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Viewing: Blog Posts Tagged with: craft, Most Recent at Top [Help]
Results 26 - 50 of 388
26. STORGE day one

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27. Idioms

Idioms are colloquial metaphors. They say one thing but mean another and cannot be taken literally.

If a couple breaks up, that means they stop seeing each other, not that body parts go flying. 

There are thousands of idioms that enrich our language. The trouble begins when a child, foreign person, or alien takes one of our idioms literally.

"We'll have you for dinner," does not mean the person will be eaten by cannibals.

There isn’t room here to list the busload of idioms, but I offer a few examples:

  • at length
  • burn off
  • by the way
  • chin up
  • common touch
  • fly away
  • in step with
  • lay aside
  • leaf through
  • no less than
  • put down
  • put in the way of
  • run along
  • slap on the wrist
  • take a lick at
  • think tank
Here are a few of the many sites listing idioms. Make your own list. Highlight your favorite bugaboos and prune them.




?  Have you used idioms intentionally?
? Have you committed idiom prose abuse?
? Does the usage fit the situation, era, or time frame? You might want to check the date it was first used.
? If uttered in dialogue, does the idiom fit the background and personality of the character uttering it?

For all of the revision tips on verbs and other revision layers, pick up a copy of: 

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28. Clichés

Clichés are overused metaphors and often employ the words like and as

Agents and editors hate clichés. However, clichés are so deeply imbedded in our language, we don't know we are using them. Personally, I applaud all those creative people who came up with the phrases that give our language its biting wit, sappy compliments, colorful swear words, and delightful put downs. Our world would be boring without such gems as:

Dead as a doornail

Like a cat on a hot tin roof

Hot as snot

Sure as shootin'

Detractors call clichés predictable, annoying, a symptom of lazy writing, and bordering on purple prose. The main concern is cliché abuse.

The key to using clichés well is to use them sparingly and twist them to make them original. They can be placed strategically to add a comic punch or to define a single character, not the entire cast.

                Cliché: Dick won’t rock the boat.
                Twist: Dick won’t rock the rescue dinghy.

                Cliché: Not for all the tea in China.
                Twist: Not for all the fortune cookies in China.

There are too many clichés to list them all. Some are so ingrained in our language, it would sound stilted to avoid them. Make artistic choices.


?Turn on the Clichés, Colloquialisms, and Jargon option in the toolbox. They will be marked for you. As you read through your draft, decide which to keep and which to kill. Have you used the cliché intentionally?
?Can you twist it or make it fresh?
?Have you committed cliché abuse? Should you trim them?
?Does the cliché fit the time and place?
?Does the cliché fit the background and personality of the character uttering it?

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29. Verb Phrases

Let's review a verb's purpose and explain what a verb phrase is. A verb tells the reader what happens. The action can be modified by an object, assisted with a helper, or modified by a verb phrase. Verb phrases are often used in idioms, colloquialisms, or slang.

1) A verb object is the item upon which the action is committed.

Jane drove (subject/verb) the car (object).

Dick threw (subject/verb) the ball (object).

2) A verb can be modified with a helping verb:

Forms of to be: am, are, be, been, is, was, were.

Forms of to do: did, do, does.

Forms of to have: had, has, have.

Qualifiers: can, could, may, might, shall, should, will, would.

Qualifiers can be red flags and often need to be cut. Search for them. Kill them unless they are absolutely essential to the point. 

Jane could see Dick edging around the corner, weapons out.

In distant third or omniscient: Jane saw Dick edge around the corner, weapons out.

First person or close third in Jane's POV: Dick edged around the corner, weapons out.

3) A verb can be modified by a verb phrase.

A verb phrase contains a verb and a helping verb that act as one word. The helping word always precedes the verb. The words never, not, and the contraction n't are negation words and are not part of the verb.

Dick could have been willing (verb) to fly (modifier).

Dick might not have wanted (verb) to fly (modifier)

We have become (verb) world travelers (object).

4) The helping verb can be separated from the verb in certain situations.

When asking a question, the helping verb comes before the actual verb.

Have you ever been to Spain?

Do you know the way to San Jose?

No, I've never been there.

Dick should never (negation) have gone (verb) there (modifier).

Revision Tips
?Make sure the verb phrases are used correctly. You should search for these verb phrase key words by selecting [Control] [F] or [Find]and entering the word. Make sure you avoid clichés.
?Evaluate all verb phrases. Are they used correctly?
?Do they constitute clichés? Can you change it or cut it?

  For all of the revision tips on verbs and other revision layers, pick up a copy of: 

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30. A Writer Never Averts Her Eyes: On Killing My Father

lauraphotos 219 (2)_FotorBY LAURA PRITCHETT

The greatest truth about the greatest writing, if you ask me, is this: The author never, ever averts her eyes. Easier said than done, of course, and I’ve not always lived up to my own dictum – for the sake of avoiding collateral damage, I’ve let my gaze waver; or, worse, I have averted my gaze completely and fallen silent. Still, my greatest goal as both writer and human? A refining of my sense of truthfulness, a blooming of bravery, a keeping of clear-eyed gaze even on issues that churn the heart and crush the spirit.

This was on my mind lately as I killed my father. Or imagined him dead. Or thought of the various ways he’d go, and what his particular death would feel like for him. My newest novel, Stars Go Blue, is based, in part, on my family’s experience with my father’s Alzheimer’s. There came a day, about ten years ago, when my father stood in front of the elevator with me in Denver – we were helping one of my brothers move — and my dad had no idea what the elevator was for; he wouldn’t step into it. I tilted my head, confused: Perhaps he’d been out of the city for too long, being a Colorado rancher and all? But no, he had also been a college professor, a geneticist, a world-traveler famous for his research.

Oh, god, I thought. Soon after, he was diagnosed with Alzheimer’s.

Since then, it’s been a strange path for the whole gaggle of my large family, particularly for my mother, who became his primary caregiver. As for me, these last ten years have been primarily marked by my walks with him across the family ranch. This is what he and I do: we walk. We have walked summer, winter, spring, fall; literally thousands of miles. Early on, we could speak of his disease; later on, I filled in the words for him; and these days, we simply whistle (“Delta Dawn” being his favorite).

