Manly Hands at Home: He’s Still At It!

In the hive of activity hereabouts, my hands are not the only ones that ply a needle and throw a shuttle.

I’ve written before about the manly maker in the house, the guy who has the patience for counted cross stitch and who weaves in the next room over from mine.

Don’s been busy!

His most recent weaving project was his most ambitious yet.

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He loves these complicated overshot patterns. It takes longer to dress the loom, with its diabolical threading pattern, than it does to actually do the weaving, and a moment’s inattention can throw the whole thing off.

This pattern is called Lee’s Surrender and I suspect many weavers have waved the white flag and given up on this overshot. But not Don! The weaving takes two shuttles and a combination of the off-white cotton thread, quite fine, and the tweedy blue-green wool that makes the pattern.

He also wove this runner as a custom request from a buyer. She had seen a similar runner in our Etsy shop but in burgundy, navy, and white, and asked Don to make her one in just navy and off-white. This is overshot, too, and the pattern is called Anabel.

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Weaving has taken time from his cross-stitch projects but he has worked on small projects to give him something productive to do as he watches March Madness. He’s made a bunch of these bookmarks—we will both need to do more reading!

And he continues work on his own Christmas stocking, to complement the one he made for me.

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He finished one gorgeous cross-stitched piece 4 years ago, a long, narrow bell pull design, and it has been rolled up in a drawer since then. When he recently pulled it out and asked me to finish it, I panicked! Me? Cut it? Sew it? Try to make it into the wall hanging it was meant to be? With him hanging over my shoulder the whole time?!

I don’t think so. Time to stick it back in the drawer.

But then we found the perfect solution. I’ve been following a blog for quite awhile, where the blogger, Karen, shows the end results of a wonderful service she offers.

In her business, Averyclaire Needle Arts, Karen takes other people’s work, their embroidery and cross stitch, and finishes them, in expert and creative ways, into pillows, ornaments, wall hangings, and small free-standing displays. The attention to detail is amazing! I knew Karen could handle what I could not!

I contacted Karen and within a few weeks she had transformed Don’s work.

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She communicated with me regularly, worked quickly, charged only a very reasonable fee, and amazed us with the product of her labor. Don’s handiwork is now permanently out of the drawer and being admired, as it so deserves. If you ever need finish work for your stitching, I can’t recommend Karen’s work highly enough!

Don and I do very different kinds of work. Even when we both weave, our weaving goes in completely different directions and reflects our personalities and aesthetics.

But it is wonderful to have someone under this same roof who shares my love of making and of creating, who can relate to the frustrations and the joys of the tasks at hand, who likes to be busy and productive, who loves to finish a project and can’t wait to start another one.

So I wonder—what will he make next . . . ?

The Things I Do For You . . .

I wanted to be sure that you fully appreciate what you have, all of you who are enjoying spring or, in the Southern Hemisphere, late summer! So I bundled up and went out to get some photos of our late-winter wonderland.

As all the bloggers in the northeast US will tell you, we got a big ol’ storm yesterday and last night. It reached blizzard strength here, with wind gusts of 50 miles per hour.

I can’t really say how much snow we got, since the blowing means we see bare ground in spots, but have 4 foot drifts in other places. The reports from weather sources say we got about 2 feet of snow.

We’ll spend a good bit of time today with the snow blower and shovel, and then come back to the cozy house, to enjoy our enforced solitude!

I put captions on the photos, to help you know what you’re seeing! In the mosaic, hover your mouse over the photo to see the caption.

And my favorite photos, which show how the snow drifts and creates beautiful waves.

Edited to add: HUGE progress made but there’s still a car in there . . . IMG_0852

“It’s All About Me” Monday: The Book

I often refer to “my next life.”* I have plans for it. In my next life, I will start weaving sooner so I can learn more and be better at it. In my next life, I will study and work as an art conservator. And as an archaeologist. And I’ll write murder mysteries.

But I have a previous life, too.

And in my previous life, I made this:

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My previous life was as an academic, a college professor, and I did what academics do. I did research and published my analysis.

My field was rhetorical criticism, the analysis of public persuasion. Think of it as literary criticism but, instead of turning my critiques to literature, I endeavored to understand how humans influence, or persuade, each other in more explicit and strategic ways.

My particular area of interest was protest rhetoric and, even more specific, protest song

In some ways, the making I did then was similar to the making I do now and in more ways it was really different.

I loved aspects of it. I loved the subject matter and feeling like I was solving a puzzle when I better understood why a song like “We Shall Overcome” struck so many chords with so many people when other, similar, songs were soon forgotten.

