dangerous and am not getting the result I want. I am always looking for opportunities to learn more and I get very excited when I meet people that can help me learn and answer my questions.

This brings me to Tailor Birgit of Pattern Adventure. I think I stumbled on Birgit when she joined my Outdoors Gear Repair Shop. She has a very special niche: custom outdoor clothing patterns and instructional courses geared towards outerwear. Her background is amazing, coming from a tailoring apprenticeship and fashion design/fashion house training, translated into custom outerwear. She offers several different online real-time workshops on project design and various aspects of construction. I started to explore course options through her appearances in the Sew Inspired by Discovery Fabrics Facebook group, of which I help admin.

What I am excited about is the new streaming course, “Sew a Zipper into a Jacket” available for purchase on Vimeo. The things you will learn, oh my. I was first exposed to her process via a Saturday morning general project course and couldn’t wait to learn more. For me, Birgit’s technique, process and tips has filled in the gaps in my quest to do nicer zipper finishes. Almost everything I’ve learned about zippers I have learned from reverse engineering and a few books here and there. I’ve been on quest to improve my jacket zippers for years but they were never quite perfect enough for me. I knew there was a better way but I was not getting there on my own.

Example of Birgit’s work.

No matter what I tried, I haven’t been able to get the tops of my collars square. Granted this may be a galloping horse* issue, but it matters to me.

*can’t see it from the back of a galloping horse aka the three foot rule

Birgit will walk you through the jacket zipper process in great detail, step by step, with voice and video guidance. She will cover everything from precise zipper placement, guards, inside finishes, topstitching, matching points, and most importantly: how it all comes together for perfectly lined up zippers from top to bottom. You get the “why” on why things are done a certain way. Her instruction is suitable for new sewers wanting to get it right the first time and seasoned folks looking to up their game. As a course to purchase that you can watch over and over, it’s very well priced.

Is it magic? Not quite, but having the right techniques to use can feel like it.

Link to course trailer: Sew A Zipper Into A Jacket

My first attempt. Not perfect but I learned so much in the process! The next one will be easier. This is a Polartec Thermal Pro (aka “Sweater Fleece”) Jacket using Wardrobe by Me Men’s Fleece Jacket pattern. Fabric is from Discovery Fabrics, my sponsor.

My friend Karen Dean is perfecting this method:

My Iceland Trip

My husband and I spent 15 days in a camper van on the Ring Road. Amazing does not begin to describe it. I have been getting lots of questions from friends so while it’s fresh, I will make notes. Any prices I mention are from August 2022.

First, a shout out to my blog sponsor, Discovery Fabrics. I had grand plans to sew everything for this trip but…life. However, I did an inventory and it looks like we were outfitted pretty well with Discovery Fabrics between me and my spouse: Neoshell jacket and pants, Polartec Powerwool pullover, Polartec Powerstretch pants, 2 Polartec Powerwool lightweight shirts, a Polartec Powergrid baselayer top, 2 Yoga Stretch leggings. These performance fabrics all did their jobs of keeping us warm, comfortable and dry in Iceland’s crazy weather.

Eruption just happened to happen timed with our trip.

Caveat: I am no expert. This is just my comments from a single trip. There is lots more information out there.


I booked a van last year (summer 2021) when Craig said figure out someplace for us to go. I booked a camper first as I figured that would be a good place to start. For rentals, you can get everything from a Rav-4 sized vehicle with a popup on top, to king cab 4x4s with campers and snorkels and small RVs. If you wish to go to the interior, 4×4 is mandatory as 4×4 is required by law on “F” roads. We had considered a 4×4 and nixed it due to cost (almost twice as much) but in retrospect, I wish we had done it. Next trip? I’m sure your only limitation is how much you want to spend.

We saw lots of rental campers that are a small vehicle with a pop-up tent. Our observation, confirmed by talking to campers, is that they are COLD for sleeping and really wet when storming. After one rainy night, we saw people wringing their mattresses out. Not for us!!

I chose CampEasy because of their excellent reviews. By booking so far ahead, I was able to get a good discount on the rental. Our van was a built out VW Transporter. We opted for this size because the table/bed conversion gives you a full width/queen bed. Smaller vans have the kitchen console long ways which gives you a double size bed: too small for us. The rig was basically equipped with bed that converts to benches/tables, a kitchen console with 12V cooler, 3 gal water jug with electric pump and a small sink, good heater and utility space. It comes with a single burner gas stove and basic kitchen stuff. We had the option to get a second burner and large pot which really helped with my cooking style. The van comes with bedding: duvets, pillows, sheet. This was adequate though good grief, who uses a cotton sheet in damp Iceland? Next time I will bring my own fleece sheet. Most of the van companies including ours offer extras like folding table, camp chairs and more. Whether they charge per day depends on the item and company. Our only complaint was the tires looked pretty iffy but thank goodness no issues. Iceland roads are hard on tires we were told. All in all, we were very satisfied with Campeasy. The vehicle was solid and the company very easy to work with.

Most companies including ours offer a navigation table that acts as a Wi-Fi router. They have their own info and nav software which connects you directly to staff for questions. Most importantly, you can add an unlimited Wi-Fi option for $6 day. Looking at phone plans, this made the most sense for us instead of taking what Verizon offered. In case you wondered how we could post prolifically to social media… that was how. Plus we had internet access to look anything up, good maps, etc. 4G coverage around the island was excellent.


For camping, there are several things to know. The first is wild camping/boondocking is expressly forbidden by law. You must stay in designated campground unless you have express permission from the landowner. Tourists created this situation by abusing the land; go figure. Second, there are campgrounds everywhere: most towns have one and some accommodations have a campground in addition to hostel or hotel. Lastly, no reservations are needed except maybe for Reykjavik city one. My understanding is all the rules apply in the interior, too.

