Monthly Archives: June 2009

Taming My Curls and Patchworking for the Home

I’m one of those curly-haired people who tells other curly-haired people that their hair looks amazing when they let it try naturally but,  at the same time, blow dries their hair straight pretty much all winter long. My excuse is that my naturally curly hair just doesn’t look as good as most. And it’s true that, despite the popular image of carefree, windswept waves, curly hair is actually a lot of work. You have to scrunch it and walk around with soaked strands, careful not to touch them so that the curls will maybe (depending on the weather and other inexplicable forces) come out looking decent. So yes, I often succumb to the straighter, simpler option. However, I also think of the summer as a good time to let my mane rejuvenate, soak in some moisture and take a break from the constant heat of blow drying. Since this summer has been especially rainy so far and my straight hair doesn’t always stand up to the humidity, my usual conversion to curly hair makes particular sense this year. To top it off, I’ve also taken up swimming on a pretty regular basis which means lots of chlorine exposure. Basically, all signs indicate that this is a good time to embrace my curls.

So the struggle begins. Even once dried, curls don’t tend to look all that wonderful just hanging around. After much trial and error I’ve concluded that headbands are the most painless and attractive way to tame my curls and keep them out of my face. Headbands, of course, come with their own slew of difficulties since many of them pinch your head uncomfortably or don’t stay on just right. Earlier this week, I only had one that truly met my high headband standards, a yellow polka dot one from J.Crew:

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I bought this a couple of years ago, and can’t really afford to buy a whole a new collection of headbands. Fortunately, it didn’t take me too long to realize that there’s nothing complicated about making a headband like this. After a few quick measurements, a brief search through my sewing area for some spare bits of elastic, approximately four hours of sewing, and no money spent, I came up with these:

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They’re exactly what I need, and really couldn’t be simpler to make, consisting of six inches of elastic in a nine inch tube of fabric and a seventeen by nine inch band. Each one takes about half an hour to complete at most. So I wouldn’t be surprised if my headband collection expanded rather rapidly in the next couple of months.

Headbands and curly hair also go well with one of my favorite accessories; big funky earrings. A post-lunch stroll through Harvard Square the other day led me and my friend into Beadworks (www.beadworks.com) where I bought approximately $5 worth of beads which I turned into earrings in a matter of minutes:

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Yes, I do engage in non-fiber craft from time to time. I used to be quite a beading fiend, and though I don’t find quite as much time for it these days, I’m really pleased with the results when I do. Nothing fancy, but fun and wearable.

Despite the rainy weather, I’ve been taking wonderful little trips with my Mom to various home goods stores in preparation for my new apartment. This includes BJs, Bed Bath and Beyond and my personal favorite, Concord Center, a wonderful little area full of several antique stores, and a cheese and candy shop. At The Concord Shop (www.concordshop.com)  my Mom bought me a beautiful collection of Emile Henry (www.emilehenry.com) pans in red, blue and green.  They’re currently packed away in storage, but this gives you a sense of what they look like:

As my mother pointed out, I do in fact have more than enough bed quilts (as does my entire family) so a patchwork tablecloth might be a good way to get my sewing fix over the next few weeks. I’ve gotten a start using fabrics I already had lying around, trying to stick with blue, red, green and yellow patterns. I decided to go for a very simple nine-patch pattern held together by the darker blue squares:

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However, thanks to my frugal patchworking over the past few months, my fabric stash is not as endlessly prolific as I had thought! So I went online and ordered a few yards of various different fabrics, all on sale, and await their arrival before continuing.

In the meantime, I’ve found other domestic patchworking projects to keep me busy. Enter the Pippapatchwork Pillows. I should mention that my giant patchwork pillow (seeing the Quilting and Sewing Gallery) has been quite the success, a wonderful cozy object to have around the house. Once again, my current home is sufficiently full of my patchwork endeavors, but fortunately my upcoming apartment has given me a wonderful excuse to make a couple more pillows. They’re each about 25 x 25 inches and they’re still awaiting zippers (ah yes, more zipper insertion) but are otherwise complete.

