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

Quilt Retreat Catch-up

In October I was lucky enough to attend another retreat in Lake Tahoe, but thanks to Quilt Market and life in general, I never managed to get the photos posted. So here they are.

The gang at work with the Lake outside our windows

It was the same group from last year’s retreat (although we missed De, Sue, Lynn, and Nancy very much). The locale was just as lovely, and the friends were dearer, because I knew them better.

Candy with her Featherweight
Mel & her Liberty print yoyos
Debbie and Kathy S. with their witch blocks

We decided last year to do a witch block exchange, and it was the first block exchange I’d participated in. I finished my blocks up just before I left, and we exchanged them on the last day of the retreat as a few members were still stitching.

Witch blocks by Molly and Mel

Figuring out how to put them together has been the perfect excuse to start collecting Halloween fabrics—a little of this for sashing, a bit of that for the border—as if I needed such an excuse.

The block ensemble

Haven’t managed to start on that yet…the sewing, that is. The fabric collecting I’m pretty darned good at.

Carol finishing her blocks
Tina’s Moooy (muy) Cowliente (caliente): Note the fringed udder
 One of the highlights of the retreat were the many cow quilts that kept being conceived and then quickly stitched. The idea for cow quilts comes from Mel and Mary Lou‘s new book Out of the Box with Easy Blocks book. These are a few of those that were created and then shown at Quilt Market the following week.
Psych-cow-delic by Mary Lou (detail)
Homage to Mary Lou (using all her fabrics) by Kathy C.
Boo-moo! Halloween quilt by Molly. Love the rick-rack spider legs

 A few other projects were undertaken, as well.

Debbie worked long and hard on her quilt back. Adding some cheddar fabrics was the final piece de resistance…it gave it the oomph it needed.

Tina got into some garment sewing (and cheerfully modeled).

 Mel and I stitched holiday table runners.

And making many baby bibs…flannel on one side, quilting cotton with rick rack details on the other, occupied a few of my sewing hours.

Can’t wait for next year!

A Featherweight Comes Home

My very sweet husband wanted to get me a ring for Christmas. He found one on Etsy that I’d marked as a favorite, but another buyer had snatched it up. So he asked me to choose a replacement.

While his impulse was a lovely one, there was something else I’d been wanting for quite some time—a Singer Featherweight sewing machine. These 11-pound wonders were built and sold in the 1940s and 1950s, and lots of quilters love them and use them regularly.

My friend Kristin pieces on one that belonged to her mother and another friend Candy brought hers to our Lake Tahoe retreat and whipped up a couple of quilts with it. They pretty much go forward and backward and that’s it, but they’re easy to transport, have a terrific 1/4-inch stitch, and are as cute as a button.

We were lucky to find a reasonably priced Featherweight on Craigslist. The machine had belonged to the grandmother of the young man who was selling it—she’d used it to stitch charity projects for her church. Neither the seller nor his fiancé sew.

I’m trying to decide what it is that makes me so happy with this little wonder. It’s adorable, of course, and there is something so fantastic about the fact that it not only works, but works incredibly well.

I think it’s the story that goes with it—the young man and his fiancé are both students and could undoubtedly use the money, so they were pleased to make the sale. And I loved the absurdity of meeting at a shopping mall, where they pulled the machine from its little black case, plugged it in at a wall outlet, and oblivious to the shoppers strolling past, I tested its sewing ability with the bit of fabric I’d tucked in my purse for just that purpose.

As we left, the young man shook our hands and told me that he knew his grandmother would be pleased that it wasn’t sitting unused in his house, but instead bringing pleasure to another stitcher. The Featherweight was part of his family’s history and its purchase has added to our family lore. I can’t wait to use it to stitch my next quilt.

Pennants? Banners? Garland? Let’s just call it holiday decor

My eldest daughter was with us over Thanksgiving and we had a massive list of things we hoped to accomplish (perhaps “accomplished” is too strenuous a word, as our activities included sleeping in, playing Bananagrams, viewing the new Muppet movie, and eating a seemingly endless supply of pumpkin pie).

Our two crafting plans were to make folded German paper stars and stitch holiday banners/garlands. I’ve made those paper stars a million times, and once even held a “how-to” session at my office to teach my coworkers. But try as we might, Maggie and I really struggled and in the end we were doing something wrong. Maggie’s excellent at origami—she used to make bouquets of folded flowers for her friends’ birthdays—but this task eluded even her.

