Wednesday, November 15, 2017

Japan Prep, DOL Ashland 2017, and More!

Margy and I in Ashland


So... basically I planned to write a "Preparing for Japan" post, and that's it. Next thing I knew, I was writing a massive post on DOL. I apologize for the extreme length but, basically, this is an Accidental Post.

Preparing for Japan

I've been planning a visit to Japan for many months. I wanted to share a few tips I've learned, in case you make a similar journey. (Note, I will be updating these tips, to keep them in one place.)

Everyone asks me which tour I'm taking. I'm not taking a tour! I've planned my own trip. I will spend most of my time in Kyoto, taking day trips from there. I'm also spending some time in Tokyo. My itinerary fills me with joy—since I'm traveling alone, I need only to please myself! I should add that I'm flying in and out of Tokyo with friends, then we go our separate ways (though we may meet up for lunch at Google Tokyo). So at least I can lob spitballs at their heads during our 11-hour flight. I found a convenient hotel near the train station for that first night, so we all booked it. It will be easy to get outta town on the bullet train the next day.

I've been wanting to visit Japan since I was 11. I don't know why it took me so long, though I am not a fan of Japanese food, so maybe that's part of the reason. I am a huge fan of Japanese culture and aesthetic sensibility. If I had a bucket list, which I don't, seeing Kyoto in the fall would be at the top of the list.

  • I purchased a Japan Rail Pass. This can save you money, but must be purchased before you leave for Japan—it is physically mailed to your non-Japanese address. Their website has a page to help you evaluate whether it makes sense for you. It's definitely saving me money. My rail pass cost $405 for 14 days.
  • I pre-ordered a portable wifi device. Wifi can be spotty in Japan, based on the experiences of numerous friends. Some hotels/Airbnbs provide a free portable wifi, but I ordered one to be delivered to my hotel the first night. You can also pick it up from the airport, but the airport railway office closes for the night, and I'm landing late in the day. If my plane is delayed, the office might be closed. Use the link to pre-order wifi. The link cost $20 more for the same dates, and had to be picked up at the airport. The link I used (the first one) delivers to an address in Japan for free. It cost me $79 to rent a device for 2 weeks, instead of the $97 offered by the second link.
  • Many businesses in Japan accept only cash, so you will burn through money. A good place to get cash is at a 7/11, which are plentiful, I'm told. I also purchased yen ahead of time here in San Francisco because I don't want to be scrambling for yen when I land late in the day, suffering from jetlag.
  • Many people in Japan don't speak English and I certainly don't speak Japanese. My friend Kathy (who is flying with me!) found some great phrase books at Kinokuniya, but I found my copies online. These "point-and-speak" books will be very useful! Let me give you a sampling from each. First, the general language book:
    From the food book:
  • Several people warned me not to expect hand towels in bathrooms, and to bring a package of hand wipes.

RIP, Nancy Zieman

Most of you have probably heard of the sad passing of Nancy Zieman. She was a pioneer in the field of home sewing. Many sewists of my age have seen (or been aware of) her TV show for years. She has been valiantly fighting bone cancer which was diagnosed a few years ago, and had metastasized from breast cancer.

Rest in peace, dear lady. Thanks for everything.

Britex Coat

I recently returned from a very special Design Outside the Lines retreat in Ashland, Oregon. Diane Ericson's guest teacher was Kathryn Brenne. Kathryn specializes in couture sewing, which was a fun juxtaposition to Diane's free, artistic approach. Both women are creative, but in different ways. Here are some pics from our week in Ashland. While there, I shared photos to Instagram, but you'll find more below.

My project for the retreat was a coat made from a gorgeous brocade from Britex (which is currently on sale).

I used many couture techniques on this coat and, once I returned home, I wanted to finish it before heading off to Japan. My goal was to finish last weekend, and I worked for many hours over both days. I attached the last covered snap at 11:50pm on Sunday, so I just made it. I haven't been able to take pics yet, but I hope to soon. Meanwhile, I posted many in-progress pics to Instagram.

Only chopped up scraps remained from the coat, thanks to the pattern matching and relatively small yardage I had. I pieced some of them together to make myself a travel bag. This reversible fabric is truly stunning.

Stay tuned for an actual blog post of the coat!

