Thursday, July 31, 2014



Oh, this is fun.  I had no idea I could spend so much time happily sorting big piles of small fabric scraps out of one basket and into another; cutting them up with scissors, then stitching them back together with a needle and thread.  When all these scraps began to pile up, way back when, I just did not know.  Why did I wait so long?  Oh, bliss. 


This is probably an immense project; a full-size quilt, hand-pieced from 2” squares, but it doesn’t seem daunting at all.  It seems gentle.  It is tremendously comforting, simple, peaceful.  It seems like something that will be there for me as long as I need it, and because scraps reproduce at a rate not explainable by science, there will always be another, and another, and another scrap quilt.  


I think this is what makes me love a Big Project, and why I start so many of them—too many, sometimes—I think I just want to have it there, always, waiting for me when I need it.  Be there for me, be steady in times of turmoil.  Everybody’s life is so chock full of (mostly happy) chaos, just the everyday mayhem of family life, so noisy and so hectic, the dirty dishes and piles of wet towels and tumbleweeds of animal hair and trying to feed and placate and comfort and support all my people, this endless work of mothering, and the way I feel like flinging myself protectively between them and their next potentially bad decision, and how it takes me forever to learn that they do not want me to do that, and how much time I spend trying to quell my creeping irritation over their deep devotion to their phones, and (pant, pant) I am frankly on the hunt for peace where I can find it.  My own lack of willingness to engage in confrontation has cost me victory in many a debate, but I am ever in search of peace.   I lay down my arms and sew little squares together.


Assemble my tools, curl up in a sunny corner, breathe deeply, gently.  Make a quilt.

Monday, July 28, 2014

What, another sweater?


I can’t stop starting stuff.  This is no way to get anything done!   My sorry excuse is that I like to have the perfect project, perfect for the occasion, and if I don’t have it already, I will go and get it.  I don’t want to be working on complicated lace right now, or messing with forty-row pattern repeats.  I can’t be keeping track of little markers and sticky notes and having a pen somewhere around here, probably stuck in my hair, and also fully chillaxing at the same time, which is honestly what I want to be doing these days.  It is July, and I live for this time of year, spend nine months out of twelve yearning for warmth and sunshine, so I’m way deep in chillax mode.  I’m letting my hair grow and giving the garden over to the marauding hens.  My friend Ethel gave me some of her homegrown blueberries, and we had them in pancakes, for dinner.  Pancakes for dinner is the very best.


Sometimes, let’s face it, a girl needs a bit of plain work, for when you can’t be checking a pattern, or constantly measuring something, or hunting down the cracks between the sofa cushions for your embroidery scissors; nope, you need something where you can just go, go, GO, for endless miles.  This is where I’m at right now.  Like a yarn road trip to somewhere mildly interesting.  I’m spending the sunny days being lazy and getting sleepy in the sun, sprawled in a ten dollar bamboo chair with a new cushion cover, surrounded by weeds that are actually taller than I am—and I’ve got a book on one knee and an iced coffee melting on the grass beside me, and simple work is the only way to go.  So I’ve started a Lady Kina, spotted first on Vanessa’s [gorgeous!] Pinterest boards, and using four skeins of Berroco Vintage from the stash.  Plain knitting, for hours and hours, worked while half-snoozing, nibbling apricots.  I am lazier than an old cat full of mice. 

Thursday, July 24, 2014



We’re having a spell of gorgeousness, full of filtered sun and frizzy clouds and extra blankets at night.  I love summer, but sometimes it does leave me gasping for breath, both in the heat and in the utter frantic craziness of it all.  I am trying hard to fully appreciate my fantastic luck in having all my adult children under my roof for the summer, before they all pack up and go off to their own lives, so there are many late evenings full of noshing and chatter and me all dark gray and sleepy the next day.   My house is alive with light all night long, and it won’t last, and I am relishing it. 


All the knitting looks the same as it did the last time you saw it.  I make incremental headway on everything, and it grows gradually—a couple scarves, a shawl, two blankets, two sweaters,  more pairs of socks than I can recall.  Slow, slow, in blessed contrast to the rest of the hubbub around here.  I’m thinking of the knitting kind of medicinally these days.  The pile of pieced quilt top things is slightly taller; the peace I get from sewing little squares of fabric together by hand cannot be overstated.  Just, yeah.  It’s like a long, deep sigh.  I have read good books lately, and eaten raspberries and fresh eggs.  I have napped in the sun.  My beautiful daughter appeared onstage in a summer opera, and I busted open with pride and joy.  And the little orchid is still blooming, which is heroic and incredible.  That’s what you call worth the wait. 

Thursday, July 17, 2014



Knitting.  I know I have too many projects in progress, because I can’t even remember what they all are anymore.  Consequently, the work basket is teetering with yarn and no matter how much I work on all of my half-stitched cardigans and scarves and blankets and wraps, there is no noticeable change in them, but wow, casting on something new is so much fun!  So much promise.  Each time, I just know this is going to be the cardigan that Changes My Life.  It’s no way to finish anything, let me tell you.  This heathery pink waterfall cardigan with its plain but interesting construction and fab-looking lacy rib pattern grabbed me, so I dove in, made a mistake right away, muddled along for sixty rows without realizing the error, and now it sits there while I decide whether to rip it out.  I could just keep repeating the mistake every time, and who would care?  I don’t know.  So I switch to patchwork, which totally has me by the horns right now anyway.  It’s a good thing there are so many different ways to play with needles and string.

