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.

Monday, June 30, 2014

Chairs, pillows, design


I recently found a pair of chairs in a thrift shop.  They weigh a ton and they look like thrones, and I am mad for the dusty pink velvet upholstery, but they’re presenting a challenge; namely, how to keep them from making the whole room look like Barbie’s dream house.  I spent five minutes making some eensy pillows using wacky upholstery samples and a skirt that didn’t fit me anymore, which seems to be helping.  


I don’t know a thing about design, so this is how the process works for me:  if something is too glamorous or pink or frilly, I feel it’s time to add something brown or beat up or weird, just to bring things back to center.  My lack of design skills frustrates me a lot, actually, because I really want to be good at it, and I just stab around in the dark and get lucky sometimes, and fail mostly, but I am so intrigued by it all.  When it works, for anybody, I really love it, and then I think How did they ever know to use that blue?  and I know I never would have thought of it, and part of my trouble is that I kind of like everything.  Sparkly Victorian chandeliers?  Yes.  Granny blankets in every color?  Yes!  Funny taxidermy?  YES!


Figuring out how to reconcile all that into one little house is how I have fun in this life. 

Friday, June 27, 2014

Getting quilty


I’ve got a long and daunting list of things that need to get accomplished—those cherries aren’t going to pick themselves—but I’ve dawdled too long at Pinterest, and in Jane Brocket’s beautiful book, and in all your lovely blogs, and now I feel inspired.  The black and white quilt patiently awaits its (wool!) batting, so in the meantime I guess I’ll start another.  Okay, two.  How many is too many?  So much fabric, so few hands to sew it with all at once. 


I’m also flying without a harness and have cast on a new sweater without checking Ravelry first.  I know.  It’s so pretty, and if the pattern is a train wreck, I don’t want to know about it yet.  I’m just doing it, and I also haven’t done a gauge swatch.  (What???)  I refuse to learn from my own mistakes.  

In other, unrelated news, I can’t stop singing Peter Frampton songs.  Ever since my friend M&M and I plied the miles and saw him play last week, he has filled my head with this and this and this, and that’s how I remember him—here he is now, and if you want a treat, watch this one.  You’ll get that song stuck in your head, but you could do a lot worse.  My love of the 70’s is boundless.  

Monday, June 23, 2014





The weekend.  I have the best weekends around here these days, with my clan all around me and friends and wine and long bike rides beside the canal (my legs are utterly shattered today, ugh; must move around more) and lemon sorbet and strawberry pie, and a cold, sweet watermelon and an enormous steak cooked for me by my boy on his own birthday.  I eat steak roughly never, and can hardly make a dent in one, but it was tender, both literally and figuratively.  My boy will cook his mom a steak, and you can cut it with your fork. There were hours spent in the sun with a book (more Ann Patchett, who will teach you how to write if you listen) and a still-small but new and interesting crochet project.  I worked on the black and white quilt top, then went out to spent an hour cleaning in the attic, where I came across a bag of muslin fabric scraps inside which was a half-pieced block from the very same black and white quilt (what?) and the entire still-folded piece of backing fabric, which has spent thirteen years sitting out there waiting for me, which I don’t remember having, and which revealed itself on the exact day I needed it.  Slightly miraculous, but it’s been one of those weeks.  I made the jersey knit skirt without the mathy pattern and then wore it and it was perfect, and I felt the full strength of my own ability to know what I want.  The doctor fixed the brakes on the car.  The cat had a bath, to which he submits with controlled rage, but which fluffs him up like a baby bunny.  We basked in the full-on summer-ness of June.  These days of breakfast outdoors and eating barely-ripe cherries straight from the tree are what I dream about when the snow is blowing against the kitchen windows and we huddle miserably against it.  I am full to overflowing.

You’ll want this pie recipe.  Believe me.  Make it now, when the berries are good. 

Strawberry Honey Pie

1 1/2 quarts strawberries from the farm, roadside stand, or your garden 

1/4 cup + 1 tablespoon honey (or 1 cup + 1 tablespoon sugar, if you must)

3 tablespoons cornstarch

1 8 oz package cream cheese, softened

1 baked 9” pastry crust.

Make your favorite pastry crust, and bake it empty.  While it cools, wash, hull and mash enough strawberries to make 1 cup.  Wash and hull the remaining berries and set them aside.  Mix 1/4 cup honey and mashed berries into a saucepan and heat gently, stirring.  Make a slurry with the cornstarch and 1/2 cup water, and whisk it in to the berry mixture.  Cook over medium heat, stirring constantly, until thickened.  Cool.  Beat the cream cheese until smooth and add 1 tablespoon honey.  Spread the cream cheese mixture into the cooled crust.  Fill with the remaining whole berries, arranging them in circles, and then pour the cooked berry mixture over the top.  Refrigerate 3 hours, or until well-chilled.  Devour.