Monday, March 29, 2010

Encyclopedia of Sewing and Fabric Crafts

Almost a year to the day the first Encyclopedia of Crafts was released, fans of the fabulous crafts by the busy elves at Martha Stewart Living have a new book of projects to inspire and delight, this one devoted to fabric and sewing. The book is out today and I'll be getting my copy shortly! In the meantime, here is the official write-up.

Whether you just bought your first sewing machine or have been sewing for years, Martha Stewart’s Encyclopedia of Sewing and Fabric Crafts will open your eyes to an irresistible range of ideas. A comprehensive visual reference, the book covers everything a home sewer craves: the basics of sewing by hand or machine, along with five other time-honored crafts techniques, and step-by-step instructions for more than 150 projects that reflect not only Martha Stewart’s depth of experience and crafting expertise, but also her singular sense of style.

Encyclopedic in scope, the book features two main parts to help you brush up on the basics and take your skills to a new level. First, the Techniques section guides readers through Sewing, Appliqué, Embroidery, Quilting, Dyeing, and Printing. Following that, the Projects A to Z section features more than 150 clever ideas (including many no-sew projects), all illustrated and explained with the clear, detailed instructions that have become a signature of Martha Stewart’s magazines, books, and television shows.
A chapter on doll making.A chapter on wall décor.

Beautiful photographs, as always This CD comes with the book, containing printable and downloadable PDF templates and patterns for the projects in the book. This is the splash page on your screen once the disc is loaded.

An enclosed CD includes full-size clothing patterns as well as templates that can be easily produced on a home printer. Fabric, thread, and tool glossaries identify the properties, workability, and best uses of common sewing materials. And, perhaps best of all, when you need it most, Martha and her talented team of crafts editors offer you the reassurance that you really can make it yourself.

The projects are as delightful as they are imaginative, and include classic Roman shades, hand-drawn stuffed animals, an easy upholstered blanket chest, a quilted crib bumper, French knot-embellished pillowcases and sheets, and Japanese-embroidered table linens, among many others.With gorgeous color photographs as well as expert instruction, this handy guide will surely encourage beginners and keep sewers and crafters of all experience levels wonderfully busy for many years to come.

Photos by Laura Normandin, MSLO

The Martha Stewart Cable Channel?

According to several publishes sources, including the Los Angeles Times, Martha Stewart Living Omnimedia is in talks with Crown Media (which distributes the Hallmark Channel) to potentially develop a Martha Stewart lifestyle cable channel. There was no comment from either MSLO or Crown about this, but Broadcasting & Cable writer Claire Atkinson (who has been right about these things before) assures readers that these talks are taking place, but insists that they are very preliminary with no formal plan yet in the works.

For us fans, this is amazing news! With Martha Stewart poised to take up 1/3 of all of Hallmark's air time this fall, the idea of a Martha Stewart cable channel is simply the next logical step. Just think of the possibilities! If there was to be a Martha Stewart network, what sorts of new shows would you love to see, aside from repeats of Martha Stewart Living?

Saturday, March 27, 2010


Even for the most secular Jews, Passover is revered as a sacred time that represents the arrival of spring and a time of renewal. Of the major Jewish holidays, Passover ranks as the most spiritual and generally follows weeks of in-house preparations for the holiday and the new season: cleaning, purifying and making the home kosher in the lead up to the Seder ritual, which is held on the 14th day of Nisan on the Hebrew Calendar.

Orthodox Jews will often burn the leftovers of non-kosher foods as the holiday approaches and will go to great lengths to ensure all evidence of leavened bread is removed from the property. For the more secular, Passover is the ideal time to begin a spring cleaning regimen that will often include the donation of old clothing to various charities and vigorous housekeeping.

The annual holiday meal at Passover is also called a Seder, which literally means “order” in Hebrew. The Seder involves the retelling of the liberation of the Israelites from slavery in Ancient Egypt, often told by an elder in the community or within the family. Traditionally, family and friends will gather in the evening to read the text of the Haggadah, a spiritual work that contains the story of the exodus of the Jews from Egypt. It includes special blessings and rituals, commentaries from the Talmud and special Passover songs.

