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!

Passing the Soup: A Metaphor for Being There for Friends

When I write about myself, it’s usually about my relationship with textiles. But today I’m going to share what I think is one of the loveliest and luckiest things about my life, and it’s got to do with soup.

I consider myself a pretty healthy person—I try to eat thoughtfully and moderately. I walk 3-4 miles several times a week, I do pilates twice a week, all last winter I swam between a half-mile and a mile twice a week, etc. etc. Nevertheless, I’ve wound up needing significant medical interventions in four of the last five years. It’s challenging on a number of fronts, not the least of which is because it doesn’t fit with my self-image. But what’s made it all bearable is the passing of the soup.

Pre-Soup Veggies

This past Monday, the day before I was scheduled to have significant surgery on my nose for skin cancer, my friend Emily called and said she wanted to stop by with some soup for me. She did and we chatted and she left a wonderful container of carrot-potato soup and some sweet potato pie. I had to cut our visit short because I was taking soup to my friend Greta, who had just had a baby. It made me realize how lucky I am to live where my community of friends looks out for one another in good times and bad.

This past year I’ve shared wonderful joy and deep sorrow with friends, and as much as possible I’ve tried to “pass the soup.” Often I feel guilty that for one reason or another I’m not able to make someone an entire meal and feel that the little I do is inadequate. But when it’s me on the other side, I’m reminded how there are many ways the “soup” gets passed, and how each one of those acts is meaningful and helpful.

Since my surgery, I’ve had a cadre of volunteers who arrive twice daily to walk Pearl, and who’ve brought dinner and breakfast. I’ve received flowers, take-out Thai food, cards, and phone calls. Greta’s texted me photos of her dear, sweet new baby. Everyone has their own skill set and an amount of time they’re able to give at that moment and each act of kindness adds up to an amazing whole. I’ve felt so loved and cared for during this medical incident (and the others). I hope I remember in a few weeks, when my face isn’t swathed in bandages, that no matter what I do for someone, even if it seems small, it matters. It’s worth doing.

Pass the soup. 

Tiny Bits

I’ve decided that while I’m finishing up my book (see previous post, numeral 1), the only way Pearl the Squirrel posts will exist is if they’re short and sweet. So here starts the beginning of a photo, a phrase, or a project per post. My expectations need to be low if I’m going to continue. (Yours probably already are, given the delinquency of this blog.)

So today, for your viewing pleasure, a baby blanket I knitted for my friend’s sweet baby girl. The only good thing about the very cool spring we’re having is that she’ll get to use it a little before it gets very warm, since though we had her baby shower in December, I didn’t manage to get this to her until last week. (It’s also got grey on the sides, which you can’t see in the photos. It’s knit with Classic Elite Yarns Toboggan.)

Sweet dreams!

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!

Setting a record

Yes, I’ve set one all right…but it’s for length of time between blog posts. Not such a good thing! So herein is a quick rundown of what’s been up since mid-October.

Finished some backs and took quilts to Linda Duncan for long arming!

I was thrilled to finally get three quilts off my stair railing and to the quilters. One is back, another is ready for pick up. Here’s the first (used the six Farmer’s Wife blocks I made on the back).

Interviewing authors for my upcoming book!

Yup, I’m working on a book about art quilts and have had the great pleasure of talking with some of the  artists whose work was selected for inclusion. Can’t say too much about that just yet, but it’s an exciting project that you’ll hear more about in coming months.

Quilt Market!

Had my usual wonderfully-inspiring-and-thoroughly-overwhelming-time. All the usual suspects, plus Cotton and Steel’s debut, a stroll through Market with my Stitch editor Amber Eden, quick meet-ups with Lisa, Jennifer, and my other wonderful Meredith editors, dinner with my friends Mel and Mary Lou, a hug from Carolyn Friedlander, a quick chat with Lissa from Moda, and travel with Codi and Greta.

Brigitte Heitland for Moda
Anna Maria Horner’s booth (Free Spirit)
Carolyn Friedlander’s booth (Robert Kaufman)
Lakehouse’s Holly Holderman and PamKitty Morning, with @szyhomemaker, @frecklemama, and Greta Songe
Laurie Simpson of Moda’s Minick and Simpson demoing big stitching
Smilin’ Vanessa Christenson and her booth for Moda

Austin!

A quick visit with my wonderful daughter Maggie and her beau, EJ. We took walks, bought boots, saw adorable babies, and ate great food.

Maggie and EJ’s backyard grotto
Coolio chair at Austin’s Nannie Inez
Coolio daughter

Surgery!

Had a small skin cancer removed from my nose. 18 stitches. Kind of a shock at first, but a month later it doesn’t look half-bad. And they got all the skin cancer in one fell swoop, so hooray! (Reserving photos of this one)

California!

Went with my husband, who had a meeting. Saw old friends in Sonoma and Berkeley, a hike across SF that ended in dim sum, and Thanksgiving with my folks in southern Cal. A highlight was my first  face-to-face meeting with fellow Etsy contributor Karen Brown, with whom I’ve corresponded for a few years. Wish we lived closer…there’s a kinship there, for sure.

Karen in her alpaca jacket
Bay view from the Presidio
My awesome dad, his awesome pumpkin pie, and Paul
Santa Barbara pelican

And now home, where I made a few bibs for a baby shower.

One other thing I did was work on a story for a new (to me, but you’ll know it) publication that will be out in January. Looking forward to sharing that exciting news soon!

Happy Holidays…hope things are going well for you and yours.