It’s not camping like we have here in the US. Camping is a large grass area and you park where you want; there are not designated spaces. There is a central facility that will have toilets, sometimes showers, and a kitchen/washup area. Some have washers but no dryers. Showers are mostly free but not always. Bathrooms vary from very nice to thank god the toilet is clean. Washers are for fee too except for one campground we went to. We opted to cook in the camper as many times the kitchen was tiny with people lined up to use a single burner. These campgrounds are more like a legal place for people to stay at night as compared to camping itself as a destination. Most towns also have a geothermal pool/health facility. We showered, swam and soaked at a lot of these pools as they were very clean and nice compared some campground shower options. The farther you get off the Ring Road, the less people there are at the campgrounds.

Olafsfjordur camp

Cost averaged $21 a night, with showers $2-5. There is something called a “camping card” where you prepay for a small selection of certain sites. I did not get this as I did not want to be locked into specific sites; it is only good for a small selection of sites.


(Or lack of). When I started to research this trip, I found dozens of suggested Ring Road itineraries online. Pretty early on, we decided to do a camper and not book accommodations, the main reason being we did not want to be locked into having to be at a certain place on a certain day. In truth, distances per day are pretty consistent so I think if you did book based on a suggested plan, you can’t really go wrong. The only thing we booked ahead was the first night camping in Reykjavik. We booked a kayak tour the night before we got to Djupivogor and whale watching the same day we decided to go.

You will find different recommendations on whether to do the Ring Road clockwise or counter-clockwise. Advice I was given was to go whichever way the weather report indicates will be better. We started counter clockwise at that is where we ended up after hiking to see the volcano.

There are tons of good websites with suggestions of things to see and do, whether it’s hikes, historical sites, or attractions. We personally try to avoid “attractions” and crowds but at the same time, as a unique island there are places that you may want to see that will have crowds or that cost money. I head the Lava Show in Vik is pretty cool, with a second one opening in Reykjavik soon. Since we got to hike in to see the active volcano, we didn’t consider that or a helicopter flight. We also passed on the Blue Lagoon and found a smaller spa to go on the other side of the island.

I found the Rick Steves guidebook to be rather worthless for our style of travel. There were a few helpful tidbits, but I did better with a detailed paper map, Gaia topos downloaded onto our tablet, and Google (we had unlimited wi-fi). I did research with Google and Trip Advisor. There are several FB groups on Iceland Travel that I found after the fact that look like good resources. For hiking, I used websites (“ten best hikes” etc), local info (example, at Skatafell) and Gaia by zooming way in on topo maps. I did notice that East Fjords has trail guides (books in Eng and Isk) that have dozens of trails in them. Surprisingly, Trail Forks did not have much at all.

Things to see and do

You won’t be able to see and do everything on your list. With the help of maps and Google, I would pre-planned stops a day or two ahead. I did have a list of “musts” that got adjusted as we went along. There are Points of Interest signs EVERYWHERE but you don’t always know what the POI is. I found out on the last day there is an app called Kringum that will help immensely in knowing what sites are out there. There are Points of Interest signs EVERYWHERE but you don’t always know what the POI is. There are so many more than are marked on maps or in Google. I think this app helps to dial that in. Don’t be afraid to get off the Ring Road and explore. The non-F gravel roads are just fine.

Typical POI sign

Anyway, here are some of the things we did, and some we missed, with comments. This is based on our counter-clockwise loop.

Things we did

  • Active volcano: well duh, if you get the chance to see an erupting volcano, DO IT. The Icelandic powers that be try to make it as accessible as possible but it may be a rough hike in.
  • Grindavik: very close to many cool geothermal sites.
  • Hveragerdi: this is where they built a shopping mall over the rift zone. It is a very active geothermal area. We missed the river you can hike up one hour to natural hot springs to soak in.
  • Pingvellir National Park: this was high on my list as it’s a park devoted to the rift zone and an important historical site. It rated a “meh” from us for two reasons. One, it was really crowded and two, there is interesting rift geology all over the island. You don’t have to go just one place to see it.
  • Waterfalls: Every waterfall is beautiful, but in retrospect I might not have paid to park to see some of them (Seljalandsfoss)…. there are only hundreds you will see. One gets excited to *finally* see them. We skipped Skogafoss (see comments on what we didn’t do)as the parking lot was a shitshow with busses everywhere plus downpour. As you move away from the busy south, parking will become free for attractions.
  • Vatnajokull National Park: Yes, some of it is busy. But it’s amazing and worth your time. We spent two days camping at Skatafell, doing long and short hikes. The points of interest are all related to the unusual geology, and in fact the area is a UNESCO World Heritage Geology Site. We did a worthwhile short day hike to Svartifoss one day. The next we did a much hard, more strenuous day hike loop on the S3 trail to Kristinartidar Peak, a 14 km loop with great views. There are many small POI pull outs with interpretive signs that you should check out. The geology info on the signs is very in depth. We skipped the black sand beach at VIK due to torrential downpour. (see comments on what we didn’t do) You can get up close to several of the glacial lagoons. When you get to Jokulsaron Glacier Lagoon and the Diamond beach, look for pull outs that are not the main (bus) parking area.
  • East Fjords: the weather kind of crapped out on us when we were in this area. We did a lot of driving the mist-shrouded fjords that was quite beautiful. It looks like there is tons of hiking here. We did a kayak tour out of Djupivigor that was pleasant but kind of meh for wildlife; not sure I would recommend that. I chose that area to get away from crowded tours and it was listed as a wildlife tour.
  • Bakkagerdi/Borganfjordur: We went here specifically to see puffins at the bird sanctuary, but they had left already. There are puffin sites on the south near the black sand beach at Vik that we should have checked but I forgot to put those in my notes.
  • Kirkjubaer: this is the oldest wood church in Iceland. Our kayak guide told us about it. It was beautiful. If old churches are your thing, there are lots to explore.
  • Hengifoss waterfall: another beautiful waterfall hike. Not that long but straight up.
  • Studlagil Canyon: everyone kept telling us to go here for the basalt columns. It rated a huge meh. There are much much more interesting basalt features like Hengifoss waterfall for example.
  • Dettifoss waterfall. Stunning
  • Asbyrgi canyon: another meh from us. It is the same kind of geomorphology as Dry Falls but smaller and with trees all over.
  • Wool farm at Gilhagi. Great stop at a family run wool farm.
  • Husavik: Cute little town. The whale museum is totally worth it. We had dinner, walked through town, swam at the pool. We used this as a base for Myvatn area. We had initially booked whale watching here and cancelled it. I could see hanging out here for a day or two. The GeoSeas thermal baths spa with infinity pools overlooking the ocean was fantastic.
  • Myvatn area: We skipped the Nature Baths and Game of Thrones film site, and focused on the truly amazing geology. The geo sites are easy to explore with good trails and boardwalks. The hikes are pretty short. Namafell hotpots and Krafla crater are must-dos. The Krafla power plant has really good displays inside.
  • Whale watching: we scored by booking same day in Dalvik. We took a small “rib” boat out. It’s like a cushy zodiac. It’s fast and then they shut it off near the whales so you can get really close. We saw three humpbacks at very close range.
  • West and North: the weather turned again so we did more driving, scenery watching and checking POIs.
  • Textile museum at Bloundos: Totally worth it if fiber arts interest you
  • Eiriksstadir: this is a longhouse reconstruction/reenactment living museum. It is an excellent presentation. This was fascinating and totally worth it.
  • Reykjavik National Museum: very interesting and a good cultural base to start from. The lighting was poor which was a real disappointment.
  • Swimming pools: Every town has a geothermally heated swim center with showers, gym, lap pool, hot tubs and sometimes other features like sauna or waterslide. They are very reasonable and very clean. A great alternative to sometimes questionable campground shower facilities.

