Wednesday, October 7, 2020

I'm still here, are you still there?

 Last week, I found this happy place -- so many pumpkins and squash and gourds!
I just let myself have at it -- it was like fabric shopping but I don't have to make anything out of them!
I can just sit and admire them!
Then we can eat them or feed them to my son's chickens!
Win, win!!
Fall happens so fast here and I don't want to miss my favorite parts of it.
So I've been indulging myself and staying outside as much as possible.  That means there hasn't been much stitching (saving that for the rainy days just around the corner).  I'm doing as much walking and  birding and puttering in the garden or knitting in the back garden as I can

On a good day, I can enjoy several of my past times simultaneously without leaving the yard!
This red-breasted nuthatch and it's sidekick spent most of a sunny afternoon "planting" sunflower seeds around my flower beds while I carried on knitting close at hand. 
(I couldn't get them to understand there are new seeds everyday so no need to hoard!?!)
I'm knitting Katie's Kep, the featured pattern for this year's virtual Shetland Wool Week, when another knitter's version on Instagram caught my eye -- it was a perfect interpretation of the landscape colors I'm seeing all around me.  
(Check out the hashtag #katieskep on Instagram for an eyeful.)
A creative spark flashed in my brain and suddenly I was snapping pictures on my walks to interpret in another version of the Kep (Shetland talk for cap).
(Note: walking into a pawpaw grove with the woman I raised to bird with me!)
Of course, I don't need another project.  
One of the discoveries I've made about myself during "isolation" (or perhaps just finally admitted) is that I have the attention span of a gnat!!
The result of this is a lot of UFO's.

However, if I have a specific reason to make something, I'm much more likely to finish.
So happily, my subconscious (love that part of my brain) figured out while I was poking through my yarn stash that I could make mini-Fair Isle mittens for the triplets using those color inspirations.
Creative inspiration + "need" = finished project . . . of course, I'll finish Katie's Kep first! 
Last week, at the end of a babysitting day with the triplets, their mom brought home their first set of wheels!! 
Smiles all around!!
He is a natural at steering and one of his sisters was as happy to push as he was to drive.
I must say I was feeling pretty glum when I started this, but that cup of coffee and "talking" with you has cheered me right up.  There was crummy news this morning (I need to have a tooth extracted) and wanted to cry all the way home -- it's not that awful in itself, but it's just one more thing?!?  
So when I got home, redirecting my energy and my mind was absolutely necessary.
And there you were, waiting for my return to this page.
So thanks for reading!
Think I'll head outside and deadhead some plants.
Hope you have strategies for lifting yourself out of the doldrums!!

Mary





Friday, September 18, 2020

What Day Is It?

 If you haven't reached the age of Medicare, you may not realize what a scary question that can be.  You see there are these nice, well-meaning (younger) medical types who ask us mature ones that question regularly.  It's part of the question battery to confirm one's mental condition. 

I'm pretty sure I would have flunked that question this week!

It seems everyday, I've had to figure out what day it is -- thank goodness for date books and calendars!! That and a conversation with a friend a couple days ago made me realize September is on the way out and I've not done one thing to reach my studio goals for the month!?!

I haven't even been in my studio for a week!  What is that all about??

It didn't take a genius to figure it out once I walked through the door!  It's a mess . . . again.  And avoiding it means it's time to tidy up.  So I tackled this mess just inside the door.

As usual, it was a treasure hunt!  I found long-forgotten teaching samples most of which I discarded (!!!) but I kept this cheery stack that will make a sweet little 9-patch quilt.
And my photo album from high school and college -- made quick work of this and pared it down to 10 pictures to keep!
(I feel like I should point this out to my kids so they know I'm trying to thin things down.)
It really didn't take long until I could sweep the rug and then I was entitled to sew!
These are step samples from teaching Double Irish Chain -- I can't even remember the last time I taught that -- why am I saving them???  One of the challenges of dealing with sample pieces is that it's hard to toss them when they are made from pretty fabric and skillfully pieced!  
But I've gotten pretty good at wrangling them into something usable.  I don't do improv piecing  but I do organize random blocks and bits improvisationally! 
It's a little runner (I think) and it's in the "to be" box with that hunk of fabric now, so in the future who knows what it's destiny will be?
A clean floor and a little pieced top entitled me to cut this new charm pak up into 2" hexagons
and lay out a little Christmas runner.  It can be my "sew-off" project over the next couple weeks while I get that set of blocks on the design wall into a finished top.
This morning, I got up all perky from yesterday's studio time and layered up my temperature quilt from 2017 so that I can start hand quilting it this fall!  
So back to what day of the week it is -- I woke up this morning wondering if time was as important two hundred years ago as it is today (probably thanks to history musings related to my current genealogy research, which is also why my desk is so messy).
I suspect it was important to know day from night and recognize the seasons but I don't believe the exactness that we live by now was important.   These past six months have given us a taste of that and might be why I'm experiencing this sense of being adrift in time.
I am getting comfortable with the lack of commitments and a thin schedule.
How about you? 
I wonder if I'll slowly drift back into the modern frenzy when this is finished.
I don't think I want to do that, but I don't want to flunk the date question either!?!