Ronnie Elgavish, an architect, designer and writer working in Israel, styled the Passover scenes you see in these photographs by Michal Lenart, which were published for Ronnie, whose blog features expository texts on lifestyle and design, is a friend of mine (and a fan of Martha’s!) and he told me a bit about the Seder in a recent discussion:

The complete holiday spiel might take around 3-4 hours of reading the book, singing about 5 traditional songs, drinking a few glasses of sweet, red wine – in sync with various phases of the storyline, enjoying the meal – and exchanging gifts. Since bread is traditionally forbidden during the 10 days of Passover, Matza bread is eaten instead – in commemoration of the quickly cooked dough made during exodus. As part of the Ritual, the Matza bread (usually shaped Orthogonal or Circular with tiny holes) is revealed for the first time- on top of the Seder table; and since Passover is a holiday with a very specific type of Kosher-ness, many families hold a separate set of dinnerware for this holiday only.

Because of the emphasis placed on fine dinnerware, Ronnie says that houseware stores in Israel often see a big spike in their sales:

Sales are increased in ridiculous percents as shoppers are not only looking for a nice display as entertainers – but for giving away gifts as well. New collections of all brands and designers, local and international - are therefore presented everywhere – from mid February onwards.

The Seder table is traditionally set in a formal manner, and family members come to the table dressed in their holiday clothes. For the first half of the Seder, each participant will only need a plate and a wine glass.

At the head of the table is a Seder Plate containing various symbolic foods that will be eaten or pointed out during the course of the Seder. Placed nearby is a plate with three matzot and dishes of salt water for dipping.

The six items on the Seder plate, include:

  • Maror and Chazeret: Two types of bitter herbs, symbolizing the bitterness and harshness of the slavery which the Jews endured in Ancient Egypt. For maror, many people use freshly grated horseradish or whole horseradish root. Chazeret is typically romaine lettuce, whose roots are bitter-tasting. Either the horseradish or romaine lettuce may be eaten in fulfillment of the mitzvah of eating bitter herbs during the Seder.
  • Charoset: A sweet, brown, pebbly paste of fruits and nuts, representing the mortar used by the Jewish slaves to build the storehouses of Egypt.

  • Karpas: A vegetable other than bitter herbs, usually parsley but sometimes something such as celery or cooked potato, which is dipped into salt water, vinegar, or charoset at the beginning of the Seder.

  • Zeroa: A roasted lamb bone, symbolizing the Pesach sacrifice, which was a lamb offered in the Temple in Jerusalem and was then roasted and eaten as part of the meal on Seder night.

  • Beitzah: A roasted egg, symbolizing the korban chagigah festival sacrifice that was offered in the Temple in Jerusalem and was then eaten as part of the meal on Seder night.

For a lovely description of a traditional Passover menu, including recipes, visit

Chag Semeach! (Happy Holiday!)

Friday, March 26, 2010

Great Eggspectations

In the April issue of Martha Stewart Living, holiday guru Eric Pike and his assistant Athena Preston put their creativity to the test and raise their egg-spectations to new levels of egg-cellence. (Okay, I'll stop.) Below I've showcased some of the egg crafts from the issue, which have a charming, retro feel to them, almost psychadelic in their technicolour designs.

SPRING MENAGERIE: Playful creatures (including Martha's French bulldog Francesca) and fresh vegetables adorn these eggs. Each design starts with circle stencils made using a craft punch and black adhesive vinyl. For the carrot and radish, the circle stencils are modified with a craft knife; the stem stencil is cut freehand. Butterflies call for half-circles: For the one in front, orange dye is dabbed into stencils on a pale pink egg; for the one at the back, half-circles are adhered to a pale-peach egg, which is then dipped into darker peach dye. The little baskets were inspired by wirework egg holders that were popular a century ago. To make your own wire stands, wrap 20-guage wire around a pen, flatten the resulting coil to create a series of loops, and then twist the ends together to form a ring.

