Writer, Textile Artist, Plantswoman

Category: Needlecraft

Doing an MKAL with Stolen Stitches

MKAL = Mystery Knit Along! Where you make something based on the written directions in the clues that are published periodically. No pictures. Kind of like doing a jigsaw puzzle without the box cover.

A little over a year ago I knitted a shawl (actually 3 of them now) that was originally a Mystery Knit Along kit from a favorite wool site, The Fibre Co. I loved how much I learned from it. But it was never a mystery for me because I bought the kit well after the Mystery/Clue phase was done.

Recently I started viewing tutorials from Carol Feller and found a treasure trove of projects and MKALs, past, present and future! And the bonus for me is that Carol and her studio/shop are right next door in Cork! No more dealing with import VAT and duty and the long wait for stuff to arrive.

The MKAL I’m doing now is called Grianchloch (Irish for quartz I think—”sun rock”). The yarns are “scrummy”, to use a favorite Mary Berry term—rich colors and gorgeous textures. I’m just about done with the first clue. The second clue is issued on the 27th.

In May, I’ll be starting another MKAL—a throw blanket from a collaboration between Carol and Thea  Colman—Queen of the cables! I’m looking forward to that one, but the work will have to be squeezed in between the demands of the garden. Two years ago, I was away in August and September and last year I was away in April and May and again in September. I’m afraid my vegetable garden paid the price.

I’m going to be more focused this year and try to enjoy whatever bit of summer we get. So far nothing has matched the standard set in the summer of 2020. But I’m hopeful that this year will make up for the wet miserable summer we had last year. And if it is wet and dreary, I’ll just keep quilting and knitting.

Quilting Crazy

The rain is drumming on the skylights. The sky is leaden. It feels like ages since the sun has had a full day out. It’s the kind of February day that could really get you down. But I have the antidote—at least for me. Read on…

I have come to the conclusion that I’m in my “happy place” most when I’m sitting in my comfy chair, my earbuds in, a great narrator reading me a wonderful book, and my quilting hoop on my lap. Added pleasure is a cat lying across my foot. There are days during this rainy winter when I find myself just filling in time until dinner is done, the plates cleared and all is tidied up so I can lose myself for the evening in the gentle order of stitches making patterns across the patchwork of whatever quilt I’ve put together.

Putting the actual quilt top together has its own rhythm and energy. Sew two pieces of fabric together, add that assembly to more pieces and you’ve created a fabric building “block.” Sew two or more blocks together and you create a new visual landscape.  Every time I go to the ironing board to press the seams it’s a magical reveal of a new patterned fabric unfolding like the twist of a kaleidoscope. But most of that work happens during the day. It generates excitement and anticipation. It is not conducive to relaxation and unwinding. For that I need to don my earbuds and thimble, enfold myself in a good story and stitch myself back together from whatever I’ve been doing all day.

This is especially true on days when I’ve been dealing with things like paying bills, reconciling bank statements, preparing for the tax return or deleting over 7,500 malware posts from this blogsite. (The good folks at DreamHost have cleaned out all the bad code and we’ve reset passwords and installed other safety protocols. But the most important thing I can do, I think, is get back to doing, at a minimum, a post a month. So this is February’s post.)

To catch up with what I’ve been doing  since August, here’s a little gallery of the Quilts I’ve worked on since my last post:

Well, I know that’s cheating a little… because I finished Cath’s Coastal quilt in May. But I didn’t get to see it on her bed in her new condo until September. Aiden’s quilt is deceptively simple. I used a sea themed “layer cake” I thought I might use for Cath’s quilt but the collection was a little too subdued. The challenge came in creating something a 19 year old male would like (and hopefully treasure.) And in giving each 10″ block some interesting geometric quilting in black thread for contrast.

