It’s Almost Time!

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Some of you may have guessed that I recently filmed a new Craftsy class! Heirloom Sewing More Classic Techniques will be launched soon. Do you want a chance to win a free class? Click here to be entered into a drawing to win – Craftsy will draw a random entry, and I’ll let the lucky winner know the day the class goes live.

Look at some of the things I teach in the class…

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Straight and Curved Puffing2524 resized.jpg2261 resized.jpg2485 resized.jpg

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…and lots more!

Stay tuned for more photos and info. Be sure to follow my blog so you don’t miss any updates. And remember that with a Crafsty online class, you can take it as many times as you want, whenever you want, and you can ask me and other students questions and post photos of your work! Super-sharp HD quality video and audio make it easy to see exactly what I am doing each step of the way.

Dont’ forget to sign up for that free class!


An Autumn Portrait

Here in middle of the country, autumn is usually a beautiful time of year. This year has been no exception. The trees put on a colorful show, the skies are often clear and blue, and the humidity lessens. Autumn is nearly over – rain and wind during the past week have denuded the trees, and there is a hard freeze forecast for this weekend, with possible snow flurries.

Twenty-one years ago (I think!) my parents had an autumn portrait taken of their grandchildren. Here are my Annie and David, and my sister’s two sons.


Of course, I made coordinating outfits for everyone 🙂 One girl and three boys, ranging in age from just under a year to eleven years old. I chose a very soft, bright plaid cotton flannel as something that they might all be willing to wear!

I don’t have the shirts Annie and David wore any longer. Annie’s had a V-shaped, bias front yoke that I fringed at the lower edge. I don’t remember doing it, but the picture shows fringe around the collar, as well, so I assume I fringed a strip, then inserted it in the collar seam as I would piping. David’s shirt had an attached hood, and I found a brightly colored lizard button that I added to the chest pocket.

I do still have my nephews’ garments! Thanks, Mom and Cathy, for saving them.


This was Sean’s shirt (the plaids on the front placket really do match, but the way it’s hanging shows that they don’t!) 


You can see that I matched the plaid on the chest pocket. Just as a tip, look at the little stitched triangles at the upper edge of the pocket – this really helps keep pockets from tearing out, and adds a nice professional touch for very little effort!


The cuffs were made with a continuous-lap placket and two pleats.


On the left upper sleeve, I appliqued a colorful lizard to match the lizard button on David’s shirt! I added googly-eye buttons for fun.

All of the “big kids” outfits were from commercial patterns – I have no idea which ones.

Mark’s overalls may have been made from a commercial pattern, or some other pattern, or adapted from a pants pattern.


The smocking was Ellen McCarn’s “Crayon Rainbow.”


I wanted the legs to snap, but wanted fewer snaps than snap tape. So I cut the snap tape apart and spaced them out on the inner leg opening.



The back waist was elasticized. The criss-cross back straps buttoned to the inside of the back waist, with multiple buttonholes to allow for growth.

Finally, these garments have been stored with others that I have made. Do you know that purple boa feathers shed copiously?! I was picking little purple feather shreds off of these garments as I was trying to get photos, but obviously missed some.


And where did the purple feather boa enter into my sewing history, you ask? Well, as a trim on a very sparkly dress! But that’s a story for another day…


A Thousand Days

Today is my son David’s birthday. He would have been twenty-nine years old. It is also one thousand days since he died. How do I know that? Well, sometimes I do strange little math games while I’m walking/jogging in the mornings. For a while, I tallied each day as it passed, but sometime after one hundred I got lost. More recently, after several days of trying different ways to calculate it, and each time coming near a thousand, I found an online calculator and plugged in the dates. Yep, one thousand days…

Nine hundred and ninety-nine days ago, or nine hundred and ninety days ago, or nine hundred days ago, I don’t think I could have imagined surviving to one thousand. It sounds like such a long time. So many days, so many nights. So many tears. Such a piercing pain. But I have survived. Am I “over it?” Never! But the fierce pain isn’t there all the time any more. It still comes back. I can be back in that ICU room in an instant. But sometimes I can be happy, and mean it.

