The Weaver’s Helper

Do you remember Gigi?

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A blog friend asked me about her recently.

She is doing great–she is almost 3 years old and weighs somewhat too much. She loves her food!

She has calmed down, as cats do when they leave kittenhood behind.

And, thank goodness, she isn’t as interested in the weaving looms as she once was.

Unless I am sitting at one, trying to thread heddles.

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Every weaver needs a helper . . .

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(No, her eyes aren’t blue. That’s the combination of fluorescent lighting and an iPhone camera.)

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Hand Quilt Along: One Plus Two Equals Three

I’ve been quilting along on the quilt along.

In the three weeks since we last reported in, I’ve done two blocks. I think this will be a reasonable goal as I progress. It’s a pretty relaxed pace but there are other things I like to do, too, and I want to fit it all in.

One of the blocks I worked on is a patchwork block.

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I needed to decide on a quilting approach—where would I put the stitches?

And why quilt at all?

One purpose of quilting is to hold the three layers of a quilt together. Another, less obvious, reason was to keep the middle layer, the batting, from shifting. Older battings, sometimes no more than a layer of raw cotton, could clump and separate and shift. I’ve seen old quilts that have big lumpy sections and completely flat, empty sections because the quilting was insufficient and the batting all went where it could.

So, women made their quilting lines close together to limit where the batting could go. I’ve heard it said that the quilting lines should be no more than a hand’s width apart and I’ve also read that, in those “olden days,” lines should be no more that an inch apart.

Today’s battings are made very differently and quilting lines can be spaced much more freely. But the third reason for quilting is that it makes an attractive pattern on the quilt surface, so that determines where the lines go, too.

Many quilters mark their entire quilts before they start quilting, using stencils. I’ve said I don’t enjoy the process of tracing a stencil design on fabric, in order to do fancy quilting patterns. I’m a pretty lazy quilter, as it happens.

That makes masking tape my favorite quilting tool, both the quarter-inch tape made for quilters and the stuff I buy at the big box hardware stores. I can put the tape down to create nice straight lines, along which I stitch.

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I tend to make up my mind as I go along, about where to place the tape, and I change my mind, too, as I go along. Sometimes it works well, sometimes I’m a little disappointed.

I thought this block was done but, now that I’ve seen these photos, I think I will want to go back and add some more lines, not because they are necessary to keep the batting from shifting, but to improve the look.*

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The other block I worked on was the one with the quotation from Malala Yousafzai.

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Malala, as you know, is the youngest recipient of the Nobel Peace prize, for her work as an activist for human rights, particularly for the education of girls and women.

These words from her come from her book, I am Malala, published in 2013. I’m not sure who she had in mind, when she spoke of “one man,” but her comment seems especially relevant in 2018. I know she couldn’t’ve been talking about the the “one man” I think of who could, and may be, destroying the world, but still . . .

As I quilted her block, I thought about the fact that she Malala didn’t ask why one girl couldn’t fix the world; she simply hopes to change it.

Her comment makes me think about the ease with which one powerful person can bring about negative change and the difficult, united work it will take to put things back together again—as Malala suggests. One girl may bring change but it will take many—girls, women, boys, men—to work together to fix our world.

One of the things I love most about hand quilting is the mental space it gives me to think while I work . . .

Three blocks done, 17 to go.

* Don’t worry about the hard little wrinkles you see—they came from that section being squinched in the quilting hoop as I worked on the next block. They’ll go away.


This Hand Quilt Along is an opportunity for hand quilters and piecers to share and motivate one another. We post every three weeks, to show our progress and encourage one another.  If you have a hand quilting project and would like to join our group contact Kathy at the link below.

Kathy, Lori, Margaret, Kerry, Emma, Tracy, Deb, Connie, Deborah,  SusanJessica,  SherryNanette, Sassy, Edith, Sharon and Bella.

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When A Mistake Makes It Perfect

As I continue my purveying of vintage linens, I wash and iron these old pieces, and have time to think about perfection.

