Monthly Archives: December 2008

Ending 2008 with Birds in the Air

After a fair amount of deliberation, I have settled on the pattern that I will use for my antique fabrics. It was no easy task. The history of patchwork quilts is vast and exhilarating, full of examples of utter originality, tradition and everything in between- it’s hard to know where to begin deriving inspiration. On the other hand, I also have some practical restraints. A reminder of what I’m working with:


I love these fabrics. I love that they are soft and worn and in some cases even falling apart. You can literally feel the history that they house. I even love that they’re random and constitute a far from obvious grouping of colors and patterns. On the other hand, this makes their successful combination a little bit challenging- though in a rather exciting way. Since I want to delve a bit into the realm of traditional quilting, I was considering a Log Cabin design for a while since it epitomizes this notion in many ways. But ultimately I decided that these fabrics weren’t really suited to that particular design. I put off thinking too much more about what to do with them because, I’ll admit, I started to develop the mindset that they are so precious, whatever I make has to be as perfect as possible. But then I realized that’s the sort of overly-precious attitude that I try to stear clear from! So I finally sat down and started flipping through some of my thesis books- and there it was, in Jonathan Holstein’s 1973 “The Pieced Quilt.” It’s a late nineteenth century “Birds in the Air” quilt, now at the International Quilt Study Center, in which according to Holstein “The lively optical effects and highly stylized avian forms evoke the image of swift birds moving in the sunlight.”

I’m not entirely sure why it struck me, but this pattern feels right. Now, I’m working with a far more limited range of fabrics- again, part of the delightful challenge of it all- so my own version will certainly look different.   I made two sample blocks before starting in on the bulk of the cutting. Personally, I think the one on the left is much more successful due to the contrast between the dark brown and lighter fabrics, so I’m hoping I’ll have enough brown to use in that role throughout the quilt- I’ll need roughly 300 of those little triangles! If not, I may use the brown for the three triangles and another shade for the six ‘background’ ones… even with a pattern in mind, I can’t avoid my fondness for improvisation.



So now that I finally have a design in mind, I’ve begun cutting out my blocks, the  always the exciting first step of a new quilt, which feels rather appropriate for this conclusive time of year. It’s actually a very different experience working with these antique fabrics. Like I said, they are worn in and often fragile- the brown one is nearly disintegrating in places so I have been carefully cutting out the good bits. For some reason, this makes it all the more interesting.  Certainly, it taps into the salvage art spirit that I have been so intrigued with lately.

The holidays continue and tomorrow I’m off for a three-day break in Jackson, New Hampshire- which will involve relaxing, sleeping in, a hot tub, outdoor wintry activities, good food and celebrating 2009. Sadly, it won’t involve quilting- but fortunately knitting is a portable companion and entrelac scarf number four (always by my side these days, filling every spare moment)  is really coming along…


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Christmas Crafting

The holiday crafting just doesn’t end. First of all, though no fiber was involved, my sister and I finally finished our gingerbread house. It took several days since the icing had to cool in between. We used gum drops, snow cap chocolates and random little candies called ‘fruity pillow’ which I wouldn’t recommend eating… actually, I can’t imagine any of it tastes that good but it’s pretty fabulous if I do say so myself. And for the record, decorating with icing and candy is quite addictive. We had a hard time stopping ourselves which is why you can barely see the gingerbread underneath it all.


Perhaps next year we’ll make it from scratch, that would truly be in the salvaging spirit.

It turns out that Christmas Eve is perfect for crafting. It’s generally a calm, easygoing day, full of that lulling sense of subtle anticipation and no obligations at all… so I spent the morning making what I like to call Patchwork Pig.


