Rhubarb Dreams

I have lots of quilt-related photos to post…one of these days. But for today, I’m touting rhubarb.


Short version: Years ago we made rhubarb simple syrup as a basis for rhubararitas—rhubarb margaritas. They were a hit and I wanted to make them this week for my youngest daughter, who’ll be home for a wedding. Yesterday I combined two cups of water, two cups of sugar, and a pound of cut up rhubarb and simmered for 20 minutes, This morning I mixed the “dregs”— the well-cooked rhubarb solids left after pouring off the simple syrup—in my plain yogurt it was deeeelicious! Looking forward to the simple syrup, too. (This drink sounded also sounds like a good way to use it: The Rhubarb 75.)

My dad and daughter toasting with their rhubarbaritas in 2010

Rhubarb is one of those fruits (really it’s a vegetable) that I just can’t bring myself to pay for—it seems to grow like a weed and lines the alleys of old neighborhoods in Iowa City. I haven’t have success growing it at my house though, perhaps because I planted it in the backyard, too close to three huge walnut trees. So if a friend didn’t share rhubarb from their bounteous patch, I often went without.

Last fall we redid some landscaping in our front yard and I realized that the side of my garage—nearly hidden from view but warm and sunny, would be the perfect spot for rhubarb, which once it’s established can be neglected. The big leaves would help keep the weeds down and I’d have all the rhubarb I wanted. I bought two plants and got two from my friend Anne, who has an enormous patch on her farm, and it’s those latter two that have grown like crazy and that I was able to harvest.

My sister with our 2010 rhubarb simple syrup

I didn’t grow up with rhubarb, as it doesn’t do well in southern California, but I learned to love it at my Aunt Marcia’s farm in Minnesota. Her rule was that you could pick it until the 4th of July, and I’m looking forward to more rhubarb this year, and lots more next year, when it’s all better established. My rhubarb dream—an unlimited supply that I’ll never have to pay for—is coming true.

It’s a New Year! Looking Back and Looking Forward

It’s been two full months since I last wrote. There are lots of reasons why, including the suspicion that blogging may be on the way out and time is best spent elsewhere. But much of it has been about a phase of my life, one that involves adult children and elderly relatives, career successes and considering what’s next, all mixed with the usual anxiety, guilt, and pleasures that come day-to-day.

Stockings for a class I taught at Home Ec, and for the public library holiday bazaar

I last wrote about my surgery, and while the result has been great—most people don’t seem to notice the scar or are at least kind enough to say they don’t—it took me out of circulation for most of November. Then I had two sets of houseguests, work at Home Ec, and work deadlines. I had to decline some work and missed some deadlines on other jobs, which is not my style at all and still grates on me. But my houseguests were important people in my life and I wanted to be with them,

Now I’m looking forward, toward the publication of Art Quilts of the Midwest, and thinking about how to do some publicity. It’s looking like marketing the book will be almost as time consuming as writing it. But I can’t wait for the day (next month!) when I get to finally see the finished book.

I’ve done a bit of sewing (the stockings above and a few other small projects), but I’ve been knitting like a fiend. Below are some cowls I finished up in time for holiday giving.

And though this poor blog has been neglected, I do keep up with Instagram. I love seeing what folks are up to, catching a brief glimpse into their lives, giving them a thumbs-up or making a brief comment, and moving along. I’m not so good at Facebook or keeping up with this blog, but if you’re interested in what I’m up to, Instagram is a good place to find out. Follow me at @seamswrite and let me know your IG name and I’ll follow you, too!

Sleepless Nights

Last night I went to bed late. I’d gotten up early and been at physical therapy (bunged my knee) at 7:40 a.m. I’d done an hour-and-a-half phone interview, written a bit, then worked at Home Ec for five hours, most of that spent on my feet. I knocked off a little early, at 7 p.m., so I could attend a knitting class to learn to knit Elizabeth Zimmerman’s Baby Surprise Jacket.

I’ve been knitting a lot this winter, and most of it has been pretty basic. I did do a lace knit hat, which was new to me, but otherwise nothing required a lot of attention. Which is just how I like it—I love knitting while watching TV or on a car or plane trip. But this jacket was so adorable and I decided I was up for the challenge.

