What’s Pearl the Squirrel About, Anyway?

That’s a question I ask myself frequently.

It started out as a way to document my life, both crafty and personal. It morphed into talking about my writing, mostly of the crafty nature. Then it turned into a way to do a little book publicity, too. The blog’s readership has never been large, and at the end of a day of writing for publication I often decide I’d rather sew or knit than write some more. Hence, Pearl the Squirrel is neglected.

So, I’m going to try again. I’ll include links to my writing, photos of my sewing and knitting, and news of an upcoming big project, when the time is right.

Here are a few photos from last month, when I was able to spend time in Austin, Texas. As a California girl, I’ve never properly adapted to winter and it has been getting to me more every year. I don’t like to drive in the snow and if it’s at all icy I don’t like to walk outside, which is honestly one of the things that keeps me sane.

Because my work is portable, I was able to take it and my sewing machine to Austin, where I stayed in a very nice AirB&B in a neighborhood from which I could walk to the grocery store, coffee shop, restaurants, bookstore, and a great bakery. I took Pearl and we walked outside multiple times daily and I felt very restored.

I also did a little espionage work for Home Ec Workshop, by taking a class at Stitch Lab (well, I also just really wanted to take a class there). I made the Washi dress with a fabulous teacher, Sarah, who had made every piece of new clothing last year. She’s done costuming for Broadway and sewing for museum exhibitions and generously shared her skills with the class. There were five of us and the other students were very welcoming and gave me lots of good pointers on enjoying Austin.

Best of all, I got to hang out with my daughter Maggie and her beau EJ and meet their chickens. A fantastic month!

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. 

What’s keeping me BUSY

Poor, neglected blog. If there are any readers left out there, I certainly appreciate you! Here’s what’s been keeping me busy:

1. I’m working on a book with the tentative title of Art Quilts of the Midwest: publication date is March, 2015. I’m interviewing and writing a bio of each of the 20 artists whose work will be included—there were close to 100 entries—and have yet to talk with one who hasn’t taught me something new, provided an interesting perspective on art and place, and been kind and lovely to “meet.”

2. The spring issue of Stitch includes a couple pieces I wrote: an article on cross-stitch (loved learning that history) and a back-page essay about sewing the same pattern multiple times.

3. Posts I’m working on for Moda’s Cutting Table blog continue to enable me to talk to some talented designers…I’ve got an interview this afternoon set up to “meet” one of their newest (you can find the story on Monday on The Cutting Table).

4. I’ve been working at Home Ec on Thursdays. The sock monkeys at the top of the page were tucked into my bag yesterday in preparation for the class I’m teaching on Sunday at Home Ec—it’d been so long since I made a monkey that I stitched the one on the left as a refresher….and I must say its cheery outlook during these dreary, cold days was my reward. (Sock monkey history here.)

5. And I’ve been putting Pearl’s booties on nearly every time we head out into the Polar Vortex (we refer to this as Pearl’s booty call). She hates them, and stands on three legs, holding the offending bootie up until I force her to put a leg down so I can put on the next one. This continues until all four are on, her leash is hooked to her collar, and she trots out of the house and down the sidewalk.

6. I made mitered-corner napkins for Maggie for Christmas out of Minick and Simpson’s fantastic woven Midwinter Reds.

7. I finished binding the quilt I started last summer based on the workshop I took with Bill Kerr of Modern Quilt Studios. Linda Duncan quilted it, along with two others you’ll soon see, and I really love it.

8. I’ve been knitting, but both projects are gifts, so their unveiling will have to wait.

So that’s what’s up with me…how about you?

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! )

There’s No Place Like Home

I’ve been away, again. Got home about midnight and finally had a decent night’s sleep. Travel is enlightening and I always come back with a greater appreciation for the world I’ve visited, but also for the world in which I dwell—my friends, my garden, my home, and my dog all look a little sweeter to me. Each time I return I promise to be kinder and make more time to be with them and enjoy the moments I have here.

Sunrise this morning proved the world was abloom—redbuds, tulips, hosta poking its green tips through the earth, lilacs. France is lovely, but truly, there’s no place like home. 

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.)

Textile treachery

Like many a textile-lover, I’m fond of fibers of any ilk and can’t stay true to just one. I love to sew, I love to quilt, I love to needle felt, and I love to knit (crocheting is still beyond me, but on my radar of things to try). This past winter, while it seemed that I wasn’t sewing much, I was still knitting. Winter is the only time I get really into watching TV, and knitting is the perfect way to make me feel slightly less guilty about it. So I spent some winter knits curled up with needles, yarn, and Law and Order.