I enjoyed all aspects of the analysis and the learning but I did not enjoy this kind of writing. Once I had the insights, I didn’t care about sharing them, except maybe in class, with my students.

The pressure to “publish or perish” rubbed me entirely the wrong way; it seemed to strengthen my will to resist. And, back then, in the distant past of my previous life, things like footnotes and indexes had to be sorted out laboriously, without help from computer programs . . .

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The whole time I was doing academic writing, I fantasized about writing murder mysteries. Murder mysteries set in an academic department at a comprehensive college in a Rust Belt city in the Northeast. Murder mysteries where the victims were pompous tenured professors . . .

The heroine of my never-to-be-written mysteries was a bright, untenured female assistant prof, super cute and stupendously popular with students, and with an incisive, agile mind, able to see patterns of speech and behavior that led to the murderers.

Sigh.

I hardly remember the me I was in this previous life, even though it’s only been 6 years since I retired and left it behind. Sometimes I come across the book and open it randomly and have no earthly memory of thinking those thoughts, let alone writing the words!

I guess it’s nice to know that this book is in reference libraries and people actually quote passages from it. I used to get a kick out of doing vanity searches in the Internet and seeing where the book showed up.

But I get much more of a kick out of the things I make now. They please me in a way my academic work never did. I’m not sure why that is, but it undeniably so.

So, it’s very clear to me what I need to be doing in my current life! Not what someone tells me I have to do, not what I am expected to do, but what I want and need and love to do.

But, enough about me! Let’s talk about you. How do you like my book?

And what about you? What will you do in your next life? Will it be the same as that which you’re doing now?


* A note—I don’t really think I get another life, as much as I love the idea. It’s more my way of saying “woulda, coulda, shoulda”!

The Not-So-Boring Begats

When I was a child, I went to church.

In that church, we read the Bible. The whole Bible.

Or at least that was the idea, the goal. We were encouraged to read the whole thing, as well as memorize the names of the books of the Bible (which I can still reel off with weird precision 50-ish years later, for the first 20 or so).

Parts of the Bible were interesting. But then one would get to the boring begats, the long lists of genealogy, like this one in Genesis:

[7] And Seth lived after he begat Enos eight hundred and seven years, and begat sons and daughters:
[8] And all the days of Seth were nine hundred and twelve years: and he died.
[9] And Enos lived ninety years, and begat Cainan:
[10] And Enos lived after he begat Cainan eight hundred and fifteen years, and begat sons and daughters:
[11] And all the days of Enos were nine hundred and five years: and he died.
[12] And Cainan lived seventy years, and begat Mahalaleel:
[13] And Cainan lived after he begat Mahalaleel eight hundred and forty years, and begat sons and daughters:
[14] And all the days of Cainan were nine hundred and ten years: and he died.
[15] And Mahalaleel lived sixty and five years, and begat Jared:
[16] And Mahalaleel lived after he begat Jared eight hundred and thirty years, and begat sons and daughters:
[17] And all the days of Mahalaleel were eight hundred ninety and five years: and he died.

And on and on. Who were these people and how did they live so long? These were the sections I skipped.

I find, now, that my life is full of a different sort of begats. I think of this as the crafting begats, the way one project begets others.

These begats are anything but boring!

Each weaving project begets new ones. I start with one color and think what a different one would look like. Or one treadling pattern and imagine others. I work on a scarf and want to see how the structure would translate to towels or a baby blanket.

Each quilt begets new ones. As I work on the redwork squares to reproduce the antique quilt I have, I think of ideas for a modern version, with blocks that reflect my current life.

This weaving project begets ideas for a quilt—wouldn’t this look pretty in pieced fabric?

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I work on the quilt I am making, with quotes about women’s rights, and think of embroidering a short phrase, a few words, to represent every day of my year, a stitched journal.

I iron vintage linens and inevitably find pieces with damage that makes them unsellable. I put them aside because, in my mind, they beget a quilt made of the pretty bits pieced together. Or they beget rag rugs, woven from strips of the usable fabric. Or they beget special buttons . . .

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I imagine this organic moving from one project to the next, each unique but related to something that came before, happens to us all—gardeners, bakers, painters, potters . . . makers.

With my making begats, I’ll never be bored.

My projects are fruitful and they multiply. How about yours?

The Road to Summer

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I love this view.

Not so much for what it shows us now but for what it represents.

I’ve never walked down this particular path but I know that there lies, under the snow, a dirt road.

And that road leads to summer.

Roads like this exist all over the North Country. In the winter, they are never plowed, no one ventures there.

