Friday, October 29, 2010

Spinning redemption

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Well, that’s better! Spinning is never going to be my strongest event, but this looks pretty good, I think. The fiber is Blue-Faced Leicester from High Bid Farm, where they must feed their animals double Devon cream with gold bullion. It is the most delicious and most beautifully prepared fiber I have ever had the pleasure to handle, not that I am any kind of expert. In fact, I am a total novice, and you see the results there. I’m pretty sure even my dog could take this fiber and do something lovely with it.

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I never know what to make with just one skein of yarn—do I need any more hats?

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Maybe it’s better left this way. I could give it a name, and pet it when I’m feeling stressed out…

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Can you tell I’m sorta proud of how it turned out?

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Yum. How I love the process of spinning, the whole idea of spinning. It’s an ancient craft, and in my mind there are such lovely associated images, my favorite one being a vision of myself as a toothless old lady on my cabin porch, corncob pipe clenched in my lips as I happily stomp away on my treadle. I wear a long patchwork skirt, and some kind of jug band music plays on the radio.

I once did take my wheel out to the porch, and happened to be wearing a long skirt at the time, and was spinning and humming to myself (no pipe, that’s strictly for my hillbilly old age) and a passing motorist pulled over, got out of her car, and came up onto my porch, fascinated. She said, “I didn’t think anybody still did things like that anymore.” I said, “Sister, you don’t know the half of it.”

Monday, October 25, 2010

Slipcover double-header

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I had finally had enough of those green gingham slipcovers that didn’t match anything else I own, so fourteen hours and one huge headache later, I have two new ones. As it turns out, I can make slipcovers!

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Here’s the old upholstery. Yuck! Just looking at that makes me feel like I need to take a shower.

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Not too bad, huh? I followed my good friend Michelle’s very good advice and took apart one of the old slipcovers to use as a pattern. Those covers were ugly, but extremely well-fitting, so I gave myself a little extra room in the seams. That made these a little bit slouchy, which is supposed to be a good thing, right?

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Hey, nice pleats! The hardest part of the whole thing has been trying to get enough sunlight all in one place so I can take pictures. The other chair is in an even darker corner of the room:

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(I had to use the night setting on the camera, with flash. This was taken at 11:00 am in an east-facing room. I love New York!)

I’ve always wanted to be able to slipcover my furniture, but it seemed like such a mystery, and so much easier to just get new chairs. Now, I feel like I just discovered a superpower I didn’t know I had, and no upholstered thing is safe anymore.

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Now that they’re done, I’m so impressed with myself for having done it, but am not quite convinced that the giant cabbage roses-covered look is me. I think I just need to get in touch with my inner Cath.

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These chairs belong in an English country cottage, with green rolling hills outside and a wood-fired cooker in the kitchen. I will hang sturdy woolen stockings to dry and tuck up with a mug of something warm this winter, knitting happily away in these little chairs. What’s cozier than that?

Edit: I just linked this post at Kristy's Slipcover Party and I would love to grab the button and put it here but *small voice* I don't know how to do that yet. Help?

Thursday, October 21, 2010

Mr. Starling’s Quilt

Grandma baked a lattice-top cherry pie for the church social.

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I went to the barn this morning and found two fresh eggs, still warm.

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Uncle Bobby got a job selling vacuum cleaners door-to-door, but he really wants to play the clarinet.

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Mama washed my quilt today, and hung it on the line to dry.

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This quilt is one of the best I’ve ever made. I swear, the whole process just kind of did itself, and I sat back and watched it happen. I usually spend hours or days fussing over little things like running out of basting pins or breaking the last sewing machine needle or having the entire machine itself seize up and refuse to function. It never goes smoothly, never.

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This time, it did. Imagine my complete delight when I had the perfect backing fabrics in the cupboard, a cotton batting on hand in the closet, a yard of pink for the binding, and enough thread to get me to the end without an emergency trip to the store.

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I did change my mind about one thing—I was going to use gray as the alternate patch color, but after I had everything cut out, we went away for the weekend, and the whole time, I was thinking about that, thinking about the gray, and was just not feeling it. So when we got home, I went to the cupboard, and there was this, just sitting there smiling at me, patiently waiting.

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My seams all lined up (and I don’t try very hard at that, believe me) and my quilting stitches are as perfect as I can make them. On the Loaner Machine, I did that! I think I am in love with the Loaner, and have been entertaining brief fantasies of trying to keep it forever. I should tell you, the Loaner is an old-model Bernina, one of those metal ones that ticks along like a Swiss clock as you sew. It just inspires confidence! If only it could wind a bobbin, I think we would be ready for a permanent relationship.