I actually got the idea from a Martha Stewart magazine- I’ll admit it, I’m an admirer of Martha- but I’m not a big fan of following strict instructions so I improvised a bit. The red fabric is actually cut out from an Anthropologie sweater that I never wore- and I added the scraps just for fun. There’s even a little pipe cleaner in his tail to make it curly. He’s also quite small, about eight inches long, It’s like having  a little mascot. I realize that knitters/quilters don’t usually have mascots but I could start a trend. He embodies much of what I love about crafting- the use of leftover bits and pieces, the creation of something entirely unique- admittedly, he’s entirely ‘unnecessary’ as well but that’s also part of what makes crafting meaningful. We spend enough time doing things that simply have to be done. 

But that’s not all. Yesterday evening, while eating pick up food in front of the fire, I knit a hat. I’ve been meaning to get to this one for a while, it’s actually a Pam Allen design from the Classic Elite 2008 fall collection, using a discontinued color of their Aspen yarn. I love the stitch- Star stitch, it’s called- which makes for a wonderfully lace-like but chunky effect.


There it is on my darling sister Z, alway sa willing model. It was a quick and easy knit, and I’m thrilled to finally have a red hat! Pam is always full of good ideas, original but not too complicated to be usable and fun to make.

This wonderful Christmas morning I gave my Dad the original Lucky Penny Quilt, finally! I also gave my mom a quilted panel that I created a couple of weeks ago but haven’t been able to share until now:


It’s only a couple of feet long which means lots of little pieces that were a bit tricky to work with. She’s a landscape designer with a deep love of trees, so I thought this would be appropriate, something for her to hand on her study walls.

Finally, I finished my Improvisational Lucky Penny Quilt, and have slept with it the past couple of nights, it’s warm and wonderful.



I love finishing a quilt, finally being able to fold it, wrap up in it and toss it across a sofa or bed. That’s what they’re for as far as I’m concerned. The tactile joy of textiles is always forefront in my mind. Furthermore, finishing a quilt means being able to start another one guilt free. And those antique fabrics are calling my name… I’m considering a Log Cabin design but I haven’t settled on that just yet. I’m also intrigued by something truly scrappy- perhaps just little squares of many of different fabrics. It will come to me, for sure. Until then, there’s a holiday to enjoy and plenty of other crafty endeavors to keep me busy!

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Some Unexpected Holiday Delights

Perhaps it’s all part of the magical holiday season, but a few wonderfully unanticipated crafty joys have come my way in the past couple of days. First of all, my Dad returned from a business trip to Damascus with a load of Syrian yarn, all 100% wool.


It’s pretty unusual, and very cool to have yarn from Syria… not too common I’d imagine. Furthermore, through a serious of rather complex connections and events whose details I probably shouldn’t disclose, I have been commissioned to knit ‘something’ for the First Lady of Syria. Now, that’s a rather vague assignment- not to mention a bit daunting. I’m not yet sure what I’ll do, but I’m leaning towards a scarf- hopefully one that incorporates traditional Damascus designs, though I’m not yet sure what those are.

The next great surprise came yesterday afternoon when I went to Concord center with my mom and sister. Our inital intent was simply to reslish in the  the seasonal spirit, no need for anything in particular. We did, however, find ourselves enchanted by Concord’s abundance of antique shops. As luck would have it, the first one we stepped into, North Bridge Antiques, happened to have several quilts! Of course I was immediately enthralled, but the hefty price tags (an Amish quilt for $500 and another 19th century beauty for about $400) turned me off. That is, until I saw one of the most stunning patchwork creations I have ever seen and fell immediately in love. Fortunately for me, it’s not in the best condition- full of tears and wholes that make me love it all the more- so it was only $95! Needless to say, I didn’t walk out empty handed.0032


It’s hard to articulate how much I love this quilt. It’s too fragile to use, possibly too fragile to hang, but I don’t care. It fills me with inspiration. It’s wonderfully flawed, uneven and evidently hand sewn. It’s everything I love about patchworking- color, texture, warmth, whimsical imperfection. I literally dreamt about it last night. You always hear that a quilt tells the life of the woman who made it, but I never understood that until owning an antique quilt of my own. It seems so intimate and so full of loving patience.

