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

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.

Our Weaving Ways (Winter 2017)

It does feel like the winter of our discontent.

While we normally enjoy our cozy days at home, in a happy fog of hominess and solitude, buoyed by cats purring, a warm fire, and comfort food, this winter is different.

Politics, chaotic change, and uncertainty intrude at every level. I spend too much time reading the New York Times and checking Twitter, and rolling my eyes, feeling my gut clench. I know I should walk away from the computer but that seems irresponsible.

I need to know.

But I also need to soothe myself and seek some solace.

And so I keep doing the things I always do, as insignificant as they sometimes seem.

The quilting, the embroidery, the ironing, the sewing group, spending time with you.

And the weaving.

The quiet repetition of winding warp, of slowly dressing the loom, of throwing the shuttle, and watching something grow from nothing, demand my focus and let me forget the so-called real world for awhile.

So, here’s what we’ve been weaving, since, after all, this is a place to celebrate loving hands and that which is handmade, not a place of lament and worry.

A bunch of towels:

The large photo shows the towel I made for Caroline, who won the giveaway late last year. Others were gifts for friends.

These ended up in the Etsy shop:

I’ve also made some scarves. This one is the first thing I made on my new loom:

And two others:

And a baby blanket:

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Don’s been busy, too. He made this beautiful runner in colors that make me think of the tropics, along with coordinating placemats:

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And he just finished this runner for a customer:

Even though we’ve been cranky and distracted by news of the world, we carry on and do the things we love.

I know I won’t stop worrying but I also now I won’t stop hoping and, in that hope, I’ll continue to create because creating feels like building, and building feels positive . . . and I need all the positive I can get right now.

When All Else Fails

What do you do when you don’t feel like doing anything? When you have no mojo, no forward momentum?

Do you accept that state and just hang out? That sounds nice . . .

It may be clear that I feel a pressing need to be productive. It seems to be critical to my sense of self and satisfaction.

So, I am rather undone on a day when I feel like doing nothing, when it all seems off kilter.

My antidote these days is to sit down and do some quilting by hand.

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I had such a day recently. I managed to exercise for a bit and make some candy for a customer. And eat breakfast. But then I just stalled. I tried weaving and that wasn’t the answer. I ended up unweaving almost all I wove because my heart wasn’t in it and I kept making mistakes.

I did some prep work for embroidery squares for two different quilts. Blah.

The weather was windy, cold, icy . . . no hope of a walk outside.

I even tried to nap and that didn’t help.

In my heart, I knew just what I needed. I sat down in my little corner with the soft cushion on the sturdy chair, with the bright light over my shoulder, and my red and white quilt on my quilting hoop.

I put my thimble on and got stitching. When I quilt by hand, I use the method of rocking the needle through the layers of fabric and batting, loading 4 or 5 stitches on the needle at a time.

This method is rhythmic and results in small, even stitches—a joy for a quilter to behold.

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I rock the needle and straight lines emerge. The flat, pieced blocks gain a texture, any wrinkles are plumped out as the fabric is sewn down around the interior batting.

Quilting in an open area of plain fabric poses no difficulties. The needle slides through easily and quickly and the magic happens.

I imagine my father felt the same satisfaction as he plowed a field, watching the straight, dark furrows replace untilled pasture.

Quilting by machine is all the rage these days and it can be fantastically impressive. I just know I could never get this calm sense of accomplishment from quilting on a sewing machine—sewing machines make me tense and frustrated.

I am sure hand quilting might make lots of people tense and frustrated, too. But it soothes me. And I’m not even certain why that is, except it’s difficult to make a mistake, it’s fairly easy and pretty mindless, and you can really see the benefit of the time invested.

I guess the point is that I hope we each have a place to turn when we want to make progress, feel productive, snap ourselves out of a funk. I know one of my “pick me ups” is hand quilting.

What’s yours? What soothes you, when your day seems off-kilter?


Just a footnote: Thank you for the time and energy so many of you invested in reading and adding wonderful comments and interactions on the Advent, My Way series. You made my holiday season memorable! Happy New Year!

Advent, My Way #24

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My favorite Christmas song, from my favorite Christmas album.

In all my ambivalence about the religious aspects of Christmas, I know one thing—I hope you all will find happiness and contentment at this season.

As the song says,

I bid you pleasure and I bid you cheer,
From a heathen and a pagan,
On the side of the rebel Jesus.

