An enterprising person can always find a way to make a living.

Searching for opportunities, I came upon a mansion owned by the village of Elderberry Bay. The village wants to unload the mansion cheaply. All the new owner has to do is bring the huge Victorian house back to code and pay taxes.

This seemed like too good an opportunity to pass up. I could buy the land and the buildings on it--there's a coach house, also--for next to nothing. I could have the mansion restored, and then I could sell it for more than I spent on it.

However,  investigating Elderberry Bay further, I discovered that the village is also known as Threadville because the main street is lined with shops catering to people who like to sew, knit, and create all sorts of fashion and home decoration. Threadville is so popular that tour buses come to it every day, and the shops are thriving.

So...the lightbulb went off in my head. I could run a business in my mansion that would cater to Threadville's fashion-loving crowd.

And that's how the Threadville Academy of Design and Modeling, TADAM for short (rhymes with madam) was conceived. The good citizens of Threadville will want to welcome me and my academy because of the hundreds of students who will potentially be their customers.

Here's my plan. I'll start advertising the academy right away, and line up students.  Their tuition deposits will help with the renovations and the hiring of teachers. Then I'll renovate, complete with a luxurious director's suite on the third floor for my wife and me, and we can open this fall.

Shortly after the students start classes, why not draw attention to the school by hosting a fashion show?

I'll convince the good ladies of Threadville to create and model outfits for it. I'll tell them we're raising funds for scholarships. And I've thought of a gimmick that will make everyone remember that fashion show--and my academy--for a long time.

I'm going to have some fun. And I'll also make loads of money while living in a really nice place--not only the luxury director's suite in the TADAM mansion, but the village, also. It's on the shore of Lake Erie and has great beaches.

January 17, 2015


Another gust sends threads of snow scurrying down the sidewalk toward me. I lean on my shovel and stare at the snow as if staring could make it evaporate. The gust ends, and the snow settles in swirls that look almost like paisley. My camera is inside, in my machine embroidery boutique, In Stitches.

But even if I had my camera in my hand, I would never catch this pattern on the sparkling, unshoveled snow. The paisleys are replaced by another flurry of low-blowing snow, another evanescent sprinkling of swirls and spirals, and then that design is gone, too.

But I'm getting cold just standing here, and though my gloves are warm, I'm afraid I'm losing feeling in my fingers. I push more snow onto the heaps flanking the sidewalk. Finally, although snow is still dancing down the sidewalk in gusts, I put away my shovel, tuck my gloved hands into my coat pockets, and wander.

i end up at the Elderberry Bay Conservatory. It's a beautiful building, both Gothic and Victorian. A wealthy timber baron spared no expense to create a delight for his wife. In addition to lining the glass confection with rare tropical plants, he put a small stage at one end of the vast main room for her, with space for chairs for her adoring audience--she'd been a singer before their marriage.

Sometimes, she had the chairs cleared out, and she hosted parties, banquets, and balls in her glass-domed pavilion. Candlelight would have glittered and reflected off all those panes of glass.

The village of Elderberry Bay, also known as Threadville because of its concentration of sewing and yarn shops, now owns the conservatory. The denizens of Threadville should be able to put that stage and that ballroom to some interesting uses. I'll have to think about that...

On a cold afternoon like this, the conservatory's glass panes are fogged from the heat and humidity inside. The building is closed to the public today, but even the misty sight of the towering green plants inside rejuvenate me, and I'm sure that, almost before we know it, Spring will return to Threadville.

My boots make funny crunching noises on the pathway through the park surrounding the conservatory. The wind has piled the snow into hummocks here and undulating valleys there. The park looks as clean and crisp as the air feels.

And suddenly, I know why I like the look and feel of this white, wind-blown snow, and I know just how to spend the rest of the afternoon.

I return to my apartment, set up the ironing board, plug in the iron, and I steam press that length of white linen I've been saving for tea towels. As the linen becomes crisp, it releases its own pungent aroma, one that blends nicely with the lavender I'd packed around it.

Best of all, my fingers are now nicely warm, and so is the rest of me. And I start thinking of designs that my embroidery machines and I can put on these towels. Paisleys, swirls, spirals, perhaps, and long trails of white on white.

Willow Vanderling
February 17, 2015


No, I don't intend to dye my hair green or wear a wig today, but my dogs, Tally-Ho and Sally-Forth, who have sniffed out a few clues that helped bring murderers to justice, have already tried on their wigs. Do you think anyone will recognize them?

Here in Elderberry Bay, also known as Threadville because of the stores catering to people who work (play) with thread, yarn, and fabric, we love dressing up. Costumes, wigs, masks, you name it.

So as you can imagine, if there's a reason to celebrate, put on disguises, or wear any sort of costume, we participate enthusiastically. A lot of the fun is making our own outfits.


Gulp! I've taken a gigantic - and daring - step.

My best friend, Haylee, moved from New York City to Elderberry Bay, Pennsylvania, and opened a fabric store, The Stash. I've been jealous ever since. Finally, I visited her.

After Haylee opened The Stash, her mother started a yarn shop. Haylee's mother's two best friends opened a notions boutique and a quilting shop. Word got out about this village where people could buy everything they needed for their textile arts projects, and Elderberry Bay earned a nickname - Threadville.

Busloads of tourists shop and take classes in Threadville. These tourists have been pestering Haylee to find someone to teach them how to embroider with sewing machines, so Haylee introduced them to me.

Everyone calls what I do machine embroidery, but perhaps thread art would describe it better. Though I usually use embroidery software and high-tech sewing and embroidery machines to create pictures with thread, I showed an enthusiastic group of Threadville tourists some fun tricks they could do with ordinary sewing machines. They wanted more.

Across the street from Haylee's shop was a recently renovated store with a For Sale sign in front...

On the outside, the building was a charming Arts and Crafts style bungalow. Inside, it was perfect for the sort of thread art shop I've always wanted to own.

I fell in love with the apartment underneath the shop, also. Because the building was on a hill, the apartment was bright and airy. Floor-to-ceiling windows overlooked a private, hedged-in back yard. At the foot of the hill was a riverside cottage that I could fix up and rent to summer visitors.

I hugged her and agreed. But my customers love holiday designs, the ones we can buy, and the ones we create with software and computers. I expect Dora will be in my store and the other stores in Threadville frequently, though, reminding customers that holiday-themed gifts end up in storage for most of the year.

And I'm going to be doing a little reminding myself. I'm going to ask my customers when they last had their machines serviced. Two Christmases ago, when my author was rushing to complete last-minute Christmas gifts, her embroidery machine stopped communicating with her sewing machine. Luckily, the sewing machine still worked, but she had to haul out her almost-forgotten hand embroidery skills for that Raggedy Ann doll.

What about you? Do you like making gifts for others? Receiving handmade gifts? Have you started any Halloween or Christmas sewing yet?

Willow Vanderling
September 17, 2015

From: Willow in NYC
To: Haylee in Elderberry Bay
Subject: Maybe next month?
September 28, 2010 9:46 PM

I've got two weeks off in the middle of October. See you then.


It's because of Janet Bolin.

That woman writes books about me and my life. So far, every book  has focused on a murder that happened here in Threadville.

And now I've seen the front cover of a new book--NIGHT OF THE LIVING THREAD.

That's our park, our gazebo, and the overskirt we're making for Edna. Does that mean there will be another murder? The weekend of Edna's wedding?

Please say no!

Sally-Forth: They can throw it on the floor!

Tally-Ho: Or just drop it.

Sally-Forth: I'm looking forward to Thanksgiving. The Threadville ladies cook a feast, and we're invited!

Tally-Ho: But they're soooo picky about what we can eat. No bones.

Sally-Forth: No onions, either. Who likes onions, anyway, so why do they put it in so many things?

Tally-Ho: I'd be happy with creamed cream. Who needs onions?

Sally-Forth: Stuffing is probably good without onions, but we never get to find out.

Tally-Ho: Willow's making pumpkin soup. And she's not putting onions in it. Think she'll put an extra dollop of sour cream on ours?

Sally-Forth: That's not sour cream. It's non-fat yogurt. We're not supposed to have fat, either.

Tally-Ho: And yet they call it Thanksgiving.

Sally-Forth: We have a lot to be thankful for. Willow adopted us from that place where we stayed in a cage for a year. And now we have an entire village of people who love us!

Tally-Ho: And we get to go out on those midnight walks when Willow wants to snoop around about something, like how some human died.

Sally-Forth: Maybe they choked on bones or ate too many onions and too much fat.

Tally-Ho: Silly people. Let's get Willow to let us out in the back yard. We can chase each other in the wind, and then have a little rest.

Sally-Forth: Woof! Woof! Woof! Woof! Look Tally, here she comes.

Sally-Forth and Tally-Ho
November 17, 2015


I like making gifts, and everyone is used to receiving machine embroidered objects from me--pictures of pets embroidered on pillowcases, recipes on tea towels, flowers on sweatshirts, silly sayings on T-shirts, machine-embroidered lace ornaments and scarves.

My Threadville friends have attempted to teach me knitting, and I like it, I really do, and when I saw Opal arm knitting during storytelling at her shop, Tell a Yarn, last night, I knew I had to try it, and maybe I could make a different sort of gift for friends of relatives.

Arm knitting is different. Instead of inserting pointy needles into loops of yarn and grabbing yarn to pull through those loops to make new stitches, you get to use your fingers, which are much better at grabbing than knitting needles are.

It seemed like a good idea at the time.

I bought the appropriate yarn from Opal and returned home to try it myself. No one would laugh at my failures because no one would see them, right?

I managed to cast the stitches onto my right wrist, and to knit the first row to my left wrist, and was halfway through the next row, with parts of scarf hanging from both wrists and my hands basically tied together, when my two cats, Mustache and Bow-Tie, woke up.

My yarn, one of those zigzag-wrapped "balls" with yarn coming off both the outside and the inside, was on the floor between my feet.

Next thing I knew, my ankles were tied together, too.

And that's when Clay showed up at the sliding glass door of my ground-floor apartment.

His knock woke up the dogs, Tally-Ho and Sally-Forth. Barking and wagging their tails in excitement, they rushed to the door. The ball of yarn, unwinding, went with them... And so did I. Shuffling.

Clay came inside. When he stopped laughing, he gave me a very nice kiss, and then he began trying to help untangle my feet, but between the dogs crowding him for attention and the cats using the yarn as a soccer ball, I merely became more and more tangled.

And that's when there was another knock at the door. "Come in!" I yelled. I was in no condition to walk, let alone open the door.

Vicki Smallwood, Threadville's Chief of Police, and a friend, came in and stopped, her mouth an O. "What am I interrupting?" she demanded. "I can come back later." She set an envelope and a cute little fruitcake in a pleated paper cup on my kitchen counter. "Merry Christmas."

"Arm knitting," I managed. "Don't go."

"Harm knitting." She shook her head. "I've threatened to cuff you for interfering in murder investigations, but really, Willow, there's no need to cuff yourself." She stared down at my ankles. "Leg shackles, too. Again."

Willow Vanderling
December 17, 2015


Fashions change, and here in Threadville, we change with them. Actually, since we're all crafting our own clothes, furnishings, and decorations, we change ahead of the seasons. So it's still February, but there's some warmth in that sun, and inside our shops, it's cozy and bright with the colors of spring and summer.

To me, the term "knitted brow" conjures up rather painful images involving foreheads and knitting needles.

Then I saw the cover of the large print version of SEVEN THREADLY SINS by Janet Bolin, and I had to read the book.

Imagine my shock to discover that SEVEN THREADLY SINS features me, my daughter, and our friends in our little village known as Threadville. It tells about how we found the clues and evidence and put them together to finger the murderer of that rather horrible man, Antonio, who called himself a fashion designer and accused my daughter and friends of committing "threadly" sins. Of all the nerve! And then, speaking of nerve, since I was near the appalling man, and I had my arm upraised when he collapsed, the police actually considered that I might have hit him. I assure you that I did not touch him. Shh--don't tell anyone, but I would have smacked him, and for a very good reason, if he hadn't fallen down before my hand could connect.

“Emma loved this color,” he said. After a long pause during which I barely breathed, he explained, “My wife. She was like this flower. Vibrant, cheerful.” He stared down into the purple tufted center of the flower. “And just unfolding.” He looked up at me, and his pale eyes were teary. “And fragile and short-lived. I would have loved to see her grow as wrinkly as this flower, and as wrinkly as I’ve become, but she was only twenty-three when I lost her. You remind me of her, Willow, in a way. Strong, good, and a wee bit impulsive.” He smiled to show he wasn’t criticizing me.

I thanked him.

 “Now you go back to your dogs,” he ordered. “Wouldn’t want them staying alone too long.”

I like turning photos into embroidery designs. I manipulate the artwork to limit the number of thread changes, but still, working from a natural palette means I need many subtle variations in hue.

I keep adding new colors and types of embroidery thread, and I’ve ordered taller racks to hold the thread. But somehow, I don’t think I’ll ever have enough.

I’m not complaining…

But we have a problem. No, not only the murders that you may have heard about and that I’d just as soon not talk about, but…um…I hate to say it. Some of us could be collecting just a little too much.

Willow Vanderling
October 17, 2013

Here are some of my ideas:

1. Homemade jam
2. Embroidered (monogrammed?) bookmarks
3. Fudge
4. Embroidered coasters
5. Handknit socks
6. Handknit mittens
7. Jar of homemade pickles
8. Rum balls
9. Gingerbread men

Willow Vanderling
December 17, 2014

Sally-Forth: It doesn’t make sense. It’s the only time they’re any good at tracking rabbits and mice and all the other animals we know are there because we can smell them. Most of the time, humans have no idea those animals have been near.

Tally-Ho: Except for skunks. They can smell them.

Sally-Forth: Let’s hope so, or they’d really be pathetic! Why is it they don’t want herding skunks again?

Tally-Ho: I forget.

Sally-Forth and Tally-Ho
February 17, 2014


I love the holiday season. I love the food, the decorations, the opening of packages, the camaraderie. I love shopping in my friends’ textile arts stores in Threadville.

like to tailor my gifts for the recipients. With some folks, it’s easy to find or make something they’ll love. I own a quilt shop, Batty About Quilts, because I’m passionate about cutting up cloth and rearranging it in different ways. (I know, put that way, it sounds a little strange...)

My friends and relatives say they like the quilted place mats, tea cozies, table runners, coasters, baby quilts, etc. that I send them every year. But I think I’ve inundated them, and this year, I’m doing something different.

I couldn’t have been more wrong, about both Darlene and Felicity. Felicity was about as much fun as a rock rolling downhill and heading straight for me, and Darlene didn’t live long enough to return to my store. Worse, the sewing machine she’d picked up in my store had apparently killed her, and as soon as I convinced the police that someone had tampered with it, they started eyeing me, my store, my machines, and my assistant.

How could I let a sewing machine, or me, or my store, or my assistant be blamed for murder?

There wasn’t much I could do.

However, Darlene’s “bereaved” husband, a rather nasty guy, was fire chief, and the fire department was recruiting volunteers, mainly to help with a flea market...

Photo courtesy Bruce Bolin

Suddenly, my friend stilled and aimed her binoculars above the lake. “There’s something you don’t often see.” Her voice was soft with awe.

