Author Archives: Sanae

I make things. I like to call my work space a "crafty little atelier in a grey city". Grey is my favorite color.

Happy Friday + Sewing for Me: Really, More Grey?


Happy Friday! To the question, “Just how many grey dresses do you need?” I respond, “You can never have too many grey dresses”. This is dress “q” from the book that I’m giving away (there’s still time!), and it’s unusual in that it is fully-lined. Most Japanese patterns do away with linings for some reason, and it’s always been a mystery to me.


This is the same charcoal chambray I used for my first Tova, and for this somewhat vintage-y dress, I cut the size 11 without any modifications. It looks pretty good from the front, right? Love that pleat detail. Like the pleat, the subtle gathering of the sleeves surprised me. The pleat and gathers really don’t show up much in the book’s photo.


The front may look decent, but the back tells another story. I obviously need to add a few inches to widen the bodice, and I seriously thought K wouldn’t be able to pull the zipper up. Said zipper is straining mightily as you can see, and there’s a bit of digging happening under the armpits.


The tight bodice does keep everything tucked in nice and secure though. This is what floating in nothingness in a too-snug frock looks like:


And really, if I’m able to nimbly dodge an on-coming, crawling-at-the-speed-of-light kid, I’d say this dress is more than adequate in the fit department.


(I need to point out that it was school pictures yesterday and she managed to find the two things that I haven’t sewn to wear – sigh. They’re from a couple of years ago…).

So I’m trying something new. For almost two years, I have been diligently posting pretty much every week day, and I’ve been loving it. Sometimes, however, I think it’s important to take a break and I’m going to do just that. I’m taking all of next week off to spend spring break with K (M has to work all week) and to get going on my piling non-blog to-do list. I have been trying to sew for KCW and I’ll share some outfits when I get back!

Have a wonderful weekend and I’ll see you back here on the 21st, when I will announce the giveaway winners! In the meantime, I’ll keep it open. I love all the comments!! I can’t believe I didn’t include reading as part of my list of things I’d never get bored of. Some of you asked some questions, and I’ll address them either directly as an email or as a post, depending on the question. Stay tuned.

Have a good one all!
Though a week off will be weird
It’s time to recharge

dress-q5The camera caught me blowing a kiss to K… 




The Joy of Seeing


I was sketching randomly today (sort of my version of a warm-up for the final phase of book illustrating, which is like a creative workout) and remembered when a friend asked me whether I’m researching other children’s book illustrators, and I told her that I purposely avoid it. Instead, I look for inspiration in other forms: traditional museum paintings, clothing designs and colors, old school album art, retail store advertisements, interior design, nature, everything. A lot of it has to do with a deep fear of copying. Although I know that original ideas are a rarity and that it’s almost impossible to truly replicate others’ work, I still don’t want to feel like I’m inadvertently taking on someone else’s style.


I realized, though, that I wasn’t being entirely accurate. I’ve always been thoroughly enamored with children’s books, and I’m certain that my favorite illustrator’s techniques and aesthetics have unconsciously seeped into my own creations over the years. I may not have actively looked to my heroes in the illustration world while I’ve been developing my own artwork, but they’re all there as part of me, resting and clustered on my shoulder like miniature art teachers.

I stumbled across this book by one of my all-time favorite illustrators, Lisbeth Zwerger, and these words pretty much sum up what I was trying to tell my friend and how I try to see the world:

The Joy of Seeing

Joy comes from seeing the beautiful.
A scarf, sweeping from the neck. A puffedout skirt with mysterious
draping. A wallpaper with an intricate pattern. Hats and furniture,
statues and inscriptions, graceful figures and dainty shoes.

Joy also comes from seeing the demonic, the ugly.
A man whose body looks like a fly. A fearsome witch. A ghost
holding his head in his hands. A black spectre.

Joy comes from seeing the fantastic.
Mr. Knife and Mrs. Fork, with blade and prong growing out of their heads. A
dancing camel. A boy climbing into a picture. A fish flying through the air.