The Rebel Jesus, by Jackson Browne

The streets are filled with laughter and light
And the music of the season
And the merchants’ windows are all bright
With the faces of the children
And the families hurrying to their homes
As the sky darkens and freezes
Will be gathering around the hearths and tables
Giving thanks for all God’s graces
And the birth of the rebel Jesus

They call him by the “Prince of Peace”
And they call him by “The Saviour”
And they pray to him upon the sea
And in every bold endeavor
As they fill his churches with their pride and gold
And their faith in him increases
But they’ve turned the nature that I worshipped in
From a temple to a robber’s den
In the words of the rebel Jesus

We guard our world with locks and guns
And we guard our fine possessions
And once a year when Christmas comes
We give to our relations
And perhaps we give a little to the poor
If the generosity should seize us
But if any one of us should interfere
In the business of why they are poor
They get the same as the rebel Jesus

But pardon me if I have seemed
To take the tone of judgement
For I’ve no wish to come between
This day and your enjoyment
In this life of hardship and of earthly toil
We have need for anything that frees us
So I bid you pleasure and I bid you cheer
From a heathen and a pagan
On the side of the rebel Jesus.

Advent, My Way #23

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In my month-long pondering of the winter holidays, one of the things that has pleased me is how many random, but really strong, memories I have of Christmases past.

I have a lot of vague and amorphous, warm and fuzzy memories of posing for pictures with family members who were only together once a year and of opening Barbie dolls in that yellow and blue parlor at the farm.

But clearer moments stand out, too, like the Christmas pageants and the making of the caramels I’ve already written about.

And there’s so much more . . .

I remember a weird toy called Odd Ogg, “half turtle and half frog,” and pale blue moccasins lined with real rabbit fur. And a trike.

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I remember the Christmas cards my parents always sent, with two little girls dressed in PJs and posed in front of a tree or a mantle, with a dog or kittens.

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I remember parental discord over the proper hanging of “icicles” on the Christmas tree. One parent thought the icicles should be carefully and individually placed on the boughs. The other parent thought large handfuls should be flung at the tree.

I remember all kinds of handmade ornaments but the ones I remember most fondly were pure 1960s. My mother made little atomic/Sputnik ornaments out of marshmallows, toothpicks, and silver spray paint. I know there’s a photo around here somewhere . . .

I remember the people. My mother’s father was a quiet man, with a wry sense of humor. One year he got a tall stepladder as a Christmas gift and spent the rest of the day sitting at the very top of it in the living room.

My other grandfather was a Justice of the Peace and one year he put a man in jail on Christmas Eve. That might seem harsh except the man’s offense was that, very drunk, he lit a fire on the floor in the middle of his living room, thinking to keep his family warm. My grandfather felt they were all safer if he was in jail.

That same grandfather, a quiet, unsentimental guy, gave my grandmother a $100 bill as a gift one Christmas. I had never seen a $100 bill and was SO impressed so I woke my sister up from a nap, to show it to her. She opened one eye, said, “Is it for me?,” and learning it wasn’t, went back to sleep.

We lived on a farm, so every year the Christmas tree came from our land. When my sister and I were very small, we took my mother’s red scarf and went into the woods to find the perfect tree. We did, and we tied the scarf around it, and then told my father to go find it. He didn’t. How we expected him to find one tree with one red scarf in acres of land, I don’t know. My mother never saw her scarf again.

We weren’t allowed to awaken grownups early on Christmas morning but we were allowed to go get our Christmas stockings and explore those. I was awake first, went and grabbed my stocking and my sister’s, and came back to our room with them. To wake her up, I bopped her over the head with the stuffed stocking . . . whack.

I remember a Christmas when I was a pre-teen and we went to my uncle’s house, several states away. I had an abscessed tooth and spent the entire visit in hideous pain. Well, I remember the pain and the really cute outfit I got for Christmas, with the pleated plaid skirt . . .

At some point we all decided that traveling at Christmas was a good idea so I have a lot of memories of driving the East Coast, searching for restaurants that were open on Christmas Day.

Many years, we left the snow behind and walked the beaches in Florida. One year we saw a gorgeous sunset and then had to settle for dinner at a really creepy Mexican restaurant. How creepy? The following week, we heard that someone had been shot dead in the parking lot.

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New York City, Charleston, the beach at the Outer Banks, watching people fly kites at Kiawah.

I remember the parlors and farms, the relatives’ houses and the motels. I remember the holidays when my niece was small, re-experiencing the magic through her eyes. I remember teaching my new husband how to string popcorn for our first Christmas tree and I remember absolute blowout Christmas parties we used to throw!

So many locales, so many beloved people, so many Christmases, so many memories. In recent years, we’ve chosen to stay close to home. We enjoy our immediate family, or just each other, a few very special friends, our pets, our warm hearth, our simple and satisfactory world.

What will I remember from Christmas this year?

Well, honestly, I think I’ll remember writing these advent blog posts and sharing so much of Christmas and holiday talk with you. When you’ve written comments about your own memories and traditions at the holidays, you’ve triggered more of my own and shown me how much we all have in common, how the holidays are packed with special meaning for each of us.

Here’s hoping that you have many memories of the holiday season and that the fond memories far, far outweigh the unpleasant memories that may inevitably be associated with the season as well. Take some quiet time to savor those wonderful memories and share them.

And I hope you spend the next few days creating special moments that will give you much to reminisce about in years to come!