DOL Ashland 2017

Ashland DOL was so special, the more so because Margy came. She flew to San Francisco and we drove together to Ashland. (ROAD TRIP!) In fact, attending DOL was her idea. There were lots of friends I'd already met, and friends I only knew from the internet. It was so fabulous to see all of them in person!

Without further ado, here is a sampling from my hundreds of photos!

I got a haircut!

Crystal, a DOL attendee and friend of Diane's who lives in Ashland, is also a stylist. She cut hair for several of us. Can you imagine a more magical setting for a haircut?! It also meant I couldn't see what she was doing until it was done, but I trusted her completely.

Check out Crystal's tool belt!

Gayle captures the moment I see my haircut. I love it!

With Gayle (who had just gotten her hair cut, too) and Crystal

I bought a hat! And, gee, you can see I really needed that haircut.

I met Wendy of West Zen Studio! I also saw Debra, her BSF (who I got set up on Instagram), again!

Gayle, of Gayle Ortiz, is positively glowing!

We've just arrived in Ashland, but Margy knows how to relax and soak up the atmosphere!

Look who welcomed us!

So good to see Diane Ericson again!

I was shopping at Lithia Park Shoes for some boots. No sooner had Margy sat down when this happened. Meet Athos, who is happy to share his orange fur.

I was thrilled to meet the uber stylish Leslie Gelber (who I "knew" through Instagram). Here she is with Crystal, hair stylist extraordinaire.

There is so much creativity in this spot, I'm surprised they didn't burn through the floor. Left to right: Debra, Leslie, Diane, and Gwen

Who knew Margy likes to photobomb?! With Wendy and Debra

One of the stylish Karen's, Karen T, is wearing a knotted necklace that she made from strips of red jersey knit. Ginny sits behind her.

Debra repurposes suit sleeves into these cute bags. I'm modeling it in the second pic.

Several of us tried on Kathryn Brenne's hat made from felted wool. I think it flatters everyone! Top row, me and Claire. Middle row, Marta and Roni. Bottom row, Wendy

Karen G and Margy

Diane and Karen T

Sherri and Marta

It was SO great to see Claire again! She made this top from a kimono. (She had some good tips about my trip to Japan.)

Karen G and I have a mutual friend in San Francisco who doesn't sew! Check out Karen's adorable floral boots!

Guess who surprised us by dropping in! Marcy and Katherine Tilton just happened to be in the area. Here is Marcy with Kathryn Brenne.

Kathryn Brenne and Katherine Tilton had never met before. (Why are there so many spellings of Catherine?) Left to right: Marcy, Katherine, and Kathryn

So good to see Katherine again!

Very special! (And thanks to Roni for this pic!)

Gayle is wearing a gorgeous vest she made at a previous DOL.

And here's the back.

This pic of Gwen and Margy makes me smile. We were headed to one of our favorite breakfast and lunch spots, Hither.

This shawl is one of Gwen's ongoing projects. She sews pebbles to it, in some cases to cover moth holes. Gwen is recently retired, so I'm expecting to see an uptick in her wonderful creative projects!

It was so good to see Kathryn again! I'll be joining her tour in London next spring.

Debra found some earrings at Webster's that she thought Margy should buy. She didn't describe them to Margy, other than to say, "I saw some earrings at Webster's you should buy!" Margy found the right earrings. They are kind of hidden in this pic behind her hair. Oops.

Here we go! Cool, right?!

Shopping at Webster's. A yarn AND a wearable art clothing AND a jewelry store. A dangerous combo.

Webster's charming window display

Leslie is wearing an amazing coat that she made from some fabric painted by Miles Frode. It can be worn 3 ways—she is holding the bottom part that attaches to the jacket to make a full length coat. It's very clever!

I love the detail on the back of Leslie's (purchased) dress.

I love this photo of Gayle!

Kathryn helps Karen T.

Look at Leslie's amazing glasses!

Barbara, wearing a vest she made, watches Kathryn. Kathryn's fabulous capelet is just a knit rectangle, partially folded in the long direction, and closed with a buckle.

Wendy and Debra

Teaching also occurred. I liked the pieced hem on Diane's top.

A closeup of one of Diane's pieced samples.

Diane showing her fingerless gloves. I love the closures she's used on her top.

I love the removable, lattice collar!

A gorgeous coat featuring a lot of hand stitching.

Kathryn shows us her coat that features needle felting leather to wool.