Things we missed for various reasons:

  • Reykjavik Market: I really wanted to do this but the volcano ate up our Reykjavik day.
  • Reykjavik Food tour: this is supposed to be amazing but they were all booked. Book in advance if you want to do this. Plus… the volcano…
  • Puffins: they had already left the East Fjords but were still in the Vik area at Reynisfjara Beach. I had read about this location but forgot to make a note. Plus it was pouring rain when we were at Vik.
  • Blue Lagoon. Not our kind of scene.
  • Skogafoss waterfall and hike: one, it was pouring and two, Craig was turned off by the hikers lined up like ants and the tour busses in the parking lot. This waterfall is the beginning of the Firmvorduhals hike which I really wanted to do. The whole hike is huge, going over the pass into the interior. There are ways to hike the whole thing and shuttle bus back, but we were going to do out/back up to the pass. There are something like 27 waterfalls on the way up, and once you get past the first couple the crowds supposedly really thin out. If it hadn’t been pouring I would have pushed to do it.
  • The interior: It is supposed be even more geologically unique and interesting in the interior, but requires a 4×4 you can take on F roads. It is undeveloped in there but there are camps and backcountry hostels. Next time.
  • Greenhouse tour.
  • Natural hot springs

Where we stayed

This is a list of the towns/sites we camped at in the order we went counter clockwise, with comments as needed.

  • Reykjavik City Campground
  • Porlakshofn this town looks really cute, had a good Thai restaurant, and a coastal bike path that looks really nice.
  • Vik
  • Skatafell Very nice National Park campground. Free washer and dryer. We stayed two nights here.
  • Djupivogor
  • Bakkagerdi
  • Skjoldolfssstadir hunting lodge
  • Husuvik campsite had borderline gross facilities.
  • Olafsfjordur
  • Holmavik
  • Grindavik

Weather and what to wear

It’s true, the weather really does change every 5 minutes. In one day we could have sun, mist, downpour, huge winds and any mixture of the above. In August, 2022 temperature ranges were from a low of high 40’s to mid 50’s. Keep in mind it is damp and windy. All the advice is to dress in layers. I usually wore a wind block fleece legging or softshell pants, light merino base layers, a heavier base layer or fleece pullover and a vest with a Neoshell (waterproof breathable) jacket, or some combination of these. At night in our van I slept in Merino base layers. I had a hat, gloves and a light buff that served multiple purposes. I had T shirts and light leggings with me I never wore.

I have several thoughts on rain gear. You will get everything from heavy mist to outright long torrential downpours. A friend suggested two sets of rain gear: one to wear and one to dry. We definitely used the “two coats” plan. If you have an Alaska Guide style rain coat (PU vinyl) instead of Gore-tex type fabric, I would bring it. Gore-tex and similar will wet out but not Alaska style gear. We caved and bought this kind of coat while we were there. Umbrellas are worthless because of wind. For feet, I suggest waterproof hiking boots and waterproof walking shoes at a minimum.

Me in my “Alaska Guide Style” PU coated vinyl raincoat.

Base Layer Zip and Collar Burrito Finish, Revised With Video

Hello! Here is the updated version of this tutorial, originally posted in 2002. I’ve added video segments that I hope you will find helpful. Link to full (32 min) video here. I suggest you watch the videos in addition to reading the photos and text. This tutorial is a mix of the old material and new and is not quite as seamless as I would wish. I recommend you read, look at photos, and watch the video.

If you are looking for a smooth, foolproof way to insert a zipper into knits or base layers, look no further. I will show you how to do an enclosed inside finish, even and matching seams, and a very tidy zipper insertion. You can use this technique with almost any zippered collar: base layers, vests, jackets.

