Darcy Lewis Design

Adventures in "Good Enough" Design

Needlebook Makes Me Happy

As you can see from this blog, I’m crazy busy these days with law school and keeping Beautiful Textiles running!! However, an unexpected class cancellation and need to do SOMETHING creative to preserve my sanity made me decide that this was the perfect time to FINALLY make the little needlebook I’ve been jonesing for over a year for!!

Now, 5 seconds of googling for inspiration will show you all these stunning examples:needlebook banner

This is exactly WHY it had taken me over a year! I’d been agonizing over the design, decoration, and colors. (I have the most amazing ability to make big huge life-changing decisions quickly and easily and get hung up on flavors of ice cream and design choices of tiny inconsequential nonsense. What can I say? It’s a gift, really!!)

I decided this was ridiculous and went through my pile of upholstery scraps. There is no law that needlebooks must be made from felt! I wanted to use up some small scraps I didn’t have another use for rather than angsting about felt colors! Well, you know those cute little color samplers that you can never find a use for?
(Upholstery stores and design centers often have a ton they’re throwing away. That’s also where the little square I picked for my cover came from.)

The square swatch I chose for a cover was a wonderfully textured velvet, and the color sampler for the inside ‘pages’ were brushed cotton. I decided 4 pages would be enough, and chose 4 colors. I just cut them straight off the sheet, leaving their paper stickers on the back – the sides were already serged and they were ready to go. I stacked them into a book – folded edges to the front, neatly aligned, and did a couple rows of straight stitching 1/4″ from the back cut edges. (Be sure to use a long stitch length – 3.5-4 on my Bernina.) (A note on size: My finished needlebook was 4″ x 3.25″, this was a great size for me, but keep in mind what size you want when you select what swatch sampler you are cutting ‘pages’ from.)

The paper on the back definitely gives more bulk and stiffness, but it makes it easier for me to flip the pages and because each page is doubled, I can slide my fingers inside the page to make it easier to add needles, and I can tuck the thread in the needles inside its page! If there is a usable length of thread left on my needle, I like to just store it like that so it’s ready to go next time.

If you are particular about the placement of the design on your covers, go ahead and cut out a piece of paper slightly larger than your book so you can play around with that. Use tracing paper if you need to see the design on the fabric for that ideal placement. I planned on only serging the edges of my cover, so I didn’t need to leave very much room around the edges.

Mark which edge has the stitched ‘spine’ of your book on your paper, and when you place it on the cover fabric, make sure that edge is to the center of the cover fabric and there is enough cover fabric to fold it over and make both front and back covers in one. (If not, you’ll have to plan for a seam allowance.)

Go ahead and chalk the outline of the first side and then flip your paper over and chalk the outline of the second side – lining up the spine edge. As you can see in my photo, there was a bit of an overlap from the ideal front cover and back cover placement. (I did not check spine alignment, just got my ideal front and back squares and figured I’d wing it.) I was VERY particular about my design placement and really had to work the placement and squish the cover onto the book to ensure it came out exactly right. (And then I went and sewed the book in backwards the first time…)

Cut your cover fabric a little larger than your chalk line so you can adjust if you need to. I just pinched it together in the proper placement and then took a little slice off each edge to show what was excess. Then I placed the cover flat on my cutting mat and used the ruler to cut off that excess in straight lines.
cut 2

Then I took my perfectly (sort of)-measured cover fabric and serged all edges with a tight silver edge to match the silver design on the fabric. I left some thread hanging off the corners, threaded a big-eye needle into the back of the serged row, tucked those loose threads into the eye, and pulled it through. Pull taut and trim. This buries and hides the end and will prevent it from unraveling, keeping your corners nice. Just be sure to pull the serged end of threads smooth before you do this (it comes off the machine in tight loops, just pull it out smooth – 2 threads will be much longer than the third, now you’re ready to bury the ends and trim them all off).

