Pincushion Presents

A few years ago Kathy C. made me a bottle cap pincushion as a Lake Tahoe quilt retreat gift. I thought it was adorable, but it took me awhile to realize

how useful it is. I wound up keeping it in my binding box (a former stationary box in which I keep needles, thread, Thread Heaven, clips, and now, this pin cushion, all in preparation for binding quilts at a moment’s notice). It’s so useful that I decided to make them for my bookgroup and a few other friends for Christmas. 

Here’s how many I’ve made so far (minus one, which I gave to a quilting friend in Berkeley). I started working on them this summer at the lake and really enjoyed combining the wool felt colors (small pieces purchased from Wooly Lady) with learning new stitches. I used Valdani thread for the embroidery. 
I wish I could get the tops to be a little smoother and less “cupcake-like,” but they function as they were designed to do, so I guess I shouldn’t worry too much. My bookgroup seemed to like them—I also included a pack of my favorite pins with each one. 
Our bookgroup holiday party is always so much fun and a true tradition at this point—our group has been together for more than 20 years. We exchange gifts—some handmade and some not, depending on how busy we’ve been—and cookies. This year Anne also made us a lovely soup and salad supper. 
Happy Holidays to you and yours!

Spring Quilt Market Update #2

The adventure continues…

By the time we got our act together to organize our trip, hotels near the Portland Convention Center were full. But Greta got us a lovely condo across the river and each morning we got to cross this bridge. It enabled us to see geese, rowers, bicyclists, and a section of the Portland marathon. (The biggest challenge was crossing the morning of the Heartlandia walk. Literally thousands of people were walking in the opposite direction, but we managed to part the sea of humanity and cross over.)

Here’s more of what I saw at Market:

Echino bags in the Seven Islands booth
Loved the subtle piecing on these Seven Islands aprons
Neons from Michael Miller. I was standing next to one of the women from the Portland Modern Quilt guild who had stitched two of the quilt’s blocks but never seen the completed top. She was so excited to see her work on display.
Tula Pink’s booth
Super-excited to meet Sherri McConnell of A Quilting Life. We both blog for Moda’s Cutting Table, but had never met in person. She’s a real sweetie and was helping Camille Roskelly with her booth (and had sewn some quilts for her, including the one she’s standing by, above).
Fig Tree Quilts booth
Each fabric collection shown in Free Spirit’s booth included a piece of clothing stitched from the collection—garments were a true trend at Market.( That’s Amy Butler on the left, checking out a visitor’s bracelet.)
And not exactly part of the garment trend, but this incredible selvedge dress was the star of RicRac’s booth 
Iowa, represent! We join our other eastern Iowa buddy Vanessa Christensen, in her Simply Style booth (and check out her dress—she added a strip of her fabric to the bottom of a Target dress—she’s not just cute, she’s’ clever). 
Loved the big stitching on this quilt by Jen Kingwell
The garment theme continues at Monaluna’s booth
Butterflies flit across the walls of the Art Gallery Pure Elements booth
Nobody uses color and pattern quite like Sandy Klop of American Jane (for Moda)
Another Market trend was pink and orange. Here, Kanvas fabrics did it up with festive tissue-paper flowers.
When Market ended, we treated ourselves to a day-and-a-half of play in Portland. One of our first stops was Cargo, in the Pearl District, which offered an incredible array of Asian antiques and imports, with prices that ranged from less than a dollar to thousands.

Cargo whistles

We sampled the beer at a couple of brew pubs, including Deschutes, where we stopped for lunch.

We stopped at Front Porch, which has a sister store in Des Moines, and ran our fingers over the blankets.
The next day we had some fantastic Indian food at Bollywood Theater

And we ended our day at the Rose Garden.

Thanks, Portland, for a lovely week! And thanks, too, to the folks who work so hard to make Quilt Market happen. It was great to go, and great to be home.

Quilt Market update coming!

