Studying, One Stitch at a Time

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from the website of Aram Han Sifuentes

It’s a tried and true method of studying for the big test—write the important facts and ideas out, in longhand.

In an age of laptops and smart phones, writing by hand is decidedly “old school,” but good students will tell you that they spend hours before exams, re-writing their class notes, notes they took by writing them out by hand during class.

When we write something out, we study the words. Writing is relatively slow and it gives us time to think about the content. The effort involved in forming the letters creates a memory of what the words symbolize.

I believed this as a student and, later, as a college prof, I urged struggling students to try it.

Now, I never need to study for a big exam. But I still love powerful words, pondering them, and remembering their meaning.

I’ve told you about my inclination to preserve some of my favorite words by embroidering them on fabric. I’ll tell you more, soon, as this project is nearing completion.

If writing ideas out by hand helps one remember, the added effort of stitching them out really transforms the experience!

This idea is old school, too. We know that it was used in Colonial America when young girls made embroidered samplers, to combine learning the alphabet, numbers, a positive adage or Biblical verse, as well as sewing skills.

As the stitches form letters and the letters form words, the stitcher grows with the words.

You can only imagine how much I loved a story I came across recently, from the website Crosscut, that told of immigrants studying for the U.S. citizenship exam by . . . YES! Embroidering the kinds of questions and answers that might be asked on the test!

The project was created by artist Aram Han Sifuentes. Sifuentes, from South Korea, prepared for her own US citizenship test by embroidering a sampler of 100 questions and answers typical of the test questions, questions like, “What did Susan B. Anthony do?” “Who wrote the Declaration of Independence?” “What is the capital of your state?”

Having proved to herself that the process was effective, Sifuentes has since taught art workshops for immigrants that combine embroidery skills and civics. The students are mostly adults—one sampler on Sifuentes’s web page was done by a 77-year-old man—and, in addition to the embroidered words, many stitchers embellish their panels with other designs like the Great Seal of the United States or an image of Rosie the Riveter.

Beyond creating the means by which to help immigrants study, Sifuentes offers the finished samplers for sale on her website and, if they sell, she gives the money back to the stitcher, to pay for their application for citizenship. To me, this is an inspired and inspiring artistic project, one that makes a tangible difference in peoples’ lives.

It’s funny. I had begun to think of my own embroidering of quotations, about women’s rights, as a little frivolous, a little pointless. In the face of a reality that grows increasingly scary and a world increasingly unstable, my stitching felt quaint, tame, lame.

But now I’m seeing it a bit differently. Maybe, as I stitch these powerful words and absorb them and ponder their meaning, I am preparing for a big test, after all. A test of what it means to be an American woman in 2017.


I didn’t want to use a bunch of photos from other peoples’ websites but, really, go look at the links!

Are You Up For A Challenge?

I’m always up for a challenge!

I mean, I like small challenges in my daily life—solving a problem, figuring something out, overcoming a difficulty, meeting a goal.

But even more, I love an external challenge–a set of standards or constraints, presented to a group of people, to see how they respond individually.

For instance, a number of years ago, we did a family fitness challenge. Four of us each put in $125 and set a 3-month time limit. The plan was to see who could exercise, for at least 30 minutes, for the most days in that time frame.

Two of the four participants exercised every single day for three months and shared the prize! And, of course, even those of us who “lost” won because we did far more than we would’ve, without the challenge.

Challenges are a big deal in the crafting world. Sometimes, these challenges are pretty straightforward—for instance, my quilt guild’s challenge last year was to make a red and white quilt and to incorporate, somewhere, two specific red and white print fabrics, which we were given.

Other challenges are more . . . challenging. One of the most intriguing I read about was a Beatles challenge, where each quilter chose a Beatles’ song to provide inspiration. My blog pal, Snarky Quilter, chose Paperback Writer and made her quilt a depiction of a pulp novel.

If you read a lot of craft blogs, you’ve probably come across a lot of craft bloggers who are participating in challenges and reporting back in their posts. Whether the crafters are knitting, embroidering, or quilting, challenges seem to draw us in.

