Friday, October 31, 2014

Passing the Soup: A Metaphor for Being There for Friends

When I write about myself, it's usually about my relationship with textiles. But today I'm going to share what I think is one of the loveliest and luckiest things about my life, and it's got to do with soup.

I consider myself a pretty healthy person—I try to eat thoughtfully and moderately. I walk 3-4 miles several times a week, I do pilates twice a week, all last winter I swam between a half-mile and a mile twice a week, etc. etc. Nevertheless, I've wound up needing significant medical interventions in four of the last five years. It's challenging on a number of fronts, not the least of which is because it doesn't fit with my self-image. But what's made it all bearable is the passing of the soup.
Pre-Soup Veggies
This past Monday, the day before I was scheduled to have significant surgery on my nose for skin cancer, my friend Emily called and said she wanted to stop by with some soup for me. She did and we chatted and she left a wonderful container of carrot-potato soup and some sweet potato pie. I had to cut our visit short because I was taking soup to my friend Greta, who had just had a baby. It made me realize how lucky I am to live where my community of friends looks out for one another in good times and bad.

This past year I've shared wonderful joy and deep sorrow with friends, and as much as possible I've tried to "pass the soup." Often I feel guilty that for one reason or another I'm not able to make someone an entire meal and feel that the little I do is inadequate. But when it's me on the other side, I'm reminded how there are many ways the "soup" gets passed, and how each one of those acts is meaningful and helpful.

Since my surgery, I've had a cadre of volunteers who arrive twice daily to walk Pearl, and who've brought dinner and breakfast. I've received flowers, take-out Thai food, cards, and phone calls. Greta's texted me photos of her dear, sweet new baby. Everyone has their own skill set and an amount of time they're able to give at that moment and each act of kindness adds up to an amazing whole. I've felt so loved and cared for during this medical incident (and the others). I hope I remember in a few weeks, when my face isn't swathed in bandages, that no matter what I do for someone, even if it seems small, it matters. It's worth doing.

Pass the soup. 

Wednesday, October 15, 2014

Knitting vs. Sewing

Some days I worry that my love of yarn is overtaking my love of fabric. I do believe they can co-exist, but there are only so many hours in the day and if I'm knitting, then I'm not sewing (and vice-versa). But these cooler temps seem to call out for sitting in my chair, feet up and a cup of something warm by my side, knitting away on some rich, beautiful yarn.
Finished (but not blocked) Low Brow Cowl: Pattern on Ravelry, Madeline Tosh DK yarn
I've also really enjoyed upping my skill level and trying techniques that are new to me. I have had the grand advantage of working at Home Ec Workshop on Wednesday afternoons, when Lisa Wilcox Case serves as the Knitting Nurse. Lisa is a certified Master Knitter (I wrote about that here) and when it's not busy in the shop she freely gives of her advice and expertise. Suffice it to say, I am spoiled (but I've learned a lot, too).
Sugar Cane Hat: Pattern on Ravelry, Shibui Pebble and Silk Cloud yarn
I'm going to have a bit more time for sewing and knitting in upcoming days as there's some surgery on my horizon that will necessitate me staying home for two or three weeks. I've got work lined up, of course, but I won't be fulfilling my usual exercise classes, grocery runs, and other out-of-the-house activities, so I imagine more free time will be mine. I'm already lining up sewing and knitting projects—I'm in a real mode of wanting to finish those WIPs. We'll see how it goes.
Imposter Shawl: Pattern on Ravelry, Madeline Tosh DK yarn


Tuesday, September 30, 2014

September is nearly over and it's 80 degrees outside. I am thrilled. I was already worried about the cold weather we'd had earlier and whether I'd  survive another winter if it started a month earlier. This little bit of extra sun and warmth gives me hope.

All that said, September has flown by. I taught mitered corner baby blankets at Home Ec Workshop and had a great group of students:
Our friends John and Dianne visited with their Great Danes Bella and Cobalt:
I kept working away at my Lowbrow cowl—a knitting fiasco that has finally been righted:
I attended the opening of Common Thread, an exhibition organized by artist, teacher, and professor Greta Songe (my friend and soon-to-be mom). Here we are with Vanessa Christensen and Astrid Bennett (we're standing in front of one of Astrid's quilts). Greta invited me to participate, but I just couldn't envision myself as an "ARTIST." Time to disabuse myself of that sort of thought, right? Next time, Linzee, be bold.
Attended the opening of Erick Wolfmeyer's exhibition in Davenport. His already amazing quilts looked even more so in the lovely gallery setting at St. Ambrose:
Finished an Everyday Skirt with Cotton and Steel on the outside and a touch of Carolyn Friedlander in the pockets. Fun to sew, cute pattern, totally comfy, but challenging to wear if you're no longer of the tucking-your-shirt-in generation. Trying to figure out the right top to go with it.
Spent a day with the Cake Bible, making Paul a couple of cakes in celebration of his significant birthday. My favorite part—he actually id'd the instrument as a Les Paul Gibson. Total guitar-nerd.
How was your September? What have you been sewing...or baking...or seeing?