As we walked, I do what writers do: I dreamed up various scenarios, played the “What If” game, considered the larger issues. What if he had chosen a different route and planned suicide (as I will, if ever diagnosed)? What if society had different views on this disease? What if the Alzheimer’s Association (bless them; they do so much good) spent less time on caretaking issues and cures, and, dare I say it, more time on discussing end-of-life decisions, even those surrounding assisted and pre-planned assisted suicide or contemplative death? What if he had not had that pacemaker put in ten years ago and had died the death that was likely? What if my father was suffering. Could I murder him? Would it be murder? Would he have wanted to kill himself?

These are horrible-disgusting-tough-miserable-queasy-producing questions, and you can believe that I for sure wanted to avert my eyes from them. (As an aside, so did others in my life: I’ve been shunned and told that I was only welcome “if I did not bring up such topics again.”) Even if I wasn’t advocating murder or suicide – and I am not – I was advocating (probably at nauseum) a real discussion of end-of-life decisions.

And so it came to be that Ben, the character in my book who has Alzheimer’s, is faced with these issues, and even harder ones as he decides what to do about his daughter’s killer while he’s still got a small window of time. Ben became the most brave and courageous speaker I could imagine. He wonders the things that we all wonder, deep in the secret recesses of our heart; what he does about it, I can’t tell you, because that would give away the plot. But there’s another layer to this, at least for me: because of his diminished intellectual capabilities and speech, he is also representative of our society and our human nature; he can only give voice to so much, and he’s often unable to address the very things that need addressing. But bless him, he tries. His caretaker (his sort-of-ex-wife) does too. By god, they try not to avert their eyes.

This is perhaps ironic, because writing, in a certain way, is about bewilderment. One is bewildered by a truth, and then one stares at it long and hard. At first, for example, I wrote to understand him and this disease, to grieve and to care, which I suppose was a way of knowing him better and therefore loving him more. But I wasn’t just bewildered about my father, and what had happened to him; I was also bewildered by death, by our culture, by our approach, by our moral imperatives, our ethical dilemmas.

In my mind, this all melded into a book. A book with the specific task of giving voice to someone who is losing theirs (to tell the story of Alzheimer’s not from an outsider, but from the person himself). To tell the story of my father.

So, yes, when people ask me (as they always do) if there are similarities between my life and this fiction, I will say yes. Both in reality and the philosophical. Besides the Alzheimers, there were other details I used. One of my six brothers is a veterinarian, for example, and as I watched him gently put down my dog, it occurred to me how someone (I can’t say who!) in the book might die. As a farm kid, I’ve seen animals of all sorts suffer, and I’ve seen the ways we alleviate that suffering, and so I could get the details of that right. But more scary than that is the questions posed by the book. They too have a basis in reality. Did I wish my father dead? Yes, sometimes. Did I wish him to get cured? Yes. Did I wish he had discussed his wishes for suicide with me? Yes. And even this: Did I sometimes wonder if I could kill him, if he was suffering? Yes. Yes, I did. I had to stare at these questions so fiercely that the quiet voice of Ben broke through.

I’ll be honest: Not everyone in my family is delighted. Writers have struggled with this forever—how to explain to others that sometimes fiction is just fiction (and no, you are not the Aunt Martha in my book); and, conversely, to explain that yes, sometimes fiction is based on real life, not only the details, but more importantly, the current that runs beneath?

The balance is tricky. We owe our family a great deal, but not dishonesty. And not a silencing of our stories. It requires careful footing; steps done with equanimity and grace but also courage. There’s no easy path. But one thing I know is this: I have loved these moments with my father, with the strange man he has become, and my attempt to write about him. I did not walk with him out of research. I walked with him out of love, and then wrote out of love.

I will walk with my dad until he is done. I will walk with him in the spring, when the fields are greening; in the summer, when the hay is being baled; in the fall, when the air grows crisp and the aspens turn; and, yes, in the winter, when we will make our way carefully across the ice-encrusted snow.

By Stars Go Blue by Laura Pritchett on Amazon

Laura Pritchett is the author of Stars Go Blue, released June 10, 2014 with Counterpoint Press. She also authored Hell’s Bottom, Colorado, which received the Milkweed National Fiction Prize and a PEN USA Award for Fiction. For Sky Bridge, she received the WILLA Fiction Award. She has had over 100 short stories and essays published in various magazines The Sun, Orion, High Country News, Salon, Desert Journal and others. Pritchett lives in northern Colorado and teaches around the country. More at laurapritchett.com.

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31. When you see the Southern Cross for the first time…


Where have I been?

Around the world, in ninety days.

A research trip for a screenplay that was supposed to be five weeks long where I traveled to Australia and Indonesia turned into so much more. Thanks for your patience while I was away. I’m in the process of understanding all the changes that I’ve been going through and putting words to the experience. Surprisingly I’ve had no jet lag when I returned nearly three weeks ago and am instead working very hard on the screenplay and some film documentaries too. There’s so much to process. The trip was life affirming as well as life changing. You’ve been great supporters of my work and I’m thrilled to have you on this journey with me. One of the places I least expected to go was Mt. Everest, and as fate would have it, while I was there the worst disaster in the history of the storied mountain unfolded. An avalanche took the lives of 16 sherpas. They were family members and friends of the sherpas who trekked with me on the Everest trail. Sometimes stories come to you. This was perhaps the biggest story I’d ever been caught up in and it influenced my entire experience in Nepal, which started off as a humanitarian trip to provide dental care to “yakland” kids (children who live above 10,000 feet) some who are orphaned (due to the ten year civil war there) and some victims of human trafficking. This is but a small a window into one of the unexpected, but wonderful stops on my journey.

I haven’t updated my about page, because I really like the fact that I had written there that one of my dreams was to travel to Indonesia. And it’s so nice when dreams come true. I don’t think I’ll update it with my new dreams yet. It’s nice to savor and celebrate moments like this. *pops the cork off the champagne bottle* *pours you a glass* Now about that stand up comedy routine…




4 Comments on When you see the Southern Cross for the first time…, last added: 6/3/2014
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32. Horse Pinata

Horse Pinata

My daughter wanted a horse piñata* for her party, and I decided I wasn’t spending $25 for a tiny unfilled horse-shaped one from Party City. I thought I was making things simple by making a balloon-shaped pinata with a horse on it, but of course it all ended up taking a lot more effort than I realized.