The first one is made from a pack of precut RJR Fabrics that I bought at a random fabric store on the way to Jackson, New Jersey during my January trip. I’m not going to lie; it’s nice to use precut fabrics every now and then. All that measuring and cutting gets a little tedious. I used leftover flannels to make a simple four-square back, and stuffed it with an old pillow I’ve had lying around my room for a while, meaning this cost about $8, including the cost of the zipper:

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The other one is made from a bundle of old fabric samples that I bought at an antique store in Concord Center (only $4 for the bunch of them). I used an old shawl that had been attacked by moths and is no longer wearable for the backing, and for the tassel I decided to add to the top. I also added strips of green corduroy from a pair of old pajama pants since it wasn’t quite big enough. This one has a particularly patchy work since the samples were all different types and sizes of fabric, some as thick as upholstery and many of them 100% wool. It certainly has a wonderfully homey look:

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Finally, I’ve made an important decision regarding my weekly mini quilts. Given the fact that my fabric and batting stashes are rapidly decreasing, and my life is about to become a lot busier (after a three-week trip to Australia I will be fully employed, starting in August) I’ve decided to make weekly patches instead. I’m going to sign each one with the date that it’s made, rather than the Sunday of the week, and aim for at least one a week, perhaps more. I’m also going to stick to the simple nine-patch structure, using 3 inch squares. Hard to say how exactly I came to this conclusion. Overall, my patchwork projects have been leaning toward the simple-is-better motto. I also want to use these patches to capture something about the week, my state of mind, whatever it may be, through the fabrics that I use. While at first I was trying to steer clear of the ‘journal quilting’ mode, I’ve experienced a 180 and decided this is exactly what I want to do.  This week I made a nine-patch in honor of my curly hair exploits, using a fabric that has little curly-cues on it:

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Naturally, these blocks will eventually be together into a giant Journal Quilt. I don’t know when exactly, but a nice big quilt is the goal. Perhaps then I’ll switch to a new block. I love the idea of a quilt that is by definition created over a long expanse of time, chronicling my life to some extent.

Finally, my cooking and baking adventures continue with my first attempt at homemade bread. I followed the simplest recipe for whole wheat in the Joy of Cooking, using honey for sweetening. Still, making bread is a bit intimidating. There’s the kneading, the rising, the preparation of the yeast that apparently has to be done just right or the bread won’t rise. But it’s also incredibly gratifying and sensuous, spending an afternoon covered in flour and checking on my dough every ten minutes to track its progress. Miraculously, thanks in large part to my mother’s guidance, it actually worked!

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I’m relieved and encouraged, ready to try many more different types of breads. However, just like my patchworking projects, the process is just as important as the end result which, as long as its full of love and the pleasure of working with one’s hands, need not be perfect.

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Carrying and Cooking

I have to admit that I’m a bit of a bag fiend. In some ways, this obsession is practical; I carry around a lot of stuff. I pretty much never leave the house without the essentials (keys, wallet, lip balm), my planner since I can’t remember anything that isn’t written down, sunglasses (you never know, even on the rainiest Boston day) and a good book (currently Neville Shute’s A Town Like Alice which is so good it may find its way onto the Essay Quilt) in case I find myself waiting in a ridiculously long line. Then there’s the knitting bag, also a frequent companion. Though there’s no practical reason to bring my knitting with me everywhere, I often can’t help it and end up leaving the bag untouched in my car while I run errands. To top it off, I’m quite fond of smaller bags-that-go-within-bags as a way to keep all my various possessions organized. This week, in order to get in some sewing while writing on my Essay Quilt, I indulged in this love of bags.

                First of all, I decided that the best use for my one stray feedsack was another messenger bag. After much pondering, I came to the simple realization that since I love the first one, I’m guaranteed to love another just like it. I accented it with various other antique fabrics, some from the Birds in the Air quilt, others from my giant patchwork quilt, resulting in a truly patchy look:

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Though I’m always up for something new, there are many advantages to repeating projects. You get to work out all the kinks that arose the first time around. In this case, that meant making the flap a little longer. I also decided to shorten the strap but since this was a rather last-minute decision I had to improvise and do so by layering it up a bit, sewing it together and adding a cute button:

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I stuck with the soft flannel lining since that was such a success last time:

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Then came the clutch. The summer before my freshman year at Harvard I bought a small Vera Bradley bag to hold my ID, keys, lip balm, etc. It proved to be a trusty and durable companion but at the end of four years, it’s a little worn out:

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The full weariness of this little accessory isn’t really conveyed in the photo. Let’s just say it was time for a new one. Once again, I made the most out of my antique fabrics- even the little scrappy bits- and came up with this:

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I accented it with antique buttons which also have the added benefit of holding together the three layers (I’ve been putting batting in all of my bags since it makes them both softer and more durable). Though it’s only been through about a week of use, this guy is proving to be quite sturdy and just as useful as the last (which now has the less-tiring task of holding my knitting accessories within my knitting bag, such as darning needles and scissors).

