Portrait of an Heirloom

What makes something an heirloom?  This is a question I typically ask myself when I start any new design, but especially when it is for a newborn.  When a child enters this fast paced, do it yesterday, mechanized, computerized, factoried, harried world, it seems to be all the more important to have one little piece of quietude to wrap them in.  Something that was made slowly, meticulously, and with great care.

my recently finished Aran Cabled Baby Bunting in a new color, but the same beautiful organic chunky yarn


incubating creativity

Around here, we have a rather intimate view of the lives of the birds we share our yard with.  We witness the jealous sparring of the chickadees, playful flights of the blue jayes, romantic strolls of the geese couple who roost with us every year, and even the exhibitionist habits of the robins who mate on our fence post.  Spring advances and the nest building begins as the expectant parents prepare for their broods.  The morning dove nests in the eave over our screened porch, the oriole builds its amazing hanging nest in the birch by our front door, and the blue jaye takes up residence in the bush by my studio window.  Day by day, we wake to a whole new family that’s ventured into the world.  We count heads of hatchlings of all sorts and listen with amusement to their morning symphony of peeps and chirps—which I may feel is just squawking if I haven’t yet had enough coffee— and worry over them all staying safe from the foxes and hawks, and even negligent new parents.  — They mean well.

a collection of starter homes

As the season passes, and fledglings have enough of their hovering parents and advance into a world of their own, we start to find abandoned nests blown across the yard or fallen on a trail.  We collect them and marvel at the skill and craft that went into the building these ephemeral homes, these little snapshots of other creatures lives—and of ours, too.  It’s a wonder to see the imprint our life has made.  There are nests lined with hair from our dogs and those that are carefully woven confections of grass and stray pieces of shredded packing material that escaped the recycling bin.  My favorites are the ones that include little bits of ribbon or yarn from my work.  I suppose I can share my creative inspirations with them.  I’m in good company.

a nest lined with hair from my dogs is filled with acorns made from real caps, a wine cork (left) and rolled paper (right)
just pretty

Russian Join

One of the most irksome parts of knitting is attaching a new skein of yarn after finishing the first.  This is especially true for me since I do so much knitting in the round.  I rarely have a seam I can hide a tail in.  Then the clouds parted, the gloom lifted, and yarn join nirvana descended from the heavens.  I was in love.

I can only guess that the Russian Join originated if not in Russia, then at least someplace in Eastern Europe (a quick Google search failed to elucidate me).  That could explain why this Polish girl gravitates towards it.  In truth though, everyone should add this simple technique to their repertoire as it offers a near invisible  yarn join for so many different types of yarn.  In the example below, I’ve used two different colors of cotton yarn for visual clarity.  Other than that, the only tools you need are a yarn darning needle and a pair of scissors.

Thread the first yarn through your needle. Cross the tails of the two skeins of yarn you are joining.
Loop the first yarn back over itself, capturing the other yarn. Thread the needle through the center of the yarn for about 3".
Pull the tail of the yarn, tightening the loop snugly down against the other strand.
Repeat the same steps with the other yarn tail.
Trim off any excess tails.
And there you have it.

And it progresses

I’m still searching for a few more pieces of fabric to complement the background colors. Unfortunately, whenever I find the perfect piece of wool to work with, inevitably it is being worn as part of some lucky person’s ensemble (pants, skirts, etc.). A little inappropriate to get all grabby about it.

Studio Reads: An Exact Replica of a Figment of my Imagination, a Memoir

An Exact Replica of a Figment of My Imagination

I was taken by the title immediately.  How could I not be?  Looking at the those words on the back cover of another book I was reading, I had to see what it was about.

“A child dies in this book: a baby.”  The author, Elizabeth McCracken writes.  And it is her child.  But what is so beautiful and unique about this tale is that while tragic, it is written as a love story.  It is written with wit and humor along with the pain as she eloquently describes the life, death, and the role this child still has to play in the life she and her family continue to live.  Their son is not lost.  He is just not with them the way they want him to be.

Work in Progress

my design traced out and ready to be transferred to the foundation fabric

It was dismally rainy here a couple of days ago, so I holed up in my studio and tackled designing a rug to hook.  I love oriental rugs, so I took my lead from that.  I combined some motifs from rugs I have in the house with adaptations of a photoshop brush or two and then threw in a dash of  traditional primitives in the form of a penny design.  Me being me, I couldn’t have a perfectly centered asymmetrical pattern.  I’m always intrigued with what the mind’s eye needs to fill in, so I let things run amok and fall of the edges of the piece.

the design is on its linen foundation and is ready to get hooked!

