Sunday, January 13, 2019

Welcome to January

Happy New Year, friends! Yes, I know it is January 13. But if you have followed me here, it will be no surprise to you that I am welcoming 2019 in my own way, in my own time. I have been thinking lately about how -- at least for me -- there is no bright "one year ends, another begins" marker, except that pesky calendar. It seems more to me these days that I feel the phases of life and time and seasons in a more gradual way. I don't know if this is related to aging, or to a lifestyle where I am not bound to a 5 day, 8-5 work day, or what.

Or is it rebellion? In the past, I have been enamored with the concept of choosing a word for the year, to serve as a guiding theme from January 1 to December 31. I have tried goal setting and list making and year-end summaries and read-so-many-books or make-so-many-sketches challenges. It felt satisfying at times back then, but right now, it doesn't feel right.  In fact, it feels restrictive and artificial.

As I was pondering the idea of a guiding word for the coming year, whether to even try to identify one, the word that kept popping into my head was FLOW. I suppose, at present, it most accurately characterizes my intention for the present and near future.  I guess that is tied into my thinking about time and phases -- how they aren't marked by clear boundaries, but sort of flow into one another, with situations and feelings evolving, instead of beginning and ending with clear deadlines or marked-off checklists.

Or maybe it's a reflection of having come through a long difficult time, in which my brother was seriously ill and died, and in which my mom suffered very serious injuries and illness and has made a miraculous recovery. I suppose it is hard not to come through huge, consuming family crises like that without a changed sense of priorities. And really, when one is immersed in situations like those, time does seem to change -- minutes and hours at hospital bedsides expand, and days and weeks disappear. I guess it's no wonder that my sense of time feels different right now.

I think just accepting and being present was how I have coped. And so FLOW is part of that -- just doing the best one can with what comes, embracing the joy in moments, acknowledging the pain of hard things, and knowing that life keeps going.

So, as I think about where I am now, what is going on around me with my family and friends, I come back to feeling that what I want to do is keep FLOWING with it all. Being present. Sharing fun and laughter and tears and serious talks. Letting bits of creativity fill parts, even if it's just minutes, of every day. Finding satisfaction in work. Knowing that tomorrow or next week or next month might be different, with unexpected challenges, and that's okay. 

I hope that your 2019 is off to a happy and peaceful start, friends.

Friday, September 28, 2018

In which an Old Dog Learns a New Trick

So, have you seen how people are using rulers for machine quilting on domestic sewing machines? I guess it's been common in the long-arm world for quite a while, but I think using rulers on domestic machines is a more recent development. I judged a quilt show this past May where the quilting on one quilt just wowed me (as it did others, and the quilt ended up winning several big awards.) After the judging was all done, we learned that the quilt maker was there, and she said that yes, she'd done all of that gorgeous and precise quilting on her domestic machine -- with rulers.

I was intrigued. And since I have a rather large stack of tops that need quilting, I started watching videos about it. Just google " machine quilting with rulers" on Youtube -- there are many. (Angela Walters has a whole "machine quilting with rulers" playlist on Youtube, here, and Patsy Thompson has some demos there, too.)

So, I bought some starting equipment. Ruler quilting on a domestic machine requires a free-motion foot with a high edge, like this:

 The edge of the foot is thick, so it will ride along the edge of a 1/4 inch thick ruler. I think most machine brands make a ruler foot, and there are companies that make adaptable feet depending on your machine -- I invested in a Bernina #72 foot.

As for rulers -- once I started looking I found oodles, in all different shapes and sizes! I decided I just wanted to play with straight lines and simple arcs, so I bought Patsy Thompson's starter set which includes one good sized straight edge and three different arcs.

By the way, have you seen Patsy Thompson's quilting? I will trust anything that woman tells me about machine quilting.