Nicki’s quilt was a major challenge, each block of symbolic significance (Sister’s Choice, Storm at Sea, Slip Knot, Trip Around the World) and each needing a different quilting pattern. The border, because it was so wide, needed special attention—a balance of geometric lines and curves. I found a stencil for a spiral seashell that worked perfectly! The decision to use only fabric (for the top) that I already had, including some batiks that Nicki had brought me (decades ago) from Indonesia, also put me on my current path—I’ve resolved to use (as much as possible) whatever I have in my stash in various kinds of “scrap” quilts.

What is a scrap quilt? It’s a quilt where you use, as much as possible, fabric leftover from other projects. New fabric can be bought for the background or borders, but you get an extra thrill when you can keep that to a minimum, or not use “new” at all! My first scrap quilt is the one we have on our bed. In it are fabrics I used for other quilts and my daughter’s little dresses. It took 20 years to finish because I had several twists and turns in my professional life as well as a move to a smaller house with no room to set up my big frame, so it stayed rolled up under the bed in the spare room. It was the specter of having to move it unfinished YET AGAIN that goaded me into finishing it before we came to Ireland in 2017.

That’s what led to Mick & Paula’s Anniversary Quilt—a log cabin quilt made of scrap fabrics. I even carefully stitched together the batting from leftovers. The backing was some fabric I had bought yards of thinking that I would make curtains when we moved to Bristol, RI, but never used because I was in a new job and then decided to go back to school for my PhD. It’s interesting that the fabrics I’m drawn to tend to be 100% cotton (and the yarns tend to be luxurious wools!). I’ve also been known to buy the rest of the bolt if there’s only a yard or so left.

I’ve discovered the constraints that come with only using what you’ve got have actually push me to be more creative and daring in my use of color and shape and I’m really pleased with the outcome. The quilt I am now working on has, as its focus, a panel I bought over 35 years ago. I actually bought two identical panels. The first was quilted into a wall hanging for my friends, Brian and Lindsay, who love everything Christmas. The second was intended for ourselves but, alas, I never got around to it and it sat in a bin of UFPs (Unfinished Projects) until now. The images on the panel are charming and I’m totally immersed in them. Each picture in the panel gives me a new treatment challenge—how much or how little to quilt to emphasize the shapes within the pictures needs careful study. And sometimes my stitches need to be very small indeed!

It’s been a miserably wet winter so far and this month hasn’t looked much better. But it can rain all evening and I won’t complain. As long as I have my hoop, my thimble and and something to quilt, I’m more than content—I’m at peace.

Things to look back on

This is largely a post to remind me of midwinter 2022. Days are passing so quickly that it’s difficult to remember what happened just last week, let alone last year.

This was my year of travel! I went to the States for a month—probably a week or two too long but I had a lot to catch up on. I enjoyed the whole thing but was glad to get home—my new home. It made me realize that you can’t really go back to any part of your life. The more time that has passed, the more difficult it is to fit back in to where you left off. But, with true friends, one can always get together in the now and feel as if no time has passed at all. That’s certainly how it was meeting Catherine BS in Morocco in November for her birthday week In Marrakech. We’ve known each other nearly 50 years and only see each other every now and again. And yet, it seems as if no time passes in between our visits with each other. She’s a little younger than me but I can’t help feeling that she’s my older sister—must have been so in a previous life time. I will not likely go to Morocco again but I’m glad I went. Even if I was sick as a dog for over a week at the end.

From the warmth of Marrakech to rainy, wet Ireland was a bit of a jolt. Even the gardening has been perfunctory given how the weather was either really wet or really, really cold. We’ve just come out of two weeks of below zero celsius temperatures and days so short the sun didn’t have time to melt the frost that lay like snow over everything. All those little things, like taking up the dahlias and swapping the summer plant inground pots for the ones with spring bulbs in them, just didn’t happen. If there’s even one day with a bit of sun this week, I’ll at least chop back the flower beds at the grotto. And maybe get up the lovely white dahlia. It will all depend on the ground thawing a bit.