That desk needs a good tidy-up . . . . tomorrow.

Mary










Monday, September 7, 2020

Redeeming a Dreary Day

 I'm not sure what triggered such a positive approach to today but I'm grateful for it.  Willie (my faithful black cat) and I were rudely awakened this morning by a monster clap of thunder right outside our bedroom window!?!  A quick look at the local weather radar made it clear that this was the leading edge of a huge thunderstorm that would last the rest of the morning.  

My plan for the day was to work in the garden but . . . . . .  well, at least the rain barrels are full again and I won't have to water all my patio pots or the last few days transplants.

It was obvious I'd get too wet and too dirty even doing some deadheading or starting the end of summer clean-up of the borders.

The morning glories tried to bloom but it's mid-afternoon now and today's blooms should have waited until tomorrow.  I guess they just couldn't avoid their destiny?!? Today was their day to bloom!

Happily, I had the inspiration to change my plan to an activity that would lift my spirits and cross a few things off my never ending list -- I would dedicate this dreary day to finishing!  Finishing something always gives my spirits a big lift!! 

 But first sourdough pancakes with fresh peaches and maple syrup to get the day off to a special start!

Nourished and armed with my first cup of tea for the day, I tackled the onerous task of weaving in yarn ends on a pair of socks I finished knitting yesterday.  Oh, my goodness?!?

It seems to be a universally despised task among knitters but you can't get cute socks like this without doing it!?!
These were designed by Wendy who I follow on Instagram @warmstripes and it's a free pattern she shared for her birthday in August.  You can make your own version!  Click HERE for her pattern.
I made a little modification to customize it for my librarian daughter.
There now, that wasn't so bad!
Time for another cup of tea.
The plan was to have a cup of all my favorites over the course of the day -- good thing I drink mostly decaf!!
Time to address the almost finished charity quilt clogging up my quilting machine.  I just needed to quilt the border but it's been sitting for over a week while I wait for "inspiration".  
Just do it, Mary!!
Oh, and there were threads to bury -- a lot like weaving in yarn ends!?!
Fortunately there weren't many as I've been disciplining myself to bury them as they are created for the past couple years.
After lunch, I adjourned to the studio to bind the quilt and listen to another chapter of A People's History of the United States.  What an interesting book -- its giving me a new perspective on many aspects of  our American history leading me to an improved understanding of the source of some of our society's problems.
+
My final finishing goal for today is six masks -- I don't enjoy making these so decided instead of letting it drag out all week, I'd just power through them.
My neck and shoulders were screaming for a break so I'm here writing to you but once I finish and figure out a supper plan (what are you having?), I'll head back up and finish them.
So three finishes today -- wahoo!!!
It's doesn't shorten the list too much but I'm feeling good about my day in spite of  the gray brooding weather.  This week, I have plans to layer up a couple more quilts from the "ready shelf" -- one to be machine quilted and one to be hand quilted.

I also wanted to share a series I'm streaming via my PBS station -- Africa's Great Civilizations.
The six episodes are hosted by Henry Louis Gates, Jr. and explore the rich cultural history of Africa of which I was completely unaware.  I think one of the keys to eliminating racism in this country is developing an appreciation for the history of Africa and it's people.  They might teach some of this in world history classes these days, but they didn't 50 years ago so I am grateful that PBS is making this series from 2017 available.  If you are interested and your local station isn't streaming it right now, check out your library or better yet, click HERE and buy it from PBS, watch it and gift it to spread the awareness!