Note: if you are making a jacket or vest with a full length zipper, you can skip to Part 3.

Thanks to Jalie Patterns for the the zipper insertion technique. 

Introduction to burrito collar finish

Part 1, prepare to insert the zipper

demonstration of how to measure/mark the zipper placement

(CF=Center Front, WS=Wrong Side, RS=Right Side)

Adjust, layout and cut your pattern as usual. Figure out how long you want the front zipper to be, and mark the CF. Keep in mind collar width added to the front panel for the length of the zipper. Mark CF with dots and a 2″ slash at CF.

Sew sleeves, back and collar on. Do not sew side seams; you want to work flat.

More on determining length and marking of zipper

Check length of zipper against collar fold point and your marks.  I have the collar fold marked with a pin. This is the final width of the collar.

Now, noting the exact placement of bottom zipper stop, mark bottom of the zipper with a pin:

How to mark and stablize the bottom of the zipper

Turn zipper RS down and going the opposite way it should, on the RS front. Secure the zipper.

Where you have bottom of zipper marked with a pin, use a couple of pieces of clear tape on the WS. This will act as a stabilizer when you sew the bottom of the zipper. 

Part 2, sew the zipper

Stiching the bottom of the zipper

Now, stitching very carefully, stitch across the bottom of the zipper, Next to the zipper stop. The RS of shirt up, zipper is RS down and pointing the wrong way. You will stitch next to the bottom of the stop, just as wide as the coils of your zipper, no wider. Take just a very few stitches, and backstitch. Even as pictured I took a few too many. You just want to secure the end of the zipper.

Then, you will carefully cut down the CF of your shirt from the slash at top CF, making a “>” at the end of the zipper. Clip EXACTLY to the edge of your stitching and make sure the legs of the  “>” are longer, not shorter.

For the next step of actually sewing the zipper tape to the fabric, a nifty notion called Wonder Tape is very helpful. It is washable, and really keeps knits from distorting during this step.

Using Wonder Tape to secure the zipper

Apply the Wonder Tape to the RS of the zipper. Turn the long cut edge of the fabric and press carefully to zipper tape to secure, making sure there is no distortion. Do not stretch or distort. Now stitch carefully, starting exactly at the apex of the “V” cut. Use the zipper foot to get close to the coil. Note that on the grey fabric, the edge of the fabric opening is placed only part way to the edge of the zipper tape. This is done deliberately as placing the cut edge at the edge of the zipper tape will take up to much seam allowance. Stitch from bottom to top stop on both sides.

Note: Normally I teach to sew the zipper with the fabric down, zipper tape up for reasons of easing the fabric. In this case, we want to see *exactly* where we are are putting the needle to start sewing from our cuts, and we do this with the fabric side up.

sewing the collar facing to the zipper

Part 3, finish the top of the zipper

If you’ve done the prior steps correctly, you’ll have a zipper attached to main part of the collar. The zipper should stitched up to the top stop, which is just at the desired height of the collar.  Finish the top of the zipper by folding it over twice. You can secure the folds with a pin, then fold the collar facing over the zipper tape, RS facing to RS collar. Make sure the top stop of the zipper is at the fold line for the collar, and that the raw edge of the facing is 3/8″ below the the collar/neckline seam. Using a regular zipper foot, baste the facing into place. Turn RS out and and check that the top stop is where you want it. Then go back and stitch with a zipper foot, from top of zipper to the collar seam, no farther. Do both sides. Check that collar seams and top corners/top stops are even by zipping the zipper closed and checking from the right side. Adjust as needed.

Part 4, the actual burrito

You will really want to watch the video for this part. This is where we make the actual a “Burrito Style” enclosed finish of the facing. Fold the facing to inside. Use a pin to secure it, matching the neck seam line to the seamline of the facing. Make the following marks on the facing and the neck seam: center back, shoulder seams, a point 1/2 way between shoulder seams and center back, and on facing only, exactly where the edge of the zipper tape is.

where to make your marks before you construct the burrito
Getting the burrito ready to sew

Matching the marks, fold the zipper down, and bring the RS collar facing to the collar seam, seams together, RS of collar facing to WS of shirt front body. You may have to “roll” the zipper to enable bringing the facing around. If you have done this right, the zipper is inside. Line up the neck seam with the seamline of the facing matching the mark a the zipper tape and the shoulder seams, secure with pins. The zipper tape and the shirt front will be enclosed in the “burrito”. You should have something that looks like:

Your burrito should look something like:

Your burrito should look like this.

Tips: This is very fiddly so be patient with yourself. Feel for any folds or places where the fabric inside the burrito might be caught with a pin. You can work the start point with your fingers (arrow above) to make sure the seam allowances are flat.

Sewing the burrito

Now, sew your seam. Start at the marks by the zipper tape, then follow over the existing neck seam with the facing, all three layers. Sew at t least to the shoulder seam. Make sure you sew only along the seam allowances, not catching the body of the shirt. Carefully pull on your burrito to turn it right side out. Check for small pleats or catches and fix them if you need to. Once you have it the way you want, press or finger press; you can even topstitch if you want. You are all done!

A great partnership….

Introducing our sponsor, Discovery Fabrics

I am very excited to announce Discovery Fabrics of Campbell River, BC, Canada as our official sponsor. If you haven’t visited Discovery Fabrics, Sew Inspired by Discovery Fabrics on Facebook, or the physical store on Vancouver Island, you are missing out.

Discovery carries a full array of Polartec fabrics, including hard to find items like Delta, Power Wool, Powershield, and Neoshell. There is a huge selection of Schoeller fabrics, luscious bamboo fabrics, luxurious knits, reflective knits, and other high quality active wear fabrics. You won’t find this selection anywhere else. What you need to know is in addition to a fabulous array of technical and other fabrics, Discovery Fabric is committed to excellent customer service. Whether it is helping to select the right technical fabric for a specific need, or color matching various fabrics for perfect coordination, they can help.