Way out over the lake, a string of cloud separated itself from the dark underside of heaped-up cumulous clouds. The string twisted and turned. “A funnel cloud?” I asked her, almost as startled as I’d been at the thought of flying TVs. A tornado? Maybe the next TV that flew past our heads would be a television…

“Are we in danger?” I was ready to run to my car and drive inland, fast.

Dora Battersby's Brussels Sprouts

Wash, trim, and quarter (unless they're already very small) the Brussels sprouts.

Lightly brown pecan pieces (about a tablespoon for every cup of Brussels sprouts) in olive oil. Set aside.

In a different skillet, fry bacon (about a slice for every cup of Brussels sprouts) until crisp. Drain the bacon on paper towels. Crumble the bacon into bits.

Place the Brussels sprouts in a microwaveable casserole dish. Scrape the pecan and olive oil mixture into the casserole. Salt and pepper to taste. Stir.

Sprinkle the crumbled bacon on top. Put the lid on the casserole and microwave it until the sprouts are tender-crisp.

Last but not least, tell the kids to eat their veggies.

I'm thankful that Halloween and all those problems we had in Threadville with Edna's wedding dress and our craft fair guests and the people wandering around Threadville pretending to be zombies (really, and they seemed to think they were adults, besides...) are over.

I'm looking forward to Thanksgiving again with Edna and her two girlhood friends. And we're adding more folks, too--my new son-in-law, Opal's daughter Haylee and Haylee's best friend Willow. Haylee's hosting us, and doing most of the cooking. She's threatening to feed us rutabegas and parsnips. Not me. No matter how she might gussy them up, I'll refuse to taste them.

Dora Battersby
November 17, 2014


At Christmas,  I can count on exchanging gifts. eating a major feast, and having fun with friends and family.

My Threadville friends and I have realized that, although we love giving and receiving gifts, some of us are running out of space to keep things.

Just for fun, we instituted a new rule this year--we have to make the gifts, and
no one gift can be bigger than a Christmas stocking.

I shuffled through the applications. "Here's a woman who wants to sell copies of a book she wrote called THE NEW BOOK OF THE DEAD. She says it involves mummies and ties in with Halloween."

Haylee tapped another application. "And this applicant says she can tell spooky fortunes. When we called it the Get Ready For Halloween Craft Fair, we meant creating costumes and decorations, but I guess these folks can help us get in the mood."

"The more the merrier," I agreed. "We can set up lots of tables." I read another application, and laughed. "These guys should be very helpful with making costumes. They're attending a zombie retreat in Threadville that weekend, and they want to sell zombie accessories, whatever those are."

Haylee grinned happily. "This craft show weekend is shaping up to be really interesting."

Willow Vanderling
July 17, 2014


At first, I didn't recognize the twins when they walked into The Stash. Jeff and Jenn had taken a kids' sewing course from me at The Stash five years ago, when they were about eight. Now Jenn was nearly six feet tall, and Jeff was taller.

Jenn did the talking. "We went trick or treating last year when we were twelve, and a few people slammed the door on us. They said we were too big."

Jeff gave his sister a pretend glare. "It didn't help that she made herself up as a zombie bride. She even scared me."

Jenn elbowed him. "He wore his football uniform. He's huge in that. He scared little old ladies."

Jeff knuckled her head. "Not as much as you did."

Jenn frowned. "Okay, we've accepted that we're too big to go door to door for candy, and there's a dance at the junior high that night, but the fun part is being out in the dark and scuffling through leaves and seeing the little kids in costumes and hearing them yell 'trick or treat' and just, well, joining in the excitement."

"And we don't really need pillowcases full of candy." Jeff sounded like he was trying to convince himself.

"So," concluded Jenn, "we heard you were running a costume-making course for little kids, and we wondered if we could help with it."

Of course I agreed. Jeff and Jenn are naturals. Their ideas are creative, and the little kids clamor for their attention. It might be the most fun course I've ever taught.

Even better, on Halloween, Jeff and Jenn are going to dress up and go out, but instead of knocking on doors, they'll be wandering around the streets of Threadville, giving kids glow sticks, encouraging drivers to slow down, and just generally helping the smaller Halloweeners stay safe.

Haylee Scott
October 17, 2015


Tally-Ho: Actually, they don't have to pass the turkey to us.

Okay, you’re right. I worry too much. From my baby photos, it’s clear that I was born with worry wrinkles. And worrying does no good. Worrying hasn’t prevented devastating things from happening to people I love. Worrying also hasn’t caused the beautiful weather that I truly do enjoy, even though I may sound like I don’t.

I find I can put all my worries on hold when I work with fabrics and teach quilting. Or at least I’m focusing my worries on something useful—designing, cutting, piecing and top-stitching.


March 29, 2012


The girl opened the door of my notions shop, Buttons and Bows, and slipped in sideways. She couldn’t have been more than ten years old. She reminded me of myself at that age, short, with plenty of brown curls and big, dark eyes.

Everyone loves shopping in Threadville, where you can buy every supply a needlecrafter could want, but this child was too young to be alone. I opened my mouth.

With one quiet gesture, hand in the air, she silenced me. “Don’t worry.” Her voice was barely above a whisper. “My mom knows where I am.” She tilted her head toward Batty About Quilts. “She’s next door, planning a quilt, and it’s taking ages. So I asked her if I could come over here, and she said yes. I want to buy diamonds for her for Mother’s Day.”

I opened my mouth again. I stocked all sorts of sparkly things, but not diamonds.

Again, she stopped me from speaking. “I know they’re not real, but I want something like diamonds for her. She’s the best mommy in the world.” She patted her little shoulder bag. “And I have money from my allowance.”

Together, the girl and I chose sparkly crystals and beads. I wanted to give them to her outright, but I could tell she wouldn’t accept. I charged her less than the marked prices. She questioned my math, and I told her it was a volume discount.

Standing as tall as she could with her back straight and her little chin as determined as mine could ever be, she tucked her treasures into her shoulder bag. “Some day—” Her eyes and mouth were fierce. “—I’m going to give her real diamonds. And when I’m grown up and have kids, I’m going to try to be as good a mother to her as she is to me and my baby brother.”

She slipped out sideways and turned toward Batty About Quilts, and my shop was silent except for the echo of my door chimes.

I thought, if any ten-year-old is going to grow up and give her mother diamonds, it will be this girl.

April 29, 2012


I love everything about Memorial Day—watching and listening to Clay Fraser and his marching band in the parade and then later in the bandstand at the picnic. I love the food, the fun, the fireworks, the promise of a long, lazy summer ahead. This year, though, one image stands out.

Sam Fedders, my eighty-something neighbor, called to me from the yard in front of his old-timey hardware store, The Ironmonger. “Don’t have to mow much, this year,” he said. “Nope. Too dry. Don’t remember a May like this ever before.”

We commiserated on the spring we’ve had, the early hot spell followed by frost that wiped out some of the local tree fruit crops, and now this long dry spell that threatened other crops.

“Farmers don’t have it easy,” he said. “Lucky me, though. I was born to hardware. No danger from drought or frost or bugs. Just good, tough things, made of steel. But come back into my garden. I have something you have to see.”

Like my backyard, his sloped down toward the river and was secluded between deep, dark cedar hedges, but he had fewer trees, and the center of his yard got lots of sun. There, in a circular flower garden surrounded by white-painted stones, a velvety deep red poppy seemed to glow from within.


From: Haylee in Elderberry Bay
To: Willow in NYC
Subject: I hate to say it, but..
September 6, 2010 8:03 PM

...Willow, you were right. Not about Mike being married. He's not. But he's not very nice, either.

I shouldn't have gone with him in his pickup truck, but it was a big, shiny black one (did I ever mention my burning desire to own a pickup truck?) and besides, he owned a vineyard. I pictured glasses of delicious wine on a patio overlooking acres of grapevines...

He had acres of sickly sprigs. That would have been fine--vines grow--but on the way back to Elderberry Bay, he went into a horrible rage at a poor little old lady. The speed limit was too slow for Mike. He tailgated, then zoomed past so close she had to pull off onto the shoulder. She nearly ended up in a ditch. I made him stop. I walked the rest of the way home and ruined a brand new pair of heels.

Never again. Besides, I like red pickups better than black ones.

The little old lady drove right past me, ignoring the thumb I held out. Can't blame her.


From: Willow in NYC
To: Haylee in Elderberry Bay
Subject: Do I need to come up there?
September 7, 2010 9:14 PM

I thought you'd behave in a small village near your mother and her two best friends.

I'm coming to help them supervise you.


From: Haylee in Elderberry Bay
To: Willow in NYC
Subject: The guest room is ready
September 15, 2010 8:29 PM

I have a guest room, my mother has several, and so do her friends, Naomi and Edna.

Mike had the gall to ask me out again, said I was cute when I was angry. Grrrr. (See me getting cuter...???) I refused, and now the entire village seems to know about my "vineyard" fiasco.

Believe it or not, a tour bus has started coming from Erie to Elderberry Bay! They come nearly every day, mostly the same women, and the sign on the front of the bus says THREADVILLE TOUR. Isn't that adorable?

So...when are you coming to Elderberry Bay? I mean Threadville. ;-)



I’ve heard a lot of complaints about this winter. Here in northern Pennsylvania as well as in large portions of the rest of the country, winter was too long, too snowy, too dark, too cold...

But it was a real winter, like the winters of my boyhood, when I spent hours sliding in the snow, skating on the ice, building snowmen and snow forts, and engaging in long snowball fights with friends.

We didn’t stop until we were wet, cold, hungry, and someone called us in for dinner.

We shucked the wet clothes and were fussed over and given warm dinner and warm drinks.

I never wanted winter to end. And I discovered that after everyone else believed it had, we often got another storm, often close to St. Patrick’s Day. Many years, I annoy folks by predicting we’ll have a St. Patrick’s Day blizzard. And we often do, though maybe it’s a few days early or even a few days late. This year, it was early. Well, we think it was, but maybe another storm is on its way.

I continue to worry that this summer will be unbearably hot, and that we’ll have tornadoes and thunderstorms. Or drought and wildfires. I worry that crops will fail, farmers will suffer, and food prices will rise. Or we won’t be able to buy local produce.

Have you ever noticed how much better fruits and vegetables taste when they haven’t been picked unripe and transported great distances?

I worry about my friends Opal, and Edna and about Haylee and her best friend Willow, especially when they try to solve a murder. They say that’s all over, and there won’t be any more murders to investigate, but I worry. What if they get themselves into danger again?

Willow Vanderling
December 29, 2012


A baby on her hip, the woman held my shop door open for a pair of girls who looked about three. The mother smiled down at the two little girls, but when she looked up at me, I saw the fatigue in her eyes.

“What can I do for you?” I asked. I sell notions in my little store, Buttons and Bows.

She tilted her head to one side. “Make winter end and spring come?” Even the grin looked tired.

During the night, snow had fallen, and Threadville was charming under its white frosting. But the sun hadn’t peeked out from behind the clouds for days.

And this mother had to bundle up two toddlers and a baby just to go outside for a little fresh air.

The little girls stared with longing at the boxes of buttons, sequins, and crystals arranged floor to ceiling along the wall of one side of my store, and at the ribbons and other trims that I sell by the yard on the other side. They were all too high for the children to touch.

I led the way toward the back sales room. “Come with me.”

I showed the girls a bin full of brightly colored pompoms. “Take off your mittens and feel how soft these are,” I said.

Shyly, the girls looked up at their mother.

“Go ahead,” she said. The baby clung to her and stared at everything with dark, alert eyes. The mother looked at me. “You sell beads, don’t you?”

I showed her the tables covered with open boxes of beads, also too high for children to reach. I gave her a basket, reached out for the baby, and to my surprise, he came, chortling and gurgling, into my arms. While the mother chose sparkly beads, I bounced the baby and recited rhymes I’d hadn’t thought about for about thirty years, when Haylee was about the size of the two little girls.

The mother and I both kept close track the girls, who were in their own little world. Cheerfully chattering to each other, they created a game that involved sorting the pompoms by color and size.

I gave them small paper bags and told them to fill them with their favorite pompoms. By the time their mother had chosen the beads she wanted, the twins had decided on their pompoms.

The mother swished her hand around in her basket of beads and let them fall between her fingers in rivers of sparkling color. “Just seeing and touching them cheers me up.”


In Threadville, we're thinking white these days, not only because of this week's snowfall..

Okay, I know, most of us don't want to think about or remember that sudden unseasonable storm, and besides, the weather's supposed to be nice again today, right?

And this white stuff that Tally-Ho is sniffing will be gone, won't it?

In Threadville, we're looking ahead to early October, and more white, but not the white of snow. We're looking forward to white thread and everything that can be created from it.

Edna, the owner of Threadville's notions shop, has scheduled her wedding. She loves the pure blue of mid-western afternoon skies in October.

Edna also likes every sort of bright and shiny embellishment that anyone might think of adding to a wedding gown. We've talked her out of many of them, and the dress she's making and decorating for herself will probably be restrained--for her, at least.


As a pre-teen, I was lanky and coltish. “She needs to fill out,” the old folks said.

I loved reading. “She’s mooning around,” they said. “She needs to play outside and get some red in her cheeks. She needs flesh on her bones. It’s not healthy, being that skinny.”

When spring came around, they said, “She’s not doing anything. Give her some spring tonic.” “Spring tonic” was cod liver oil.

But I was doing something. I was reading.

When I finished a book, I felt a kind of grief. I missed those characters. I often read books again, right away. When I could finally set one book aside, I started another.

My folks stuck to their definition of spring fever—a listless lack of energy.

I preferred Mark Twain’s definition: “It's spring fever. That is what the name of it is. And when you've got it, you want - oh, you don't quite know what it is you do want, but it just fairly makes your heart ache, you want it so!”

During my early teens, I felt that way most of the time, not only in spring.

And then, the summer before I turned seventeen, I met a college boy, and suddenly, I knew why my heart ached. If you’ve read Dire Threads and Threaded for Trouble, you know what happened.

That fall started badly. The boy went back to college. He didn’t write. I never saw him again, but I was as faithful to him as I was to the books I read and re-read. He was like another character that I couldn’t put down.

Winter was worse. I filled out, but not in the way my folks expected. Aghast, they sent me out of their lives.

But we'd like Edna to have everything. She doesn't know that the rest of us are making her a giant hoopskirt she can wear over her wedding gown. We'll trim it with lace, flounces, sequins, crystals, embroidery, crochet, and even some quilting. With the help of this guy I really like, Clay Fraser, we'll wire it for lights and sound. Edna will either laugh at it or love it, and we hope she'll do both.

We're a little concerned about the date she chose for her wedding, however.

That's also the weekend we're hosting the Threadville Get Ready for Halloween Craft Fair, which means we'll have extra people in the village. And what she also didn't know was that a bunch of people had already booked the local inn for, of all things, a zombie convention, only they're calling it a Zombie Retreat. I'm not sure what zombies would need to retreat from.


Being invited to a holiday party isn’t bad, of course, especially when I know that the hostess, Mona, is once again on the lookout for a husband. She’ll invite every eligible man she can scrape up, and when it comes to eligible men, that woman can really scrape.

And the type of party could be great, too, if Mona hadn’t written on the bottom of my invitation, “Opal, you should be great at making your sweater—you won’t have to haunt used clothing shops!” I’m too lazy to copy all the exclamation points she added. You get the drift.