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These lovely prints kept calling to mind my favorite great-uncle, who was one of those old-time farmers, the very best kind with his Farmall tractor and his dog and his overalls with the red handkerchief in the back pocket. He had two kinds of clothes; the overalls with a blue chambray shirt and work boots and a soft cloth engineer cap, and his Good Clothes.

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He had a few good shirts, had probably had them since my dad was a boy, and his wife washed them carefully, mended them when they needed mending, and he wore them whenever he had to, and not a minute more; Sundays, Thanksgiving Day, to funerals. His shirts, and the wide ties that came with them, looked like these fabrics. They were immaculate, and they looked like 1948.

His car was the same way, actually—an utterly spotless 1960’s model Plymouth or something like that, just a car he had because a man has to get his wife to church somehow.

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This quilt would’ve been on the four-poster bed in the upstairs room where I slept when I stayed with them. There were lace curtains on the windows, roses on the wallpaper, and sheep in the pasture just outside, murmuring away as the sun came up.

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I could tell stories about life on that farm all day long.

Monday, October 18, 2010

Interim hat

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With events conspiring to keep me away from my sewing machine, I made, instead, another hat. This is Sprouting Cloche by Norah Gaughan from the book Brave New Knits. It was a little bit addictive.

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Even as I was knitting, I knew I’d never be able to wear this hat. My hair is super-short, so I can hardly wear any hat without looking bald and ridiculous, but this is an extra hatty hat, if you know what I mean.

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Fortunately, I had a beautiful, chestnut-haired maiden here to help me out.

Thursday, October 14, 2010

The Cut-Your-Losses Handbag

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This is not the bag I was trying to make.

Last spring, I made a beautiful version of Alicia Paulson’s Tanglewood Bag, which is a gorgeous pattern, cleverly designed and written. I adore this bag. Adore it! The teensy little straps, though, were made to go with a swingy dress, and not with a down parka.

I was thinking fall; I was thinking browns and golds. I was thinking hobo bag, I was thinking something with a little more heft. I wanted wider straps. I cut up a pair of my pants (yes! I did!) and chose some autumnal fabrics to go with it.

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I don’t know how it works for you all, but for me, the bag takes an hour, but the straps take two days. And, as you can see, they failed.

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And then, I ran out of thread. And then, I couldn’t figure out how to make a buttonhole on the Loaner Machine.

So, I cut my losses, chopped off the ridiculous wide straps (maybe they can be a belt someday? I’m always thinking…) and picked apart the failed button flap. Then, I cut off the entire top of the bag, reshaped it as in the Tanglewood Bag, and made Alicia’s bias edging straps. I also added a leather lacing and vintage button closure. Sometimes, the perfect vintage button can save the day.

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This bag is fully lined with fabrics that remind me, somehow of cowboys:

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I love my little label.

This bag is not what I had planned, but I do like it. I definitely like it better than the ill-fitting pants it used to be. Next time, I think I’ll make a wider bias tape for the handles, but attach it the same way. Maybe there’s a winter version of this bag waiting in the wings?

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I’d like to do this in a pearl gray, with frosty blue lining fabrics and a crystal button. I think I have just the pants…

Monday, October 11, 2010

Quilt in progress

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I start with this: an assortment of fabrics in whatever colors and patterns move me. Normally, I choose these purely by instinct, with no regard at all for color matching or value or anything like that. I try to choose a variety of patterns, both large and small, and I keep a certain “feel” in my mind as I make choices, like “Adirondack weekend” or “hobbits” or “Frampton Comes Alive”. (I know you’d like to see that one, wouldn’t you? Me too, maybe that’s next.) I am kind of driven to choose some warm and some cool colors. I think, for instance, an all blue-and-white quilt without its dose of orange feels static and, actually, uncomfortable. If I ever end up with a monochromatic quilt, which could happen, I suppose, if I go against my own grain hard enough, I know I’ll end up putting a loudly contrasting pillow next to it anyway. Some people like things that are soothing, but not me, I guess.

So I need warms and cools, large prints and small ones, and it all needs to feel a certain way together.

In this case, all that work is done for me already; these are 1/4 yard each of the entire Hope Valley Collection from Denyse Schmidt—24 prints in all. Yummy!

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Then, I start choosing the fabrics for backing, binding, and either sashing strips or alternating patches, if that’s the plan. These almost always just come from the stash, and I don’t much mind if they don’t match very well. I am totally happy to patch the back together, too. If it’s all one fabric? That’s a little boring to me. These all seem to like each other, and I chose a couple different grays to be the filler between print patches.