Do it…. you know you want to….

I’ve know Leslie for years and it feels great to formalize a long relationship. I also help out at Sew Inspired by Discovery Fabrics Facebook Group as admin and resource person.

I do hear occasional grumbling “..but they are in Canada….the shipping…”. I get it: shipping costs have gone up. Two things stand out to me. One: It’s not much more to order from Discovery Fabrics than anywhere else. Two: It’s worth to me for the access to fabrics I cannot get anywhere else and to support a business that goes above and beyond with customer service.

The Discovery Fabrics website says, ” We are obsessed with quality because we use the fabric sell. We source our fabric from the best mills and factories in the world. “

I will attest to that.

I am keeping the blog!!

The Blog Stays!!!!

Part of retirement has been figuring out budgeting now that Specialty Outdoors as a business is no more. I found out yesterday that I will be keeping this website and blog after all…. got some great news from my hosting service.

What this means for you is some updates – who wants to update when the site might be going down – and continued blog entries. The hardest part is remembering to do photos and video documentation when I am working so I can create posts for you.

Speaking of video…. I do have a YouTube channel with an assortment of how-to tips that I have gleaned over the years.

Also, stay tuned for a very special affiliate announcement.

I retired!!

Badass Sewing For Dirtbags

Yes, I retired.

October of this year I called it quits. That’s right…done..finito…no more. I not only wasn’t enjoying my work anymore, I was downright annoyed and irritated at things I shouldn’t be. It’s not your fault you do not know about zipper wear. My dear supportive husband finally said, “so quit”. So I did. It took about 6 weeks to close old orders and accounts but I can honestly say by Thanksgiving I was done.
The notes and comments have been amazing. It’s nice to feel appreciated.

What does the future hold? I don’t know yet. I’m creating joy sewing for myself, and mentoring sharing my knowledge with budding sewists, primarily through the Sew Inspired by Discovery Fabrics group on Facebook.

I have been making some little tips and tricks videos, posted on my YouTube Channel.

Thanks for all the great years and stay tuned for what’s next.

Van Shade Tutorial, tab mounted shades

As a lifelong sewist, of course I want to make my own van shades instead of paying someone else. I looked at a few different products both online and in person, and decided “why not?” I have access to materials, skills, and time so here goes…

This is what I came up with for the first iteration. These mount over recessed back door windows, taking advantage of the dead air space for insulation value and the steel to fasten magnets to. This tutorial is for what I will call a tab mount as pictured below. I will be experimenting with snap mounts and flush mount later. Update: new magnet videos added at the bottom of the tutorial.

Not too shabby for v1, eh? I am happy to walk you through what I did. I have lots of different windows in my van, and as I learn more and try things I will add to this tutorial. Why a tutorial? Read my blog post on Hoarding Information… this will explain a lot of where I come from.

About this tutorial and videos: I don’t have a sewing channel. I’m not about a slick set up to get followers. I just want to share what I know and help you to do it better. I jokingly call my videos “keeping it real” because I don’t have coordinated craft containers with a designer look and I don’t have VLOG set up. I have a busy workroom in my basement where I have many personal and work projects going at any given time. I’d rather make a video while I am working than take the time to make my workroom look picture perfect. I hope you find something useful here.

Let’s Get Started!!

First, equipment:

  • Sewing machine, walking foot recommended. New needles size 90.
  • Spray adhesive, repositionable type for fabric (quilt shop)
  • Craft clips
  • Straight edge
  • Pencil
  • Shears/snips
  • Blue tape
  • Flat surface for layout, marking etc.
  • High quality thread
  • Flat surface for cutting

Tips: A walking foot attachment, or a machine with a built in walking foot, will make working with layers much easier. Layers tend to shift when the feed dogs are only on the bottom. Most home machines have an attachment you can borrow or buy.

Materials – links at bottom of list

  • Inner/outer cover: 1.9 oz coated ripstop from OWF
  • Insulation: Warm Window from Joann or 200 wt. Thinsulate from OWF
  • 1” grosgrain ribbon, OWF
  • 1-1/2” grosgrain ribbon, OWF
  • 1-1/4 or 1-1/2 webbing OWF
  • 1” Velcro hook and loop OWF
  •  1” grid pellon for patterns, Joann
  • Magnets,  60 x 10 x 3 mm neodymium magnets for tabbed shades;  Applied Magnets


Note: I am not an engineer, so I didn’t spend a lot of time trying to puzzle out R value information. Warm Window is a tried-and-true window product. Joann regularly puts out 40% off coupons so I thought I would start with it. I was concerned it would be bulky but I think it is OK. I opted for ripstop covering instead of a cute print as I am very concerned about condensation.

One reason I started with tabs is that getting magnets that are small enough to insert into a binding (for a flush mount) that aren’t super expensive is a challenge. Wider ones that need tabs are easier to find. (.40 each vs $3.50 each!!)

1. Measure: Measure the window opening in the door, not the window itself. Add ½”  or more all the way around (total 1” or more additional in length and width). This will depend on how much you want the shade to overlap the steel around the window.  I find it helpful to use 1” grid Pellon for patterning as you can keep your pattern squared up accurately. Draw out your measurements on the Pellon.  Cut out pattern, mark where you think you want your magnets to go. There will be now seam allowance: this is the finished size of your shade.

2. Cut: Cut each layer of material out. Do not use pattern for cutting yet. Cut layers larger than you need. Example,  If your window is 24” x 24” cut pieces 30 x 30. Cut all pieces (inner, outer, insulation). This is insurance. You need a bit of a margin when working with layers.

Tip: Measure twice. Measure three times! No kidding – once you cut, you are stuck with it.

