A Tale of Two Pillows, Part 2: A Wedding Anniversary Gift For One of My Brides

frog-closure-2My last post was about the first pillow I ever made. This post is about the last pillow that I made (perhaps latest is the better word to use, since I’m sure I’ll make more in the future). It also involves a mother—this time not mine, but one of my brides’— as well as a surprise gift: a first wedding anniversary gift for her daughter. And, thankfully, the craftsmanship of this pillow is markedly improved over the first one!


Cecilia, my bride’s mother, got in touch with me around the holidays wondering if I could make a pillow with the same frogs I had made on her daughter Sarah’s wedding dress. Her  first wedding anniversary was approaching and she wanted to surprise her daughter with a special gift and thought this would be something unique that her daughter would really appreciate.



They had all loved the wedding gown I made the year before, especially the front frog closure on the jacket which referenced their Chinese heritage from the mother’s side of the family. Wouldn’t it be nice to have a tangible reminder of that element of the gown, instead of just photos or having to take the dress out of a box to see?

frogs-wedding-jacket.jpgI thought it was a great idea, and was flattered to be looped into another important milestone in this wonderful family’s life. This is what I love about my job: that I get to do this thing that I absolutely love to do which creates something with so much meaning and significance for my clients and their families.

good luck knot frog-closures

I happened to have enough fabric left over from making her dress that I could do it, so I got to work, replicating the frogs and ball button closure that I had initially created for the front of the jacket that went with the wedding gown, this time, for the front of a pillow.

wedding-jacket-frogs-frontWhen designing the original gown (which I’ll devote an entire post to in the future—for now I’ll just stick to the frog parts) I researched Chinese knots and chose a good luck knot to recreate in the same Italian silk duchess satin as I made the rest of the gown. The button is a monkey’s fist knot.

The whole point of this pillow was to have the exact frog closure on the pillow as the wedding dress, but as I was making the pillow I got carried away, thinking of all the even more complex and elaborate frogs I could make; I had to restrain myself! There now exists in my head an entire suite of frog embellished couture throw pillows! I started daydreaming of all the other pillows I could make, inspired by all my other brides’ dresses. I loved this project and hope to make more wedding gown inspired pillows for my brides, whether as a reminder of their wedding gown, or ring pillows for the ceremony.

frog-closure-pillowIf you’re one of my past brides and you’d like a keepsake pillow made with the leftovers of your fabric, or if you’re a future bride and you like the idea of a ring pillow made made to match or compliment your dress, let me know!

good luck knot monkeys fist.jpg

Mother’s Day Tribute: A Tale of Two Pillows, Part 1.

Last Christmas was the best Christmas ever; not only because I got to decorate like a fiend, but because while I was home I finally found—after a fruitless eighteen year search!—a bunch of things I had sewn when I was a child and teenager that I’d long worried had been accidentally thrown away. I burst into happy tears when I pulled this from a box and held it for the first time in probably more than 20 years.

pillow-frontIt’s a pillow I made as a Mother’s Day gift for my mom when I very first started sewing. It was the first non-Barbie-clothes thing I ever made, and it is The Most Important Thing I Have Ever Sewn because it taught me the importance of craftsmanship and construction in relation to design.

I had secretly taught myself how to sew when I was 6 or 7 years old and once my mom realized I had been sewing on my own, and I had her real permission to use the sewing machine, I decided I would make her something special for Mother’s Day. 

pillow-closeupI put a lot of thought into the design, but even more heart; both literally and figuratively, as you can see! Limited by what fabric was available in the scrap drawer, I chose white felt, which was leftover from when my mom made me lamb’s ears to wear as a three year old when I was one of the stable animals in the Christmas party nativity scene; pink corduroy, from a pair of old pants I had grown out of; and denim that had most likely been my dad’s yard-work pants, or at least used to patch my dad’s yard-work pants, I’m not sure.

