Wednesday, February 28, 2007

A real original

Through one of those meandering paths one can take, perusing other blogs, I came upon someone who is doing really original work -- someone whose personal style and individual touch comes clearly through. I do not know if this is a man's name or a woman's, although I'd certainly put money on its being a woman (my personal bias showing through, but at least I'm honest) -- tamar mogendorff. I wish there were a blog there, but this is a gallery of this person's work. Please do not stop at least until you've seen the avocado. Brilliant. Tamar has made me start thinking about soft fabric sculptures in a whole new way, and no one I've ever seen does birds as beautifully.

When we left the house this morning, the snow was sparkling like diamonds, shiny and fresh and delightful. Tonight on the way home it all just looked tired and spent -- the story of a sub-freezing night followed by a spring-warm day. I feel promise in the air today, and hope. I am endlessly thrilled by all the points throughout the year when you can feel a new beginning -- a "do-over" right in the midst of things, another chance to start fresh and get it right. Tomorrow I get the 2 names of the people I will send fabric and other treats to in the first online swap I've done in ages. This is a big fresh start for me -- I had given up on this sort of thing when some woman in Australia stole my quilt (we were participating in a round robin, she acknowledged receiving my quilt -- that several other people had worked on at that point -- and she simply decided to keep it and not respond to requests to send it on). It so totally depressed me that it happened, that someone else could actually live with seeing my quilt everyday (unless of course she sold it) and not feel consumed by guilt. I cannot imagine. But I'm giving up on cynicism and believing, again, in all the people who are wonderful and who participate happily and freely in these kinds of exchanges; I'll be mailing my packages out on Friday and watching the mail eagerly thereafter.

Tuesday, February 27, 2007

Crossing the line

There's a line. A line, you know? Between "handmade" when it means, oh, wow, you made this yourself? Wow, I wish I could make stuff like that, and "handmade" when it means, well, dreadful. The kind of handmade a child dreads when her mother makes her something and expects her to wear it when everyone else has the nice one from the store....

So I made this fleecy soft hat for an 8-year-old, the daughter of a friend, who is undergoing chemo. I see pictures of her (and she's doing amazingly well -- more about Maddie) and I worry that she's cold -- that her head is cold. So I decided to make her a hat. I have made hats from this pattern, for children and adults (sized accordingly) 8 times without mishap. But this time I was in a hurry. And so I did a miserable job when it came to the last step of decorative buttonhole stitching (done by machine) where the bottom edge of the hat gets turned up. Have YOU ever tried to take stitching, decorative stitching, out of polar fleece? It is an ugly thing. What I know I should do (besides slow down and listen to the voice inside my head next time) is just throw this one out and make another; I've got plenty of fabric. But I can't -- I stubbornly have to tear out each stitch, trying desperately not to gouge the fleece. And I certainly couldn't have given the hat the way it was (which was what Ken suggested) because of that line, that line you cross when "handmade" is an insult.

Monday, February 26, 2007

Mr. Plow

Well I started my portion of today (the time after dropping off Dean at school and before picking him up and not a day I myself have to be at work) feeling all mighty and athletic -- shoveling the 250-foot-plus long driveway of last night's snow. But Mr. Plow showed up about 15 minutes into it, and while I hate spending the $ on plow service, it was a gift to get the two hours back that it would have taken me to shovel. Now I'm trying to convince myself to keep going on my cleaning up project -- cleaning up the spare bedroom I use for all my crafts and computing and everything. It's tough because it's not merely a case of needing to make the room look all right, but it really has to be about pulling everything apart, sorting, organizing, discarding, and putting back. Horrifying. I wish I were better at the discarding part, and at the not-buying-all-this-stuff-in-the-first-place part, but I've got miles to go on that front. I think I'm on the road to not buying more just out of utter disgust for all that I have (I was trying to think, yesterday, if there's a name for this condition and all I could come up with was, "American"). Any ideas why I bought a pair of bamboo #2 knitting needles, 13" long?

But since I still have to think about starting my next hundred projects, I give you this little house, above. From an alphabet puzzle set I saved from my childhood because even back then I adored the images. I want to print some of these out on fabric sheets and sew them into little pins. 'Course I just had this painful moment, thinking of all the pins in all my various jewelry boxes that haven't seen the light of day for years. Just have to shake it off -- too depressing.