What’s the appeal?

Part of the fun of a challenge is personal—I feel like I’ve done some of my most creative work in response to a challenge. Having guidelines and limitations is both constraining and liberating!

The best part of the challenge, though, is the unveiling, when the participants come together and show how they’ve each addressed the challenge. It is always fascinating to see how different people interpreted the guidelines and all the different directions creativity can go. A challenge creates a sense of community while celebrating individual creativity.

We went to the Vermont Weavers’ Guild show last weekend. We saw a number of lovely hand-woven pieces but, for both of us, the best part of the show was the display of challenge pieces.

The weavers had each chosen a postcard of an Impressionist painting and used that to inspire their choice of color and weaving pattern. The towels were displayed with the inspiration cards.

I loved the idea that practical, earthbound kitchen towels were inspired by transcendent works of art!

We spent a lot of time at the three racks of towels, choosing favorites and talking about what the weavers accomplished.

Seeing this challenge also got us thinking about ways we could use art as inspiration. It was fun to think about our own favorite paintings and consider ways we could use the colors. Don thought he might go the direction of Monet’s water lilies while I would look to the work of my favorite painter, John Singer Sargent. Wouldn’t these colors be pretty in a towel?

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Carnation, Lily, Lily, Rose by John Singer Sargent

One never knows where the next challenge is coming from, in life or in craft. Our life challenges may weigh heavily, tire us out, bring us down. Happily, our craft challenges can do just the opposite–lift us up, energize, give us new insight.

Have you participated in a favorite artistic challenge? Have you blogged about it? If so, consider leaving a link in the comments!

Getting It Done: Focuser or Flitterer?

What makes a person productive? Doing a little on a lot? Or doing a lot on a little?

It becomes clearer to me all the time that different people have different measures for productivity.

Some folks love to get a project done—finishing is how they know they are being productive. These people are focusers—they focus, spend hours on their project, and get it finished.

Other people flitter from project to project. I don’t just mean having multiple projects and moving between them, a day on this, a day on that. I mean flitting, hour by hour, from one endeavor to the next.

I am a flitterer of the first order.

To feel really good about a day, really productive, I seem to need to work on many, many projects, just doing a little on each.

A typical day will have me:

  • Working on Etsy—today I might add new listings and/or soak and iron some linens. I’d like to take photos for listings but it’s raining again.
  • Working on one or more quilting projects—today I might hand quilt for an hour and/or cut and trim some of the 200 HSTs I need for another current project. Or I might make some repairs on that <expletive written in CAPS and then deleted> yoyo coverlet.
  • Working on one or more weaving projects—today I might weave on the band loom and/or dress the big loom for a set of blue and white towels and/or throw the shuttle on more of the tab towels.
  • Working on the house and/or yard—today I will probably do laundry and clean the top of the stove (Don made spaghetti sauce yesterday!) I’d like to spend a little time on turning the compost pile or weeding but it’s very, very wet outside.
  • I always give myself extra pats on the back for working on a blog post and for exercising. So far today I’ve done both—yay, me!

I don’t do all of these things every day, of course, but I love a day where I can knock off several of them. I spend an hour here and an hour there, and move happily from one kind of a task to another. The more the better!

I never get bored and I rarely get frustrated. If either of those states of mind grips me, I just move on . . . because moving on is what I do best.

The downside to all of this is that I rarely finish anything. My stints of an hour or so are a drop in the bucket of what it takes to make a full-size quilt or weave 10 towels from a long warp.

Because I never finish anything, my list never gets shorter and that can be stressful. I always feel like I have SO much to do; it’s overwhelming.

I kind of envy people who are focusers, and the satisfaction they get from regularly finishing or making noticeable progress on a project.

I think I’d like to be a focuser more than a flitterer . . . but I’d like to be tall and thin, too. I have little control over either.

In the immortal words of Popeye the Sailor Man, “I yam what I yam and that’s all that I yam . . .”

How about you? Do you spend your creative time focused on one or two big projects per day? Or do you flit around and do a little on a lot of fronts?