Trim your book spine even – don’t cut off your 1/4″ seam allowance, just even it up so it’s just a little short of that 1/4″. Place your finished cover around your book, squish it around until you get the alignment right, then DOUBLE-CHECK that you put it together properly, then sew the cover to the book 1/4″ in from the spine, using a long stitch length. You only need to sew once, twice if you really want to reinforce (I went a little nuts with the sewing), since these seams won’t be getting very stressed.

Sew a pretty button to the front, and a little loop of elastic to the back cover. (Make it pretty and use a colorful hair elastic to match your colors!). Admire your handiwork, then fill with the needles you have laying around all over the house in random cereal bowls, spools of thread, on bookshelves, and . TA-DA!!! A 10-minute project (if you don’t screw up repeatedly… ) and I have a FUNCTIONAL, pretty, elegant, needlebook!!




Law School – A Commiseration Guide

This is not going to turn into a law school blog, there are plenty (and far better!) of those around, but a number of conversations lately have made me realize that people who didn’t go to law school don’t know there are a few key differences that set it apart from any other schooling you’ve done, and in the interests of making you have more sympathy for any suffering law students you know, I thought I would explain:

Law school is a unique beast. There are almost never midterms or other checkpoints, instead your entire grade for the course rides on the final exam. So you have no way of judging how you are doing or what areas you need to focus on before you take the exam. (Which, btw, is hard to study for because in law exams THERE ARE NO RIGHT ANSWERS. You are not learning things to spit back on the test. You are looking for possibilities. The more possibilities you can find, define, explain, argue, the better you will do. That’s very hard to study for. You can’t memorize this.)

This agony is compounded by the fact that the mandatory courses (all of your first year plus 1 or 2 other classes) are graded with a mandatory curve set by the Bar Association. In my school, that means that NO MORE than 30% of the class can have As (A+, A, or A-), no more than 90% can be As and Bs combined, so 10% of the class (or more…) will get Cs… EVEN IF THEY SCORE REALLY WELL ON THE EXAM (so if everyone in the class gets more than a 95, the difference between an A and a C is teeny fraction of a point).

As if this wasn’t enough stress, grades are critically important for certain jobs in a way they aren’t in other industries. Companies and judges looking for summer interns will specify that you must have a 3.7 GPA or be in the top 10% of your class, and since we have to work a certain amount of these jobs before graduation, you must do really well on your first term exams (now!) so you can have your choice of positions when summer interviews begin in FEBRUARY!

Law students, did I leave out any critical points? Non-law people, feel sorry for us yet? We are always receptive to being fed and commiserated with!! (Puppies are good too!)

Cozy Fall Jacket

Good grief, time has really flown by!! I’m in law school full time, while also running my business full time, and that has left precious little for any other projects or even keeping in touch with the outside world!

However, in early October I went to the LA Textile Show and swooned over these incredible fabrics from Italy that blend faux fur and wool together in one fabric. I just had to have some!! Well, on Black Friday they finally came in, and I just had to make a cozy little jacket for our extended fall weather to celebrate!


I used 1 panel of  this new Italian wool-and-fur fabric for the body ($42/panel), plus 1 yard of this quilted faux leather-and-wool fabric for the sleeves ($45/yard). The neckline is finished with 2 yards of the gray snakeskin piping and the black jersey seam binding.  The strip of fur along the selvedge is there naturally (I just had to neaten it up a bit – it’s not perfectly even).

I used Burda pattern 8332 as the base and eliminated the side seams and front darts, so the ONLY seams on this jacket are the shoulders and armscyes!!

Total time: 2-3 hours. Total material cost: $101. Finished look: worth at least $250!!

Floaty Chiffon Top for Summer!

I adore a floaty chiffon top for summer.  I pair them with camis and toss over jeans or anything else, they can even be worn over a dress for a different look!  This was my original favorite:


It was light, comfortable, elegant, and I could (and did!) wear it for weddings, parties, date night, or even just to run errands.  However, it was time to replace it.  I ended up selecting a black and white chiffon with a waving dot pattern that felt a bit art deco to me.  I wanted a design in keeping with that, and I loved the ombre effect and the kimono sleeve of the original….