Joy comes from the humorous.
A mouse wearing a woolen cover around its long, thin tail. A little
man with a pillow on his head. A donkey and some scholars
wearing the same spectacles. Maids lifting their skirts to hide
their kissing princess.

Joy with the eyes emerges from stories.

- Lisbeth Zwerger, from The Art of Lisbeth Zwerger



This is a quick sketch I made of Lisbeth Zwerger – portraiture is not my strong suit! This also reminded me of the famous experiment with Joshua Bell - have you heard of it? It blew me away, and the part that affected me most was about the kids. There’s also a youtube video here. When do we lose the capacity to pay attention?

P.S. I’m working on an outfit for myself that I’ll try to share tomorrow!

No-Bake Energy Blasts


It’s hard to believe, but I’ve continued with my daily green juice for nearly a year now. It helps jumpstart my day, but I must ‘fess up to still being hopelessly addicted to my beloved coffee. Maybe it’s the coffee voiding the green juice, but by mid-afternoon I usually need an energy boost.


I made these no-bake energy blasts (named by one of K’s friends who happened to be over while I was typing this up) and they live up to their name. I slightly modified this recipe by replacing the honey with brown rice syrup (left over from the healthier rice crispy treats), and adding a little dried bing cherries and slivered almonds. I also bought whole flax seeds instead of ground by mistake, but it wasn’t an issue at all.

These are delicious! And kid-approved! A seven-year-old and eight-year-old both extolled the flavor, and this is after I told them that these are on the healthy side as far as snacks go. I popped one in my mouth and savored the notes of poppy seed (from the chia seeds?) mixed in with the sweet/tart zing of the dried fruit and mellow nuttiness of the pistachios and almonds. Increasingly I’m preferring brown rice syrup as a sweetener because it’s not as cloying.


My food processor didn’t like blending the dates, syrup, chia seeds and flax seeds though. An ear-splitting grating noise exploded the first couple of seconds, then it slowly and painstakingly churned the mixture into a semi-smooth mush.


That was the only hiccup, however, and these are so easy to make — my favorite kind of recipe. I’m piling a bunch in containers to keep in the fridge (they’re supposed to last a couple of weeks chilled). Now I’m ready for the afternoon slump!


Unusual Creatures


This is a leafy sea dragon. There really is such a thing! I got so excited when I saw it in a book I checked out from the library a few weeks ago – it’s the sort of unexpected, delightful and unnecessary information I gobble up.

I was pondering this lovely creature in the back of my mind, and then when I was running errands at a bookstore yesterday, I saw the same book in the bargain sales section. I’m not sure why, but I took it as a sign to paint the sea dragon. You can see that I took some creative liberty as the real leafy sea dragon is much leafier.

As I put this post together, I thought of how — if I weren’t in the know and was reading this — I might envision that these illustration posts come together quickly, without breaking a sweat. I might assume that I spend leisurely afternoons painting with a steaming mug of green tea and some homemade (healthier, quinoa-filled) sweet by my side, wearing one of my self-made loose maternity-esque tunics and gently contemplating my insecurities. And I might surmise that I’m generating a “body of work” from which I occasionally pluck a drawing to share. Free-floating and unusual, much like the leafy sea dragon.

The reality: After a day filled with prosaic tasks (scheduling car repairs, grocery shopping, helping out at K’s school), the clock strikes 6pm and in between chopping onions and potatoes for dinner, I quickly pull out my paints, brushes, paper and library book. Then K wails about needing help with homework so I beeline for her room. In the middle of deciphering elementary school math, I suddenly remember that I am boiling water and dash back to the kitchen. Crisis is averted so I return to my painting, spend two minutes painting the sea dragon body, then hear the wailing from K’s room again demanding to watch something on the ipad. I tell her to practice her piano or read a book and try to paint the leaves while jumping up every couple of minutes to sauté vegetables, waiting for M to come home.

