Where I’d like to be

Published on Thursday May 20th, 2010

We’re having fitful, tempestuous, Wuthering Heights weather: pelting rain and hail, tree-thrashing gusts of wind, bursts of silvery sunshine dazzling every bead of water on the leaves and raising clouds of steam from the roofs, then another front blustering through to lash the branches and fling rain at the windows again.

I’d like to be curled in a comfortable chair with a bottomless mug of decaf Earl Grey, stirring in a spoonful of fresh cream from the top of the glass bottle of Noris Dairy milk that’s delivered weekly to our neighbors’ front porch. (Three families are now collaborating on this milk order, and it’s so good I’m not sure we can ever go back. It’s quite the little collective we’re developing: I bring the eggs for four families from the farmer who’s a parent at our school; our immediate neighbors orchestrate the milk order and grow vegetables on our sunny side of the shared driveway; the neighbors across the street go halvies with us on a CSA share of more vegetables. I never imagined city life would be like this.) I’d have a great book in my lap, ideally a world mythology compilation illustrated by Alice & Martin Provensen back in the late ’50s. (My friend and librarian Maureen has kindled in my soul a hot desire to trawl the internet for ex-library copies of children’s classics long out of print. I am determined that Minnow should know and cherish ancient tales of heroism and love and dastardly deeds and outrageous godly scandal. And the Provensen illustrations are unsurpassable. I’m not sure what it says about my promise as a mother that I’m chiefly concerned that my child should have plenty of handknit sweaters and a library worth devouring. Is it weird that I’m more interested in shopping for musty old books than for adorable outfits and nursery decorations?) And of course I’d be knitting. Since this is fantasy, I’d be making a cabled sweater in a toddler size out of undyed Saxon Merino from the Catskill Merino Sheep Farm. (I have only just read about this yarn in today’s Knitter’s Review, but it’s calling to me strongly. That the yarn comes from sheep tended by a man with a love of Proust and a sheepdog named Poem is, I’ll admit, a significant contributor to the weakness in my knees. I have thus far resisted the urge to buysomerightnow, but it has occurred to me that I could hunt this yarn down at the Union Square Greenmarket in just a few weeks’ time.) This sweater would also bear a motif of stylized red foxes around the hem, because I’m in the mood for foxes.

This is all in my daydreams, see, because I actually need to polish off about five baby sweaters before I could start anything like that. But look who finished a quilt top:


Where would you like to be?

Behold, a frock!

Published on Saturday May 1st, 2010

I sewed my way through the NBC coverage of the Kentucky Derby this afternoon and have a new frock to show for it. Wanna see?


I used this tutorial from the gals at Presser Foot (read the March archives for the full instructions) and I’m pretty pleased with the results. All the sewing was easy enough for a beginner like me, and there were no hiccups except for that minor roadblock with Signy Husqvarna’s stitch width limitation.


Whoops, should’ve tied that belt a little tighter.

And this is what almost 26 weeks of Minnow looks like, for the record. It made me a little goggle-eyed to realize the other day that if 26 + x = 40, x must be equal to 14. That’s 14 weeks left of just me + Mr. Garter. Not very many at all, and Minnow could even come early. So we seized the day, lit a fire under our own derrieres, and went out to dinner at Toro Bravo, a tasty Spanish-influenced restaurant that our neighbors have been raving about for a year. (It’s right near the hospital where we’ll be delivering, actually. My thoughtful husband offered to trot over and fetch take-out if either of us should feel peckish at a critical moment. Maybe after the baby’s out, honey.) Anyway, I think I could eat bread fried in garlicky olive oil and topped with fromage blanc and sautéed nettles every day.

But I digress. Back to the frock:


I bought this nice linen at Bolt — it felt so soft and cool and summery. But what I really liked about it was its unexpected pretty blue selvage. I know you’re supposed to cut off and discard the selvage, but I couldn’t bear to do this. So I purposely left my selvages a four-inch margin with the idea of using them in the belt and ruffles. Linen already has a bit of a rustic, homespun look, and I thought I’d just play this up by exposing the raw edges. And I’m jolly pleased it worked out as I’d imagined.