 I watched a bunch of videos, and then decided to dive in on a practice block from a star quilt I was getting ready to machine quilt. I really thought it would be difficult, or at least awkward, to hold the ruler with one hand and move the quilt under the needle at the same time. But it wasn't awkward at all! I'd ordered some "Handi Grip Strips" to make the rulers less slippery, and attaching small squares of that stuff to the back of each ruler worked perfectly.  I was so encouraged by the process on my little practice block that I decided to just jump in and start working on the big quilt. I mean, why not?

This quilt (La Conner Stars, a free quilt pattern here) has stars and squares with background space between them. I decided I wanted arcs in the star points and basic free motion stippling in the background spaces. You can probably see the quilted arcs in the pink star block above.

I used the straight edge for the ditch-quilting around the star. It was fun and really made ditch quilting easier -- and straighter, of course.

I used a smaller arc for the three sides of each star point triangle.

Then, for the square inside of the star I used the biggest arc to make overlapping cat-eye shapes.

You can see on the pink star up there that I was having so much fun I decided to add arcs to the inner border, too.

The biggest learning thing, I found, was figuring out the spacing on where to hold the ruler. The foot slides along the ruler, and the needle is about 1/4 inch away from the ruler's edge -- so you have to estimate that 1/4 inch distance to make sure the quilting goes where you want it. But I found that I could adjust the ruler was I went along, and after a few blocks I was good at having the end of the arc land just where I wanted to. 

I finished the machine quilting this yesterday (yee haw!) and will be happy to get this finished and delivered to a special friend. But gosh, I'm proud of myself for trying something new. I am now looking at my quilt tops with a new "what can I quilt on it" eye -- I'll be thinking about what rulers might work.

Have you tried quilting with rulers?

Sunday, September 23, 2018


Oh my goodness, I finished this quilt! It has been a long time in the making, so this feels like a huge accomplishment. 

First, a disclaimer: I don't have a good place to take good photos of a large quilt face on -- so this morning I tried some -- ahem -- alternative angles. So, these are pretty dreadful photos, but I am so excited to have this done that I am posting these anyway! 

This started as a "leaders and enders" scrap project. If you aren't familiar with "leaders and enders", Bonnie Hunter will explain it all here. Basically, you have pieces on hand and use them for the starting and stopping stitching scraps when you are sewing something else. I sewed scraps into four-patches for ages, as I was sewing on other projects, before I started thinking that I might have enough to put together into an actual quilt.

I'd seen a picture of a version of this quilt, then tracked down the magazine because I fell in love with it.  (It's American Patchwork & Quilting, April 2015 issue.) But I worked with the scraps I had on hand, which were 1 1/2 inch strips and 2 1/2 inch squares. Here's the basic block unit: 

 It's two four-patches and two neutral squares, sewn into another four patch. (Again, excuse the rotten photo.) I decided that I wasn't going to stress about how "neutral" the neutral square was -- if it was more white than color, I used it and didn't worry about where it landed. Laying them up on the all looked like this:

Then this. I really got excited when it got to this stage.

 And then it was a whole top! 

If you follow me on Instagram, you'll know that I started machine quilting with an idea that seemed brilliant at the time -- but gosh, it took a lot of stitching and took forever. I wanted raised squares to show in the neutral squares between the colored rows, so I created them in the negative quilting space.

It's subtle but it really is visible on the actual quilt, and I'm glad I kept on. 

I used some rather fun sewing machine fabric on the back (thanks to good old 5 Bucks A Yard, where I get a lot of backing fabric), along with more scrap strips.  

 Here's another weird shot of the finished quilt. Now I need a name so I can label it. Any ideas? 

Saturday, September 15, 2018

The Barn Quilt Obsession

Do you ever get an idea in your head, and then you can't rest until you follow through with it?  For some inexplicable reason, I started thinking about barn quilts.

Have you ever seen a barn decorated with a quilt block? I'm not sure how the tradition started, years and years ago. But in some areas of the country, people painted quilt blocks on the side of their barns -- with the block name usually having some significance to the family living on that farm. When I lived in New Hampshire, I used to drive by a barn on my way to and from work that had a quilt block on it. And sometime in the last 20 years or so, the tradition got revived in a modern way. There are even barn quilt trails that you can follow in various places in the Midwest.

