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!