I like to use up all my spare bits of floss from other projects on this Dropcloth sampler. It’s one of several hoops that live in a basket beside my writing chair. I pick it up often to occupy my hands when I need to think about the work for a minute. I have magnets stuck to a tin candle jar that sits on a shelf in arm’s reach, and whenever I have a long tail of floss left in the needle after finishing a section of another project, I stick the needle to one of the magnets. That way it’s easy to grab one when I hit a tricky spot in whatever I’m writing. This red-stripe sampler has accompanied me for months—through the final revision of my novel, a slew of Brave Writer Arrow literature guides, a dozen poem drafts, and any number of posts. It’s my mental scratch pad! Every stitch represents a moment NOT spent scrolling a feed and killing my flow.
I think what I love most about this practice is that each bit of thread is tied to concrete experiences. I can glance at a row and recognize the color I was using up from another stitching project—oh look, it’s that flower petal!—and the work I was puzzling over when I added stitches to the row. It’s a kind of coded journal. Unintentionally, serendipitously. Turns out my best writing hack was a total accident. The happiest kind!
School started back up for Wonderboy last week, and his earlier bus pick-up time this year means a new morning routine for several of us. I’ve pushed my own wake-up time from 6 to 5:30 to give myself a full hour for my daily creative practice before my boys get up. This is a bit too early for comfort, but I cherish that quiet morning time with poetry, cocoa, and my notebook. My studio window faces east, so I get to watch the sun seep upward from the neighbor’s roof into the clouds, like rose and apricot-colored watercolors blooming on wet paper. There’s a pair of trees over the back fence whose combined shape looks like a hedgehog in profile with its paw raised to its open mouth as if it’s calling out to the sun, singing it awake.
It always makes me think of the hedgehog in Watership Down, only that one is singing to the moon, not the sun: O Slug-a-Moon!
I read from books of poems for a while—currently Oceanic by Aimee Nezhukumathathil and Conflict Resolution for Holy Beings by Joy Harjo, along with daily selections from Holly Wren Spaulding’s poetry challenge or her Patreon. After a bit (and as my special caffeinated hot chocolate kicks in), reading becomes writing, and I freewrite to one of Holly’s provocations or using the method Lynda Barry lays out in her indispensable book about writing, What It Is. These scrawled pages are rough, unfiltered, as freewrites are supposed to be; and then I reread and harvest a word here, a fragment there, arranging the raw phrases into drafts of poems.
Sometimes I wake so early that I have time to stitch or sketch while listening to a few minutes of a Commonplace Pod episode before the boys appear in my doorway. Wonderboy eats breakfast and Huck snuggles into my writing chair for a bit. Scott gets up to pack WB’s lunch. Huck moseys down to the basement to watch a video. I take a peek at Instagram, maybe share a stitch-diary photo in my Stories. The bus arrives. Scott reads in bed for a while. I turn on my laptop and open a tab to WordPress or Patreon. I congratulate the green hedgehog on successfully waking the sun for one more day.
I’m sleep-deprived but happy.
Speaking of my Patreon: I’ve restructured the tiers with new benefits for fall. I mentioned last week that I’m giddily immersed in a new creative project which combines hand-drawn embroidered pieces with poems. I’m documenting the process on Patreon with lots of sketchbook and work-in-progress peeks. I usually wait until a project is out in the world before I say much about it, so this is quite a departure for me—as is the project itself.
The other day at a singing party, a poet friend mentioned that she feels like fall is the beginning of the new year, not January 1st. Because of ingrained back-to-school associations, we agreed, but also—the brisk air rising in your lungs, quickening your pace; the freshened world beckoning you back after the air-conditioned hibernation of summer. I feel it today, the sense of beginnings: the yellow buses bustling along the narrow streets, fifty-cent composition books at the drugstore, apples red and ready on my neighbor’s tree. When does an apple’s life begin? Seed, blossom, first sweet bite?
I spent August stitching, mostly—finishing embroidery projects begun earlier in the year, then feverishly needling a cross-stitch lion for Rose’s 21st birthday, and then this past week, at a pace both leisurely and obsessive, working my way through Rebecca Ringquist’s Stitch-a-Day Sampler class on Creativebug (affiliate link). I’d noticed on Instagram that she was having a seconds sale on some of her Dropcloth Samplers, so I snapped up a Drawing Stitches sampler for five dollars and commenced using up the shortish strands of floss left from other projects. And fell in love with filling stitches: battlement, cloud, brick and cross, trellis.
