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!
I’ve archived last week’s Creativebug post (since that special is over), but I wanted a more evergreen record of classes we’ve enjoyed there. So here’s that post, tweaked for posterity. 😉
I’ve shared a lot here over the years about how much the kids and I love taking classes at Creativebug. Their drawing and painting classes have long been a staple of my Saturday-night art date with Rilla. The modest monthly subscription fee grants access to hundreds of classes in all sorts of creative pursuits: watercolors, line drawing, embroidery, sewing, knitting, crochet, cake design, on and on!
This Lisa Congdon class on Basic Line Drawing launched my personal sketchbook practice several years ago and changed my world. (I’ve since had the pleasure of getting to know Lisa in person, because she lives right here in Portland. She’s a gem! As is her new book, Find Your Artistic Voice.)
(Note: This is a screenshot, not an embedded video, in case any of you are trying to click on that arrow!)
Here’s a class Beanie took, to the delight of the whole family: Making Hand Pies
As you can see, Creativebug
has added a whole lot of color (and flavor!) to our world!
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.
If anybody says the word “August” to me I shall scream, ’Enry ’Iggins, I shall scream. It’s simply Not Possible we are almost there.
School doesn’t start for my rising 9th grader (!!! — now it’s your turn to shriek at the passage of time) for another month, but the rise of restlessness and quarreling among my smallest fry signaled to me that it was time for the tide to come back in. We picked up some dropped threads this morning—the Shakespeare speech they were learning in June (which I was pleased to see they remembered in full, so now I get to choose the next one); our German lessons; the study of ancient counting systems that Rilla is so enjoying. “Who knew I would be SO INTO numbers?”—/endquote.
And we began the second Penderwicks book. I had a different readaloud in mind but I was shouted down. “No offense to your choice, Mom,” I was assured. “It’s just…I mean, the Penderwicks.”
Indisputable logic. We’re on Chapter 3 of Gardam Street now.
Huck is clamoring for a return to Poetry Teatime (our July Tuesdays were full of misadventure), so that’s tomorrow. And if the heat breaks, I’d like to get them doing some baking once a week. I miss baking bread. Ooh but also! A German bakery is opening in our neighborhood! I may be a wee bit excited.
I read approximately one zillion Mary Stewart novels in June and early July, and then I completely forgot how to read. No wait, that’s not accurate—I read two entire Jean Webster novels on the plane to and from San Diego. But I got home a week ago and I’ve been floating from first page to first page ever since, like a butterfly sampling nectar and not finding anything quite satisfactory. Which is ridiculous, given the size of my TBR pile, not to mention the queue on my Kindle. Hundreds of options. I keep pulling out stacks and then…not committing to anything.
I’ve been steady at art, though, and that’s not nothing. Drawing or painting almost every day, and quite a bit of embroidery. This topic requires pictures but I can’t be bothered just now, please understand. I’m trying my long ago (so very long ago!) trick of using a quick blog post (timer set for twenty minutes) as a transition between the homeschooling mom and writer-with-a-deadline parts of my day. I daren’t go a minute over.
But here—three people to visit for gorgeous needlework pictures and patterns:
• Liz at Cozyblue Handmade
• Wendi at Shiny Happy World
• Rebecca at Dropcloth Samplers
There you go.
I took a leaf from Jenn’s book today and raided our scrap bin to make a spur-of-the-moment flannel quilt top for Rilla. We are in the process of transitioning her to her own bed in the girls’ room. (My three big girls share a room, and we’re adding a trundle for little sis.) This is something that’s always on the to-do list during a pregnancy, moving the toddler out of our room to make way for the newborn, but I admit I’ve been a bit lax with it this time around. Rilla still nurses a little at night; that’s part of it. And also, she’s very cuddly. Toddlerhood passes so quickly, and I like to savor every breathy little snore of it.
A month or two ago, we set up a (bedraggled old) child-sized futon next to our bed, and Rilla has been starting out her nights there. At some point in the night, she climbs into bed beside me. She’s like a cat, the way she sort of pours herself under the covers and curls up next to me with a contented sigh. She’s also like in a cat in the way she’ll turn on a dime and hiss and snarl at the blankets because they have offended her somehow, and she’s all flailing paws until the malevolent covers are no longer touching any part of her body. A mercurial little creature, is my Rilla.
Yesterday we moved the futon into the girls’ room. She thought this whole “sleeping with the big girls” thing was a pretty swell idea right up until bedtime, when suddenly it was The Most Offensive Idea Anyone Has Ever Had in All of Human History. But I snuggled up beside her in the dark, and her sisters whispered to her, and the devious plan I’d carried out earlier in the day—feeding her marshmallows at naptime instead of putting her down for a nap—paid off pretty quickly. She sighed, and sank, and slumbered, and when her limbs began lashing at the covers I knew it was safe for me to slip away. (Sob.)
Jane and I thought a special new blanket for her special new bedroom might help ease the transition. Rilla doesn’t have a blankie she’s attached to, though she does like the little patchwork baby quilt I made her before she was born. It’s way too small now, of course. So this morning Jane and I pieced together the remnants of the same cozy flannel plaids and prints I’d used for that baby blanket nearly three years ago and came up with a sort of wonky, large-patch quilt top. We’ve got a big piece of pink plaid-and-polka-dots to use for the backing. I’ve never actually quilted anything before, mind you—the baby quilts I’ve made are just patchwork tops with flannel backing, no batting in between. I need to go buy some batting tomorrow and we’ll see if we can pull this thing off.
In the meantime, the quilt top seems to have passed Miss Rilla’s muster.
The little embroidered kitty with flower umbrella at the bottom is a pattern from the Wee Wonderfuls “Tulip Fairy” Stitchette set, which I bought a while back and forgot about until today. That blank pink patch was just begging for a bit of embellishment. And I have to say, I am completely enchanted. The Stitchette pattern is a reusable iron-on which took all of ten seconds to transfer to our fabric. Suddenly everywhere I look are blank bits of fabric crying out for a little Wee Wonderfuls snail, or the mice pouring tea from that cunning acorn teapot, or that kite-flying ladybug, oh the cuteness of it all.