Sunday, November 23, 2014

A few finished projects

While I've been in Denver, I've taken advantage of being near my sewing machine to finish up a few projects.


First, I did as I promised and turned my crazy quilt patch into a purse. It is more of a prototype than a professional project. I didn't think it through from beginning to end, so there are quite a few things I would do differently. Most importantly, the narrow sides should have been made of one piece. If I had had my edging book with me, I could have looked up how to make a neat fit around the corners, but the book is back in Rhode Island. Instead, I struggled with piecing each side and it isn't all that neat. I also should have made a facing with a snap closure and made my interior pocket smaller. But live and learn. It isn't something I would give as a gift, but I am enjoying using it.


Two weeks ago, I also mentioned bringing home some fabric for a skirt. Here is the almost finished product. I may need to take out a little fullness and adjust the elastic to get a better fit.


Finally, remember the embroidered North Woods panels I did last winter? One of them disappeared when I moved some of my things home in May. I expect I will find it sometime. But the other one in sewn up and will be my brother-in-law's Christmas present this year. Unlike my purse, this turned out exactly as I planned. It will look great in their Adirondack cabin!



Sunday, November 16, 2014

Languishing lovebirds

Last week I mentioned that one of the things I brought back to Denver in my suitcase was a blackwork kit. I alway thought blackwork was beautiful, so I signed up for Tanja Berlin's blackwork "Lovebirds" class in August. Lessons were sent out every two weeks through last week. Unfortunately I didn't get my kit until just before the third of five classes was published. Somehow the U.S. and Canadian post offices let us down. By the time it came, I was so busy with other things, that despite my resolve to keep up with the course, I only finished lesson one this week. Unfortunately, my critique wasn't so good. I found myself rushing to finish and made some mistakes. Not big ones, but big enough. I'll have to work through the rest a little more slowly, and sadly on my own since the class ends next week. I'm disappointed with myself, because the materials and the critiques are great. I just couldn't keep up.


Here's what I have done so far. I'm looking forward to working on it over Christmas--which means that these little birdies are going back to New England with me. Too bad they don't earn their own frequent flyer miles!



Sunday, November 9, 2014

Travel priorities

I had to laugh last weekend as I packed my suitcase to fly back to Denver. It was such an odd assortment of things to be flying with--especially for a three week trip. Not for the first time I was glad security doesn't question me about my choice of baggage.


For my flight I brought home a 19" suitcase and a computer bag packed with the following:

1 pair jeans

2 long sleeve shirts

1 q-snap frame that I had finished using and some patterns

A black work kit I am working on (more on that next week)

Fabric for a skirt I want to sew

A crazy quilt book

A cross stitch book

A bag of fabric scraps for crazy quilting

2 novels

My work and home computers

An ipad

Some work papers

Medications and a little bottle of hair goop


I focus on my projects and making sure that I have the proper supplies where I need them, rather than on my appearance and what I'll be wearing. It helps that my wardrobe is split between the two homes, but if I didn't cart the supplies back and forth I could travel with just my computer bag!


It is more frustrating than I want to admit having a sewing machine in only one location. If I had one in Rhode Island, my skirt would already be sewn and I could have started my crazy quilt blocks. But maybe it is better this way. When I am back east, I spend all of my non-work time with my husband and when I am in Denver I have concentrated time to work on projects. Not having a machine back east keeps my perspective on what is important in my life--my family. But sometimes I still miss sewing something fun, as opposed to something necessary, when I can justify borrowing a machine from someone. It also means that I have to finish any outstanding Christmas presents before Thanksgiving, or I'll have to start shopping when I get back to Rhode Island!

Sunday, November 2, 2014

Happy Halloween kind of

I didn't quite finish my Day of the Dead sampler for Halloween this year. Luckily it is just a play piece. There is a lot wrong with it, but it has been fun to work on a colorful piece with no real purpose, deadline or even pattern!


My idea started with a desire to embroider a skull and grew from there. Here is my initial drawing. I wanted skulls and flowers and hearts. My idea was to sink my stitches into thick black felt, but I couldn't find black wool felt, so I bought grey. Then I had trouble having my white markers show up on the fuzzy felt, so I cut the skulls out of interfacing to trace around them. I liked the white against the grey so much, I decided to embroider right through the interfacing


Here is how far I've gotten. I have to finish the flower and one more skull, then add vines, hearts and a backing. I may put it aside until I return to Rhode Island though, I've got other projects to work on in Colorado and the less I carry back and forth, the better.