Listening to Rusted Root Send Me on My Way (popularized in the movie Ice Age) -- so on my way I go, back to the cleaning....

Sunday, February 25, 2007

Factory work

"Can you and me have our own factory where we make things?" Dean asked last night. Ah, that's my boy! I have this pretty detailed vision of the studio space I would want in the house we'd live in if we ever won the lottery (where Dean and I would spend lots of time together, making things) -- it looks nothing like the utter mess that is the spare bedroom in our current, real-life house where my arts and crafts stuff is "kept." I need to find the buttons I bought (seven years ago?) to be the noses of the dogs on the paper-pieced quilt I started for Dean way back; I showed him the 25 blocks and he likes them very much, so now I need to make them into a quilt and give it to him before he leaves for college. But trying to figure out where I put that little bag of buttons is going to take, really, pulling the entire mess of the room apart. Do you ever do this -- I had for years been storing this little bag of buttons in the drawer of my nightstand and must have once decided that they didn't belong there and moved them. Why oh why? They weren't hurting anything, I knew where they were, and they had been there for years already at that point -- why did I move them and risk the chance that they will never be found?

The dashiki ironing project of yesterday took (drum roll, please) about 5 hours -- active hours -- of my time. I ironed for over three hours straight. The cloth was left to dry overnight in the basement after the marathon hand washing session and gets its final ironing today. I'll be curious to see how many other parents were willing to do the hard labor for their child's school project, and I HOPE no one actually put the cloth in a washing machine, as I *think* she'd now be in the market for a new machine.... The kids used melted crayons, not paraffin, for the batik process; this would have been a-ok if they were working on small, picture-sized works. But for 2.5 yards of fabric, it was a total and utter nightmare. Dean may be upset that the purple dye they used turned a little on the pink side once it was washed out -- oh, I hope he's all right with it! My basement sink will never, in any case, be the same.

Oh, and if you eat pork -- I highly recommend this rustic pork ragu recipe. I don't usually follow a recipe exactly, only because I either don't have the precise ingredients on hand, or it's something that Ken or Dean won't eat unless I make a change, or I'm feeling lazy. But this was a rare occasion when I did have everything and followed the very simple recipe and it was quite delicious on a cold winter's night.

Friday, February 23, 2007

Pattern (plus two), as promised

I think this will work. Click on the picture to the left, get the full size image, and you can print it out and use it as a pattern for making roughly hand-sized little creatures (a fox, a hamster or mini bear, and a bunny). I made my from wool felt, whip-stitched the edges, and stuffed before adding button eyes and other features. I would love to see anything you make from these and will post pictures of my hamster and bunny (the fox is down below, on my first post).

I make my patterns using graph paper -- in pencil, I draw out the shape as best I can (being right-handed, the left side of the image usually comes out better). I pick which side of the image, the right or left, looks better, fold the paper right down the middle, and cut out along the line (so that I get a symmetrical shape). I made these outlines by photo-copying the graph paper pattern on a copier underneath a dark piece of paper (so that I got the nice "positive" of the image). I then put that copy under plain white paper and used a heavy black pen for the outlining. I'm working on a couple of critters now that are not symmetrical -- side-views of animals -- and it's taking longer to get the pencil draft right. I am VERY relieved that Dean knew at ONCE that the one I showed him today is the opossum he requested (how will anyone be able to tell, I had asked ahead of time, if it is a rat or an opossum?, and he said confidently that the two animals are very different and that it would be obvious).

In the spirit of full disclosure I will report that Dean was angelic at lunch. Stopping at the toy store ahead of time proved the wiser choice -- for one thing, it gave him something to look at while we ate and for another, it prevented the constant "are we done yet?" that I would have been in for if I'd made him wait. So it all worked out. Marilyn even brought Dean a special Chinese New Year envelope with some lucky money in it and told us about her upcoming trip to China, earning her massive points in Dean's eyes (he was honestly just as impressed, if not more, by the impending trip as the gift). He wants me to book a follow up date with her once she's back so we can see her pictures of the trip and that certainly coincides with my resolve to get together with her more than once a year....