My Mark has been a rock. I’ve cried so many tears on his shoulders. My Annie has been my co-traveler in grief.

So, today is his birthday. I want to try to remember good times…

When David was a little tiny guy, he wanted to be a chef! Like almost all toddlers, he liked playing with pots and pans.

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He also wanted to cook!


When he was four years old, I think, he was a chef for Halloween. Easiest costume ever! I made a huge chef hat from a white posterboard for the band, and a big circle of shiny white wrapping paper gathered and taped to the band to make a big pouf on top. I got white sweats, and safety-pinned wooden spoons, whisks, plastic spatulas, etc. all over him! Fun!

And, as for almost all kids, big cardboard boxes were an endless source of entertainment. For a while, every box had to be made into a stove! He would draw burners and knobs and dials on top, and an oven door on the front. In the oven, on every box, was a birthday cake! And on every cake was a flaming candle, with smoke rising from it! So cute! I looked for a photo of one of his stove-boxes. I couldn’t find one; I don’t know if there are any.

I had taken one of his stove drawings and transfered it to a sweatshirt, then traced it with that plastic-y shirt paint that was so prevalent then. I even had his photo taken in that sweatshirt, (although he didn’t think much of the toy cooking gear; he wanted the real stuff!)


And then, I remembered! I still have that shirt! Thank you, Mom, for saving it for me!


Two birthday cakes in this oven, and probably macaroni and cheese on the stove! 🙂

Drawing stoves eventually went by the wayside, as did playing chef. But David still liked to cook. He stayed with us for several months the summer before he died, and he helped me make dinner almost every day. He grilled, he chopped veggies for salads. We got some Hatch green chiles, and made green chile salsa. One day we made kebabs, and he was so proud of them that I took a photo.

David's kabobs

The last birthday photo I have of him is from five years ago, on his twenty-fourth birthday.


Happy Birthday, David! I’ll love you forever!

A Red Dress

I’ve always loved pretty dresses, but I don’t get dressed up very often. Jeans and t-shirts are pretty much the order of the day. Several weeks ago, I received a phone call that my quilt “Blue Plate Special” has won one of the eight top prizes at the Houston International Quilt Festival. For those of you not involved in the quilt world, this is a BIG deal! Not only are the cash prizes very nice, but part of the award is a paid trip to Festival. I won’t know exactly what award I’ve won until the awards ceremony, which is also a big deal. The awards ceremonies at Houston and at the Paducah quilt show are the closest most of us will ever get to the Academy Awards! It’s so much fun! A big auditorium with a stage, suspense, the big reveal of the winning quilts, squeals of delight, and lots of applause.

It’s the perfect excuse for a new dress! I know, I’ll probably only wear a new dress a few times, but still, a new dress is called for. So, I started going through my patterns and my fabrics, thinking of what might work, and what would look good.

At first, I thought I’d go with McCall’s 6432, view B, with a blue-purple matte jersey with black contrast.


In fact, I partially made this up, and decided it did nothing for my body, so I’ll probably cut it off to wear as a long top with black slacks. It’ll look good that way.

Then I got out my StyleArc Madeleine Ponte Top pattern, which I got about six months ago. I guessed that it could easily be lengthened to dress length.


I also pulled out some gorgeous red rayon/lycra ponte knit from Gorgeous Fabrics that I got on sale from them sometime in the past year. That same fabric is no longer available, but these are similar fabrics in different colors.

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Good quality ponte knits are easy to work with and comfortable to wear. I don’t usually wear bright colors, but this red was calling my name!


My measurements were between a 12 and a 14, so I went with the larger size. I really don’t like tight-fitting clothes! Besides, I normally do a full bust adjustment, and that was going to be quite a job with this bodice, so I figured the larger size would pretty much take care of that, and it turned out that I was right about that. I also thought about using another pattern and trying to adapt the top for sleeves, but that was also going to be quite a drafting job, and I didn’t want to spend that much time on this.