At least I can be early for next year!


Sunday, October 26, 2014

Online Exhibit: From Baby Caps to Mourning Rings

If you have been in or around Boston this month, you have likely heard about the time capsule in the lion's head on the Old State House. The Old State House is the oldest surviving public building in Boston. It was built in 1713 as the seat of Royal government. It was the site of the Boston Massacre, which helped incite the colonists against the British and lead to the American Revolution. Although the loin and unicorn adorning its front were symbols of the British Empire, they were preserved even after the King was ousted from the former colonies.


The Old State House is currently undergoing preservation, and the lion and unicorn taken down for conservation. A1901 newspaper article alluded to the fact that a time capsule had been placed in the lion's head the last time the animals were conserved and that article was just proved correct. Earlier this month, conservators removed a lead box from the head. It is filled with books, newspapers and letters from local politicians. A full list and a glimpse of the contents is available here. When the lion goes back up on the State House, a new time capsule will be inside.


The Old State House is owned by the Bostonian Society, a private organization "...dedicated to studying, and preserving Boston’s uniquely important history, embodied in materials, records, and structures such as the Old State House, and in sharing an understanding of the revolutionary ideas born here." Because the Old State House is on the Freedom Trail, they get millions of visitors each year and they do a nice job of interpreting Boston's history.


Looking for information about the lion's head time capsule, I was recently on their web site and discovered a lovely exhibit of Boston artifacts titled, From Baby Caps to Mourning Rings: The Material Culture of Boston's 18th-Century Girls and Women. It is a collection of intimate objects owned by women during the Revolution, including caps, dresses and school girl embroideries among other artifacts. The exhibit is set up around a clock face symbolizing both the hours of the day and a single lifespan. I suggest that you begin at 7 o'clock and work you way around the face of the clock. Some of the embroideries are simply stunning. The baby caps and the embroidered map of Boston were my favorites. I was grateful that it was easy to enlarge the photos and that when enlarged they were so crisp.


There is just enough text to wet an appetite to learn more about Revolutionary life and it makes me want to know what else may be in Bostonian Society's holdings. Although I worked right next door when I was with the National Park Service in Boston (you can see the brown NPS sign to the left of the Old State House in the photo) I assumed wrongly that the collection was mostly political papers. I'm thrilled that they are sharing these treasures over the internet and I think you will be too.

Photo from:



Sunday, October 19, 2014

Crazy quilt block finished!

It has taken more than a year, but my first crazy quilt block is done. I learned a lot working on this--making my first ribbon flowers, trying to build up beaded coral, experimenting with buttonholed herringbone stitch, and learning about crazy piecing. It was a great experiment, although my stitching isn't necessarily the best; I was too eager to get on to the next motif!

New from the last time I featured this block are the two dragon flies, the herringbone seam stitch, the beaded flowers, and the finished seaweed around the crab. When I return to Denver, I will make it into a purse.

I noticed that my block is quite mangled from all the stitching. Good thing I left some extra fabric so that I can cut it square again. I hope that my next project can help learn how to control my tension a little more.


Next month I will make 4 new hexagonal blocks. My plan is to make them in summer, winter, autumn and spring themes and make a pillow with them when I am done. Although I can't often go to my crazy quilt group due to my travel schedule, they are starting to stitch from Foolproof Crazy Quilting by Jennifer Clouston and I will stitch along. I was a bit resistant to the idea of using a stitch guide for my embellishments, but the project is a learning piece and there should be enough creativity in the interpretation of the motifs to make it satisfying. I'm itching to get started. I wish I had a sewing machine in Rhode Island! Since they will be taking 2 months for each block, I should be able to keep up and share my work when I am in Denver. I am looking forward to the new challenge.


Sunday, October 12, 2014

Wedding wreath in pink

Last week I showed you EdMar's Wedding Wreath done in their suggested color scheme, today I am showing you the same pattern in pinks and creams to match my cousin's wedding colors. This one took me 6 days, and approximately 16 hours to stitch.

