An Early Summer Morning

IMG_0260

I’m not much of one for exercise. I know I should move more but tend not to.

When I come home from an early morning summer walk, though, I wonder why I don’t do this every day. A walk like this gives new meaning to that old song, “morning has broken, like the first morning.”

Shadows make me and my cat-who-believes-he-is- a-dog appear taller than we really are.

IMG_0331

We deliver maple syrup to my mother and her husband, who are already making pancakes—it is Sunday, after all. The cat opts to stay with them.

I can walk down the middle of the road if I want to, and I do, just because I can.

I see only three other people in the 3-plus miles I walk.

Our 80-something neighbor, the Energizer Bunny, out weeding her gardens and laughing at me for getting exercise in as artificial a way as taking a walk, when I, too, could be weeding.

The neighbors who make the rustic furniture, heading off to sell at the farmer’s market, where the rich folk from downstate buy expensive pieces for their summer camps.

The big guy walking his tiny dog and begging it to finish up so he can go back home for another cup of coffee.

I see a lot more animals than people.

The doe and her fawn way off at the edge of the field—I took a photo but it didn’t translate.

The bunnies who tear away from me, with their cottontails high.

The squirrels who are busy, following some imperative to mate or gather nuts or whatever squirrels do in their spare time.

I see the cardinals and the hummingbird.

IMG_3228

And these guys.

I hear all the other birds—the kingfisher and songbirds I can’t name. I follow the sound of tiny tapping to see the littlest woodpecker ever, getting its breakfast.

The only bird I don’t hear is the neighborhood rooster who cockle doodles his doo all day long but never, it seems, in the early morning.

The flowers, too, seem most striking early.

I know I will spend the day listening to children squeal, as they dunk themselves from a small sailboat or paddleboard. But they are, as yet, silent, still sleeping off the sugar-high hangover from one s’more too many.

Right now, the sailboats are at the moorings, the big beach towels are still dry and waiting on the line. No jet skis or deep-throated bass boats mar the quiet.

There are smells, too. The lake is low this year and, frankly, sort of whiffy. Someone mowed grass last night and the campfires still waft faint wood smoke.

The breeze is chilly this early but the sun is rising hot on my back.

Is there anything better than a quiet summer morning?

Nope, except, maybe, a summer sunset . . .

 

Advertisements

Let Us Now Praise Newbies

L9994092 (1)

“Hi! I was just gifted a loom—I’m so excited to be a weaver! So . . . can someone explain how to weave?”

I am a member of several Facebook groups for weavers, where we go to ask questions and share our work. I have to admit when I see questions like the one above, from rank beginners, my first reaction is to roll my eyes and think, “Oh for heaven’s sake—go read a book! Take a class!”

Then I take a deep breath and remind myself how much newbies, newcomers to any craft or skill, bring to the rest of us.

I have been a complete novice myself recently, in the craft of weaving, and I am still struggling to learn a tiny fraction of what there is to know. My weekly sewing group includes a number of newbies—new to sewing, new to quilting.

Newbies have always been with us but, in days gone by, maybe they weren’t so obvious. A lot of us learned some basic skills in relative private, from others in our circle, by watching and emulating or by taking an organized class or reading. Those were the only options we had.

But now the Internet gives newbies easy access to knowledgeable and helpful people so their questions are public and their lack of knowledge and understanding are on view to us all.

And, though I will always think some newbies are being presumptuous in asking others to explain a difficult process in the space of a Facebook post, I really believe that these newbies are enhancing the craft world.

Are you a newbie at something, thinking about picking up knitting needles or sitting down to a sewing machine for the first time? Trying to learn a new set of skills, like hooking a rug or soldering silver? Surrounded, it seems, by people who already know the ins and outs, know the vocabulary, seem comfortable and calm in the realm where you feel edgy and inadequate?

I want to tell you how valuable you are!

  1. You are a source of amusement

Yes, it probably sounds harsh but let’s get it out of the way first—I am amused every day by a dilemma posed by a newbie. I laugh at the stories they tell about themselves and their confusion. They use the vocabulary wrong and make mistakes of the most basic kind. I am laughing with them, not at them—I see myself in their blunders.

  1. You remind us of the enthusiasm and joy of starting

The excitement newbies feel is energizing. This one just got her first loom, that one bought fabric for her first quilt. They have not yet felt the slings and arrows of outrageous craft fails. They are intoxicated with possibilities—and help me remember that feeling.