If you've been watching the new NBC crafting competition show called "Making It," they even have a barn quilt on their barn.

I'm not sure what got me thinking about barn quilts. But I have some weird spots of empty fence in my yard, and I got thinking that barn quilts would decorate those spots rather nicely. So, next thing you know, I was obsessed. I was searching and pinning images to a barn quilt board on Pinterest. I read about how to make them, and even started researching about the best saw to buy, because I don't have any woodworking tools and clearly a saw was going to be needed.

Along the way, I mentioned my obsession to my friends Paula and Jim. Paula was immediately enthralled, and Jim (a handy fellow) said he'd be happy to make us some boards to start experimenting with.  We were off and running. 

I had read a lot of different directions, but the ones I liked the best were from Abby at Tweedle Dee Design Company. (She sells pre-made barn quilts in all sorts of sizes, in case you need one and don't want to make one.) So one bright and early saturday morning a few weeks ago, we set up tables on my patio, and started off. We decided to start with something a reasonable size, so ours are about 22 inches square.

 Here's Paula, having masked one board to star painting, and getting ready to draw the design on to another.

It did take a lot of masking.  We decided that Frog Tape is the best stuff 

Starting to apply the color was very exciting! Can you tell we were having a great time?

 By the end of Saturday, we each had come close to finish two.  The two on top are Paula's, the two on the bottom are mine.  But we had to let the paint fully dry before the last steps to make them look intentionally weathered and worn a bit.

So by the end of the day on Sunday, we'd each finished three barn quilts!

At the moment these are hanging on my fence -- which makes me think they look small and I need BIG barn quilts for this weird empty patch of fence.

I don't think my obsession is done yet. I just took delivery of three more blank boards and Paula and I are planning another painting weekend. Yee hah! There is nothing like a good crafty weekend with a good crafty friend.

Friday, September 07, 2018

Random Friday Life

Most mornings, I make my coffee in my favorite keep-warm-for-hours mug and then head out to the patio to sit and read for a bit while I sip.  Starlie hops up onto the loveseat next to me to work on her two morning chew treats.

I used to start by reading the NY Times, but nowadays the news is so distressing that I don't really want to read about it in detail. I briefly tried using the Ipad's News app which mixes topical news with celebrity and entertainment news, but I decided it was still too much information about upsetting political events. So lately I've been starting with Twitter. Not exactly a news source, but I have a lot of Washington Post and NY Times journalists on my feed so if there's something new going on, they usually mention it and I can go look for more info, or not.  NOT is usually my choice these days.

Can I just say -- Jennifer Rubin of the Washington Post is amazing and worth reading. She's billed as a journalist with a "center right perspective" (and I would say I have a strong left perspective) but she's been writing strong opinion pieces. You can find her here, or on twitter as  @JRubinBlogger. I always appreciate hearing what she has to say.

The last few mornings have been gloriously cool and gray. One of the things I love about living where I do in Northern California is that I am close enough to the ocean to get some morning fog. It is usually gone by 9am, but it makes for a cozy morning. I've even had to put on my flannel robe on over the last few mornings. I think I detect a nip of fall in the air.

No, I will not do Pumpkin Spice anything until October. It is just too soon.
I was craving some tv or movie to pull me in and engross me, and came across "Deep Water," a short Australian series about a detective looking into old murders of gay men from the 1980's.  It was very, very good. There is something about watching a show or movie set in another country that I love... the accents, the visuals of what that place looks like, even the police procedural stuff fascinates me. How police cars look in different countries! How their sirens sound! How their officers dress!Anyway, I blew through that in two nights and enjoyed the mini-binge. 