I've included my color pallet below:

  • Leaves and branches: Iris 167
  • Fine growth: Glory 167
  • Maria's Rose: Lola 018
  • Bullion Rose: Lola 229
  • Peach Blossom: Nova 000 & Lola 135
  • Cast-on Rose: Lola 169
  • Japanese Violet: Lola 135
  • Geron Daisy: Lola 233 & Lola 229

I used Lola for the French knot centers of the peach blossoms and daisy and added pearls to the Japanese Violets. In addition I used 4 colors of size 11 seed beads--pink, silver, white and clear to add a little sparkle to the pattern. I think my cousin will love it.

Which do you like better? The classic white, or the color version?


Sunday, October 5, 2014

A New England Wedding

Last weekend was my husband's youngest son's wedding. We had a glorious New England Indian summer day, with temperatures in the high 70s. Perfect for a wedding on the lawn overlooking the salt marsh. Kyle and Kristen were married by Roger's eldest son, Ben, and I kept from crying at the sweetness of his words only by reminding myself that my mascara wasn't waterproof.

The reception was in an old stone barn on the Crane Estate--low key, yet quite beautiful, with good food, family, and lots of dancing. You couldn't ask for a better function.

My husband with his brothers and nephew.


And although my wedding gift to them wasn't quite done, it was at the framer's with a promise to expedite the process. And here it is all framed up and ready to present to them--a Brazilian wedding sampler all in neutrals.

The pattern is called "Wedding Wreath" from EdMar and is deceptively simple. In fact, it would be a wonderful beginner piece because it uses only eight basic stitches. This one is completed following the recommended thread colors, but I have seen it done in purples. I am almost done stitching another for my cousin in pinks to match her wedding colors. I'll show you next week.

In the meantime, I hope Kyle and Kristen enjoy their wedding sampler and have many happy decades ahead of them.


Sunday, September 28, 2014

Needlework fiction--The Time In Between

The Time In Between Maria Duenas (2009)

Also published under the title of The Seamstress

**** 4/5 stars Check out GoodReads for more reviews of this novel.


This book transported me to a time and place I had never before visited in historical fiction and makes me want to travel there again. It is 1935 and a young Spanish seamstress makes the bad choice to abandon her fiancé and her country for rouge who steels her heart and fortune. Stranded in the Spanish protectorate of Morocco while her country is plunged into civil war, she makes the best of it and in the process makes the choice to work for what she believes is right even though it leads her back to war torn Europe.


This story is straightforward, but layered with growth, self realization, and possibilities—not to mention extremely interesting places and people--that make it engrossing. I was seduced because of the haute couture angle. The. Loathing descriptions are breathtaking. Not realizing what was to come next, I found myself a little confused when the book took a radical turn into politics about half way through, but I was quickly seduced again. I liked the fact that the story kept me asking questions: What if she made this choice or that choice? What choice would I make? Who is a person down deep? How does one tell? How does one make a new start? And where does resilience come from? Fifty pages from the end of this 600 page book I was asking my husband how it might end. I had no idea.


There were a few flaws, but I think they are minor. 1. Not everyone is going to like the protagonist and her interesting form of passivity and innocence coupled with action. If you don’t like her, you will never get through the book. 2. There are several places where the author builds up to a meeting with people Sira is expecting, but the reader is left in the dark for a few extra beats. I found it annoying. Although it heightened the anticipation, it was a cheap trick. Since it only lasted a sentence or two, it was easily forgiven. 3. Many may not like the ending, although I didn’t have a problem with it. After reading the author’s essay on her historical sources, it was clear what her intention was for the book. What may have happened after the ending simply wasn’t of interest to her. It was a bit abrupt, but I was satisfied. I think I almost like the fact that I was left still asking questions.


Finally, I loved reading a book not by an American, British, or South/Central American author. Reading contemporary Spanish literature is a real twist for me and I am so happy that I took a risk on this book.


Resources about places and things in this novel

Here is Publisher's Weekly's review.


I didn't know anything about the Spanish zone in Morocco. If you are like me, here is a short history.


This Pinterest site has a plethora of photos of beautiful vintage dresses like the ones Sira would have made.


This fantastic novel is a smash hit tv series in Spain and came via Hulu to America this summer. You can find a review here. I, for one, am looking forward to watching.