But at the end of all the roads, you can still see that glimpse of what’s to come. That blue at the end of the path? That’s lake and sky . . . and the promise of summer

Come May, maybe Memorial Day, after the snow is long gone and the mud has dried out, those dirt roads will beckon under canopies of new green. That blue sky and lake at the end will draw family members back to “camp.”

I’ve never seen the specific camp at the end of this path but I have a very good idea what it looks like. Small, with a couple of added-on rooms that were probably poorly planned and done by workers lacking skill. There’s probably indoor plumbing and running water but that, too, is a recent addition.

There won’t be heat in this building because it’s never needed—the small house is used only in summer. The rooms are small and probably dark but no one spends any time inside anyway. A large screened-in porch provides a transition to outside and maybe a spot for sleeping during really hot nights.

The yard is where the action is. In the yard you’ll find picnic tables and Adirondack chairs, quite possibly a hammock. And a jumble of summer toys—kayaks, canoes, water skis. A fire pit, for sure, and a big grill for cooking.

On winter days, when it’s really quiet, I can walk past the end of this dirt road and hear the sounds of summer. The buzz of the jet skis, the hollering of kids as they splash in the lake, the calls of “how do you want your burger done?”

We don’t have a long dirt driveway at our house and our house, now, is a year-round home, with all the mod cons.

But we strive to preserve the feeling of “camp” and days when family and friends gather, the days are long and mellow, the music lifts us, the food and drink sustain us. We look to the days when our short asphalt driveway transforms into the essence of a long dirt road—that leads to summer.

What’s Your Style?

I wrote recently about stitching being like handwriting, so distinctive and impossible to copy. As I thought about this more, I thought about the most distinctive aspect of our handwriting—our signatures.

The idea is that our signatures are unique and, according to some people, reflections of our characters, who we are. But does that just apply to our handwriting?

I thought about some of the world’s best-known artists and how recognizable their styles are. I think I could recognize a Vermeer or a Van Gogh anywhere.

And I thought about the bloggers I read regularly—you folks. Honestly, I believe I could pick out who wrote what even if your names weren’t on your posts! Your styles are so distinctive!

What about the rest of the things you make? Your gardening? Your sewing? Your quilting? Even your cooking?

I bought a mixed lot of linens on eBay recently and got three items, among many others, I would swear are by the same hand—they have what, to me, is clearly a signature style.

The three pieces are a table runner, a storage pouch for a dressing table, and a “splasher,” a cloth designed to be hung over the bar on a washstand to keep water from splashing on the wall.

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A splasher would hang over a bar on a washstand, to protect the plaster walls.

Here’s what I think they tell me about the maker:

  • She loved color—bright, saturated colors. She didn’t adhere to a bunch of set rules about what colors “go together” but, rather, used what pleased her. Maybe she wasn’t one to follow fashion but had a strong sense of personal style.
  • She saw every blank piece of fabric as a canvas. She was looking for places to apply her skill and prettify her home. She actively liked embroidery, rather than doing it as a chore.
  • She was practical and wanted to make useful items. These three items all have a job of work to do, beyond being pretty. Even the table runner may have been designed for a specific table—the one in the sewing room. Look at those snazzy scissors added to each corner!

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  • She was patient and skilled and confident, and maybe a little vain about her ability. All three items have hems finished with buttonhole stitch, a time-consuming and fussy stitch. But she did it to perfection!

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  • She might’ve been rural or a little old-fashioned. The use of splasher cloths was really a late-nineteenth or early-20th century thing, when people had washstands and pitchers and bowls in bedrooms, rather than indoor plumbing. My guess is that these pieces were made later than that, probably 1930s or ‘40s.

I feel like I could recognize this woman’s work now if I came across a piece in a different setting. I feel like I know her a little and like her style!

I admit what I’m doing here is little more than a parlor game, speculating without ever being able to know whether I’m right or wrong.

But it also leads me to look at my own work over the years and wonder whether someone could say, “These things, these, were made by the same person.”

It’s harder to do with one’s own work, partly because I’m not just using the handwork itself but bringing in things I know to be true about myself.

I think my weaving so far shows that I am practical and value making things that have a function, the job of work to do. Of all I’ve made, probably 75% of it is dishtowels.

I like color, or think I should, but I am not confident. My weaving has a lot of neutral expanses with bands of color thrown in. Or I use a neutral and one color. It’s safe.

I like traditional style and am not adventurous. I choose straightforward, fairly easy patterns to weave and do variations of them rather than trying new things. I also use traditional natural fibers—no sparkly novelty yarn for me!

My quilting tells a similar story in some ways. Because I want what I make to be useful, I have, with one exception, only ever made bed-sized quilts.