To stuff the pillow I used a bag of cotton balls that I had pilfered from the cabinet under my mom’s bathroom sink, because what else would you stuff a pillow with when you’re a little kid? The bag was half empty, though, so my pillow ended up being a little bit flat.

pillow-edge-3Sewing multiple layers of denim is a pretty ambitious task for anyone, let alone an 8 year old novice, but I wasn’t going to let my inexperience get in the way of making a sumptuously ruffled edge for my pillow. You can tell that I constructed the top and bottom ruffle first because, a) they’re sewn inside the seam, and b) there is actually some semblance of a ruffle; by the time I got to the vertical sides of the pillow I had run out of fabric and there was just barely enough to cover the last side, with not a single pleat and no folded edges to hide the frayed raw edges of the denim.

pillow-backWhen I had it all finished I was so proud of this beautiful thing I had made to show my mom how much I loved her and I just knew she would love it too! She would think it was the best gift ever and be so proud of it and show it off to all of her friends.

I decided that the best way to give it to her would be to place it on her bed (where I was sure she would display it for the rest of her life!) so that when she walked into her bedroom she would see it and know that it was obviously a gift I had made for her. I waited anxiously all Mother’s Day for her eruption of surprise and gratitude, but it never came.

pillow-edge-1What did come, however, was the pillow— right back into my bedroom! My mom put it in there, assuming I had accidentally left it in her room, as if it was one of my toys I’d forgotten to clean up. I was devastated, and brought it back to her, telling her that this was my Mother’s Day gift and that I had made it for her to put on her bed.

I don’t think she really knew what to do at that point, and we are an honest bunch of people, my family, so she told me the cold hard truth:

“But Colette, it doesn’t match my bedroom.”

(SIDENOTE: In the mid 80’s my mom redecorated the main floor of our house with peach carpet, and peach everything everywhere, so of course this pink and blue pillow did not match, but Mom, that wasn’t the point!)

She also delicately tried to explain to me that my sewing and craftsmanship might not yet be good enough for permanent display. She had every right to make that call; the tailored wool jacket that she made in her university sewing class in 1965 was the most perfectly crafted thing the professor had seen in all her years of teaching (another blog post for another time), and Jane’s Peach Palace, as my parents’ house eventually came to be called by my older siblings, had certain aesthetic standards to uphold!

Now, if you’re worried that my mom is some sort of cold, unfeeling aesthete because my pink and blue pillow wasn’t good enough for her, to her credit, she kept a bouquet of tissue paper flowers (with bright green pipe cleaner stems!) I made for her, probably when I was even younger, in a vase on her bathroom vanity for years. Of course, the tissue paper was peach, though…

pillow-cornerSo the Freudian subtext of this story is that I’ve spent the rest of my life sewing maniacally to prove to my mother that I can make something worthy of her praise and adoration, but the more accurate take-away from this experience is that I learned at an early age that it’s not enough to have a great idea, or to be well intentioned in your creative endeavors—you also have to be able to execute your idea at the requisite level.

That is the bedrock principle of my design philosophy, creative process and aesthetic, and as devastating an experience as this was as a little girl—adding insult to injury, a few days later I heard my mom yelling out from her bedroom, “Where’d all my cotton balls go? Who took my cotton balls?” To which I, deflated, had to confess—it served a much greater purpose than if she had showered me with compliments and kept the pillow on her bed like I had hoped.

pillow-edge-2.jpgI love my mom and everything she’s done for me in my life. She’s my biggest fan and greatest champion, and I owe so much to the many wonderful things she’s taught me, the sacrifices she’s made for me and my four older siblings, and the constant love and support she provides for our family.

It’s impossible for me to look at this pillow all these years later and not smile at the earnestness with which I created it; every stitch reads like a journal entry to me of my best effort at the time. I love it and wouldn’t change any of its frayed, un-mitered corners for anything.



My 34th Birthday Cakes

I love using my birthday as an excuse to spend an inordinate amount of time making some kind of fancy/crazy/funny/delicious cake to share with my friends and family. I don’t do it every year because of how elaborately involved a process it always becomes, but the years when I’m able to I have so much fun!

