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Muslin, for a start.

I made my first muslin.

This was a big deal for me. I made it in a fabric that I would never wear (more of that navy cotton pillowcase material), just so I would not be tempted to try to wear it, and sewed it with thread that did not blend in at all, just so I would not be tempted to try to wear it! I’m dealing with the feeling that if I make it, it must be worn, otherwise it’s a waste. It’s not, and I know this, logically. But the emotions of the situation are what they are, so I have to find ways to get around them. And, yes, immediately I see the benefits to making a muslin. I can see where things would gap and where they would be too tight if I didn’t change the way the garment was sewn, and how sad I would be, if that were the case with a fabric I actually liked. That would be like… like buying an off-the-rack garment and then being sad and angry because it didn’t fit me. Why should it? I never met the person who sewed it. But I’ve met me. And I have to wear clothing to interact with people in the society in which I currently live, so why not like the clothing I wear?

Now, the funny thing is, I wear jeans and t-shirts as a uniform. I like my uniform.  It works for my days, and when I look at clothes that I like and would like to wear on other people, I end up choosing pretty much what I have as it is:  jeans, t-shirts, handknit socks and sweaters.  (If I am suddenly transported to Ireland I want to be ready.)  I just want to expand it a bit. Jeans and t-shirts…. and a few skirts? A few non-t-shirty tops? Nothing too radical. But still, I go to choose fabric and I feel a little woozy at the options!  So a muslin is going to help me decide, too, if I like the way a garment feels on me before cutting into fabric that it took real effort to buy.  Well, let’s not put it that way–I love having fabric around!  It’s just that as soon as I decide that it’s going on my body instead of my bed or a cushion, it’s a whole new ballgame.  So, having chosen and purchased fabric (and having done a happy dance that I got it off the bargain shelf!), I want to know the garment for which it is intended is going to fit before I try to make it.  And since, honestly, it’s harder to create a garment the more topography there is (I can cut straight edges if it’s going onto my bed, but straight edges on me… well, it makes me look like I’m wearing a blanket, too), a muslin makes a lot of sense.

I hate my muslin.  And that’s good news, because I am not in any way tempted to wear it out into daylight.  But it’s awfully handy.  Having made it, I’ve since cut into fabric for two other shirts and have been daydreaming ways to modify the pattern more.  And there’s a good chance that the garments might actually fit me.  This makes me happy.  I’m easy to please like that.

The Linen Closet.

As I said, I have been feeding the linen closet this year. And then, a sheet died, an organic cotton flannel. (A great sheet, just the oldest of the bunch.) And I am not about to just toss six yards of organic cotton flannel because there’s a hole in there. So I cut it up, into pillowcase pieces, and began sewing pillowcases.

I had finished a quilt per spec for my mom, which left me with a couple of yards of navy cotton, so I made pillowcase pieces out of them too.

And then the linen closet spoke to me, and said that it wanted lace. Embroidery. Pillowcases were no longer enough, they needed to be embellished.

Don’t laugh. Just because historically I have not been an “embellished” type of person does not mean my linens can’t be. I don’t have to be a neo-Victorian to enjoy a lacy pillowcase. So I started making up some crocheted lace. It was fun, and because I was making up the pattern (and didn’t have to memorize it!) it was my go-to easy project for the trip to Seattle. Now it awaits a navy pillowcase.

Crochet lace and handspun

But I couldn’t stop there. This one wanted to be embroidered. I have long loved the look of blackwork, so I picked an online sampler and divided my pillowcase border into six blocks. Then, using waste canvas, I embroidered a different pattern into each block. It has been my evening go-to project, and while it took several weeks to complete, I love it. (Of course my “blackwork” was in navy. Because.)

Blackwork pillowcase

Now I have some oak-leaf lace on the blocking mattress for the next pillowcase. The trims have been lovely in-the-bag projects once I memorized the pattern. I have several more pillowcases to go, but there’s no hurry; no pillows have gone naked in service of this project!

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Just call me Granny.

I crochet, a bit. I’m mostly a knitter who makes quilts and weaves, some. But I had the urge a while back to make a crocheted afghan. I don’t know why. I don’t even like crocheted afghans. If they don’t have holes then the fabric is too heavy and solid. If they have holes (granny squares? medallions of any kind?) then my toes stick out through the holes and this, to me, is the very antithesis of comfort on a night cool enough to warrant a blanket.

However, in this, the Year of Blankets, I was bitten by the bug to have a granny square afghan in the linen closet.