It’s probably no surprise that my last sewing endeavor of the week was a knitting bag. Once again, some practical factors came into play. Somehow, I still had (and do have) leftover antique fabrics and I can’t bear to let them go to waste. Furthermore, the various tote bags that I’ve been using up until now aren’t quite large enough for my giant Domino Knitting Stoles. They also don’t have zippers which provide a nice security, especially since I’ll soon be lugging my knitting on a trip to Australia in a couple of weeks. So with this in mind, I made my own knitting bag:

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                It’s a truly scrappy concoction, one side stripes and one side squares. Almost all of the fabrics are antique, but a few are random new ones I’ve picked up here and there. The insides are old curtain fabric from Urban Outfitters that I accumulated somewhere along the way in college. I decided that they clash so much, they actually go together.

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This bag has also already been put to use and also proved itself a worthwhile undertaking. I love being able to safely zipper up my stole and balls of yarn and I love having a knitting bag that’s just as unique and expressive as what it contains. I’ll admit that between this and my messenger bag, I look like a bit of a crazy bag lady walking around with two patchworky accessories made from some of the same materials. But I’m pretty much OK with this.

                As an avid crafter, I hate to admit when there’s something I just don’t like about a project. But I have found one. Zippers. It’s official; few things are more difficult than inserting a zipper into one’s bag. I pulled it off twice this week but it was no easy task. I can only seem to do it by hand, and it’s a slow and awkward process. The zipper slips around and getting over the edge’s curvy bits is unfailingly frustrating. There’s no way around this, and I happen to love bags with zippers, so I’m resolved to a frustrating future of occasional zipper insertion. I just had to vent.

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                Thankfully, the rest of the bag assembly process has been quite painless thanks to my wonderful Singer sewing machine. I love it so. Especially, no offense, in comparison to the cheap Brother that I was keeping in the dorm (whose inadequacy, to be fair, is probably due to the low price rather than Brother per se). Either way, this week’s patchwork projects have been made blissfully easy by this glorious machine, without all those stitch hiccups and tangled threads that can add unnecessary hours to one’s work, so I decided that this week’s mini quilt should be in partial homage to my Singer. The best way I could think to do this was to try out some of its more elaborate stitch patterns. I chose a vine and leave pattern and a few different colored threads and came up with this:

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                However, as much as I love my machine, it goes without saying that I value handcraft as well. So for the center flower, I whipped out one of my favorite books, the Reader’s Digest Complete Guide to Needlework…

 

…and chose a few embroidery stitches. Nothing fancy; I used a circular buttonhole for the center and chain stitch for the petals. It was nice to revive my limited embroidery skills for a little while (I learned to embroider last summer while interning for TNNA since its one of the five ‘official’ needlearts) and add a touch of true handicraft to the quilt.

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                As the above pictures indicates, this quilt has another meaning as well. In addition to prolific patchworking, one of the most outstanding features of this week has been the presence of my mother’s garden. Though I appreciate the garden’s beauty and I’m a proficient weeder, I’m certainly not as competent a gardener as my mother. Therefore, one of the garden’s greatest benefits from my point of view is the fresh food; lots of lettuce, kale, Swiss chard, scapes (my personal favorite), strawberries and much more to come (I eagerly await gooseberries in particular). It’s been a while since I’ve had time to indulge in my baking/cooking endeavors but that’s yet another wonderful thing about being home. This past week we had a few lovely strawberries and I decided to use them to make fresh strawberry ice cream. I’d never made ice cream before, and this simple ‘Philadelphia-style’ recipe (from Williams-Sonoma’s Ice Cream) includes nothing more than milk, cream, sugars and strawberries. It doesn’t look like much but it was lovely; slightly sweet and very creamy and soft (though next time I’m going to chop the strawberries into even finer bits since frozen chunks of strawberry are a bit like ice):

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                My mother and I also combined our cooking skills to make the most delicious side dish of polenta and vegetables. I was in charge of cooking the polenta and discovered that without lots of cheese (in this case, cheddar) and salt polenta is pretty bland. My mother, using Swiss chard from the garden, put together a delicious vegetable medley to go on top:

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                The recipe is from the book Potager: Fresh Garden Cooking in the French Style by Georgeanne Brennan but we included the chard stalks since ours was freshly grown. Beautiful and delicious. This type of cooking, full of fresh garden ingredients and all the wonderful relaxation of being at home, is an equally essential component to the patchwork lifestyle which means that these days I am perfectly in my element.

