Studying, One Stitch at a Time

citizenship stitching

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!

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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!

Paradise, by the Morning Lights

I am pleased—nay, relieved—to announce that paradise has arrived chez nous.

Paradise, according to my standards, that is.

Your idea of paradise might be very different from mine. Yours might not include early morning walks, with long shadows and stunning green.

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Maybe you don’t care for birds singing and roosters crowing, and woodpeckers pecking. Maybe the sight of old cats finding their inner kitten and frolicking in the sun fails to impress.

Maybe you’re bored with flowers blooming and grass greening, and the sound of lawns being mowed. Maybe the uncurling, unfurling, of tender hosta leaves doesn’t move you.

A lake free of ice and full of sparkles, with boats venturing out in spite of the water temperature being a mere 40 degrees F (that’s about 4 C)—maybe that doesn’t spell paradise to you.

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The signs of spring and the hints of summer abound. The promises of things to come are all around.

My paradise isn’t a static place—paradise doesn’t stand still. It whispers and suggests and promises that even more and even better is . . . soon.

Peonies, Solomon seal, lilies of the valley . . . they will come.

Old chairs on new grass, and the good old, same old sun. Kayaks in the water, bikes on the road, hot dogs on the grill. Music and song at the campfire.

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And two of our favorite people will arrive from their Florida home and take up residence just down the road.

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My paradise is . . . well, paradise! I hope you have your own, whatever it looks like.

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!

Making Time for Ducklings

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It’s not easy raising children in an urban environment—so many dangers and pitfalls! But with smart parents, careful planning, and the kindness of friends and stranger alike, all can turn out well.

Such is the story told in the children’s book, Make Way for Ducklings. Written in 1941 by Robert McCloskey, the book won the Caldecott Medal for “most distinguished American picture book for children” in 1942.

The story is set in Boston, Massachusetts, and that town has embraced the story and the eight ducklings, named Jack, Kack, Lack, Mack, Nack, Ouack, Pack, and Quack, ever since the book was published.

In the book, Mama Mallard leads her ducklings across some of the busiest streets in the city and their friend, the policeman, stops traffic to allow them to make it safely to the park.

On our recent visit to Boston, we visited the venerable Museum of Fine Arts to see the “Matisse on the Studio” exhibit. While we were there, we found the ducklings honored, too.

A gallery featured McCloskey’s delightful drawings and paintings done for several of his books for children and the ducklings took center stage.

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McCloskey’s illustration

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the picture translated to sculpture

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Eight ducklings make their way

Then on a perfect morning walk in the Boston Public Garden, we visited the ducklings themselves, and their proud mama.

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Yes, it was Easter, and, yes, those are Easter bonnets.

Do folks make way for ducklings where you live?