I made a muslin of the top with a similar weight knit that has been languishing on my shelves for several years. The fit was pretty good to start out. Here’s what I did in terms of fitting:

  • I took in the upper back at the angled upper back seams by about 1/4″, in effect making a dart to account for rounded upper back and to snug in the back neckline.
  • I curved the center back seam in 1″ at the waist, tapering from just below my shoulder blades to just above my hips, to give some curve to the back.
  • I scooped the front neckline about 3/4″, tapering to 1/2″ at the shoulders, and curving to nothing at the back. I just don’t like tight jewel necks on myself, and this also allowed me to eliminate the back zipper.
  • I lengthened the front and back lower pattern pieces 18″, maintaining the curve of the lower edge, and creating a slight A-line skirt.
  • I used 1/8″ silk ribbon in the seamline to stay the neckline seam. Even with interfaced facings, the neck will still stretch with a knit like this. My right shoulder is a bit lower than my left, so I eased the right neckline in about 1/4″ to prevent it from gaping. You wouldn’t think that this small amount would make that much difference, but it really does.
  • I lowered the left front inset (the angled inset below the belt). The directions (skimpy with StyleArc, but I’ve never had a problem constructing their patterns) call for the upper edge of the inset to be stitched in the diagonal bodice seam. But it seemed to me that too little of it was visible. So I removed it from the seam, and just zigzagged the upper edge to the front of the dress, lowering the inset about 3/4″. I’m much happier with the look, and the belt covers the edge of the inset.
  • I shortened the belt 1.5″ so that it would pull in the front just a bit.
  • I eliminated bulk in seam allowances wherever possible. The ponte knit is a bit bulky, and  there are many layers of fabric at the center front bodice seam.

Here are photos…


A close up of the interesting bodice


and the equally interesting lines in back…


I have to say that I was rather hesitant about a sleeveless dress. I’m 60 years old, and my upper arms (even with working out with weights) are not what they used to be. I am a firm proponent of the notion that women – and men – should dress well, but not dress like those decades younger. I’ve always thought that people who try to wear clothes way younger than they are just look silly! My concerns were pretty much allayed when my husband saw me in the dress and said something along the lines of “Hubba, hubba!” 🙂 I think I like the dress a lot!


Now, this dress cost me almost nothing. The fabric and pattern were both in my stash, and originally cost maybe $30 total. But I just ordered shoes that cost more than I have ever paid for shoes in my life! Strappy red suede shoes with a zipper in back! And 2.5″ heels, which I’ll have to practice walking in! I’m over 5’9″, and have rarely worn heels.

I’m ready for Houston! Maybe I’ll even wear makeup…

Four Years Ago

I live in Pittsburg, KS. Southeast Kansas is no stranger to severe weather warnings. Four years ago, on May 22, 2011, the tornado sirens sounded. I unplugged my sewing machines, went in the basement, and watched the weather on TV. The storms didn’t materialize here, so I went back to work. A few minutes later, I checked the weather again.  The same storm system that skipped us had devastated Joplin, MO, a town of 50,000. I’ve lived within 100 miles of Joplin, in several different towns, for the past 30 years, and for the past fourteen have lived here in Pittsburg, which is just 25 miles from Joplin. Joplin is where we go out to eat, to shop at Sam’s Club, to do anything we can’t do here in little Pittsburg. I watched the news in horror, to learn that one of the two hospitals was destroyed; over 40 doctor’s offices, many businesses and churches, the high school, part of a middle school and several elementary schools were gone. As the hours ticked by, we learned that more than 160 people had been killed; more than 900 were injured. About 8000 buildings had been destroyed.

There wasn’t much I could do. I don’t drive a bulldozer, and I don’t have a chainsaw. Then, I got this idea… It became far bigger than I could ever have imagined!

Thousands of people had lost everything. I knew that the summer would pass, and school would start, somehow, somewhere, even though all those schools would not yet be re-built. Do you remember being excited about the start of the school year when you were young? I certainly do!  And I always had a new dress for the first day of school. I loved those new first-day-of-school dresses; I think my Dad took a picture of me every year, and for years I remembered what I wore for the first day of each new grade. Here’s one of those dresses – fifth grade, I think…


Most of my newsletter readers make children’s garments. I sent out a newsletter asking them to please consider making one or more first-day-of-school outfits for children in Joplin who had lost everything.

