Tuesday, March 31, 2009

A spring road trip

It's almost more like March than April—blustery, cold, and grey. But the daffodils are starting to peek through the leaf mold. Found this little crocus two weekends ago.

We spent last weekend in Kansas City. Drove down with a snowstorm imminent and arrived about a half hour after the roads got bad. It snowed all the rest of the day and into the evening and temps were down in the 20s. So much for going south for warmth! But it melted the next day and despite many large limbs pulled down by ice, most of the pear trees, redbuds, and tulips seemed to hold their blooms.

On the way home we stopped in Stewartsville, Mo, truly in the middle of nowhere, at a wonderful shop, Country Expressions. I got to chat with the owners, one of whom is the mom of Jenny McLean, aka Tula Pink, and Jenny herself, who was working in the shop. Jenny designs fabulous fabric for Moda. They somehow remind me of a painter who intrigued me in college: Giseuppe Archimboldo. Both share illusions of a sort, but his work is bizarre while hers is elegant. I'd hoped to score some blue/green Flutterby, which seems to be unavailable everywhere, and it was all sold out at Country Expressions, as well. But I'm very excited about the three fabrics I snagged from the Neptune collection to make another Birdie Sling.

Wednesday, March 25, 2009

Sewing without making a mess...at least in the room

So thrilled was I by my newly tidy sewing room that I was almost afraid to mess it up. Almost.

While clearing off the bed I found some fabulous home dec weight fabric that I'd bought a couple weeks ago at Common Threads. It's designed by Jessica Jones and sold through jcarolinecreative. Jessica has a blog I really enjoy, How About Orange, but I never realized she designed fabric. Peg at Common Threads had a couple of her fabrics and although I really liked Peapod best, I am not typically kind to my aprons and figured that the white circles wouldn't be white for long. So I opted for Leaflet.

I used a Simplicity pattern I'd gotten a few years ago to make aprons for my camp buddies. My only problem came when I realized that I'd cut the apron out with the leaflets facing down. I tried to decide if this was critical—did the springy leaflets now look like the droopy leaves of autumn? Did they seem depressed? Would it affect my ability to cook cheerfully? I finally convinced myself that this was more flattering—when the leaflets pointed up they accentuated "the girls" (as Stacy and Clinton would say) and that pair need no accentuating. Instead I decided that the subtly rounded shape of the upside-down leaves was as flattering as all get out.

And the first meal I made using it was cheerfully received by all.

Sunday, March 22, 2009

Spring cleaning on a spring day

I love Saturday mornings. They're full of such promise. The entire weekend spreads out before me and I imagine all that I'll accomplish: the great meals I'll cook, the incredible power walks I'll take, the household tasks that have nagged at me all week that I'll whip through, and the time left over for fun—seeing friends, reading, sewing. Somehow, at the end of the weekend I don't feel quite so positive and my to-do list still has a number of items that aren't ticked off.

The one big task on my list this weekend was cleaning my sewing room., which is my eldest daughter's former bedroom. It took me quite awhile to move into it: even after she'd been gone for a couple of years I was tentative about usurping her space. But when she got married I figured it was legitimate to call it my own.

I keep her twin bed in the room for the rare occasion when we've got the other two extra beds occupied, but it had become a vast dumping ground for fabric: projects I was planning (the red, white, and black quilt for which I'd laid out the fabric and pattern more than a year ago), projects I'd just finished (the pink and green baby quilt) and projects in progress (the liberated houses).

It all came to a head on Friday when we finally had warm weather and I couldn't find any of my cotton pants to wear to work—In that early morning, fuzzy-headed frenzy I became convinced that I'd sent them to the cleaners and they'd never returned. It wasn't until I went to my sewing room that I realized that along with all that fabric on the twin bed there was a pile of ironing leftover from the fall.

You'll note that the bed is not visible in these photos. I did get all the fabric off the bed and into the closet, which first necessitated hauling boxes of my daughter's 7th-grade notes and other valuables to the basement. I put away lots of miscellany near my machines and from my cutting table (a former chemistry bench acquired from University surplus). But the ironing is still on the bed. My plan for this evening is to turn on the TV and go to it. I hope there's something worth watching.