EGGS IN BLOOM: Flowers and leaves give chicken and goose eggs a rich, complex look. The designers used red and green, but pastels would make pretty eggs as well. The design is achieved simply, using vinyl stickers and two dye baths. Vary the length of time of each dye bath to achieve lighter and darker gradations. Use a permanent-ink pen to draw on flower stems, if desired. You can also stencil on flower centers.

SCRAMBLED LINES AND LETTERS: These graphic eggs take a design cue from the printing press, where misaligned plates result in slightly skewed, or "off-register," type and images. In this interpretation, vinyl letters or narrow strips of electrical tape are applied to an egg; it's dyed, and then the letters are shifted before the egg is dipped into a different colour. Add a handwritten name with a permanent-ink pen to create an additional, personalized layer of scrpit.
WHICH CAME FIRST?: These 'cracked' eggshells get their jagged edges from electrical tape; use a craft knife to cut a random jagged pattern into a strip of tape, and then position it around an egg that has already been dyed a pale colour. Dip the egg again, partially, into the same dye bath again, up to the tape, holding it until the desired darker shade is achieved. A chirping chick is created by dapping food colouring into vinyl stencils.

SQUARE DEAL: Bright colours and geometric designs make modern-looking eggs. A graceful vintage wirework holder displays three of them. To create the pattern, pieces of electrical tape are shifted slightly between two dips in dye. For chiken eggs, 1/2 inch squares were used; for the larger goose eggs, slightly bigger squares were used, as well as rectangles. When layering hues start with the paler one and move on to the darker one.

COLOUR LESSONS: These overlapping circles stenciled onto eggs beget a batch of new hues. The design pays homage to CMYK printing, which combines cyan, magenta, yellow and "key" black to yield a spectrum. Here, food colouring is dabbed inside vinyl stencils that were cut with a craft punch. For the dark egg, red and blue dots are made first, and then circle stickers are smoothed onto the shell. After a dip in inky-black dye, the stickers are removed.

Photographs by Johnny Miller

Thursday, March 25, 2010

The Greenwich Street Collection

New from the Martha Stewart Signature collection with Bernhardt is The Greenwich Street Collection. Recapturing the cool elegance of iconic mid-20th-century design and reflecting Martha’s enthusiasm for that transformative era, the collection features bedroom, office and dining components with lines and proportions that are pure and restrained. Rich rosewood veneers sport a deep Clove finish, while metal ferrules and smooth Tumbled Brass hardware provide a touch of the cosmopolitan.

You can order the 12-page catalog for $8.00 here. The swivel chair, library and secretary look lustrous, clean, functional and durable.I really love this tufted bench.The Greenwich Tall DresserThe Maddox Slope-Arm ChairThe Greenwich upholstered bed.

Tuesday, March 23, 2010

Cleaning with Meaning

In the April issue of Body + Soul there is a great article by Amy Maclin about the meaning of cleaning: the spiritual and meditative rewards of removing clutter, washing the floors, doing the laundry and scrubbing the toilet. If it sounds laughable, don't fret; the author thought so too until she really started to think about cleaning as a form of care and not a form of punishment.
The author once likened cleaning to killing a rattle snake (doing away with it before it bites back) but realized that in our haste to get the chores out of the way so that we can get back to our real lives we are missing an opportunity to find peace in our quest for order. Consider cleaning a journey that is part of our 'real lives' and not an obstacle keeping us away from more pleasurable pursuits. (Anyway, in the end, someone still has to clean the crisper so we may as well get something out of it.)

Maclin relays some mindful housekeeping tips from lifestyle author Elisha Goldstein in the article. As we grapple with our spring cleaning to-do list, and our ongoing daily chores, they may help take the edge out of it all:

1. Imagine that you're doing a particular chore for the first time. In your mind, it's just a sink full of dirty dishes to be cleaned. Think of it as a sink full of bubbles instead.