I decided to throw myself a birthday party this year. I haven’t had one for a few years, and after renovating my apartment last year I never had a house re-warming party, so this introvert was long overdue to have some friends over for a celebration. The only problem was that I couldn’t figure out what kind of cake to make!

It would need to represent something relevant in my life or be personally significant in some way; that’s what makes the process fun for me. Like in 1998 when i made my 16th birthday cake with a silly fashion illustration of myself as a cartoon wearing an outfit I’d designed (but hadn’t yet made) out of fabric that I had just bought on my very first trip to New York with my home-ec sewing class that month…

16th birthday cake

Or in 2005, when I was obsessed with Napoleon Dynamite and made a Pile of Giant Tater-Tots cake (I baked yellow cake in tomato paste cans, covered them in yellow icing and tossed them in toasted coconut with yellow food dye) and wrote “Happy friggin’ birthday!” in icing “ketchup”…

napoleon dynamite tater tot birthday cake

I wanted this year’s cake to say something about me in the few years since I last made myself a birthday cake. The obvious idea was to do a renovation themed cake but my renovation involved a lot of sleek, high-gloss white cabinets, and a sleek, glossy white cake would be boring, and not enough of a creative challenge.


So I thought about making a cake version of Space Girl’s Jetpack (part of the Halloween costume I made for myself last year), but I couldn’t accurately recreate it without it being incredibly unappetizing, what with ALL THE GLITTER!

jet pack

I was at a loss. My last idea was that I could make a baby animal cake, inspired by the drawings and paintings of baby safari animals I’ve made over the last few years for my now two-year-old nephew’s bedroom, but I wanted to do something a little more adult to go with my newly “grown-up” apartment!

rhino drawingA week before the party—after a fruitless brainstorming phone call with my out-of-state best friend— I went to bed, catastrophizing that I would have to cancel my birthday party on account of not being able to come up with a suitable birthday cake idea. But around 1 A.M. the inspiration hit, and I was wired until 4 A.M., mentally constructing the perfect birthday cake(s), amazed that the combination of frustration and sleep deprivation had conspired in my favor. Not only did I suddenly have a solution, but it incorporated all of my possible ideas!

zebra curtains and chair

Instead of my white, glossy cabinets, the inspiration I took from my renovation was the beautiful tone-on-tone silvery/pinky/grey zebra striped fabric that I had made curtains, throw pillows, and re-upholstered my chairs and bar stools with.

I would make two zebra striped cakes and each of them would have significance beyond the renovation. The first, a vanilla and chocolate zebra striped cake would recall the baby zebra I painted for my nephew.

painting zebraAnd the second zebra striped cake would be strawberries and cream, with the pink strawberry stripes hinting at the pink from my Space Girl costume.

space girl earrings

For weeks I’d had in mind two different back up desserts in the event that I never came up with a cake design. Serendipitously, those recipes were perfect for the technique I planned to use to articlulate the zebra stripes!

I had to alter the recipes quite a bit to get them to express my vision for the final cakes, but the original recipes I started with were both vintage Komm family favorites that I’ve long wanted to revise and turn into something new and luxurious. This added another layer of significance to my birthday cake project; with any of my creative projects, whether it’s someone’s wedding dress, a drawing, or a cake, having a meaningful back-story to the final creation makes it so worthwhile and immensely satisfying. Finding a connection to my inspiration is an inextricable component of my creative process; creativity can’t happen in a vacuum.

strawberry zebra cake1The frozen strawberries and cream cheese cake started with the recipe for what my family has always called “Favorite Dessert,” but a google search of the ingredients will tell you is actually called “frosty strawberry squares.” It’s a really fluffy frozen strawberry meringue with candied walnuts on the top and bottom. It’s delicious, but whenever I eat it I think how the best part is the candied nuts and there needs to be more of them. It’s also extremely airy—as in, not dense enough to turn into a “cake”—so I added a few ingredients, changed some of the ratios and made the strawberry meringue differently to turn it into a cheese cake while still keeping the distinct meringue-y taste of the original dessert. I added more flavor dimension by adding pecans to the walnuts, and—since it was a cheesecake—threw in a recipe of graham cracker crust to make the most delicious crumble that went between the strawberry and cream layers. OMG, it was soooooo good!