I’ve always been intimidated by a lot of knitting because it seems so numbers-oriented. But enough people convinced me that even I, a math-phobic, could handle cables. So I gave it a try, joined Ravelry, and made the Gretel beret by Ysolda Teague. And what did I discover? Knitting cables is the most freakin’ fun I’ve had in ages! I loved this pattern because every row was different, but not too long, and I had that incredible feeling of satisfaction from learning to do something that’s scared me.

I knit it in a washable wool (I think it was Cascade 220 Superwash) in an orange that I thought would look good with my big ol’ brown down coat.

The only problem is that it is huge. The pattern has three sizes and I wanted a bit of the snood look. I started knitting the snoodiest of the three sizes and realized that would be enormous, so ripped it back significantly and went for the medium size. Even then, as my husband said, to make this hat fit I need to grow dreadlocks. I really did swatch it beforehand, but somehow it didn’t work out.

Pearl supervised my photo shoot. Sorry I didn’t get a picture of it on someone, but I was trying to save myself the humiliation of being laughed at, which is what even my dearest friends have done (they try to be supportive and say it’s just fine and then they see it drooping to my shoulder blades and crack up). 

I’d still really love a snood with cables. Does anyone have a pattern they’ve tried that they’d recommend?

Collaborative quilting

I’ve joined a small group of interested quilters at Home Ec Workshop (Codi calls us Prelude to a Quilt Guild) and we’ve met a few times now. The group is fairly free-form and our stitching abilities range from newbie to very experienced. Sometimes we just talk about what we’ve been doing and sometimes we all decide on a small project that we work on between meetings and share the next time. Thus far, I hadn’t managed to get any of the projects completed, but this last time I was inspired.


Each of us cut 64 squares of 5.5″ background material (I used a print I’ve had for ages, everyone else picked solids), and 128 half-squre triangles, cut from squares that measured anywhere from 2.5″ to 4.5″. Then we threw all the half-square triangles in a big pile and plucked out the number we needed. It gave each of us an opportunity to use someone else’s fabrics, which were often fabrics we wouldn’t have chosen ourselves.

I sewed each block intentionally not color-matching the triangles (although I did often sew a large one and a small one to each background piece). Then I deviated from the original pattern (it’s loosely based on Corner Store by Lynn Harris in Pretty Little Mini Quilts) in which the background blocks all faced the same direction (above), forming a kind of flat Star of David.

In a future post I’ll share the finished quilt tops. Can’t wait to see what everyone’s come up with!

Pearl helped, of course.

New camera and a newly green world

I can’t help myself. I try not to resort to pictures of my garden, but right now it’s impossible to ignore. The daffodils are done and the redbuds are nearly so, but it’s still an amazing sight. I just love early spring, when the plants in their beds are so tidy, compact, and perfectly colored and formed. No insects have had a chance to lay waste to the foliage and even the rabbits have yet to wreak their usual havoc. I decided it was time to move beyond my point and shoot and bought myself a new camera last week, and between that and the scenery, I couldn’t resist. Please forgive me. 

Skin applique?

I’ve not been sewing at all, lately. Lots of freelance projects, plus a few medical issues have kept me from operating at full steam ahead. But I’m sure I’ll be up and at ’em again, soon.

In lieu of actually using my sewing machine, I’ve taken a photo of something that DID require a needle: Molly’s tattoo. I’m not a fan of tattoos (just ask my daughters), but when I met Molly four or five years ago I admit that I was drawn to the sewing machine tattooed on her forearm. If someone held me down and told me I HAD to be tattooed or they would take Pearl away, this is the tattoo I’d get. But only if…

Molly tells me that she got it after a break-up with a boyfriend, as a way to remind herself to remember to do the things that were important to her. She’s got a very nice beau now (Donny) and a very nice dog (Oliver the beagle) and I’m quite lucky to have them as my neighbors. Molly still sews often, altering vintage clothes to give them a more modern fit. If you want to check out her stuff, visit her Etsy shop. If you’re in Iowa City you can also check out Molly’s “altered vintage clothing” and handmade skirts at White Rabbit

Anyone else have a sewing related tattoo? I’d love to see it/share it. Send links!