Over the course of an hour, finally, I have a somewhat edible dinner, haphazardly completed homework, a grumpy child, one leafy sea dragon painting and an olive oil and paint-stained ratty sweater. The scanner is on the blitz and I have no natural light to take photos, but somehow, the scanner reboots and I get images loaded up, this text typed, and whew, we’re ready to sit down to eat. I think about painting another unusual creature after dinner or maybe squeezing in some sewing (it is KCW Spring after all) and decide that I need to reserve my energy for the tumult that is bath and bedtime.

Ah, so glamorous, no?

Monday Outfit: “Artist” blouse + Cargo half-pants


Good morning! We hit a milestone this weekend! K had her very first non-relatives sleep over, and it was a roaring success. My friend and wonderful neighbor took it upon herself to entertain five girls on Saturday night and generously offered to captain K’s maiden voyage into the land of sleepovers. Since they live only two doors down, I fully expected a call or knock in the middle of the night, but nope. K made it! You could see the confidence brimming in her when she returned home.


Moving along to the Monday Outfit. I’ve been sewing with mostly printed fabrics these last few weeks, but this weekend, I felt compelled to return to my roots: linen + solids. The mustard linen blend should look familiar from the Debbie dress. And the cargo shorts/half-pants are made out of scrap vintage natural linen. It’s been washed so many times, it already has that soft, worn-in feel of well-used tea towels.


The top is from this book and is described as the type of smock an artist might wear. I can see that, though it would be a shame to splatter paint all over such a stylish blouse.


K thinks it’s the bee’s knees. Or maybe that’s the sign for “phat top, dude”.


The cargo pants were an afterthought. I’m pretty sure I was drawn to the pattern because M almost exclusively wears this utilitarian design, a carryover from the 90s. I hear it experienced a minor resurgence last year, but my sources are a little sketchy.


The pattern is from this book and was surprisingly easy to make. The 100% linen stretches and warps, so it was tricky to get the crispness I’d hoped for, but I find the boyish look charming paired with the girly top. Unexpected, don’t you think? Wait, I’m getting a memory flash that I have, in fact, made the cargo pants from Oliver + S before, and that was a serious labor of sweat, tears and love. Maybe that’s why it was so easy to construct these pants due to some kind of muscle memory.


I finished the outfit just as the sun was starting to set, and I eked out every bit of light from our west-facing master bedroom. As I bribed K to take photos for this post, urging her to hurry because the sun was setting, I briefly acknowledged the ridiculousness of myself. I obviously take my Monday outfit posts very seriously…perhaps too seriously. Anyway, a well-loved outfit has been completed, and I’m feelin’ good.


Happy Friday + Randomness


Happy Friday! Just a quick tolerations update: March was on the lackluster side. I accomplished the easiest possible tasks such as “Donate bags in car trunk to Goodwill”, “Eliminate K’s shoes that don’t fit” (which were in the bags in the trunk), “Organize pantry” (it’s a tiny pantry), “Clear off bedside tables” and “Move yellow art cabinet to basement”. I’m down from 75 tolerations to 70. Ah well, progress, right?


K’s take on dreams, which I love:

Mama, dreams are like games in a playfield in your mind. The great thing is you get to wake up when you have a bad one.


Also, yesterday K’s class went on a field trip to The Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation…

Me: How was the Gates Foundation, sweetie?

K: Awesome!! We learned about toilets*!

*Apparently, state-of-the-art, cutting edge and sustainable toilets are in the works for developing countries and that was the highlight for the second grade field trip. Those Gates Foundation people know their audience.


I’m keeping it short and sweet today – have a wonderful weekend, friends!

My weekend respite
will include quiet moments
to dream some good dreams


Dress Book Giveaway! [Closed]


It’s been a while since I’ve done a giveaway, hasn’t it? As it turns out, I was wildly optimistic about my ability to juggle a book, illustration clients, a blog, other secret projects to be revealed soon, and teaching. Not to mention this somewhat important factor called family. I had to hang up my cape and retire the chipped faux-superwoman badge and reassess the situation.

