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!

Sewing with the one who taught me

I spent a few days visiting my folks in southern California. One of the more fun things I did was to sew with my mom. She’s in her mid-80s and has Parkinson’s, but she’s determined to keep stitching.

She does seem to have a knack, however, for picking complicated projects. When I got there she had been working on a bag that had some really bad instructions and was feeling frustrated. I helped her finish it (and could certainly understand her frustration when I read the methods used in making the bag). Fortunately, she was happy with the end result (below).

Another afternoon we went to a quilt shop we’d visited previously in Orange, the Orange Quilt Bee. They have a great selection of fabrics and patterns and I wanted to find some patterns to try that had more clearcut instructions. We also got fabric to make pillowcases. Here’s the one she made while I was visiting, and when I called tonight she said she’s been making more.

We also stitched up an iPad cover, the Pocket Portfolio by Swirly Girls from some wonderful, traditional blues and were delighted with the pattern instructions and the result. Unfortunately I don’t have a photo of the finished piece.

I liked the fabric she picked for her pillowcase so much that I’m planning to make Cindy Taylor Oate’s Sit and Stitch Pincushion from the same combination—when I left, my mom hadn’t started this yet. I’m hoping to make mine while we’re on vacation in a couple of weeks. It was fun to sew with the one who taught me. Wish we lived closer so we could do it more often.

No, Pearl, No!

Pearl feigning nonchalance

When I was visiting my folks in Southern California, my mom and I happened upon a great shop in Laguna Hills: Sewing Party. They had some fantastic samples and their classroom was buzzing with activity. My mom was so inspired that she had my dad take her back the next day and she bought the Harlequin pillow pattern (which also includes this smaller, pin cushion version).

She asked me to clarify the instructions on the pin cushion portion of the pattern and so I ended up making one while we were at our cabin. (Pearl was convinced it was a dog toy and would snatch it whenever I looked away.) I made two using Vanessa Christensen’s Simply Style and when I got home I made another with Carolyn Friedlander’s Architextures fabrics. I’ve also marked the quarter-inch stopping points on two more sets of squares (the most fiddly part of the process) in preparation for sewing them. If you’re in possession of any of those mini-charm packs (2.5″ squares), they work perfectly for this project. Making something three-dimensional was really a revelation.

(If you’d like to try your hand at the Harlequin pin cushion and live in the area, I’ll be teaching a class at Home Ec on Oct. 19. They’d make great holiday gifts, and wouldn’t you feel so smug having a head start on those! )

Back to Reality

Pearl the Squirrel inspecting the perfectly still lake
Just returned from vacation (sniff, sniff)—nearly two weeks at our family cabin. Though it was much cooler than usual and we weren’t able to swim or even be out on the lake much, it proved perfect for sewing.
I hauled along my trusty Featherweight and finished up my Fabric Fusion quilt that I started after a workshop with Bill Kerr of ModernQuilt Studio. It was a lot of little pieces. But I really wanted to give Bill’s (and Week’s) concept of mixing Jo Morton and Anna Maria Horner fabrics a try. The “fabric smackdown” we did in the workshop was where this started and this Brandon Mabley fabric was my initial inspiration.
These oranges and greens and reds and pinks aren’t “my” colors, either, and that provided an additional challenge. But I’m quite pleased with the end result. I used something like 38 or 39 fabrics in the quilt—including a tiny scrap of this madras plaid in the center, which I found in my mother’s sewing room, a leftover from a summer top she made me when I was in elementary school! I purchased about ten new fabrics, but the rest were from my stash and some of them were truly just scraps: the Amy Butler fabric was from my first Birdie Sling and the orange batik (top right) was from my very first quilt.
I love the crispness the white sashing provides. A highly satisfying project!
We did manage to kayak across the lake on two occasions for blueberries. That, also, was highly satisfying. Two pies and two batches of blueberry pancakes made mornings and evenings quite pleasant. 
The swimming dock, too chilly for a swim until the last day
Driftwood in a quiet bay
A wobbly panorama from my kayak on our last, finally warm and sunny, day

Belated Blogging

Guess it’s time to catch up! I have been busy with this and that, including a bit of traveling and a bit of sewing. It seems to have taken a toll on blogging. So here are some highlights.

I was super-fortunate to have both daughters home for my birthday. But did I get a photo of us all together? No. I feel quite sad about that, as it’s a rare event for us all to be in the same spot at the same time. But suffice it to say we had a wonderful long weekend that among other things, included lots of good food (like this lovely birthday cake from Deluxe, our neighborhood bakery.)