You probably also got the drift of the party’s theme. If you didn’t, here’s a hint: I own the Tell a Yarn shop and I knit or crochet most of my own clothing.

You guessed right. Mona’s throwing an Ugly Christmas Sweater Party.

I will not be insulted. I will look on the bright side. Crafting something hideous for Mona’s Ugly Sweater Christmas Party should be fun. I’ve got this shaggy craft yarn in both vivid red and blinding white. How about candy cane stripes, to start? And then a green Christmas tree on the front, and I’ll add sequins, spangles,and beads as ornaments. Edna carries quite a selection in Buttons and Bows. Oversized metallic fuchsia and royal blue spangles, perhaps, with some opalescent white ones also. Garlands. A tinsel star as a tree topper. Tiny Christmas lights and a battery pack tucked into a pocket I’ll add to the back of the sweater . . .

I only stopped when it was time to cross the street and join the others at Haylee’s for the afternoon and evening. Haylee roasted the turkey, and the rest of us contributed goodies.I brought veggies, dip, and an assortment of cookies.

Ahem, yes, you’re right. I should have eaten more veggies and fewer cookies.

And now the feasting is mostly over, and so is the year, and I’m busy with the holiday sales at In Stitches. But I really need to tidy my guest room. So little time, and so many projects!

I couldn't resist the skull with the bow. Yes, it is a little creepy...

The Argyle pattern where skulls replace some of the diamonds makes me laugh, and I suppose I might try that one, too. Wouldn't socks be amusing?

Dora Battersby
 April 17, 2016

I hauled both dogs into the guest bedroom. With difficulty and a bunch of doggie shampoo, I bathed them both. I hated to use their special doggie towels, embroidered with their names and portraits, to dry them, but I didn’t want to use the towels I keep for guests, either.

The soggy and overly-fragrant doggie towels went right into the washing machine.
During the night, I kept waking to the smell of both skunk and wet dog, but this morning the dogs are fluffy and not terribly smelly.

The guest bathroom, though . . . well, let’s just say I hope I can air it out a lot before guests arrive.

Willow Vanderling
August 17, 2013


Leaves rustled in the tree behind me, but the day was barely windy.

My friend looked up at the sky. “There goes a TV,” she said.

Startled, I followed her gaze.

A large, black bird, its wings in a flattened V, soared over our heads and rose on an updraft near the cliffs above Lake Erie.  Oh, that’s what she meant by “TV.” A turkey vulture..

convinced us all to move there. Haylee set up a fabric shop, The Stash. I started my store, Tell a Yarn. Edna opened Buttons and Bows, and Naomi opened Batty About Quilts. Haylee’s best friend, Willow, has a machine embroidery boutique, In Stitches, across the street. Our tiny village is known for miles around as Threadville.

We love Willow as if she were our own, and we’re always ready to help her investigate a crime, especially if it involves donning disguises... 
These days, my “tonics” are sipped from crystal stemware, in the company of friends.
But that winter when I turned seventeen, I caught string fever, and it keeps getting worse. Do you have any idea how many beautiful yarns there are?

March 29, 2013

At this time of year, everything seems new again.

The Elderberry Bay Lodge is new again, also.

The glamorous old Victorian inn was abandoned thirty years ago when its owner at the time, Snoozy Gallagher, disappeared with the contents of the hotel safe.

Running a hotel in a gorgeous spot had always been my wife’s and my dream, but we kept putting it off. Then she was diagnosed with breast cancer, and we realized it was time to make the most of the rest of our lives. We expected to have years left...

Deidre read that Snoozy Gallagher’s Elderberry Bay Lodge, complete with its own beach on the shores of Lake Erie, was finally coming onto the market.

And to make things even better, the nearby village of Elderberry Bay was now known as Threadville, with fabric, yarn, and sewing stores lining the main street. Deirdre became excited when she read that the shops sold all the supplies she could ever want for her hobbies, and that the warm and welcoming store owners taught wonderfully creative workshops.

The lodge wasn’t as rundown as we’d feared, and the local builder, Clay, inspected it thoroughly. Clay, Deirdre, and I agreed right away about how to restore and renovate the lodge. Deirdre and I bought the lodge, held each other tightly, and dreamed.

Deirdre was involved in every step of the restoration, even after her treatments began failing. Clay’s a genius at everything—planning, building, painstakingly refinishing intricately carved woodwork. He has a crew cleaning up the grounds. They’re going to build a gazebo.

Deirdre didn’t live to see the weeds cleared or the lodge completed. I can’t even begin to tell you how much I miss her.

Yes, there have been times when I’ve thought of giving up, selling, and going back to work for someone else. But I can’t. Now that the lodge is almost ready to open, I see Deidre’s touches everywhere, and I can almost believe she’s only in the next room. She would have loved living here, greeting guests, planning meals, and shopping and taking courses in Threadville.

I’m hosting an opening gala shortly after the summer solstice. Clay says he hopes to bring two guests. I’m guessing that one of them will be this Willow he keeps mentioning. She owns a store that specializes in machine embroidery. He claims that Willow’s not his girlfriend. I don’t know who his other guest might be, but I hope he’s not trying any matchmaking for me. I’m not ready, and I wouldn’t want to hurt anyone.

Ben Rondelson

April 29, 2013


This year, the summer solstice falls on Friday, June 21, and in Threadville, we’re making plans. First of all, we’re going to have a sidewalk sale. Though the word “magic” is more often associated with Midsummer, we decided to call our sidewalk sale the Midsummer Madness Sidewalk Sale.

It will be a chance for shoppers to find great bargains from all of the Threadville shops. My shop is In Stitches. I sell high-end sewing machines, the kind that can embellish our sewing projects with machine embroidery. I also teach how to use the machines and the software required to create beautiful and original embroidery designs.

Across the street from me, my best friend, Haylee, runs a huge fabric store called The Stash. Seamstresses love her shop. Some say they could live there... Haylee is an accomplished tailor, and her sewing classes are in high demand. If I had time, I’d take them myself, but I’m nearly always in my own store giving embroidery workshops.

Haylee’s three mothers own the other three Threadville shops on that side of the street. Opal, Haylee’s birth mother, owns Tell a Yarn. In addition to selling everything needed for creating with yarn, Opal teaches knitting and crocheting and holds Friday night storytelling events.

Opal’s best friends, Edna and Naomi, helped Opal raise Haylee. Edna loves everything sparkly, which you’ll find out for yourself the minute you step into Buttons and Bows. But she sells other notions and trims, too. They don’t all have to glitter.

Naomi is Threadville’s quilting expert. In Batty About Quilts, she sells quilting fabrics and supplies, uses a long-arm quilting machine (sort of like an embroidery machine on steroids, and I want one...) to quilt the tops to the bottoms of quilts—with batting in the middle, and teaches quilting.

The woman’s laugh was dryer than her fields. “Daylilies. Wild. They just grow here, year after year, along the side of the road in the dust, come rain and come shine. Who’d have ever thought they could be our main crop?”

I bought two bunches of daylilies, too. Hoping the woman was exaggerating, we climbed back into the car.

Driving off slowly so I wouldn't spray dust, I asked Haylee, “Is that why we’ve hardly seen any mosquitoes this June?”

“I think so.” She laughed. “Is that the silver lining to this dry, dry cloud?”

 I moaned, “Now I wish it would rain.” But those white puffy clouds in that pure blue sky could have been put there by an artist. It wasn’t going to rain any time soon.

Willow Vanderling
June 29, 2012

It was almost time to go, and the girls were putting parkas on over their party dresses and admiring each other’s scarves and mittens when a woman came in with a bundled up baby in a stroller and a less-bundled-up toddler clutching a half-naked doll.

Soon it became clear that the woman was not there to pick up one of the partygoers. I wasn’t sure why she was there. The toddler’s bare face and hands were red, and a tear had not yet been wiped away from a chubby cheek. She smiled though, and held out the doll for the older girls to admire. “Dolly is cold,” she said. “We came in to this pretty place because Dolly is cold.”

Diana ran to the back of the store where she’d left the too-small mittens. “Here,” she said. “Hold out your hands.” The little girl did, and Diana slipped the mittens on her hand. Diana beamed up at her own mom. “See? They fit someone. This is the best birthday ever.”

Not knowing what colors each of the partygoers would choose, I’d cut out extra fleece scarves. I helped the toddler wrap one that just happened to match her new mittens around Dolly.


Sally-Forth: I love running on the beach with you and our human, Willow.

Tally-Ho: Me, too, but I don't see why we have to wear our leashes. We're always good!

Sally-Forth: Actually, I'd like to chase something.

Tally-Ho: Me, too! Let's bite the waves!

The bus rumbled away. Drawn to the beach at the foot of Lake Street, I started walking.

“Willow!” Buttoning her coat, Haylee dashed from her fabric store, The Stash, and joined me. We passed the other Threadville shops. Opal was tidying Tell A Yarn. Lights were bright inside Buttons and Bows, but I didn’t see Edna. Naomi was sitting at a sewing machine in Batty About Quilts.

Threadville had only a smattering of snow compared to the city I’d recently left. “I got out of New York just in time,” I said.

“We made the right choice. When are you coming over to The Stash to meet the Threadville tourists? They’re eager to learn about machine embroidery.”

“I’ve been stocking shelves all day every day.” I didn’t want to admit that I feared the Threadville tourists might not like In Stitches. I pointed at the coat Haylee had tailored for herself. “Besides, I haven’t yet embroidered enough outfits to be a walking advertisement for my shop like the rest of you Threadville proprietors.”

“You don’t have to go overboard like The Three Weird Mothers!”

Haylee’s real mother was Opal. She, Naomi, and Edna had raised Haylee together. The three women called themselves The Three Weird Sisters, and they liked Haylee’s nickname for them, but I still had to say, “Haylee, your mothers are a little quirky and adventurous”—especially in the clothing they created for themselves—“but not weird.”

“Those three! I have to pay attention, or they’ll goad each other into so much mischief I’ll have to rescue them.”

I teased, “So now you’re their mother?” Haylee was my best friend and I’d grown fond of her mothers.

They couldn’t possibly get me into too much mischief, could they?

Willow Vanderling
December 29, 2010


I was excited. My new embroidery boutique, In Stitches, was almost ready for its grand opening.

Gleaming new sewing and embroidery machines were rowed up, ready for customers to discover. Every day, more spools of thread, made especially for embroidery machines, arrived. I had embroidery hoops, stabilizers, specialty scissors, and bolts of fabulous linens and cottons. For a fabriholic, this was all a dream come true.

Not only that, I could cross the street and browse in the other Threadville shops—The Stash, Tell a Yarn, Buttons and Bows, and Batty about Quilts. There was no end to the beautiful textiles and crafty possibilities in Threadville.

Like my (slightly quirky) colleagues, I was going to teach classes and workshops. I hoped my original thread art would inspire my students to buy machines and supplies from me.

With all that I could have been doing, all the fun I could have been having in Threadville, I daydreamed out my back window. My yard was covered in snow, surrounded by hedges, and went all the way down the hill to the hiking trail beside the river.

I focused on Blueberry Cottage. I planned to renovate it and rent it to tourists. Who wouldn’t love staying in a cute little cottage, only a short walk or canoe ride to a sandy beach?

The most exciting thing of all was that I could finally have something else, besides my own embroidery boutique, that I’d wanted for a long time.

A dog.

Thousands of dogs were waiting to be rescued and taken to their forever homes.

All I had to do was choose one . . .

Willow Vanderling
January 21, 2010


I’m kind of stunned.

My new embroidery boutique, In Stitches, opened on Tuesday. I could hardly wait to welcome the tourists who flock to Threadville to learn all the latest needlework techniques.

However, the first person to enter my shop on opening day was Mike Krawbach, Threadville’s zoning commissioner. He seemed very happy to inform me he was turning down my application for a building permit. I’d wanted to renovate the sweet little cottage in my back yard so I could rent it to tourists who would love its proximity to a good canoeing river and a sandy Lake Erie beach.

Mike planned to expropriate the land my cottage stood on, bulldoze the cottage, and build public outhouses!

I’m afraid I made some dire threats, in public. I didn’t really mean them, but when Mike ended up dead in my back yard early Wednesday morning, villagers remembered what I’d said.

Mike’s death was shocking and horrifying. To make matters worse, Threadville’s police chief seems to think I murdered Mike. I don’t even know how Mike got into my locked back yard.

Yes, I keep it locked now. Remember, last month, I said I was going to get a dog, and wanted suggestions?

I didn’t get one dog—I got two.

And then I discovered that there are five mysteries taking place in Threadville. Well, I knew about the murders, and how my friends helped solve them, but I didn't realize that this Janet Bolin had written and published stories about the murders, and about us. It's enough to make one, well, knit one's brow.

I spin and weave, but I do sometimes pick up knitting needles, and when I saw the covers of the two books that I'm in (I didn't show up in Threadville until after three mystries had been solved), my first thought was that the cover artist had cleverly provided me with knitting patterns.


They say I fret too much. I worry about being late for an appointment or a flight. I’m afraid I’ll cook the roast too much or the chicken not enough. I’m afraid I’ll forget the cookies and turn them into charcoal. I’m afraid I’ll cut all of the pieces of the quilt incorrectly, and waste fabric and have to start over. Actually, that last one doesn’t worry me as much as maybe it should. I own Batty About Quilts in Threadville, and I can always find creative ways to use fabric scraps...

Mostly, I worry about people, Haylee and her best friend Willow, specifically.  Haylee owns Threadville’s fabric shop, and Willow owns Threadville’s machine embroidery shop. Both of them are superb at nearly everything they undertake, including, unfortunately, getting into trouble.

Both Haylee, whom I helped raise, and Willow seem like daughters to me. And those two keep poking their noses where they shouldn’t.

Okay, I understand why, when Willow was suspected of murder, she had to prove she didn’t do it. How could anyone believe such a thing of her, anyway? And I understand, sort of, why when one of her top-of-the-line sewing and embroidery machines was blamed for a death, she had to clear its name, and her shop’s name.

They’ll all be surprised when they open their heavier-than-usual presents from me and discover...books.

Most of my friends and relatives love to read mysteries, so that’s really easy. I’m sending them mysteries written about my friends who post on this blog. Just look at the wealth of subjects and characters!

I also love to receive how-to books for any sort of craft, cooking, or gardening. So I’m purchasing some of those, too.

But now I’m down to the children. A friend has a son and a daughter. Four years ago, my friend’s son presented her with twin granddaughters, and three years ago, the daughter presented her with a grandson and another granddaughter.


It’s already January third, and if I tell you today that I didn’t make any resolutions for 2012, would you believe me? Or would you simply think I’d made oodles of them, and had already broken every single one of them?

I didn’t make any. Really.

Long ago, I resolved never to make them again, after Miss Agnew, our fifth grade teacher, encouraged us to make them, and to aim high.

She insisted that we should all try to make all A’s on our report cards, and all of us duly wrote down the resolutions we were supposed to make.

It wasn’t until years later that I realized what Miss Agnew deliberately did to us. She held all the power. She could have encouraged everyone to aim high, and to do their best. Instead, she made certain that none of us were able to keep the all A resolution. Everyone, even the top students, got at least one B on their next report card, courtesy of Miss Agnew. Maybe she thought she was doing us a favor by teaching us that life wasn’t fair. Really, though, the woman was just plain mean.