Days for Girls Sew-In

So sorry that Pearl the Squirrel has been so neglected. Life has been busy…some writing, some sewing, a bit of travel. Today was an event that’s been awhile in the making: our Days for Girls Sew-In at Home Ec.

My neighbors Pam and Molly are the ones who’ve sewn the shields, liners, and bags previously. I made my first one just last night, so their expertise was essential (along with their time, fabric, machine know-how, and general good spirits).

We had a great afternoon with around 15 folks showing up to cut, layer, and sew. We finished around 140 liners, 20 bags, and 25 shields (we have a lot more of these that just need to be top-stitched).

Here are some photos from the afternoon. Thanks to Codi for letting us use Home Ec’s workshop, and to all who stitched with us! We’re hoping to do it again, sometime this winter.

Two Fall Favorites: Quilt Shows and Leaf Peeping

I’ve never been to New Albin, Iowa, but got word of a quilt show in October you might want to add to your calendar. New Albin is on the Mississippi River, just south of the state line between Minnesota and Iowa. Driving along the river in the fall is always lovely. Our first year back in Iowa we took our girls and drove to Effigy Mounds to see the autumn color. At dinner that night, in the tiny town of Harper’s Ferry, we waited our turn in a restaurant and noticed two women giving us the eye. One of them leaned over to the other and said, sotto voce, “Leaf peepers.” The other nodded solemnly. “Leaf peepers” instantly become a McCray family favorite phrase. But I digress.

The photo I got about the New Albin quilt show features cow quilts, based on the book by Mel McFarland and Mary Lou Weideman book: Out of the Box with Easy Blocks. You may remember when Mel brought samples from the book to my parents’ house, or when everyone was stitching them at our Lake Tahoe retreat.  The variety is endless (and often hilarious). Looks like the quilters of New Albin have caught cow-fever, but there will be other quilts, as well: this is the show’s fifth year and in years past they’ve had as many as 200 quilts.

The show will be held int he New Albin Community Center on October 11 to 13 (Friday, 4 to 7pm; Saturday, 10 am. to 5 pm; and Sunday, 12 to 4 pm).

Wiksten’s Jenny Gordy: A Stitch magazine profile

 I just got an email saying that the Fall issue of Stitch is coming off the press soon, and it reminded me that I hadn’t mentioned the profile I wrote for Stitch with Style, the special issue of Stitch that came out in May.

I’d heard that Jenny Gordy of Wiksten fame had moved to Iowa City and pitched a profile to Amber Eden, Stitch’s fantastic and very enthusiastic editor. Though I turned the profile in last fall, Amber thought it would be great for Stitch with Style, which focuses on sewing clothing and accessories, so it wasn’t in print til this May. But the great thing about that is that since the interview Jenny and I have gotten to be friends, which is a lovely outcome! (She was part of my Quilt Market posse in Portland.) So many of my profiles are written from phone interviews, rather than face-to-face talks, and I rarely get to follow up in person.

A quick bit about Jenny: she started by sewing a line of clothing herself—yup, designing clothing and then stitching an average of ten pieces of each style. As you can imagine, it wasn’t easy, but she did it quite successfully for several years. Though she still sews and sells occasional pieces, she’s turned her focus to creating a line of patterns to accompany her Tova and Tank tops. (We called them “nearly iconic” in the Stitch story, but at Quilt Market I realized we could have omitted the “nearly.” It seemed that in everyone’s booth there was a Wiksten tank stitched up in their latest fabric line.) Not only do I admire Jenny’s determination in making her business work, but I’ve learned that she’s got a great sense of humor.

At any rate, there are lots of great things in the issue. I, for one, intend to use Jenn Mason’s “A Shirt that Fits…Finally!” article to make adjustments to my Sorbetto top. I am feeling kind of excited about sewing clothing…just need to find a little time to do so. So if you haven’t yet checked out Stitch with Style, now’s 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.

Master Knitters on Etsy

Lisa Wilcox Case

It’s a little after the fact, but I thought I’d share some of the photos I shot for the master knitting certification post that went live on Etsy. Etsy’s discovered that a large number of their visitors are accessing the site through mobile media, and that’s changed the kinds of photos they need–big, bold and graphic reads much better than detailed. So a number of these just didn’t cut it.

Lisa’s intarsia sample

But I wanted to share them with you because I think the master knitting process is impressive, and Lisa Wilcox Case’s notebooks are amazing. Filled with reports and samples, they really demonstrated her abilities, as well as the requirements for being a master knitter through The Knitting Guild Association.

Lisa’s final project for master knitter certification

The other part of the master knitting story that was fun for me was that I was having a heck of a time finding a second source to talk with. I went to lunch at a local restaurant and was chatting with the owner, who I’ve known for years, about what her daughter was up to. Her daughter, Taylor, had been in my class when I taught at a Montessori school many years ago. She described how Taylor was getting ready to graduate from college, thinking about various careers and then said, “Oh, and she’s getting master knitting certification.” So funny! So I contacted Taylor (who shared a couple of photos that I’ve included, as well).

Lisa demonstrates a cable technique

One thing that struck me was how different the personalities of these two women seem, yet how they both want to be (or in Lisa’s case, are) Master Knitters. Lisa’s been a librarian and an endodontist–methodical, detail-oriented, exacting. Taylor seems to be much more of a free spirit, but she’s enjoying the challenge as well.

Hope you enjoy these!

Samples in Lisa’s certification notebooks
Lisa at work (she knit the sweater she’s wearing)
Lisa’s entrelac sample
Taylor wearing a hat she knit
Cowl knit by Taylor

Taylor’s yarn bombing on the Cornell College campus