Finally, I went out to dinner Saturday night!!
A good time was had by all and they are better veg eaters than their grandmother!
I hope this lingering period of isolation is helping you understand yourself better -- what would you do on a dreary day to lift your spirits?

Mary

















Saturday, August 29, 2020

 Machine quilting and finishing some projects has carried me through the past couple weeks!  That is all good for sure!!  Last week, I finished my youngest grandson's "big bed" quilt -- major goal reached!! 

 I made this quilt during the #littlemisssawtoothquiltqal led by Melanie at @southerncharmquilts via Instagram.  I used a layer cake I had stashed with 1 1/2 yards of background fabric for the blocks.  I moved through this project pretty quickly, starting the blocks last September and finishing the quilting this week -- not even a year!?!

So this week, I've been working on a small charity quilt. Remember this "sashed 9-patch" block I shared with you in March?  (Here's the original post with my directions for piecing these scrappy little blocks -- it's at the end of that post.)

I pieced twelve of them and set them together with sashing to make a wheelchair laprobe and my charity quilting crew layered it at our July gathering (outside on the front porch, of course).

My current strategy is to alternate quilting one of my own pieces and then a quilt to donate.  The idea has worked well for me because the charity quilts are generally small and by keeping the quilting simple I've been moving through them quickly but this time, after ditch-stitching the sashing, I froze.

My quandary was how to keep the quilting simple while enhancing the piecing.  None of my straight line ideas were inspiring me to continue.  While I don't consciously assign design tasks to my subconscious, I'm glad it goes to work on my creative blocks anyway.   Between looking at the quilt everyday laying on the machine table and some Instagram scrolling, I was inspired to adapt a four-point star motif someone shared so it fit my blocks.  As I worked with chalk sketching the idea, I enhanced it with a pumpkin seed flower to fill up the central space of the block.  Thank you subconscious for the inspiration!!

Here is my chalk sketching of my idea.  I've understood that I'm a visual person for a long time and sketching on the real thing helps me make decisions more easily.  I use "chalk wheel" devices that lay a line of chalk which I can brush off if I don't like my lines.  My original idea was to bisect the center square with straight lines that connected to the inner V's of the star but when I couldn't figure out how to stitch that without back stitching previous lines or extras stop/starts, I experimented with the pumpkin seed flower which could be easily worked into the design with no back stitching and no extra stop/starts.  

So let me walk you through it!

I used minimal marking for each block -- these are the center lines to guide me from point to point.

I start at the upper left corner of the block, aligning my straight guide tool with the corner of the block and the first centering mark.
Once I reach the centering mark, I reposition my guide and stitch out to the lower left corner of the block.  The foot on my machine is a ruler foot designed for APQS machines to use with plexiglass guides.
I continue in that way until I reach this final centering line and am in position to begin the pumpkin seed flower which is a series of free motion arcs.  My goal for each line is to reach the center X in a smooth arc.
Here I am with just two more arcs to stitch and I'll be back at the starting point of the flower at which point I'll use the guide ruler to return to the corner where I started.  One continuous line!!
Finished!!  In about four minutes (which includes marking and tying off the thread ends) I'm ready to move to the next block.  With just twelve blocks in the quilt, I can get half the blocks quilted in under 30 minutes which tends to be my session limit at the quilting machine.  When I stick to my 30 minute work limit, I find it easier to avoid a cranky neck and shoulders!
Here's the progress so far -- I have six blocks left to quilt and then maybe a straight line down the middle of all the sashing and something in the border.  I could have this piece ready to bind by Monday!
Then I can layer up and work next week on a laprobe that I've selected from the "ready-to-quilt" shelf for a housewarming gift!
It's been a pleasant week -- my goal to get back into a regular walking routine is progressing.
I enjoyed two all day babysitting sessions with the triplets!  BLISS!!
I enjoyed a couple small social gatherings (with masks).
Perhaps most important, I decided to embrace a couple perks of the current isolation.

I'm noticing my almost-empty schedule has led me to pay more attention to details and have more patience when needed.  
For example, I've started putting things away when I'm done using them because I don't have to rushing on to something else so the house is tidier and I (almost) always know where stuff is?!?
That's all good!!
  I'm doing more advanced knitting projects but I'm making lots of mistakes in my projects (argghhh - lack of experience).  I still get in a snit but they are usually short and I can back-up, undo, and fix the mistake -- like the sock that I knit twice before I got it the right size.  It was worth it!!