As I stitched, a project shaped itself in my mind: a series of small pieces on a particular theme—too new to say more about, and it’s going to stretch my drawing skills past their comfort zone, but (like Lottie in Enchanted April, which I watched for the umpteenth time one Saturday as I stitched) I see it. It’s strange and exhilarating to have a creative vision fall from the tree fully-formed like a ripe apple—that’s not at all how writing a book works, where I have to card and spin the thread before I can stitch a row of words together.
I had everything I needed for this project on hand, except the right fabric. I’ve borrowed Sarah Benning‘s trick of using old, raggedy bedsheets for embroidery pieces, but the green one in my scrap pile isn’t quite right for what I mean to do. I was planning to scour some thrift shops when an unexpected treasure fell into my lap from Nextdoor—a neighbor three streets over offering a giveaway bag of linen and cotton scraps left from sewing projects. “Most pieces around six by six inches,” her notice read, and I gasped. Astonishingly, the next ad down—same neighbor!—was for free river rock. She has a few beds of stones she wants to replace, and she encouraged neighbors to come by and fill a bucket or barrow. I say “astonishingly” because that very morning I’d collected two or three smooth stones from around our yard and given them to Huck in a pan of soapy water to be washed and then painted in bright colors for edging our flowerbeds. If you happen upon any more stones like this in the yard, I’d told him, grab them for me because I need lots.
Now, thanks to this generous neighbor, I do have lots, a pail full, so our winter garden will be as bright as our spring, summer, fall. And in my studio there’s a bag of linen, blue, brown, cream, white, in strips and squares and odd shapes left by sleeves or pant legs. Even a few pockets, stitched, cut away, discarded, rediscovered and bulging with possibility. Happy new year, indeed.
Rilla, as you know, is eight years old, which means it’s her turn for the family tradition called Daddy Reads Mommy’s Martha Books to You. Which for all four of my daughters now has meant, as sure as the sun will rise, a sudden burning need to learn how to spin. I understand; the passion gripped me, too, when I was writing those books. I never did score myself a spinning wheel (it’s on the Someday list) but I had to have a drop spindle so I could know what it felt like to fumble along like beginner Martha. She got good at it way faster than I did, though. In my defense, she had Auld Mary for a teacher, whereas I? Didn’t even have YouTube yet. It was 1997, which means the internet helpfully told me what books to read.
January 25, 2013 @ 4:38 pm | Filed under: Handcrafts
Rilla found a Winky Cherry beginner sewing kit on the shelf—one of those things I’ve had stashed for ages and forgot we owned. I used to feel pangs of guilt over forgotten acquisitions, but they so often seem to turn up at exactly the right moment, such a nice surprise. She’s busily stitching away and I look forward to a menagerie of felt critters in the days ahead. Felt is the nicest thing for a beginner, don’t you think? For both sewing or embroidery. No hemming required, overstitch looks lovely, it’s stiff enough not to need an embroidery hoop (for small pieces, at least), and no matter what you do it always looks cozy and cheerful. I love Felt Wee Folk and Doodle Stitching for ideas.
I had all sorts of little stitchery projects going before Huck was born (a mere four years ago), but I put everything aside when he came along and haven’t returned to it since. (To my chagrin: I still owe a couple of quilt blocks to certain VERY UNDERSTANDING members of my virtual sewing circle, and I never even sent out my own fabric for them to magic into something wonderful. IT’S STILL ON MY LIST OF THINGS TO DO, THOUGH.) (I’m shouting at myself.)
We had planned to go to the zoo today to celebrate Beanie’s 12th (TWELFTH!!!!) birthday, but the rain foiled our plans. Perhaps next week. Among all the other delights of the zoo, I want to give Rilla and Huck a chance to pet a real sheep, feel the lanolin in its wool, for a little sheep-to-yarn rabbit trail I’ve planned for Rilla, who got knitting needles for Christmas. With pink cats on the ends! And how’s this for incentive to pick up my own needles: I was sent a KnitCrate package to review for my subscription-box series at GeekMom—it’s loverly. The two yarns they included are to swoon for. I’ll let you know when that post goes up, probably next week.
August 23, 2009 @ 12:39 pm | Filed under: Handcrafts
Technically, this isn’t a quilting project at all because I didn’t do any quilting and didn’t use batting. It’s just a pieced quilt top backed with fleece.
We adore it.
I had some Moda Objects of Desire charm packs and used everything except the prints with shoes on them. Found some green fleece that matches the green prints exactly: joy!