Well, within minutes my request had gone viral! I suddenly had a full-time job responding to questions about what I named Project First Day. Hundreds of people wanted to be a part of this.  Lezette Thomason of Children’s Corner shipped out over 300 patterns at no charge for people to use to make garments. Kind people wanted to donate quilts and shoes and toys, but I had to respectfully say “no thank you,” as I only had one living room to store things, and, at the time, no way to distribute them!

Soon, the boxes started arriving. 


I rented a post office box for the summer, and made daily trips to the post office. The workers soon knew my box number, and had me drive around to the back of the building and helped me load up my little car. I spent my days communicating with contributors, unpacking boxes, and sorting garments by size. Several sewing guilds worked together to send hundreds of garments each.

Each garment was an act of kindness from an anonymous giver to an unknown recipient.

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I asked people to write notes and pin them to the garments.

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Some of the notes were so touching – some wrote of losing everying thing in hurricane Katrina, and knowing what it was like to lose all your belongings.

Eventually, I received 1474 outfits – some, single garments, while others were complete ensembles, including things such as embellished socks and hair bows. These are just some of the 38 big plastic tubs I packed up!


This is what the trash collection guys got to pick up one week!


As the first day of school approached, I still didn’t have a way to distribute all the clothes. Charities were overwhelmed with other more pressing needs. I contacted the media, and finally, our local newspaper wrote an article about the project.  A reporter for the Joplin newspaper saw the article and interviewed me.  A local TV station interviewed me. The principal of one of the destroyed elementary schools contacted me. Finally, I had a way to get these things to the kids for whom they were meant!

With just a couple days before school was to start, I rented a truck to take the tubs of clothing to Joplin, to the old retired school building that had been brought out of retirement to serve as the school for these kids.


Well, the article in the Joplin Globe was picked up by the Associated Press, and what was a hectic few days became truly memorable.  ABC World News Radio contacted me and I did a phone interview. CBS News contacted me and sent a reporter and photographer to my house. Here’s the CBS photographer with her camera set up on books on my ironing board!


After the interview, I changed clothes and drove to Joplin for the distribution. This is during set-up at Irving; some of the clothes had yet to be unpacked, and some went to other schools. It got a lot more crowded  – and crazy – after this!


Good Morning America did a piece on the distribution.  My interview with CBS Evening News was on the next day.

A month or so later, The Quilt Life magazine contacted me for an article, which appeared in the magazine.


That was pretty much the end of Project First Day for me. And Joplin? The city has done a great job of rebuilding. The scars are still there, in the landscape, and certainly in the lives of many. The new Mercy Hospital opened a few months ago. The new Joplin High school opened last year. Our favorite restaurant was rebuilt and has been open for about a year and a half.

And Irving Elementary School was rebuilt near the site of the old, devastated hospital. I haven’t been there, but photos of it show it to be a bright, colorful, beautiful place.

Thanks to all those who helped make Project First Day a reality!


Iris Season!

I have always loved irises! My Mom had a patch of dark purple ones.  When we moved to this house 14 years ago, there were some lavender irises back by the garage. Then, my sweet husband started collecting and planting a rainbow for me! Fortunately, they seem to love our climate, and they thrive and multiply here.  We probably have close to 100 varieties that bloom over the course of about four weeks.  And iris season has begun!

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So, it seemed only fitting that I should name my first pattern “Iris.”  It has been one of my best-selling patterns for many years.  It started with this little blue dress

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and this Christening gown

Iris gown_2

Then I made this pink linen version, because I had some wonderful pink lace that perfectly matched the fabric.

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Then a few years ago, I made this lavender version (with little embroidered irises, of course!)


Now, if you’ll excuse me, I think I’ll go out and see if any new irises have opened!

Easter Finery

Spring is here!


I enjoyed sewing coordinating outfits for my children for as long as they would tolerate it!  This has to be one of my all-time favorite photos of them together.  It was taken in 1990.

Easter 1990

Their outfits were made of Imperial broadcloth, and the smocking plate was “Cottontail Bunnies 3” by Mollie Jane Taylor.