Sunday, September 21, 2014

Strong, smart, bold

It was August 2000. I was in between full time jobs and trying to cobble together employment before the new graduate school year started, when I heard about an opportunity to pilot a two-week program in archaeology called Girls Dig It! with Girls Inc. in Lynn, Massachusetts. It was a fantastic experience. The girls were interested and willing to learn. We played games and put together pottery, had lessons in mapping, math and artifact identification. In between, the social workers who supported the class kept the girls alert and engaged. They knew when a break was needed and how to get the girls to talk. I had a great time. But I couldn't forget where these girls were coming from. Lynn is a rough city. One day I overheard two of the girls talking. On their way home from the program the day before, they had turned a corner and run into a man pulling a gun on another man. No shots were fired, but the girls were scared. Even the next day they were still terrified. They had an experience unlike anything I had ever imagined and I felt grateful for the work Girls Inc. and their fantastic social workers were doing to keep these teens safe and supported in a difficult world.


That experience lead me to become a Big Sister with the Big Sister Association of Boston a few years later. I met my "Little" when she was 11 years old. Vivian is now 2 years out of college and looking at graduate school. She is a fantastic, motivated young woman and I am glad to be part of her life.


When I moved to Denver five years ago, I inquired at Big Sisters for volunteer opportunities, but my back and forth schedule made it impossible to commit to regular volunteering.


So, I was excited when I looked on the Girls Inc. of Denver website last month and saw "bean bags" on their wish list. I contacted them and was told that the social workers use the bags for a number of different games and activities. They usually use about six bags at a time and the bags are six-inches square. They needed a dozen. I volunteered.


I wanted to make the bags special, so I thought about embroidering the Girls Inc. logo on them, but 12 logos seemed daunting.

Then I remembered their motto: "Inspiring all girls to be strong, smart, and bold." Here's what I ended up making: six patterned bags and two bags each embroidered with "smart", "strong", or "bold". I expect that the social workers will be able to do some interesting things with them. For example, the girls could stand in a circle and toss the bags. Whoever winds up with an embroidered bag could then state why they are strong, smart or bold. Or if the girls know each other, they could say why the person they are tossing the bag to is strong, smart, or bold. I hope it works well for them.

To make the bags easy to keep track of, I also made two carrying cases. The tutorial for these cases came from Truly Myrtle. It is a fantastic tutorial, because it provides instructions on figuring out dimensions to make whatever size boxy bag you may need. I followed the instructions and, as you can see, the bean bags fit perfectly.

I'm so glad I looked on their website. I'll have to keep checking in with my favorite charities to see how I can contribute in the future. In the meantime, may all girls get the support that they need to be strong, smart, and bold.


Saturday, September 13, 2014

A weekend wedding

This weekend, my little cousin Emily married the love of her life and I was privileged to celebrate with them. My cousin is 25 years younger than me and 20 years younger than her next oldest cousin on our family's side, but she has always been deeply loved by all of us. I have never seen my cousin unhappy or sulky. She has always radiated joy and movement and love. So I was very honored to be her only relative to attend the Utah wedding besides her parents.


There will be a reception back in Syracuse, New York later this month for all of our relatives back east. I am the only one who lives close enough to make it economically feasible to attend the actual wedding, and my husband's son's wedding is the day of the Syracuse reception, so I feel especially blessed to have been able to see the bride on her wedding day.


And I am happy too to have finished some monogrammed pillow shams for the new couple in time for the wedding. I hope it makes their starter apartment a little more special.


Emily and Charlie are dancers. Emily did ballet up until a few years ago when we attended another cousin's wedding and she saw everyone swing dancing. I think it was that wedding and Dancing With the Stars that peaked her interest in formal dance. She took it up in high school and is pursing it in college at Brigham Young University. She and Charlie were just declared World Amateur Smooth Champions at the Embassy Ballroom Dance competition in California. At 20 she is definitely living her dream.


When Emily was a little girl, our grandmother doted on her. Grandma and Emily would shake and jiggle and wiggle together. My grandmother's laugh was contagious and soon the whole house would be laughing along with them. Our grandmother would have been so proud of Emily if she could see where their dancing lead her.


Emily is not crafty. I gave her the sewing machine I got for my high school graduation when I got a new one, but our sewing lesson didn't go too well. The project was too complicated and half way through I tripped on a cord and broke my toe. Em is much more of a kinetic learner who likes to be up and moving and socializing, but I think she will appreciate the handmade gifts coming her way from the heart of her family.


I wish nothing but happiness for my cousin on her new journey.


Sunday, September 7, 2014

So many projects, why do I need more?