3. Layout and stacking: Using your flat space, lay out newspaper to protect from overspray.  Using blue tape, tape outside layer right side (RS) down to table, smoothing out wrinkles. Spray with fabric adhesive. Add your next layer, the insulation, with the side you want out facing down to the wrong side (WS) of bottom layer.  If you are using Warm Window, the Mylar should be down towards the outside; quilted side up. Make sure there are no wrinkles. Spray with fabric adhesive. Add top layer, the one for the inside of the shade, right side up. Make sure all layers are aligned straight and evenly.  Reposition anything if you need to. Make sure everything is smooth and press together with your hands. This technique is the same with any insulation you might use.

4. Cutting. Layout pattern centered on all three layers. Make sure there is excess in every direction. Make sure pattern is aligned to fabric grain. You may pin through all layers at the edge. Cut all layers at once with sharp shears. Use craft clips to secure the edges all the way around so you can baste them next.

5. Baste cut edges by stitching close to edge (1/4”) with long stitch on sewing machine. If you have a walking foot, use it as it will help feed the layers more efficiently without shifting.

6. Determine quilting pattern. If you are using Warm Window you can match the quilting for folding with the lines manufactured into the insulation. Quilt line spacing will depend on how you want to fold the shades. Mark quilting with a long straight edge. Do two parallel rows, 1/8” to ¼” inch apart for best folding. Quilt.

Tip: Don’t be in a hurry. Make the time to double check your work each step of the way. Did you miss a place? Is anything missing/backwards/upside down?

Make Tabs:

You need to determine magnet spacing for your tabs and make the tabs.  I used 60 x 10 x 3 mm neodymium magnets and made my tabs 3” wide. To make tabs:

Cut 1.5” grosgrain. You will need 6” per tab. Example: 10 tabs, 60” of grosgrain.

Cut 2 strips 30” long.

Stitch together by overlaying the long edges,

Cut into 3” strips.

Fold each piece in half and stitch the short ends closed.

Separate magnets and get them ready to insert into tabs.

 Clip tabs into position on outside of shade.

Sew tabs into place, inserting a magnet in each one as you go around. Make sure to tuck the magnet into the pocket and DO NOT SEW OVER MAGNET.

Next, get your straps ready. These are the ones that will hold the shade when it is accordion folded up. You will want a longer on on the outside, shorter one on the inside.

Getting ready to bind and binding:

By now you should have a finished shade! Check it for missed catching of Velcro, straps and binding. Everything oriented correctly? Clip all your threads, and go test it out!!! Does it fit? Pull it flat and make sure it’s squared up evenly around your window. What do you think?

As I do more research and develop my own ideas, I will be sure to add to this tutorial. Happy sewing! #vanlife

UPDATE: I’ve added two video about magnets and how to install in the edges. Note on magnets – I say a couple of different sources, but this is what is correct: 1″ x 1/4″ x 1/8″ is what fits in the binding. I have only found these at Applied Magnet. Amazon has all sorts of magnets, but not these. Here’s the link:

1″ x 1/4″ x 1/8″ Neodymium magnets

Base Layer Zip and Collar Finish

(new reformatted page coming soon, apologies for formatting)

Hello all, I know it’s been ages since I posted anything new. Here is a tutorial from the archives. If you are looking for a smooth, foolproof way to insert a zipper into knits or baselayers, look no further.


I will show you how to do an enclosed inside finish,

Even and matching seams,


And a very tidy zipper insertion:


First, thanks to Jalie Patterns for the the zipper insertion technique.  Grey garment pictured is the Vuokatti baselayer pattern, offered free by Shelby Kaava Outfitters.

Let’s get started!!

Zipper Insertion

Part 1, preparation

(CF=Center Front, WS=Wrong Side, RS=Right Side)

Adjust, layout and cut your pattern as usual. Figure out how long you want the front zipper to be, and mark the CF. Keep in mind collar width added to the front panel for the length of the zipper. Mark CF with dots and a 2″ slash at CF.


Sew sleeves, back and collar on. Do not sew side seams; you want to work flat.


Check length of zipper against collar fold point and your marks.  I have the collar fold marked with a pin. This is the final width of the collar.


Now, noting the exact placement of bottom zipper stop, mark bottom of the zipper with a pin


Turn zipper RS down and going the opposite way it should, on the RS front. Secure the zipper.


Where you have bottom of zipper marked with a pin, use a couple of pieces of clear tape on the WS. This will act as a stabilizer when you sew the bottom of the zipper. 


Part 2, sewing


Now, stitching very carefully, stitch across the bottom of the zipper, RS of shirt up, zipper is RS down and pointing the wrong way. Take just a very few stitches, and backstitch. Even as pictured I took a few too many. You just want to secure the end of the zipper, no wider.

Then, you will carefully cut down the CF of your shirt from the slash at top CF, making a “>” at the end of the zipper. Clip EXACTLY to the edge of your stitching and make sure the legs of the  “>” are longer, not shorter.


For the next step of actually sewing the zipper tape to the fabric, a nifty notion called Wonder Tape is very helpful. It is washable, and really keeps knits from distorting during this step.

Apply the Wonder Tape to the RS of the zipper.


Turn  the long cut edge and press to secure, making sure there is no distortion. Stitch carefully, starting exactly at the apex of the “V” cut. Use the zipper foot to get close to the coil. Note that on the grey fabric, the edge of the fabric opening is placed only part way to the edge of the zipper tape. This is done deliberately, to keep the opening narrow and undistorted.


Finish both sides of the zipper. If you have been careful, you’ll have a nice, even, small  opening like pictured below.  When you are crossing the collar seams, make sure that they match up on either side Check this before you stitch. Fold the seam allowances towards the collar. This will also help with the collar treatment. Pick off any excess wonder tape you can see. The rest will wash out.


