Tuesday, December 30, 2008

Eating and sewing...it's that time of year

The leftovers from Christmas are serving us well. I made a terrific turkey matzo ball soup on Monday night (recipe courtesy of a neighbor); on Tuesday, scalloped potatoes and ham with the fabulous ham my dad sends us each Christmas; and tonight we had tamales, courtesy of Maggie. She got together with about five of her work friends in Austin and they made dozens and dozens of them. She brought two dozen home on ice and we polished them off tonight-Yum! We did manage to walk/run for awhile this afternoon, so that may have off-set the caloric count of...one matzo ball...

Maggie got a sewing machine for her birthday and wanted to learn a bit more about the basics of sewing, so we planned a quick project. Yesterday we got some fabric at Home Ec, the wonderful little yarn and fabric store that opened about a year ago. She chose some gorgeous Valori Wells fabric. (Valori was one of my earliest interviews for Quilts and More. She's an avid photographer who had a newish daughter at the time. I loved that she talked about working with her mother, Jean Wells, as a way of honoring all that her mother had done for her over the years. That mother-daughter connection seemed appropriate for our sewing project.)

Maggie added some brown cotton/linen pieces to frame the red print and stitched an envelope back. I made a few measuring errors, but we managed to salvage it so that it will still fit a standard pillow form.

I think I was probably more excited about it than she was. It was all I could do to not take the leftover fabric and stitch another pillow. Maggie kept teasing me about how much I think about making things.

I did finish making one thing last night—
the Sweetie Pie baby quilt in the 30s fabrics mentioned in the previous post. I'm happy with it—but kind of surprised that I felt that it had to be gender specific. Last year I gave a boy baby a quilt that had just a few fuchsia squares and I think it was too much for the traditional parents.

Saturday, December 27, 2008

Stichin' time

It's been so long time since I took time to sew. Everything got so out-of-control busy that I never felt at liberty to just take that time for myself. But last night I cut and sewed for about 4 hours straight, and what a treat! I worked on a simple baby quilt: It's a pattern I made once before—Sweetie Pie by Darlene Zimmerman. I've had the pleasure of writing a brief profile of Darlene—turns out she's from southern Minnesota, not far from where my relatives live.

The first time I made it out of pinks and greens and made an error in laying it out. It looks fine, according to friends I've queried (and that's what good friends should say, after all). I got kind of wonky stars, rather than diamonds and it just bothers me—the hourglass blocks were supposed to be turned 90 degrees in every other row.

So I decided to make it again. I'm not wild about the fabric—some rather pale 30s reproductions. I've gotten so used to bright, saturated color fabrics that these seem a little anemic. But I bought them when I first started quilting and am trying to do a little stash reduction and I had all these fabrics on-hand. When I went to bed last night I was a little disappointed with the one block I'd laid out, but this a.m. I like it a little better. They're fun kid fabrics, with mice, Scotties, circus elephants, jump-roping children, and more.

Thursday, December 25, 2008

Christmastime is here...

The cooking is finished, the guests are gone, the dishes are done, the turkey stock is in the fridge. Our eclectic guest list, which gave us some pause after we'd invited everyone, turned out just fine.

Pearl even had a visiting wire fox terrier, Ted, and they got along until I foolishly gave them each a treat as we sat down to dinner.

From beneath the table came the sound of snarling, barking, and general mayhem. We pulled them apart, sat down, and they went at it again. Pearl was confined to a bedroom for the rest of the meal, but afterward Pearl and Ted frolicked in the snow outside and all was well again.

As usual, I made enough food for the 42nd Airborne division. The good part about that is that no further cooking will be required until the spring thaw.

Tuesday, December 23, 2008

Christmas Eve eve

Although I may be new at blogging, I do realize that ten days between posts is pushing it. I mean, I even had a Pearl the Squirrel follower request a new post (okay, okay, so it was my son-in-law).

But a joyous thing happened: I turned my grades in on Monday and breathed a huge sigh of relief. And though there is still much to do for Christmas, I gave myself permission to sew a bit on my new machine. But more about that later.

Now, here are the hats I mentioned in the previous post. They're all made of yarn handspun and hand-dyed by Abi Hutchison, who sold it every Sat. a.m. at the Farmer's Market. I'll admit that the hats aren't necessarily things of beauty—they're definitely on the clunky side. 