frozen strawberry cheesecake

The chocolate zebra cake was a mousse cake. The recipe I started with is my own tweaked variation on “easy chocolate cream torte,” a recipe I found as a teenager and have made for all kinds of special occasions and birthdays. This time around I turned it into “complicated chocolate cream torte” (make that KOMM-plicated chocolate cream torte!). In its original form it’s alternate layers of chocolate mousse and giant chocolate cookies which soften between the mousse. This time I used more chocolate in the mousse to get darker zebra stripes, a firmer consistency, and deeper chocolate flavor to offset the vanilla cream, and I crumbled up the cookie part to layer in the cake the way I did with the nuts and graham cracker crumble on the strawberry cake. Unfortunately I never got a picture of the inside of it, so I guess I’ll just have to re-make it!

chocolate zebra cake
The white parts of each cake are variations on a recipe I developed in 2003 as a pie topping. It’s a whipped cream and cream cheese combination that pipes very nicely and tastes better than ice cream on a pumpkin pie! It complimented both the chocolate mousse and strawberry meringue perfectly.

cake stand testTo actually make the cakes, first I had to decide how big to make them. I experimented with different sizes by cutting the plastic lining that I would pipe the mousse into and taping it into circles until I’d deterimined the sizes I wanted. Since the strawberry cake had to be frozen it could only be as big as I could fit in my freezer, but the chocolate mousse cake could be larger and multi-tiered since it only needed to be refrigerated.

pastry ring 2I fiddled around with the zebra fabric scraps to choose the direction I wanted the stripes to go on the cakes.

pastry ringsWith the pastry rings lined with the plastic sheets I piped the zebra stripes from piping bags filled with the different fillings and didn’t finish until about 6 A.M. the day of the party. (I had to stay up all night to make the cakes so they had enough time to set up before being un-moulded.)

piping mousse

I can’t even tell you how immensly satisfying it was to turn over these cakes, remove the metal rings and peel off the plastic lining sheets to reveal perfect zebra stripes and crisp 90° edges! An OCD person’s ultimate fantasy, I tell you.

zebra stripes closeup

chocolate zebra cake 1

The cakes were a massive hit with my friends, and I was so pleased that my hair-brained middle-of-the-night idea worked out exactly how I envisioned it. My only regret is that I didn’t have enough time to write down the recipes and steps as I went along; but hey, having to make these again (for science!) would not be such a bad thing. These recipes definitely need to be documented and enjoyed again… and again!

zebra birthday cakes




Gingerbread Cookie Collaboration 2013!


If you know me you know that I love making cookies and I love Christmas, which naturally means that I really love making Christmas cookies! Over the last few years it’s become a tradition of mine to make snowflakes out of gingerbread, and pipe them rather ornately with royal icing.


I like to call them Rococo snowflakes, but they could just as easily be Baroque snowflakes, and some of them could even pass for Art Deco snowflakes, but I digress. What’s more important is that it’s kind of like doing embroidery but with something sweet and edible and I have way too much fun doing it!


I’ve been hearing for years from the ecstatic recipients of these cookies (I’ve only ever made them for my family and friends) that I need to make them available to the rest of the world, so this year I asked my friend Amy Noelle, who owns Sugar Flower Cake Shop and makes wedding cakes decorated with beautiful sugar flowers, if she would like to team up and help me bake, decorate, and sell my gingerbread snowflakes this holiday season. She thought it was a great idea!


Now everyone will have a chance to find out for themselves if these cookies are indeed too pretty to eat (trust me, they are not–they taste just as good as they look)! You’ll be able to pre-order our first batch of cookies through Amy’s website by the end of the month, so stay tuned for details.


And be sure and follow both of us on Instagram, as we’ll be posting lots of photos as we go… Let it snow, let it snow, let it snow!