David’s pattern was (maybe?) Children’s Corner Jeffrey, but it is not lined, so I’m not sure if that was the pattern I used.


I used tiny piping on the collar and fake cuffs, as well as along the top and bottom of the smocked insert.


I omitted the top and bottom rows of the smocking plate.  Aren’t those fluffy little tails cute?!

Here’s a picture from 1997 of my nephew in the outfit.

Mark Sweany 1997

I’m not sure what, if any, pattern I used for Annie’s blouse and dress.


(I’m also not sure what that glare is on the lower part of some of these photos.  It’s my photography abilities, not the garments!)


Her bunnies had pink tails, and the collar and cuffs were trimmed with gathered Swiss edging, as well as piping.


And even though they weren’t visible when worn, her dress had mother-of-pearl flower buttons.

The next two outfits were from the next year, I think, and probably the last time they wore matching duds.


This dress was (maybe) a New Look pattern, but again, I’m not sure.  The fabric was a print cotton, and looking back, I think, “Wow, why didn’t I pick a prettier color than that grayed-down lavender?!”


The collar shadow embroidery is from a Wendy Ragan design in an early issue of Sew Beautiful, stitched on, and lined with, Imperial batiste.


Then, turn around!



I made the collar to fit the Swiss motif.


What a sweet embroidery design!

David’s shirt is double-breasted to match Annie’s dress.  He probably had blue pants or shorts to go with this.


It is Imperial broadcloth, and the collar is Imperial batiste. I have no idea of the pattern, if any.


The light blue trim along the collar is not an applied edging, but a narrow shadow embroidered strip.


The back has boy bunnies instead of girl bunnies!

Now, I haven’t sewn Easter outfits in a long, long time.  But a few years ago, I did dress up some Peeps for a surprise package for Annie! 🙂

Easter Peeps 2012-2

French lace and pearl buttons, of course!

Another Rose

In my previous post, I featured variations of my Rose pattern. This is another dress made from that pattern.  I thought this one needed its own post!


This dress was made from white and gray Robert Kaufman Radiance fabric.  This fabric is a silk/cotton blend, and it is one of my favorites for both garments and quilts.  You can see some of my quilts made with this lovely stuff in some of my previous posts here, here, and here.

I’ll go through some of the adaptations I made to the pattern.  First of all, I added godets to the skirt, for the most wonderful twirliness.


To do this, I divided the rectangular skirt front into four equal sections, and the back into three (there is no godet at center back, not at the side seams.)  The godets are segments of a circle – the legs of the godet are the length of the finished skirt.  I used a quick-rigged compass – a pin, pencil, and string of the correct length – to draw the curve at the hemline.  While I allowed a deep hem (4″) on the white sections, that wouldn’t work on the curves of the gray, so I allowed for only a narrow hem (1″) at the lower edge.


I stitched the skirt sections together, then embroidered over the seamlines with thread to match the gray fabric.  The embroidery designs are from the Martha Pullen Kent State Museum Collection, Volume 2, Disk 1.


For the front bodice, I reshaped the neckline, then added an appliqued yoke that echoed the neckline shape.  Again, the embroidery was stitched over the seam.  The bodice back is unchanged from the pattern, and the bodice is lined with batiste, which finished the neckline.  Oh, yes, I also interfaced the neckline with silk organza.


The cap sleeves from the pattern have a small embroidery stitched on them, and are also lined with batiste.


The front “belt” is FSL embroidery from the Martha Pullen/Zundt CD, Vol. 3.  The lace was stitched on WSS, soaked, and then stitched on top of the finished waistline seam.


The back waist is finished with a big silk organza sash.

Then, to top everything off, I added some hot-fix Swarovski crystals.  You can see them in the previous photos accenting the embroidery on the skirt front (I didn’t add the crystals to the skirt back,) sleeves, bodice, and belt.


I even added them to the dark gray pearl buttons after they were sewn on!

I no longer have this dress, so I’m glad I took lots of photos.  I hope this and the previous post give you ideas on how to take a basic existing pattern and change it up in lots of ways.