And that’s not all. In addition to old quilts, this fabulous little antique store had old fabrics… so I really didn’t leave empty handed! I chose a few random bits which I am going to turn into an antique quilt of my own. I can hardly wait.  The one on top (with an Art Deco look) is early twentieth century and the one in the middle is 1960s. I’m not entirely sure about the rest, except they’re mainly 19th and early 20th century and a few are old feed sacks.



I’m overflowing with ideas, though I’m torn between creating a hexagonal quilt like the one above, or perhaps a Log Cabin which I’ve never done before. I feel like it should be something classic, but also unique. I’m suddenly drawn to the traditional, or at least feel like I should dip my toe into quilting tradition a little bit, see for myself what this history is that I am partaking in. Since I”m trying to practice self control and finish ongoing projects before starting more , I”ll wait until my improvisational lucky penny quilt is finished- I’m on the borders!- but it won’t be long.

I’ve also finished (for now) my Scrapbook Quilt, the first one I’ve ever made that is intended for the wall. It’s a different experience and involves a somewhat different mentality- though not drastically. It’s still in the salvagine, patchworking spirit after all.


Basically, I’ve created quilted billboard. I buttoned on business cards from my favorite restaurants (literally, I sewed them on with buttons) in everywhere from New York to Spain and, of course, Boston- but intentionally left plenty of room for more. It’s going to be a sort of ongoing project, a recording of one of my favorite pasttimes as well as all my travels. Initially, I was going to include shops and other venues, but I have more restaurant cards than anything else and it seemed like an appropriate theme. The quilt is hanging up behind my desk, a lovely tribute to what I’ve done and reminder of all that’s yet to come. Between this and my miraculous antique find, I’m fully reminded of why it is that I love quilts so very, very much.

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In the Seasonal Swing of Things

With all of my gifts wrapped and under the Christmas tree (hooray!) I’m back to my usual random patchworking. But first, I finished my brother’s cashmere sweater and it fits him beautifully if I do say so myself. He’s so gratifying to knit for; I just finished it last night and he’s already living in it.  I should probably mention that the pattern is based off the “Santa Cruz Hoodie” in Knit2Together by Tracey Ullman and Mel Clark. I did some sizing adjustments and seamed the sleeves differently, but otherwise I love this pattern and have used it a few times; very basic and guy-friendly.


It’s his Christmas gift, but I think neither of us could wait until Thursday to have him wearing it. In other knitting news, I’m making respectable progress on entrelac scarf number four. Since it’s a rather busy time of year, I’m mainly fitting this in during those odd moments- before and after meals, car rides… but those glimpses of time add up. I’m pretty much in love with the color combination, and since I wear one of my other three entrelac scarves every day, I’m quite motivated to keep on working.


I have not forgotten about my improvisational lucky penny quilt. Also in those spare moments- in front of the fire, mainly- I’ve been quilting it together, slowly but surely. I’ve just been chosing random blocks to quilt, adding a button here and there, and it’s nearly finished. Hopefully I’ll be snuggling up in that baby by 2009.


I’m also on to something new, inspired by the Schapiro-like discourse that discusses quilts as a salvage art, an act of saving and making do. I’m definitely a pack rat- something I got from my Dad, actually, not unlike the lucky penny obsession. I keep a journal which I faithfully write in every day, I save brochures and business cards from local events and from all my travels. So I’ve been thinking about these acts of remembrance, this desire to record and hold on to the tangible scraps of life. In some ways, it’s not the best habit to have- I’m learning self-restraint and to not save every little thing that comes my way. But it’s also an enriching and ultimately hopeful act, based on the belief that in the end all of these moments are really worth hanging on to. So here’s what I have so far on my… I’ll call it my Scrapbook Quilt.



That’s all there is so far and the best is yet to come. Without giving too much away, I’ll admit that this is like nothing I’ve done before and I’m eager to see how it turns out. The globe fabric isn’t incidental, part of the larger aesthetic of the quilt- as is the decision to hold it together with buttons rather than quilting stitches. It will all make sense soon…

Finally, I did a little bit of baking today for a good friend, his favorite frangipane (almond) cake with chocolate icing and some Christmasy sprinkles. It’s a very simple recipe, and always  fun to spend a little time in the kitchen- baking is certainly easier on the fingertips than endles quilting and a bit more social. And like I said, all this patching together- from scrapbook quilts to cakes- seems ultimately related.