I’ve been mostly involved in knitting and quilting for the past few months. But I have been MAKING all kinds of things, learning new techniques and stretching myself in between doing those things that are tried and true. And that makes me happy:

  • A big bulky jumper, hat and mittens for Robbie’s cousin
  • Mittens for Alice, Robbie and a neighbor, Gretta… oh, and myself. That was the “practice” pair
  • A cowl for Catherine BS’s birthday
  • A calendar for my Morocco friends to send as a “Jour de l’An” gift
  • Cath and Mike’s quilt
  • Some awesome banana bread… changed the recipe to use a little maple syrup and cranberries
  • The trifecta of roast chicken/roast chicken stock/chestnut mushroom soup

In the works now is the homemade beef stock for Christmas Onion Soup. Starting Friday, the 23rd, I’ll be making loads of pastry for Tourtière and mince pies and maybe a Quiche Lorraine for Christmas morning. We will be having something else for Christmas dinner (smoked ham) because we’re keeping the turkey for Robbie’s birthday. Cath and Mike will be here for four short days. But I imagine next Christmas will be very different. Owen and Liz will have their cottage up/down the road and I’m hoping they’ll be here and that a few of the others will be here too.

I’ve been reading my way through two authors: Anne McCaffrey’s Pern books and Terry Pratchett’s Discworld. Some I listen to on Audible while I’m knitting and quilting, others I read either curled up by the fire or in bed before sleep. I kept to the Tiffany Aching group for a while, not knowing that The Shepherd’s Crown was Terry’s last book. Looking back, it seems he wrote all the Tiffany books at five year intervals (give or take)… except for the first two. I enjoyed them enormously and wished I had known of them when Sofia was younger. But I discovered them after 70 so she’s got time if she’s as avid a reader as I think she is. But she’s 14 so who knows.

There are plenty of Pratchett books left and a few books on paper that I’m saving for Christmas week and the New Year. I’ve realized that I have gone back in time in a way—to a time when Robbie and I were first together and we spent our time reading and cooking and being together. Only now we have a fireplace to sit by on these cold winter nights.

Here are some images to go with this post.

Time to get back to the quilting frame on this wet (albeit mild) Sunday afternoon.

Beannachtaí na Nollag oraibh go léir!

March update…

Spring is definitely on its way—even if we had hail, sleet and thunderstorms yesterday. The hills and valleys are showing signs of winter’s retreat. The furze are in flower, primula peeking out from under the hedges and a verdant glow on the fields makes you stop… and breath the clean earthy air.

I’ve lightened up on the scanning and Ancestry projects. The weather, while still unpredictable, has been sunnier and a little warmer. The greenhouse is calling. A week ago I sowed my first “propagator” seed. I bought a propagator last fall when I saw they were back in stock. I’ve discovered that there’s no point in waiting until you need something to order it. Everyone else in the gardening world seemed to have done that and now there’s nothing left. So I keep a mental list of the things I need/want and when I see they are available or even ON SALE, I hop on it. The propagator stayed in its box for months but now I’ve put it to work and it does a great job. My tomato, basil and jalapeño pepper seedlings have come up. The sunflowers have not appeared yet but they do take longer. I’ll sow some Sweet Pea today and check on the chitted potatoes. We want the earlies in by Patrick’s Day. For the record, this is what the garden looks like today. I’ll try to remember to post what it looks like on April 13!

Speaking of potatoes and Patrick’s Day, the few sprouting potatoes I planted in a grow bag in the green house have taken off and we’re hoping to harvest some for the day that’s in it (Thursday!). They may not be very big, but they will be VERY new potatoes. And we’re still harvesting chard so that will make a nice dinner.

We watched the first Gardeners’ World episode for 2022 on Saturday. It has become a ritual with us to listen to the soothing tones of Monty Don and make notes about planting trees, sowing seed, and pruning. This week featured cyclamen coum and I’m planning to get some for the grotto. It is hardy and will self-seed in the shady areas. That and some snow drops and hellebore will make the woodland areas we are planting out have color and interest through the winter and into the spring. Last Sunday we planted out shrubs and perennials with the Foróige Junior Tidy Towns committee. Six young people planted and as many adults supervised.