I wasn’t very helpful because I was largely focused on sewing. Maggie’s moved into an apartment and will be visiting us for Christmas, so she’s decided not to get a tree. I told her she still needs some snippet of festive decor and thought a holiday garland would be easy to put up and simple to store.

There are umpteen tutorials online for these and I spent a ridiculous amount of time perusing the methods for making them—fused, raw-edged, with interfacing and without, etc. I refused to consider any with templates and finally settled on an amalgam of techniques. I used the cutting instructions from What I Made Today because you could create multiple pennants from a 9″ strip of fabric. But I thought they looked a little more finished if I sewed them right sides together, then turned and top-stitched each pennant. I used pre-made double fold seam binding for the “string” and stitched them fairly close together. I was kind of giddy about the results (it takes so little, really, to put me in that state). I thought it might also be cute to clip holiday cards in between the pennants with sweet little clothespins.

Okay Maggie, I’m waiting for that photo of your garland on the bookshelf! (And sorry these photos are a bit dodgy…I was rushing to sew and shoot, so she could pack.)

Wow! It’s 1-1-11!

Last night we had a lovely New Year’s Eve dinner with our stranded daughter (in werewolf arms, at left). She was supposed to return to New York on the 26th, but as you likely have heard not too many flights made it that day. She was rescheduled for the 27th, went to the airport and was told to get on the plane to Chicago where her flight to Newark was promptly canceled. Rather than have her spend days on stand-by we brought her back home and she finally got a plane out at 7 a.m. this morning.

But back to our dinner last night.  I’ve never been a big fan of New Year’s Eve—it often seems like a lot of forced conviviality—the last few years our bookgroup gathered and that was fun, but it didn’t happen this year.

During our dinner conversation, Rebecca made the point that although New Year’s celebrations can wreak of false gaiety, there is something enchanting about the idea of a clean slate and of getting to start all over. I had to agree. And to that end, I asked each of us to share some resolutions.

So here a three of my 2011 resolutions. Sometimes I think if you say them out loud you have to be a little more committed (or a little more wiling to be humiliated).

1. More exercise: Since I left my University editorial job for full time freelancing I’ve ceased my daily walk to work and back. It was just a bit over a mile each way, but it’s quite apparent that the effect of that walk was significant. So I will be exercising more, whether it’s on my treadmill in my basement (ick) or at a gym (ick to the time it takes to get there).

2. Sort writing priorities. This freelance life offers some challenges, trying to fit in various ongoing  projects while looking for more. I’ve got the potential for a couple of big ones on the horizon…the challenge will be figuring out what’s worth doing and what’s not.

3. Finding time to sew. I’ve had very few hours in my sewing room this fall and early winter. I miss it and I’m ready to return. First though, a little clean-up is required so that I can actually find my cutting table and sewing machine…they’re both piled high with fabric, patterns, and magazines.

Okay, those are three of my big resolutions…how about you? Willing to share any in this semi-public forum?

Happy New Year!

Mom’s the word

The craziness of the last few months has left me slightly out of touch with reality. I kept reading all the ads for Mother’s Day without really thinking it was imminent. In a sudden flurry of consciousness, I realized that Mother’s Day was nearly upon us and I’d done nothing about it. I also hadn’t sewed for more than two months and decided it was high time to whip something up.

I got the idea for these from some fabulous placemats I saw on a blog…they looked very much like these in terms of the pieced borders, except that they were quilt as you go. (I have combed my regularly read blogs, the recent history on my computer, etc., but cannot find them again and so cannot give you the link and their creator credit—my apologies.)

I couldn’t figure out how to attach the quilted-as-you-go borders to the center section without using something like rickrack to cover the seam, so I pieced the entire top and then quilted them. Given my time constraints, I also did not want to create a separate binding, so used the instructions from Lisa Shepard Stewart’s batik table runner the Fall 2009 Stitch magazine for turning the backing fabric to create a border that looks like a binding. I used the zigzag on my machine (as per Lisa’s instructions) to hold it down, figuring that utility was important in items that would be washed frequently.

