Lessons from My Garden

 

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I ache all over.

I’ve spent a fair amount of time lately, and the better part of the last two two days, outside trying to bring some sense of order to our yard and gardens.

The temperature has been in the 60s (call it 18 celsius) and it’s been sunny, so it’s been a delight to be outdoors. But it’s hard work, is yard work. And since my husband had yet another ankle surgery last month, a lot of it is falling to me.

I learn, or re-learn, many lessons in these days of April.

  • This isn’t yet a lovely time of year. It has its moments and, all in all, it’s better than February, but April is pretty chilly, quite windy, and way too wet.
  • Living on a lake has its downside. Ever since we had to leave our home for 6 weeks several years ago, when Lake Champlain flooded and we could only get in the house by wearing chest waders, we have had a healthy, nervous respect for the lake in April. It’s high right now, into flood stage, but not yet really a problem . . . knock wood.
  • I now know where I planted my mother’s irises. We sold her place late last fall and I had to rush to dig up the irises and bring them here. And I had no idea where I put them! Now I know and I’m thrilled to see them. It’s good to have something new, and old, to look forward to.
  • All the leaves from upstate New York, most from Vermont, and quite a few from Canada blow in every late fall and form dense, thick mats on our lawn. The tops look dry but underneath they’re soaked and in spots still frozen. The Canadian encroachers bother me most and I think maybe we should build a wall.
  • The gym didn’t do me much good at all. I dutifully went, all winter long, and sweated on the treadmill and that elliptical thingy, and am still knackered after two hours raking.
  • The corollary to which is: the best overall way to stay fit is to do yard work.
  • I did a wretchedly bad job, just really lazy, of cleaning up the gardens last autumn, which is proof of another pivotal lesson of life: You can pay now or you can pay later.
  • I’ve been reminded that little things offer huge rewards after winter—that one golden crocus, the old cats that act like kittens again and zoom up trees, the bits of chartreuse that are thriving under the frozen mat of dead leaves—it’s that color that happens only in early spring and is so fleeting and perfect.
  • And I’ve learned, again, the pleasure of the bone-deep tiredness that comes from working outside, to care for our bit of Earth.

What lessons does your garden have to teach?

In Praise of Crafty Newbies

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“Hi! I was just gifted a loom—I’m so excited to be a loomer! 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, 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.

There have always been newbies but, in days gone by, maybe they weren’t so obvious. A lot of us learned some basic skills 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.

We had a huge laugh in our sewing group a couple years ago, when a then-novice at quiltmaking was bemoaning the fact that her sewing machine bobbin always ran out at the most inopportune time. She felt she’d just get into a rhythm and then, boom, she’d have to stop, unthread the machine, fill the bobbin, etc., etc. Another, very experienced, member of the group listened carefully and said, gently, “Well, at the beginning a project, I just fill up a bunch of bobbins, to get me through.” Stunned silence from our sweet newbie . . . and then she said, “Duh. I would never have thought of that.” And now none of the rest of us will ever forget it!

  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.

Just last week, I got to show a friend the basics of hand quilting. She’s a far more experienced, better quilter than I am but she’s never taken the plunge for quilting by hand. It gave me a big thrill when I could show her and watch her pick it up very quickly!

  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 skilled and capable and motivated to keep learning.

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

I am one of those people who loatheslooking 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. For instance, it had never occurred to me to fill a bunch of bobbins at the start of a project  . . .

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

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

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.

 

 

 

Hand Quilt Along: Women’s Rights

On November 8, 2016, I watched our US election returns, fully expecting that we would be welcoming our first woman president.

As I watched, I embroidered on this block, with the words of the woman I was sure would be that president.

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I was stunned, horrified, and so, so disappointed when things worked out so differently, so cataclysmically wrong.

Disheartened, I stopped working on the quilt for a while but eventually knew that I needed, perhaps more than ever, to finish it.

And through the intervening two years, it’s given me some comfort to work on this. New women leaders have emerged while established standard bearers, including Hillary Rodham Clinton, continue to work toward keeping America America.

I admire Hillary Clinton. Nancy Pelosi. Elizabeth Warren.

I admire Kamala Harris and Kirsten Gillibrand and Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez, and the other newly-elected women in government, every one of them, and Stacey Abrams and so many others.

I admire the women of Planned Parenthood and the ones who march for women’s rights, and women doctors and scientists and authors and artists, and every woman who has found her own way to say, “I am. I want my human rights.”

And, of course, I also admire the women who have found ways to express themselves when their expressive options were limited. And that brings us to my other quilt-in-progress.

I’ve started crocheting together the fusion squares.

I spent some time laying the squares out in patterns on my bed, trying to decide what worked. But I have almost no patience for that kind of work.

So I settled for a layout that put the all-white squares in the center, with more colorful ones bordering them. I stacked the squares up in order and had a plan, minimal though it was, and tucked all of the squares into a safe cabinet so I could take them out in order, to crochet.

The next day, I found that one of the cats (I’m looking at you, Gigi!) had finagled her way into the cabinet and wreaked havoc with my plan, minimal though it was. The squares were tossed every which way.

So, we’ll just have to wait and see how this turns out!


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.

KathyLoriMargaretKerryEmmaTracyDebConnieSusan,  Nanette,  EdithSharonKarrin, and Gretchen

My Weaving Ways (Winter 2019)

Are you tired of reading about weaving? If so, avert your eyes!

But unless you want to read about my outings with my mother or going to the gym or learning to give subcutaneous fluids to my cat, weaving is currently what I’ve got to talk about.

It’s the craft I’m doing now, every day if I can.

Since I last reported the details, I’ve woven some scarves. I don’t actually love them, although I loved the variegated thread I started with. It’s Tencel, called Painted Desert– this combination of colors just moves me.

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But, as I tend to do, I feel like I over-complicated things and sort of lost the beauty of the thread. I made two long scarves and one that I sewed up as a cowl.

I made a set of 8 placemats for my sister’s friend, to coordinate with towels I wove for her last year.

And I wove my shawl, my gift to me.

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I’ve also woven new iterations of projects I’ve made before.

I know lots of people never want to make the same project twice but I quite enjoy it. The first time I go through the process, I learn SO much, it seems a shame not to apply the lessons.

These placemats, however, took that concept to the extreme. I had made them in off-white and in turquoise last year. This winter I made 10 in the light gray, for a customer who then decided the color wasn’t right (grr), and then made 12 more in the off-white for another customer, who loves them.

Each time I wove these I learned more about doing them efficiently and I made small changes that improved them each time.  Truth be told, I got a little bored with them and yet . . . I have a color combination in mind that I really must try. Soon.

And I’ve made these tab towels again, for the fourth time. I just really love making them. They sell well, they allow me to use up colors I’m running low on, and, because they are smallish and I can change colors with each, I never get bored. I made 12 of them from the last warp!

Right now, I have projects on two looms. I gave you a glimpse of the veggie towels last week and, to use up more odds and ends of leftovers and stash yarns in cotton, I am making these towels of bright stripes.

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And I’m thinking about what comes next.

The arrival of nice weather means I’ll have access to the loom on our glassed-in porch again. It’ll mean I can drag my small band loom outside and weave by the water. I have plans for scarves (ones I like better, I hope!), coasters, maybe a rag rug for the kitchen—think how much the cats would enjoy destroying that!

And in a few months I can write about My Weaving Ways, the summer edition.