Kathryn demonstrates the wraps from her latest Vogue pattern.

Kathryn demonstrates her technique of felting leather to wool.

Even sewing, Margy looks stunning! This was my view of the workroom.


With Debra

Debra made this fabulous statement necklace using scraps of a Kantha quilt.

I bought this fabric, hand painted by Miles Frode.

Wendy and Debra at closing circle. Debra collected the charms on her necklace when she visited Paris with the Tiltons.

Karen G and Barbara

Roni and I, newly shorn

I've saved best for last! Lithia Park!

Lithia Park in the fall is stunning!
I have not retouched these photos in any way.


My last pic as we left town. I like that I caught Margy climbing into the car

Edited to add: Check out Gayle's post that includes discussion about DOL!

Halloween 2017

We were busy sewing on Halloween! It was interesting to experience the day in Ashland. Those Ashland folk take Halloween seriously. They close Main street for a huge parade.

My Halloween costume

A tiny bit of the parade.

Does anyone get the reference? Can you explain it to me?

More parade

Kathryn Brenne took this pic in the hotel where DOL was held. The mother created all of these costumes for herself and her family. They came to the Ashland Springs Hotel to take their photos in front of its elegant fireplace. She was pretty dedicated to have 4 children in order to achieve the perfect Halloween costume. ;)

I watched most of the parade next to this adorable family. Mom was Cat in the Hat.

A Halloween decoration in Bloomsbury Books.

Remember the pussy bow I made for DD1's Halloween costume?

She was the Mad Hatter! (As portrayed by Johnny Depp.)

I also loaned her the spools of travel thread to make this sash belt.

Meanwhile, at Britex...

The employees at Britex compete every year for best Halloween costume. Visitors to the store vote for their favorite. I'm happy to report that Lindsey, DD1's close friend who has been working there for several weeks, won with a tribute to Carol Burnett's parody of "Gone with the Wind", "Went with the Wind". The original costume was designed by Bob Mackie.

For those not familiar, here's a 2-minute video where Carol Burnett talks about making this skit in 1976 (when I was a junior in high school... ahem). It has become a TV classic:


  1. I really enjoyed your pictures on instagram of your retreat. What a creative blast! Tiltons!! Your Japan trip sounds fantastic. Have a wonderful and safe journey.

  2. Love your short cropped haircut!

    1. Thanks, Helen! I've been wanting to do this forever!

  3. You are going to have an awesome time in japan. I'm going back next spring. My (raised in oregon) friend lives in kyoto. The most difficult item for me was food as soy and wheat are high on my allergen list. It was helpful to me to post my luggage on to kyoto at the tokyo narita airport for a nominal fee ($17?). Then I could run around nippori ( fabric town) w/o as much. This next time, I am looking for a hotel/airbnb in nippori. Then bulleting down to kyoto. My friend took me to the supermarkets which seem to be housed in department store layouts. Daiso is a must as are the other 100 yen stores. We biked and walked a lot. Faster to get thru traffic. If you can, consider visiting Nara - deer park and home to the worlds largest wood building. Don't forget to look down at manhole covers. Also - some post offices are open sundays - to ship that heavy fabric home and also get cash. Coin purse is a must. 7-11 is awesome for cash and bento. Everyone competes on the bento so it's all good. Most of the time I could find a plain rice, seaweed, egg one for my delicate constitution. Don't forget all the sewing friends who live in tokyo and kyoto. They'd be happy to show you hidden gems like the shibori museum in kyoto. ( they let us pull apart old knotted shibori stock! and dressed me in a kimono.)

    1. Wow, Kathy, thanks for that wealth of info! I'm fairly certain I'll need to go more than once, too. :D

  4. Best post ever, you made my day! New haircut is quite flattering.

    1. Thanks, Jane! I feel more "me" in this haircut. I just need to find someone to maintain it, since Crystal is not an option!

  5. I wish I had been there for all of this - so much fun was had. I love the new hair cut. I'm always glad to hear from you.

  6. I've been to Japan twice, and would go again at the drop of a hat. My favorite thing--the random kimono sales on the streets and of course the flea markets. Fabric lovers's paradise.

    1. Lynn, I've been told about those, too! I must be very careful because I don't want to come home with a second suitcase of fabric!