Collar Finish

If you’ve done the prior steps correctly, you’ll have a collar attached to your top The zipper should be about 1/2 way up the collar, with the top of the zipper at the desired height of the collar.  One some patterns you may want to trim the collar down. Reserge the cut edge.


Once the collar is trimmed,  finish the top of the zipper by folding it over twice. You can secure the folds with a pin, then fold the collar facing over the zipper tape, RS facing to RS collar. Make sure the top stop of the zipper is at the fold line for the collar, and that the serged edge of the facing is lined up with the collar/neckline seam. Then stitch carefully using zipper foot,  to secure the collar facing.


Do both sides. Check that collar seams and top corners/top stops are even by zipping the zipper closed and checking from the right side. Adjust as needed.


Now for the fun part. We are going to do a “Burrito Style” enclosed finish of the facing. Fold the facing to inside. Use a pin to secure it  about 3/8 from the edge of the zipper, and a chalk or other pencil to make visible marks for that point on both the collar and the facing. (pictured) You might also want to make a marks on the collar facing where it meets the shoulder seam .(not pictured)


Make sure that both the facing and the collar marked:


Matching the marks, fold the zipper tape down, and bring the collar facing to the collar seam, seams together, RS of collar facing to WS of shirt front body. Match your marks, and secure the two seams together. The zipper tape and the shirt front will be enclosed in the “burrito”. You should have something that looks like:

Note that the zipper is folded down under my fingers on the left side of the image.


Continue to pin, securing seams all the way from the zipper  to the where the shoulder seam intersects the collar, if not farther. Keep checking to make sure the shirt front and the zipper are not getting caught.

Close up view of the start:


Use a narrow to medium zig-zag, sew your burrito. Start at the chalk marks by the zipper, and the two seam allowances together. Catch only the seam allowances, not the body of the shirt. Go at least to the shoulder seams if not farther.


Go as far as you can before you get to so much bulk folded inside that you have to stop. On most fabrics, you can go at least to where the shoulder seam meets the collar, and on light fabrics, farther. So go as far as you can, then back tack. Carefully undo the burrito checking to make sure you haven’t made any pleats. If you have done it correctly, you will have a nice finished facing. After you have burritoed both sides, to finish the CB part of the facing, just lap the collar facing edge on top of the collar seam edge and stitch in the ditch to hold the facing down.


Bad Things That Happen To Good Gear

I suppose I should keep a tally but I don’t.

The Top 10 Bad Things That Happen To Gear, in no particular order. Outside of normal wear and tear, more or less…

1. Melting (backed into the stove, embers, dryers, heaters…)

2. Ultralight gear breaking from being ultralight.

3. Dog or other animal ate it.

4. Tore a hole in it. (tree branches #1 cause).

5. Saggy pants splitting at the crotch (wear a belt, dude)

6. Straps pulling out of seams (mostly poor construction, more on this later).

7. Zipper sliders getting squashed.

8. Zippers breaking from dirt and general wear.

9. Zippers breaking from not being threaded correctly at the bottom.

10. Lack of care: salt and dirt degradation of fabric

Now, for normal wear and tear –

  1. Worn down zipper sliders.
  2. Worn plastic on male pin at the bottom of a zipper.
  3. Worn out Velcro.
  4. Worn out elastic.
  5. Aged fabric – worn through, UV degraded, weakened
  6. PU  and other treatments/coatings flaking off

Zippers, Velcro and elastic are all fixable, more or less. The rest? Not so much.






Keeping Technical Clothing Clean

I’ve heard it many, many times:

“You are supposed to wash it?”

“I don’t want to ruin it by washing it.”

“My coat doesn’t keep me dry anymore but I have never washed it”.

Really? You think that sweat, grime, and dirt is GOOD for your clothing? Enough of my ranting. Keeping your investment clean a critical component to making it last. Salt, grime, sweat,  and body oils reduce the function of the properties that make your clothing special. Surface dirt affects the DWR (Durable Water Repellency), and the rest of it can clog moisture movement.

The days of Ivory Soap Flakes are long gone. Now there are excellent products out on the market that make keeping your clothing clean and functioning easy. The two main product lines are Nikwax and Granger’s. They both make a full line of environmentally friendly and easy to use laundry products specifically formulated for different types of fibers. You will want to read the label to be sure you are matching the right product for your particular item. There are down washes, soft shell washes, fleece washes and washes for hardshells and even ropes.

For hard shells, you will have the choice of a one-step or two step process. The steps are cleaning your item, and refreshing the DWR. The two-step process is washing first, then waterproofing.   I have not yet tried the newer one step products. If you opt for the two step process for your hardshell, I suggest using the spray-on for the #2 step, and not the wash-in. The reason to choose the spray on is that that you will not be coating the lining of your item with DWR, which, if coated, can make it feel funky and possibly reduce the effectiveness. Whether you go one-step or two, it is easy: just follow the directions on the bottle.

I wash all our shell clothing at the end of the ski season, and then again mid-way through. One additional thing you can do with your shells is to toss them in a low dryer for a few minutes without washing them. The heat reactivates the DWR, which is the treatment that makes moisture bead up on the outside.  WARNING: use a low dryer, not hot. Hot dryers are the enemy.  The DWR does lose effectiveness after time, due to environmental conditions, so you will want to renew it using the above instructions to wash and renew. You know if moisture is not beading up that it’s time.

You can do down items with down-specific products. There are two critical elements. The first is to only use a non-agitator washer like a front loader, and the second is drying your down. The drying is the critical element with down as it can take hours of air dry and breaking up clumps by hand to get your item fully dry.