That show led me to one I started last night, called The Code -- another Australian thriller series about how the investigation of a car crash leads to a complex political mystery. More disturbing, to me anyway, I think because there is a character on the Autism spectrum and the way he is treated is hard to see at times. But I'll keep going. Looks like there are 2 seasons' worth.   

Work ahead today... On fridays I like to take my laptop and work at a local coffee place. Healdsburg has several so I have good and comfortable choices. I like working at different locations -- somehow, I concentrate differently when I do not have Starlie staring at me or bringing me toys, or the phone ringing, or the lure of more fun things to do all around me.

Then, when I've put in my work hours, there will be quilting. I'm machine quilting a project that is taking forever and it is taking serious inner talk to remind myself that I LIKE THE PROCESS and to relax and enjoy it.

Happy friday, friends!

Monday, September 03, 2018

No-Labor Monday

Good morning, friends --

I have been fretting a bit about the lapse of my blogging habit, and then this week my friend Terry Grant posted about blogging again after a lapse, and she jogged me into opening up my page to get going again.

So here I am, taking full advantage of the Labor Day holiday to putter and NOT labor. I've had a bit too much labor in my life lately, actually. I telecommute as an attorney for a law firm in New England, and I seem to have drifted into working full time due to the demands of a particularly complicated and active case. I remind myself that I am working at home, wearing comfy clothes and often doing so from my patio to enjoy the garden and summer weather, with my pup curled up at my side. So, all things considered, it's a good way to work. Still, I'd have lots of things I'd rather be doing.

To enjoy the free day, I started by baking muffins to use the rest of the gorgeous white peaches I've had in the fridge to prevent them from over-ripening. I haven't baked in AGES. And, as you can see from above, I am not the tidiest of bakers. Still, they came out of the oven fragrant and were exactly the combination of soft crumb and peach chunks I was hoping for.

Yesterday was my brother Gregg's birthday -- many of you might know from Facebook that he died about 6 months ago after a rough battle with colon cancer, and so he has been on my mind even more than usual. I think that has been part of my moving through my days a bit more silently -- grief is a funny thing, I find, and has caused me to meditate a lot on issues like family, childhood, friendships, the evolution of relationships... you know, small things like that.

And then I crave escape into fiction -- so I have been reading up a storm, devouring books as if they were potato chips and I can't stop. This summer I've been alternately reading an assortment of beach/women/friendship novels, and soothing gentle cozy mysteries.

There has been quilting, and other crafty activities, and even a big trip with Miss C that was a grand adventure. I will tell you more soon!

I hope you are enjoying the Monday holiday with as little labor as possible.

Sunday, June 10, 2018

Random Sunday Thoughts

Good morning, friends! I'm having a quiet sunday morning -- reading the paper, cruising through blogs via Feedly (I love that app), and in a bit will head upstairs to do some sewing.

Yesterday I got a whole quilt top together, put it on the design wall to admire it, and then realized that I'd put a block section in upside down. See those pale pink star points at the top? I had them reversed. Dang. At least I noticed it before I got it sandwiched and/or quilted, though. I ripped the offending section apart and his morning's first task is to get it sewn together correctly. Ahem. In case you're wondering, the pattern is "Down South" and is a fun mix of pinwheels and stars. I'd sewn a lot of component parts at past quilt retreats, and when I stumbled across them recently in my sewing room, determined to get it finished.

And speaking of random quilt components, I had a bag of half square triangles that were cut-offs from another project, so I decided to put them together for a baby quilt.

So that's also on deck for today.

Last night I went to see RBG with some friends. I love Ruth Bader Ginsberg but I came away from the movie loving her more. What an amazing woman, and how much she has accomplished! And I love that she's become a rock-star celebrity in her 80's. The audience cheered at the end.

Yesterday, Miss C and I celebrated the 2nd birthday of our puppy, Starlie. That 2 years went by fast!

She wore a party hat (briefly), willing to please but not liking it. She did like her "spoiled dog birthday cake," though.