  1. You give us a chance to teach and feel smart

With novices, it always seems that, no matter how little I know, there’s someone who knows less. That gives me the heady feeling of having something I can share and teach.

  1. You allow us to feel competent and remind us how far we’ve come

There’s nothing like a newbie to remind you how much progress you’ve made, that you’re learning and growing. When I read the questions asked by newbies, I am pleasantly surprised when I know the answers to questions that would’ve been mysteries a few months ago. I feel competent and motivated to keep learning.

  1. You ask the questions we may not be comfortable asking.

I am one of those people who loathes looking foolish or incompetent. I hate to ask questions, to expose my ignorance. Newbies ask questions with abandon and I sit and listen carefully to the answer . . . and learn.

So, newbies, I say to you—keep starting new things.

Keep dreaming of being good at something that you have never tried.

Keep asking every question that pops into your mind!

Recognize the limitations of learning complex skills from Facebook posts or from one helpful friend and take advantage of all the resources available to you.

But don’t hesitate to start because the people around you seem so sure of themselves and the skills so daunting.

You are enriching the conversation by starting a new craft; you are bringing so much to the discussion.

The Living Was Easy

Scan

It’s summertime.

Look at those self-satisfied faces.*

They know.

Those girls know, even though the oldest is only 9, they know how lucky they are.

They are lucky to spend their summer days on a farm, a farm where they have the freedom to roam, to sit in the haymow and dream, to chew a stalk of hay.

Four cousins, together for only the summer months. They are lucky to play together with absolutely nothing to worry about except breaking a plastic flip flop or getting sticky drips of Popsicle running down an arm.

School doesn’t start again for a month. Their moms will take them to the “little beach” down the road and their bathing suits will never completely dry out all summer. Their dads will call them away from the TV in the evenings, to help corral cows that have wandered beyond the fence line.

Later they and a dad and a dog or two will make the trip for soft ice cream. The ice cream shop has not yet gotten the technology to make a twist of two flavors so the hardest decision of the day will be chocolate or vanilla.

These girls were so lucky to have this childhood. They knew it then and they are even more convinced now.

Every year, when summer arrives, the scent of new-mown hay or the taste of the first corn off the stalk transports them back to those days, and they smile those self-satisfied smiles and remember how it was summertime and the living was easy.


* I just saw this photo of my sister, my cousins, and me for the first time (that’s me on the left, then cousin Paula, sister Kathy, and cousin Jill). Paula gave it to me a couple days ago and I’m not sure I have a photo I like better! Do you have a photo that sums up your childhood? Shouldn’t you write a blog post about it?!

A couple of bloggers took me up on this!

Deb at SevenCub’s Blog

Deb at A Daily Dose of Fiber

The One That Didn’t Get Away

Sometimes things work out just fine.

A few short weeks ago, I was loudly lamenting that I had not bought a sewing caddy I found at a garage sale. But that recent experience with hesitation and regret left me primed for the sewing box I found two days ago, at yet another garage sale.

While the one that got away was whimsical and handmade and fun, this one is staid and handsome and sensible.

The case I left behind made me smile out loud, but I think I knew that, if I owned it, I wouldn’t really use it. I have other similar cases and I have never pressed them into real service. They are a little tippy and awkward to move and, I don’t know, not really aligned with my organizational style.

I knew this case was really much more suited to my needs; I loved it the moment I saw it.

This is not to say that I paid the asking price for it! It was priced at three times as much as the box I didn’t buy and I would not have gone that high. But the seller wanted it to be loved and appreciated and was willing to accept what I could pay, she said, because she believed I would love and appreciate it.

She was right.

It belonged to the great-grandmother of the seller; great-grandma’s name was Violet.

Violet, and others in the family who came to use the box, left the case filled with the bits and bobs and flotsam of daily sewing. I spent a happy hour or two sifting through their treasures.

Wooden spools of thread, clothing patterns from the 1960s, needle books given away at stores. Pin cushions. Many, many buttons. I will think of Violet whenever I use the case.

But this isn’t Violet’s sewing box any longer. It’s mine now, and I just know she’d want me to use it and make it my own.

I’ll put most of the old stuff away and fill the box with the flotsam of my daily sewing. It will hold the things I use to sew yo-yos together, to embroider my redwork squares, to organize me through projects as yet unimagined.