I’m anxious to get hooking and start playing with colors.  I’m thinking mottled creamy tones for the background with soft pinks, browns, greens, and turquoise for the main body of the design.  But you never know with me.  That may well all change.

Studio Reads: The Dressmaker of Khair Khana

The Dressmaker of Khair Khana

I’m well aware that a reading list from the depths of an active studio should be filled with tomes of design inspiration and manuals of technique.  And, don’t worry.  I have plenty of those.  The list is dizzying.  But while I spend most of any given day either pouring over those volumes or listening to audio books while I work, it seems to be a rare treat when I get to actually pick up and interact with a real story.  Finger the pages.  Cling to the cover.  So I am delighted to just have finished the The Dressmaker of Khair Khana by Gayle Tzemach Lemmon.  This beautiful true story tells the tale of a young woman and her family surviving the harrowing years of war and Taliban rule in Kabul.  Their strength, wit, and courage inspire while the never failing can-do resiliency and adaptability resonates.  From the safety of my American middle class upbringing, I have never confronted true hardship, but by the end of my reading of this book a basic tenant I hold dear was reaffirmed.  The best business plan is simple and this:  Believe in yourself and what you do.  If you don’t,  no one else will.

Opening Day—it’s flea marketing season!

flea market find, aka inspiration in waiting

Around these parts, Todd’s Farm is the flea marketing and antiquing mecca.  First Sunday of April through until hardy New England souls can’t bear the weather any longer.  Yesterday, being the first Sunday of April, we got our walking shoes out and hit the stalls.

When I first met my husband, he was already a Todd’s Farm devotee.  He called going to the market every Sunday, “going to church”.  Yep, it looked good early on that this guy was going to work out okay.  For our first few years together, I frequently had to work on Sundays, so I’d only be able to wonder all day what he’d discovered that morning and wait until I returned home to find the treasures—or get reports of a complete bust.  Didn’t matter.  It’s the thrill of the hunt.  I joked the other day as I was taking photos for the website that we’ve turned our home into our own prop department.  The backdrop for most of my photos is an oversized primitive farm cupboard we found at Acushnet River Antiques.  When it is not fulfilling backdrop duties, it holds my pots and mixing bowls.  The organic dishtowel is draped over an antique clothes ringer we found a Todd’s, yarns are displayed in vintage measuring scoops, and we have a derelict headless carousel horse from Dudley Do Rights’s that is just begging for its chance to shine in the right photo shoot.  I also find fodder for my studio work in the form of antique rugs to make pillows with and old hooked rugs to sample from for inspiration.

organic hand towel displayed on an antique clothes ringer

All said, Todd’s was smaller than usual yesterday–just getting its feet wet as it winds up for the season.  Still, it was nice to see familiar faces, familiar dogs who apparently are of the flea marketing bug, too, and some familiar pieces—you know the ones that were on display last year but you couldn’t afford?  Surely, there must be a markdown by now.

a pillow I made from a flea market find

Baking Day

sun-dried tomato and pesto bread

A few years ago I picked up a copy of Artisan Bread in Five Minutes a Day by Jeff Hertzberg and Zoe Francois.  We haven’t bought a loaf of bread since.  The smell of baking bread and warm tender slices fresh from the oven—well, nothing beats it.  Most of the time I just make some sort of organic white, wheat, or combination thereof, but I occasionally get fancy.  Last weekend I woke with a hankering for a buttery slab of cinnamon raisin bread, so  I caved and added an extra 5 minutes to my bread routine.  Rolling out my usual dough into a thick rectangle, I smothered it with butter, honey from a local farm, plump raisins, nutmeg, and a generous dusting of  cinnamon.  The whole darn thing got rolled up and dropped in the pan and baked as normal.  Yum.  Now I’m on a bread inclusion tear.  Earlier this week I pulled out the second to last garden pesto from the freezer (yes, I’m counting) and made pesto and sun-dried tomato bread.  And I’m remembering other favorites:  chocolate cherry, olive parm, honey pecan.  I’m also dreaming up new combinations like honey walnut gorganzola, speck and asparagus, and strawberry marmalade with brie.  Ah, yes.  I definitely enjoy the kitchen arts, too.

getting prepped
fresh from the oven

Just Finished Hooking

I had so much fun with the the Sunflower Hooked Pillow that I wanted to play more with the concept.  These two pieces will be made up into petite mini pillows about 6″ square.  My mind’s eye already sees them nestled among books and soaps and flowers or settled on a little person’s rocking chair.  Both are hooked with strips of deconstructed clothing.  One repeats the Sunflower’s color scheme.  For the other I experimented with a background in various shades of milky tea and smoky lavender.  I love the effect.

a background of milky tea tones and smokey lavender
a sunny dahlia