Our teacher, Greg, is an incredible knitter and has knitted at least 30 of these jackets. Once the knitted piece is folded and sewn, it’s an adorable and completely recognizable sweater. But before being stitched up it looks, as a member of the class said, like some kind of weird woodland fungus. Just getting my mind around how it would work out was a challenge. And then Greg said we’d be happiest if we did a provisional cast on. It took me about half the class to figure out how to make my fingers accomplish that, and another bunch of time to count the darned wonky stitches. And then there are the knitting acronyms I wasn’t familiar with, and the fact that they could be done multiple ways for different effects (three methods for a double decrease).

White shape is the knitted shape before folding and stitching together: finished, striped sweater at the bottom

I decided to come home immediately and knit a bunch of rows so I wouldn’t forget what we were supposed to do. So I sat up until nearly 11 and lo and behold, I seemed to be doing it right. It took a lot of concentration, but I had it!

Then I went to bed and tossed and turned for nearly two hours. The only thing I can imagine that kept me up was the sheer stimulation of learning all that stuff. My brain hurt. I was so excited about what I did that I didn’t think I could do (provisional casting on—too hard!) and those double decreases via a second method. Turns out that just like they say about exercising or using your computer too close to bedtime, crafting late doesn’t make for much shut eye. Years ago I interviewed Heather Bailey and I remember her telling me that she couldn’t think about fabric designs too late at night or design ideas would flash through her head like a slide show, one after the other. No doubt about it: creating is exciting.

A workshop with Crazy Mom Quilts’ Amanda Jean

Amanda Jean’s slabs and strings

Our guild lined up Amanda Jean Nyberg, co-author of Sunday Morning Quilts, for a workshop and I signed up immediately. I had the pleasure of interviewing her and Cheryl Arkison for an Etsy story and really enjoyed talking with them and their entire philosophy of saving scraps. I don’t know about you, but I can’t throw scraps away. Actually, I’ll bet that you can’t either. I go through phases, where I save even the little triangles I’ve cut from joining binding strips. I admit that eventually I’ve tossed them, but now that I’ve had a class with Amanda Jean, I wish I hadn’t!

My scraps

Scraps can be overwhelming, and the goal behind Sunday Morning Quilts is to help them be less so, to make them actually useful. Our class started with a discussion of sorting scraps (Amanda Jean and her friend Pam even brought a set of scrappy sorting boxes) and sorting our own took some time. But it did make them more useable. I was trimming some blocks I’d made from my scraps and Amanda Jean came by and there was a tiny little square—maybe 1.5 by 1.5 inches—that I’d cut off the end and she confessed that she saves even those. Her frugality is matched by her creativity, and she puts these scraps to really great uses.

Amanda Jean’s high-and-low volume quilt, Shady

One thing I enjoyed seeing was that even though her aesthetic is scrappy, she has a “look,” a clear, colorful palette that shows up time and again in her quilts. I felt quite inspired and started with a log-cabinish block of multicolored scraps.

My slab

I decided, however, to limit my palette and went for blue, green, and yellow with a bit of grey and was quite enjoying that. I’m not sure yet what I’ll do with the bit I made, but I do think I’ll keep at it, as I have a ton of scraps in these colors.

Amanda Jean laying out gum drops

If you ever get the chance to take a workshop with Amanda Jean, don’t hesitate. She’s funny, friendly, and spends a lot of time walking around and talking through issues with quilters. A day well spent!

Scrap baskets, rug knitted from selvedges and strings, and 2.5 inch square quilt
My friend Kristin’s slabs. We bought that dark blue fabric together six or seven years ago and both used scraps of it in our slabs.

Double-cross Quilt

My 8 small cross blocks

I’ll hold off on sharing my shirt, because it needs some size adjustment (just learned the acronym FBA—full bust adjustment—which is what apparently I need to do to take in the excess under the arms while still making it fit across my chest).

Erick “squaring up” my blocks—a relative term for this quilt

But I’m happy to share the finished quilt top I made for my class with Erick Wolfmeyer at Home Ec. I was having one of those days when my brain just wasn’t firing on all cylinders and Erick helped me out—cutting and ripping.