After some serious analysis of weighing pros and cons, I opted to let go of teaching sewing classes. Keli of Drygoods was incredibly gracious as always and has extended an open invitation for me to teach at her lovely studio when I’m ready, but for now, I’m taking a sabbatical from my short-lived career as a sewing instructor.

This means that I have a couple of extra Japanese sewing books to give away which were originally going to be part of my class. Again, in my wildly optimistic way, I was planning on providing a comprehensive translation of the steps for all the patterns to go along with the giveaway, but I was clearly delusional. BUT. The winners should definitely contact me with questions any time (in fact, I hope you all know that if a Japanese sewing book stumps you, I’m always happy to translate/help). And I mean that. Who knows? I may still have time to include translations to ship out with the books. Famous last words…


The book comes with 20 patterns, and I’ve made variations of the dress from the cover three times here and here and here. These are quick, simple and stylish dresses and come in three sizes (9, 11, 13). The 11 fits me well, and in terms of western commercial Big 4 sewing sizes, I’m between a 12 and 14.

A while ago during one of my sewing marathons, I listened to a podcast or interview or something that now escapes me, but what I do remember is this one statement: “I chose to do art because it was the one thing I knew I would never get bored or tired of. That it would always surprise me.” I chewed on that and decided that for me, writing, sewing, photography and drawing made the cut.

So, to enter the giveaway, please leave me a comment answering this question: What is something that you know you would never get bored of? More than one thing is perfectly fine too!

There will be TWO winners which I will choose randomly, and the giveaway is open until Friday, April 18th (updated!). As always, I’m happy to ship internationally. Good luck!!



Instagram + Green-Eyed Monster


Instagram! Are you in on the action? I just started (@sanaeishida) but I don’t know what I’m doing at all. I couldn’t load it on my iphone for some reason, so it’s on my ipad, which makes picture-taking a rather awkward ordeal. I took a profile pix of myself when I was trying to do something else, and “liked” one of my own photos by mistake. And what’s a private user? I’m basically a mess.

I tentatively selected a few folks to follow and then had to stop and ask myself why I wanted to plunge myself in what seems like another time-robber. I love Pinterest for the visual inspiration that floods me, but I often have to step away from all the prettiness to dial down the expectations of how my own life should look. I’m digging the idea of capturing photo-based moments easily in a communal way. But I think what could make Instagram dangerous — much like any social media — is the feelings of inadequacy it can generate, more so than blogs or Pinterest because IG posts are supposedly instantaneous, real-time depictions of one’s day-to-day. It’s easy to forget that it’s another way of curating our lives for an audience. For example, I started following Alice Gao, the it girl photographer with talent oozing out of her pores. And then immediately, my little sewing-drawing-blogging-writing existence paled in comparison to the beautifully composed shots of her jet-setting, glamorous life. And is it my imagination, or are some of the photos from DSLR cameras? They look too perfect.

On the flip side, I’m also fabulously inspired – the woman creates art with photography whether it’s with a mobile device or fancy camera, there’s no question. It totally makes me want to up my photography game. That initial feeling of “why is my life fuddy duddy and why do my ipad images suck!!??” made me ponder the whole notion of jealousy.


Have you ever wondered why jealousy and envy are associated with the color green? Some posit that Shakespeare coined the association through The Merchant of Venice and Othello, others cite Greek origins of the feelings inducing bile, hence the hue. To break up the text because I’m blathering on and on yet again, I went around the house taking photos of green and green-ish household objects…


Lately, K has started to remark, “I feel jealous!” about certain things. When we go buy a gift for her friend’s birthday, for instance, or if I pay more attention to someone else. It’s actually one of the reasons I wrote my “enough” post, but the green-eyed monster is a big subject. It all falls under the same general topic I’m aware, but there’s something particularly taboo about jealousy, don’t you think? In many ways, I find it so refreshing that K openly declares her feelings because we all feel it.