Dean and I are going out today to have lunch, at a restaurant, with my friend Marilyn. Marilyn does not have kids, Dean is 8. Now, that's not as overwhelming as, say, "Marilyn does not have kids, Dean is 4," but still, I worry. Will Dean be his charming, well-mannered, eat-what-he-ordered and occupy himself appropriately while grown-ups are talking self, or will he be his ants in the pants, I'm not hungry/this doesn't really taste good, there's nothing to do self? I think, doting mother that I am, that he's usually pretty good, but to see children's behavior through the lens of someone who has specifically decided not to be a parent can be another thing all together. Well, I can always hold the Toys R Us chip over his head -- restaurant is riiiight across the street....

School vacation week is winding down and we're back to it on Monday. How is it still that a week's vacation, looming ahead, seems so long and promising and overrun with opportunities to get a million things done, and then becomes just this blip of time that's over before you can believe it during which you've gotten about exactly nothing on your list done? How old am I going to be before this truth sinks in? One chore I MUST do is to iron out about 15 pounds of wax from the cloth Dean batiked at school since it is due back on Monday and on Tuesday I work with his class to begin sewing the fabric into African ceremonial coats (dashiki, if I'm not mistaken). For some reason, either the nature of the wax used or the fabric, it doesn't seem possible to scrape any of the wax off so I'm going to have to use up about 10 rolls of paper towels to absorb all the wax. I see myself getting the wax all over everything -- the iron, the ironing board, etc. -- even though I'll be trying very hard NOT to. I just can feel trouble ahead. But tomorrow's the day. For sure.

Thursday, February 22, 2007


In sorting through a tiny, tiny portion of my horrifically huge fabric stash (really -- I could have bought, perhaps, a car instead with all the $ over the years...) I came across a collection of 10" squares of a mystery fabric (silk/cotton blend, maybe? do they make such things?) shot through with metallic thread that I had washed and then left all wadded and tangled up and stuffed into a fabric storage bin. I couldn't bear to see the stuff so abused, so I de-tangled and ironed it up. Off of the mass I cut this tangled collection of threads and I've been unable to part with it. Please note that it is all thread and fiber -- there are NOT tangled up hairs in the mess. Anyway, I see some life in this little lump somehow; perhaps it could be twisted into a fairie's wings, or made into an insect pin, or something. I think I may try a party dress for a small rabbit out of some of the main fabric (I can only think it came as a monthly installment of some fabric pack mailing I signed up for, back in the day when my disposable income was such that I could dispose of it in such a frivolous way). I'm sitting here now, appliqueing a wool felt heart onto the polar fleece hat I made for myself, somehow thinking that this kind of multi-tasking means I'm being productive and not just spending more time screwing around on the computer.

Still thinking a lot about the bloggers' debate on copyright. At issue, in one thread, anyway, is whether the look and feel of the photographs and the general feeling of a blogger's content is somehow protected -- can SHE be somehow prevented from having HER blog look so much like MINE that even my friends think her site looks like mine?!? And I think, gently and good-naturedly, that this would be like decorating your house to be a perfect reflection of you, and then visiting a friend's home and being aghast that your style has been stolen (since she liked the look of your family room so much, she went out and painted it the same color, and bought similar furniture, etc. etc.). It's kind of weird and disturbing, perhaps, and not ethical, perhaps, but it isn't illegal. Also I've been looking more carefully at crafter's output and the kinds of things people are "copyrighting" -- again, there can be a real issue at stake when money is being made and someone's ability to sell her work is impinged upon when someone else rips off the design -- but so little seems really "original" that I'm not sure you could ever argue who really owned the idea. I did buy Hillary Lang's pattern booklet because I wanted to make, exactly, her bunny, kitty, and bear and would not have just cobbled them up myself given that she does indeed sell the patterns. I still would never sell things I've made, and certainly wouldn't even think of selling something I made knowing that I had knocked off someone else's creation, and I want to be so entirely on the up and up about giving sources (I've even emailed Amy at angry chicken and would kill the soup recipe if she wanted me to)...but I think the "idea pot" out there in the world is pretty big, with plenty of room for all.

And, ultimately, while I would like to be credited for things you might want to take off my blog (and REALLY would want you to link to me from your blog and I'd do the same), I put things out there in the hopes of adding some of me to that big pot of ideas.

Wednesday, February 21, 2007

A day of seasons bridged

I got out of my car to get the mail out of the box at the end of the driveway (always a possibility of the mail of my dreams!), wearing no coat and having driven home from work with the sunroof open -- to see kids out at the end of the street sledding down the big hill. I love days like these, when there are two seasons absolutely going on at once. Spring was unmistakable today, but it's going to take quite a few more days like these to melt the snow.