Off-topic:  if I were to dye wool yarn using black raspberries, what color do you think would result?  Brown?  Plum?  Soft brownish-pinky gray?  (she said, clasping her hands beneath her chin most hopefully.)  The hedge is teeming with them, and we haven’t even eaten all the jam from last year. 

Sunday, July 13, 2014

Smoky Mountains Quilt


A long time ago, maybe thirteen years or more, I started making this quilt.  I realized quickly that sewing those curved seams on a machine, while possible, was an aggravation I did not wish to endure, so I cut out all the blocks and commenced to hand-piecing them.  I probably worked on it sporadically.  Then, as now, this was not a project that required any kind of creative input—just the two colors, and the layout already determined, so it was pretty boring. 


Because I am that way, I cut out all the pieces, sorted them into piles by block, tucked each pile into its own plastic baggie, and put the pattern pieces carefully away.  I put a needle and three pins into a strawberry pincushion, and that, along with my spool of thread and a pair of collapsible scissors went into a zip bag in the workbasket.  Neat.  Orderly. 


We went camping, in the Great Smoky Mountains of North Carolina.  The kids were still really little, which is how I am scientifically dating the origins of this project—I had it with me in 2001.  It felt so right to sit beside the campfire with a little piece of handwork on my lap, stitching away while the children played tag and built fairy houses in the poison ivy.  I got a lot of sewing done.  That’s the best thing about camping; when you’re all done catching your own dinner, struggling to light the stove, sitting in the open trunk of the car while the rain extinguishes your fire, swatting mosquitoes while you eat, and washing it all up again in a bucket of tepid water, you have nothing to do but work on your quilt.  Which I did. 


Once home, though, away from the griddle cakes and country music, this project lost all its panache.  I folded up the fourteen hand-pieced blocks I’d finished, along with the remaining two baggie packets of cut shapes, the pattern pieces, the needle, the thread, the collapsible scissors, the strawberry pincushion, and a huge piece of 90” wide muslin to be used for the backing, and stuffed it all into a bin in the attic, where it quickly disappeared beneath several layers of debris strata.


I thought about them a few times.  Wondered where they’d got to.


Then, a few weeks ago, in the process of ransacking cleaning the attic, I found them.  They needed a wash, so while they tumbled in the washer, then flapped on the clothesline, I made the last two blocks. 


I hand-sewed the blocks together and scrounged enough wool batting pieces from the stash to fill it.  I hand-quilted it in my usual way, with #8 pearl cotton, using big stitches, right across the pattern in both directions.  My quilting stitches are kinda in your face. 


I hand-sewed the binding--three out of four good miters this time, a step backwards—and it was done.  The pattern, in case you are inclined to go hand-stitching into the mountains, is the traditional “Drunkard’s Path”—you can find a free tutorial here—and there are as many ways to piece the individual blocks as there are blackberries in the bramble.  I’m pretty pleased to have this one done.  Finally.  That’s two hand-pieced quilts in a row. 


Here I go again! 

Thursday, July 10, 2014

Learning about light


I’m sure the last thing you feel like sitting through is another of my gilded rhapsodies about the glories of summer—I am bored with myself on the subject, to be honest, but manoman, I am so compelled.  The amount of miserable complaining I do all winter is in direct correlation to the many gorgeous hours spent basking and luxuriating in summer.  All I’ll say is this:  in summer, I am ALIVE.  The more sultry it is, the better I feel.  What am I doing, living this far away from the Equator?  I know myself, and I want to spend life in flip flops and a sarong.  Anyhoo.


I’m doing a self-taught, DIY, home course in design that so far consists entirely of looking at old issues of House Beautiful magazine, and reading the text, too!  Not just looking at the pictures!  My questions are things like, what color goes with what?  And why does all that sunshine outdoors make the photos of my kitchen look so murky?


There’s so much to learn.  I feel a ruthless paring and a de-stash coming on.  And also, another epic, hand-pieced quilt project, the idea for which came into my head as I was falling asleep, so I dreamed about it; ten thousand tiny squares and my needle.  Nice. 

Sunday, July 6, 2014

Not yet


Apart from a tree and some stockings at Christmas, I’ve never really been one to decorate seasonally.  My friends change out all their sofa cushions four times a year, and on March first, they take down the winter wreath and put up a spring one, and according to the calendar they put out their bunny figurines or their pumpkins, but I can’t do all that.  I admire it, but I’m too lazy.  If the house looks reasonably presentable and all the mac and cheese bowls have made it back to the kitchen, it’s enough for me.  I’m just happy when there isn’t any dog hair on the rug. If things look good in April, won’t they still look good in September?


Which is why it didn’t occur to me until now that all these soft and muted fabrics, these russets and sage greens and dusty purples that I put together last fall for a quilt that I never got around to until now, might look kind of abject in the sizzling glare of July.  Kind of bland.  They are.  They are completely wasted in this strong summer light. 


I made a whole pretty pile of half-square triangles, loving them the whole time, their softness and tranquil beauty, earthy and low in contrast; then I spread them out, and went bleah.  I kept wondering whether I should add some citrine or turquoise, and wanting stronger value contrasts. Then I realized it’s because it’s July, and I picked out all these fabrics last fall.  This is meant to be an autumn quilt.  This is a quilt I will want to make then.  Right now, I want quilts like this:


There, that’s better.  Timing is everything.

When winter comes, I’ll make this one:


But not until then.