My Birthday Cake

A few weeks ago when I was figuring out what I wanted to do to celebrate my 29th birthday — dinner with friends? a weekend trip? — I decided that I wanted to spend the entire weekend (and an unlimited budget for Callebaut chocolate!) decorating a really fancy cake to share with my friends and family on Sunday night, my birthday.

The cake is four tiers of my absolute favorite chocolate cake. A  client of mine gave me the recipe after I tasted it at a dinner party she hosted; it was the most delicious cake I’d ever had and I was practically drooling in between bites as I asked her where it had come from. She told me it was her mother’s recipe and a family secret but a few days later I received a hand-written card in the mail from her with the recipe for both the cake and the icing! It is seriously one of my most favored possessions, and every time I make it people go nuts for it. And of course, every time I make it I tweak it slightly so it gets bigger, better, and fancier!

I’ve always loved making cakes and cookies, and I especially love piping icing and playing with chocolate, so I couldn’t have picked a more exciting way to celebrate my birthday. I started out on Thursday night by making the dark chocolate roses. Each rose is shaped by pressing a tiny ball of chocolate clay (made by mixing melted chocolate and corn syrup, letting it set up and then kneading it until it’s pliable) into the shape of a petal and clustering a number of them all around each other. It’s a labor-intensive and tedious process, especially when you are making three dozen of them, but I’m weird like that and think it’s fun! It’s hard for me to explain just how intensely satisfying this kind of thing is to me, but there’s really nothing I enjoy more.

In spite of said enjoyment, however, by Friday night chocolate wasn’t the only thing melting down… I wound up despondent and on the phone with my sister, lamenting the fact that (and wondering why) I can’t just be a normal person and be satisfied with, like, a Duncan Hines funfetti sheet cake, or something… Why do I feel so compelled by these profound urges to create the complex and extraordinary?! Why do I turn almost everything I do into an elaborate make-work-project? Thankfully, though, my existential crisis was short-lived; Saturday was a blur of creative rapture and by the time I finished the cake at 6 p.m. on Sunday — barely an hour before my guests would arrive — I was jumping up and down, laughing almost maniacally at having pulled this off. I was so excited; nothing makes me happier than creating something beautiful — especially if it tastes delicious, like this cake, or feels exquisite, like one of my dresses — and sharing it with people that I love!

Silk Ribbon Embroidery

These are some photos of a silk ribbon embroidery sampler I made once when I was home sick and bored out of my mind. I didn’t plan out what the final piece would look like; I just took my ribbons, thread, and beads and started stitching together a bouquet, so to speak, one ribbon flower or leaf after another, practicing as many different stitch techniques as I could.

Beneath the flowers I made something of an abstract flower pot — or maybe it’s a trellis? — by couching the silk floss and ribbon. Couching is a technique where a thicker thread or ribbon is affixed to the top of the fabric by tiny stitches of fine thread from the back of the fabric. I love the juxtaposition of the rigid geometry of the couched silk thread with the organic, voluminous shapes and textures of the floral embroidery.

Call me crazy, but I fantasize about embellishing a whole dress with this stuff! I think it’s the most beautiful type of embroidery, not just because it’s so delicate and enchanting, but also because it cannot be duplicated by machine, making it extremely rare.

Snowflakes and Icing and Chocolate and….

These are some of the Christmas goodies I made while I was on vacation at my aunt’s house over the holidays… (I always have to be making something and when I can’t be working on a gown or drawing I’m usually doing something artistic in the kitchen.)

I love piping with royal icing — any icing, really — or even melted chocolate, as is the case with the dark chocolate turtles below. It’s like doing embroidery that you can eat!

A few weeks ago I posted a new photo to my Vintage Wedding Photo Gallery on Facebook. What I loved about it was the cake; beautifully iced with detailed piping. So, after I finished decorating my snowflakes, I did some royal icing freestyle just for fun.

I hope you all had a wonderful holiday, and best wishes for a Happy New Year!