From that day on, I—well, it's not a resolution, but I have tried to encourage people, not discourage them.

Despite Miss Agnew's machinations, my friend Naomi continues to make resolutions, but she won’t tell us what they are. I think I know, though. She resolves to be a better person. It’s working so well that I sometimes wish she’d resolve not to be so sweet and good. Competing can be difficult.

In fact, I wish I could make New Year’s resolutions for people like that nasty Miss Agnew, and somehow make them stick.

On second thought, maybe that’s not such a good idea. What if someone decided I should stop telling them what I really think?

Okay, I’ll let everyone else make their own resolutions, and I’ll make mine. Or not.

January 3, 2012


Sometimes, especially in a dreary monochromatic winter like this one has been, I absolutely need to see and touch fabrics.

Yesterday, after I closed my own shop, In Stitches, I just had to run across the street and tour Batty About Quilts. Naomi arranges her bolts of fabrics in rainbow order, and the trend this year is toward colors that appear to be drenched in sunlight. I walked up and down every aisle, touching the bright reds, yellows, blue, and purples. And the greens. For some reason, I was drawn to the grassiest and leafiest greens.

I had no plans to make a quilt, but I couldn’t help buying yards and yards of cotton fabrics in all the shades of April’s baby leaves.

To make matters worse, after I finished at Batty About Quilts, I went next door to Edna’s notions shop, Buttons and Bows. I bought yards of satin ribbons the colors of daffodils, crocuses, tulips, forsythia, and lilacs.

And now I’m designing a quilt. I’ll use the embroidery software and machines in my machine embroidery boutique to create embroidered blossoms. And the ribbons? Maybe I’ll fasten bows in the corners between the squares…

It will be a simple quilt, a small quilt, and it really shouldn’t take very long.

Right. That’s what I always say.

Willow Vanderling
January 29, 2012


Every Friday evening, Opal hosts an evening of storytelling at her shop, Tell a Yarn. We sit around her dining table and work on our latest handcraft projects while listening to stories and to flames crackling in her fireplace. And we talk.

Last Friday, Threadville’s librarian, Karen was struggling to keep a huge piece of red flannelette in her lap, and hemming the edge of what appeared to be a never-ending ruffle.

Opal’s daughter, Haylee, my best friend among all these good friends, asked Karen what she was making.

Karen didn’t lift her head. “A petticoat,” she muttered.

After a silence, a flurry of comments and questions erupted from all of us.

Edna, one of Haylee’s other two mothers, burst out laughing. “You’re going to ask someone to marry you!”

To my amazement, Karen nodded.

“How did you figure that out?” Haylee asked Edna.

“Easy. Wednesday is Leap Year Day, the traditional day for women to propose to men instead of the other way around.”

“But,” I spluttered, “what does a red flannelette petticoat have to do with that?”

Karen looked up at us. Her eyes sparkled in the candlelight, and she grinned. “If a man turns the woman down, bad luck will follow him unless the woman is wearing a red flannel petticoat and a corner of it shows.”

“Any man who turns you down would automatically have bad luck!” Naomi, Haylee’s third mother, asserted.

Karen brushed her hair out of her face. “But I don’t want him to . . .”

“Awwww. True love.” Opal looked teary. Was she wishing she had asked Haylee’s long-lost father to marry her?

Edna stared straight at me. “Now’s your chance, Willow,” Edna chirped. “Ask Clay to marry you!”

Sometimes these women had very odd ideas. “Are you kidding? I barely know him!”

“Then ask him out,” Edna persisted.

“Edna,” Haylee teased, “Isn’t there some man you would like to ask out?”

I’d never seen Edna blush before, but in the flickering glow of the candles and fire, this blush was quite obvious.

I glanced at Haylee. She just smiled.   

Willow Vanderling
February 29, 2012


Remember that hot spell we had about a week ago? Everyone was thrilled. They went outside. They gardened. They barbecued. Well, I did all of those things, too, but instead of being completely thrilled, I worried.

I worried about fruit coming out too early and being destroyed by below-freezing weather. I worried about leaves sprouting on trees, and then a thick, wet, heavy snow coming along and breaking limbs and power lines. I worried that my favorite flowers, daffodils, would be smashed by snow or burned by heat. Or both.

I worried that the good insects, the pollinators, would not survive into the summer. I worried that we wouldn’t see butterflies. I worried that mosquitoes would thrive (I know, it makes no sense, right? If mosquitoes can survive hatching early and subsequent freezing temperatures, other insects, should be able to, also.)

I scolded, "You don't have to sound so shocked."

She apologized and helped herself to more. Edna and Opal watched her carefully. She ate every bit on her plate and went back for seconds.

That was enough for Edna and Opal. They were always  competitive, and they had to taste the Brussels sprouts, too. I thought that Edna, especially, would be stubborn about it (she must have gotten that stubborn streak from her father) but even she admitted that the Brussels sprouts were good. All three girls went back for seconds.

I don't exactly have a recipe. I just  cook enough Brussels sprouts for everyone to have seconds, if they want, and they always do.  Here's how I prepare them. Measurements don't have to be exact. And leave out the bacon if you or anyone else in the group doesn't eat pork.

I’ve sent these children gifts since they were babies—quilts, fabric books, quilted stuffed toys, and, yes, even some clothing. This year, I’m thinking of buying them books.
November 29, 2012


It’s a funny time of the year. We rush to get ready for the holidays, and then we have sales and more customers. My embroidery boutique, In Stitches, has been packed with customers. I’m not complaining…

Meanwhile, the mess I created while making, finishing, and wrapping presents is still in my guest room. The good news is that I turned it into a replica of Santa’s workshop. The bad news is I could use a few hundred of Santa’s elves to help clean it up.

Because…here comes the New Year, a time of new beginnings, and how can I begin something new when my workspace is so cluttered that I can’t find even one spool of green embroidery thread?

I know, I know. I should have started getting ready for the holidays earlier in the year. I did start in August, kind of gradually. But as long as I had one moment left, I kept making gifts. Even early Christmas morning, I was still embroidering and stitching bookmarks to stuff into the stockings of my Threadville friends, Haylee and her three mothers, Opal, Naomi, and Edna, and Edna’s beau, Gord.

I was right. Neck and neck, they raced up the hill toward me. Suddenly, Sally dropped and rolled on her back, which isn’t unusual. But then Tally did it, too.

And that’s when I recognized that strange smell drifting through the otherwise lovely, golden evening.

Sally and Tally had sniffed out a skunk, and it had taken exception to their attempts to herd it. 

Leaving the dogs outside, I dashed inside, captured my two kittens and shut them into my bedroom, then grabbed a handful of paper towels and ran outside. I patted the dogs’ faces with the towels. Fortunately, the skunk had missed their faces and eyes.

It's not that I mind helping solve murders, but I'd rather be working in my machine embroidery shop, In Stitches, or sewing and embroidering clothes and soft furnishings. Or dancing with Clay...

Look at these embroidery threads that I carry in my store--they're vibrant, almost as if they were alive.

Living thread? Uh-oh. I'm getting queasy.

Besides, another murderer in or near Threadville is scary.

What can I do?

Willow Vanderling
May 17, 2014

My best friend, Haylee, and I applied to join the volunteer department. After all, how difficult could helping with a flea market be? Or going to firefighter practice?

Our first practice was last night. It was a fiasco.

I hope the flea market will work out better.
Be careful what you wish for?

Willow Vanderling
August 29, 2012


Sally-Forth: There we were, all snuggled in the back seat of our human’s car, when she muttered something, pulled off the road, and got out.

Tally-Ho: Was Willow about to take us for a walk? Naturally, we sat up. 

Sally-Forth:  What we saw made us forget all about walking.

Tally-Ho: Speak for yourself. 

Sally-Forth: Arf!

Tally-Ho: Ouch. Don’t bark in my ear. Why’d you do that?

Sally-Forth: You said speak.

Tally-Ho: That’s not what I meant, and you know it. Hey, don’t bite my neck!

Sally-Forth: But I was just getting to the exciting part of the story. We saw dogs and people playing in a fenced-in field.

Tally-Ho: I needed to get out of the car and make my mark.

Sally-Forth: You always say that. The people were wearing dark uniforms.

Tally-Ho: Some silly dogs want to attack people in uniforms, but we know better, don’t we, Sally?

Sally-Forth: Well, some of the police officers who visit us are nice, and these guys looked like the nice kind of police officers because they were giving their dogs lots of attention and playing with them. Even wrestling! One of those dogs grabbed an officer’s arm. No wonder, too. That arm was inside an especially big and heavy sleeve.

Tally-Ho: I almost barked at that! The dog hung onto that sleeve and wouldn’t let go! He was being swung around. 

Sally-Forth: That was scary. And all those little people scared me, too, at first.

Tally-Ho: You were the one who discovered they were just kids wearing funny outfits. I didn’t want to go anywhere near them!

Sally-Forth: Some of those poor babies had icky stuff on their faces. I wanted to clean their little faces, but Willow wouldn’t let me.

Tally-Ho: Is that orange thing looking at us?

Sally-Forth: I think we should protect Willow and ourselves from it. Let’s bark!

Tally-Ho: Okay! Hey, why did all those birds fly away?

Sally-Forth and Tally-Ho
October 29, 2012

Haylee turned out to be the best seamstress of us all, and always dreamed of opening her own fabric shop. When she saw a block of four shops for sale in a village in northwestern Pennsylvania, she told us about it, and before we even turned fifty, we quit our jobs and opened stores. I own Tell a Yarn. Edna has a notions shop she calls Buttons and Bows (and no, Edna didn’t climb this tree to hang crystal spangles from it, though I can imagine her doing it—that’s ice), and Naomi has a quilting shop.

Before long, our village had a nickname—Threadville, and tourists were flocking to it.

Recently, Haylee’s best friend, Willow, opened a shop selling everything everyone would want for doing their own machine

Sally-Forth (shaking head to toe) That was fun, but those waves are predictable. They just keep coming one by one, then they mysteriously disappear.

Tally-Ho: We chased them away!

Sally-Forth: Birds are more fun. Where are those long-legged ones that tease us and float just out of our reach, you know, those squawky, mostly white ones?

Tally-Ho: (searches the horizon) I don't know. I think Willow calls them sea gulls, but this isn't a sea, it's Lake Erie.

Sally-Forth: I don't see any.

Tally-Ho: (hip-checks her) Ha, ha, very funny. This is serious. I've hardly seen any all summer.

Sally-Forth: We're always helping Willow solve mysteries. Maybe she'll help us solve this one.

Tally-Ho: Let's tell her. C'mon, turn around and we'll bark at her together!

Sally-Forth and Tally-Ho
July 17, 2015


Hi, I’m Opal Scott, and I have the most marvelous friends. Two of them, Naomi and Edna, have been my best friends since kindergarten, and when I say “best”, I really mean it. When I was seventeen and about to head off for college, I discovered I was pregnant. This was just over thirty years ago, and my parents were not what you’d call understanding. I had no one to turn to. No grandparents, aunts, uncles, cousins, siblings. No one but my two best friends. To them, it was perfectly natural that we’d all go to college together as planned, and look after my baby between us. And that’s what we did. Haylee, my daughter, has three mothers.

We obtained our degrees, enjoyed great careers, and raised the most wonderful daughter anyone could ever want. We also had hobbies that we loved, all of them involving making things with fabric, thread, yarn . . .

Naomi is Threadville’s quilting expert. In Batty About Quilts, she sells quilting fabrics and supplies, uses a long-arm quilting machine (sort of like an embroidery machine on steroids, and I want one...) to quilt the tops to the bottoms of quilts—with batting in the middle, and teaches quilting.

On my side of the street, in addition to In Stitches, we have a costume shop, a home decorating shop, and a hardware store. Everyone will have tables out front during the sale on midsummer’s night.

Consider coming for the entire weekend. We also have a community picnic on Saturday night with all sorts of things for kids to do, and yummy food. And the newly restored Elderberry Bay Lodge, a fine old Victorian inn, is almost ready for guests after being boarded up for thirty years.

The moon will be full on Sunday night that weekend, great for romantic strolls on our Lake Erie beach.

Don’t tell my doctor, but I still like shoveling. Don’t worry. I take it easy. But handling that beautiful white stuff kind of takes me back to the joys of being young, when snow was like a huge set of toys being delivered to all the yards and playgrounds in my neighborhood.

And I’m not too old to build a snowman now and then, either...

Don’t get me wrong. I love spring, and I look forward to it. I like it best when it takes its time developing, and each day is another gem of budding, new life. I enjoy each day of summer and each day of fall, too.

And I make the best of winter, but I don’t expect it to end until after the leprechaun sings.

Happy St. Patrick’s Day.

Gord Wrinklesides MD
March 17, 2014

When I wasn't running my store (yes, I quickly began thinking of it as mine) or playing with my software and machines, I would be able to hang out with Haylee, hike on the trail between the cottage and the Elderberry River, go boating, stroll on the village's vast sand beach, browse in those other amazing Threadville shops, or dine in restaurants overlooking the lake.

So...I put in an offer on the property. If it's accepted, I'm quitting my job in Manhattan and making this big change in my life.

Besides (evil cackle here), if I’m lucky, next September, they’ll start lobbying to visit a fabric store and help make their own costumes.

You don’t sew? We give lessons.

Anyway, if you haven’t already started this year’s costumes and Halloween decorations, what’s keeping you? You’ll need lots of time to create crafts and gifts for those other holidays that are also coming up...

September 29, 2011

Haylee didn’t speed, but she lost no time driving to a blueberry farm we’d visited only days before. In the interests of time (and our hunger for that super-tasty corn), we headed straight for the baskets of already-picked beautiful blue spheres. I bought several quarts. I would pour them over my cereal at breakfast (followed by one of those sweet rolls, no doubt.) I would dump them onto scoops of ice cream each evening. I would add them to muffins and cookies for customers at In Stitches. I would also eat them by the handful. I always planned to freeze some for winter, but my blueberries always disappeared before I got around to it.

No matter. In a couple of days, Haylee and I would make another foray, meandering down different roads, buying whatever looked good, and detouring to the blueberry farm on our way home.


 Janet Bolin has taken it upon herself to write a book about me, but--get this--she knows my future and won't tell me what it is!

She can't be writing a thriller about me, or she would be writing about last year, beginning with the day my best friend, Haylee, blew the whistle on our boss, Jasper Quinlan, for channeling money from client accounts to his own. Things got pretty scary, but he's now in custody. Haylee's flying to New York from her new home in Elderberry Bay, Pennsylvania, and we'll both testify at his trial.

Against Haylee's better judgment, I still work at Quinlan Financial Management.

Hmmm. I hope that if Janet's writing about my future life, she's not writing a thriller...

What else could it be? Embroidery? Both of us love to load embroidery software onto our computers, then create designs that our embroidery machines stitch in gorgeous threads. I sell my designs on the Internet, but Janet has to give hers away. So if anyone is writing a book about embroidery, it should be me.

What else could she be writing about my future? Oh! Dare I hope… Romance? If so, I wish she'd warn me when to expect this man. I mean, if I'm going to meet the man of my dreams (I can dream, right?) wouldn't it be nice to know which day I should curl my hair, put on my prettiest outfit, and be on my best behavior? (Is he tall?)