So I hope that I can take these habits forward with me.
It might mean I won't be as "useful" to other people but they are just going to have to get their own act together, aren't they?
Mary, the efficient dependable multi-tasker has retired!!
(All of you who've had your "slow living" act together for a while are smiling.)

So let's go have a good week and if you've had a "light bulb" moment as a result of isolation, share it with us!!

Mary


Monday, August 17, 2020

Rebooting

 Did we even know what "rebooting" meant until the computer age? That's what I've been doing over the past three weeks.  First, I said all the "right" sentences to my doctor last month and she urged me to start an anti-depressant to ward off impending depression.  Having already dealt with it a couple times in the past, even though I'm reluctant to start the meds I realized right now I don't have the energy to talk my way out of it this time.  So I'm phasing into the little blue pill!

I'm also strong arming my way back into a more regular walking routine since I've become very sloppy about regular walks.  I've still been birding a couple times a week but that isn't walking -- it's ambling very slowly and I need a bit more go-juice!  The challenge is that it's just so much easier to stay home and stitch and I don't feel guilty because I'm being productive.

At least I think I'm being productive (though being productive may be a bit more important to me than it really needs to be . . ).  So this morning, I flipped through my work journal to see if that has been true since being at home so much since mid-March.  Yep!!

I've made all those masks!  It's been so impressive to see so many of you part with some of your stash to mask up the folks around you!!  

I'm almost finished with the third quilt in the set I'm making for my triplet grands.  I'm starting to think about graduation quilts for the two older ones -- must keep the momentum going!

I finished three small charity quilts and have another one under way on the design wall.  I am realizing how short my attention span is when piecing a new block -- yep, twenty blocks looks like enough to me.  Ready to move onto to something new in spite of the fact that I have enough pieces cut for another 40 blocks!?!

I've knit three pairs of socks with a whimsical fourth pair in process.  I'm hoping this will eliminate the Christmas sock knitting panic later in the year!  I've never had almost half my goal finished so early!

I've finished one shawl with another just past the halfway point.  And more importantly, I resisted my favorite designer's shawl mystery project that is currently underway.  Must knit what I have!!!

I've pieced and hand quilted a lap size Halo quilt based on Jen Kingwell's pattern -- binding is ready for the hand stitching this evening!  To move through a quilt from start to finish in a few months feels like such an achievement for me -- definitely not typical!

I started a quilt that has been on my "wish list" for a couple years -- Christabella by Marge Sampson-George -- it won't look like the Aussie versions of this quilt and I'm machine piecing it.  The fabric selection is slow going but I'm having fun working with two new fabric collections and filling in with some stash fabrics.  Love those zebras!
I've read posts on Instagram about quilters losing their creative focus -- I've thought about that a bit and my long standing habit of escaping to my stitching has definitely been carrying me along through this period of relative isolation.  I'm not sure there have been any big "creative aha's" but I also believe those don't happen when one isn't working, doing, messing around with the stuff.  So I push myself to pick up something no matter how I feel because I know that most of the time, doing that will draw me into a better attitude.  It's good to be able to look back over the past five months and see that trail of finished projects.  

There have been some creative bursts in the garden!  Yesterday, as I deadheaded the purple coneflower in the hope of getting a few more blooms, I tied up several bundles and hung them upside down in the hope that the local goldfinches will find them and harvest the seeds, dropping some of the seeds into other parts of the garden!
 I can't seem to read for more than 15 minutes at a time right now so I've turned to listening to books.  My current tome is The People's History of the United States -- 34 hours!?!  But I've always enjoyed history and this book dredges up the lesser known bits of this country's history which I'm finding helpful in explaining some of our current issues.  I also hope it will help me relate our family history on to my grandchildren in a way that is relevant and truthful.

Speaking of grandchildren -- look at this!!  I can still sit in a low place with a pile of kids in my lap!!  Best part was they all climbed into my lap on their own!!
Bliss!!

Oh, yeah and I've lost 4 pounds in spite of all my sourdough baking experiments!!  

Time to clean up the tray table next to my evening stitching spot so I'm ready to keep moving forward.  I love finishing so pushing myself back to the stitching always leads to a brighter spot!
I hope you are able to "make" yourself do the things that engage your mind to continue moving forward during these wierd times.