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Home is Where the Quilt Is

As anticipated, this has been a weak of cleansing. I’ve officially moved back home, cleaned and organized every inch of my bedroom. It’s an incredibly gratifying feeling. Of course, part of reintegrating myself into a new (well, not really new, but somewhat neglected) space and feeling settled involves surrounding myself with quilts/quilt-related objects. For instance, my bed-area is now a lovely conglomeration of patchwork items, including two quilts made by each of my grandmothers (one on the wall, one on the bed) and my own giant pillow:

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I also decided that the doorway to my bedroom should represent its inhabitant so, naturally, I covered it in quilts. Finally, I’ve put some of the weekly mini quilts to use!

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Which brings me to this week’s mini quilt (already hanging on my door).  In honor of this week’s cleansing return to my home, good old Wellington House (named in honor of its first owner in 1840, Augustus Wellington), this week’s mini-quilt is of my house:

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Per usual, I took the scrappy approach, no measuring involved. This explains the slanted, ramshackle look. But this piecemeal approach also gives the quilt character and, believe me, my house has lots of character.

I didn’t anticipate having much time to quilt while performing what felt like a total overhaul on my living space. I’m pleased to report that I was wrong. In fact, life these days has consisted of a lovely balance of practical and pleasurable; mornings spent quilting, afternoons spent cleaning.  The result? I finished piecing together all of the 35 squares for my Essay Quilt and have written on six of them!

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I have to admit, I’m not used to my quilting time consisting of a sharpie pen and piles of books, but I love it just the same (I’m also undertaking numerous side projects that enable me to get my sewing fix). I love flipping through good books and picking out random passages. Sometimes they’re meaningful, other times just interesting or odd, even funny. So far, these are the books I’ve chosen from:

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The Forest People and The Mountain People by Collin Turnbull, The Red Queen by Matt Ridley, What the Buddha Taught by Walpola Rahula, Howards End by E.M. Forster, Eat Pray Love by Elizabeth Gilbert, Water for Elephants by Sara Gruen, An American Childhood by Annie Dillard, Quilting Lessons by Janet Catherine Berlo, and Light on Yoga by BKS Iyengar. These selections have a lot to do with availability, books that I could actually track down, which means many of them are relatively recent reads. Though at first I was going to stick to non-fiction, I couldn’t resist sneaking in Howard’s End and thus Water for Elephants was also admitted. The Red Queen might seem like an odd choice (it’s about the evolutionary history of sexuality) but you’d be surprised by the fascinating passages imbedded in there. A couple of the books reveal my flirtation with Eastern philosophy. I hesitated about letting in Eat, Pray, Love since it’s a little trendy, but I can’t deny that Elizabeth Gilbert’s journey truly struck a chord the first time I read it. I also wasn’t sure about Quilting Lessons since I thought a book about quilting was rather obvious, but in the end it was too good to resist. I may add more, but for now this is what I’m working with.

This ‘pleasurable’ time also involves relaxing evenings of wine and movies… and thus plenty of knitting. I tried to sway myself into an entirely new project, but domino knitting has a strong hold on me right now. So, I put my brother’s fabulous graduation gift (a gift certificate to Woolcott & Co.) to good use and bought every shade of brown, grey, white and black Cascade that I could find. The Neutral Domino Stole has begun. However, I couldn’t make it too neutral so I’m spicing things up a bit with differently-patterned squares. Some are solid or done in garter stitch, some have thinner or thicker stripes. I’m keeping things interesting:

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Now, I pretty much always use circular knitting needles regardless of the size of the project. I find your work is much less likely to slide off in transportation and by now my hands are so used to the way they feel, straight needles are slightly awkward. So imagine my utter delight upon receiving my grandmother’s graduation gift of Denise Interchangeable Knitting Needles:

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These are simply brilliant. I tend to be behind the times on fancy knitting gear (I spend enough money on yarn alone) but did anyone else know that these exist?!? You chose which size needle you want, then snap on the cord in between, choosing from multiple lengths. Like I said, brilliant. Of course, I’ve been using these (with the smallest cord insert) on the Neutral Domino Stole, therefore putting both graduation gifts to good use at once. Another long, companion project has begun.