A few other tips:

  • HOT dryers are the enemy. Avoid them at all costs. You can melt things and  cause seam seal tape to delaminate.
  • You can use “Shout” and similar laundry helpers to get grime and grease out. You can even use Simple Green or Dawn for things like chair lift grease.
  • Do not spend extra money for sportswear oriented laundry products. Just use your regular stuff with some OxiClean.
  • For handwashing, just use baby shampoo instead of Woolite. Milder, and cheaper.



Make Lycra Bike Shorts, Part 1

IMG_4632Making biking shorts can be a rewarding project. If you have a serger, a machine that does a zigzag stitch, and basic sewing skills, you should find these easy enough. If you do not have a serger, do not despair as long as your machine has some zigzag options. If you need a reference, the Singer books on active wear, sergers or stretch fabrics are all very good.  Unfortunately, many patterns for cycling gear have been discontinued. You may find them on eBay, Esty or other venues for older patterns. Jalie has made 2216, their multisize pattern for shorts and jerseys, available for download for a small fee. Other patterns to look for are Stretch & Sew 313 and 312, Kwik Sew 1727 and 1233, and Green Pepper 404 and 409. Sometimes retailers will have old stock for sale.

flowerjerseyLycra Notes: Different lycras have different amounts of stretch. Swim lycra is thinner, and is less supportive, plus the quality will  vary depending on where you buy it. Swim prints are fun for a panel insert. Supplex lycra has a lot of give, and is  cool to wear in the summer. 9 oz,  called Beefy or Cordura lycra, is excellent, but heavier/warmer. It is very supportive, and very durable. You may need to go up a size in your patterns if you use this lycra as it is more dense and less stretchy than other types of lycra. There are some two way only lycras out there (rashel knits) These only stretch lengthwise; DO NOT BUY this kind of knit. Be sure the lycra is 4-way stretch.  If your local store does not have a good selection of lycra, check the Sources page.

Sewing notes: For seams, a serger with wooly nylon is best. You can experiment with flat-lock seams if you want, but I have not had good success with the typical 2/3 thread flat lock options. If you have a cover stitch machine, you can play with seaming it from both the RS and WS to mimic a top loop cover stitch. If you only have a regular machine for your seams, look and see if your machine does this stitch: __//__// ; it is an excellent stitch for seaming lycra.

Chamois/Pads: I used to make them from scratch but forget that. AeroTech Designs has a fabulous selection of chamois to choose from to put into your shorts. The pads come with installation instructions.

Cut: Cut the pattern according to directions. You may want to add extra length to the legs, or some additional seam allowance if you think you might want to make adjustments to the fit. Mark the pieces carefully as it is easy to get the panels mixed up. Because of narrow seam allowances, use a pencil to mark instead of snips. If you want to put in a print accent, replace one of the side panels. Do not put on the elastic at the waist or legs, or put in the chamois yet.

Fit: Once you have the shell of the short made, you can tweak the fit. I have a really small waist, so I always take it in from the hips on up. You can also make the legs longer or shorter, or lower the waist. Do not forget that you will fold over the waist and the legs 1″ when you add the elastic.

Installation of waist and gripper elastics is  covered in Lycra bike shorts Part 2

Note: This is an updated version of an article that used to exist on the original website

Working With Silnylon

This is the first of several articles from the “old” site that I will be reissuing on the blog. I have some great info on tarps along with a file full of assorted schematics that I plan to put together in a tarps entry coming up.

Silnylon is silicon impregnated ripstop nylon. It is extremely waterproof, extremely lightweight (1.1 oz. per yard), and extremely durable. Ultralight backpackers love it for this reason. It’s a little tricky to work with, but making your own gear out of silnylon is very rewarding.  Tarps, tarptents, raingear and even re-usable shopping bags can be made with silnylon.

You can find it at, Outdoors Wilderness Fabrics. Check the Sources page for additional suppliers.


  • use “taut sewing”: apply tension to the fabric with your hands, in front of and in back of the needle. The object is to tension the fabric, not pull it through.
  • use a good quality polyester thread
  • a walking foot (even feed) is a very helpful accessory
  • Use a #80 or 90 needle and make sure it is new and sharp



  • glue stick
  • binder clips
  • pins in seam allowance


  • use SHARP shears.
  • try hot cutting two layers with a soldering iron, using a sheet of glass underneath. This will seal your cut edge so it won’t ravel, and if your two edges are going to be seamed anyway it will hold them together.
  • rotary cutter with mat

Seam ideas:

  • Plain Hem: fold 3/4″ twice and edgestitch.
  • Mock flat fell seam: illustrated here. To make a “mock” felled seam, use a 1″and 1/2″ seam allowances, and fold the longer one around, then top stitch
  • Seam illustrated at Ayce’s Workshop

Sealing silnylon: use McNett Silnet.

Welcome to the New Site and Blog

Welcome to the new Specialty Outdoors site and the new blog. I’m excited to bring this live!  The hand-coded 1997 version was overdue for a makeover.  It’s been a while in the works: after some futile attempts to update the site myself, I realized I was in over my head and went to plan B, hiring some pros to help me do it. So, first of all, big thanks to Nile Sprague of for the web help and Ted Moon of MoonVue Graphics for the graphics.

I love the new look, and hope you do too. My intent is to provide clear information about the business side of Specialty Outdoors, and to bring freshness to the “Tips” section. I may muse a little about my work.  Don’t freak if you can’t find some of the tips you may have had bookmarked: older material will be updated via blog entries, and I hope to introduce new material as I go along.

Where does “Badass Sewing for Dirtbags” come from? Not too long ago, I was introducing myself to one of the new ski patrollers at our home mountain, and that’s what he said: “I’ve heard about you! You do badass sewing for dirtbags!” That made my day, and it beats the heck out being The Zipper Lady.

You can follow me  on Facebook or right here.

Stay tuned and thanks!!