Monday, March 16, 2009

Oh, no...I've joined Facebook

I've resisted joining Facebook, despite constant "encouragement" from my younger colleagues. In December, I made it my New Year's resolution to join. While it seemed so much easier to keep than a resolution to lose ten pounds, I still put it off.

Finally, last week I signed on. I admit to being instantly overwhelmed: trying to learn the lingo and figure out a profile and settings, all the people "friending me" almost instantaneously...I felt as though I'd crawled into a strange, nether world that I wanted to escape, despite all the welcoming comments. I was tempted more than once to deactivate my account, but decided to stick it out for a week. And slowly, the allure is starting to sink in and my fears that Facebook is a sucker of time are coming true. My colleagues insist that it will slow down in a week or two and I hope they're right.

For now, I feel like the subject of this pieced pillow cover (a blockhead?), which I found last year at Artifacts, a favorite second-hand shop. I just love the way the hands turn in, and that the maker carefully made each section of a similarly sized square, whether it needed to be or not.

Saturday, March 14, 2009

Da day in Dubuque

A visit to my aunt this weekend fell through and because Paul and I had planned to take Friday off, we decided to give ourselves a day away. (I realize there seem to some incongruities here...I whine about how much we work and then I blog about my days off, but trust me: Pictures of my laptop and phone and comments about serial commas and deadlines are not blog-worthy).

At any rate, we decided to take a day trip yesterday to Dubuque. I've lived in Iowa for more than 20 years now and still there are many in-state places I've never been. It was a pretty low-key day—partly cloudy, windy, the fields still dull—and Dubuque seemed a subdued place, as well. But it was a nice day away: we drove up through Mt. Vernon where we stopped for omelets, toast, potatoes, coffee, and the New York Times—that was a treat! Along the way we enjoyed the sights: the barn above, the house at left, with its matching miniature house out front, and St. Mary's church on the hill outside of Peosta and across the road from the New Melleray Abbey, which is run by Trappist monks who support themselves by farming and making caskets.

In Dubuque enjoyed the National Mississippi River Museum and Aquarium and the small but sweet Cotton Cabin Quilt Shop (the front room was traditional, the back room had a nice selection of contemporary fabrics), and the sign outside this bar. Sadly, it was just too early to stop in and see Paul's Big Game Trophies in Paul's Tavern (or Paul's Tap, depending on whether you believe the sign out front or the parking sign.)

Wednesday, March 11, 2009

The Power of Play

That's the title of a book being discussed on our local NPR station this week. It's a theory I've always subscribed to for children: as a mom, I made sure my kids weren't overbooked with activities so that they could play without rules; as a teacher, I believed that goofing off and recess made learning possible; and as a child life specialist working with hospitalized kids, I championed the importance of play for kids living with IVs, wheelchairs, and hospital food.

If I believe in play so strongly for kids, why is it so hard for me to let loose and play? I think of this particularly in relation to sewing. I'm darned good at accomplishing tasks: thanks to my drive to completion, I don't tend to have a lot of UFOs. When I started sewing I couldn't understand how someone could accumulate a stash, because I fully intended only to buy fabric for one project at at time and to complete that project before buying fabric for the next. (I seem to have gotten over THAT silly concept.)

So perhaps there's hope that I can learn to just relax and see what happens. There's a place for patterns and buying just the right amount of fabric for that pattern. And then there's a place for messing about, for finding out where mistakes will lead you. (The Liberated House blocks were a good start.) There's also a place for finding out that particular technique doesn't appeal or a detail distracts from, rather than adds to, a design. I remind myself that sometimes it's perfectly fine to make a block that doesn't turn into an entire quilt and to occasionally let things languish.

And most of the time I'm not striving to create high art anyway, just a baby quilt that will soon be covered with drool and puke (as Anne R. likes to say). So I "made up" this very simple pattern with the Mary Englebreit Basket of Flowers Jelly Roll and Layer Cake at I got at Market in Houston. Not exactly complex, but I'm still proud I went pattern-less.