Now it’s time for me to swing into quilting. I picked the fabric months ago for a friend’s wedding quilt. The colors I chose were blue white and yellow—blue and white being the Waterford hurling colors and, as it turns out, blue and yellow are the colors for An Rinn’s team. And they look fantastic together—bright and cheerful. Never did I imagine that the quilt would take on a geo-political theme. It will make working on it interesting as the conflict in northeast Europe plays out. Let’s hope that as I finish it, the war, too, will have come to a satisfactory end.

Give a girl a staple gun!!

I have been away from this blog for a good while. I’m not sure why. I think I found myself vortexed into my computer whenever I started writing from here. And that was disorienting me. I have this desire to be less and less digital as the pandemic wears on. I don’t know if it is related to COVID or not—maybe it’s just where I am in my life. It isn’t about writing. I write by hand (nearly) every morning and get great satisfaction from thinking on the page. It was the idea of sinking myself into writing one of these personal essays—content creation, research, photos, editing, telling a coherent story. I would have an idea and I’d want to write about it but I would often be in the middle of something else—something with time restrictions like making bread or getting plants potted or watered. There simply wasn’t the time to stop and just jot something down off the top of my head, because that was never the actual process.

Today is a little different in that I started with a couple of projects that were supposed to take much longer and then… didn’t. And I have my new staple gun to thank!

This is not my first staple gun. To my recollection I have two somewhere between the tool shed and a box or drawer somewhere here in the studio. But after a couple of days of searching I decided to stop at Flynn’s hardware on my way to do the grocery shopping and just get ANOTHER one. If all goes the usual way, I will find one of the other (or both) staple guns any day now.

Bilious plush seat cover fabric

For some time now (decades!) I was planning to recover two things—a sewing stool that was my grandmothers and a small chair I had picked up somewhere with an appalling gold-green-brown plush seat cushion—a color found in nature but usually associated with the result of a night of guinness and enchiladas. The chair was against the wall in the dining room as a spare for when we had a crowd. It is narrower than most and light to carry. The sewing stool was frequently used as a piano stool. Actually, both the chair and the sewing stool were called into service when we had the whole family for Thanksgiving. Maybe, because this is Turkey week and a very strange one at that, recovering these two seats became something of a mission for me.

That I’ve been thinking of recovering these seats for about 20 years means that I’ve had a lot of time to think about what I’d like to have for the finished product. However, nothing ever caught my fancy sufficiently enough to get me going.

That changed when I decided I needed to cover my new work area. The work surface is MDF and could be painted, but not until we have a really nice, long, dry, day so I can do it outside. That won’t be until May if past experience is anything to go by. I needed something durable, water resistant, and nice enough to make it a pleasure to see, and I needed it now.

In sorting through the many boxes of stuff I had collected and stored over 39 years and then shipped to Ireland, I found about 3 yards of oilcloth in a Newgrange triple spiral inspired design I bought some time in the mid-1980s. I remember buying it in Ireland for our family kitchen table, an oak trestle table made by Colleen Miller (of Montana) that could comfortably seat a crowd. With four kids, it needed a bit of protection. However, as is often the case with material I buy, it was stored away and never used—but it was perfect! I measured off the length I needed and I had some left over. And, there, just below the work area was my grandmother’s sewing stool.

I set to work on cutting a piece of the oilcloth, pressed out the wrinkles and folds and went to work with the staple gun and voilà! A lovely rebirth of a family heirloom.

Carried on by waves of excitement and the thrill of having achieved something on this gray, dull, rainy day, I looked at the little chair with its bilious seat cushion.