Wednesday, September 3, 2014

Vacation: Stitching, Reading, Relaxing

Spent a couple of weeks at our family cabin in late August, and though we didn't have swimming weather and our guests weren't able to come, we still had the most relaxing time. Though we did a lot of kayaking we never did any real swimming, but we couldn't leave without our traditional inner tube-and-a-brew float.
Because the weather was so crummy, I didn't feel too guilty about staying indoors, reading and sewing. I read three books and managed to finish my string-pieced top, cut out and sew a new quilt (Mod Nine-Patch from the Moda Bake Shop made with Zen Chic Spheres and a few stray fabrics), and bind the hexagon quilt I started in 2012...finally!!! (Don't have a photo of this finish.)
We also went fishing one day, way up in the Boundary Waters, with Don Beans, a guide of 32 years. He definitely knew where the fish were hiding and where to put the fish guts at lunchtime so that an eagle would come and visit. It was a fantastic day that included a shore lunch, cooked by Don over a wood fire. Such a treat, and we're still eating fish we brought home with us.

Our great guide Don Beans
We paddled across the lake and did a little blueberry picking—despite the late-summer date we still managed to pick two cups. And my sister Marcia and her husband Gary picked a gallon of berries and left them in the freezer. They'd been up in July, when the berries were more plentiful. So I baked blueberry coffee cake and we had blueberry pancakes twice.




Returning to reality hasn't been much fun, I'll admit. While I hate leaving Iowa City in the summer, and especially this summer, with its moderate temperatures, I never relax at home in the same way that I do at the cabin...PJs til noon; cheese and crackers and grapes for dinner if we feel like it, along with an extra glass of wine; and reading til all hours. It's definitely the good life! 

Monday, July 28, 2014

Sewing with the one who taught me

I spent a few days visiting my folks in southern California. One of the more fun things I did was to sew with my mom. She's in her mid-80s and has Parkinson's, but she's determined to keep stitching.
She does seem to have a knack, however, for picking complicated projects. When I got there she had been working on a bag that had some really bad instructions and was feeling frustrated. I helped her finish it (and could certainly understand her frustration when I read the methods used in making the bag). Fortunately, she was happy with the end result (below).
Another afternoon we went to a quilt shop we'd visited previously in Orange, the Orange Quilt Bee. They have a great selection of fabrics and patterns and I wanted to find some patterns to try that had more clearcut instructions. We also got fabric to make pillowcases. Here's the one she made while I was visiting, and when I called tonight she said she's been making more.
We also stitched up an iPad cover, the Pocket Portfolio by Swirly Girls from some wonderful, traditional blues and were delighted with the pattern instructions and the result. Unfortunately I don't have a photo of the finished piece.
I liked the fabric she picked for her pillowcase so much that I'm planning to make Cindy Taylor Oate's Sit and Stitch Pincushion from the same combination—when I left, my mom hadn't started this yet. I'm hoping to make mine while we're on vacation in a couple of weeks. It was fun to sew with the one who taught me. Wish we lived closer so we could do it more often.

Wednesday, July 9, 2014

String Piecing

Back in March I decided to try some string piecing. Not sure just what got me going, but I was having a good time of it. Over the next few weeks I plugged away, and wound up with 16 blocks. It got put on the back burner for awhile as writing projects intervened, but yesterday I got back at it and did another 8 blocks. (I must have done a few more in there somewhere because I have 43 blocks total.)

While I'm using true scraps—and having so much fun remembering just which projects the strips originally appeared in—I'm trying for a little consistency by including red and/or turquoise and/or black in every block. I'm piecing on newsprint, with a white strip diagonally centered on each square.
I'm using a 9.5 inch square ruler, so my blocks will finish at 9 (it's the biggest one I have) and I'm trying to decide how big to make it. If I make it 7 blocks both ways, I'll wind up with a 63" square, but I might go with 8 blocks one way to make it long enough for a tall guy (like the one I'm married to) to cover up comfortably. I'm not even sure I'll be keeping it though. 
Do you have a favorite/most useful size that you tend to make?

Thursday, July 3, 2014

Back at It and a Slovenian Round-up

Yes, I am actually back at work and have been for awhile. Book edits occupied some of my time, and a birthday party for me (yay!) took up another chunk. We also had my aunt visiting from Minnesota and enjoyed touring Amish country with her.

My vacation to Slovenia (to visit our daughter) and Spain (where my husband had a meeting and my daughter and I tagged along) was grand. I honestly don't believe I've been to a country with more natural beauty than Slovenia. The Alps, the Adriatic Sea, forests, caves, rivers—it's all there.

Piran
Lake Bled
On the hike to SLAP (waterfall)
Slovenian wine country
Wildflowers in the Alps
Bobbin lacemaking in Idria
Kamnik
Ljubljana at night
Up and over the Julien Alps, heading down into Italy
I've been itching to sew, but it hasn't happened in quite some time. I'm wearing my Sorbetto tops again, now that the weather's warm, and really want to make more. I work Wednesdays at Home Ec Workshop and for the past two weeks the workshop has been filled with sewists working on the Oliver + S Weekend Getaway Blouse and I've got my eye on that one, too. And then there's that quilt that's partially done in my sewing room...hoping maybe this weekend to do a bit of stitching. Is that on your calendar for the 4th of July (along with fireworks, of course)?