Though Welllington House is and always will be my number one home (since I was around eight months old), I’ve also been looking for an apartment starting in the fall. Lexington is wonderful, but it’s also great to have somewhere right on the T and close to downtown Boston (Davis Square is our current goal). This means that part of my home cleanse has involved raiding the family basement for old dishes, cookware, tablecloths, etc. for furnishing my own place. I’m ending up with a wonderful patchwork of items such as random mismatched coffee mugs and napkins. I’ve also uncovered a few treasures and so far these top the list:

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My heart basically skipped a beat when I saw these beautiful quilted placemats made by my grandmother! They’re exactly the sort of thing I want in my own home, even better that they come from family and already have a history of their own. I can’t wait to decorate a kitchen around their lovely blue and red hues. Basically, whenever and however I can integrate patchwork into the space around me, I feel at right at home.

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To Tassel or Not to Tassel

It turns out that when you graduate from Harvard, you spend $40 renting your Commencement ensemble (which, you are informed, will stain your clothing  if it starts to rain) and all you get to keep is your cap and tassel. I’m not really complaining; black isn’t my color so I certainly wouldn’t find much use for the gown. And the cap actually makes for a funny little souvenir. Since this past week was completely taken over by my college graduation (quite literally; Harvard Commencement involves several full days of activities) I couldn’t quilt about anything else. This week’s mini quilt is therefore an hommage to this rather momentous occasion:

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Personally, I wouldn’t have minded a little more color in our graduation ensembles (a touch of crimson would have made sense) so I made up for it with my colorful graduation cap quilt. To make the tassel, I followed the instructions in Vivian Hoxbro’s “Knit to Be Square,” since the giant scarf that I’m making actually calls for two tassels on either end. This brings me to my latest patchworking dilmena. Somewhat shockingly, even for me, I have completed my scarf already. It’s amazing how a few minutes here and there can accumulate to some seirous productivity. However, now I can’t decide if I’ll add the tassels or not.

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I haven’t been so excited by a new knitting technique in quite some time, nor have I been so pleased with a finished product. At first I was a little nervous because after spending what felt like forever knitting four rows of ribbing on the 900+ stitches that I picked up around the edge (using six sets of circular needles), the scarf seemed to curve in a bit around the edges. But what a difference a good blocking makes! I laid it out yesterday and let it try out tonight; this morning, my lovely scarf (its really more of a scarf/blanket hybrid) lies perfectly flat. Yet, like I said, I can’t decide about the tassels. It hardly needs more embellishment on top of all these wonderful and randomly assorted colors. What I do know is that I’m in love with Domino Knitting and I’m not done with it yet. I’m planning on a ‘neutral’ version of the scarf, maybe trying out a hat. Being out of the dorm and back home means 5 o’clock happy hour and therefore lots of time for knitting…

Now, I’ve hardly lost interest in my quilting but I have to admit that amidst all the graduation madness, followed by the equally time-consuming process of moving out of the dorm and back into my room, no significant progress has been made on my Essay Quilt. This may be the case for another week or so as I attempt to organize my life (it’s easier to fit in knitting since it’s portable and more conducive to doing little bits at a time). Fortunately, my love of quilts has been satisfied in another way this past week. My Grandma Kay gave me the best possible type of graduation gift. I’m sure you can guess what it is.

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It’s a sample quilt made of different types of blocks, each one meaningful with regards to our relationship. I don’t remember all of their formal names, but the upper central block depicts waves which represent our trips of Sanibel Island, Florida. I believe the upper right block is called Grandmother’s Fan, whose meaning is pretty self-explanatory. The middle right block is Around the World, the pattern of the quilt she gave me my freshman year of college. I can’t remember the name of the middle left square but it’s in honor of my fondness for color. Some of the other squares are related to my own patchworking projects (grandma is a faithful follower of my blog) such as the flannel square, the Log Cabin, the patchy upper left block and the central blockwhich stands for my entrelac scarves.

I can’t think of a more touching gift to receive on the day that marks such a huge shift in my life and my entry into ‘the real world.’ It’s an honor to have these aspects of my life captured on a quilt, a beautiful reminder of both my grandmother and myself conveyed through my favorite medium. I also love it, quite simply, for aesthetic reasons, the contrast and compliment between the ‘mismatched’ blocks. Yet another method to incorporate into my own patchworking at some point in the near future. So you see, even when I can’t fit in the time for my own quilt-making (though I’ll admit a one-week break is hardly momentous), quilts are never far from my heart.

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