    2. Because I already have too much fabulous fabric!

    3. It's cheap to ship it home. They still have a six-week slow rate for intl packages.

    4. I second Charadeon the Why not a second suitcase. The flea markets are fabulous, and a second suitcase will be barely enough.

    5. I might investigate shipping stuff home. But I'm traveling alone, and will be taking trains, etc, so managing two large suitcases might not be possible.

  7. This wonderful post brought a tear to my eye as I revisited our fabulous DOL...
    such a gathering of skilled, artistic, creative fabulous women! I don't worry about taking pictures when you're around, as you do such a great job! I always have such a memorable time when we're together...Santa Fe, Portland, Paris,
    DOL...and this time we added a great road trip! I'm so glad I "talked" you into going to Ashland...and right before your Japan trip! I'll be eager to see your pictures and also, the "unveiling" of your gorgeous coat!

    1. Thanks so much, Margy! I would not have enjoyed such a special DOL if it weren't for you! YOU?! Take a bad pic?! Impossible!

  8. Loved all of this. Have a wonderful time in Japan. From a faithful reader, rare commenter.

  9. what a great post, sounds like a fantastic trip. the green velvet costume - that is the best!

  10. Wow, the room must have been vibrating with all that creative talent at DOL! And I'm really looking forward to your pics of Japan and views of the fabric you'll bring back. Thank you for the long post, I loved it!

    1. Thanks, Rebecca! There was so much good energy!

  11. Great post. Thanks for ALL the pix. Love your red and black dress. Tell us about it please. Did you make it? Buy it? The new haircut is adorable. Great to see all that talent at DOL. Wish I'd been there too or at least been a fly on the wall!

    1. Thanks, Barbara. I purchased that Alembika dress from Simply Bella.

  12. So fun to read this Shams. Glad I met you and all the fabulous ladies who sew. Till our next adventure!

    Also, I found it very easy to get around South Korea by myself. Many kind people easy to help and there was a 411 (think it was actually 911) number to call for translation.

    Enjoy - look forward to following you on the trip. Japan's on my list.

    1. It was delightful to meet you, Roni! Good to know about South Korea!

  13. Great post! Your new haircut is fab. I went to Japan in January for the Tokyo Quilt Festival. If you have a chance, I think you would love this museum: which is near Mt. Fuji. It has the most exquisite exhibit of hand-dyed kimono. Also a visit to the Blue and White shop in Tokyo is a must, as well as the Amuse Museum for its collection of boro textiles. Finally, if you have a chance to go to the Misuyabari Needle Shop in Kyoto don't hesitate. It is in a mall, kind of hard to find, but it has the most charming courtyard; it's a 400 year old family business that sells the most wonderful handmade pins and needles. Have a wonderful trip!

    1. Thanks for all that info, Chay! Yes, Blue & White and the needle shop are both on my list. I hadn't heard of Amuse or the other museum. I have such a tightly packed schedule, we'll see what I can squeeze in!

  14. Enjoy your trip to Japan!
    I have a couple of shop recommendations for you, both in Tokyo
    Okadaya 3-23-17 Shinjuku, Shinjuku-ku (right at Shinjuku station). This is multi-storied with yarn, fabrics, tons of buttons, trims, etc.

    La Droguerie 4-13-9 Jingumae, Shibuya-ku, in the very chi-chi Omotesando shopping district. This has tons of expensive and unique trims and buttons.

    And here's my tip for Tokyo -- the last number in the address is the building number on the block, but the numbers are not sequentially located. The buildings are numbered in the order of construction, so a shop with number 15 might be around the block from a shop with number 16.

    Enjoy, and have fun getting lost!

    1. Thanks so much, Betty! La Droguerie was on an early list, but I forgot about it. I visited La Droguerie in Paris and loved it. I was stoked when I saw they had one in Tokyo, too! I hadn't heard of Okaday, and it's on my list now! (As well as Tokyo Hands...)

    2. Hi - I think Okadaya has made it into a bunch of web travel guides now, including TripAdvisor. I went to one of the Tokyo Hands stores and it was fun -- I like their gardening tools.

    3. It's on my list! Gayle had recommended it but couldn't remember the name. Thanks!

  15. Thank you so much for sharing so many photos of your DOL trip. It makes me that much more excited about my next DOL adventure. I will miss the amazing spring Dogwoods in Lithia Park, but am looking forward to seeing what DOL in Taos is all about. What a wonderful connection DOL is for those who spend time with needle and thread. Can't wait to see your finished coat.
    thanks again. becky

    1. Becky, Taos is wonderful! My very first DOL was in Taos in the fall. I'm planning on attending another DOL, but this time in Santa Barbara, since I've never been there. But it won't be for a couple years or more. I'm sure you will love Taos!