But I had so much fun making them and my bookgroup friends dutifully oohed and aahed. Maybe next year it will be scarves.

Saturday, December 13, 2008

All this, and breakfast in a diner...

A day spent in preparation for Christmas (after French toast and sausage at the Bluebird diner). Paul and I wrapped presents and got all the boxes in the mail—such a great feeling. We bought a small tree (skinny, because we couldn't find one small enough to sit on a table). It's narrow enough that we won't have to move the living room furniture around. We thought about putting a tree in the family room, where we'd see it more often, but decided that might not be wise given that Pearl the Squirrel spends the day in that room while we're at work. Who knows what havoc she'd wreak?

I went yesterday to one of my favorite holiday sales, the Eastside Artist's Market. Wonderful textiles, wood, paper, paintings, and more, all created by local artists. I was looking for a gift for my bookgroup buddies—we meet on Tuesday night and have a cookie and gift exchange. I wasn't able to find anything and was feeling bereft, when I remembered my summer hat-knitting obsession. 

Nearly every week at the Farmer's Market this past summer I couldn't resist a beautiful skein of hand-dyed, hand-spun yarn. And many of those weeks I whipped out a hat. I had no plans for these toppers: they were simply an excuse to caress the gorgeous colors and fibers. At the end of the summer I had eight hats and this a.m. I realized they might be the perfect bookgroup presents. Here's a picture of Pearl with one of the skeins earlier this summer. I'll post a shot of the hats soon.

Thursday, December 11, 2008

Starry, Starry Lunch

It seems that already I'm turning into a blog slacker. Yesterday was my last day of classes and once I get my students' final papers graded, I think I'll find more time for Pearl the Squirrel (and other important aspects of life).

Today I did find time for something important—making things. And even better, teaching other people to make things. Anne, a designer in my office, asked me last week if I had any ideas for making stars—she wanted to add them to a garland she has on her stairs. I had just made stars at Pam's, so I told her about the Moravian stars (these weren't in the previous post). We found some instructions online here and here and away she went. She learned so quickly that I thought we should team up and offer lunchtime instruction. 

We cut paper strips from old proofs that we snagged from the recycling bin. We tried a variety of widths. The length of the strips should be about 20-24 times the width. (The little ones were half an inch wide and about 17 inches long.) The gold ones were made at Pam's from ribbon. The grey, iridescent one was made from a paper sample Anne had in her office. The tiny stars in front are Taiwanese stars, which Anne also found online, here and a video here (scroll down).

Our lunchtime crew consisted of 8 trainees—nearly everyone got it with relative ease. It really brought out the old Montessori teacher in me, showing them how to make the folds, but letting them do it themselves. It takes making a couple of the Moravian stars before you get the hang of it—there are several places you can go wrong. But once you get it, you can spend a lovely evening folding plenty: they're great for tree ornaments, package toppers, or for stringing together to make a garland. Twinkle, twinkle.

Sunday, December 7, 2008

We Each Stay Cozy in Our Own Way

I'm not the only one who isn't fond of winter. Pearl seems to much prefer being indoors during this very cold (barely 10 degrees on our morning walk) December. Getting her outside is not an easy task. She's learned that her little bed on the hearth is a warm spot, and if she can't curl up with me, this is where I often find her.

Last week I did do something winter-related that I truly enjoyed. My neighbor Pam held a gathering on Tuesday to which she invited about 15 women from the neighborhood and beyond to partake of a holiday crafts day. Pam used to have a business devoted primarily to quilting: quilts, kits, quilt-themed cards, jewelry, etc. She also did a number of paper crafts. Over the past few years she's sold her business to her daughter-in-law. But she's still in possession of lots of goodies and so she set up "craft stations" around the house so that her guests could take turns making six different projects. They ranged from two kinds of folded paper stars (one is in the picture above), a fabric-covered gift box (also in the photo), a luggage tag, gift tags, and the folded-paper tree above. 

Each station included detailed instructions and materials appropriate for the project. She had a lot of the preliminary work done (squares of fabric and vinyl for the luggage tags were pre-cut; templates for the gift tags printed on heavy paper; fusible already applied to the fabric for the gift boxes, etc.). It was really the ultimate fun day: like the kid in the candy store, I had to try one of each. I'd spied the lovely little trees in this month's Martha Stewart Living and mentioned it to Pam. Rather than make each of us measure out the graduated circles, she devised a pattern for them that included folding lines. At the end of the day there was a forest of trees. 