Years and years ago, I had a book of oriental carpet patterns for needlepoint. (I would love to find it now but I fear it has gone missing in all the moves.) I remember doing a motif in needlepoint for a pillow that, while the tapestry piece itself was finished, the pillow never got made. I found the tapestry in a UFO (Unfinished Objects) box with a few other needlepoint and cross stitch projects that also were awaiting finishing touches (my personal “Isle of Misfit Toys”.) It comes as no surprise to my family that the needlework itself is where I get my pleasure—more than a few projects are to be found in that box. The pillow tapestry was just the right size for the chair cushion. Sometimes things just fall into place.

The piece needed work. It was all askew and had to be blocked so that it would lie straight. I thought it would take days. I would need some kind of board I could pin it to. I would have to wet it and stretch it, and what if the colors ran!?! And then I thought of my trusty steam cleaner… and didn’t I have an extra IKEA shelf that would be about the right size? And some of those map pins that I use for sticking up all kinds of thing? Usually, any one of these things would be a set back—a barrier to getting something done when I actually felt like doing it. But today, it seemed as if I was meant to get this done. The shelf was just the right size, the steamer worked a treat and, before the steamed, straightened piece of tapestry was dry, I was able to stretch it over the seat cushion and staple it into place!  I am so pleased with the result—20 or 30 years in the making.

Girls with tools… it’s a beautiful thing 🙂

Update: Traveler ‘Round the World

I spent my quilting time this week getting this project done—just the top and the back prepped for staging on the frame. I think I will need to get batting and I wouldn’t just order that online without actually seeing it and feeling it. A poor quality batting will take all the pleasure out of finishing the project. Staging it will wait until the nights come earlier in the evening—sometime in September, fitted in between the harvesting and  winter planting.

Robbie loves this quilt and wants it for his study so the pleasure of quilting it is doubled. I’ve always felt like that about finishing my projects. It’s as if making the patchwork top is an exciting creative puzzle. The magic happens on the ironing board as I press the seams of the fabrics I have just sewn together creating a new and different patterned fabric. I’ve been known to stay up late into the wee hours of the morning working on putting blocks together, watching the magic happen at the ironing board—the kaleidoscope of color and shape changing under my hands as each block and row come together. It’s a bit like gardening, putting flowers and plants together in colorful combinations that, thanks to mother nature, are not the same as any other garden bed in the world. But patchwork is so much quicker!!

But putting the whole thing together and finishing it requires the intentionality of “gift” for energy—who is it FOR. If there’s no one, the project tends to languish in the UFO box… Un-Finished Objects.

I’m going to use the same Traveler ‘Round the World method to do a quilt I promised to my grandniece Ella two years ago when I was quilting a baby quilt for my neighbors’ new baby, Emma. I’ve been thinking about it a good deal and even ordered a couple of yards of fabric that might complement what I already have. It will be a smaller quilt — a bed topper or something to wrap up in while reading a book or watching TV. I’ll start that in a couple of weeks.

For now, I’m going to use the strips of fabric I have left from this quilt top to make a table runner. I’ve been musing about it all along… and I can use some scrap batting for it. I’m excited about it and will have itchy fingers unwilling to wait for a rainy day to work on it. I might even start today!

Traveler ‘Round the World in COVID Time

At the same time as folks have been making 9-Patch quilt blocks and reusable face coverings, I’ve also been messing with the mountain of fabric scraps and remnants I have, putting together a fun scrap quilt based on the Traveler Round the World pattern. Instead of using the same eight fabrics throughout, I based the fabric choices on the shades, from light to dark, of basic colors (black, blue, violet, brown, red, orange, yellow, white). The piece didn’t need t be all of that color, but rather contain something of that color in the fabric — and maybe a little of its contiguous colors. The result has been startling and quite harmonious. I’m nearly done the blocks and am trying to decide how the layout from the central diamond will go. Leaning toward “barn raising”.

Here’s what that would look like (based on tessellating an image of one block)

Problem is I only planned for 32 blocks — don’t know why. So now I have to go back through the scraps and find four more blocks worth of strips. Happy days!

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