The fabrics are all from my stash, and my mom may recognize a couple remnants from the quilt I made them for their 50th anniversary. I also pulled in an April Cornell blue-and-yellow floral, a batik, and a couple others I’ve been saving for…apparently for these placemats. Although I’m sometimes horrified by the size of my stash, it can be very gratifying to be able to create a gift with what I have on hand.

Happy Mother’s Day, Mom and thanks for teaching me to sew all those years ago!

Happy New Year!

Okay, so the photo is from Christmas, rather than a reflection of the new year. Pearl was smitten with the tree and gifts, but only when we were in the room, so it was easy to prevent any true mayhem. It seemed to have to do with gifts that fit easily in her mouth (although she was quite taken with a wrapped package of lotion—the fragrance seemed to draw her attention, though I’m sure it smelled nothing like the aromas that typically interest her on our walks).

The holidays were grand—family, candy, wine, friends, games, snow, travels, birthday parties, saris, champagne, ginger snaps…I did little writing, no blogging, and just a snippet of photography. So sadly, I can’t show you the flannel pajama bottoms that I made for my daughters and son-in-law: one plaid, one polka-dotted, and one Amy Butler’s new Love (I ended up with both the Paradise wine and the periwinkle when I cut the wine pair too short for my nearly six-foot daughter…guess I’ll just have to make a pair for lil’ ‘ol me.)

So, that’s it for now. I’m working on a fun story about another blogger and she had this Blogging Without Obligation logo attached to her site and so I decided I’d add it to mine…but of course it’s not currently working. So check out the link: I like in particular the part that says that you shouldn’t feel about your blog like you feel about your treadmill.

Happy Holidays!

Just a quick note to say I hope you all have a great holiday season. I can hardly wait for things to kick into gear. Most of my sewing projects are wrapping up (although I’m guessing there will be some alterations to come). My big worry is the weather: ice and snow is predicted for Christmas Eve, when the relatives are flying in. Keep your fingers crossed for clear skies, or we’ll be eating an awful lot of cookies on our own.

May you enjoy the company of friends and loved ones, warmth, peace, and time for sewing.

And if you are looking for some great holiday tunes, check out this NPR link: Jingle Jams.

A red hot(pad) reveal

Finally I’m able to share one of my projects: pot holders for my bookgroup. We have an annual holiday party (last year I knit clunky hats) and cookie exchange: one moved-away member even drives five hours to join us. These women are some of my dearest friends—we met when some of us still had babies and now those babies are seniors in high school and freshmen in college and one of our members is a grandmother.

The nice thing about our gift exchange is it’s a totally no-pressure event. Some years people hand-make gifts: Julie knit us each a scarf one year and Maureen appliqued and quilted holiday table runners. Emily makes fabulous truffles and Anne, a former caterer, whips up chocolate-covered toffee that my children anticipate annually. But if it’s a year when you’ve been busy with work or if you’re not the handy type, you can give whatever you want…you can even give nothing. (We might excommunicate you however, if you didn’t bring cookies.)

These potholders had their genesis in a purchase of wonderful Japanese charm squares I snagged at Quilt Market. I got them from Bunny Designs (whose web site has been under construction for some time). I gave one set to my friend Anne and kept a set for myself. The little tea pots and wonderful polka dots seemed perfect for pot holders.

I learned a bit along the way to completing a baker’s dozen. I tried piecing a front and back for the first one, then quilted and bound as I would a quilt (albeit I tried machine binding). It was problematic: the mitered corners wouldn’t miter and the binding didn’t cover the machine stitching as well as I’d liked. So instead I pieced a front and back and then sewed them right sides together, left an opening so that I could turn inside out, stuffed each with a piece of cotton batting and a piece of Inuslbright, and top-stitched around the edge, securing the opening. I then did a bit of simple quilting, more or less following the shape of the square.

I learned that less stitching works better than too much (the Insulbright would invariably bunch up if I stitched too close to the top-stitching) and that a walking foot made all the difference in keeping the batting smooth. I also made a little tube of fabric and stitched that into the seam when I sewed the front and back together to create a loop for hanging.

Each pot holder is slightly different than the rest, largely as a result of learning as I went along and ultimately running out of fabric. They took a bit longer to make than I anticipated (doesn’t everything?), but the finished stack is highly satisfying…

Must run…time to eat cookies and give gifts!