2. Use your senses, focusing on one at a time. Appreciate the warmth of the water on your hands, the gleam of the sparkle on the faucet, the scent of the lavender cleanser.

3. Consider cleaning a neutral workout. Incorporating mindfulness techniques into everyday life can make you calmer, more adaptive and patient, and your day more peaceful as a consequence.

4. Don't think of housework as punishment: Cleaning is cultivating kindness for yourself by imparting love to your surroundings.

Did you know that cleaning is revered in many religions around the world as a virtuous pursuit? There are twenty-four verses in the book of Leviticus alone that relate to cleaning. The Japanese religion, Ittoen, is centered around the selfless practice of scrubbing other people's toilets. Every week before the Sabbath, observant Jews are meant to clean their houses in preparation; Passover cannot be properly observed unless every single crumb of leavened bread is gone from the carpets, the cupboards and the car. Shaker and Amish communities revere cleaning as a means of self-discipline and an avenue towards enlightenment.

Some literature on cleaning, from the how-to to the philosophical:
  • The Quotidian Mysteries: Laundry, Liturgy and "Women's Work" by Kathleen Norris
  • The Mindful-Based Stress Reduction Workbook by Elisha Goldstein
  • Martha Stewart's Homekeeping Handbook by Martha Stewart
  • Laundry: The Home Comforts Book of Caring for Clothes and Linen by Cheryl Mendelson
  • Home Comforts: The Art and Science of Keeping House by Cheryl Mendelson
  • How to Clean Everything by Alma Chestnut Moore
  • Next to Godliness: Finding the Sacred in Housekeeping by Alice Peck

Monday, March 22, 2010

Blog of Interest: Laura Normandin

One of the great things about 'studying' a brand like Martha Stewart is learning more about the people who help make it so strong...and so beautiful. One such artist is Laura Normandin, who has been working in the crafts department at Martha Stewart Living since the mid 1990s. With her shock of red hair and bright blue eyes, she would look right at home meandering through the heather in the Scottish highlands, but she is a Kansas girl who now lives in Park Slope Brooklyn with her husband Ben and her cat Maggie.
Laura's website and blog, called Wren Handmade, are veritable wells of inspiration, which is not surprising. She has been responsible for some of the most wonderful craft projects in the magazine, working alongside Hannah Milman to build a department unlike any other in the media world. They have been entirely successful. Below are some highlights from her website, a showcase of some of her artistry:
Laura made this beautiful book of illustrations, which she calls an "Anthology of Internal Exploits and External Joys." Handbound using treated Japanese paper, the imagery that Laura has sketched seems almost ephemeral and ghostly on the translucent pages.Laura is a very talented jewelry designer. I learned a while ago that some of her earrings are sold with us at Anthropologie! (Laura is not only "Very Martha" she is also "Very Anthro"!)Laura's work has a vintage feel to it: the look of beautiful age. This project, called "The Mercy Seat: A Book of Symbols" is a much more bold approach. Using cutouts of material and paper, she creates a lovely record of graphic icons in a three-ring cardboard binder.
On her blog, Laura announces that she will be co-hosting some of the sewing events on April 1rst at the Stitch Fest being held at Omnimedia in Manhattan. Click here for details on how you can buy tickets. (One of the events is already sold out!)

Friday, March 19, 2010

Jens Jensen and Skylands

Occasionally I receive an email from a reader that just blows my mind and sends me reeling into the throes of excitement. One such email came from Michael Fus, the preservation architect for the Chicago Park District. In 2005, Michael had the good fortune of visiting the grounds at Skylands as part of a group tour for landscape architects. The focus of the tour was the work of Danish landscape designer Jens Jensen, who designed the grounds of this marvelous Maine property for Edsel and Eleanor Ford, a property currently owned by Martha Stewart.