So far, it’s been a productive and crafty break and I don’t expect that to change as the pre-Christmas madness winds down and the wonderful relaxation of the holiday season sets in.

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Patchworking Comes in Many Forms…

So, my thesis has had me reading a lot about the feminist movement and its relation to quilting. Now, I’m not a feminist per se, but there’s something admittedly appealing about Miriam Schapiro’s love of quilting as a salvage art, a reflection of the uniquely female tendency to save and work with those spare moments of time, fabric and more. According to the artist herself, “among other things, [a quilt] is the history of women… it is inspiration, a connection with self, the dogged will to make something extraordinary in the midst of family routine, a sense of wholeness… pleasure in the act of working and knowing the power of ‘making.'” I love the idea. And  as far as I can see, this tendency is by no means limited to the act of quilting exactly.

For example, I recently made a Pumpkin Lasagne from Nigella Lawson’s inspirational cookbook, “Nigella Christmas.”

It’s a gorgeous book, full of the most wonderful season dishes. This recipe caught my attention a while ago- I mean, pumpkin, goat cheese, ricotta… how can you go wrong? And it didn’t. It was delicious. On the other hand, I think I might substitute squash next time; it’s a tad bit sweeter.



Not sure exactly now Pumpkin Lasagne is like Patchwork, but it’s definitely the art of piecing something together, step by step, layer by layer. It’s making something from the most unexpected of parts- I started with two whole pumpkins that had to be peeled, seeded and chopped (which wouldn’t have been accomplished without the help of my brother and boyfriend). To go from that to a pasta dish is a fascinating process.

I’ve also been inspired lately by the book, Denyse Schmidt’s Quilts. I don’t usually follow patterns or instructions for these sorts of things, but this book is full of brilliant ideas.

This book is full of original ideas of what to do with patchwork and quilting, from book covers to aprons. Lately, I’m a fan of napping- the holiday season isn’t exactly conducive to lots of sleep. So I was instantly struck by the idea of a patchwork eye pillow and decided to make one for each of my sisters (as Christmas gifts of course):


I didn’t exactly follow the pattern, just the notion… and it’s a brilliant one. I filled them with flaxseed and lavender (Denyse calls for buckwheat hulls but Whole Foods didn’t have these). So they have a lovely soft texture and smell beautifully. Hopefully they’ll make for relaxing naps! Again, there’s something about their patchworky-ness that’s remarkable. Bits of fabric that I had lying about, flaxseed, lavender tea… and voila. It’s a wonderful impulse that us ladies have, I must admit. Viewing the random bits and pieces around you as the foundations forvarious creative endeavors is an invigorating way to go through life. You’re never borred, really, if you can see the potential in the random scraps of your world. And whether baking or quilting, these are remarkable acts of creation.

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Spreading the Scarf (and Christmas) Joy

Again, there’s been lots of Christmasy crafting which I cannot share here… but in the holiday spirit, I decided to spread the joy of my giant entrelac scarves. They’re warm, they’re comforting, and since they don’t really match anything, they actually match everything… a perfect way to capture the Christmas mood.

My family had our annual Christmas brunch at Upstairs on the Square today, which always includes a serenade by the wonderful Harvard Krokodilo acapella group. It’s one of my fondest memories of this time of year, since I was young enough to be ordering smoked salmon and bagels, drinking orange juice rather than bellinis. Their version of Loch Lomond brings tears to my eyes pretty much every time I hear it and today was no exception. I also decided that this would be the perfect opportunity to model my beloved scarves. And since I have three lovely scarves and two lovely sisters (plus myself)…


It’s important to remember that just as significant as the knitting process is enjoying the knitted product, especially at this wintery time of year. It certainly motivates me to keep working on entrelac scarf number four! There was even some snow today, which didn’t exactly stick but it certainly contributed to the celebratory mood.  I spent the rest of the day making various kinds of holiday bark which I’ve distributed into Christmas tins (while watching the Muppet Christmas Carol) to give away as gifts, a relaxing and utterly fulfilling day!