This homely little scrap of cloth meets my own criteria for perfection.

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First of all, it declares what it can do for its owner.

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I’ve always loved these linens that boldly state what they’re for! They come from an era when being a homemaker was a serious undertaking and women wanted to be covered for every eventuality.

This little bread cloth wants us to know it is for Toast! Not bread, not dinner rolls, just toast, dammit.

I also love it, of course,  because it is handmade. The work is done by hand. it’s not really difficult work—a bit of satin stitch embroidery and some drawnwork. Because of the simplicity, I envision a young woman, plying her needle, honing her skills, and thinking about keeping house. Thinking about growing up and getting married and bringing toast to the table with a pretty cloth, daydreaming . . .

And it appeals to me because it’s oddball. The quirky always speaks to me. I see so many damask tablecloths, so many dishtowels printed with bright flowers, so many pretty-but-simpering embroidered table runners. Nice, often very nice, but common.

But I’ve never seen a toast cloth before!

The most perfect aspect of this little cloth, though, is that it gives evidence of an imperfect human. I didn’t notice until I was ironing that the cloth bears an evident mistake. That daydreaming girl was, perhaps, in a bit of a fog. Or she was in a hurry to finish and do something more pressing or more interesting (maybe go flirt with a boy). Or maybe she was trying to figure out how to escape the life society had assigned to her, escape the sewing and cooking. Maybe she was dreaming of going to college and heading a major corporation.

Whatever. Wherever her mind was, she missed a whole line of drawnwork in her stitching.

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We can see that she cut the threads and pulled them out of the fabric but she failed to do the stitches that would define the drawnwork and finish the design.

She was human. She made a mistake that a machine wouldn’t make. Her hand missed stitches, her attention flagged, and by objective measures, she screwed up.

And yet . . . it’s the very flaw that elevates the work and makes it special.

I find this endearing and incredibly reassuring.

Seeing this mistake makes me like the girl who did the work—she is real to me, she is human, in a way she would never be, if her work was without flaw.

And I can also relate to her. I am human and I make mistakes.

Her mistake helps me understand that, in our world of making and creating by hand, mistakes and oversights are more than just inevitable.

Mistakes and oversights can be charming, they can be more engaging than perfection. They reflect the work of a real person and, in so doing, they can touch and appeal to other real people.

I’m not saying I’ll go out of my way to  make mistakes (as if that were necessary!) I’m not saying I’ll be sloppy and stop striving for a very fine finished product. I’m just recognizing that a mistake can enhance, rather than detract from, the appeal of work done by hand.

The mistake can make it perfect.

Fun with Ice and Snow. And Wind.

I was having a little lie-down yesterday, on a bitterly cold but sunny afternoon, when the usually-placid cat on the bed started growling.

She was looking intently out the window and I thought, “Racoon.”

Not hardly!

This para-skier swooped and flipped and flew outside our windows for an hour or more, in spite of wind chills well below zero. Later, another guy joined him, so we had a pair-a-skiers. (Sorry.)

My Superpower

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Who knew?

It took me much of my adult life to discover my superpower.

I knew I had strengths—I’m good with my hands and am a stable genius (although, honestly, the bar for that seems to have gotten considerably lower recently!)

But my work as a weaver has taught me that I am . . .

A yarn whisperer.

I can untangle any knot and, more, I enjoy it! I relish a good snarl so I can show off my superior ability.

People bring their tangles to me. My husband, in particular, relies on me to unkink his embroidery thread and untangle his warp threads when weaving. I balk and roll my eyes, but I secretly enjoy every moment.

I read accounts of how other weavers grow so frustrated that they cut their tangled weaving off the loom and throw it away! That is unthinkable to me! The waste, both of materials and of a good chance to make things right? That’s a job for the yarn whisperer!

In many ways, I should’ve recognized my superpower sooner–it’s an extension of  so many other parts of me.

I have always hated loose ends and chaos. Remember those really fine necklace chains that could get all knotted. I would spend hours on those.