In Michael's email was an offer to send me a disc of his personal photographs from his walk through the Skylands acreage as well as an academic thesis on the history of the Skylands property written by Jane Roy Brown - a marvelous study of Jensen's work with Edsel and Eleanor Ford, who commissioned Jensen in the 1920s to landscape the property. The thesis, entitled "Skylands - A Jens Jensen Landscape in Maine" is fascinating, compelling and revealing. Brown was able to attain original plans, documents and letters written between Jensen and the Fords, tracing the formative ideas behind this great property, to write a splendid independent project on the early development of Skylands.

Michael and I agreed to share these photographs and some of the more interesting points of the thesis with the Martha Moments audience. The landscape is too beautiful, too alluring and too fascinating to keep it all to ourselves. It must be shared and experienced. Thank you, Michael, for this opportunity. We hope you enjoy the photographs and the information.

This sign on the property was likely put up by the second owners of the house, the Leedes. According to Brown's thesis, the origin of the name "Skylands" is a mystery. Nowhere in any of the original documents obtained by Brown is the property referred to as Skylands, nor in any of the letters she was able to research. The name Skylands does appear on some of the postcards from the area from the 1950s, however. Jensen's landscape at Skylands is unique for several reasons. First, it is the only maritime landscape project he ever undertook, making it all the more special for the region and for the history of American prairie landscape design. Jensen was initially taken aback by the rugged wildness of the property. He was used to midwestern landscapes of flat expanses of terrain, deciduous forests, grasses, prairie flowers and gently flowing streams. The crashing waves of Seal Harbor, the dense coniferous forests of pine, spruce and hemlock, the proliferation of rocky outcrops and promentories presented quite a challenge to Jensen's philosophies. In his book, Siftings, Jensen writes this about the Skylands property:

"It is far from the prairies of the west to the rocky coast of Maine, to a different landscape with its different beauty - a new world for the prairie mind to understand and to learn to love. The general tone of Maine's landscape is rather dark in comparison to the sunny openness of the prairies. In Maine, spruce predominates on the granite bluffs, and granite appears like black loam of the plains. There was much about these hard, rocky precipices that fascinated. Plants strange to me clung to the bold rocks, and beyond was the sea with its changing colors and vast horizons."

Among his main concerns for the design of the property was the great swaths of coniferous trees. In some of his letters to Ford, he referred to non-deciduous forests as 'drepressing.' Prefering the seasonal evidence of trees whose leaves change colour in the fall, and that disappear in winter, Jensen called for the planting of numerous decidious trees on the property, including sugar maples, red maples, lilacs and ash. Above is a photograph of shad (Amalanchier), planted on the property to provide ornamental contrast to the predominance of spruce, pine and hemlock. The moss, which grows naturally on the forest floor was encouraged and kept clean of debris to create a carpet of green underfoot.

The architecture of the residence, designed by Duncan Candler (a darling of Seal Harbor's elite communities during the 20s) is Italian Renaissance in style. Built of pink granite quarried on site, the facade of the home is imposing. A slate roof with wide oak beams and rectilinear windows of leaded glass give the home a geometric solidity against its rugged backdrop of undulating hillsides and deep forests.
Flanking the front door of the house, Martha has planted two beautiful copper planters with enormous fiddle-leaf ferns and native mosses, creating a planted microcosm of the Skylands forest.
One of the enormous fronds is about to unfurl.Martha has also planted hostas, one of her favourite shade-loving plants, along the front of the home. Several varieites are in evidence.In the center of the circular driveway in front of the house is a field of ferns. In Jensen's original plan, he had called for asters and prairie flowers but Martha prefers the feathery monochrome of these lush ferns, punctuated here and there by strategic boulders.
Pink granite is everywhere in evidence on the property. Meandering, pine-needle-covered pathways that hug their rugged edges highlight the beauty of their forms. (To me, they almost look like barnacle-covered whales, an allusion to the sea just beyond the trees.)