The charm pack pieces are 5″ square. I pieced them into nine-patches (the girls loved helping with that part) and assembled the blocks into a 4 block x 5 block rectangle. No binding, just sewed the quilt top and the fleece together right sides facing, turned it right-side-out, and sewed up the little opening. The whole project took me, let’s see, about four baby naps plus maybe another three hours in small chunks of time.
We wanted a light but snuggly blanket for the living-room couch. I didn’t want it to be as heavy as a real quilt, so that’s why I skipped the batting, and skipping the batting meant I didn’t have to fuss with quilting stitches. I was going to back it with flannel—I’ve done that for a few baby blankets here and there, and it’s a nice weight, but I wasn’t sure how it would work on a larger scale. But then at the fabric store, Rose and I stumbled upon this fleece in a sale rack, and it matched so perfectly we couldn’t resist. And the cotton quilt top plus the fleece backing turns out to be the PERFECT weight and loft to cuddle up under on our cool mornings and nights. The air trapped between the two layers makes it cushiony and cozy and completely irresistible.
Has it really been a week since I posted? Just busy being busy, I guess. Lots of creative juices flowing here lately. Rose is hard at work on a novel inspired by Erin Hunter’s Warriors series. I haven’t been granted a peek at it yet, but her first effort, a twenty page tale filled with swash, buckle, and feline romance, was delightful. I’m eager to read this next installment.
Now that the baby is sitting and playing, and scooting around until he wears himself out and collapses for a two-hour nap, I’ve been able to grab some time for sewing again. I pulled a piecing marathon this weekend and completed three(!) blocks for my virtual quilting bee. Gosh I love piecing. Made two log cabin blocks on Saturday, my first sally at log cabin, and I am completely, utterly, head-over-heels in love with it. Log cabin is like the best parts of Legos, crayons, and yarn all in one.
Here is an excellent log cabin tutorial at Crazy Mom Quilts.
One of the best things about the quilting bee is finding a use for the little bundle of Japanese fabrics I got on sale last year. Like this one:
Couldn’t you just die from the cute?
But as you can see, I’m still having trouble making my seams go where I want them to go. I am just not a straight-line kind of girl. Happily for me, wonky is in. (Making this the best time in history to take up quilting. Fabu deals on Japanese fabrics at a zillion Etsy shops, and crooked seams in vogue? I’m in!)
Although I nicked the handle, this teacup makes me swoon.
Well, we—my five oldest children and I, from the 3-year-old up—loved the DVD. It got us painting right away. Rilla insists upon my ‘making her a painty picture’ every day. Mind you, I still don’t know what I’m doing. Jane has taken a watercolor class and she is teaching me some techniques. Despite her instruction I have yet to manage a non-blotchy wash. But I’m learning. And the colors are so bright, so fresh, so cheerful, that I really don’t care how many mistakes I make.
Say! If your blotchy wash is in blue, it looks like sky!
My kids have been watching old episodes of Magic School Bus on VHS. (That’s how old the episodes are.) And when I’m painting or sewing, I hear Ms. Frizzle shouting in her merry way: “Take chances! Make mistakes!” This is quite a comforting mantra to keep in mind when attempting to learn a new art or craft, I find.
March 17, 2009 @ 12:28 pm | Filed under: Handcrafts
I’m in a little online quilting bee, and this month’s designer sent us a gorgeous batik vine print and the suggestion that our blocks should fit a nature study theme: things you might see on a nature hike. Too fun!
I saw this freezer-paper foundation piecing tutorial at Twiddletails and knew I had to give it a try. The tree shapes in the tutorial are perfect for Theresa’s theme. I am a total novice at this, but I gave it a try yesterday and I was tickled by the results, imperfect though they be. (I recklessly made alterations in the tutorial’s pattern, which would have been no problem if I’d known in what order to piece my pieces together. I messed that bit up, and consequently things aren’t lined up quite as well as I’d hoped. But you’ve got to expect a few scraped knees when you’re first learning to ride a bike, right?)
This is the first of four smaller squares I’ll be sewing together to make one big block. I finished the second square today (no pictures yet) and it came out better. I used this month’s free pattern for the “Geese in the Forest” block-of-the-month project, also at Twiddletails.
(The turquoise fabric at the top isn’t part of this quilt block. It belongs to a different project.)
I think I could really get into freezer-paper piecing. It spares you the part of sewing that stresses me out—the measuring—and makes the cutting part pretty much foolproof. There’s a bit of fabric waste, though. I imagine I’ll be able to cut down on the amount of waste as I get the hang of the process. Besides, when it’s fabric it isn’t really waste, is it? It’s scraps. You can do any number of things with scraps…