Still, though, I loved the thing while it lasted. I started with the instructions here, but somewhere along the way I went off script and in the end, the mechanics didn’t really work. It was too heavy, and there was no way to hang it, so I wedged it into the v-shaped crux of our neighbor’s tree trunk. It worked, what can I say?

Drawing the horse on the balloon shape turned out to be the hardest part since I couldn’t see the whole animal at once and had to keep rolling it back and forth to look at the different parts. I followed the drawing guidelines in Sachiko Umoto’s Let’s Draw Cute Animals. Such a fun drawing book, btw, for kids or adults.

Speaking of drawing and painting, my new neighbor came over for the party with all her polish paraphernalia and painted nails for any of the girls who wanted it. Wow! There was also a round of Pass-the-Parcel and Tap-the-Pot. Lots o’ prizes.

My boy (6) has recently gotten turned on to reading via sister’s recommendation of early reader versions of The Boxcar Children. Mind you, not fabulous literature, but boy is it fun to see those “I love this book!” sparks fly. I always loved the Boxcar children myself.

Proud moment: he read while walking home from school. No injuries—I was right there with him and it was really just a moment until he finished the book he’d already started. I just ordered him several used Boxcar easy readers as an end-of-the-school-year present. And I’ll figure out some version of a similar gift for my daughter. We go to the public library a lot in the summer, but it’s always handy to have a large stash of used paperbacks for travels. Goodwill and the used bookstore are great for that. Anything to keep them feeling excited about reading, really. The school is doing a book exchange, too, so I’m hoping especially Little Miss will trade out some of her old fairy books or whatnot for some new-to-her stuff.

I’m still enjoying Gary Shteyngart’s Little Failure and just bought a copy of The Divorce Papers, which I’ve been told is in the vein of Where’d You Go, Bernadette? (which I love love loved). What’s on your summer reading list?

*Sorry, folks, neither WordPress nor my keyboard will let me type a proper ñ in my title text box.




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33. Irregular verbs

Most verbs are regular and are turned into past tense by adding ed or en.

amble, ambled

be, been

Irregular verbs do not follow this rule. Here is a list of irregular verbs in present, past, then past perfect order.

Present tense: You are doing the action.

Past tense: You have completed the action.

Past perfect tense: You completed the action at some point in the past before something else happened.

arise, arose, arisen

ask, asked, asked

attack, attacked, attacked

awaken, awakened/awoke/ awakened

bear, bore, borne/born

begin, began, begun

blow, blew, blown

break, broke, broken

bring, brought, brought

burst, burst, burst

choose, chose, chosen

cling, clung, clung

come, came, come

dive, dived/dove, dived

do, did, done

drag, dragged, dragged

draw, drew, drawn

drink, drank, drunk

drive, drove, driven

drown, drowned, drowned

eat, ate, eaten

fall, fell, fallen

fly, flew, flown

forgive, forgave, forgiven

freeze, froze, frozen

get, got, got/gotten

give, gave, given

go, went, gone

grow, grew, grown

hang (things), hung, hung

hang (people), hanged, hanged

happen, happened, happened

know, knew, known

lay, laid, laid

lead, led, led

lie, lay, lain

loosen, loosened, loosened

lose, lost, lost

pay, paid, paid

ride, rode, ridden

ring, rang, rung

rise, rose, risen

run, ran, run

see, saw, seen

set, set, set

shake, shook, shaken

shrink, shrank/shrunk, shrunk/shrunken

sing, sang, sung

sink, sank/sunk, sunk

sit, sat, sat

speak, spoke, spoken

spin, spun, spun

spit, spat, spat

spring, sprang/sprung, sprung

steal, stole, stolen

sting, stung, stung

stink, stank/stunk, stunk

strive, strove, striven

study, studied, studied

swear, swore, sworn

swim, swam, swum

swing, swung, swung

take, took, taken

tear, tore, torn

throw, threw, thrown

wake, woke/waked, woken/waked

wear, wore, worn

weave, wove, woven

wring, wrung, wrung

write, wrote, written

As you go through your revision process, do a search for these verbs and make sure you have used them properly.

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34. First Graders Get Crafty

First graders use a mentor text to get crafty during a unit on informational writing.

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35. Responses to Obstacles

For every action there is a reaction. A story obstacle comes along that requires your character to say or do something in response. What are the options?

Dick can’t change other people or the obstacle presented, but he can change his response to them.

If Jane is behaving inappropriately, Dick doesn’t have to give in. He can be firm and say ‘no’ or call her on her shenanigans. Jane is then forced to change her tactics because of Dick’s response.

This could be the resolution to your protagonist’s personal dilemma. Your protagonist could find the strength to change his responses to a person or situation. It can function at the scene level in any genre and the overall story problem level in a Literary tale.

If Dick wants something, he might start off with bribes. He could beg. If that doesn’t work, he’ll resort to threats. This isn’t just the method of an antagonist. It can be the methodology of any character at any point in the story.

Dick could try cajoling Jane into going to a restaurant because he has a surprise party planned. If she refuses, he might promise to do something she really wants to do. If Jane still says no, he might threaten to not do something she needs him to do. The motivation is benevolent rather than malign, but the tactics are the same.

The same motivators can work against a scene goal.

Sally might resist the goal because to do so results in a threat to her safety or to the safety of someone she cares about. 

There are times when it is healthy to say no. If Sally lives in a gang-infested neighborhood and wants to help the police or a friend, it might mean death or harm to her friends or family. Some characters would choose to do the right thing despite the consequences. Sally might give into her fears and refuse in order to protect herself or others. She may truly want to help the police, or hinder the antagonist, but the personal cost is so high she can’t.

Sometimes the best response is no response. No matter how hard someone tries to coerce your protagonist into doing, saying, or believing something, Dick can refuse to budge. He can walk away instead of arguing or reacting. This can extend the tension because the reader knows that the character will have to deal with the request another time. How many times will Dick be able to ignore the request?

Sometimes people change in response to your reaction to them. If Dick has a nagging, hysterical mother or spouse, he can finally learn to stand up to them and assert his independence. Dick changes the parameters of the relationship by asserting boundaries. The other person must change to accommodate the new rules or break off the relationship.

What if Dick is confronted with a toxic friend, family member, or lover who will never change? Dick can’t make them want help or make them better. He may have to walk away to preserve himself. It is a heart-rending choice.