I will pick it up and take it with me to sit by the lake on these perfect summer days. In autumn, I can carry it to a spot sheltered from the wind and savor the October sun.

I will transport it next to the fireplace when winter arrives and the lake freezes and the north wind blows cold.

And I’ll be awfully glad I didn’t let this one get away . . .

IMG_3227

A Moment . . .

. . . I’ve been waiting for!

cutting off loom

When you’re immersed in a project, do you have a favorite moment? Is it casting off the last stitch, putting the finished cake or flower arrangement on the table, sewing the binding on the quilt?

Or is there a step along the way that gives you the biggest thrill?

For me, and I suspect a lot of weavers, the best moment comes when I cut the warp off the loom and unwind the long, long piece of fabric.

IMG_3200

So many steps remain before anything here will be finished! Ends need to be woven in, hems turned and sewn or fringe twisted, various stages of wet finishing and pressing.

But right now, I can see what I have, what I have been working at for these last weeks. Much of what I’d woven had been hidden from me, wound onto that front cloth beam.

IMG_3196

I’d almost forgotten what the first section looked like so this is a sort of unveiling, a revealing of work of my hands.

This length of fabric will become a runner, two towels, and, my favorite, the random-sized piece of cloth at the end. Because it’s random, “extra,”I felt free to play and, off course, I like it best. It’s too small for a towel . . . maybe a bread cloth?

IMG_3194

Now that this project is off the loom, I can get ready for my second most favorite moment–the fresh, tidy new warp, ready for the shuttle to be thrown and the web to be woven.

 

“It’s All About Me” Monday: The Balsam Pillows

IMG_1404

Nothing revives the past so completely as a smell that was once associated with it.
–Vladimir Nabokov

When I was a child in upstate New York, I took naps on a sunny glassed-in porch at the farm. On my couch was a special pillow. It was small and floppy and not soft. In fact, it was lumpy and sort of scratchy but . . . it had the most amazing smell.

The smell was faint, just a hint of something special remained. If I squeezed the pillow, I could coax a stronger breath of it out but just for a moment. The fragrance was of all outdoors and mountains and pine trees. It spoke of my grandmother’s house, of the farm, of the region, that place of my birth.

The small pillow was filled with needles of balsam fir. Then, and still now, these small pillows can be found all over the northeast, and especially, it seems, in the Adirondack Mountains of New York and in Maine. They were, and are, sold as souvenirs of a particular kind of wilderness.

I’ve had a thing for these balsam pillows all my life. I wander around my house and can count at least 35 of them—some are vintage, with corny sayings, like “I pine for yew and balsam, too,” printed on the pillows. Some are newer, made of bright Pendleton wool, embroidered cotton, and even one of velveteen.

Of the pillows lying around, probably 10 or more are ones I’ve made over the years. I can buy balsam needles locally for $5.50 a pound. It’s fresh and aromatic and condenses forest-mountains-lakes-sun-breeze-summer into one sniff.

I have usually made my pillows using a quilter’s technique called Cathedral Windows. A solid-colored fabric is folded and sewn in a particular way, until small bits can be turned back to frame an inserted scrap of special fabric, which is featured like the glowing pieces of stained glass.

5425741848_a74569f995_z

A Cathedral Window quilt. Photo by Kristen

Over the years, my featured fabrics have been of Adirondack images—apples, acorns, and pine cones—but my most recent pillows are a little different.

Of all the vintage linens that go though my hands, some of my favorites are classic, hard-working, striped linen dishtowels. They look tailored and efficient and elegant in their perfect design for a job of work.

But some of the towels I handle are damaged by a big hole or dark stain. It pains me to throw such a towel away so I use scraps to decorate my balsam pillows. Some plain muslin fabric, a small square of dishtowel, a random old button—together they make a perfect envelope for that special fragrance.

These are very small pillows, less than 4 inches across. I can use them as sachets and tuck them almost anywhere so that, unexpectedly, I’ll walk through a room and get a hit of that astringent fragrance, evocative, not too sweet, full of memories.

When I smell balsam, it’s always summer and the sun is always shining onto fir needles. I’m a small girl again, taking a nap in a cozy, secure place in the country. When I smell it, I smell home.

But, enough about me! Let’s talk about you. How do you like my balsam pillows? If you craft and make things, is fragrance a part of the making? Is there a smell that transports you back to childhood?

IMG_1405 (1)