Now, the linen closet ought to be in capitals. The LINEN CLOSET. For me, it is almost mythic. It stands for comfort, for security, for warm food on a cold night, for hugs when you need them and old movies and Priorities. And somewhere in conjunction with my Year of Blankets, the linen closet has become a quest. If I have a well-stocked linen closet, I will keep my people warm. I will have sheets for guests (yes, okay, this presumes having a place for said guests to sleep but one foot in front of the other, shall we?). I will be well-fed and -read and happy.

Maybe all these things are not true but having a well-stocked linen closet is nothing to sneeze at, so I have no problem with the occasional itch to fill it. And right now, one of the things that want to live in my linen closet is a granny-square afghan. “Whether or not,” I told Chris, who looked concerned, “I actually sleep under it. I need to have a granny-square afghan to pass on to someone.” Don’t ask who. One foot in front of the other.

So I’ve been working on mine over the last few months. It’s mostly a scrap-yarn project, using odds-and-ends from finished objects and small balls of handspun that would really never be used for anything else, all joined with some balls of Patons in a lovely shade of grey. I’ll admit to having to buy more of the Patons as the project grew, but all the color came from stash, which may say more than I’d like about my stash. I blocked each block to about 10″ as it was finished, as advised by Alicia Paulson, and lost steam around block 45 but was able to continue until block 48, which seemed large enough. And now, I get to sew the blocks together!

Granny square blocks in progress

Granny square blocks in progress

Sewing of blocks

Sewing of blocks

The blocks, blocking

The blocks, blocking

I crocheted an edging last night, my hand cramping as we watched QI, but oo, I do love the conclusion of projects like this. It’s so satisfying. And then I get to feed the linen closet. Which will likely demand something else. But that’s another story. Maybe I should buy a bed to put these on instead.

Wensleydale, Gromit!

I received a call on a Sunday morning. It was early for a Sunday call, about 7:30, and though I was up I was surprised. “No one I know would call at this hour,” I mumbled. I did not make it to the phone–I was up, but not up for a call–and the message was from a lady at the wool mill. “Your wool is finished. Do you want it? Do you want me to use the card number you gave me?”

Do I want it?

A few months ago a dear friend in Northern California gifted me a fleece. It was beautiful, black with brown when the sun glinted on it, shiny. Its locks weren’t very long. It filled a garbage bag. She described the sheep as “mostly Wensleydale.” I loved it. So when she took her own fleeces to be processed, I went with her and gave her my bag of fleece. “Hmm,” said the girl who wrote up my order. “Short fibers.” I know! But we talked about what I wanted–washed, carded, spun up into as close to a light DK weight as she could get. I have a box of fiber that this very same mill processed for me a year ago. I don’t need–gasp! I can’t believe I’m saying this–I don’t need more spinning fiber right now, but yarn? Yarn I could use.

That was back in April. Now the yarn was ready. I called the wool mill lady back and confirmed the order. Then I did a little dance.

Monday morning, I received another call. “Did you say you want that yarn?” asked the message on the machine. “I’m pretty sure you called me back, but did you?” I had visions. The wool mill lady is old, at least 80. Maybe she’s just misremembering my yarn. Maybe she thinks I’m someone else? Maybe my yarn isn’t actually ready. I called her back and left a message. Yes, yes, I want the yarn. Please send it to me.

That afternoon there was another call. I held my breath. But on the phone the wool mill lady laughed and thanked me for verifying. “I just knew you had called!” she crowed. I slowly let out my breath. Mostly.

Waiting, waiting. I dare not even plan for the yarn. I don’t know what it looks like, its weight, its final color after washing and scouring. But I’d been told that my fleece would bring me approximately 25 skeins of DK weight yarn. What does one do with that?

Hmm…

What could it be?

What could it be?

A fibery mystery.

Oo, loveliness!

Oo, loveliness!

Update: It came! It smells sheepy and beautiful and that is its natural color–hard to discern because of our bright afternoon sunlight, but it is black with dark brown highlights. Its texture is soft but slightly rough; I’m imagining outerwear. There could be two sweaters’ worth in there, maybe. Hmm…

Thank you, Wool Mill Lady!

And… sewing.

Thora, my doppelganger.

Thora, my doppelganger.

Meet Thora. Thora is a dress form, and a friend and I made her a few weeks ago.

I make a lot of things, I think it is fair to say. I like making things. Once upon a time, I thought I was a single-project-at-a-time person. It is to laugh! No, I have discovered a real love of having multiple fibery relationships going at the same time… and even a couple that don’t involve fiber (but don’t tell!). Currently, I have going one quilt (awaiting tying), bags of cut squares waiting to be (at least) two more; a strip of knitted lace in cotton/linen; a pillowcase waiting to be edged in crocheted cotton lace; several balls of merino/silk singles in mid ply on the spindle; another spindle full of alpaca from Peru; a half-finished sleeveless sweater; a granny-square crochet afghan in mid-piecing; a basket full of socks for mending; another pair of socks… um… And of course, that doesn’t include the bags of pre-organized projects awaiting their turn in the queue, like the alien dolls in that claw-machine in Toy Story. “Goodbye, my friends, I’m off to a better place!” squeals the one as the rest “oooh” in reverence.