Such A Tease (and the giveaway!)

Let’s see . . . what should I tell you about today?

I could tell you about:

A trip to Harvard. I felt smart there.

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A historic mansion in Boston. Very posh.

Matisse in His Studio. The artist and some of the artifacts that inspired him.

I could tell you tons about the Boston Marathon.

Inspiring runners of all different abilities.

Inspiring because they were so fast.

Inspiring because they kept a sense of humor.

Inspiring because they were ordinary folk doing something extraordinary–these young women, who we went to watch, were two of 30,000!

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And folks who supported every single one.

I could go on and on, and tell you about spring coming to the North Country of upstate New York, or the opening of our local ice cream shop, or I could give you updates on weaving, quilting, all kinds of crafting.

But I won’t. I’ll stop being a tease and I’ll tell you what you’ve been waiting to hear, eager to hear . . .

Who wins the hand-woven key fob?!

We had lots of entries, from all over the world, and I do wish I had dozens of key fobs to give away. But I had to use my random number generator to choose one of you.

I love pushing the button on my random number generator—the suspense, the anticipation, the thrill!

My random number generator said I should give the key fob to Judy, at New England Garden and Thread!

But I enjoyed hitting the button and the suspense, the anticipation, the thrill, so much, I hit the button again—what the heck!

And the generator said I should give another key fob to Jean, at One Small Stitch. (This one is sort of daunting—Jean is a weaver of many, MANY years experience! She has been supportive of my learning to weave since even before I took my first workshop.)

So, Judy and Jean, if you will email me at kerrycan2@gmail.com, with your addresses, I’ll send your gift!

And you can choose–either the key fob I originally pictured or this brown and turquoise one I’ve made since. I have two of each.

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Everyone else, take heart. I like giving stuff away and, before long, I bet my fingers will be itching to hit that button and choose another random number!

A Girl Having Fun, and a Giveaway

While the boy who lives here makes serious, complicated, heirloom pieces, the girl who shares the house (that would be me!) takes a different tack.

This girl just wants to have fun.

And I have been having such fun lately!

Quilting? Nah.

Embroidery? Uh uh.

Candy making? No way.

Exercise and healthy living? Fuggedaboutit!

I have been weaving, obsessively, on three different looms.

I made scarves for a special blog pal, a real patron of the crafts, but I will wait to tell about those. I will say that it was particular fun, and a little nervous-making, to know for whom I was doing that weaving.

My other projects, though, haven’t been as weighty. I’ve been playing and experimenting and learning as I go. How fun is that?!

I told you a while ago that I got a big new loom with 12 shafts, to allow more complicated weaving. I had used the loom but not to do anything fancy. I finally dove in and wove a set of towels using 8 shafts of my loom and a weave structure that was new to me, block twill.

These were endless fun because they could all look so different! And I didn’t make them all navy blue and white! I hope you’re proud of me for that . . .

I’ve also made another set of towels on my smaller loom that have tickled me no end!

I saw towels like this at weaving school, in the bathroom we all shared. Each student chose a different color towel and it was ours for the week. They all hung jauntily on hooks.

I’ve wanted to make these towels ever since!

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The hanging tab is integrated into the weaving, not sewed on after—how did that work?

IMG_6805I found something similar in a book and took notes but it still took me some time to figure out an approach.

I am inordinately pleased with how the towels turned out! I smile all the time.

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And I’ve been weaving on my small band loom. I got this little loom, used it a couple times, and then it languished, looking cute but gathering dust.

But for the last month or so, I have been using it regularly, making bands and ribbons.

And thinking about what to do with all the bands and ribbons!

I made myself a hippie belt.

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And a lanyard for my scissors and one for Don’s scissors.

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And a key fob.

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And I made another key fob that matches mine, to send to one of you!

If you would your name in a drawing for a handwoven key fob, just say so in a comment on this post. I’ll send it wherever the winner resides. I don’t think I’ll get around to choosing a winner until about April 19 so I’ll leave the contest open until then.

And may I just add—I hope you’re spending your days having at least half as much fun as I am!

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 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?