While there IS still snow on the ground, I'll post one last look (I *think*) of my current mini-Christmas quilt project:
This is just the center of a roughly 8.5 x 11" piece; same photo transfer process that I described with my very first post, below. The fabric sheets come 8.5 x 11, so I filled two up with images which is why I'm sort of stuck in this rut -- I want to use them all up and then tuck them away until Christmastime. Meanwhile my head is filled with spring-ier themes, Easter, and other kinds of quiltmaking (that reflect more of the real me than these holiday ones do). And posting the card, yesterday, made me eager to get back to more scrapbooking and collage....

Dean has caught my current craft bug, too; he's been busily making bead patterns and crafting out of Sculpy and Fimo (are we giving ourselves serious illnesses by baking that stuff in our home oven?). He's also finishing up work on a small bunny he's sewing. His teacher commented recently that he wasn't big on the small-motor-skill projects she presents in the classroom -- I think he's just worn out from all that he does at home!

I happened upon a long and fiery discussion -- turns out there are MANY on the subject out there in blog-ville -- about copyright and copying and imitation and "rights." I think people just need to be nice, and to "do unto others." People don't seem generally to understand that the whole issue of copyright comes up around the selling of a thing, or impinging on someone else's ability to sell her thing because you've made a knock-off that costs less, but it IS a slippery slope now online. I'm blogging because I've seen blogs others have written and have been delighted by them; I'd like to share and be open to a broader world community. In a day or two I will post the pattern I made for the little fox that appears below -- he is my work, but no, I wouldn't have made him if I hadn't seen so much toy-making online in the past month. Does it make me shallow and imitative? I don't mean to be, but I also think *original* is preeeeettttty rare to come by, and I have no intention of selling anything I do....

Tuesday, February 20, 2007

So many ways to spend a day

Another day off with Dean, before heading back to work tomorrow (and leaving Ken to his own two days home with Deanie Dean). I cannot imagine ever being bored at home; there are so many ways to spend a day that it's hard for me sometimes to just buckle down and focus on a given thing. Weirdly, I'm finding that process -- of just sitting down and doing one thing -- harder and harder as I get older (or is it being a parent that brought this on?); I start something and think of something else then jump up to throw in a load of laundry and wonder if it's time to start up something for dinner. I'm not even going to attempt to count current works-in-progress, let alone the stuff I'm ready to start (supplies out and about and calling to me at every moment). Keeps it all interesting, in any case, and I keep feeling good about my resolve to give more handmade gifts (although the things do have to be finished in order to give them...). OK -- I won't start any knitting projects until I finish the quilting projects that are sitting out. At least this will give me time to do a little research into knitting in the round with double pointed needles. I'd bought a set of circulars yesterday, thinking I could cheat my way out of it, but I realized this morning that the circumference of the circular set is too wide for the baby hat (a gift) that I had in mind to start.

Meanwhile, soup. Hmmmm -- I thought I'd started with a recipe found on Orangette, but now it appears she was not my source. I'll have to hunt around to see whom I need to credit, but meanwhile will give my own adaptation of "Winter Soup." [it was angry chicken where I found the original -- she posted it 2/07 under 'sick and soupy'] Ken loved this -- pronounced it his favorite soup, even -- which is huge given that he's not a cauliflower fan and usually prefers Progresso to homemade (I know, I know).

Winter Soup
olive oil
2 medium onions, sliced
2 shallots, sliced (or just throw in an extra onion)
2 or 3 yukon gold potatoes, peeled then cubed
1 large head of cauliflower, chopped
2 tablespoons butter
salt, pepper, and dried dill
approximately 38 ounces of liquid -- a mix of chicken stock and water (I had about 16 oz. of chicken stock on hand and used that plus water, but any combo, or even vegetable stock, will work)
6 to 8 white mushrooms, cleaned and sliced thin
one cup grated fontina

Saute the onions and shallots in a small pool of olive oil in your soup-making pot until transparent; add the spices (dill to taste -- I used about a teaspoon). Add butter, potatoes, cauliflower and continuing sauteing about 10 minutes. Add the liquid, cover, and simmer for about an hour.

