Archive for the ‘Handcrafts’ Category

Sing up the sun

September 5, 2019 @ 7:11 am | Filed under: , ,

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.



(affiliate links)


August 28, 2019 @ 7:28 am | Filed under: , ,

image of red apples behind green leaves
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?

image of chain stitches on an embroidery sampler

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.

image of filling stitches on embroidery sampler

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.

image of sampler showing brick and cross filling

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.

Spinning around again

October 7, 2014 @ 8:41 am | Filed under: , , ,

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.

Now this ladyher I could have learned from.

How to Spin Yarn Using a Drop Spindle.

Needles and Pins

January 25, 2013 @ 4:38 pm | Filed under:


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.

Weekend Quilting Project: Snuggleblanket

August 23, 2009 @ 12:39 pm | Filed under:

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.

Just ask Rilla. If you can find her.


Scribbles and Bits

August 10, 2009 @ 6:58 pm | Filed under: ,

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:

lionsquare 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!)

teacupAlthough I nicked the handle, this teacup makes me swoon.

Another thing we’ve been having great fun with is watercolor journaling, for which I must send Alice Cantrell a giant cyberkiss. A while back I blogged about our backyard art bag, which brainstorm transformed painting into a suddenly easy pursuit. A chief factor in its success was Jenn’s brilliant idea of cutting watercolor paper into postcard-sized pieces. GENIUS. Small paintings are less intimidating, are quickly finished, are easier to frame, mail, or store. Well, Alice Cantrell liked the art bag idea and carried it even farther, creating mini watercolor kits for her children. And then she shared a link to a Watercolor Journaling DVD, which I promptly ordered because I am completely in awe of Alice’s painting abilities and I not-so-secretly yearn to be able to create lovely pictures myself.

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.

journalpagesSay! 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.

Learning Something New

March 17, 2009 @ 12:28 pm | Filed under:

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…

Another Birthday Present: Dear Jane

December 19, 2008 @ 8:36 am | Filed under: , ,

It is astonishing how much attention my hubby pays to my enthusiastic chatterings. Especially when the topic is something he has absolutely no interest in personally, like, say, quilting.

One of my birthday presents was a book I’ve been hankering after: Dear Jane: The Two Hundred Twenty-Five Patterns from the 1863 Jane A. Stickle Quilt by Brenda Papadakis. I learned of this book, and of the incredible Jane Stickle quilt itself, from a link on Twiddletails, one of my favorite crafty blogs. Anina, the Twiddletails blogger, has a second blog called (for now, at least—yesterday a bit of a trademark dispute arose over the name) Dear Baby Jane, an amazing site on which Anina posts step-by-step photo tutorials for making every single block in the Jane Stickle quilt.

This is no mean feat. Jane’s quilt is a masterpiece. Every single block of this large quilt is pieced in a different geometrical pattern. Many of the patterns are traditional quilt blocks; many seem to be unique to Jane.

An autographed corner square tells us that Jane pieced the quilt “in wartime, 1863,” and that she used over five thousand separate bits of fabric. A farmer’s wife, she lived in the little village of Shaftsbury, Vermont. She was born in 1817, which makes her roughly a contemporary of Charlotte Tucker Quiner Holbrook, the maternal grandmother of Laura Ingalls Wilder, whom I wrote about in my Charlotte books. This is one of the many reasons the Jane Stickle quilt intrigued me when I first read about it at Dear Baby Jane. Charlotte was born in 1809 (along with Abraham Lincoln, Edgar Allen Poe, Alfred Lord Tennyson, Louis Braille, British statesman William Gladstone, Charles Darwin, and Felix Mendelssohn—some year, eh?) in Roxbury, Massachusetts. As a young woman, Charlotte worked as a seamstress, advertising her services in the local papers. By 1863, the year Jane finished her quilt—four years before Charlotte’s granddaughter Laura was born—Charlotte had been living in the “big woods” of Wisconsin for decades. Jane Stickle, meanwhile, lived her whole life in the Shaftsbury, VT, area, and instead of a storytelling granddaughter, the legacy she left us was her incredible wartime quilt.

Here’s a link to a good-sized image of the Jane Stickle quilt—dubbed the “Dear Jane” by Brenda Papadakis. (Contemporary versions of the quilt are nicknamed “Baby Janes.”) I don’t know if it’s kosher to post the image itself, so I’ll just stick with the link. The color scheme is what’s known as and “around the world” pattern: the blocks move through a range of shades in concentric circles (more or less) beginning in the middle of the quilt.

A whole Dear Jane subculture exists in the quilting world, both online and off. There are many gorgeous quilts modeled after or inspired by Jane Stickle’s masterpiece. On the Dear Baby Jane blog, Anina leads an online community of quilters who are piecing the quilt a block at a time, two blocks a week. (Marvel at the photos here.) Just reading Anina’s instructions has been a tremendous education for me. (I was sorry to read, yesterday, of the trademark stickiness and the possibility that Anina will take down the entire blog. I am hoping hard that this does not come to pass.)

My indulgent but wise husband will read this and fear that I am poised for a dive into the world of Dear Jane creators, but he need not worry. Having never completed so much as a simple block quilt (Rilla’s little quilt is still only half quilted, if you can call the mess I’m making “quilting”), my attempting a Baby Jane would be something like a starling chick trying to soar with the flock while it is still in the egg.

But oh how I love to look at the gorgeous variations others have created, and to read about the gradual progress of people attempting the ambitious project right now. And I can’t wait to dive into my new birthday book to learn more about Jane Stickle and her quilt.