By offering a variety of obstacles and responses, you keep the story flowing. Whether you script choppy rapids or a slow, sweet stream, if your reader enjoys the ride, you’ll earn a new fan.

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36. Bunny Rabbit Paper Bag Puppet

I'm in the process of creating some new activity pages to coincide with my latest book that is coming out in a few weeks.  But I felt like this weekend was a perfect time for this super simple rabbit puppet.  Just download the free PDF and cut out the face and hands and glue them to a paper lunch sack.  Ta da! a bunny rabbit for Easter.

Download the PDF here...

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37. Body Language: Eye Contact

The eyes are the windows to the soul. They are one of the most expressive features of the face.

Humans are not the only animal that finds eye contact important.  Staring at a cat conveys aggression. A slow blink conveys love. All the posturing male animals perform is a waste of time unless they have an audience watching their moves.

Especially on first meeting, good eye contact conveys that you are confident, trustworthy, and in control. It can express admiration if accompanied with a smile. Good eye contact is a general indicator of self-esteem. Though, lowering one's eyes can be a sign of respect in some parts of the world.

Eye contact during conversation conveys interest and connection. Engaging in eye contact shows that you are truly interested. Breaking eye contact can signal it is someone else's turn to talk.

A gaze can tantalize, mesmerize, and hypnotize.

Refusing eye contact can mean yourr character is angry, sad, guilty, or embarrassed. Keeping one's head down or averting a gaze can be a signal of insecurity, deceit, or low self-esteem. Widened eyes or narrowed eys convey shock, disbelief, and anger. People blink more when they are uncomfortable.

A person covers his eyes when he does not want to see something or is afraid that someone will see an emotion he does not want to reveal.

Eye blinks, winks, fluttered lashes, etc.can be a flirting game. He looks at her. She looks at him. They both look away. He chances a longer look. Does she look back and hold contact? Should he approach? The answer often lies in this exchange of glances.

Fast blinking can indicate agitation. Slow blinks can indicate shock or exhaustion.

The first part of the body a character looks at can reveal a lot about them. Do a male character's eyes always focus on a woman's chest? Does a female character always look at a man's ring finger?

Staring is generally considered rude or stalker creepy, but could signal surprise, startle,  disbelief, trying to remember where you saw someone, or noting something out of place.

If someone's gaze flits around the room, they are either looking for someone specific, or could be a spy, or cop on the job. Sherlock Holmes is the master of noticing small details others miss. A trained observer can tell a lot about another person with a single glance.

Gazes can convey entire conversations and serve as signals.

Public speakers and performers are taught to look out into the audience, picking specific people or cues, moving from one side of the room to another to make everyone feel included.

Eye contact can become a battle of aggression. He who looks away first, loses.

Normal eye contact for one culture could be considered rude to another. In Muslim countries, eye contact with women is discouraged. Intense eye contact between people of the same sex can mean the person is sincere and telling the truth.

In the hierarchy of Asian cultures, subordinates should not make eye contact with superiors. Lowered eyes can be a sign of respect.

In some African cultures, prolonged eye contact is considered aggressive.

Utilize gestures appropriately, particularly when writing about specific geographic locations. Do your research. If you are making up a completely new word, decide what the normal parameters are and keep it consistent.

The eye roll, while it is physically impossible, is a term that is generally accepted in American culture. Technically the orbit rotates within the eye socket. However, that is akward. Most people don't care if it is technically correct. They know what it means. Just don't use eye rolls in every chapter.

Eyes close, fill with tears, open wide, blink, wink, and scrunch. Eyes cannot travel, roll, graze, skewer, etc. It is one's gaze that moves. Make sure you do a search and kill for the word eye and replace it with gaze when appropriate. Make sure the eye movement is essential to the scene and is not overused.

Next time, we discuss lying.

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38. Sharing Some Exciting News

I'm proud to announce my second professional book with Stenhouse Publishers will be coming to you in the winter of 2016.

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39. Mixed Pattern Tank Top

Mixed Pattern Tank Top

This was another little experiment playing around with pattern mashups. I traced a favorite T-shirt to make a pattern, then played around with the shoulder width (the original shirt had sleeves) until it felt right. I finished the arm and neck holes with a banded treatment. I especially like the floral edging with the stripey part.

I’m pretty happy with the results, though there are plenty of imperfections. I’d like to try another using a walking foot on my machine. I think I can get a smoother finish that way.

Unfortunately the color didn’t come out so great on these photos, so I don’t think they quite do it justice, but what can I say? There are only so many hours in a day a girl can spend on modeling, am I right?

My nine-year-old wants to steal this shirt, so that makes me feel pretty successful. The fabrics are once again from Girl Charlee, and I love their softness and fun prints, but I’d also love to see more fabrics that are over 90% natural fibers and am willing to pay. It gets too hot so quickly around here to be wearing fabrics with a fair amount of poly. My two cents.

Okay, back to work. I have to prepare a presentation I’m doing with some fifth graders next week about writing an early reader.

Hope you have a great weekend. I finally have plans to see The Grand Budapest Hotel. Yippeee!

If you want to see more of my sewing adventures/ experiments, click here.

Colorblock Tank Top

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40. Body Language: Gestures

Gestures are not random. They have purpose. They illustrate. They convey the words we do not speak. They confirm, deny, or emphasize what we say. People "talk with their hands."

Gestures vary from person to person and culture to culture. People can have nervous ticks. They can have "tells" that indicate they are lying, anxious, or unhappy. Use gestures wisely.

If a gesture begins before the words, it is a sign of honesty.

If a gesture lags after the words, it's considered a sign of dishonesty.

A gesture can be involuntary but squelched by the character. This is especially true if he is angry with someone he cares about or fears.

Gestures include: 

air kisses 

averted gaze 

bared teeth 

biting cuticles, hair, lips, or nails 

blowing raspberries 


chewing inside of lips or cheek 

crossing ankles 

crossing/uncrossing arms 

crossing/uncrossing legs 


cuticle picking 

elbow bump 

eye rolling (or eye-ball rotating) 

eyebrows lift 

eyebrows wrinkle 

finger curling 

finger pointing 

fist shaking 

fist swinging 

flapping hands 

flicking fingernails 

fingernail tapping 


grasping elbows 

gripping hands 

hands behind back 

hands over face 

hands over heart 

hands together 

hands wide 

hat tip 

index finger raised 


lip curls or purses 

looking down 

looking up 

looking to the side 

lowering arms 

lowering hands 

middle finger raised 


mouth purses 

mouth tightens 


nose thumbing 

nose wrinkles 



raising arms in the air 

rubbing earlobe 

rubbing fingers 

rubbing hands 


scratching chin, ear, nose, or throat 

shaking head 



sticking out tongue 

swinging legs 

slash throat with hand 

smoothing hair 

tapping fingers or toes 

tucking legs under 

thumbs up 

thumbs down 

thumb to the side 

tightening fist 

tugging clothes 

tugging an ear 

tugging hair 


sweeping hands 


Keep this list handy and add to it. 