Speaking of the plan, this time I went through a step of the process that I usually skip; The Plan. These are really lovely fabrics, and they look, by design, great together, and since I hadn’t had to do any thinking to this point, I decided to try planning. A most novel approach! I also had the notion that this quilt had to be really, really good. You know, interesting. Maybe not so much with my usual just chop it all up and sew it together any which way, right?

So I did a bunch of doodling. I wanted something worthy. I drew asymmetrical columns of graduated color. I drew something that looked like tree branches against a white ground. I tried to replicate the life’s work of Mondrian. There was a lot of scribbling.

Then I had an Oprah moment, and realized I should just go ahead and do what I do best, just use the pretty tools I had before me and make a Cozy Things quilt, something I knew I’d love later, something that was all me.

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Yes! That’s right.

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So I cut it all up. There’s no going back now! Stay tuned for Part 2, in which I attempt to piece this top on the Loaner Machine. Dun dun DUNNNNNN…..

Friday, October 8, 2010

In which my friends are very good to me

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This gorgeous eyeful is a bundle of Hope Valley fat quarters by Denyse Schmidt. I found it on my doorstep this afternoon. Can you even imagine? I thought I might be dreaming, but my dear friend Kristine saw the lack of any Denyse Schmidt fabric in my stash, and administered a most generous remedy.

There were other goodies in the box too, along with a personal note from Denyse herself, which made me squeal like a teenager. I really have admired her for such a long time.

Goodness, just look at those fabrics! They’re so delicious, I want to stay up until dawn now, cutting them into smaller pieces and then sewing them back together again in a pleasing manner. Then again, they’re already pretty pleasing, and I’m actually having some difficulty because I don’t want to wreck them. I do have the obnoxious tendency to resist using something lovely, to hoard it away so it is always safe, and to use something else, a fabric or yarn I love a little less, first. I am working hard to overcome it, and that will not be the fate of these fabrics. But I will cringe a little when the rotary cutter takes its first bite.

Yes, oh yes, a quilt is coming. Everything else is on pause.

Thursday, October 7, 2010

Earflap hat

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My daughter’s friend’s head was cold. Well, what could I do? As you’ve no doubt figured out, I enjoy knitting.

That’s my son, modeling it. He’s a good sport.

The pattern is the Norwegian Star Earflap Hat from Tiennie Knits, a great pattern. This is about the tenth one of these I’ve made, and it’s my go-to earflap hat. (I really never imagined I’d have a go-to earflap hat, but there you are. I do.)

I love the way they’ll wear this hat all the time, indoors, and when it’s not even cold yet. I love how it makes them look like ski bums. I love that something I do will still seem cool to a 19 year-old girl. I used Patons Classic Merino and a little bit of KnitPicks Wool of the Andes for contrast, on US 5 needles.

Tuesday, October 5, 2010

Embroidered Pillow

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I felt like embroidering something. Alicia’s new book has just come out, and she’s made a beautiful embroidered pillow cover that had me salivating—go check it out--

Of course, it was midnight here when the urge struck me. These things always happen at midnight, why is that? I had to start stitching, and I had to start now, so I went to my bookshelf and came up with this:

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From the book Ondori Lovely Embroidery Patterns copyright 1979, published in Japan. Perfect!

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I stitched until my eyes felt like sandpaper, and then fell into bed. I worked on it all the next day, pausing only to eat lunch, until it was done.

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My husband saw it and said, “You made this? That’s impressive.” He never says a word, so I was pretty pleased with myself. But this was no time to rest on laurels! It wasn’t finished yet! A square of embroidered fabric is nice, but it isn’t very useful.

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There. Now it’s finished.

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I put this little homemade flange thing around the edge (and had to do it twice because I am exactly the kind of girl who will spend an entire day stitching an embroidery panel until her fingers ache, but will not spend the ten minutes necessary to properly baste something) and it has an envelope closure in the back.

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Not bad for a day’s work.

Monday, October 4, 2010

Instant gratification

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Several months ago, I made a bunch of fabric-covered buttons. I used vintage scraps—the tiniest little chunks of fabric, and there was this one, covered in what has turned out to be one of my very favorites (how I wish there had been more of this fabric. I have whittled it down to the scrappiest little pile of teensy pieces, but you never know how they might come in handy.)

I love that fabric so much. I have used it everywhere. There are little pieces of it on my towels, clothes, quilts, purses, and now on my hands, too.

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Since I already had the button done, this project was impossibly easy.

Step 1: Go to Hobby Lobby, and buy an adjustable ring base with pad for $1.49.

Step 2: Find a button you like. If it has a shank, snip it off using wire cutters.

Step 3: Apply glue. I used E6000.

Step 4: Stick the button to the glue. Let dry.

Total time investment: about four minutes, not counting waiting for it to dry. Instant crafty gratification!

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