Those piles of vintage linens I iron into submission? Just more evidence of my need to bring order to chaos.

I read murder mysteries and cheer on the protagonists as they untangle the knotty crimes. In the books I like to read, all’s well because it ends well . . . and tidy.

When we had a sailboat, I was fascinated by marlinspike seamanship—the making of nautical knots . . . but I wasn’t very good at it. I like untying knots better than tying them.

From all my years doing embroidery and quilting, I knew I was good at untangling. It’s only with my experience in weaving, though, that my true dominance has emerged.

With much other crafting, only one or two threads are in use at any given moment—they can tangle but not enough to test the mettle of a true artist of untangling. In weaving, we deal with hundreds of threads at a time—floppy, unruly threads that are just itching to become a tangled mess!

I have to admit, my strength grows from weakness. T.H. White, in his book, The Once and Future King, told us that Sir Lancelot was known for his extreme kindness. He also explains that that kindness grew because Lancelot knew, in his heart, that he had a propensity for great cruelty. He had to be unremittingly kind to overcome his weakness.

My superpower grows out of my weakness. I can be impatient, I rush, I take shortcuts. I’m lazy and leave yarn out where cats can find it and have their way with it . . .

I end up with warps that are made up of 400 threads, hastily wound, and full of tangles. I end up with skeins and cones of yarn that are mangled and jumbled and muddled . . . the fault lies in myself.

But faced with these messes, the other Me kicks in! The fumbling, rushing Clark Kent steps into a phone booth and out bounds the superwoman, the Yarn Whisperer! I am patient. I go slow. I do whatever needs to be done, even if it means shutting the cats out of the room and sweet talking that yarn.

And, eventually, it all lines up, gets sorted, falls into place. It’s so satisfying to use one’s power for good.

What’s that you say?

Well, yes, it might be smarter and easier to avoid the tangles from the start . . . but where’s the fun in that??

A fish gotta swim, a bird gotta fly . . . and I gotta untangle.

I’ve got to whisper to that yarn . . .

And, how about you? What’s your superpower?

Hand Quilt Along: And Sew, It Begins

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It was as if I’d never touched a needle before.

In the two months since I finished my most recent hand quilting project, it seems I’d forgotten everything.

I couldn’t find my thimble.

I had no idea what quilting design to use.

The calluses on my fingers were gone so every stitch hurt.

My quilting hoop seemed like a stranger to me.

Does this happen to you? Do you find that no matter how many times you’ve been successful at a craft, you can still struggle when you begin a new project?

It happens to me, every single time. It doesn’t matter what the project is, the first few hours, or sometimes days, are discouraging.

My current weaving project is a hot mess. The quilting was a full-blown struggle. Even when I go out to exercise, I find the first 15 minutes an uphill battle.

The thing that keeps me going is that I know, for a fact, through long experience, that it will get better.

The rough edges will all smooth out, the hiccups will stop, and, soon, I’ll hit my stride, find that rhythm, and enjoy the process again.

That happens, too, every single time.

And so it has been with the hand quilting. In the course of working on this first block, I’ve been high and low, I’ve laughed, I’ve cried. And now I know I’ll be fine.

I started with this particular block because Susan B. Anthony was a key figure in women’s suffrage and women’s rights.

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If you recall, this quilt was made as part of a “block of the month” project held by my quilting guild. Each month, we got directions for a pieced block and the story of an American woman who was important  in advocating for women’s right to vote.

I wanted to take the project further, beyond suffrage to women’s rights, in general, and I decided to add the embroidered quotations from women (and one man). I chose quotations that appealed to me, with an eye toward variety and diversity.

Susan B. Anthony was at the center of the push for women’s rights in the United States and, so, she is at the center of the quilt and the obvious starting place for the hand quilting.

For these blocks, I want the focus to be on the words so I chose simple quilting. For the background I am using cross hatching and then just stitching in the ditch around the half-square triangles that form the borders.