When revising, cut repetition and make sure the gesture is used for a good reason at the right time.

Next week, we'll discuss eye contact.

All of the information on body language can be found in Story Building Blocks III: The Revision Layers.



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41. Body Language: Facial Expressions

There are myriad muscles that control the brow, chin, eyes, jaw, nose, and mouth. Some people can wiggle their ears. Different cultures utilize different expressions. Looking away may be deceptive in America, but indicative of respect in Japan. The important part when revising for body language is to note when and how you relate facial expressions and to avoid repetition and purple prose. One should not wriggle one's eyebrows while leering.

A character cannot control fleeting micro-expressions, the initial emotional response, but he quickly recovers from them. Facial expressions reflect our feelings about what is done and said, sometimes more eloquently or more obviously than we intend. Someone told me that there were only two true emotions: fear and love (or pleasure and pain). All other expressions stem from those two. The micro-expression field of study acknowledges seven. Love isn't one of them.

Unless the character is a professional interrogator, he is not going to hook Dick up to a lie detector, register his body heat and pulse, or measure the dilation of his pupils. There are, however, emotional triggers and signs that humans register in the space of a second. Most of your characters aren’t trained to recognize them. There are several personality types that pick up on nonverbal cues exceptionally well. If you want your detective to be a natural lie detector, pick one of them.

If you pay attention to what is happening in the body when a heightened emotion is experienced, you can make your characters believable. Highlight the places in your manuscript where you discuss emotions. Take a careful look at the choreography and word choices.

Anger: The jaw clenches. The lips thin and lift in a snarl. The nostrils flare. The eyebrows draw together. Aggression is a response to fear or a response to boundary violations. When Dick is angry, he may puff himself up to appear larger and stare his opponent into submission. His brow furrows. His blood pressure rises. The stress triggers a neurochemical cocktail in response to the fight or flight instinct. He flushes and clenches his fists. His sweat glands kick in. His muscles are primed to strike. He may shake his fist or point his finger. He may drift forward slightly, or step forward deliberately, depending on how much of a threat the opponent represents. His tone either lowers in warning or rises, depending on the circumstances. His anger may continue to simmer after the altercation. He usually vents to other people or indulges in a physical action to release it.

Anger can be expressed passively. After the initial response of jaw, nose, and lips, Jane may turn silent and look away. She may mutter under her breath or fake smile. She has the same physiological response, but her conscious instinct is to hide it. Passive people who are angry often cry when furious. As her throat closes and her blood boils, she becomes incoherent. She goes into wait and watch mode. Her anger simmers but she holds onto it. She is more likely to gossip and indirectly sabotage the person she is angry with. Temperament plays a role in how anger is expressed.

Contempt: A corner of the lip tightens and lifts. Contempt is in response to an intellectual boundary violation. Dick may make scornful or sarcastic comments. He may consciously override his initial response in an attempt to hide his disdain. He could state his true feelings in the matter. Contempt is in response to something or someone he does not believe, agree with, or like. He may deny his contempt, but his face betrays him.

Disgust: The nostrils clench and upper lip lifts. Dick may frown and pull back. He may flinch or purse his lips. He may utter exclamations of disgust in response. His heart rate slows. Disgust is in response to something he fears or abhors at gut level. His body retracts. He may put out his hand or wave someone away.

Fear: The upper lids and eyebrows lift. The lips stretch wide and pupils dilate. Fear is in response to a physical or emotional violation. Dick can react with mild fear or outright terror, depending on the stimulus. His response is instantaneous and involuntary. Dick's senses go on high alert. His fight or flight response is triggered. He either freezes or retracts. He may gasp. His muscles prepare to escape or avoid. He sweats. He shivers. The hair shafts stiffen. His pulse rate increases. He may go into shock, depending on the stimulus. His flesh may feel cold as the blood rushes to prime the muscles in his hands and legs and fuels the brain. He may step back or turn to run. He may cover his face and head with his arms. The rush of neurochemicals leaves him feeling shaky after the stimulus is dealt with.

Happiness: The corners of the lips lift, the teeth may show. The cheeks plump. The muscles around the eyes are engaged and wrinkles appear. The eyes may widen, or narrow if the nose wrinkles. Jane's posture relaxes and expands. She moves toward someone or something. Her body language is expansive. Neurochemicals induce a high. She may laugh. She is verbal and inclined to touch. She may be mildly delighted or completely overjoyed. Her focus may broaden to take in others. She wants to share her feeling.

Sadness: Pupils narrow. Upper eyelids droop. Corners of lips turn down. Sadness is a response to loss or hurt feelings. Jane's body language closes in protectively. She may cross her arms, lower her head, or turn away. She may grow quiet and have trouble speaking. Her throat feels constricted. Her eyes and nose prickle and water. Her chest feels heavy. She may become more aware of her pulse and breathing. A strong stimulus can feel like a blow to the viscera. She may gasp, cover her abdomen, or bend over. She may transition to shock. Sadness may be followed quickly by anger. With extreme grief, she may scream or yell. Her body may crumple to the floor. She holds herself and rocks back and forth. Crying can be soft and silent or guttural and loud. It can pass quickly or go on for minutes. The initial blast may be followed by softer gushes as Jane calms down.

Surprise: The eyebrows lift and eyes open wide. The forehead furrows. Surprise can be a response to something positive, negative, or neutral. Jane can have a quick startle or a longer shock wave. The reaction can be followed immediately by fear, joy, or confusion. Depending on the stimulus, the jaw drops. Surprise is usually quick and over, but the stimulus sometimes makes Jane ruminate on it for some time. She may share her surprise with others in an attempt to understand it.

Next time, we will take a look at gestures.