I promise, it’s on the way. But I also covered Quilt Market for True Up and Quilt Country and I have a few deadlines I need to hit. So while you’re waiting, check out my post on True Up about Penguin and Fish, longtime favorites. Alyssa’s designs captivated me the first time I saw her at Market and she and her husband Jon are great people, too.

One of my favorite designs of Alyssa’s was this cheerful budgie, which prompted some memories. When my husband and I were first married we got a blue parakeet and named him Floyd, (after the barber on Andy of Mayberry, of course). I’d never had a bird and couldn’t imagine they’d have much personality, but boy was I wrong. Floyd would perch on our shoulders and loved to play fight with my pen when I was trying to pay bills or write letters. One sad night we left both his cage and a screen-less window open and in the morning Floyd was gone. I posted Missing signs on telephone poles and walked around the neighborhood for days, calling “Floyd, Floyd” up into treetops. Unfortunately, it rained for three days straight after his escape and we figured he wouldn’t have lasted long in that, although he was so friendly I thought he might land on someone’s shoulder. We consoled ourselves by thinking about the incredible rush he must have felt when he flew out that third floor window and soared for blocks.

Thanks, Alyssa, for reminding us of Floyd.

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.

Sewing with Friends

Sewing days with friends are a great way to kill two birds with one stone (a rather harsh analogy for such a pleasant way to spend an afternoon). When life is so busy I find the only time I see my friends is if I’ve got something on the calendar with them. A case in point are my two book groups and Scrabble group, in which the main point of the gatherings is catching up with dear friends and knowing that I’ll see them at regular intervals, even if we haven’t made time to go to lunch or grab a cup of coffee. I love books and playing Scrabble, but the contact and conversation are the important bits.

Regular sewing dates can be equally as satisfying. For awhile my friend Kristin and I were planning monthly sessions and it was not only wonderful to chat with her about life in general and sewing in particular, but we both kept projects on track when we knew we had a day set aside to work on them. Sadly, I got busy with work and they fell by the wayside.

Nearly three months ago Codi and I had a sewing afternoon and it was a fantastic reminder of how fun and productive it can be to set aside sewing time with a buddy. I was working on my first quilt with my Featherweight (it’s a gift, so I can’t show it yet…just got it back from the quilter) and Codi brought several projects she’d started but not quite finished. I can’t remember how many she whipped through, but I thought you’d enjoy seeing some shots of her mini-quilt, a project she started more than a year ago when we had a little quilting group meeting at Home Ec. (It’s where I started my triangle corner scrap quilt.) I love the big stitching on the red background (and the way her polka-dot sweatshirt perfectly complements the fabric in the leaves).

Now that I’ve written this post, I think I need to call up a friend and get another sewing date on that calendar! Here’s to sewing with friends!

Heading to Houston

Does Pearl look a tad miffed in her stitched portrait? It’s likely because I’m once again leaving her behind. I’m off to Quilt Market. Photos and commentary to come!

(This amazing Pearl portrait was created from a photo by Codi and Alisa at Home Ec Workshop. Check out their shop window for lots of other critters, some nearly as cute as Pearl.)

A Real Headache

The daughter of some friends recently underwent surgery for a brain tumor. She’s a college student, 20 years old, and it was a frightening event for all concerned—hell, it was every parent’s worst nightmare.

Despite this, her parents were paragons of calm—the mom told me that she felt that she needed to hold it together so that her daughter wouldn’t be even more frightened before the surgery, but that she sobbed after leaving her daughter en route to the surgical suite.

Fortunately, things seem to be going well. The tumor was benign, and though she had to be re-hospitalized for a few days, she’s home and the stitches are out.