Okay, so technically, coveting a friend’s birthday present would fall more into the envy arena, where as jealousy is often defined as a fear of having something we value taken away (e.g. a romantic partner or a parent’s attention). It could also be the fear of being replaced, as in “she’s a much better version of me and people will like her more”. Be it envy or jealousy, it’s all coming from a place of lack.

I remember when I was about six-years-old, I used to draw princesses all the time. It was an obsession. Crowns, gowns, sparkles and more. It was the only thing I could draw well, which is why I did it over and over and over. And I had this friend (also age six), who one day decided she wanted to draw princesses too. Swiftly, she wielded her pencil and produced a princess remarkably similar to mine, and I was mortified. Princesses were my thing.  How dare she draw one so well without any practice (at least I didn’t think she had practiced)? I worked so so hard on my princesses. My six-year-old self couldn’t have possibly articulated the feelings in any mature way, so I refused to speak to her for days. Jealousy. I was threatened by her natural talent, annoyed that I wasn’t special, worried that I could be easily replaced should there be a need for sparkly princess illustrations.


On the envy side, I distinctly recall a period from about 2007 to 2008 when it seemed like everyone I knew was buying a house. We, on the other hand, were bopping from one apartment to another, each one more dismal than the one before, and florescent green coursed through my blood. I pestered M about buying a house because we could have certainly scrounged up enough for a down payment, and thank goodness for his financial savvy because he had predicted the bubble and recession eons before (I call him “Muffy” – a play on my nickname for Warren Buffet: “Buffy”). I was thoroughly operating from that thing people call the “scarcity mentality”. I would troll real estate listings, drooling over turn-of-the-century Craftsman homes completely updated with charming details intact, and bemoan how awful our apartment was. M turned a deaf ear to me.

So a couple of interesting things happened in relation to those two tales. Once I got over princess-gate, I realized I needed to expand my artistic repertoire. I started to practice drawing animals (wearing princess gowns, but still). I practiced sketching anything and everything that caught my eye. I also thought about what else I could be good at despite my tender six years. I explored, and it was fun. It turned out that I was good at many things, like telling stories and mopping and creating pretend make-up from plants.


In 2010, we found our current house through a series of mishaps, which I might tell you about one day, but it was a pretty depressing time and it’s not very interesting. Our house is a rental, but it’s just right for us. Sure, it could be spiffied up a bit as I’ve mentioned, but we love living here. The envious feeling? Poof. Completely gone.

It’s not breaking news that the envy and jealousy we feel has everything to do with what we perceive to be missing in ourselves. There was plenty of room for multiple princess-drawers in our neighborhood when I was six; what I intrinsically felt was that without that particular skill — if anyone could do it — I wasn’t unique enough. Because deep down, I was and am afraid that I am unremarkable and forgettable. I know that’s not true and it’s not true for anyone, but believing in oneself has got to be the hardest human task out there.

As for the house-envy, it was never about owning a house or keeping up with friends (at least not much). It was about feeling settled and free and part of a community. In our prior residences there was an inherent sense of impermanence and restrictiveness, so I was untethered and stifled, if you will. K’s cries would bother neighbors and I tiptoed around, feelings of resentment building. We still rent, yes, but we’ve landed on a spectacularly unusual situation in a great area – here we feel settled and free and part of a community.


Essentially, I’d love to be like K — so open and accepting of her feelings. “I feel jealous,” she says, in the same breath as, “I feel hungry” and then she just moves on. Jealousy and envy frequently invade my emotions and my reactions to them are more complex. Over the years — through hits and misses — I’ve been working on trying to identify what’s missing in me when the feelings take over. What is it about the other person that I want? What’s the need in me that is coming up empty? It’s tough work because sometimes the answer isn’t straightforward, and it’s so very unpleasant to feel the emotions, but it can be a propeller of positive actions too. Perhaps with instagram the green-eyed monster will take up semi-permanent residence, but I’m already seeing the potential for magnificent inspiration. I’m excited by the prospect of using technology and connectivity to share my own unique perspective .