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42. Mixed Pattern Playdress

Mixed Pattern Playdress

This is one of my favorite sewing projects ever. It’s simple, was really fun to sew, and my daughter’s face just glowed when she put it on the first time. It’s just so her, but I love it, too.

As I’ve mentioned before, she pretty much refuses to wear anything but knits. I’m always trying to find knit play dresses, and I fell in love with some from a certain British catalog that rhymes with Odin. I’m sure they would rather me write “catalogue,” am I right? Their prices are pretty steep for such simple dresses, though, and I thought, hey, I could make that! I’m kind of famous for saying that, but in this case, I actually did it.

From the catalog, we borrowed the idea of mixing patterns (which is also a big part of my daughter’s style) and went to the half-yard clearance section on Girl Charlee. Little Miss picked out the fabrics. I tried to get her to go with a contrasting color mix, but that was a non-starter. She specified no sleeves and a higher waistline with a full skirt.

For the bodice I traced another dress’s bodice. The skirt part is just a gathered rectangle. I used to be so scared of sewing with knits, but really, it’s not so bad once you get the hang of it. I definitely do better with slightly weightier knits. I used a regular machine (not a serger) and used zig zag, serger-ish-like, and triple stitches, depending on the seam/ application.

For some great tutorials on knit finishes, check this and this out.

This time, there are no booty issues (like here).


For more of my sewing adventures, click here.

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43. Post-Snow Days Catch Up

Yaupon Holly in Snow

Hello there! It’s been awhile. What with the snow storm and my determination to focus most of my energies on my (book) writing, I haven’t had much time to be here, and I’ve missed it.

How about you? How did you survive the weather, those of you who had it? It was the biggest snowstorm I’ve ever seen in the South, and I’ve lived here most of my life. We were without power for a few hours, not too bad, and got in a good bit of sledding. I have to admit I’m glad to be back to a normal schedule, though. Except for the fact that my nine-year-old is being buried with homework and projects in an attempt to make up for lost time. Bless her dear little heart.

In other news, the local chapter of the Women’s National Book Association, along with the Charlotte Writer’s Club, had a great panel Tuesday night on writers and authors using social media. Very informative, with very knowledgeable guests. If you live in the area, you should check out these two groups.

Meanwhile, I finished Malcolm Gladwell’s latest (David and Goliath). Very Gladwell, very thought-provoking and entertaining. And now I’m diving into My Berlin Kitchen, given to me by a friend (thanks, Christina!). I looooove it! It’s written by a cooking blogger who grew up bouncing between Berlin and the U.S. I haven’t gotten too far, so I don’t know the story yet, but her style is so warm, so genuine and earthy. You throw that in with cooking and international living, and I’m so there. I’d recommend it to anyone but especially to my German-connection friends. It’s almost like sitting down to kaffe und kuchen with you. Almost.

Also, because I had to do something when I couldn’t use my sewing machine, I’ve unraveled a sweater to re-use its very worthy yarn. Don’t cry for it, Argentina. It was a very heavy, stiff sweater, out of style, that my husband hardly wore (and never since I’ve known him). I’m thinking of reincarnating it into some throw pillow covers. What do you think? The yarn is actually pretty soft, just soooo heavy for a sweater. It’s almost like soft rug yarn.

Unraveled sweater

If you’re insane like me and are interested in unraveling sweaters, there are tons of tutorials out there about it. I wouldn’t recommend it unless you have a sweater with very chunky yarn. This one worked like a charm, I think because it must’ve been hand-knit, but sometimes unraveling can be more work than it’s worth. The tutorials can point you down the right path.

Lastly, I made this little piece with one of my photographs:

Sea bathing

Recognize the quote, anyone? This is where I go when I need the Calgon to take me away.

Okay, back to work. Cheers!

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44. Can We Save The Tiger? (Part 2)


Can We Save the Tiger?

By Martin Jenkins

Illustrated by Vicky White

Candlewick Press, 2011

Category: Picture book nonfiction

Today I’m sharing some thoughts on the structure used by author Martin Jenkins in his picture book, CAN WE SAVE THE TIGER? (For a more detailed introduction to this plan, read yesterday’s post.)

The story Jenkins shares in CAN WE SAVE THE TIGER is a broad one: we humans are changing the planet and the animals that live here are paying the price. The menagerie of species considered endangered by human activities is overwhelming, so Jenkins separates them into five loose groups. Using a single high-impact example from each group, he then shares the extinction story in small doses, one endangered animal at a time. The resulting structure—a collage of sorts—brings readers to an unforgettable conclusion: losing species is unbearable and we must act.

Let’s look at this collage structure more closely, shall we? Here’s how I see it …

Snapshot 1: Animals that are running out of room. In other words, big animals, like the titular tiger. Jenkins’ voice throughout the book is lovely, and here, early on, we see how his choice to speak directly to the reader is effective:

“… if you were a poor farmer trying to make a living with a couple of cows and a few goats, you might not be too happy if you found there was a hungry tiger living nearby. And if you knew that someone might pay you more for a tiger skin and some bones than you could earn in three whole months of working in the fields, then you might find it very tempting to set a trap or two, even if you knew it was against the law.”

Of course the reader wants to save tigers. But the reader can also understand a poor farmer’s motives. With this carefully chosen first snapshot, the reader is hooked.

Snapshot 2: Animals that are endangered as a result of human-introduced predators. Here Jenkins shows us a tiny snail, a satisfying juxtaposition to the tiger and, I think, a subtle nod to the idea that endangered species run the gamut from BIG to SMALL (and, of course, everything in between; see the UGLY addition below). In his image of the partula snail, we see how the movement of species by humans can have unforeseen and unintended consequences for other species.

Snapshot 3: Animals that are impacted not by movement but by other human actions. Here we add to the idea of running the gamut: even UGLY animals, like vultures, are vulnerable. By now the reader is wondering if there are animals that aren’t endangered.

Snapshot 4: Animals that were nearly extinct but came back. The reader is ready for this bit of good news. Bison were forced to the edge of the extinction abyss by human actions, but we managed to pull them back from that edge in time. This snapshot is a much needed and well-timed picture of hope.

Snapshot 5: Animals that were nearly extinct, that we are trying to help, but which are still in trouble. Here Jenkins makes it clear there is still much to worry about. If we are lucky, as with the bison, we can reverse the damage of our bad habits. But sometimes we will act too late. It’s still not clear if we will be able to save the kakapo.