But she won't tell me. She won't even say if it will be good or bad. It's a mystery.

Whatever, I hope that my life will be cozier than what I've been through and am about to go through here in Manhattan.

Jasper's trial starts tomorrow.

Willow Vanderling
June 29, 2010



Yesterday, after nearly four days of deliberating, the jury finally filed back into the courtroom. None of the jurors angled the slightest glance toward Jasper Quinlan. Had they found him guilty?

My best friend, Haylee, sat with me near the back of the courtroom. Whatever the verdict, she would leave the minute she could book a flight out of Manhattan and back to Elderberry Bay, Pennsylvania, and her new fabric store, The Stash.

I had to admit I was a tiny bit jealous. In my spare time, I'd been creating and selling designs for use with embroidery machines. I'd sold a lot of designs, but not enough to support me, especially in Manhattan. I needed the commissions I earned at Quinlan Financial Management, where I still worked. They'd hired a new CEO.

The judge leaned forward and addressed the jury.

Suddenly, I was certain that Jasper would be acquitted, and would come looking for Haylee and me. I should have imitated her, fled Quinlan Financial, found a new life somewhere else, and returned only for the trial.

Haylee had gone out with Jasper, several times. She was the one who figured out he was diverting client funds to his own accounts, but I'd supported her, snooping with her in our office late at night, piling up evidence against him, and standing next to her when she phoned the police. The charges against Jasper grew beyond anything we imagined.

During the trial, the prosecution had been thorough and competent, if a little dry. Haylee had been confident on the witness stand, and although I'd trembled when it was my turn to testify, I thought our honesty was transparent. Jasper lied. Haylee and I and the other witnesses told the truth.

Justice would prevail.

What I hadn't expected was the defense attorney's dramatic accusations. According to him, poor Jasper was an innocent victim of a pair of harpies -- Haylee and me -- desperate for fifteen minutes of fame. Jasper's attorney had turned his oily smiles on jurors.

They'd smiled back.

I'd wanted to hide.

Now, the clerk stood and asked for the verdict...

Guilty. On all charges.

My anxiety began to peel away. Sentencing would come later, but it was clear that Jasper was going to prison for a long time. Haylee would fly to Elderberry Bay, and I would return to work and to my sewing and embroidering.

Behind us, one of Jasper's friends snarled, "He's going to appeal. He'll be out tomorrow." The man's words were like hand-sharpened darts, aimed at our backs.

Suddenly, I was more scared than I'd been on the witness stand.

Maybe I should leave New York.

What would you do?

Willow Vanderling
July 29, 2010


From: Willow in NYC
To: Haylee in Elderberry Bay
Subject: Calming down
August 20, 2010 7:00 PM


How's it going in the boonies? NYC is HOT, but you knew that, and about the way the city smells, like garbage collection can never be enough.

Things have settled down at Quinlan Financial Management. Almost a month after the trial ended, no one talks about Jasper any more. It's like he's ceased to exist, which would drive him crazier. I'm soooo glad the judge didn't grant him bail. Jasper would be on some island somewhere, wherever he's stashed his cash. Of course, I'd be sure he was climbing up the stairs to my apartment at 3 AM...


From: Haylee in Elderberry Bay
To: Willow in NYC
Subject: Not so calm...
August 22, 2010 8:00 AM


The boonies? Not. Elderberry Bay is a thriving metropolis with at least two commercial streets, a lake, a beach, a river, and a beautiful park linking it all. We even have a bandstand, all Victorian curlicues, painted white, and John Phillip Sousa's music on the Fourth of July. Kids flew kites on the beach, and the fireworks at night were fantastic.

EEEEK! When I named my new fabric boutique, it never occurred to me that someone might hear of The Stash and connect it to horrid Jasper Quinlan and his hidden stash! Now I'm going to worry. Haven't seen any FBI agents around. Do you think they'd dress in suits up here? No one else does, at least not the men.

I can't stop making suits for myself, though. Last night I started one--nice, cool linen. Very tailored (I can't help that) but still sort of casual.

Believe it or not, I have a date! A handsome guy named Mike who owns a vineyard! Meeting any nice single men in Manhattan?


From: Willow in NYC
To: Haylee in Elderberry Bay
Subject: Maybe you should be calmer
August 22, 2010 6:00 PM

Hey, Haylee,

Where are the nice single men in Manhattan? I think they're hiding from me.

Is Mike single? Are you sure?

Don't forget Jasper Quinlan. You thought he was nice and single, too.


From: Haylee in Elderberry Bay
To: Willow in NYC
Subject: Who needs calm? It's time for some excitement!
August 25, 2010 8:15 AM

Hey yourself, Willow,

Ha, ha, very funny. Even you believed that Jasper was single. Didn't you say something like, "Tall, dark, handsome, and eligible?"

Don't worry. I can look after myself.


I own the machine embroidery boutique, In Stitches. I teach folks how to create and stitch their own embroidery designs. We use sophisticated software and amazing machines. I also love to sew, and make most of my own clothes.

My best friend, Haylee, owns The Stash, the huge fabric store across the street. She is an accomplished tailor, so you can imagine the beautiful clothes and intricate costumes she makes for herself.

Next door to Haylee is her mother Opal and Opal's Yarn Shop, Tell a Yarn. Using chunky yarns and big, fat knitting needles or crochet hooks, Opal can whip up outfits for herself in record time. She can also crochet or knit the thinnest threads imaginable into gossamer shawls..

I did. Because we’d snapped off only the tender tops of the stalks in the field, we didn’t have to snap it again. No pesticides or herbicides were used on it, either, so all she did was wash the asparagus and pop it into the microwave for a few minutes. The stalks were thick, tender, sweet and juicy. A feast!

Finding it was fun. I suspect she knew all along where to look. We also heard a frog and saw lots of birds, including a bald eagle.

Willow Vanderling
June 14, 2013


We didn't have air conditioning when I was a girl in the upper Ohio Valley. We opened windows, and if it was really hot, we'd go outside and sit in the shade of the maple tree. We'd read, talk, shell peas, snap beans, mend...

My pseudo granddaughter Haylee and her best friend Willow know that I love spinning and weaving. They're both so good at sewing that I'm not sure I ever told them that in my teen years, I sewed most of my own clothes.

And this is the time of year that I sewed most. School was out, and I was still growing, and I needed new clothes for school. I didn't care how hot it was, I cut and stitched and fitted and stitched some more. And as every seamstress knows, nearly every seam has to be pressed before the next one is sewn. I spent lots of time over a hot iron. Finally, I took the dresses, skirts, and blouses out under the maple tree, and hemmed them and sewed on buttons and did whatever else needed to be done by hand. Now, fifty-some years later, in August, I still get the itch to shop for fabrics and start cutting and sewing . . .

And wonderful fabric shops are right here in Threadville, and I spend lots of August in Haylee's air-conditioned sewing store, The Stash. I finger the fabrics and imagine what I would make for a schoolgirl back in the '60s. If mothers and daughters are discussing what to buy, I sidle close and listen in. Okay, sometimes I offer some pretty good suggestions. No one seems to mind.

The entire community is sewing right now, but they're not making school clothes. Haylee, Willow, Willow's assistant Ashley, my daughter Edna, and Edna's two best friends are stitching up outfits for a fundraiser fashion show. Mona, another shop-owner in Threadville, is also going to be in the fashion show, but if that woman makes her own outfits, I'll eat my spinning wheel.

It's very generous of the Threadville women (and the teenaged girl) to give so much of their time to help raise funds for scholarships to the new Threadville Academy of Design and Modeling (TADAM), but all of the Threadville women (except Mona) are creative, and TADAM's director has designed the outfits they're making. Before they saw his sketches, Willow and Haylee were excited at the opportunity of working with a real fashion designer. After, though, they lost some of their enthusiasm.

They're not telling me about the outfits they're making, and they're not showing them to anyone. I'll see the clothes at the fashion show. I hope the show goes well, but I have a bad feeling about it all. TADAM seems to have sprouted out of nowhere, for one thing, and I could find nothing on the Internet about the director. Type "Antonio" into a search engine, and you'll see what I mean. If he were really famous, wouldn't he come up as a fashion designer?

Dora Battersby
August 17, 2015


In Threadville, we've just gotten over a major uproar involving a fashion show at the new Threadville Academy of Design and Modeling, TADAM for short. Sins of fashion turned deadly, and a dangerous murderer was among us.

Now crafty people need to work on Halloween costumes and decorations, and (don't throw things at me) it's also time to start making holiday gifts and decorations.

Our shops are full of supplies and expertise, so join the busloads of people coming to Threadville to shop and take classes, and we can help you plan and execute (oops,"execute" is a bad word around Threadville...) We can help you carry out your fall and winter projects.

My friend Dora Battersby came into In Stitches the other day and saw the winter holiday machine embroidery designs that I'm (yes) already displaying. Dora complained. "Why do people go to all the trouble to make gifts that their friends and relatives can use for only a few days a year? I prefer giving and receiving gifts that can be enjoyed all year round." Dora weaves and gives us beautiful placemats and napkins.


We were surprised at the popularity of the birthday parties we held in Threadville. The children, usually girls, came to our shops in Threadville and made crafts they could take home, and then they all trooped off to Pier 42 for birthday cake and ice cream. We’d figured they should do it in that order so they could concentrate on their crafts before they were stuffed with sugar. Also, they were less likely to be sticky in our shops.

We tailored the parties to suit the birthday girls, giving them an hour or two, depending on their ages, to complete something they could take home for themselves.

At Batty About Quilts, they created simple quilted tote bags, cases for their handheld devices, or book cover.

Creating beaded necklaces and bracelets was very popular at Buttons and Bows, though many other things could be created from the many notions sold there.

At Tell a Yarn, they could learn to knit or crochet.

At The Stash, they could make a pillowcase or stitch a vest incorporating a quilt block they’d made at Batty About Quilts.

And at my shop, In Stitches, they could use our fabulous machines to embroider a monogram or simple design.

Today’s birthday girl was Diana, and she was ten. One of the youngest kids in her class, she was also one of the smallest at the party.

I had cut scarf sized pieces of fleece. Half of the kids were monogramming them while the other half were tracing around each other’s hands to make patterns for fleece mittens.

The other kids laughed when Diana cut hers out without the seam allowance. “It’s stretchy,” she told them. And she stitched them.

But they were too tight. I saw her bite her lip, trying not to cry. I told her to try again. This time, she made mittens that fit her.

I left Sam contemplating the depths of his vibrant red poppy. Sam the Ironmonger. Born to hardware. Good, tough, and made of steel.

Willow Vanderling
May 29, 2012


“Stop!” Haylee ordered. “I want some of those flowers.” A farm stand featured large cans overflowing with orange cut flowers.
I parked my car. Haylee and I clambered out. . Storybook white clouds sailed in a blue sky, and the breeze was warm with none of the humidity that often drifts in from Lake Erie.

 “Beautiful day,” I commented to a man in denim overalls and a baseball cap.

With a grunt, the man strode toward the farmhouse. A beagle puppy bounced beside him. Each time the puppy’s paws hit the ground, they stirred up puffs of dust.

I could barely see the woman inside the farm stand. Shaded by the roof, only her eyes and the top of her head peeked over the tall flowers. A frown wrinkled the skin between her eyebrows. “You people might think it’s a nice day, but if your livelihood depended on rain like ours does, you wouldn’t think it was so nice. A long, soaking rainy week, now that would be good weather.”

“Your corn looks good,” I managed. Didn’t old timey farmers like to say that corn should be knee-high by the fourth of July? That was a few days away, and the corn in the field beside us was nearly hip-high. “I’ve never seen it grow so fast.” I smiled, probably showing too many teeth in my attempt to appear encouraging and enthusiastic.

 Haylee added, “There was a thunderstorm last night.”

The woman threw us a scornful look. “Yeah, well, that’s great, but if we don’t get some meaningful rain that doesn’t just run off the top of our sandy fields, the corn and all our other crops will shrivel to nothing. You mark my words.”

“Your flowers are beautiful,” Haylee murmured. “I’d like two bunches. What are they?”

I handed her baby back to her. “What are you going to do with them?” She was buying several pounds of expensive beads.

“Make jewelry. How much do I owe you for the pompoms?”

“Nothing,” I said. “It’s the best I could do to make Spring come early.”

“I love the colors,” one girl told me.

“Me, too,” said the other. “They’re like flowers.”

The mother hugged the baby to her. “Thank you, Edna. We’ll be back.”

The two little girls called, “Thank you,” again and again as they walked to the door. They were still repeating it as the door closed, and I heard them singing it out on the snowy sidewalk, too.


My daughter and her friends Opal and Naomi went through some picky eating stages when they were growing up. One memorable Thanksgiving, every single one of them turned their cute little noses up at my Brussels sprouts.What was wrong with them? It wasn't like I was offering them rutabagas or parsnips, which I cannot and never could and never will stand!

Finally, I managed to cajole one of them, little Naomi, to try. Unlike my own daughter, Naomi was polite. Well brought up, I might say, but then, so was my daughter, if you ask me, but she tends to have a problem with polite. She must have gotten that from father, not that she ever met him, wherever he is..

Naomi barely nibbled at one tiny leaf that had fallen off a Brussels sprout. Her eyes opened. "This is good, Mrs. Battersby!"

I'm excited and scared. Scared that I won't get that Threadville property, and scared that I will.

Willow Vanderling
October 29, 2010

I DID IT . . .

A couple of weeks ago I told you about my offer to purchase a store in Threadville, Pennsylvania. I was seriously considering leaving NYC and changing careers.

I'm back already because I have exciting news. I'll be closing that deal on November 29th.

Now I can confess how badly I wanted this to happen. I love textiles. I love touching them and working with them.

At heart, I'm a frustrated artist, but I draw pictures with thread, not paint. Maybe I'm a frustrated teacher, too, because I enjoy showing others how to use sewing machines, embroidery machines, and embroidery software to create new designs.

In my new shop, I'll sell sewing and embroidery machines and all the supplies anyone could want for painting their own designs with thread. Best of all, if I need anything that I don't stock, I can cross the street to one of the other Threadville shops.

My best friend, Haylee, owns a huge fabric shop, The Stash, where she teaches classes in sewing and tailoring.

Next to The Stash, Opal, runs Tell A Yarn, which is full of beautiful yarns. From what I've seen, Opal, knits or crochets all of her clothes. People come to her shop to learn new techniques, to sit around the table working together (and gossiping), and for Storytelling Night each Friday.

Edna has a notions shop, Buttons and Bows. She decorates her clothing with ribbons, rhinestones, buttons, sequins, crystals, and beads until she glitters, and she shows Threadville tourists how to do it, too.

Naomi's shop is Batty About Quilts. She sells everything needed for quilting, and is also a walking advertisement for her talent. When I met her, she was wearing a patchwork jacket in jewel tones. She offers workshops in quilting.

It's no wonder that textile arts tourists flock to Threadville. If my customers and students don't keep me sufficiently busy, I'll wander across the street and learn whatever I can from the other Threadville proprietors. They are supportive and excited about my new shop.

I’m going to call it In Stitches. I can't wait to move to Threadville!

Willow Vanderling
November 15, 2010

Tally-Ho: I couldn’t help whining. I wanted to do that!