Everyone who attended brought something for lunch and we had everything from turky-matzo ball soup to red cabbage salad. The sun poured in the south windows at the back of the house as we sat and ate, chatted, and got to better know one another. Our neighborhood is wonderfully friendly and I know lots of folks to say hello to because I walk Pearl so often, but this provided a chance to find out about people's kids, jobs, etc. People who worked outside the home came for whatever part of the day they could (I took the entire day off) and I felt like I was in some kind of women-friendly version of "It's a Wonderful Life." One of my favorite days, ever.

Wednesday, December 3, 2008

The Iowa State Bird

I confess...I HATE WINTER! Anyone who knows me is not surprised by this statement, but somehow summer is enough to make me forget. This year winter seems so sudden and rather brutal. The wind by the river as I walked to class this afternoon was merciless. I try hard to continue walking to work in winter, reminding myself that even if I'm very cold I'm unlikely to die in the 20 minutes it takes me to get to my office. 

The only good thing about winter, as far as I can tell, is that it provides the perfect excuse to stay inside. None of those "I should be outside enjoying the last beautiful day of fall" worries. The weather is horrendous—truly, people die in weather like this (except when walking to work)—and so permission is granted to huddle inside in your PJs and sew all day long. 

And what could provide more sewing cheer than this goldfinch fabric (Alexander Henry-In the Kitchen) that I found at Craftorama in Austin? I didn't know how I'd use it and so I only bought a yard...those birds just call out to be fussy cut (or as my friend Wendy suggested, cut out and appliqued). Something cheery and spring-like to ponder, while ignoring the ice and snow outside my window.

Saturday, November 29, 2008

Home again, home again...

With only one delay and no missed flights, we made it back to the Midwest (and the cold) at half-noon. Rebecca and I both wish we didn't have to face the next few weeks of school--the semester is very nearly over. But there was pleasure in returning to the house and sorting through the piles of mail. Far too many Christmas catalogues, but also a new issue of American Patchwork and Quilting, with the first of the new back page series on global quilting.

This was on palampores, richly colored fabrics originally imported to Europe from India during the 1700s. In order to write the piece, I interviewed Carolyn Ducey, curator of collections at the International Quilt Study Center in Lincoln, NE. Carolyn pointed out that before palampores were imported , Europeans had never seen such vibrant hues: their fabrics were dull browns and greens and rusty reds because they didn't have the know-how to create color-fast textiles. They also didn't have access to cotton, so not only was the rich palette eye-opening, but the cool cotton appealed to Europeans previously familiar only with scratchy linens and wools.

My favorite part of talking with Carolyn was her passion for fabric in general, and her comments about the way that textiles affected the world economy. She said that when trading with various cultures for spices, etc., explorers learned that textiles were often valued as highly as gold. I just love that through the ages the colors and textures of fabric spoke to people in a way that still resonates today.

Friday, November 28, 2008

Thanksgiving 2008 in Austin

As we stepped off the plane in Austin on Tuesday we said, "Let the eat-a-thon begin." Indeed, it did. Here, Paul, Maggie, and Rebecca are all smiles on Thanksgiving Day at Roger and Candice's--that's because none of them had yet eaten themselves into oblivion. Sadly, no photos exist of Rebecca's post-prandial slump over the couch cushions. 


This blog name derives from my resident wire fox terrier (hereafter referred to as a WFT), Pearl. She's three and has lived with us for about 17 months. She's a bit of an odd duck; hence the suggestion that she's on the squirrelly side. She's an absolutely lovely dog and extremely sweet, but her former life on the dog show circuit seems to have left her with some odd behaviors. Still, I love her a lot, enough to name a blog after her.

One of the best things about Pearl is that she loves textiles as much as I do, and that's the other reason I chose her as the blog mascot. Any opportunity to grab a ball of yarn or roll madly in quilt blocks lined up on the floor fills her with glee. She and I understand the urge to wallow in fiber. 

This blog owes special thanks to Jeff for his technical expertise. Thanks, also, to John R., for the blog header photo of Pearl.