While friends brought the family meals, and while I knew that was highly useful, I decided on a (totally impractical, particularly for a 20-year-old young woman) sock monkey. This time, I followed the directions while making the monkey. E’s school colors are red and black, so I made a hat from a crimson baseball sock and embroidered a black “E” across the front. Then I made a pair of crossed band-aids from wool and french knots and stitched them on the head, where they can be hidden under the hat. (Indeed, I got the sweetest thank you note from E, who said that now that she’d gotten her stitches out she had one less thing in common with the monkey.) I used scraps of my Woolylady wool for both the band-aids and eyes and was reminded what a pleasure stitching through wool can be…like butteh!

I was a little worried about giving her this rather odd gift, as I don’t know E all that well, but was gratified that the entire time I visited she kept the monkey in her lap. And I am so, so happy that she seems to be doing so well. I think their experience is part of what informed the last paragraph I wrote for my recent Etsy post on The Oxford Project: “Sorrow and fear, passion and joy will find you, and the completely unexpected can happen whether you strike out for parts unknown or move just down the block.”

Clothespin Pleasures

People who hang out clothes get lots of environmental brownie points. But long before clotheslines represented doing without for the greater good, I loved to clip sheets, sleepers, and socks to the line. I actually felt guilty about taking the time to do something so pleasurable rather than using the much quicker and more efficient dryer. Hanging clothes on the line was and still is my very own brand of hedonism.
The appeal is not just the smell of freshly hung clothes, or the fact that once hung, many need no ironing. And it’s not just feeling the sun on my back or hearing the wind swish through the walnut trees, or of catching sight of kingbirds chasing white moths or the oranges and pinks of blooming daylilies. 
It’s the way clotheslines display textiles, threads splayed to catch the sun. And I get to handle each piece of fabric twice…once in it’s limp, mangled, wet stage and again when it’s crisp and flapping. And when I do I am reminded of where each textile fits into my life. The red-and-blue dishtowels I wove more than 15 years ago that still get used weekly, the hand towels monogrammed by my mom, even the rags that used to be my favorite nightgown or a diaper that belonged to my now-grown children—these fabric bits and pieces conjure everyday kinds of happiness. 
I adore my antique quilt and the silk-embroidered table runner from Iraq, textiles so precious that I protect them from fading and friction. But my clothesline let’s me feel the density of knit sweatshirts, the airiness of linen skirts, the raised stitching on days-of-the-week dishtowels. It feeds my obsession for the tactile and visual elements of textiles, past and present, and lets the daydreams and memories unfold with the napkins and fly with the sheets.

A Chip Off the Old Sock: The Road Trip

It was back in December that I learned that the official socks for creating sock monkeys are made in Iowa. The Etsy story that appeared today has been planned since then, but it wasn’t until three weeks ago that Emily Martin and I took a road trip to Osage and Fox River Mills. Of course we felt it was necessary to take a sock monkey along for the ride and so my orthopedically challenged monkey, Jockoline, rode safely in the back seat.

 We stopped along the way to see Iowa’s Largest Frying Pan (in Brandon), to gas up, and for lunch at the Teluwat restaurant (seriously good pork products).

Gassing up in Floyd

Emily shares the menu with Jockoline (she can’t read)

After dining, we found Fox River Mills. You’d think that given it’s the largest employer (around 200 employees) in the county that wouldn’t have been hard, but somehow we got lost and had to ask people who were outside raking their lawns for directions. Once there, I made Emily leave Jockoline in the car (Emily is shameless, but I had to remind her I was there for professional reasons and walking in with a sock monkey might have clued them in to my true nature).

Sock critters from the Fox River Mills collection

We were greeted by Mike (PR) and Rebecca (who self-identified as the VP for Monkey Business) and taken to a conference room where they’d laid out sock monkey photos from their history files, along with examples of socks and monkeys they had in their collection. It was a fascinating tale (see Etsy story for background) and I loved the way they embraced the tradition.

 Along the wall of the conference room was sock after sock…Fox River produces 140 styles, but the original Rockford Red-Heels are one of the best sellers (Rebecca said some people even wear them).