(This is me doing my dramatic rendition of “Alas, poor Yorick, I knew him well!” )

So I made symmetrical squared-off open kimono sleeves, the sides are laced together with ribbon and there are more ribbons sewn onto the shoulders (deep dark secret: the ribbons were added to the shoulders to hide my accident with indelible marker…).  On all corners (sleeves and body), I sewed little stacks of beads to weight the top and create a nice swingy movement.  All in all I’m pretty happy with it, though I got very little opportunity to wear it this summer ( ;(  )

What’s your favorite garment you keep remaking?

Cotton Kimono Top

So, I have not been posting much lately because I seem unable to multitask well enough to do that and make things…  😉  So please bear with me as I post in fits and starts.  Today I would like to show off my little kimono top.  My shop got in this really interesting, very bold, graphic print cotton lawn, and I decided to make something with it as a shop sample.  So I took 1 yard of this, plus 1 yard of an eggplant cotton sateen and 2 yards of raspberry cotton sateen and 2 yards of cotton bicolor piping in mauve/lavender.



I used an old Butterick kimono top pattern, 4072 (view B).


I wanted to break up the impact of the graphic a little, so I sent the back and front at an angle – not on the bias, just at an angle I liked on the design.  It went together very easily, but the end result was a little surprising: I shortened the sleeves both from shoulder to wrist and the depth of the hang, considerably, and yet the sleeves are humongous.  The end result is very voluminous, so if you want to make this, I highly recommend taking careful measurements (something I didn’t bother doing because it was a shop sample).  Also, you are supposed to cut 4 of the front band, and I can’t see how that could possibly work – it’s too wide for that!  So I cut the 4 out, sewed them all together, then ripped it all out again.

In the end, it’s all right, though I’m not sure I would ever wear it if it was in my closet.

Baldwin Center (Act II)

You may recall the remade garments I’m patterning for the Baldwin Center, a community charity in Pontiac, MI.  This has been keeping me too busy to post as much as usual, but here are the latest two garments (which were featured on TV last week!!):

We started with a lovely sandy tan silk shirt (with a wonderful hand!).  I cut it in half from underarm to underarm.


I liked the idea of preserving the button placket as a functional detail that could be undone all the up (Oooh!  How risque!), but obviously it need a bit of dressing up and if we were going to have the buttons open, there might as well be something to look at!  So I took black lace yardage and made a second skirt a HAIR smaller than the silk – so they laid together nicely and didn’t cramp your movements.  I also took a strip of our French black velvet burnout lace knit (which was a nice blend of a tan base with black velvet flocking), and made an elastic waist casing at the top.  I scalloped the lace and left it long enough to just show underneath, but it still needed a little more…. So I encased a 2″ strip of very narrow elastic in the side seam allowance at the hem to ruch it up a little and added cream and tan satin ribbon bows to each side.  The finished look is ideal for a day-to-evening outfit!  Simply pair with a cream blouse and black jacket!


The second garment started life as a lovely blue satin robe with self belt.  I really wanted to use that belt, but there wasn’t much fabric in the robe.  So I cut a whole halter top front out of it, and paired it with some blue and white lace from the shop.  The belt becomes the tie that holds the front and back together in a pretty bow, while the otherwise-plain front gets some drama with some blue-gray ombred fringe!

What do you think?  I want to make this halter top for me!

Embellished Tea Cloth

Recently, one of my sewing groups challenged us to hand sew a project of our choice.  Since I’ve been wanting to improve my embroidery skills (not practiced since childhood), I decided that an embroidered tea cloth would be a great sampler.

I really wanted a tea-themed elaborate design (because why do anything simply?!) of stacked teacups and steam from the pot curling around in a fanciful design of sailing ships and caravans (you know, the exotic spice and tea trade?)…  Yeah, I’m insane.

I had a few small sample swatches of really pretty upholstery fabrics, so I made them into fabric appliques and then used a combination of machine embroidery and hand stitching to secure them to a cheap-but-nice cotton towel I picked up at IKEA.  I then added French knots and a variety of stitches to accent the fabric print design.