On July 4th we took our annual trek to the Hanson’s Grove Antique Sale in Solon. I just couldn’t resist this feed sack quilt. My birthday money must have been burning a hole in my pocket, because it cost just $10 more than the sum total I’d received.

I hemmed and hawed about whether to get it and wasn’t sure I should, but about an hour after I handed over the money and was still fretting a little, a woman told me she’d been standing behind me, ready to pounce on the quilt if I’d decided against it. That made me feel a bit better.

Here are some more photos of the day. We got there early and compared to last year, it was much cooler. A lovely way to start Independence Day.

Baby Sewing Machines

After delaying a trip to Minnesota due to the weather, I got brave and drove north to visit my aunt. She’s about to turn 87 and I wanted to wish her Happy Birthday in person. She’s an amazing person—still so enthusiastic about life and willing to try new things. 

She saw that the local guild was sponsoring a quilt show and off we went. There were some lovely quilts, but one of my favorite things was a sewing machine display. 
The woman who owned the machines had bunches of books identifying and dating the machines and enjoyed talking with people who came up to share stories of their own antique machines. 

I was especially taken by the toy machines. She told me that while many of them were created for children, they all actually sewed and were sometimes used by women when they traveled. I loved the decorative elements on the machines—one even had mother-of-pearl inlay. I’ve bid at auctions on a few small machines, but never been willing to shell out the big bucks for one…after seeing this display, I may change my mind.

On the Road, Again

Phew! I’m a bit discombobulated right now and I haven’t finished half this month’s comings and goings. But suffice it to say that I’m a little bit here and a lot there—there being Virginia, Minnesota, and Chicago. I love to travel, but I’m also a real homebody and so there’s always a little conflict in my soul when it’s time to head out. There’s never a trip I’m sorry I made, once I’ve made it, but I always resist going away…always!

My most recent venture was to Virginia, for my niece Anna’s vocal performance senior recital. For an hour my sisters and I and our husbands and my nephew, Anna’s brother Karl, sat dumbfounded as we listened to Anna sing. I don’t see her often and was in awe at the growth in her vocal abilities and at her stage presence. Even her parents and brother were left with their mouths hanging open. I loved the way her friends pitched in and performed parts, both from operas and musicals, to add fullness to the evening.  (That’s her to the left, wearing a honey cowl. She’s so gratifying to knit and sew for: I’ve made her two Birdie slings  —here and here—and she’s used them until they fall apart. This time she opened the honey cowl and immediately put it on and wore it all afternoon.)

Photo courtesy of VA Quilt Museum

While the event was lovely and it was fun to be with family, Virginia itself was a real highlight. Daffodils, forsythia, and budding trees gave me hope that spring might eventually come. We wandered through the farmer’s market, sampling doughnuts from Mennonite bakers and locally roasted cups of coffee. We took a little hike along a rushing stream, where bloodroot and May apples pushed up, through the forest floor. And we even stepped inside the Virginia Quilt Museum for a look at Material Witnesses, an exhibition by the Manhattan Quilter’s Guild of New York City. There were also a few Civil War quilts—so graphic and so amazingly preserved.

VA Quilt Museum civil war display—hexagons have a long history!

Heading out to MN tomorrow for a weekend with my aunt, in honor of her 87th birthday. I delayed my trip by two days, as we’ve been having torrential rains and flooding and she’s getting snow. But she says it’s for the best, because there’s a quilt show there this weekend. I’ll try and take a few photos!

Color and Texture: Spain

Walkway in Ronda

I had the great good fortune of accompanying my husband to a meeting in Southern Spain last week. We spent nine days visiting Malaga, Seville, Granada, and Ronda (part of that was meeting-time, of course, but I didn’t have to go to the meeting). The opportunity to go on these trips reminds me of what’s good about freelancing and a flexible schedule…

Dresses in the Paul Nunez shop in Seville

The Moorish influence in this region (Andalusia) meant lots of beautiful tile work that I knew would remind me of quilts. What I didn’t know was that the streets and sidewalks would all be beautifully patterned with rocks. Seriously, I don’t think I walked on a solid surface the entire time.

Sidewalk in Nerja

 The other thing we didn’t know was that it was Holy Week, or Semana Santa. The frightening-looking costumes belong not to a race-based organization, but are Nazarenes. The other stunning thing were the floats featuring life-sized, wood-carved Biblical scenes decorated with incredible silver and embroidered textiles, that were carried through the streets, sometimes for hours. The young man below is one of those carrying a float.