I like traditional and tend to use the old-fashioned patchwork patterns that my grandmothers might’ve chosen.

I have issues with color. I am not confident choosing patterned fabrics and don’t really like them. I tend to make quilts with a few, limited, solid colors. It’s safe.

One thing that would connect a few of my recent quilts and would mark them as mine is the use of embroidered words. I don’t know if this makes my recent work more didactic and pointed or if it just means I like to take the time to ponder certain words. Or both . . .

In all my work, I see evidence of wanting it to be good quality but not necessarily perfect. I can see evidence that I subscribe to the notion that it’s good enough “if a man galloping by on a horse wouldn’t notice a mistake at 50 yards.”

I think I could take this further, to apply it to the writing I do and other things I make. Maybe even what I bake? Or the gardening I do? Actually, I suspect I could apply it to the clothes I wear and the way I decorate my house!

But I’m interested in your thoughts on the subject. Can you think of someone’s work that is instantly recognizable to you? What are the elements that give it away?

What about applying the idea to your own work? Are there elements that cut across the work you do? What would your work tell us about you?

Do you have a signature style?

We Have So Much . . .

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Oodles of creative energy and desire. A strong desire, the impulse to make, to create . . .

And no resources. No thread, no yarn, no fabric. Nothing to turn my hands to. I can’t imagine . . .

A lot of my recent pleasure in this complicated world comes from my poor power to make something. When I get too overwhelmed by the news, I can turn away, pick up a rainbow of pretty threads, and play. And heal.

I’m reading a book that helps me realize how very, very lucky I am to have that outlet.

The book is Homefront and Battlefield: Quilts and Context in the Civil War, Madelyn Shaw and Lynne Zacek Bassett. It was published as a companion to a 2012 show that was organized by the now-defunct American Textile History Museum. The show traveled to other museums, including Shelburne Museum of Vermont, where Don and I saw the collection a couple years ago.

The show was spectacular, using “quilts, textiles, clothing, and other artifacts to connect deeply moving and insightful personal stories about the war, its causes, and its aftermath with the broader national context and public history.”

I didn’t write a blog post about this experience, mostly because photography wasn’t allowed and the impact of the show was visual—items included the hemp rope said to have been used to hang abolitionist John Brown, quilts made for soldiers to carry with them to battle, and all manner of personal textile items—knapsacks, clothing, and “housewives”—small sewing kits made for soldiers to carry with them in order to do their own sewing repairs.

Seeing these items moved me greatly and brought the reality of the Civil War to life for me, and I bought the well-written and beautifully illustrated book so I could learn more and have the photographs of the wonderful artifacts. I would recommend it to anyone interested in textiles, domestic social history, and human resilience.

I’ve been re-reading the book lately, in another time of American upheaval and uncertainty. Sometimes, as I read, I almost envy the women left home during the Civil War—they were full of a sense of purpose and knew exactly what they could do to make a difference during difficult times. They sewed, they knit, they wove, they quilted, and they sent the product of their labor to the soldiers whose lives were made substantially more bearable as a result.

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from the website of the American Textile History Museum, athm.org 

In these times that try one’s soul, as I turn my hand to weaving, sewing, quilting, I have no such sense of broader purpose. I am doing what I do for myself and my own state of mind. Making is a balm.

Yet, reading Homefront and Battlefield also encourages me to think about how lucky I am, and not just in the obvious ways—we are not engaged in a war with ourselves, I am not sending sons to battle to fight and kill their brothers. I am not burying the silver in the yard to hide it from the enemy.

I am lucky, too, in that in my need to make and to turn my hand to a job of work, I have unlimited power to do so and unlimited resources to draw from.

One of the points made in the book, and something that had never occurred to me is that, often during years of the Civil War, women had nothing–nothing— to work with.

As a result of any number of realities of war, there were no raw materials to be had. No cotton because it was all diverted to the war effort. No wool because sheep were killed to feed troops, rather than kept for their wool. A Georgia woman described the plight in her diary, saying, “There is no cloth to be had and no thread, no yarn—nor anything to do with. Time passes heavily under such circumstances” (164).

Indeed, it would.

No cloth? No thread? No yarn?? Just worry, and a frustrated desire to turn hands to fruitful labor, to make something that could help.

I have worry. But I have yarn and thread and fabric. I can sublimate my worry, my agitation, into something positive.

I read examples all the time of women channeling grief or anger or worry into their craft, turning to the soothing rhythm of knitting needles clicking or the needle and thread purring through cloth . . .

Can you imagine not having that outlet?