Emily and her scrap quilt—she’s wearing a skirt stitched from one of the quilt fabrics

We all arrived in class with our 8 small crosses (and a few of us had 9 and had to decide which one to omit). Then it was time to decide on fabrics for the big crosses and how to arrange the 8 small ones. All of this required a lot of shifting and standing back and squinting. But each of us (save one person who had to leave early) finished our tops. It was a great lesson in color and in loosening up, as the quilt’s so wonky. I love how differently they all turned out! And once again Erick was terrific—and even stayed late so we could go home with finished tops.

Maureen and her butterscotch and blue quilt
Lisa and her neutrals—she’s going to make 4 more for a queen-sized quilt

I still feel a little like I’ve made a quilt for a clown (baby), but Erick said it reminded him of the alebrijes I have all over my house, and that made me feel that perhaps I have a consistent (highly colorful) aesthetic.

My finished top

It Never Rains but It Pours

That old saying certainly applies to Iowa City weather just now. I don’t think I’ve ever seen the roses as beautiful as they are this year and it suddenly dawned on me that it’s because the climate is mimicking Portland’s (aka The City of Roses) to a tee—cool temps, cloudy skies, and plenty of moisture. This rose was climbing up a trellis at a friend’s home.

But the phrase also applies to my current forays into sewing. I’m still working to finish a many-pieced quilt, but couldn’t resist taking a pair of Home Ec classes. On Saturday I attended the first session of a quilt class taught by Erick Wolfmeyer, about whom I’ve had the opportunity to write a couple of times (here’s one of them). He taught a pattern by a designer whom I was unfamiliar with, but whose work I’m loving—Pam Rocco.

Erick’s got a terrific color sense and having him help sort through our fabrics was fantastic. I somehow had far more fabric than anyone else…now how could that be possible?

Here’s a shot of each of our first blocks—one person’s working in neutrals, one in all prints, one in batiks. Guess what? I’m working in brights. At one point I said I felt like I was making a quilt for a clown. We’ll see how it shakes out. Session two is next Saturday.

On Thursday I took a class in which we made the Colette Sorbetto top. It’s a free, downloadable pattern, but it’s been so long since I made any clothing (especially any that fit, save the bias skirt I made at Home Ec), that I wanted help with that aspect of things. I’ll post more on that next time, but suffice it to say, I’m loving it. Forget cooking, gardening, exercising, and working…Can I please just sew all the time?

Crafty Classes Update

Elfin Bonnet from the front

So, my week of lots of work-related deadlines has most fortunately been punctuated by opportunities to get my hands on fabric and yarn. First up was a knitting class with Master Knitter Lisa Wilcox Case. When I saw the hat in Home Ec (and felt it—knit from the springiest, softest merino Millamia), I had to make one.

Such a cute side detail!

Lisa calls it the Elfin Baby Bonnet and she recreated the pattern from one that an elderly neighbor gave her when she was in college. She described a woman who lived alone, across the hall, and knit hats for babies. Lisa still had the pattern the woman shared with her, typed up on an index card like a recipe. The construction of the hat is so cool—you knit it flat, then fold it in half and use a three-needle bind off to “stitch” the two sides together. Lisa hopes to have the pattern available on Ravelry soon. I knit a red one, and bought a different yarn yesterday to make a pink one. With spring coming, these may not be appropriate gifts for babies for awhile, but I’ll have a nice gift stash for next fall and winter.

Then yesterday I taught my first quilting class. I was a little nervous—Would people like it, would it be enough to fill the time? It turned out that I knew all four of my students, some long-time friends and some new friends, so that helped with the nerves.

The group discusses layout possibilities for HSTs

It was so much fun to catch up with them, find out about the connections between them, and watch their very different fabric choices become half-square triangles. I can’t wait to see what they ultimately do with their squares. And I hope they enjoyed the class.

Nora and her HST blocks-a pillow for her bed?

It’s always surprising to learn that you know something other people don’t…it’s easy to just assume what you know is common knowledge. But in hindsight I am grateful to my half-square triangle sweat shop for making me adept enough at half-square triangle-making to share it with others.

Maureen and her Heather Ross-polka dot HSTs

And everyone agreed that Laundry Basket Quilts Triangle Papers are a pretty nifty tool.

Half Square Triangles: Please Sir, Can I Make Some More?

After all my whining about my half-square triangle sweat shop, I realized that I’d gotten really good at making them. And that I was getting a little excited thinking about how I’d arrange mine when they arrive. So when Codi was talking about adding some quilting classes at Home Ec, I volunteered to teach one on half-square triangles.