Yup. It’s a good thing I’m pretty much a process maker, or I’d go slightly mad with the slow pace of turnover around here. And I say that only slightly defensively.

So Thora. My friend Barrie and I decided to make dress forms and I challenged her to use it and not let it sit in the corner… wearing something but otherwise not seeing much action… Hey! I can hear you mumbling at me! She was blocking a sweater! And it needs buttons!

Okay, so the challenge has been thrown down, which means I need to start sewing.

My aunt tried to teach me to sew when I was in high school. She’s a lovely sewer–er, I can now see why sewing bloggers use the word sewist. You can say the word “sewer” and emphasize it as “sow-er” but in print it really does look like I’m trying to gild a very nasty lily. She’s a lovely sewist. She made her daughter’s wedding dress, and my husband’s vest for our wedding, among other things.* Anyway, she tried to teach me to sew, at my request, as a teenager. I managed a pair of shorts and matching top. I remember the other patterns we’d chosen: a full skirt to be made in white-dotted chambray, a white eyelet blouse to go along. But I was so scared. I hated my body, and while I was as fascinated by fashion and clothing then as I am now, the idea of making things to fit that body meant that that body was not likely to change. It also meant that I would have to admit on some level to trying to look nice. Trying meant you were putting yourself out there for criticism, and that meant you might get hurt.

Well, I pretty much still feel that way. But over the last few years I’ve been trying very hard to come to grips with those feelings. And darn it, I love clothes, I have and probably will for a while, even as I crawl into my dotage. (Does anyone ever make you feel like all your clothes should have elastic waistbands and that you should wear longer skirts and sensible shoes once you hit 41?) (Even though I tend toward sensible shoes. But I have since long before they were expected.) There’s no time like the present to try, I guess. And maybe that’s how I’m different from me at 15.

I picked up the Colette Sewing Handbook by Sarai Mitnick at the library and I love it. It is very simple and straightforward, and its premise seems to be to teach several basic techniques, then apply to them to a pattern. Before that, though, Sarai walks you through the design process, and the process of designing clothing for yourself. I think I’m going to like working with this book. Even if it does assume you want to wear skirts. Oh, there’s another thing about me–I never wear skirts. I’ve wanted to, but they tend to ride up and down on me like a loose ring on a finger, because while my figure is (genteelly speaking) an hourglass, it’s a rather shallow one and my waist indentation is rather high, as opposed to the “waist” where things like jeans sit. So my middle, where waistbands generally sit, is at a place that does not indent, so much, as mark a point on a narrowing parallelogram. Clear as mud? If you are wearing pants, they’re kind of caught by being sewn around your other bits. But a skirt can just go up, up, up. Suddenly I’m wearing a very mini skirt with a waistband just south of my bra. Otherwise known as a tummy panel.

Perhaps it’s a good thing that the first pattern is a skirt?

*There’s a story about sewing. So I asked my aunt to make a vest for Chris for our wedding and I went out and bought some lovely matte brocade fabric. She took a look at it, and gave me a Look. Then she made the vest, and on return handed me back the majority of the fabric. There really was a lot of fabric. “Make a sofa cover out of the rest of it,” she twitted. So I did.

In space, but now back.

Hello, little blog! How I’ve missed you! You may not believe it, but it’s true.  It’s been a very long summer–first gray and tepid, then bright and sunny, and now hot and humid, with more water in the air than anywhere on the ground.  Chris and the Geeklet and I spent most of the month of August traveling.  Two weeks of play-living in Seattle in a little temporary Treehouse (it really was, a small apartment three floors from street level, up among the treetops with unripe apples pushing against our railings and temptingly ripe pears just, oh just out of reach).  Chris worked one of the weeks from home in a co-working space walking distance away, and we made no effort to go out of our way to sightsee, but wandered neighborhoods gasping with pleasure at the mini lending libraries on many streets…

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…and at the gardens taking up most yards and verges.  There were tomatoes and beans and zucchini and blackberries and blueberries and squash, growing like the most exotic of flowers with pride of place, right out there in front, with seeming little fear of vandalization or–gasp!–the occasional plunder.  There was one house with beautiful black fruit growing out near the sidewalk, so shiny, crisp-skinned that you could nearly see your reflection, globular.  We wondered whether this was a kind of tomato?  A round eggplant?  Its mystery was a kind of joy.