I have so many projects going--three that I have been actively working on this weekend, and two more set up to work on before the end of the year. I have so much, in fact, that I made absolutely sure to do a bit of stitching each day this week and promised myself that I would go to my Brazilian embroidery guild so that I could have a few hours of uninterrupted stitching time. And it was so fun. I love the ladies who stitch at the shop, many of whom I haven't seen for months because of my peripatetic lifestyle. Guild was just the inspiration I needed to make progress on my step son's wedding present. I didn't have time to work on it in August, but I know now that it will be done before the end of September, although it likely won't be framed until after the wedding.


Of course there is a downside to going to guild, and that is that it is in the middle of an embroidery shop. I swore I wasn't going to buy anything, and I did pretty well until I caught sight of this little kit.


These Calla Lilies by DK Designs are only 3x3", but how gorgeous are they? Debbie Kelley has the most fantastic designs and such interesting stitches. The lilies are done with something called "interwoven cast-ons." I have no idea what they are, but I HAVE to try it. I love learning new stitches. And, of course, it looks so stunning on the black background, that I had to buy black trigger. Unfortunately, it comes in 1-yard cuts! I hope I am inspired to do other things on black trigger, or that my friends are inspired to try their own calla lillies on black trigger after I finish mine. I can't wait to stitch this pattern, but I will save it until October.

Unfortunately, the pattern, fabric and thread for this project weren't all that I bought. As I rummaged through the bins looking for this pattern, I (of course) ran across another pattern I had not seen before. Berry Bouquet is advertised as an advanced piece and it looks advanced, but so much fun to stitch! I purposely did not buy the thread for this project because, although I have just about finished the wedding present for my cousin, I want to make her a wedding sampler before the year is out as well. Berry Bouquet will have to wait until the Christmas holiday, but what a treat it will be to work on--especially in the dead cold of a New England winter!


I also loaded myself up on a third project-- raiding our crazy quilt group stash for some fabric to make a few hexagonal blocks so I can keep up with our project while I am away. I'll try to get them sewn up before I go home. At least this project didn't cost me anything (although only because I bought the pattern book the last time I stitched at the shop).

So what's up?! Obviously I have no will power. Good thing I am only in Colorado for 3 1/2 weeks this time. Any more and I would be sure to go broke!


Sunday, August 31, 2014


There was no blog post last weekend because despite the progress my husband and I made on our house, we didn't finish anything until this weekend. We had a concerted burst of energy Friday and Saturday and were able to accomplish a lot before I left for Denver Sunday morning. Unfortunately, because of all the work on the house, I did almost no embroidery. Here is what we did accomplish.


First, we changed out the curtains in the kitchen. Here is a before shot from the previous owners. They had a nice country/farmhouse style, but unfortunately, we just aren't county.

I did not make the new curtains in the after shot, but I did have to shorten them and my husband had to hang all new hardware, so I count this as a win. It has brightened up our kitchen tremendously.


Then upstairs. The before shot again comes from the previous owners.


We were using the room as an office and a place to store unpacked boxes. Now it is our new guest room/office/craft room. It is difficult to make a room do triple duty, but with the recent addition of a sleeper sofa I think we did pretty well. The pictures need to be hung before our first guests arrive at the end of September and eventually we will paint, but it is a cosy, yet uncrowded room. The curtains were here when we moved in, but I think they are staying because they go with the new furniture perfectly.

My favorite addition is the Ikea storage unit we built in the closet. I still need to get baskets to contain my fabric and yarn stashes, but I can put my hands on everything easily now. Lest you think that the photo shows my entire stash, know that I also have fabric stored in the dresser and have a considerable amount in Denver as well!

Finally, we are almost done with our showcase room. Roger needs to put up some chair rails and we have one wall yet to paint, but we are very close to finishing our Victorian Safari dining room.


Here is our predecessor's country look. Pretty.


And here is our safari theme. As you can see, I finally finished the valances and Roger hung them. The sheers come from Ikea--as did the palms! I even was able to make a runner from left over fabric to cover the side table that my grandfather built. It turned out even better than we hoped.


The next task will be to wallpaper the stairs and paint the upstairs and downstairs hall. I'll need to make new curtains when we do that. I guess I better start thinking about what they should look like!


I never knew it took so much effort to decorate a house! But we are both pleased with the results.