Overall, I’m quite pleased and I learned to my surprise that I quite enjoy some hand work.  It gave me hope that I could actually start one of those massive hand-work projects I’ve always wanted to try but was too afraid to….

What have you challenged yourself with lately?

Upcycled Coats!

It has been a CRAZY month and I’m looking forward to showing you what I’ve been working on!

Earlier this year, The Baldwin Center, a local community charity, asked me to develop a line of garments for them based on remade clothing.  You see, among the many services they offer is a clothes closet where clients in need can pick out clothing they need at little or no cost!  Some of the donations they receive, however, are fabulous fabrics but dated styles, or with a spot, or otherwise undesirable to the clients.  I was tasked with taking those items and designing several patterns they could use to make a series of garments they could sell for a higher price.  The money would be used to fund the charity’s other endeavors, and the plan is that down the road we can also offer training to their clients and set up a little workshop so the garments can be made on-site!

For one of my initial two samples, I started with this beige wool coat from London – it had beautiful designer details, but the lining was shredded and the elbows were worn.


I couldn’t eke out an entire new coat from this, so I paired it with a delightful wool-cashmere blend from my shop and two different sleeve fabrics from my stash and created this stunning beauty:

I reused the back with the original vent, part of the collar, the beautiful pocket flaps, and the cuffs.  I added molded resin rose buttons from Italy, and an eggplant flannel-back satin lining.  Every coat needs pockets, and, mindful of the pattern needing to be accessible for unskilled sewists, I chose patch pockets.  The ribbons swirling over the back and up over one shoulder are an easy and unique touch that adds some lovely drama and interest to the otherwise-plain back.

My second jacket was designed for spring, so I chose a silk Maggy London maxi halter dress with a great floral print.  I managed to get the fronts and back out of the skirt, and took the self-spaghetti straps from the halter for the jacket ties.  I chose an ivory lace shirt to complement it and barely managed to get the sleeves out of the entire front and back of the shirt.  For the facing and cuff bands, I used a sage green Thai silk shantung from my shop.

I had been waiting until the jackets were presented at their annual gala to reveal them, but now that the gala has passed, I am thrilled to share these with you and to say that everyone LOVED them and both garments were snapped up in the fundraising auction.

I’m so honored to have been asked and glad that I could help.  I look forward to sharing the rest of the collection with you at a later time.

Nummy Pear and Cheese Tarts!

As usual, I forgot to take good photos, in fact, this was the only photo I managed before two entire tarts were devoured…. And you can’t even see the beautifully fanned out fruit slices I’d put on here…   Nonetheless, so yummy, I’m posting the recipe.


I had a bunch of pears and some apples that were ripening faster than I could eat them, so I decided to make two tarts. They had very different flavor profiles, and opinion has been pretty evenly split on which one tasters prefer….  These are good warm and fresh, but possibly even better cold the next day…  Both very easy to throw together and I even made the second one (shown above) while people were waiting for their tea.

Fruit Tart with Blackberry Honey Goat Cheese

*  1 package puff pastry dough (there are 2 packages to a box) – room temperature
*  1 +-7oz package honey-flavored goat cheese (I like the Celebrity Int’l brand pack of 3 flavors from Costco) – softened
*  4 pears/apples/other – or some combination thereof.  I used 2 pears and 2 apples. – Halved, cored, and finely sliced – sprinkle with lemon juice to keep their color.
*  2 Tbl blackberry jelly or other fruity jam/jelly/preserves
*  1 tsp vanilla extract (optional – good to use if your goat cheese is plain)
*  1 tsp cinnamon
*  1 pinch nutmeg or cloves
*  1 tsp ginger

Pre-heat oven to 350 degrees.
Cream together the goat cheese, jam, vanilla, cinnamon, nutmeg, and ginger, until totally mixed, soft, and spreadable.
Take the puff pastry dough, and unfold it.  Butter a glass or metal baking pan (9″x12″ fits nicely) and place the dough in it to line. Should fully cover the bottom and go slightly up the sides.
Spread the goat cheese mix over the bottom of the dough, covering as evenly as possible.
Take the sliced fruit and fan it out attractively, and arrange over the cheese.
Top with a sprinkle of turbinado sugar or take 4 Tbl of jam and heat a little to melt (about 10-15 seconds in the microwave is usually good) then use a teaspoon to drizzle over the top of the prepped tart, or use a drizzle of honey.