 We wondered if she'd tear into it, but she's a very polite girl. She licked at the frosting and the decorative biscuit "sprinkles" before realizing she could actually chomp on it.

Miss C and I watched with great amusement. She only got the first layer (the size of a human piece of cake, I'd say.) The rest went back to the fridge for future treats. When I came back outside, I discovered that she'd turned into Princess Leia. This picture makes me laugh every time I see it.

 Oh! One more random thing. My library has a sort-of-new thing going where have a small "Lucky Day" shelf next to the regular new book shelves. The "Lucky Day" books are current bestsellers or hot interest books, not reservable so you can find them and get them right away if you're lucky.

I found "An American Marriage" by Tayari Jones which I'd just put on my "to read" list a bit ago, so I felt very lucky indeed! I read it quickly -- engrossing, beautifully written, and loved it.

Back to sewing room for me!

Monday, May 28, 2018

Well, hello there!

 Here it is, Memorial Day already! I was working in the garden this morning -- pruning, tidying, cleaning off the patio, and suddenly the thought crossed my mind that it is time to start blogging again.

It's been a long time. Almost 5 months, in fact. And I'll confess, it's been a rather difficult time. In November, my mom fell and broke her hip and shoulder -- ouch, two big breaks that would be difficult for anyone, but for someone in her eighties, well, it was a rough go. The very good news is that my mom has made a miraculous recovery. She's up and walking and being her feisty self, and we will celebrate her 88th birthday in the next next few weeks.

The very bad news is that my brother died in March, after a battle with metastatic colon cancer. His decline was swift and not easy to see -- but I will always remember the strength and hopefulness and good spirit that he exhibited the whole way through. One of the silver linings to that very black cloud was that I spent a lot of time with him over the last 6 months, and we talked about so many things -- deep, superficial, silly.  It was quite a gift he gave me, allowing me to share that end of life time with him. So, now, there's just a big gap, but I think of him so often and feel him in so many experiences. It's kind of like I'm getting him used to being here in another way, if that makes sense. Anyway, it's another one of those getting-used-to-the-new-normal things for my family. It's a relief to think of him pain-free and running around with his beloved yellow lab who I have no doubt was there to great him.

Anyway. I'm finding that it's taken lot of energy to just get back to normal life. Work has clamored for my attention, so I've been immersed in that pretty much full time.  Creativity has felt like a background presence, instead of the usual front-stage necessity.  I've done a bit of sketching, a bit of sewing, a bit of collage play.  But really, I've been more inclined to sink into an escapist novel or binge-worthy thriller tv series, something that takes me away from my daily life to -- who knows where. 

Working out in the garden today gave me that feeling that summer is just around corner -- or maybe it's here already. It's almost 90 today, and I've already given Starlie Pup the first backyard bath of the season. I'm not sure why, but suddenly it feels like it's time to lift my head up and look AHEAD again.

And blogging is part of that, some how. So stay tuned! 

Saturday, December 30, 2017

A Tree that Tells Our Story

Christmas is over, and we're in that lovely, quiet week between Christmas and New Year's where I like to just relax and take pleasure in that "everything's-been-done-and-there-is-nothing-to-do-but-relax" feeling. Now really, there is plenty to do besides relax. But this week, I ignore it and just enjoy the decorated house and the fridge full of leftovers. I'll worry about life again next week.

I hope your Christmas was lovely. Here, it was a bit odd, what with Mom in the rehab facility and brother too ill to travel that day. But we made the best of things, enjoyed a portable holiday dinner with mom, and made it through with more gratitude than ever for family. It sounds corny, I know, but I feel like this year's holiday was a big lesson in finding the spirit within oneself regardless of what is going on.

This morning, I was sitting in the living room, gazing at the tree and thinking about how every ornament tells part of our family story.  Is your tree like that too? I know some people who decorate their tree on a theme, changing colors and ornaments each year to suit the theme -- but me, I like the tradition and comfort of bringing out the same ornaments each year, remembering where they came from and what they represent, and adding a few new ones that add more to our story.