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Never Enough Knitting

Well, the three remaining days of Thanksgiving break were full of delightful crafting activity… none of which I can share since it’s that time of year! No doubt the finished products will eventually appear, but for now I’m keeping them under wraps- and I’m happy to do so because, quite frankly, I’m a Christmas fiend. It’s an understatement to say that this is my favorite time of year. It’s nothing short of an affirmation of all that I value most; family, friends, good times and good food. I doubt many would disagree.

Yet the first day back on campus didn’t exactly make for an easy transition. Though my thesis presentation went well, professors offered their ever-so-helpful feedback which has sent me on another round of researching and, ultimately, some significant reorganization of my work. Given that Christmas break is just right around the corner (officially it starts on December 15th) I’m not overly worried about it. I can handle a few more days of hardcore academia, with holiday festivities in between, of course.

Now, hardcore academia does not by any means imply an absence of knitting. I long ago mastered the art of reading (even ‘actively’ reading) while knitting… which may be the only reason I actually do have quite good grades. If I’m knitting, well, I can just keep going and going. Which means I’ve inhaled several articles on Conceptual Art and made excellent progress on Gordon’s cashmere sweater! The back and front are done, and one sleeve about halfway through.



Admittedly, it doesn’t look like much right now- particularly not by my usual colorful patchworky standards, but it’s a joy to knit. I mean, if baby alpaca is luxurious, cashmere is… I’m sure you can imagine. Plus, I love my little (well not so little) brother and know this won’t go unappreciated!

Now, progress on entrelac scarf four is a little less impressive:0111

The picture isn’t too accurate, but I love the colors. Like I said, this may be my companion project for many, many months…

I should probably mention that I’m currently taking an art class with Steven Prina that is enabling me to quilt and knit (on a very generous budget) and get credit for it. This is the sort of thing that makes me love Harvard. But even this isn’t enough to satisfy my crafting urge. I manage to squeeze it in like no other ‘assignment’ I’ve ever had. Now, the closest I get to serious spiritual endeavors is my love of yoga which, though I now find meditative, I have to admit started with an interest in becoming more flexible… not exactly enlightened. But I have nonetheless become interested in the meditative- yes, even spiritual- implications of my fondness for crafting. Two recent reads have helped me make sense of this, Janet Catherine Berlo’s fabulous book, “Quilting Lessons,” and Susan Gordon Lydon’s “The Knitting Sutra: Craft as Spiritual Practice.” They’re quite different (and I’ll admit I was a little more touched by Berlo’s though not due to any intrinsic preference for quilting over knitting) but they do have a theme. It’s that achievement of ever-elusive balance in life. Sounds simple but it’s a tricky negotiation. And basically, knitting and quilting help me maintain that sense of equilibrium. First of all, they remind me to slow down. As someone who thrives off of efficiency, the carefulness- and even tedium- of these practices is  perfect counterbalance. They also enable to tap in to creative aspects of myself that simply aren’t satisfied by nonstop reading and writing.  And so I pursue them unapologitcally.

Speaking of balance… As for one of my other great loves, fine dining, I had a lovely dinner with my Dad two nights ago at Rialtoin the Charles Hotel. Unsurprisingly, it was a fabulous meal. I would recommend the scallops with squash ravioli. Egg custard with poached pear was also  delightful (and for me, new) culinary experience. Tomorrow night my boyfriend and I are reuniting after two weeks at Harvest, also in Cambridge. Like EVOO, Harvest is big on the locally grown, fresh ingredients… and fall/winter seasonal food is my absolute favorite. But even better is all the traditional homecooking that I have to look forward to in just a couple of weeks!

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