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I don’t usually mark a quilt with a pencil—I really hate that process and would normally just use masking tape to guide my stitches. The time, though, I was worried that using masking tape would pull out some of the embroidery stitches when I removed the tape, so I did mark the square lightly with a mechanical pencil.

I settled in, warm under the weight of the quilt. I re-introduced myself to the thimble, the needle, the hoop, the process.

One block down, 19 to go.

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I intend to quilt my way through the Winter Olympics!

 


This Hand Quilt Along is an opportunity for hand quilters and piecers to share and motivate one another. We post every three weeks, to show our progress and encourage one another.  If you have a hand quilting project and would like to join our group contact Kathy at the link below.

Kathy, Lori, Margaret, Kerry, Emma, Tracy, Deb, Connie, Deborah,  SusanJessica, SherryNanette, Sassy and Edith.

The Perfect Day . . .

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Did you grow up where the winters are frigid, the snow falls sideways, and the local weather forecasters’ voices rise in excitement when they discuss the next storm?

If not, I pity you. Really—you just don’t know about the perfect day.

Ask anyone who was once a 10-year-old in the northern United States—the absolute perfect day is a snow day.

The uninitiated may not even know the concept. A snow day, my friends, is a day when you thought you had to go to school, take the math quiz, hand in your spelling homework, and eat congealed Spanish rice in the cafeteria, but, instead . . . you get to stay home!

Snow days are free days. Days that come out of nowhere, where all the normal rules are suspended.

No school. No backpack full of books, no standing in sub-zero temps, waiting for the school bus to come.

A day full of empty hours to fill with laziness, with daytime TV, a foray outside to make snow angels, hot chocolate waiting when you get back in. Maybe your mom turns on the oven—it helps keep the house warm, after all—and bakes cookies.

The decision about when to declare a snow day was always made by a grownup and grownups, it seems, are hesitant to give in to the weather. Have they forgotten how happy a snow day made them, all those years ago, when they were little?

When I was a kid, the grownup who made the snow day decisions for our rural school district was none other than  . . . my father. He was the head bus driver and business manger of the school, and we lived as far from the school as anyone in the district. We also lived way up on a hill. The feeling was that, if Don Sanger could make it to school, anyone else could.

And Don Sanger always thought he could make it to school. He was not one to let a few feet of snow slow him down!

It was a heavy burden to bear. My sister and I would plead and beg for him to call a snow day. He’d go out to check the conditions and we would wait, hardly breathing, for him to come back, even though we knew what he was going to say.

No big deal. No snow day needed.

Then we’d all manage to get to school and our friends would harass us . . . why couldn’t we have convinced out father to be more reasonable, to give us kids a perfect day?

It seems that schools are much more likely to bow to the weather these days, much more willing to err on the side of safety and tell people to stay home. I wonder if the kids appreciate snow as much as we did, when they get so many of them?

The funny thing is that, once you’ve known the joy of snow days, that feeling seems never to leave you.

I’ve been retired, lo, these many years and, thinking logically, every day is a snow day now. My days are always my own. I never have to eat cafeteria Spanish rice again. Snow days should have no meaning for me.

But then comes a day like today, where all the local schools have cancelled classes because it snowed and the winds are going to gust 40 miles an hour, and the windchill factor is going to be something like 40-below-zero Fahrenheit.

In my heart, this is still the perfect day. I have an ironclad excuse not to go anywhere, not to the post office, not to the assisted living center where my mom lives, not to the store, or the dump.

And, in staying home, I will feel free, even freer than usual, to do *exactly* as I please. The “shoulds” of vacuuming or listing new items on Etsy will be put aside because it’s a snow day! I’ll read for pleasure, I’ll nap, I’ll turn my hands to whatever I choose at the moment.

Maybe we’ll go out and shovel snow. Maybe we’ll come in to hot chocolate. Maybe I’ll turn on the oven and bake cookies . . . it’ll help keep the house warm, after all.

Don Sanger’s little girl loves a snow day . . .