Jealousy and envy — they are teachers that ask the important questions: What do you really want to pursue? Who do you truly want to be? What do you need to do to make your life better? And perhaps the most important questions is, What can you be grateful for?

And it’s my job to answer them.




Pancakes: Banana Oat vs. Chocolate Chip


K made an unusual pronouncement on Sunday that threw me for a loop. “I want something different for breakfast, Mommy,” she said. For the past five years, I’ve been serving up buckwheat pancakes every Sunday. It’s like clockwork: wake up, brush my teeth, make pancakes.

Turns out that my routine girl didn’t want to deviate too much from the ritual. She just wanted different pancakes, so we thought it might be fun to each make our own version. K created a chocolate chip concoction and I investigated our cupboards and pantry for ingredients that might work. I found a bag of oat flour and some super ripe bananas, and hazily remembered pinning a banana pancake recipe, but my gargantuan board proved to be too much work to sift through and the search function wasn’t too helpful, so I googled “Banana Oat Pancakes” instead (must address the Pinterest issue). Voila! I had all the ingredients, and though I forgot to include the cinnamon and nutmeg, these were delectable!

My pancakes were fluffy and virtually sugar-free:



Her pancakes were a sweet tooth’s dream and more like crepes:


Guess which one she preferred?


“Here, Mommy, you’ve gotta try these. My recipe is awesome.”


And you know what? She was right. She made the batter entirely by herself, so I have no idea what she put in there, but they’re soft and airy and marvelous.

Of course, I was partial to my own, much healthier version. Okay, I did drizzle a teensy bit of extra maple syrup on my tower of (mini!) oat pancakes, but these are fairly guilt-free as far as pancakes go:


Oh! I completely forgot that today is April Fool’s!! May your day be filled with gentle pranks that make you chuckle.



Monday Outfit: Necessities


Good morning! I hope you had a delightful weekend – ours was busy but happy. What you see above is a small segment of K’s wardrobe, “small” being the operative word here. There is a dresser stuffed with more knits and pants/shorts/skirts, and at least one large basket brimming with K’s outfits, waiting to be laundered.

It’s becoming a situation. A quasi-problematic one.

I’m all for slow fashion, but I have a feeling that I’m slapping that whole concept in the face and upside the head (have I written that before? I feel like I have). Admittedly, the pile-up is due to the fact that Japanese patterns are inherently generous in sizing, and in some cases, she’s still able to wear clothes I made two years ago. So that’s both good and bad. Good because longevity is totally sustainable and cool. Bad because then I feel guilty for making more clothes that are not strictly necessary (the necessity ship sailed a long time ago for me, I realize, but I do think about it. Sometimes).


If it were up to me, I would sew up fanciful, vintage-inspired-yet-modern outfits made out of linen and double-gauze every week. However, there are times when I have to be practical. Faced with the increasing number of wedgies K seems to suffer through, I sighed with resignation and pulled out the underwear pattern she loves so much. Don’t get me wrong, the pattern is awesome — if somewhat boy’s briefs-esque —  and the fit is amazing. K has declared them the most comfortable underwear ever. It’s just that it falls under the dutiful/pragmatic section of my patterns like pajamas and long sleeve tees that are fun but not as fun as, say, a dress with multi-directional stripes or a reversible coat.

undies-take2-1So I’m making undies again. I have a bin that is chock full of knit scraps, and K has chosen these below (she said she doesn’t like the butterflies or the gold dots, which is a tad hard to see up there, but I think she’ll end up loving them):

undies-take2-2And this incredibly plain, nude-colored one is also one of her picks, currently under construction:


Here are a few others fabrics I’m planning on transforming to cute underpinnings. K loves stripes.


It seems that the pattern is no longer for sale, but I just discovered that Anna of Noodlehead made the darling-est versions without the front panel – must try!! I also must get my hands on more whimsical knits – those dogs are fantastic! Have you sewn any underwear lately? I think it might be time for me to attempt grown-up ones very, very soon…

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