  16. I eagerly anticipate your Japan trip photos and report! Loved meeting you and Margy last year. (I'm not sure about that open container sitting on the sewing machine!)

    1. It was fun meeting you and your husband last fall, Jeanne! No one had any spillage and some folks had the bar deliver drinks right to our sewing tables. :)

  17. Such a fun post, Shams! I loved sharing DOL with you, Margy and Sharon...great roomies all.
    Glad Betty remembered Okadaya, that was the one I was trying to remember. A must go! Have a blast!

    1. Thanks for contributing to a fun DOL, Gayle! And thanks for your Japan tips!

  18. I look forward to reading about your adventures! Your decision to get a portable wi-fi thingie is an excellent one. Tokyo and Kyoto are such big tourist centres that much of the signage is available in English and most people in the tourist business can manage in English. The issue we found is that you are illiterate once you get there - if the signage is not in English it is a real challenge. Putting a destination into Google and having on the go wifi meant that we could get directions as we went and then - when we got to our destination - a picture of the building to help us figure out which place was the one. Restaurants and shops are often in highrise buildings - one of the big sewing/craft stores is something like floors 4 through 9 of what looks like an office building. Having the wifi will save you a lot of time wondering if you are where you think you are - or want to be!

    1. Yes, that's my thinking, Quilt Girl. Some places provide a portable wifi, but I expect to need to wifi to FIND those places! If you can remember the name of the craft store, let me know! It's not Tokyo Hands, is it?

  19. Highly recommend a stop at Misuyabari needle shop on Sanjo Dori (三条通り). You will step back in time. Perfect for hand sewing using a hand crafted needle from the same family that has supplied the imperial court for almost 400 years.
    What a wonderful tradition.

    Have a lovely trip. Enjoy a few episodes of Midnight Diner before you go.

    1. The needle shop in Kyoto is a must see on my list, Christina! I have read several blog posts that talk about how to find it - it does sound tricky. I hadn't heard of Midnight Diner but will check it out. Thanks!

  20. Great post! It was fun attending DOL vicariously with you. I'm sure you will have a fabulous time in Japan. I visited there about 10 years ago and loved it. I have one regret that I must pass along. I wish I had purchased a bolt of kimono fabric. It is available in most department stores and the variety of fabrics is amazing. It's pricey and I held back. Have fun!

    1. Thanks for your advice, Martha! Perhaps you can return one day.

  21. That's a great and informative post! I really loved Nancy- she was a treasure.
    Your travel plan is perfect. I was born and raised close to Kyoto. It's the peak of the autumn leaves in Kyoto. They are turning red and yellow now:) Have a wonderful trip!

  22. I loved your DOL photos, and you were with a great bunch of ladies .Ashland is one of my favorite places .

    1. Thanks, Mary Glenn! I agree, Ashland is special!

  23. I went to Japan alone in the 80's as a 45+woman. Recommend you join the International Hostel (Youth?) Association before you go. In Kyoto for example, I stayed for a few $s a night, was safe, met terrific Japanese, Korean, and Australian people and ate cheaper. Liked Kyoto so much almost never made it to Hiroshima and the South. WONDERFUL trip. I was gone 5 weeks. Cost about $1000 including airfare. SO good to see You, Margy, and Gayle---my faves together!! Great haircut too..just another inch on top and bangs!!

  24. Hi! Have you considered using an app like Google Translate? I'm an ESL teacher, so I use it all the time with kids here in Canada, but oh boy do I wish it had been invented when I lived in Japan for 5 years! ;) It's a free app, and you can speak into it an have it translate and speak in Japanese. It can also hear Japanese and translate it for you. Even more amazing (to me at least!) there is a live camera translation function, so if you hold your phone camera over any Japanese text, it will live translate right there on the screen!
    And if all else fails - remember that every single Japanese person has learned English in public school, so even if they are shy to speak to you, there's a good chance someone will understand if you speak simply or write down a question!
    Have fun! It's *the best* country to travel in - so safe, so well organised, and so fun!