These fabrics are from Jessica Swift’s Blomma by Anna Griffin Blend 

While they’re pretty simple to make, I have learned a few tricks along the way. If you’re in the area and interested in joining the half-square triangle mania, here’s a link to the class. It’s perfect for those who are just getting interested in quilting but have basic sewing skills. We’ll make enough half-square triangles to make a pillow top or get a good start on a baby quilt.

P.S. In case you’re not a lover of musicals, the title of this post is a riff on a line from Oliver! Not a great riff but hey, it’s the best I could do with what I’ve got. Which is not enough caffeine. 

Back to School: The Pleasures and Purposes of Taking Craft Classes

The newspaper pattern we created to make a-line skirts

 I am one of those people who can’t resist things. I cut out myriad recipes, planning to try luscious-sounding new foods; I get intrigued by threads of conversation that lead to story ideas and want to follow through and write them all; and of course, I’m a sucker for every new crafting idea that comes my way. As someone who writes about artists and designers, that’s a heck of a lot of ideas.

Granny square class

For me, taking classes is one of the best ways to give in to my multi-crafting urge. I can buy books and materials, but actually sitting down and committing a several-hour block of time to use them is hard. There is something about paying for a class and putting it on my calendar that gives me permission to devote the time to trying something new.

South African embroidery in progress

In the past couple of months I’ve taken two classes taught by Alisa at Home Ec—one sewing a skirt (from a pattern we learned to make ourselves!) and another on crocheting a granny square (something I’d done in college, but not since). Also at Home Ec I took a class on South African embroidery (taught by Catherine Redford), and knitting a hat (taught by Jenny Gordy). I’ve done all these things previously in one form or another, but in each class I was reminded of what I enjoyed about that particular craft and I learned something new (last week in my hat class Jenny taught us a cool way to join stitches while knitting on circular needles). I get to handle new materials and use some old ones (I’d bought the fabric for my skirt at a Quilt Market six months ago, but wasn’t quite sure what to do with it.)

Jenny Gordy (Wiksten) hat with bobbles

So here are photos from my classes—I finished the skirt the same afternoon I started it, but the other projects aren’t yet finished. Those resulting UFOs are probably one of the biggest problems with taking classes. I sometimes question whether flitting from craft-to-craft is wise—after all, I have at least five unfinished quilt projects in my sewing room just waiting for me to devote time and attention to them. But I tell myself that some day these skills will all be waiting for me, as will the time to use them.

Happy Thanksgiving to my U.S. readers! Hope you find some time to sit and stitch this coming weekend.

Time to Sew

Just returned from Lake Tahoe, site of a retreat I’ve attended the last few years (here, here, and here). I’ve so enjoyed getting to know and learn from the women in the group. While it feels more than a little indulgent to travel across the country (with 49 pounds of fabric in a check-on bag and my Featherweight in a carry-on), the opportunity to get input and insight on technique, color, scale, block placement, etc. is invaluable.

This group is super-experienced and there are both teachers and students who have attended many workshops with a variety of instructors (everyone has taken a class from Mary Lou Weidman, who was also in attendance) and I learn so much from them each time. The sad truth of my life is that while I get to talk with and write about passionate stitchers, I don’t have much time for my own sewing these days. So the time to just focus and sew, surrounded by friends who would stop what they were doing to provide suggestions and commentary (when asked for, of course) was fantastic. It was also a little bittersweet, as Lynn passed away this summer and her ready laugh and talents were greatly missed. But we were blessed to have De and Sue back with us, along with Sue’s niece Linda. They’d been in a terrible car accident just before last year’s retreat and their return marked a year of recovery. They were both stitching up a storm.

Strips cut in preparation for my hexagon quilt

So here are some photos of the week. There are so many that I’ll spread them out over two posts.

I leave tomorrow for Quilt Market, so expect some posts about that very soon, too!

Debby’s quilts, inspired by a Gwen Marston workshop

Kathy’s finished story quilt about her dogs, who bark at the Blimp!

Linda’s completed quilt
Mel‘s witch blocks surround a haunted house she based on her son’s drawing. Note her flying geese/witch hat border and the name quilt—she stitched one for each of us!
Yes, we saw a bear, although if Debby hadn’t shouted “Look!” we probably would have missed it as our heads were all bent over our sewing machines.