Each of these snapshots is actually a distinct story, a small narrative starring the animal in question and its plight. Arranged side-by-side, however, and with Vicky White’s art, the snapshots give readers a deeper and broader view of animal extinction on planet Earth. They build a perfect collage.

The effectiveness of such the collage structure, of course, is tied to the logic of its presentation. The order in which the individual images are presented to the reader must make sense, even if the reader only experiences that logic subconsciously. Jenkins shows us something big, moves on to something small, then adds something ugly, something hopeful, and something sobering. Another order of these images could, perhaps, build an effective collage. The point, however, is that there are certain orders that would not work at all … and Jenkins knew enough not to use them.

For example, starting with the kakapo, a squat and relatively unknown critter, is technically possible … but such an opening would have been much less compelling than the tiger opening. And Jenkins would have lost the lovely juxtaposition that so nicely relayed the breadth of the extinction problem. (That is, the big-small-and-everything-in-between gamut I mentioned earlier.) Starting with the tiger, an animal all readers will recognize and most will admire, gave the author a much stronger opening …  and plenty of room to transition into a second image.

Here’s something else that struck me about the collage structure: the importance of the order in which the snapshots were presented is very important, but it is not something I recognized on first reading the book. In fact, I didn’t give it a thought! On some subconscious level, the order worked for me, so, I sank into the book and enjoyed the read. The writer is the only one who needs to think the snapshot order logic through. If he does his job well, the structure will be invisible. Readers will read. Choose the wrong order, however, and readers are likely to stumble. I think Jenkins nailed it.

That’s a lot to digest in one post, so I’m going to stop here. Tomorrow I’ll share my final thoughts on this book and the collage structure. In the meanwhile, feel free to share your own thoughts in the comments; I’d love to hear them.

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45. Can We Save the Tiger? (Part 3)


Can We Save the Tiger?

By Martin Jenkins

Illustrated by Vicky White

Candlewick Press, 2011

Category: Picture book nonfiction

If you’ve been around this week, you know I’m in the midst of a self-directed study of structure in children’s nonfiction books. If you missed them, you might want to check out my previous two posts (here and here) on CAN WE SAVE THE TIGER?

The book is structured like a collage, a collection of several short narratives that are impressive alone but which together tell a deeper story. (I got into the nitty gritty yesterday.) There are other more subtle structures at work in this book, though, and I want to be sure to mention them before I finish my study.

Jenkins starts by exploring the ways humans have visibly changed the world, and then he leads us, animal-by-animal (snapshot-by-snapshot) to the less obvious but equally dangerous invisible change we humans are engineering: climate change. This progression from visible to invisible is logical and probably unnoticed by most casual readers. But it’s effective in that it adds another layer of movement—logical movement—to the piece.

There is also a subtle but palpable emotional arc from the opening question (Can we save the tiger?) to the author’s feeling that a world with “no tigers or elephants, or sawfishes or whooping cranes, or albatrosses or ground iguanas” would be a shame. Jenkins’ final address to the reader (“don’t you?”) takes this arc even one step further. Could any reader resist this gentle pull toward the only imaginable ending? Do I think such a world would be a shame? Why, yes. Yes, I do.

Finally, the design of a children’s book lends a physical dimension to its structure and can, therefore, support textual and thematic structures. There are elements of the design of this book that demonstrate this, I think. For example, font changes are used to great effect: a bold font is used to name animals, gently emphasizing each; a chalky font is used to alert readers to pauses between snapshots (or mini narrative); and a traditional font is used for all the rest. What’s more, transition pages gently underscore the collage structure by offering artistic interludes between each section of the book (or, to use the language I’ve been using in these posts, between each snapshot in Jenkins’ collage)… and they give the artist room to share her glorious studies of animals that, like tigers, partula snails, vultures, bison and kakapos, are in trouble.

I could do several more posts on the ways, beyond structure, that this book works for me. Jenkins’ voice, for example, is superb. (By addressing readers directly, he allows them in to the story and keeps them there.) His descriptions? Lovely. (Partula snails “so small that one of them could happily spend its whole life in a medium-sized bush.”) But it’s time for me to move on to the next book, I think. This study is all about structure.

Bottom line from me? CAN WE SAVE THE TIGER is an engaging exploration of a difficult topic, and I think the structure Jenkins chose to build it with is a big part of its success with readers.

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46. Gift Cloths

Gift Wrap Cloths

Sorry for being away so long! I hope you had a happy Thanksgiving. Ours was nice and low-key, and featured some gluten-free apple pie. There was a big to-do about who got the last pieces, and not just among the GF folks. It’s that good.

The hubs and I also took a trip just before Thanksgiving, which I’ll have to tell you more about in another post.

Here I wanted to show you a little holiday craft we did. Last year I made gift cloths with Christmas fabric and existing Christmas linens, but this year I decided to add to the collection by decorating and sewing up scraps of fabric I already had in my stash.

The red and green stripe in the back left corner was made with watercolor-type fabric paints by Deka. I’ve had that paint forEVER. I tried to find a link to a place you can buy it, but it’s looking like it’s not sold in the US anymore. Bummer. It’s good stuff.

We decorated the fabric for the center red-ribboned present with Target brand “slick” fabric paints (you squeeze the bottles to draw with them). My least favorite fabric paint ever. Really poor quality, but we made the best of it.

The blue-ribboned gift cloth is pale pink, and we drew on it with Tee Juice markers, which are great for quick and easy projects, especially with kids. They are totally permanent, though, so, as with all of these supplies, dress accordingly.

Lastly, on the red-spotted cloth with the dark green ribbon, we used stamps with cheap acrylic paints from Michaels mixed with textile medium. This is one of my favorite ways to paint on fabric, because mixing it yourself gives you a wide range of choices. And in the end you aren’t left with a bunch of fabric paint you may never use again.

Below are some pre-decorated and hemmed gift cloths: a thrifted plaid tablecloth and two tea towels from Target marked down to 88¢!

The kids loved trying to guess what all these fake presents were, the favorite by far being the pink one below that’s wrapped like candy. It’s a sack of corn meal.

Loving this free printable nativity the kids can color themselves at Made by Joel.

Hope to be back soon with some details of our trip.