Hope you enjoy these!

Float carrier takes a break during a procession in Malaga
Nazarenes in Malaga procession
Nazarenes in Malaga procession
Float of the Virgin Mary being carried through the streets in Malaga
Malaga float detail
Will it rain? Float carrier in Malaga wonders
Nazarenes in Granada
Detail from the Alhambra in Granada
Arches in the Alhambra in Granada
View through the Ronda city walls
Granada windows
Shawl shop in Seville
Traditional Spanish dresses in Seville shop
Shawl detail: hand embroidered
Sevilla detail 
Sidewalk in Seville
Floor in Seville
Seville garden
Seville tile

Resolved: To Share the Holiday Glow

The month before Christmas had more than its fair share of deadlines, and Pearl the Squirrel suffered serious neglect. My Thanksgiving knitting frenzy came to an end and I spent most of my days trying to keep up with the work, while still enjoying a bit of the holidays. I did manage to see friends and host some holiday get togethers including a craft party, birthday gathering for two Scrabble friends, and a knitting night with rowing buddies. I remind myself when things are especially crazy that in a year I won’t remember how nuts I felt, but I will remember having my friends come by for food and fun.

The culminating event to all this was our family’s Christmas in Oaxaca. After our trip there last February, we decided it would be an interesting place to spend the holidays. The time crunch became even crazier as we had to leave one day early due to an airline screw-up, and then another day earlier to foil an incoming blizzard.

Thankfully all four of us managed to arrive in Oaxaca from three different parts of the country and the subsequent days were incredible—the perfect mix of sightseeing, eating and drinking, walking through town, meeting wonderful folks, and never ceasing to be surprised by the brass band or fireworks or choir concert that seemed to be taking place around every corner. (There was also an amazing line-up of brides at every church—getting married around Christmas seems highly desirable.)

We spent an especially wonderful day at Seasons of My Heart cooking school, which included a tour of the Etla Market in the morning and the opportunity to make (among other things) mole and cook on a outdoor comal in the afternoon.

And we met other wonderful tourists, as well as enjoying time with Luis, our fantastic driver and guide, and spending a bit of time with alebrije-carvers Saul and Alma Arragon.

The colors and sun of Mexico never fail to make me feel like a new woman this time of year and I feel so fortunate to have traveled there. I hope you, too, enjoyed the holidays, wherever they found you, and are feeling refreshed and ready to take on 2013.

No Turkey Duties? Try Knitting a Snoflinga…or Four

This Thanksgiving we decided to make a quick trip to Southern California to see my folks, and my youngest daughter was able to join us. (Sadly, my eldest daughter had to work—while I often rhapsodize about the joys of having adult children, it’s not always so great when they have those adult responsibilities!) Still, we managed to have a lovely time, enjoying the weather (we ate Thanksgiving dinner al fresco), the company, a few walks along the ocean, and poking about in the tide pools on Thanksgiving day.

Snoflinga in Rowan Lima

And I was a knitting maniac. Between the flight delays and flights themselves, there was lots of time sitting around. And though I was first sad when my dad said we’d go out for Thanksgiving dinner, I ended up thoroughly enjoying not doing any dishes or fretting over side dishes being done at the same time as the turkey. My dad and daughter made two pies and that was the extent of Turkey Day meal prep.

The Bean trains in pie-making with the master baker—Popsie

Below are a few photos of the weekend, including the hats. The pattern is Jenny Gordy’s Snoflinga (available here). It’s super fun to knit because it’s easy, but not boring. There are enough elements of change (including bobbles, which I simply love) to keep it interesting. I think the hat is most effective in a simple yarn, so that the lovely details show up, but I’m a sucker for variegation. I do wish my knitting was a little more even, though. Despite knitting gauge swatches for most of the hats, they vary tremendously in size. One’s too big even for my big head, and that’s after popping it in the dryer for a bit. Well, at least they’re not as enormous as previous knitting debacles.

Message to our missing family member
Snoflinga in Cascade Eco Duo
Sea anemone courtesy of Rebecca
Snoflinga in Malabrigo Rios
Father-daughter team catch some Thanksgiving rays
Mother-daughter team check out the tide pools
Snoflinga in Malabrigo Twist
The ‘rents anticipating their Thanksgiving feast