Wednesday, May 21, 2014

Time for a Deep Breath!

I'm sure to readers of Pearl the Squirrel, it appears that all I've been doing is breathing deeply...quietly...far away from my computer. Actually, it's been just the opposite. I've spent so much time bent over the keyboard that I've had to go to physical therapy for my neck! But a break is in sight, because Sunday I turned in the manuscript for Art Quilts of the Midwest, the book I've been working on for the University of Iowa Press.

While I make it sound like a slog, it's actually been such an interesting process, and one that's enabled me to do that thing I so love—interview creative people and find out what they do and why. Each of the 20 artists' works will be accompanied by a brief bio that came out of our hour-long conversations. Always a challenge to describe people like these in so few words, but also a privilege.

The book will be out in spring, 2015, and I'll certainly mention more as the time draws nigh.  I can't wait to share with you the work of these artists, brought together by their Midwestern influences.

But for now, I'm going to go on a vacation (and I'm taking my knitting with me)!

Thursday, April 17, 2014

Sleepless Nights

Last night I went to bed late. I'd gotten up early and been at physical therapy (bunged my knee) at 7:40 a.m. I'd done an hour-and-a-half phone interview, written a bit, then worked at Home Ec for five hours, most of that spent on my feet. I knocked off a little early, at 7 p.m., so I could attend a knitting class to learn to knit Elizabeth Zimmerman's Baby Surprise Jacket.

I've been knitting a lot this winter, and most of it has been pretty basic. I did do a lace knit hat, which was new to me, but otherwise nothing required a lot of attention. Which is just how I like it—I love knitting while watching TV or on a car or plane trip. But this jacket was so adorable and I decided I was up for the challenge.

Our teacher, Greg, is an incredible knitter and has knitted at least 30 of these jackets. Once the knitted piece is folded and sewn, it's an adorable and completely recognizable sweater. But before being stitched up it looks, as a member of the class said, like some kind of weird woodland fungus. Just getting my mind around how it would work out was a challenge. And then Greg said we'd be happiest if we did a provisional cast on. It took me about half the class to figure out how to make my fingers accomplish that, and another bunch of time to count the darned wonky stitches. And then there are the knitting acronyms I wasn't familiar with, and the fact that they could be done multiple ways for different effects (three methods for a double decrease).
White shape is the knitted shape before folding and stitching together: finished, striped sweater at the bottom
I decided to come home immediately and knit a bunch of rows so I wouldn't forget what we were supposed to do. So I sat up until nearly 11 and lo and behold, I seemed to be doing it right. It took a lot of concentration, but I had it!

Then I went to bed and tossed and turned for nearly two hours. The only thing I can imagine that kept me up was the sheer stimulation of learning all that stuff. My brain hurt. I was so excited about what I did that I didn't think I could do (provisional casting on—too hard!) and those double decreases via a second method. Turns out that just like they say about exercising or using your computer too close to bedtime, crafting late doesn't make for much shut eye. Years ago I interviewed Heather Bailey and I remember her telling me that she couldn't think about fabric designs too late at night or design ideas would flash through her head like a slide show, one after the other. No doubt about it: creating is exciting.

Sunday, April 6, 2014

EEEEP! Finally Giving EPP a Try

I am heading down to the wire on my book, but that doesn't mean I am not doing any handwork. I CAN'T not do handwork. I pass no judgement on those who can either focus or zone out appropriately, but I can't comfortably watch TV or go for a long car ride or play Scrabble with friends if I don't have something I'm doing with my hands. (Can you guess that I've never been able to stick with meditation? But that's another story.)

I've long been interested in English paper piecing (EPP). Its portability appeals to me, as does its flexibility and the variety of things people do with the finished hexies. But what's never appealed to me is the cutting out part. And the sheer number of methods overwhelmed me. People seem so opinionated about this way or that being the best (and only) way. So when I spied Tula Pink's cute little EPP kits, with their pre-cut fabric squares, I decided it was time to give it a try. (I chose the Acacia fabric in blues and greens.)

Here's a bit of what I accomplished last night (after watching and reading 4200 online tutorials, because there are at least that many ways to do EPP). I've settled on the basting with thread (vs. glue) method, using a paperclip to hold the fabric to the Paper Pieces templates, and on not stitching through the paper. I may add a punched hole to the cardboards to make them easier to pop out with the tip of a scissor. I also think I'll iron them before I remove the cardboard.

The kits are lovely, though I would love to have a few more squares with the fox's face. I'll combine the pieces with some solids and do something or other with the hexies...for now, I'm thoroughly enjoying the fabrics and the satisfaction of watching those finished pieces pile up. Though a kit is obviously unnecessary, it was just what I needed to get me started. And I'm thrilled to have another way to use the packets of 2.5" fabric squares I've accumulated.