Sally-Forth: We can. Remember helping Willow pick up litter? If she shows us what she wants us to do, we obey and get praise and toys.

Tally-Ho: She gives us praise and toys, anyway. Treats, too. I didn’t see those dogs getting treats.

Sally-Forth: And when Willow came back into the car, we got lots of praise for being so good.

Tally-Ho: But she didn’t let us out. Someone had marked a bush by the side of the road, and I needed to mark it, too.

Sally-Forth: What a silly brother. You did that the minute we got home. 

Tally-Ho: That’s not the same.

 Sally-Forth and Tally-Ho
 September 29, 2012


Sally-Forth: If we weren’t wearing leashes, we could chase those birds!

Tally-Ho: I’m glad we have Willow nearby to keep us safe. What’s that orange thing?

Sally-Forth: What orange thing? Aren’t dogs supposed to be color blind?

Tally-Ho: That thing. Right there in front of your nose. Like a ball with holes in it.

Sally-Forth: It’s a mystery! Shouldn’t we investigate?

Tally-Ho: No, it’s spooky. Remember seeing those things on peoples’ porches last October?


It's almost officially summer, and the days can be hot, and many of us love beaches and water.

Threadville is on the shore of Lake Erie. The Elderberry River flows behind my apartment and machine embroidery shop, In Stitches.

I often walk my dogs, Sally-Forth and Tally-Ho, along the riverside trail or on the beaches. Sometimes I take my kayak way up the river, turn  around, and let the lazy current take me back home. When the water's warm enough, I'll venture into it from one of Threadville's wonderful beaches.

Whatever I do around water, I'm careful.

Along with some of my friends, I'm a volunteer firefighter. We fight fires,  but we're also among the first responders to other emergencies, and we're often called upon to rescue swimmers and boaters.

Be careful out there. In boats, wear a life jacket. Swim only when and where it's safe. Wear sunscreen and a hat. Drink plenty of water.

Our fire department is always willing to help, but we'd rather see everyone have a fun and safe summer.

Willow Vanderling
June 17, 2014


Haylee shoved another application toward me. "Another jewelry-maker wants a table at our Get Ready for Halloween Craft Fair. And she's sent a picture of some of her pieces. Isn't this agate skull darling?"

I studied the photo. "Yes! Let's send her an acceptance."

"And the sewing machine historian who's going to demonstrate sewing Halloween costumes with antique sewing machines?"


"Let's hope she doesn't convert our customers to treadle machines."

Haylee and I both sold sewing machines in our Threadville shops. We represented different sewing machine companies. At In Stitches, my embroidery boutique, I sold machines that either embroidered by themselves or accommodated embroidery attachments. "Treadle machines are useful during power outages," I said.

"Not very."

She had a point.

The toddler’s mother seemed embarrassed. Wordlessly, she took the sleeping infant and her happily chatting toddler outside.
Diana’s mother insisted on paying for an extra child. She looked a little weepy. “Diana was premature, and for a long time, we didn’t think she’d make it. But what a difference ten years later!" And then she thanked me, as if I’d had a hand in her daughter’s long-ago survival.

“She made it,” I murmured.

Willow Vanderling
November 17, 2013


I was six years old, and staying with my grandparents for Christmas vacation. My mother was a physician. She and my father planned to come for Christmas Day and New Year’s Day, and would take me home in time for school.

I don’t want you to think I felt abandoned. Not at all. I’d spent my vacations with my grandparents all of my life, and was as comfy in my little room up under the eaves as I was twenty miles away in my pink room with the white frilly canopy bed that had been my heart’s desire two Christmases ago. With that bed, I felt like the luckiest girl ever.

I leaned against my grandmother’s knees. She held an embroidery hoop on her lap and was embroidering linen guest towels for my mother.

“Why don’t you use pretty colors?” I asked her. “Did you run out of pink thread?”

“This thick and shiny type of thread is called ‘floss.’ I thought about what your mother would like best. She uses white towels in her guest bathroom, doesn’t she?”

“Yes, but wouldn’t she like pink if she had it?”

Granny smiled over the tops of her glasses. “I don’t think so. Not for her guest bathroom.”

“She lets me have pink in my bedroom.”

“That’s because she knows you like pink. You like the warm colors. She prefers the cold ones.” She concentrated a French knot.

“I wish I could do that,” I said.

“Do what?”

“What you’re doing with that floss.”

“You will, some day.”

I thought about what she’d said about my mother’s color preference. Slowly, I concluded that Granny was right. All the rooms in my parents’ house were white or pale tints of gray, green, or blue. Only my room was bright, beautiful pink, and it wasn’t because they hadn’t gotten around to painting the other rooms pink. That was the way they liked it. Maybe I could change their minds, but I’d already learned they were resistant to changing their minds.

On Christmas Eve, I got Poppy to take me shopping. I knew just what Granny would like. I stood before the display of embroidery floss for a long time, choosing the right colors, then changing my mind, putting them back, and choosing them all over again. I ended up with shell pink, baby pink, hot pink, and fuschia.

Up in my room that afternoon, I wrapped the tins of cookies I’d made (with Granny’s help) for my parents and for Poppy. I was almost more excited about the pink embroidery floss for Granny than I was about whatever might be under the tree for me the next day.

My parents arrived. We had a Christmas Eve feast, and I was hustled off to bed.

In the morning, I made Granny wait until last to open my present, and she gave me one from her to unwrap at the same time.

I gazed in wonder at the things nestled in that tissue paper. An embroidery hoop. Pieces of white fabric. Pieces of pink fabric. Embroidery needles. Small scissors with real blades. And embroidery floss in shell pink, baby pink, hot pink, and fuschia. I looked up into my grandmother’s eyes. “I love it!” I cried. “This is my favorite present!”

“And this is mine,” she said. “You knew what I would like.”

Suspicious, I looked at Poppy. “Did you tell her what I got her?”

He shook his head. “No. She’d already put your little kit together. You both chose the same colors of that embroidery thread for each other.”

“Floss,” I corrected him. I threw myself into Granny’s arms, and we all laughed. Granny laughed so hard she cried.

Willow Vanderling
December 17, 2013


We have to face it. In the Northern hemisphere at this time of year, we don’t have much sunshine and blue sky. We have dark, we have gray, and we have drab. The best we can hope for is a nice, pretty snowfall. (And I know—not everyone loves those.)

Here are a dozen things I might try this winter:
1. Force some Spring bulbs. I love Paperwhite Narcissus.
2. Buy a pineapple and share it with friends.
3. Start a new sewing project with pastel summer fabrics.
4. Knit a pair of socks (I don’t know how, but have decided to learn!)
 5. Visit an indoor garden, flower shop, or public conservatory.
 6. Bundle up warmly and go for a long walk, preferably to a dog park where I can watch dogs run and play  with my two dogs.
 7. Make a favorite recipe from my childhood. I’m thinking macaroni and cheese…
 8. Paint a room or simply splash color on pieces of paper. I bought a big, big box of crayons and some water colors.
 9, Put on a blouse or sweater that I love but haven’t worn recently.
10. Spend an entire day reading.
11. Set a pretty table, complete with an extravagant floral centerpiece and tall candles.
12. Go where no one can hear me (the shower or the beach?) and sing. Loudly.

Willow Vanderling
January 17, 2014


Tally-Ho: Wow, Sally, let’s go out and play!

Sally-Forth: Run away! I’ll chase you!

Tally-Ho: Okay!

Sally-Forth: Hey, not that fast! Come back here and let me bite you.

Tally-Ho: Okay! You try to bite me and I’ll try to bite you.

Sally-Forth: This is fun! Why don’t humans love snow?

Tally-Ho: Something about having trouble going places.

Sally-Forth: Why do they need to go places? They can stay home and play.

Tally-Ho: People are silly. Way too serious.

Here's what goes on in Threadville besides what you read in the books.
Scroll down for newer stories.

Smaller birds streaked by, their wings back, their tails long. “Kestrels,” she said. “Like the TVs, they’re migrating.”

We’d come to the cliffs hoping to see migrating Monarch Butterflies, but they’ve been in tragically short supply all summer.

Wait, what was this tiny flying thing? It zipped toward us, then almost reared up in as if in fright, and darted away. I caught a glimpse of its pale little belly. Definitely not a Monarch.

“A hummingbird,” my friend told me. “There goes another one.”

It must have flown by very quickly. I didn’t see that one at all.


And now, to make certain Sally-Forth and Tally-Ho don’t lose me to a prison cell, I’m going to have to find out who really killed Mike Krawbach. My best friend, Haylee, who owns Threadville’s fabric store, The Stash, has already begun helping me investigate Mike’s death. Haylee’s three (yes, three) mothers, who own the yarn shop, notions boutique, and quilting shop, are going to want to poke their noses into it all, too.

Keeping Haylee’s mothers out of mischief may be more difficult than corralling Sally-Forth and Tally-Ho. Uh-oh.

Willow Vanderling
February 18, 2010

They’re adorable, an energetic brother and sister pair I’ve named Tally-Ho and Sally-Forth. They were rescued from the streets of Akron when they were about four months old, and then spent the next eight months together in a very nice rescue facility, waiting for someone who would adopt them both so they could always be with each other. I embroidered beds for each of them, but they curl up like puppies and sleep cuddled together.

After only a couple of weeks, I can’t imagine how I coped without them. They comfort me and distract me from the realities of life—and death.

My best friend Haylee is already stocking summer fabrics in The Stash. Next door to her, Opal, who is Haylee's actual mother, is stocking pastel cotton yarns in Tell a Yarn. In Buttons and Bows, you can find almost any notion you want any time of the year, but Edna is happily opening boxes of summery-hued zippers, trims, laces, and buttons. Next to Edna's shop is Naomi's quilt shop, Batty About Quilts. From what I can gather, quilters want access to every possible color, all year round. Quilters seem very prolific.

Across the street from Naomi, Mona has a home dec shop, Country Chic. Mona tends to have interesting objects all the time, for nearly every season, and lots of them.The hardware store is next to Country Chic. They still have snow shovels...

Don’t feel sorry for me. That was more than thirty years ago, and everything has worked out, thanks to my best friends, Naomi and Edna.

I wanted nice clothes for my baby. Naomi suggested that we should all learn to knit and crochet. We spent the months until Haylee was born in a fever of knitting.

Taking turns looking after Haylee, the three of us finished high school and college, and we all went on to careers. I kept knitting...

Haylee’s grown up now. We raised a wonderful daughter, and she loves having three mothers. 

When Haylee found this big Victorian edifice housing separate shops and apartments for each of us in a tiny village in northwestern Pennsylvania, she

Because of the craft fair and the wedding, many people in Threadville will be hosting houseguests. Maybe we'll be the ones needing a retreat...

"The more the merrier," says Edna.

I hope so.

Willow Vanderling
April 17, 2014


I'm becoming uneasy.

In Threadville, we're all looking forward to Edna's wedding. Edna is putting a lot of work into making the day special for her and Gord, but she's also determined that all of the guests will enjoy The Most Perfect Wedding Ever.

Don't get me wrong--Edna's not a Bridezilla. She's merely working very hard to make the occasion beautiful and romantic.

Everyone in Threadville is attending. I'll be with Clay at the reception. He is, among other things, a dreamy dancer. I can hardly wait.

That same weekend, we're holding a Get Ready for Halloween Craft Fair, which should be fun for us and the attendees. We've planned it carefully, and everything is almost ready.

We may have a few problems, though. A bunch of people have booked into the local inn for what they're calling a zombie retreat. Does that mean they're all going back into their graves? Or does it mean they'll be lurching around the village and making our world seem a lot less wedding-like?

Edna made her own wedding gown and is decorating it. We've suggested that she shouldn't sew every notion she sells in Buttons and Bows onto it, but she won't let us see what she's doing. So to tease her, we're constructing a humungous skirt that she should be able to wear over the dress she's making, like maybe at the reception for a little extra wow factor. Don't tell her about it, though, okay?

It should be a wonderful weekend in Threadville, and a serene, romantic wedding. And dancing with Clay...

So why am I biting my nails?

“Thank you,” I whispered. I hadn’t held a baby for a long, long time, and the memory of the twins’ smiles warmed me like spring sunlight.

January 29, 2013


Tally-Ho: How come we’re posting today? We always bark on the 29th.

Sally-Forth: It has something to do with it not being leap year.

Tally-Ho: (scratches his ear) What? I leap every day.

Sally-Forth: Me, too!

Sally-Forth: That would be a really fun kind of wrestling. Here, let me grab your tail and see if I can swing you around.

Tally-Ho: Ha, you can’t. I’m sitting on it.

Sally-Forth: Spoilsport. Did you see what happened next? Another policeman told the dog to let go, and the dog did, and everyone had a nice, ear-rubbing time, and the dog got to play with a toy.

Tally-Ho: Those dogs got to play some fun games! I wanted to get out of the car.

Sally-Forth: Me, too. I liked it when they sniffed around and found things and got more praise and toys.

From: Willow in NYC
To: Haylee in Elderberry Bay
Subject: How was the wine?
August 28, 2010 3:00 PM

Okay, Haylee, spill. How did the date with the vineyard owner go?


Turkey vultures flew west, never colliding with each other, but looking like they might. A mature Bald Eagle followed at a distance. A few minutes later, a bunch of turkey vultures flew east. A mature Bald Eagle followed this group, too. The same vultures and the same eagle? The eagle almost seemed to be herding the vultures.

Bits of cloud drifted down from the darkest clouds, the clouds thickened, the sunshine disappeared, and we saw no more funnel clouds.

The TVs, though, the turkey vultures, continued to soar and swoop. I thought they should be concerned with migrating, but they seemed to be playing in the wind. Or maybe they were waiting for that eagle to fly back and urge them on, to wherever they were supposed to go.

Like some of the birds and butterflies, I’ll getting ready for winter. I won’t migrate, and I can’t soar on the wind, but I guess it’s time to put away the summer clothes and get out the winter ones. And make some new ones . . .

Willow Vanderling
September 17, 2013


In Threadville, you will find, as you might expect, lots and lots of thread. In my machine embroidery boutique, In Stitches, I sell embroidery thread. Across the street, my best friend, Haylee, sells sewing thread in her fabric shop, The Stash. Down the street at Batty About Quilts, Naomi, who is one of Haylee’s mothers (she has three, all of whom have more or less adopted me—does that mean I have four mothers?) sells all the thread you might need for piecing a quilt or sewing the top to the bottom, with batting between. Other Threadville shops specialize in yarn, notions, and home décor.

People come to Threadville from miles around to shop and learn.

Knitters and crocheters always need more yarn, while quilters and seamsters (to prevent confusion, I shy away from the word “sewers”) need more fabrics. The buttons we have on hand because we bought several kinds for the previous project (because we couldn’t make up our minds in the store) never work for this one.

And then there’s my downfall, embroidery thread. As any machine embroiderer knows, we often do not have all the right colors for our next project, and we need new colors, usually several.

Tally-Ho: Not very high.

Sally-Forth: Do so. Hey, what’s that picture? Are we starring in a new adventure?

Tally-Ho: That’s not us on the cover. I’m getting worried. We were on the cover of Threaded for Trouble.

Sally-Forth: Those are cats! What are they doing there?

Tally-Ho: Cats? Now I’m really worried.

 Sally-Forth and Tally-Ho
 February 26, 2013


You probably know by now that Opal, Edna, and I have been best friends ever since we met in kindergarten.