Bake until pastry looks done – about 30 minutes.  Note, many of the puff pastry brands don’t really turn golden brown, so don’t let them burn waiting for that elusive stage.  The pastry should have a touch of color and be flaky to the poke, not soft and giving.


Fruit Tart with Apricot and Sage Cheese (Darcy’s favorite)

*  1 package puff pastry dough (there are 2 packages to a box) – room temperature
*  4 Tbl coarse-cut orange marmelade
*  1 4oz package Montchevre Apricot and Sage Goat Cheese Crumbles (from Kroger) – softened (or add 1 package of plain goat cheese if you want extra cheesey!)
*  4 pears/apples/other – or some combination thereof.  I used 2 apples and 2 pears. – Halved, cored, and finely sliced – sprinkle with lemon juice to keep their color.
* 4 Tbl Chinese Quince Tea with Honey (see note below)

Pre-heat oven to 350 degrees.
Take the puff pastry dough, and unfold it.  Butter a glass or metal baking pan (9″x12″ fits nicely) and place the dough in it to line. Should fully cover the bottom and go slightly up the sides.
Soften the marmalade slightly (about 10 seconds in the microwave should do) and spread it on the bottom of the dough, try to cover evenly.
Sprinkle the entire container of goat cheese over the bottom of the dough, covering as evenly as possible. (add the second container of plain cheese here if you want more cheesiness).
Take the sliced fruit and fan it out attractively, and arrange over the cheese.
Top with the Chinese Quince Tea, drizzled over the top.

Bake until pastry looks done – about 30 minutes.  Note, many of the puff pastry brands don’t really turn golden brown, so don’t let them burn waiting for that elusive stage.  The pastry should have a touch of color and be flaky to the poke, not soft and giving.

NOTE:  Chinese Quince Tea is available in Asian markets and is like a watery marmalade.  If you’re not familiar with the quince fruit, it’s like a very hard apple that is largely inedible in its raw form but widely used around the world (except in the US) in teas, jams, liquors, and more.  It has a delicious citron-y aroma, but very little flavor.  However, when processed, the taste is kind of a combination of apple and citron.  The Chinese Quince Tea with Honey I buy is ready to be mixed with plain hot water for an instant hot toddy, but is also excellent in all kinds of baking. Here is a photo of the particular version I use:quince tea with honey

As usual, if you make any of these, please tell us about it!

Overrated Sights and Secret Gems in Havana, Cuba

Overrated Places You Should Just Skip:

  • HEMMINGWAY – Unless you are specifically going to Cuba on a Hemmingway quest to follow the man’s footsteps, anything associated with him is going to be a packed madhouse of tourists and not very interesting.  This list includes El Floridita bar and their daiquiries, La Bodeguita del Medio and their mojitos, and Hemmingway’s House (it’s really just a house…).
  • FAC –Hear me out before you jump on me for this one.  What they are doing at the Fabrica de Arte Cubano is great and very important and interesting.  But what we did not realize was just how long the line was.  It is possible to stand in line for hours and still not get in.  People in line told us they’d been in line for over an hour and expected at least another hour-plus wait.  There is a VIP line and some AirBnB experiences promise a direct entry, but if you want to go, plan on going at least an hour before they open and just hope you get in with the first wave of admissions.
  • Coppelia – The favorite national chain ice cream shop, every guide book we saw touted it’s incredible ice cream.  No one we talked with agreed that it was incredible.  It’s not bad, but it’s perfectly ordinary ice cream.  If you go to Parque Coppelia for it, be aware that there a number of small Coppelia shops scattered through the park, each with a slightly different flavor list.  So if you don’t see what you like, go on to the next one.
  • SHOPPING – El Quitrin‘s selection of linen guayabera men’s shirts is not very good especially if you go  beyond a US medium. We did not find a good alternative.  Habana 1791 is a little perfumery.  They have pretty bottles in a lovely little shop, and scents can be custom mixed for you (about $10 for a small bottle), but the scents were all pretty conventional, even their own house blends.  Most of the shop people speak little or no English (an odd choice for a shop whose clientele is primarily tourists), and they just let you select your choices and mix them – they don’t really advise or help you find a good scent for you.
  • Almacenes San Jose – This is a huge covered ‘flea market’ in an old shipping warehouse on the waterfront.  There is 1 shop with leather goods (they really favor patchwork and not great quality materials), 1 with funny and rude quotes printed on things, 1 with linen and crochet clothes, 1 with wooden toys, and 1 with Che t-shirts – each times 100.  Yes, you basically have the same half dozen stalls just repeated over and over with only a few variations to make things interesting.  Around the perimeter are art stalls.  There are a couple very talented and interesting artists doing their own thing, and the rest are churning out the same images as half the artists in Havana because that’s what sells.  I had fun picking out a piece I loved and then walking around to see the imitations – very different qualities of skill and technique were clear as they all copied the same picture.  This is the place to go if you want to get cheap Made-in-China crap printed with CUBA or Che’s face.  There are a couple gems buried in here, but not enough to justify the hunt.


  • Fusterlandia – This oddity was not in any of our guidebooks nor did any of the hotels or tourist information people want to discuss it or have any pictures of it.  In fact, our only hint that this place existed was a tiny labeled dot on our map.  Fusterlandia is the result of one artist’s passionate dream to cover his whole neighborhood in mosaic tiles.  The result is totally insane and looks like Chagall’s brain on drugs, but is definitely worth a visit!!!  Located at the far end of the luxe Miramar neighborhood, there isn’t much else out here, so try to get your cab to wait for you since getting a ride home will be tricky. There are other tourists here, but they mostly come on buses.  30-45 minutes is enough time to rush through, without much lingering.  Entrance is free.


  • Cafe Escorial – This little cafe is tucked into the corner of Plaza Vieja in Habana Vieja.  Known for their excellent coffee and drinks, this cafe does a bustling trade at all hours and you may have to wait for a table.  It’s totally worth it, and I highly recommend their Cafe Helado Escorial – a marvelous treat of coffee, ice cream, and whiskey whipped cream.  They do sell their ground beans, but tend to run out by afternoon, so if you want to buy coffee beans go early!
  • Hotel Saratoga – Across from the capitol, this nice hotel has incredible view from their rooftop bar.  The drinks aren’t very good, but the view is worth checking out – a 270-degree view over the city! (See my previous post – A Half-Day Plan for Havana )
  • Military History – If the Cuban Missile Crisis is your interest, the palatial Hotel Nacional still has cannon emplacements and trenches from those days.  There is a small exhibit in the underground trenches.  If you look sufficiently interested, the guide might just lock the doors and take you on a private tour through the narrow trenches.  Though he didn’t really speak English, we managed to get the gist.  The grounds are nice to stroll and the outlook over the water is delightful, so anyone in your group not interested in trenches can relax and wait.
  • Performing Arts – Cuba has a very strong and vibrant performing arts scene and it’s definitely worth taking in a show if you can.  We caught a dance show at the Centro Cultural Bertold Brecht (next to the largest synagogue in Havana), and a concert that set up in Habana Vieja randomly one day.
  • Jardin Ky19 – This is a tiny nursery run out of one woman’s front yard.  In the back she has very cute ceramics and wooden carvings.  Her prices are excellent and the merchandise runs the gamut from art pieces to kitsch.  Whatever your taste, you will probably find something you like that is unique and nicer than the same-old-same-old souvenirs you’ll find everywhere else.  (Calle K, between 19 & 21, #354. No posted hours, you can call to ask – m. 5 253 3784).


Post Navigation