Using a slotted spoon, transfer (in several batches) the solids to a blender then add about half as much of the cooking liquid to the blender as you have solids (by visual measure). Never fill a blender container more than half full when you're working with hot foods, and ALWAYS use the lid! Have a separate, large container at the ready. Puree the heck out of the soup -- you want to get that "tornado" effect going in the blender when the mixture is swirling and continually, of it's own accord, pulling all the contents back down toward the blades. You may need to put in a little more liquid to get this effect going, but always err on the side of starting with less liquid than you think you'll need or you won't get this intense level of puree going. Puree each batch until it's so velvety smooth and liquid that you cannot see a single solid piece of anything, and pour each batch into your empty container. At the end, you'll still have some liquid left in your soup pot and it will have some tiny flecks of solids. I'm not sure it accomplished anything, but I did puree this liquid, too, before adding it to the soup. Let the container of soup cool, cover it, and stash it in the refrigerator until the next day when you'll reheat it.

Saute the mushrooms in a little butter. When the soup is hot, ladle it into bowls, top with some grated fontina and float some of the mushrooms on top. Mmmmmm.

Monday, February 19, 2007

A very happy birthday

Today is my 45th birthday, and I am delighted. I believe I was born on a Monday -- have to double-check that -- so at least for now I'll think of this Monday birthday as a particularly special one [yup, it checked out -- I was indeed born on a Monday -- how LIKE me to want to start right in at the beginning...]. I love birthdays -- mine and everyone else's. I feel a kind of bemused detachment from my age; my age has always been some interesting number, floating out in space, of which I have been somewhat in awe (hey, look at that! I'm 25, 35, or now, 45 -- how interesting) but I've never felt defined by (and certainly not limited by) my age. Perhaps it comes from being the youngest in my family? I tend to assume I'm younger than most, although of course with each passing year this is less likely to be true.... But it doesn't faze me, in any case.

Above is the spread of collage and text from my handmade calendar (collage is always the left page, calendar the right -- standard set-up, I suppose). Still formulating my plan for today, since the party had to be canceled (see below). A fabulous start already with a wonderful array of gifts from Ken and a handmade card by Ken and Dean. A trip to a bookstore and fabric/craft store may just be the ticket. We always take each other's birthdays, and our own, off from whatever else we're supposed to be doing; it's lucky that today, Presidents' Day, is a holiday for all of us anyway. It makes me sad when people just slog through their birthdays -- none of that at our house!

Sunday, February 18, 2007

Starting new, carrying on

Apparently it is official; I'm giving up on my ugly-duckling, not-quite-making-this-work-the-way-I'd-hoped blog (uwacn1) and thanks to Kahne I'm starting again here. Other than trying to get this up and running the way I'd like, my plan for today is to bind the mini-quilt here and add it to the stock-pile of gifts to give next December. My intentions are always sterling, in terms of giving handmade gifts, but come the fall I'm never able to carve out time to craft so I'm putting all my energy in to gift making now. Even if I falter once the snow melts, I'll have more made for Christmas 2007 than ever before.

This little quilt isn't necessarily a good glimpse of my style; I found the vintage photograph and printed it out on "Color Plus Fabrics" -- sheets of treated fabric on paper backing that go right into your printer. Not wanting to over-do holiday colors on every piece, I went with a lighter, vintage-y palette on this and no doubt because it was the week of Valentine's, I added the felt heart to give it some more seasonal stretch. The finished piece is roughly 8.5" x 11". The others I've done so far scream 'Christmas!' more clearly -- a great source for vintage images for crafting is The Vintage Workshop.

Later on: Taking a moment out of a day that turned out nothing like I expected it to (after spending all morning getting ready to host my own birthday celebration tomorrow, to which my brother Chris and his family (wife Pam, son Alex, 20) were to come -- cooking my best beef stew, a flourless chocolate cake, considering mashed potatoes and planning for homemade parmesan bread, cleaning the house -- I got the call that they all have the flu and so that put a stop to the cleaning, in any case). I also haven't done any quilting or crafting at all, and instead spent time eating the salt and vinegar potato chips and dip that I picked out for tomorrow, and drinking Becks' version of a non-alcoholic beer (purchased for my brother) and watching cooking and travel shows on tv (TV during the DAY TIME -- usually against my religion). Dean and Ken are outside for some late afternoon sledding in our yard, and I'll take a moment to post this squished little fox that I made for Dean; a Valentine's gift, scanned in since I'm not yet the proud owner of a digital camera....