I built in some room to grow so I can keep wearing this little number for the next month or six weeks at least, I hope. Maybe the weather will even get warm enough that I can wear it without jeans and a shirt underneath…

Poplar Block #1

Published on Tuesday April 27th, 2010

There are six blocks to my little quilt for the nieceling. Three of them have large trees, like this:


As I described in the last post, the circular part is pieced in. I sewed the trunk to the bottom of the tree before I set it in and just poked it through to the front, then sewed it down as a last step to finish the block. From the back, it looks like this:


I’ve been on kind of a sewing binge. I hope after the weekend I’ll have a finished dress/tunic to show you. My binge may also have included some fabric purchases. I may have discovered the rabbit hole that is Glorious Color. (Why yes, I do covet the Liberty assortments. Do you think I could register for one, you know, for the baby?) But with spring busting out all over, how could I resist these?


Hmm, WordPress has once again managed to desaturate my photos. Imagine these brighter!

Some of these, at least, are going to become ducky little Oliver + S garments. If my sewing skills hold up, that is. (I had a small tantrum over the fact that my sewing machine has a maximum stitch width of 5mm and is therefore unable to sew a zigzag stitch over (but not into) a piece of quarter-inch elastic. I called the sewing machine store to find out if there was some magical way to sew a longer zigzag that I was missing, but there wasn’t. I actually tried manually shifting the whole piece back and forth between every stitch, but this was too ludicrous for words. Finally I pulled up my socks, thought through the problem, and used the other kind of zigzag that makes several stitches on each pass, having carefully stretched and pinned the elastic ahead of the needle. It turned out fine.)


Published on Tuesday April 20th, 2010

One evening last week I was puttering about with quilt bits at the dining table (which sees dining only when there’s company, I’m ashamed to say… general-purpose work table would be a more accurate name for it, as it is currently covered in quilting supplies, leftover jetsam from our tax preparation, a vase of anemones and tulips that are beginning to drop petals, a friend’s novel draft, sundry medical devices, and goodness knows what else) when my eye was caught by a glow at the window.


A real photographer might have stood a chance at capturing the beauty of the last light slipping beneath the rain clouds to gild the tulip tree. I wish I could give you the peachy russet and ochre glow.

I love this hundred-year-old queen of the neighborhood, with her graceful branches and proud stature, her distinctive four-lobed leaf and outlandish flower. Even her name is beautiful: Liriodendron. She isn’t a true poplar, but she’s partly behind my rather arbitrary decision that my newly unvented quilt blocks are poplars.


This is only a dummy block to make sure I was getting the hang of the technique; the real blocks are more visually stimulating and I’ll show them to you soon because on the whole they’re pleasing me. But actually I like this scrapwork dummy enough that I may make it eleven or fourteen companions to produce a more sedate version of my little niece’s Poplar Blocks. I had planned to do this quilt with appliqué, but I had concerns about how my little hand-stitches would hold up to the repeated washings a baby quilt is likely to require. Just at the most felicitous time, some ladies in a local fabric shop mentioned Dale Fleming’s “six-minute circle” technique for piecing circles, and I thought I could easily adapt it to make my tree shapes. They take me longer than six minutes. The first one took forty, and I’d guess the following blocks have taken fifteen or twenty per tree. But it’s a darn sight faster than hand-sewing is for me and really should be sturdier. And I get to use a glue stick, which just makes me chortle. I have derided the glue stick as an inferior form of stickum since grade school, and here it’s exactly what you need.

I had a productive Saturday and the piecing for the blocks is almost half finished. I also managed time to take a class on encaustic wax painting from one of my favorite eighth graders (she’s been studying the art form all year for her independent project, a graduation requirement at our school) and to throw a couple of skeins of wool into a Kool-Aid dye bath to improve their color. That’s three new art forms for me in one day! Whew! And sure enough I woke up on Sunday with no energy and had to take a long afternoon nap again. Some days I feel so vigorous that I just want to make the most of it, but then I have to pay the piper. C’est la vie enceinte, I guess.