I have my favorites, of course. Miss C's first Christmas -- that always hangs right in front, toward the top, as it's tiny-- but adorable.

When C was little, I started buying an ornament each year to commemorate something special about the year.  Guess who started ballet lessons that year?!

This year's commemorative ornament was this beautiful zebra, to mark the mini-vacation C and I took to the B Bryan Preserve in Point Arena, California and where we were able to see zebras and giraffes up close.  (I just realized that I drafted a blog post about our visit but never posted it! I'll post that soon!)

This new lamp ornament marked another wonderful memory this year, when my friend Carol and I went to see the musical Aladdin in San Francisco. It was a wonderful show and just the best day. I smile every time I see this on the tree, and it makes me doubly happy to know that Carol has this ornament on her tree, too.

I have ornaments that celebrate things that are important to me -- this glittery camera given to me by a friend when I was working hard on improving my photography, for example. And see those little snow shoes back there? Those are very old beloved ornaments from when I lived in New Hampshire and spent a gorgeous New Year's Day snow-shoeing after a heavy, fresh snow. It was a remarkable experience for this California-born kid.

And paints and palette-- another gift from a painting friend. I should focus on this a bit more before I take the tree down, as my goal for the coming year is to get back to sketching and painting more.

Speaking of New Hampshire, these ceramic ice skates are among my all-time favorite ornaments. I'd never skated outdoors on a real frozen pond before I moved there, so being able to skate outside was a true thrill for me. I never got tired of that. This ornaments brings those memories back -- as well as the time I was skating and pulling 1-year-old Miss C on a sled, and I fell and broke my wrist. Oh well. It was a fun day before that.

My sister painted a little wooden ornament of the old house I lived in in Hopkinton, New Hampshire. The whole top floor was my apartment, and it was a cozy place lined with built-in bookshelves.  It makes me so happy to put this on the tree every year.

Every year, my friend Beth and I meet for a Christmas shopping day together, and when we saw this blueberry waffle ornament at Sur La Table a few years ago, we just had to buy one for each other. Years (and years!) ago, in our college years, Beth and I shared an apartment together, and one summer my mom sent us a big box of fresh blueberries she'd picked. It seemed like an awful lot of blueberries for two girls to consume (I'm not sure why it didn't occur to us to freeze some) so we used them up by making blueberry waffles for quite a few meals. I look at this ornament and feel like I'm 20 again. Sorta.

There are special ornaments that represent childhood memories, too. Some years back, my sister gave me this Barbie case ornament. We spent hours and hours playing Barbies together on our bedroom floor when we were kids.  Look, the case even opens, and there's Barbie inside. Did you have a case like this? I remember that little drawer to hold shoes and accessories -- boy, it was easy to lose those tiny shoes.

My grandmother had a box with two viewmasters and a whole bunch of viewmaster reels of places she and my grandfather had visited in their travels. Oh, how we loved to sit and play with the viewmasters! (Did you have one? And bonus points if you remember that funny Mary Tyler Moore episode where she meets her boyfriend's parents and they have to sit and do coordinated viewmaster viewing!) 

And of course there are various ornaments representing our pets. Here's one to represent our old crazy black lab, Gemma.

We have a lot of at ornaments, both to mark the various cats we've had and because Miss C is a true cat person. Here's our newest one, a delightful felted wool cat with glittery antlers. 

My sister, a professional needlework designer, stitched this little beaded dog for me this year -- and it's all the more special knowing she was stitching it at my mom's hospital bedside.

Gosh, looking at and photographing and thinking of where each ornament came from makes me think that this would be a lovely family heirloom book, wouldn't it? A photo and the story of each ornament? I guess that's what we do when we put up the tree -- tell the stories, remember the moments, appreciate where our family story has brought us so far.

For some people, a Christmas tree is just a tree with lights. But not for me.  How about for you? And if you have a favorite ornament on your tree, post a photo in a comment. I'd love to see!