Mary


Wednesday, July 29, 2020

Waiting

I'm struggling a bit right now -- lots of yawning these days.
And the temptation to sit down and "wait" seem to be becoming too familiar a state of mind?
At this moment, I'm waiting for some rain to arrive.
I'm waiting for the kettle to boil.
I'm waiting for the storm to cool off the air so I can open the house back up.
I'm waiting for inspiration for this blogpost and what to make for supper and how to quilt my grandson's quilt?

Of course, I know how this works -- inspiration doesn't usually find me unless I'm working along. 
Just starting to ramble along here might lead some where?
Searching through the fridge might reveal a supper idea.
Starting to stitch in the ditch along the edges of the sashing strips might inspire the next step.
Now if I could just stop yawning?!?

Afternoon coffee in hand!

Folks who know me face-to-face know while I can be intense I also have an "oh, look!" habit!?!
Yesterday, I "realized" (thanks to a local preserve that I follow on Facebook) that the second annual Bumble Bee Watch is currently underway and it's just this week and all I need to do is submit photos and some data via the I-Naturalist app.   That's all!?!
Since the current batch of monarch caterpillars are almost all in the chrysalis stage, why not?!?
(Weird view -- looking up into the butterfly enclosure)

  So I watched a training video from the Minnesota Extension Service on identifying bumbles and embarked on a frenzy of photos and observation as I try to apply what I learned.  
Side view -- face portrait -- top side.


 Then I noticed that my favorite native coneflower is opening!!
I call it sweet coneflower and I love the unique petals plus the fact that it doesn't reseed all over the neighborhood (which many of my native flowers do).
Next thing you know, I'm wandering around the garden to pick a bouquet and see what else is going on -- the morning glory or moonflower vines (it will be a surprise) seem to be plotting a take over.  As it is midsummer, I've been spending an hour every morning weeding and tidying up a section of the garden -- this enthusiastic duo will need to be corralled tomorrow morning.
Inspiration and a "to-do" list for the morning!
(The rain is arriving!!)
And of course, I'm stitching.
I started this scrappy quilt -- been cutting pieces for it all winter and spring.
Easy to piece and I figured out a pressing strategy that assures me matching seams will always be opposing.
And I started another quilt -- Marge Sampson-George's Christabella
She designed it as an English paper piecing project but I'm machine piecing it -- lots of auditioning is needed since I've gone rogue on the fabric palette so it's slow going right now.
I'm started with two clumps of new fabrics I acquired this year and am blending in some older stuff.
Today, I put the binding on this scrappy bargello just back from quilting.  The top might be 7 years old?!?  Julie at Pink Doxies showed off an adorable digitized pantograph she used on a hexie quilt she pieced using my Set-In Piecing Simplified technique recently -- it has bees and flowers and is soooo cute!  This top popped into my head as soon as I saw the quilting design so I turned it over to her to quilt for me!  I'm so pleased with the way it turned out.  She was even able to scale the design down a bit for a better fit for the size of the squares.
Love me a finish!!
I also started hand quilting my Halo quilt top -- inspired by an Aussie quilter's stitching shared on Instagram with all the particulars of how she is doing it!
"Big Stitch" using size 8 perle cotton -- 3 different colors since I didn't have enough of one for the entire quilt or was it that I couldn't make up my mind which color???
My grandson's quilt is layered and I have pulled possible threads -- maybe tomorrow I'll start?
So don't just wait -- turn on the kettle, pull out a UFO that needs some stitching, clean out the fridge, bring in a bouquet -- move into life as it is right now.  
In the process, inspiration will come -- little or big and it will help pass the time.
Things will get done, I'll start to feel perkier, old projects will get finished and new ideas will capture my attention.

I'll be as focused as my granddaughter watching me prep her first ice cream cone of homemade raspberry ice cream!!  Pretty stinkin' cute, huh?!?
I found these mini cones while searching for chocolate syrup!!  
Perfect!
(Let me hold it myself!!)

  This week I discovered the Farm Link Project - it started with a couple college students and has now grown into groups all over the USA linking farmers with surplus to food banks.
Check out what they've accomplished in just six short months -- impressive!!
I read yesterday that "food insecurity" is becoming a huge problem in this country -- maybe we can all pitch in and help?

Mary