Lots of people have enjoyed my “Rose” pattern, available in girls’ sizes 2 through 12. Here are several versions of the dress for your viewing pleasure! 🙂

This was one of the two original dresses I made for my pattern. It appeared in Sew Beautiful Issue 134 in 2011.


It was made of soft white cotton sateen, with silk organza at the neck, sleeves, and hem, trimmed with Maline lace.

This is the other version of the dress in the pattern

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It is bubble-gum pink Thai silk, with cap sleeves, a bubble skirt, and smocked inserts at the neckline and sleeves.

Here is another version I made a couple of years later


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You can see that this is made like the soft white dress, but in casual fabrics, a cotton print from Fabric Finders and tiny cotton gingham. The fringe flowers are an OESD embroidery design.

Finally, here is a dress from the pattern which I taught as a class a couple of times. It has the bodice and skirt of the first dress, with the cap sleeves of the pink dress. It is made of white Swiss cotton sateen and silk organza. Instead of lace, I embellished with Zundt embroideries, with careful placement across the seamlines.


Zundtdress2 Zundtdress3

Zundtdress4 Zundtdress5

This Magazine Changed My Life

In December of 1988, I saw this issue of Sew Beautiful on the magazine rack at a grocery store.  I picked it up, looked through it, and felt prickles go up and down my neck.  I knew how to sew very well, but I had grown up on a Missouri farm, and had never before seen such lacy confections!  I was immediately hooked.  I knew I would try my hand at this new-to-me type of sewing.


In that time before online shopping, I was lucky to find a few kinds of heirloom laces and some Imperial batiste at a machine dealership about 50 miles from my home.  I read and re-read the magazine, and also Mildred Turner’s book, which I got at that same store.


Okay, so heirloom sewing isn’t hard, it just requires certain materials and techniques, and attention to detail.  I’m really good at that “attention to detail” part, so with the book and magazine and some batiste and lace, I was off and running!

This is the first heirloom dress I made.  I don’t know what the basic pattern was, probably a McCall’s/Simplicity/Butterick that I adapted.  The sleeves and collar were from Mimi’s book.


The dress is pale pink Imperial batiste and narrow (really too narrow for the templates, but it’s what I could find) white French Val insertion and edging.  There are teardrop insertion shapes on the collar, and a double row of scallops on the sleeves.  I used serger thread, which was the finest thread I could get.

Annie wore the dress for Easter 1989.  And don’t you love David’s expression?!

048 Easter 98

Unfortunately, I no longer have that dress.  It was probably loaned to a friend, and never made it back home.  But I do have the second heirloom dress I made!  This one was made from real Nelona Swiss batiste and Swiss embroideries.  The basic pattern was one from one of those early Sew Beautiful magazines.


Surprisingly, the Swiss insertion and edging were purchased a couple of years before this, before I discovered Sew Beautiful.  I got them at Eunice Farmer’s store in St. Louis, because I thought then, and still do, that they were some of the most beautiful trims I had ever seen.



I remember that when I called Martha Pullen Co. to order the precious Nelona, Kathy McMakin answered the phone and took my order!

Well, that magazine was the start of an amazing journey for me!  Soon, I was sewing and writing and teaching for Martha Pullen Co.  I am so grateful for the opportunities this gave me!  At the time, I had two lovely children, but was in a dismal marriage.  The ability to stretch my creativity, do things I had never imagined myself doing, and create so many beautiful things gave me a self-confidence that eventually helped me to get out of that dismal marriage and then later marry a wonderful, supportive man.

Fast forward 26 years… I have authored two books, had my work featured in countless books and magazines, won top prizes at major quilt shows, taped a Craftsy class, and have four quilts in the National Quilt Museum.  Yes, I’ve endured my share of heartbreak and tragedy – no one is spared that.  But what a ride for a farm girl with a chemistry degree!  Just last week I went to Albuquerque, NM, because my quilt “Snow Flowers” won the “Best Home Machine Quilted” award (and $3500!) at the AQS show there.



Snow Flowers-detail

Just like those white dresses, white quilts are difficult to photograph!  But you can clearly see the heirloom influence – lace insertions and edgings on a quilt!

I wonder what will be on the journey next?