Sunday, March 8, 2009

Nudity is overrated...

My doll has clothes, finally, although still no face. Many years ago I made another doll and for a number of reasons never attached the head. Perhaps this is the answer to concerns about myriad doll eyes following me around the room—no faces, no heads, no problem!

Doll clothes are definitely challenging...I'm not going to get too close to the collar, so you can't see the bits that didn't get sewn securely under the topstitching.

I also found this great embroidered towel at an antique sale yesterday. It was pouring rain and so we spent an hour or so perusing the annual Kiwanis antique sale. Didn't buy much—three jars with ground glass stoppers and the towel, for a total of $6.50. A pretty cheap way to spend a couple of hours.

Wednesday, March 4, 2009

The Button Lady

Writing about Fiberarts and the memories of clothing reminded me of one of my all-time favorite writing opportunities. In 1995 I was in grad school and working as an intern at The Goldfinch, a wonderful and sadly now defunct history magazine for children published by the Iowa State Historical Society. Although the publication had a tiny budget it managed to win national awards and I loved doing the research for the articles. While working on a piece about collections, I was introduced to this photo of Mamie Thimmes, a woman from Mechanicsville, Iowa, who had quite the penchant for buttons.

After the photo ran in The Goldfinch, I pitched a piece to Fiberarts and it ran in the Jan. 1996. This was in the early days of Martha Stewart, when she was introducing the glue gun to the masses (anyone remember those Martha Stewart parody magazines, Is Martha Stewart Living? One photo spread featured her in S&M-style attire, glue gun at the ready in a holster around her waist). I mention this because now Martha's all about sewing, but in those days she was into adhesives...hence the lead to my piece, which I'll reproduce below.

But first my favorite part of this story. Mamie Thimmes' daughter was still living and had Mamie's button outfit. It turns out Mamie had sewn buttons to much more than the items in the photo. Here's a picture of Deloris with an American flag Mamie created.

Visiting Deloris in the home she'd shared with Mamie was such a treat, although a bit surreal. Deloris was a very quiet woman, unused to talking with strangers. Getting her to say much at all about her mom was nearly impossible—I got a lot of my information from archived newspaper clippings.

But Deloris was quite willing to show me the button creations, and they were the most amazing things: the buttons were of every shape, size, and material imaginable. They depicted the Eiffel Tower, a floral wreath worn around the necks of winning horses at the Kentucky Derby, and pieces of fruit. The outfit weighed a ton and the corduroy onto which it was stitched was starting to tear from the weight. I tried contacting Deloris after our meeting to encourage her to donate it to the State Historical Society, but I'm afraid it was probably sold at auction and dismantled by button collectors...

Here's the copy I wrote that accompanied Mamie's photo:

If that high priestess of homeyness, Martha Stewart, provided instructions for this outfit, a glue gun would be first on the list of required materials. But in 1955 when Mamie Thimmes whipped up a simple wide-waled gold corduroy shift and began meticulously arranging her button collection on it, she attached them in the tried and true way—by hand, with a needle and off-white thread.

"It was just something she enjoyed doing," says Thimmes' daughter, Deloris, who traveled the United States with her mother in search of of old and unusual buttons. After the shift, Thimmes went on to create a button-covered hat, a shawl, shoes, an antique parasol, a fan, earrings, a bracelet, and a stuffed dog-on-wheels. She estimated that over 40,000 buttons adorn the ensemble. Thimmes modeled her weighty creation for select gatherings in her hometown of Mechanicsville, Iowa.

This fascination with buttons began when Thimmes cut one from her daughter's baby shoe in 1908 and continued until she died in 1981 at the age of 92. In between she worked in a meat-packing plant and taught Sunday school for over 50 years. But there was always time for buttons. Methodically, on winter evenings, she stitched them to pillow shams, wall hangings, a wastebasket, and an American flag. Forty years later, they are still holding strong.