After our history lesson, Mike took Emily and me on a factory tour. There is something so magical about a the interwoven nature of machinery and workers on a factory floor (The lede I wrote for this Etsy post is about what I saw at Fox River Mills.) The factory was huge and spotlessly clean. (Emily noted later that she’d just been reading about the Triangle Shirtwaist Factory fire and that one of the things that made it so flammable was that everything, including the workers, was covered with lint. At Fox River each knitting machine had a suction tube that was collecting lint and moving it overhead to an area where it was recycled for stuffing. Green technology and recycling efforts are a big part of the philosophy of the mill.)

Newly knitted sock before it’s sucked into a pneumatic tube

Socks await toe-sewing

Hundreds of knitting machines turned out sock after sock, and these were sucked overhead in pneumatic tubes, inspected and sorted. Stacks awaited the workers who readied the socks for the machines that stitched the toes. Enormous laundry facilities took care of the washing and drying and then socks were stretched on sock-shaped forms and put through an iron/steamer to make them flat and tidy. Finally they were folded and fed into a machine that labeled them and inserted the plastic loop on which they hang on store walls. Throughout, giant, wheeled bins held socks awaiting the next step of the process. We also got to see the warehouse and area where they sell socks directly to the public (via their online store). A totally fascinating afternoon.

Emily inspects an older knitting machine

Sock monkey swag

I am a major fan of cozy socks and was fortunate to be given a sample of one of Fox River’s light hiking socks and I’m a convert. Not only am I so happy to be able to support an Iowa business, but I’m thrilled that I’ll be so very comfortable doing so. I also got a copy of their pattern book and plan to make a sock critter one of these days. I’m thinking a dachshund might be just the thing.

Next post, I’ll share some photos of Todd Thelen’s sock monkey collection that I photographed for the Etsy post. Lots more good monkeys!

Crafting ADHD

Yes, I’m a quilter, but I can’t just leave it at that. Years ago I was a spinner and weaver, I’ve always been a knitter, and I love to sew all kinds of things that don’t qualify as quilts. I’ve covered a birdbath with broken pottery, used boxes and fabric to make doll furniture, and heck, was even an elementary school art teacher for awhile, so you know I’ve tried every craft in the book. That’s why I understood when a woman I recently met told me she had “crafting ADHD.”

A couple of weeks ago I finished a big project and as a treat to myself I decided to give in to my love of all crafts and signed up for two classes at Home Ec. The first was something called Gujarati embroidery. I was a big embroidery buff during my college years (a few samples from my blue chambray “work shirt” and a patch for jeans) and keep wanting to get back to it. So, although I had no idea what Gujarati embroidery was, I decided to give it a try.

The floppy-looking framework for the embroidery at left

Turns out that Gujarati is a region of India and this embroidery hails from there. Our teacher learned it as a young girl (in 1953!) from an Indian man who stayed with her family when they lived in Costa Rica. She was a great teacher and actually gave each of us in the class a sample of the technique stitched out step-by-step on muslin. Good thing, because I certainly had to refer back to it time and again.

The back of Gujarati embroidery

The really amazing thing about this is when you turn it over and look at the back, you realize that there are very few stitches showing. You create a framework and then you weave your thread in and out to create a design. We learned two types of embroidery—one in which the motif’s center is filled with thread and one in which it is empty.

Most traditional Gujarati embroidery seems to be one color, but starting with two colors helped us see where we were going. It was a fairly tricky technique to learn, but once I got the basics I could move on to the more complicated patterns. I even made a Christmas ornament using the design as it reminded me of a snowflake…will wait to show that closer to the holidays.

Filled center embroidery at left, open center at right

And as often happens, the first week I learned Gujarati embroidery I went home and read the word “Gujarati” in the book I was reading…Cutting for Stone by Abraham Verghese. I’d had the book on my shelf since March 2009 and finally read it. Recommended—a compelling read. And I’ll tell you about my other class in the next post.