Saturday, August 3, 2013



A long time ago, maybe 1988, we had a beat-up 1969 Volkswagen minibus.  It was (mostly) orange, with a green shag interior and no back seats.  Copious rust.  No heat.  A total hippie van, built for partying camping.  The whole thing was kind of rigged; as I recall, the brake lights were activated by a hand button on the steering wheel, and you had to park on a hill and then crawl underneath it with a screwdriver in order to get it started again.   


The van’s name was Otis, which sprang forth in some moment of beer-infused poetic clarity from something Janis Joplin said once, which I can’t actually remember anymore.  We thought it was pretty clever at the time.  


Otis needed to have some work done on his heads (cars have heads, did you know that?) and because we were in college and flat broke and everything, Dean opened up a greasy repair manual and delved into the engine himself, taking the entire contents of Otis and strewing them into a bunch of boxes in the garage.  I despaired when I saw that, because it looked to me like he had taken something that seemed to be a car and turned it into a bunch of useless junk.  But lo, he is in fact a genius, and in short order had reassembled Otis' innards and while you still had to start the thing by crawling up underneath the chassis with a screwdriver, Otis did chirp to life and function again.   A miracle.  Also, that’s when I sort of realized Dean would be a capable solver of all kinds of problems I hadn’t even thought up yet, problems of the grubby and of the household repair and of the otherwise expensive.  He was a keeper.


In fact, after his total dissection and bionic rebuild, Otis was as good as new—well, as good as he’d been when we paid $900 for him in 1988, anyway.  I still had to defrost the inside of the windshield with a portable hairdryer plugged into the cigarette lighter, but that’s how you build character.  A few years later, Otis met his end when he burst into flames as we were driving down the road.  Good times. 


Anyway, I mention this because my vintage Singer Slant-o-Matic, the beautiful Miss Kastner, is about to undergo the same treatment.  It is time for somebody to take her apart and see what’s wrong.  Her bobbin tension is in a bad way, nothing is working, and as you can see, I’m trying to make a quilt.  Cross your fingers for her, and let us hope she doesn’t burst into flames. 


  1. Gorgeous story about Otis, thanks for sharing. Hope your machine comes back from her surgery all fixed up and ready to go x Penny

  2. Best wishes to Miss Kastner. I loved reading about Otis, he sounded like a real trooper. I once had a car burst into flames while I was driving it too. I was driving southbound on I-81 through the Onondaga Reservation south of Syracuse. I agree, total good times.

  3. I am in love with that quilt already. Good Luck on the machine. Jo x

  4. Great story about Otis - it kinda makes me sad for all the kids you see driving new-car-bought-by-mom-&-dad nowadays, they are missing out on all those good times our generation had ;-) I will have my fingers crossed for Miss Kastner, that quilt looks gorgeous already! Hope it's not too much of a delay before you can get back to doubt you will find something equally wondrous to keep your fingers occupied in the meantime ;-) Helen x

  5. I love this story, sounds like you and Dean have had many a good time. Love your craft/studio space. Good luck with Miss Kastner, I feel she will be good as new.

  6. you are such a gifted storyteller

    good luck with Miss Kastner...sounds like she is in good hands

  7. An engrossing tale of worthy Otis on the way to meeting creative Miss Kastner, Kristen! I too wish Miss Kastner well. She looks so at home in your pretty sewing space :)
    Gracie xx

  8. Lovely story and lovely quilt - was trying to pick a favourite fabric, but genuinely can't. Inspiring x

  9. I think this is my favorite story yet, mainly because my girlfriend had the same Otis type van that we would to take to the beach. Every trip was an adventure.
    You are so lucky Dean can fix things! The doctor should have your machine purring in no time, even if you have to start her with a screwdriver.
    Now that quilt....I am in love with your fabrics! It's a beaut.

  10. I loved reading about Otis! You gave me a well needed giggle when you said Good Times to bursting into flames! Hope your sewing machine is up and running soon!

  11. What a wonderful story about Otis - so well written and totally enjoyable, thank you!
    I so wish Miss Kastner well - may she be fully recovered and raring to go very soon!
    And what a blessing your Dean is - you did well to realise early on that he was worthing hanging on to, Kristen!
    Your quilt is looking fantastic already - you and Miss K are a great team!

  12. My mom had a sewing machine like that! Hope it gets fixed for you soon.

  13. Hi Kristen, What a lovely post!!!Love the Otis story!!!Sounds all so familiar!!!!I have the best memories of our Van as well!!!Best wishes to Miss K!!!Have a fab day!!!

  14. That is a great story that I think many of us can relate wishes to Miss K and hope she spring back to her happy self soon so you can finish this marvelous quilt.
    As always your great stories keeps me intertained and motivated :)

  15. I feel there must be more stories to tell about your days with Otis...?

  16. 3 things:

    #1. sweet sewing set-up!!!!!!!!

    #2. i love, love, love, love, love your fabrics!!!!!!!

    #3. why am i totally not surprised that in the previous post you showed a pile of fabrics, and now your quilt is 1/2 done!!!!!!!!!

  17. Kristen, bravo to Dean. And also to you for recognizing what a gem he was, and is. I did get to see Janis perform (with the Grateful Dead as the warm up act) but don't know the Otis quote, unless it might have related to Mr. Redding.

    Only last year, I also found a very good home for my heavy 1967 vintage Singer "portable." It felt quite good to know someone would appreciate that zig zag machine, as I welcomed my new Janome.

    What fun it is to read your posts! xo

    1. Here's me green with envy! I myself was born too late.

      The reference did have to do with Otis Redding, maybe she said something like "Otis, my man." And man rhymes with van, can see how we thought that little pun was pure genius stuff. ;)

      I always wanted to paint Otis in the style of Janis' Porsche, but he burned up before I got around to it.

  18. We used to name our cars too. My best friend drove Ol' Pig, a Chevy something or other with faded silvery blue paint and more exhaust inside the car than outside. Otis is a good name for a classic van. Is Dean fixing Miss Kastner? If so, it sounds like she'll be in good hands ;) Wendy

  19. Oh I hope it gets fixed as that top is beautiful!

  20. hope it gets fixed......i've got a blender (world's best!!!!)--only about 40 years old, but gosh's good, and I dread the day it gives up the ghost.

  21. Your quilt is stunning! And I really hope your sewing machine gets better fast! No flames. Flames and quilts dont mix very well. I did enjoy your car story though :)

  22. ohmygosh - what a story! And it reminded me of "our" first car. Paid $100 for it in 1985, a 1972 Toyota Corona (yes, Corona, not to be confused with the still ever popular Corolla). We named her Baby Jane. The only way to get her started, was with an awl, and a long screw driver (Key broken off in the ignition). We drove it for almost two years, and in that two years, there was always something breaking down, but she got us there. We finally drove it to a salvage shop (had to jump her off one time on the way over, the alternator was shot) and sold her for $40. I say we got our monies worth. but oh the memories!

  23. I've just discovered your blog and I love it! I love your writing style and your makes are just beautiful. I shall most certainly keep coming back for more and to find out how the daunting lace-weight seed stitch scarf comes out!

    S x

    PS - Best line in a post ever? "A few years later, Otis met his end when he burst into flames as we were driving down the road. Good times." - I think it may be!