Gift Wrap Cloths

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47. Quick Wreath from Back Yard Greenery

DIY greenery wreath

I got inspired to make a quick wreath after reading this blog post over on decor8 the other day.

I’d been planning to do something for our front door since our old wreath was so decrepit, but I hadn’t gotten around to it. I’d never considered using live greenery since the only ones I’d ever seen looked like they’d take a master’s degree in wreath artistry and a few months to create. Hello, Martha Stewart!

But the blog post made me see how pretty a quick, natural wreath could be, and I realized we had plenty of greenery in the back yard. I bought a form at Michael’s (about $4) and clipped various bushes: magnolia, Yaupon holly, rosemary, and wax myrtle.

Sadly, the regular floral wire was out at Michael’s, so I bought this stuff that’s kind of like a never-ending green twist tie. It’s not so bad. And I basically twist-tied the greenery on in a haphazard, overlapping circle. It took me about half an hour. The best part was not having to follow any directions.

Personally, I’m kind of smitten with its exuberant cowlicks. I would totally do this again. What about you? Have you made a wreath of your own?

In other news, with this being the last day of school for the year, I’m winding down my latest draft of my young adult novel and am readying it to send to a reader/ writer/ friend. Scary and exciting at the same time.

Hopefully I’ll be around a little bit over the break, but if not, Happy Holidays to you!

and p.s. We’ve been watching this hilarious show called Lilyhammer. It’s about an American mafioso-turned-informant who chooses Norway as his relocation destination. All kinds of funny cross-cultural issues come up. It stars Steven Van Zandt, of Sopranos and E-Street Band fame. You can find it on Netflix.

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48. New Year, New (ish) Projects

Dress Shirt Quilt

Happy New Year! Did you survive the holidays? Ours started out low key and then sped up after Christmas with the Colorado wedding of a dear friend, a couple of days of skiing, and 3 stitches in my lower lip after a minor fall.

Don’t worry, I’m fine! Luckily, nothing was broken, so I could go right back to skiing. Actually I can only find 2 stitches now. They are not the dissolvable kind, so I don’t know if I misplaced a stitch or if I just miscounted. Hmmm…

I’m finding, unexpectedly, that I kind of love January. Not for the weather. Who could love January weather, even in the South? But I love getting back into the routine and not having a bajillion outside actitivities to distract and exhaust me. And the days are getting just a tiny bit longer. So I’m told.

Currently I’m back to work on my nonfiction book for elementary-aged students. I’d taken several weeks away from it while focusing on my novel, and the break has really helped clarify things. It still needs a lot of work, but I’m excited to see how far it’s come since my initial brainstorm. I’ve been getting some feedback on both projects from writer friends, which is so invigorating!

The above picture is a sneak peek of a quilt I’m working on. It finally seems to be coming together, though it’s looking like spaghetti to me right now. For more sewing and quilting projects, click here.

What about you? What’s inspiring you this month? Reading anything fantastic? Stay warm, folks!

2 Comments on New Year, New (ish) Projects, last added: 1/13/2014
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49. Embroidered Wedding Portrait


This is the story of a wedding gift (my contribution to it, anyway) for a dear friend. I thought you might like to see the process. The picture is of my friend Jamie and her husband, who got married last June. As a surprise to the couple, her mother asked friends and family each to complete a design on a muslin square. She collected the squares and then had them made into a patchwork quilt as a gift to Jamie and her husband.


Jamie and I go way back, and a big part of our friendship has been about shared words. Books, movies, music, poetry, television. We have a lot of inside jokes about obscure quotes. So I sifted through our collective “library” of shared references, looking for the perfect quote to decorate the wedding square. Nothing seemed quite right.

When I saw the bride and groom, though, I knew nothing could be more Jamie and Jon than their fabulous wedding outfits.

I decided to make an embroidered picture and started with the best photo I had of the event. It’s blurry but gave me a good pose to work with. I used Picasa to play with the colors and then used the “posterize” effect to get the lines of the image to show up more clearly.


I printed the picture, traced over the lines with a Sharpie, and then transferred these to the fabric with a temporary fabric marking pen.


I like the back almost as well as the front:

Embroidery backside

Here’s the final:

Embroidered Wedding Portrait

If you’re interested in seeing more of Jamie and Jon’s wedding, click here.

Meanwhile, I’m hard at work on my nonfiction project and just got some excellent notes on my novel from an old friend. A little sewing going on, which hopefully I can show you soon. Back to writing now!

8 Comments on Embroidered Wedding Portrait, last added: 1/23/2014
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50. Girl’s Waffle Knit Tunic

Thermal Knit Tunic

My girl loves knits. She’s nine now, but ever since I can remember, comfort has been her style priority. More often than not, this means knit fabrics. I really hesitate to buy her anything that’s made of wovens.

Occasionally, though, I have trouble finding as much variety as we want. (okay, there’s Mini Boden, which I love, but I’m not in love with their prices). This tunic was an experiment that started out as a dress in my mind. Until I ran out of fabric. Actually, I think if the pattern sizing was anywhere near the mark it probably would’ve made a dress, no problem.

I thought I’d try making a raglan T-shirt into a dress by lengthening the bottom, since raglan sleeves can be easier to deal with than the standard set-in kind. I used See & Sew B4322, which is really a pajama pattern, but that was the closest thing to what I wanted that I could find in the fabric store.

The directions are nice and straightforward, but like I said, the pattern sizing is off by a mile. I know my daughter is slim, but she’s not far off normal store-bought sizing. We ended up with, like, six inches of ease on the sides and a Flashdance neck.

But anyway, I made it work. I hacked off the sides, took in the shoulders, and gathered the neck (this was pre-finishing). I added a wide waistband what I had leftover, and I’m actually pretty happy with how it turned out. It’s long enough that she can wear it with leggings, which was the goal in the first place.

I realize I could’ve done a better job with the bow pattern (I’m pretty unexperienced with patterned fabric) but Little Miss doesn’t seem to care, so I don’t, either. Next time, I think I’ll just trace clothes she already has, rather than use that pattern (though the directions are still helpful).

The fabric came from Girl Charlee. I’ve been enjoying sewing with their fabrics. They are good quality and very reasonably priced, cute selection. If you’re a beginner with knits, I’d recommend going with medium weights. They are easier to work with. I do love these bows!

For more of my sewing adventure, click here. Hope you have a great weekend!

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