Halloween has always been one of our favorite holidays. Beginning with that first year, we’ve concocted some of the weirdest costumes imaginable. And imagination was the key—people often had to ask us what we were. The good thing about going out as three little kittens or three blind mice was that if we recited our poem (the trick), the kindly people offering us trays of goodies (the treat) may have been able to figure out what we were attempting to represent. (But really, why did Opal and Edna insist that I had to be the only mouse with a lopped-off tail?) Reciting The Three Musketeers would have been problematical. That year, we handed out chocolate bars to the folks who opened the door at our knock. That surprised them!

Now that we’re adults, shelling-out probably gives us more treats than trick-or-treating ever did. Kids frequently arrive in stunningly original outfits, and some of them recite a verse or sing a song the second we open the door. Oh, and occasionally we end up with a leftover treat or two, but really, a nice glass of sherry at the end of the evening is enough for me.

Dogs can really get into the spirit of helping me answering the door and greeting the kids. Dressed as a pumpkin, my very sweet old dog obviously believed that these costumed tykes were coming to pet her and bring her candy. One Halloween, she dipped her nose into a toddler’s bag and brought out a candy. The pint-sized pirate didn’t notice, and probably wondered why I gave him two chocolate bars.

Then there was the tiny two-year-old tiger in a baggy fur suit who didn’t quite understand the technique of trick or treating. She simply walked in and began touring the house.


I know what they think, some folks anyway. They say I’m a difficult person, and that I’m hard to get along with. Those folks are probably the ones who don’t want to hear the truth, or the truth as I see it. My daughter, Edna, tells me to think before I speak. I do. I think a lot. And then I tell people exactly what I think. Unfortunately, some folks don’t want to hear it.

And I do have friends. I’ve known Marsha since grade school. We write letters to each other only once or twice a year, but we’re still friends.

Marsha called me this morning. “Dora! Something terrible has happened at Cloverleaf High. It's a crime!!"

"What?" The captain of the football team had aged during the past forty-some years, along with the rest of us? Cloverleaf High was built about the same time as the Pennsylvania Turnpike, and overlooked one of the first cloverleaf intersections in America. This was a source of pride to the powers-that-were.

Marsha cried, “They’re no longer teaching sewing in Home Ec at Cloverleaf High!”

I burst out laughing. Maybe I’m also supposed to think before I laugh, because my laughter seemed to scandalize poor Marsha, and I had to explain, “I hated sewing in Home Ec.”

“But that’s where we learned to sew!”

“I didn’t.  I made a mess of everything. My mother said I might as well go out selling rags on the street, I was ruining so many good pieces of material.”

There was a pause, and then Marsha said in a calmer voice, “Our sewing teacher wasn’t a very good teacher, was she.” It wasn’t a question. “Not to you and some of the other girls.”

All these years later, I still felt like stamping a foot. “No, she was not.”

“She really only taught the girls she liked.”

I agreed. “She only helped the ones who—I think they call it stroking an ego, now. I didn’t stroke her ego.”

Marsha laughed. “You certainly didn’t. I guess I did.”

I conceded, “At least she never caught you sticking your tongue out at her.”

“But all Home Ec teachers can’t have been unfair, over the years. Why did they cut sewing out of the curriculum?”

I guessed, “The days when people needed to make their own clothes are long gone?”

“But it’s a great hobby. Look at all of us who love to quilt!”

“Hobby,” I repeated. “Hobbies are something you do for fun. Maybe too many sewing teachers ruined sewing for students. I love knitting, spinning, and weaving, which I learned from my grandmother. If some horribly unfair teacher had tried to teach them to me in school, though, I probably would have rebelled against them, too, and then what hobby would I have?”

Marsha’s answer was quick. “Woodworking. Back then, they didn’t let girls take Shop. Now they do, so some things have improved. But if I were a high school kid, I’d want to learn to sew.”

“But you’re not, and you already know how.”

“Dora Battersby, you’re impossible.”

I decided not to argue with her about that. Maybe, in a way, I like being impossible.

Dora Battersby
August 17, 2014


It's that time of year again for people who love to create with textiles and thread. It's time to make Halloween costumes!

In Threadville, we have a craft fair aimed at helping people choose what costumes to make and the materials with which to make them.

We'll even have some zombies in town, attending what they're calling a "zombie retreat." They'll be at the craft fair selling--well, I'm not sure what, but it's sure to be interesting. And maybe lifelike. Or is that deathlike?

In case you're wondering, no, of course they're not real zombies. They'll just be having fun with costumes and makeup. At least, I hope that's all it is...

Edna, who owns Buttons and Bows, is getting married the Monday after the craft fair and zombie festivities are over. We're planning a hilarious (we hope) surprise for her. Edna loves everything that sparkles and shines, and we're creating a very dramatic overskirt that she can wear to the reception, if she wants to. We'll be displaying it in the gazebo in the park to help advertise the craft fair.

Willow Vanderling
September 17, 2014


I turned out my shop lights and went outside. Across the street, the Threadville shops had closed for the night, and the last customers were boarding a bus. The sign above the windshield said THREADVILLE TOUR.

In a few weeks, I would open my embroidery boutique, In Stitches. I hoped the Threadville tourists would like my shop and would buy sewing and embroidery machines from me. The manufacturers had treated me to fascinating seminars and training sessions where creating and stitching machine embroidery designs was more like play than work. Best of all, as new models came out, I’d be among the first to try them.

To make matters worse, a bunch of zombies (okay, people who are made up, dressed, and lurching around like zombies) were also holding a what they called a "retreat." Between them and the wedding guests, the Elderberry Bay Inn was crowded.

Some of us ended up housing craft fair participants in our apartments. That turned out to be a big problem, especially for Edna, whose houseguest died under suspicious circumstance after she borrowed the fantabulous wedding overskirt that my friends and I made to surprise Edna.

I ended up leading our police chief and a detective from the Pennsylvania State Police down a trail of glow-in-the-dark thread. And then zombies chased us around a haunted graveyard, which turned out to be lots spookier than we'd ever imagined.

Willow Vanderling
October 17, 2014

“No,” she said, still peering at the thing through her binoculars. “The day’s too cool, and those clouds are going to shield us from sunlight and lower the temperature more, and for that funnel cloud to develop into something bigger, it’s going to need more energy from the sun. It’s not going to get it this late in the season. I don’t think the tip of that funnel will reach low enough to become a waterspout out there in the lake, and even if it did, it would be harmless unless we were in a rowboat right underneath it. Just watch.”

The funnel cloud undulated almost like a thread, very appropriate for those of us who lived in Threadville.

I was the one who spotted a second funnel cloud not far from the first. I managed to snap a picture, and then both funnel clouds fizzled out.

If there’s a prize for ugly, I expect to win it. However, I will have plenty of competition. My best friends, Edna and Naomi, will want to play along and reach new heights in tackiness, and so will our daughter Haylee and her friend Willow, who is now like a daughter to the other three of us. In Threadville, we can’t help enjoying the challenge of designing and creating.

What will Mona wear, I wonder? It won’t be ugly. It will be skin tight and low-necked.

And there the rest of us will be, among all those eligible men, in grotesque sweaters we obediently created for ourselves.

Hmmm. Candy cane stripes, a decorated and lit-up Christmas tree, and revealing? Now there’s a challenge . . .

November 29, 2011

Next door to the hardware store is my shop, In Stitches. I sell the most fabulous sewing machines, ever. I can program them to do amazing embroidery. Many of my clients are embroidering spring flowers on everything right now.

When spring arrives, we'll be ready!
Willow Vanderling
February 17, 2016


I'll weave and knit with green yarns, I'll wear green clothes, I'll eat green beans or peas or broccoli.

But please don't put green food coloring in my mashed potatoes. Or (thank you, Dr. Seuss) in my eggs.

And definitely, don't put it in my beer... We have a fun pub here in Threadville, and I often join the young folks there. Last year, I went with them on St. Patrick's Day.

Big mistake!

We had a great time, and I was able to choke down both mugs of beer as long as I closed my eyes, but what a weird color for beer.

And don't worry, most of us live close enough to the pub to walk home afterward--though we all went to the beach first, just for a few minutes, to look at the ice. Last year was cold. Those who don't live close to the center of Threadville can stay with some of us who do, or take a cab or bus home.

This year, the ice is already gone from Lake Erie around Threadville, and it should be warm enough to actually enjoy a late night walk on the beach.The pub owner has promised not to color my beer.

Before we go out for the evening, though, I'm heading off to the bakery. I love frosted cookies, don't you? And they make these darling shamrock sugar cookies, frosted in kelly green frosting. Yum! I think I'll buy a dozen . . .

Be careful out there, okay? Drink green beer if you must, but don't drink and drive.

Dora Battersby
March 17, 2016


This year, Opal, Edna, and I helped the neighborhood children create their own costumes. I own a quilting shop, and one of my little customers is dressing up as a Murphy bed, complete with a quilt he pieced together in my class. He explained it to me as earnestly as only a ten-year-old can. When people come to the door, he’ll pull the ropes he plans to rig up, the bed will drop out of its closet, and a bag will open on the quilt for the treats. I can hardly wait to see this.

 October 29, 2011


Are you ready for Halloween yet? Getting ready?

You've decided on a costume and made it yourself? You're already decorating? You're putting off buying candy because you're afraid you'll eat it all yourself before the big day?

To encourage folks to create their costumes and decorations early, we staged a Get Ready for Halloween Craft Fair here in Elderberry Bay, fondly known as Threadville.

We had a little problem fitting the fair into everyone's schedule, and ended up holding it the weekend right before the wedding of two of Threadville's most popular citizens, Edna and Gord.

But even when they try not to involve themselves in an investigation, they somehow end up in the thick of it, and in danger, besides. Sometimes they act like they were only trying to keep me and Haylee’s other two mothers out of mischief. Right. How could I get into mischief when I’m always concerned about how much worse a situation can become?

Okay, you’re right. I do try to help Haylee and Willow every way I can, and so do my best friends, who own the yarn and the notions shops in Threadville. And we’ve been known to get into trouble of our own.

But that doesn’t mean I never picture worst-case-scenarios.


July 17, 2013

Willow Vanderling
July 29, 2010


For the shorter children in my class like seven-year-old Cecilia, I had raised the sewing machines’ foot pedals. The tip of her tongue sticking out, Cecilia guided the fabric underneath the presser foot and began sewing, slowly and carefully.

I’d been the same age when I first started using a sewing machine, but unlike little Cecilia, whose mother had succumbed to breast cancer last year, and whose father was raising a passel of boys and their little sister by himself, I had a mother. Actually, I had three of them.

My birth mother, Opal, whose originality sometimes led her to create some rather peculiar garments, still kept me supplied with handmade sweaters, hats, scarves, mittens, and slippers. She taught me simple crocheting when I was three. Her friend, Naomi, one of my other mothrs, whose work was always perfect, had sewed most of my other clothes. Naomi’s seams were always perfect. By the time I was four, Edna, my third mother, had me hand-sewing beads and sequins on nearly everything the other two mothers made me.

When I wanted to make clothes, too, Naomi had patiently taught me to use her sewing machine. They presented me with my own sewing machine, a real, grown-up one, when I was twelve. I learned tailoring during high school, and turned the tables on my three mothers. For several years, they proudly went off to their jobs wearing the suits I’d made.

Now all four of us owned shops in Threadville. Mine was the fabric shop. Opal sold yarns, Edna stocked notions and bling, and Naomi had a quilt shop. And all of us, plus my best friend, Willow, with her machine embroidery boutique, taught classes and workshops. This summer, we were indoctrinating . . . I mean instructing . . . children in the hobbies we’d turned into businesses.

Cecilia raised the presser foot, pulled the bag she’d made out from under it, and snipped the threads. I showed her how to trim the seams, and she turned the bag right side out. It was perfect. She jumped up. “I want to make more!” She raced out of my classroom and into my shop, where I was featuring heavier fabrics for the cooler seasons.

The other children and I followed her.

Cecilia stroked emerald green fleece. “I want a hoodie out of this!” She whirled to a bolt of corduroy in the same jewel-like shade. “A skirt!”

Before I knew it, every child was running around, touching fabrics and crowing about what they might make from them.

Chaos? Maybe, but a really good kind of it.

Cecilia’s father came in and scooped her into his arms. “Thank you,” he murmured to me. “It’s good to have my happy little girl again.”

She squirmed in his arms. “Of course I was going home! But I’m coming back to sewing lessons tomorrow, okay?”

He winked at me, but his smile was crooked and his eyes glimmered with unshed tears. “Sure thing.” He turned quickly and carried her out of the store.

August 29, 2011


Fall! It’s here, and I love it. I’m Haylee Scott. I own a fabric store called The Stash in the village of Threadville, Pennsylvania, and I sew all year round. But when nights are crisp and days are sunny, I love sitting beside a window and make things from fabric.

Besides, we’ve got all these holidays coming up, starting with the biggie for creative folks—Halloween.

I’ve stocked patterns, fun furs, and everything you need to make costumes for yourselves and your kids. And you can buy yarns at Tell a Yarn, all sorts of beads and sequins at Buttons and Bows, more Halloween-themed fabrics at Batty about Quilts, and if you want touches of machine embroidery, be sure to visit my friend Willow’s store, In Stitches.

Here are a few pointers for children’s costumes, whether you’re making them from scratch, buying them, or putting them together from things you have around the house.

1. Safety is most important. In the excitement of running from house to house gathering candies, kids need to see traffic. Masks might be fun at parties, but consider transforming their faces with makeup for the actual trick-or-treating excursion.

2. Help them be seen. Use light colored or glow-in-the-dark fabrics. You can also buy glow-in-the-dark thread. Incorporate clear or sheer pockets in costumes and insert light sticks in the pockets. Your little goblins and gremlins will love their spooky glow.

3. And then there’s comfort. Depending on where you live, Halloween can be cold. You don’t want to cover the fabulous costumes you create with coats, so make the costumes roomy enough for your little trick-or-treaters to wear warm sweaters and/or jackets underneath them. Stock up on clear plastic ponchos in case it rains. It better not!

And here’s a tip for those kind people who stay at home and answer the door—praise every costume. The pleasure you’ll give the kids may last longer than the candies.


The shop next to Tell a Yarn is Buttons and Bows, owned by Edna, who recently married Threadville's beloved doctor. Edna puts so many embellishments on her clothes that it's impossible to tell if she made the basic garment or not, but I know the answer to that. She did.

Next door to Edna's store is Batty About Quilts, which sells quilting supplies and machines.

In her home décor shop, Country Chic, Mona sells upholstery and drapery fabrics, along with an eclectic collection of furnishings.

All of these women have helped, and sometimes hindered, murder investigations.

Most of the time, there are no murders, and with so many crafty people and fun and talented customers, Threadville is a wonderful place to live. And I hear it's about to become even more exciting. A new post-secondary school is about to open--the Threadville Academy of Design and Modeling. Think of the opportunities! Taking night school courses, meeting real clothing designers, maybe even participating in a fashion show or two!

Willow Vanderling
March 17, 2015


Many of you already know me, or you know my daughter, Edna, who owns the notions shop, Buttons and Bows, in Threadville, Pennsylvania.