Here is a great view of the house from the mountain meadow. Architect Duncan Candler had originally called for an enormous terrace in this location, but Jensen had it removed to allow for more sunny openness on the property. To the left of the photograph you will see the dining room windows. Candler did a beautiful job designing a room with windows on three sides to capture all of the available views: the sea, the forest, and the 'cracked ice' terrace on the other side.The 'cracked ice' terrace is a massive outdoor space designed for large-scale entertaining. This small portion of it, shown above, showcases Martha's numerous potted plants and two terra-cotta sphinx sculptures by artist Emile Muller.Above the terrace and the entrance to the Great Hall is a vertical sun dial, surrounded by prolific kiwi vines.Majestic granite staircases lead visitors to all the various terraces and sections of the landscape that immediately surround the property.The stone railings of the pergola off the living room look almost Mayan in scale.Perennial kiwi vines (Actinidia) and dark purple elephant ears (Colocasia esculenta) soften the edges of a granite wall and staircase.One of the few flowering plants Jensen called for in the landscape was lilies. Here they feel quite at home in planting niches that line one of the stairways connecting the terraces to the grounds.A painterly use of plants on this stairway leading up to the south terrace. Pathways of pine needles (cleaned of any debris) connect the various sections of the property. Jensen was a great proponent of 'circulation systems' outdoors that guided the explorer gently and easily through the landscape.
Jensen designed the landscape to be emblematic of the Maine coast itself: rugged and lush. Martha installed a subtle lighting system to help illuminate the pathways for treaders at dawn and dusk.
The playhouse on the property is one of several outbuildings. Designed by Candler, it features a massive stone fireplace and squash courts.
Water features are key to almost every Jensen landscape. Skylands was no exception. Jensen believed the sound that water makes as it trickles over stone has inexplicable healing powers for the human soul. As such, he designed several natural pools, ponds and fountains on the property. One of Jensen's signature elements is the intersection of flowing water and a main pathway. This feature is found at several other properties designed by Jensen for the Fords, including Fair Lane, in Dearborn, Michigan. The philosophy behind such a design is to interrupt the walker and cause him to pause and reflect, to be aware of his surroundings and the inherent beauty. A cliff at the edge of the mountain meadow is topped by a crenellation of large boulders, similar to the "Rockefeller teeth" that line the property's crushed-granite driveway and the routes leading to Acadia National Park. A large pond plays centerpiece to the meadow's curves and hillsides.
Reflecting pools along the edges of pathways catch raindrops and form miniature ecosystems. A beautiful wooden gate, left unstained and gorgeously aged by the elements, opens to the service entrance. Crushed pink granite covers the driveways of the property. Each fall it is collected, cleaned and stored and for the following year.
Originally designed to be used only by the staff and servants, the service area of the house is actually a favourite of Martha's. She frequently uses the expansive outdoor space for entertaining and is often where she enters and exits the home. Not far from the service entrance is the council circle. Originally in Jensen's plans, but not constructed by the Fords, it is another feature much loved by Jensen. When Martha purchased the property in 1997, she had the council circle built. Its circular shape encourages conversation and a feeling of equality among its visitors. At its center is a fire pit for warmth and the inspiration of imagination. Along the granite benches is a firebird motif, also in the original plans. Jensen explained the design to the Fords in one of his letters:

"The story is of the firebirds going into the sun for the fire for the hearth. You will notice two birds flying towards the sun; the smaller dots are the stars. It is the humanity that dances around the hearth rejoicing for the fire, the first symbol of civilization brought there by the fire birds. I think it is a lovely story for the children and it does not hurt us either. The more imagination, the sweeter life."

The stables on the property, also designed by Candler. A vegetable and cutting garden on the property, adjacent to the stables.

This portion of the property was adjacent to the location of a tenant cottage for Eleanor Ford's mother, which is where she stayed when the main residence was being built. After the completion of the home, however, the cottage was razed and only the foundation remains. This portion of the property is located at the edge of an extremely steep cliff overlooking the ocean. Eleanor had asked Jensen to plan an elaborate cutting garden here with benches for seating, shown above, but it was never completed. You can see a glimpse of the plans below, formal in its layout and designSources:

Jane Roy Brown's thesis: "Skylands: A Jens Jensen Landscape In Maine,"

Photos by TJD&A and Michael Fus, Preservation Architect Chicago Park District