I managed to grow a few tomatoes this summer, finally.  They might even taste good.  I’m afraid to try them for fear that they don’t.  And potatoes, too!

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These were pretty yummy when Chris applied his magic touch and transformed our motley crew of Yukon Golds into his Special potatoes.  Oh, I do love potatoes.

 

On the whole, our poor garden has suffered from a lack of love.  Maintenance is not love when it is merely the occasional watering, which was done for us (thank you, thank you!) while we were gone.  In our absence, a ground-covering leafy vine which we call Morning Glory vine for lack of a name has covered everything.  It has encircled every pot and tried to eat our watermelon patch.  Poor dear watermelon patch.  It tries so hard.  It’s as though my desire to grow a decent tomato this year has taken all the will to live out of our other plants.  I tried to get down and pull out a batch of these vines and smelled something… odd.  Something a bit like cat pee.  I looked up to find a two-foot-long mutant stem of basil flowering at me.  At me.  It was malevolent, I say.

 

So, after a few weeks in Seattle and almost another week of travel to Huntsville, Alabama to go to Space Camp (YES!  We went to Space Camp!  It was awesome!), we are now home and our garden is glowering at me.  I tried to make it up to it a little this morning, by ripping up some vines and applying some compost tea.  I can still sense some simmering resentment.  The heat requires any garden-love to be early in the morning, so I’m sensing a few early-morning applications of love in the days to come.  Maybe I’ll tell the plants about Space Camp.

I was sitting here yesterday on the little sofa in the front window. The front window is a big plate-glass window that looks east, over the street, and I’ve been bringing the Betsy-Tacy quilt here to hand-tie in the mornings. I can hear the birds calling and responding as the light creeps up behind the buildings across the street. Yesterday, as I sat here and worked, a hummingbird came to rest upon one of the tallest boughs of our weeping willow outside the window. And she just rested. Many of our hummingbirds have rufous heads and breasts and bright green bodies but she was dark-headed and grayish-bodied and she just sat and bobbed on the slender, bending bough. Benjamin came to sit on the arm of the sofa behind me, snuggled into my neck, and watched her too.

I’ve been working on this quilt and thinking about the next. I am really enjoying the literature interpretations as quilts; there is something thoughtful about them, as though something outside of me is telling me how to get them right, and finding a way to do this is like completing a satisfying puzzle. The one I’m working on right now is just a charm quilt, random pieces 3″ square, and I had planned to quilt it in some way–perhaps as a map of the town where the girls live, or perhaps a simple grid–on the sewing machine. It would be done faster, certainly. And I even began doing it. But the quilt argued with me. It was actually kind of painful to quilt on the machine. This quilt wanted to be tied. It was an old-fashioned quilt dedicated to a simple, old-fashioned heroine and it wanted a very simple finish. This is not to say an easy one–my fingers have felt bruised for days! But it’s gentler, somehow. I’m not throwing the machine at it. I’m touching each piece, remembering how much I liked that fabric, smoothing a square, making sure the tie is secure, moving on. Playing games with the pattern I make with the embroidery floss before I snip it into short lengths. I know, it’s kind of silly. I mean, it’s layers of cloth; aren’t I in charge? And why not do it in a way that is faster and in the end may even be more sturdy? Why be doing it at all?

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I have to respect the wishes of the fabric because the fabric has taken on a life of its own, and it is connected to and mindful of its origins in the work of Maud Hart Lovelace. These little squares are my thoughts: wouldn’t Betsy have worn these two together as a blouse and a skirt? This one would have looked lovely as a shirtwaist on Tacy with her red hair. What about this one as a part of Betsy’s sister’s clothes for Europe? And once they took on these connections, I had to be led where it would take me. I suppose this is part of that tenuous art/craft boundary.

But why do it at all? I sit here in the window as light begins to flood me and my project and I feel the cat snuggled in my lap under the quilt and see my Boy curled up under the completed quilt at the far end of the little sofa and I get angry, a little, at this question. I do it because it needs to be done. My fingers are doing what so many fingers have done for so long, find meaning in the base and the needful, interpret creatively what could be merely an animal skin. I respect the maker’s impulse, the push to bring out from the heart or the deep interior frontal cortex through the fingers and into the world. That means no shortcuts for the sake of shortness, because that means missing out on some part of the process that feels like it needs to be there. If I set the parameters of my project, whatever they may be and however arbitrary they may seem, I can only then respect them and go where they take me. To not respect them is to disrespect myself and the validity of my impulse to make.

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This is where I don’t accidentally pour tea all over the quilt and computer.

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