I have a confession to make. I've been grumpy for most of my life. I wasn't unhappy, and I didn't mean to make others unhappy, but you know how it is (or maybe you don't): I was sort of invested in being forthright, and unfortunately, forthright people can sometimes speak before they think. Yes, I did that. No, not all the time,what were you thinking!

I raised Edna by myself, and I was petrified that she might become a single mother also. She didn't, but one of her best friends, Opal, became pregnant at sixteen. Edna and their other best friend, Naomi, joined forces and the three of them raised the baby, Haylee, together.

Not living near them, and not really approving, I mostly stayed away (I know, I know, you don't have to tell me that my behavior was terrible.) The women all finished degrees and had good careers, and then Haylee grew up and opened a fabric store in Threadville. Edna and her friends quit their jobs and moved to Threadville, too, to open their own shops--a yarn shop for Opal and a quilting shop for Naomi! I could hardly believe such audacity.

Maybe I nagged Edna too much about establishing herself in her career before she had children. She put her career way, way ahead of finding a man and having a family. She finally got married last year, but she's just about beyond child-bearing age. By the time of the wedding, I had finally retired, and could take the time to go to Threadville so I could attend the wedding. Edna put me up with Haylee. I was a little hurt that Edna didn't want me with her, and maybe I was a little crochety about the entire thing.

But then this woman, a stranger in town, and not a wedding guest, went and got herself murdered. Haylee has a best friend, Willow, who owns the machine embroidery shop, In Stitches. Willow had helped the police solve some murders before, and I couldn't help sticking my nose into this investigation.

I felt sorry for the poor woman who died, of course, but I have to admit that I rather relished gathering clues and drawing conclusions. Best of all was being scared half to death in that haunted graveyard.

Willow has a little rental cottage in her back yard. I helped design the renovations, and now I'm Willow's tenant. I'll be ready to give her a hand with whatever she needs.

Meanwhile, Threadville has grown on me, and I enjoy the company of the two young women (and the two young men who interest them...) and I also enjoy the company of Opal, Naomi, Edna, and my new son-in-law, Gord. I'll still say what I think--I call it honesty--but maybe I'm not such a grouch any more. I hope not. You could say I'm thawing, kind of like the ice out on Lake Erie right now.

Dora Battersby
April 17, 2015


They say that happiness is contagious. That always sounded like a load of balderdash, a way to get people to buy greeting cards with sickening sayings on them, or to send flowers that drop their petals all over your white tablecloth, or to throw insincere and fake-looking smiles at people. How would any of that spread cheer around the world?

Anyway, what was there to smile about? I raised my daughter Edna by myself, and she was a good kid, and so were those two girls she met in kindergarten, Opal and Naomi. They were inseparable and whenever they were with me, their sunny voices and laughter lifted my spirits.

And then, when they were sixteen, didn’t Opal go and get pregnant, and didn’t her two loyal friends decide to help her raise her child?

Opal’s folks disowned her, and I have to admit that I wasn’t much more compassionate. I thought for sure the three girls were throwing away their chances at careers and happiness, and I let them go their own way, then I was too stubborn to admit I’d been wrong. They all ended up with great careers and they all doted on Haylee. Then they all threw over their careers and moved to a small village on the shore of Lake Erie, not far from Erie, Pennsylvania, and opened stores!

Now, I spin and weave, and I love yarn and textiles, so I thought the idea of a main street lined with sewing, yarn, notions, and quilting shops sounded like a fun place to visit. So why didn’t I?

Okay, right, I’m stubborn.

Then Edna sent me a wedding invitation. Her own mother, and that was how she told me she was getting married . Oh well, it wasn’t like I was ever going to get excited about all the hullabaloo involved in planning a wedding. So I went to Threadville and stayed with Haylee, who had grown into a warm and caring young woman. She treated me like a beloved grandmother.

Haylee’s best friend Willow has a machine embroidery shop across the street from Haylee’s huge fabric shop. The two young women had helped solve murders before, and shortly after I landed in Threadville, someone was murdered.
Well! I wasn't going to let them solve a murder without my help.

Meanwhile, Willow, with this tall, handsome young contractor, was renovating a cottage in the back yard of her shop and apartment.

I helped design the cottage just the way I liked.

Now I’m Willow’s tenant. I spin and weave in my precious Blueberry Cottage. I spend time in Willow’s yard with her dogs and cats, and they all visit me. Haylee looks after me as if I really were her grandmother, and the laughter of Edna, Opal, and Naomi still brings sunshine to a dull day.

Threadville’s customers love the village. They arrive in tour buses nearly every day to take courses and to browse and buy.
I think I’ll stay. I have never been happier. Maybe happiness is contagious, in Threadville at least. But please don’t tell Edna I admitted it. The worst thing you can say to a certified life-long grump  is “I told you so.”

Willow’s outside with those two darling dogs, and I just happen to have a couple of small bits of chicken I didn’t finish last night. Talk to you later. Bye!

Dora Battersby
May 17, 2014


I love sewing. I love embroidery, especially the way I do it, with machines and software.

I also love clothes, and I love adding my creations to my wardrobe.

So, when Antonio, director of the Threadville Academy of Design and Modeling, asked me to make four outfits for a charity fashion show, I liked the idea.

I was a little less enthralled, however, when I found out I wasn't going to design the outfits myself. But then Antonio said he would design the garments and I could work from sketches. It sounded like a fun kind of learning experience, and a challenge.

It was a challenge, all right! The outfits as he sketched them didn't suit me at all. I like many different types of clothes, but one outfit was clownishly gaudy, one was dull, drab, and dowdy, one was so bare it would have to be glued to my skin, and the fourth one was just plain ludicrous for anyone over the age of two.

I modified the outfits a little, made them carefully, and added the machine embroidery for which my shop, In Stitches, is famous, er notorious, and I felt pretty good about the whole thing.

Then, during the dress rehearsal, I became concerned about the way Antonio treated some of his students. The actual show went well, though, until my six friends and I went onstage for the "Awards Ceremony."

Antonio thought he was being very funny.

The rest of us did not agree.

Willow Vanderling
June 17, 2015

embroidery. Willow, like our Haylee, is spunky, but all of us could see vulnerability behind her eyes. Personally, I think her parents were distracted when she was growing up and she had to raise herself. She did a good job of it, but Naomi, Edna, and I can’t help wanting to give her some of the attention and support she lacked.

And then that nasty Mike Krawbach went and got himself murdered in Willow’s back yard, and that old fool of a policeman wanted to pin the blame on Willow, and the river threatened to wipe out the cottage she hoped to renovate and rent out, and what could we do? Haylee, of course stuck by her best friend, and Edna and Naomi and I rallied around her, too. As far as we’re concerned, we have a second daughter. Life is good.


March 29, 2011


Hi, I’m Edna, owner of the notions boutique Buttons and Bows in Threadville, Pennsylvania. Okay, the village’s real name is Elderberry Bay, but since several of us opened textile arts shops in the village, everyone has started calling it Threadville.

And today is one big day in Threadville! Usually on Fridays, those of us who own the shops teach courses, but today, we’re all getting up early and watching TV together in the biggest fabric store for miles around, The Stash. The Threadville Tour bus, which usually arrives around nine, is scheduled to arrive at four a.m. so that our customers and students can watch with us! Everyone is dressing in their very best handcrafted finery, including gorgeous hats.

And we will be paying close attention, mostly to Kate Middleton and her bridal gown. Whatever she wears may influence fashion for the next few years and we always want to be among the first to know about new trends.

I’m very fond of decorating everything with beads, sequins, ribbons, lace, fringe, crystals, and whatever other wonderful notions and trims I can order. Not all of them on any one garment once, of course. So I would like to see Kate walk down that aisle in a gown trimmed in lace and tiny, glimmering crystal beads.

My best friends, Opal, who owns Tell a Yarn, and Naomi, whose shop is Batty about Quilts, may be out of luck. Kate probably won’t wear a hand-crocheted (sorry, Opal) or quilted (sorry, Naomi) wedding gown.

Our daughter, Haylee, can sew anything, and she loves to tailor jackets, but I don’t think she’s wishing anything tailored on Kate. She expects to see gorgeous, flowing silk in a simple but elegant design.

Haylee’s best friend, Willow, the newest addition to Threadville, is a pro at using computers and software to create embroidery designs that the fantastic sewing machines in her shop can stitch (with the help of embroidery attachments). Willow hopes that Kate will set the fashion for intricate, all-over embroidery designs.

After all that Willow has been through lately, fighting to keep herself out of jail after that horrible man died in her back yard, I can only hope for the best for her and her shop.

Maybe Kate will opt for embroidery and beads, sequins, and crystals?

I can’t wait to find out!

On Friday evenings, we bring handwork to Tell a Yarn, and Opal has a storyteller spin tales for us. Tonight, the storyteller will have to compete with our rehashes of the royal wedding and what everyone wore.

April 29, 2011 (Royal Wedding Day!)


Tomorrow will be my first Memorial Day in Elderberry Bay, also known as Threadville.

When I was growing up in South Carolina, I spent Memorial Day weekends with my Gramma. She lived in a small village known for its Memorial Day celebrations. In the morning, she took me to the parade. I always dressed in red, white, and blue. We both brought flags and nabbed a spot right on the curb.

People marched past, and Gramma stood there, waving her flag and crying. I could not understand why she always wanted to go to parades if they made her cry.

She squeezed my shoulder, wiped her tears, and explained, “It’s so beautiful.”

Beautiful? Cub scouts scuffed past in their uniforms, and Jeffie, the kid who lived across the street from her, caught me smiling and stuck his tongue out at me. What did he think, that I liked him? Gramma sobbed.

I turned around and told her, “It’s okay, Gramma. Jeffie was sticking my tongue out at me, not at you, and anyway, he’s yucky. Don’t let him hurt your feelings. You’re a wonderful Gramma.”

She squatted down and hugged me, and now she was both laughing and crying, and she said something even stranger. “They look like little soldiers in those uniforms.”

The music from the brass band vibrated through my whole body, and I wanted a uniform, too. But not like Jeffie’s. I wanted a shiny red and white one with gold braid and buttons.

Then we’d go back to Gramma’s and she cooked hot dogs and let me pour on as much mustard as I wanted. I got to drink root beer right out of the can. She always said I could decorate my bike and be in the parade if I wanted to, but if she was going to cry, I needed to be with her and comfort her.

At night, we went to the village square and listened to a concert in the bandstand, and when I stayed awake long enough, we watched the fireworks. Each time one unfurled above us, Gramma called out “OOOOH!” Tucking me in later, Gramma told me about her father, who had gone off to war. If we remembered him and others like him, she said, maybe kids like Jeffie wouldn’t have to wear uniforms.

Wouldn’t have to? Eventually, I took up the trumpet, but I lasted all of about five lessons, and I never got the shiny uniform. I could make one, I suppose. Threadville is all about creativity.

In Elderberry Bay tomorrow, there will be a parade down Lake Street to the park where the Elderberry River meets the beach on Lake Erie. We’ll all follow the tail end of the parade so we can greet the Great Canoe and Kayak Race competitors, winners and losers, as they come in after their hours of paddling.

There will be hot dogs. I will coat mine with mustard. I will drink too much root beer.

In the evening, the Fraser Construction Brass Band will give a concert in the bandstand. I hear that their uniforms are red and white, trimmed with gold braid and buttons. I can’t wait to see and hear Clay Fraser playing the trumpet.

At the fireworks, I won’t be able to prevent myself from calling out “OOOOH!”

I know, it won’t be like Memorial Day with Gramma, but her memory will be with me. I may even shed a tear when the Cub Scouts and Brownies march past.

Willow Vanderling
May 29, 2010


In Stitches, the embroidery boutique I bought in Elderberry Bay, also known as Threadville, came with a canoe and two paddles.

Due to peculiar circumstances that you may have read about in DIRE THREADS, I no longer owned one of those canoe paddles.

But I still had the other one. I put on a life jacket and hauled the canoe out through my gate, across the hiking trail, and down the bank of the Elderberry River to a small sandy beach. My previous experience with a canoe had been quite a few years ago, in summer camp. I managed to board the thing without overturning it. I tried to paddle upriver, but the current was too strong

The canoe sped downriver. Backward.

I steered, if I could call it that, with my paddle held to the side as a sort of rudder, and managed to turn the canoe, but not enough. Wallowing sideways down river, the canoe came close to tipping and dumping me into the water. I held on and forced the canoe to go down the river the way it was supposed to, prow first.

The canoe and I zoomed past the park and the white gazebo. If all else failed, I told myself, I would leap out and bob to shore in my life jacket.

However, at the rate the canoe was taking on water, no leaping would be necessary. The life jacket might simply float me out. The canoe’s semi-ancient fiberglass body must have weakened and cracked.

By the time we reached the mouth of the river, only the gunwales were above water. I aimed my unwieldy craft toward shore. The current drove the prow into sand on the riverside beach. I clambered, water streaming from my clothes, onto hot sand.

Filled with water, the canoe weighed a ton. The current would eventually tug the canoe off its sandbar and carry it downstream, where it would sink, but at the moment, it was marooned.

I squelched up Lake Street past my car to my apartment. I changed into dry clothes, collected ropes from the shed, and drove to the beach.

The canoe was gone.

It hadn’t sunk. Wide tire tracks led to and from the section of the beach where it had been. Judging by the footprints, two men had “rescued” my sorry excuse for a canoe. Grooves showed where they had, perhaps with the help of a pick-up truck, dragged it across the sand. They had tipped the water out, leaving a wet sheen like a stain on the beach.

Willow Vanderling
June 29, 2010


As soon as my last customer left for the evening, I closed my embroidery boutique, In Stitches, and ran across the street to Haylee’s fabric shop. For once, I didn’t linger among the gorgeous fabrics. We went out through the back to Haylee’s bright red pick-up truck and took off.

She drove south, away from Lake Erie, out of Elderberry Bay (fondly known as Threadville) and into farm country. The sun was still high, and the evening was hot. We opened the windows. Breezes tugged at my pony tail. Insects buzzed in fields.

We’d created a game for our shopping trips. We began our explorations on a different rural road each time, stopped at every farm stand, and bought at least one thing until we’d bought enough goodies for the next few days.

I bounced on my seat and pointed ahead. “Flowers and potatoes!”

Haylee pulled off onto the shoulder. We bought sassy yellow daylilies and two small bags of new red potatoes.

The next farm stand sold raspberries. We each bought a quart.

We found tomatoes and peppers at a stand a few miles down the road.

And at the next farm stand, a nice surprise—home-baked goods and preserves. We bought hamburger buns (perfect shape and size for tomato sandwiches), sweet rolls, and strawberry preserves.

Haylee turned north, and we each bought a dozen eggs. Free-range hens pecked, flapped, and turned their bold, bright eyes on us.

After a turn down a dirt road, I saw a sign: Goat’s milk cheese. We each bought goat’s milk cream cheese and bars made of dark chocolate, melted and poured over lavender flowers, then cooled. The fragrance was amazing, but we resisted eating them.

On the next country road, we found sweet corn. “It was picked only ten minutes ago,” the woman said. “For the best flavor, cook it and eat it right away.”

We promised we would do our best, but we clambered into the truck, looked at each other, and exclaimed together, “Blueberries!” We’d been willing to leave other treats to chance, but blueberry season had just begun. We had to have blueberries.