Monday, July 26, 2010

Stick and Poke

Between the writing and the traveling, not a lot of sewing has happened. But I have been somewhat obsessed with punchneedle (or as my daughter calls it "stick and poke," which is apparently a reference to a homemade tattoo). I first heard of punchneedle back in 2006, when I wrote all 20 quilt shop profiles for the Best of Quilt Sampler.

Time and again during interviews, shop owners told me "Punchneedle is really big!" and I nodded my head and dutifully wrote it down. But I'd never tried punchneedle myself. To be honest, I didn't really know what it was.

This past spring when Codi and I went to Quilt Market in Minneapolis, we stopped at one of my all-time favorite shops, Eagle Creek Quilt Shop in Shakopee, Minnesota. I first visited the shop when I interviewed owners Becky and Lori for Best of Quilt Sampler and I was blown away. Eagle Creek is in an old train depot and they have done a fabulous job of taking advantage of the unusual space (the train still goes by once a day). The shop is bright and the fabrics are an eclectic mix—they have lovely wools and darker colors, but loads of lighter, crisper fabrics, too. The rooms are dotted with little surprises—intricate pin cushions made by a Minnesota craftswoman, hooked rugs, wonderful quilt samples, etc. It's also the first place I found shwe-shwe, a fabric from South Africa that I've grown to love (a story for another time). And in little nooks and crannies they have punchneedle samples in frames and stitched to boxes and pillows. To be honest, many of the patterns are a bit "countrified" for my taste, but adorable nonetheless.

So while we were there in May, I mentioned to Codi that I was intrigued and she said she'd teach me. I bought the materials (realizing that here was a whole new world of obsession...gorgeous, variegated threads, many hand-dyed) and later that night in my hotel room I was punching away. (This pattern is called Soft Perch by Threads that Bind.)

This past weekend I learned at another terrific shop (Heritage Designs in Amana) that I was punching too closely, which is why I'd run out of thread. So I bought some more and I'm still finishing the flowers, edges, and putting eyes on the critters. In my overzealous punching I made the bird a bit chunky—Paul claims he thought it was a fish. But it was a soothing, mindless thing to do and I may well do it again. The only problem I can see is that you really can't watch TV while you're can only listen to TV. One false move with that hypodermic-like needle and you'd have a hole in your thigh. Stick and poke, indeed.

Wednesday, July 21, 2010

Quilting for Charity

My quilt guild has a devoted group of charity quilters. They make quilts for cancer patients, for young, single moms, for the domestic violence project, and for stillborn babies. At each meeting they share the quilts that people contribute and I kid you not, there are often gasps from the onlookers when they see the quilts that people make to give to people they'll likely never know. Their generosity is astounding.

So it is with the two women in my Etsy post that went up today: Victoria Findlay Wolfe and Anna Maria Horner. Both have committed themselves to making quilts for people in need, and both have taken on projects on a grand scale. With the help of their blogs they're collecting quilts (Victoria) and blocks (Anna Maria) and producing finished quilts that will warm the lives of people they've never met.

I learned of Victoria's project when I stumbled upon her blog and Anna Maria told me about her quilt project when we chatted at Spring Quilt Market. It was a treat to be able to combine the two projects and a treat that Etsy was interested in sharing their projects with their wide readership. I'm always so happy when I can do some good with my writing (which is not to say I knowingly do bad...really). But so much of the writing I do isn't directly quantifiable...that is, I can never be sure it's helping make the world a better place. Being able to share the work of Victoria (one of her quilts is above) and Anna Maria (who made the video up top, celebrating the blocks she's received thus far), who definitely ARE doing just that, makes me feel great!

Someone on Victoria's blog commented that her project reminded them of the Mother Teresa quote: "We can do no great things, only small things with great love." While I might not classify these block and quilt gatherings as small things, I know from talking to both women that they are certainly being done with great love, providing tangible evidence to people in need that  they are not alone or forgotten.

Tuesday, July 20, 2010

Spanish Details

A few shots from Spain...a pop of color, a twist of iron, the old and the new...

Sunday, July 18, 2010

Viva, Espagna!

Our trip to Spain was at the very beginning of the World Cup, and people didn't seem too excited yet. Apparently Spain has a propensity for clutching at the last minute, so perhaps sports fans were trying not to get their hopes up. I'm sure by the time the last few games happened, the country was much more involved, but when we were there they lost at least one game.

So the World Cup was NOT a big part of our trip. However, eating, drinking, seeing incredible art, architecture, the Mediterranean, ancient churches built on top of mosques and synagogues, sidewalk cafes, hilltop castles, and generally enjoying ourselves were.

We spent four days in Valencia and six in Madrid, where we spent time with Luis, a scientist who collaborates with Paul and who was a perfect host. He met us with a shopping bag of maps and guidebooks and he'd carefully labeled the museums that would be open on Monday (since many of the major museums were closed that day and it was a day we spent on our own). He and his lovely wife Julia took us to dinner four nights, to Segovia and a fantastic lunch one day, encouraged us to take the train to Toledo (where we saw the 16th-century embroidery at left), and made sure we had the best, typical Spanish food and wine.  It meant that we had the opportunity to eat and drink things we wouldn't have otherwise, and to see places he recommended that we might have missed. It was a reminder to me of the importance of being a great host for out of town (and especially out-of-the-country visitors).

I loved the old part of Valencia and it was great fun to go to the ocean, but one of my favorite things was to go to the Prado and the Reina Sofia museums in Madrid. Art history was one of my favorite subjects in college and to see in person so many of the artworks I studied was very fulfilling. Seeing Picasso's Guernica was a highlight at the Reina Sofia Museum, but so were this and other costumes created by Oskar Schlemmer, for The Triadic Ballet in 1924.

I bought very little while in Spain, but what I did buy were special textiles (surprise!).  A shop very near the Reina Sofia Museum, Dimo, had row upon row of gorgeous silk scarves, all hand-painted. I asked the shop owner if knew about Etsy and left him the URL. And I left with a scarf—it was extremely tough to choose, but I picked one with a geometric pattern in greens, purple, and brown.

Rather than write a travelogue, I think the next post will be simply photos...stay tuned for some of the inspiring details.

Monday, July 12, 2010

Two Words: Quail Eggs

Last night Rebecca brought home ten quail eggs. She'd been visiting a friend with an acreage who keeps a variety of animals: pygmy goats, araucana hens (the kind Martha Stewart has that lay green and blue eggs),  and quails, among others. He had a bowl of about 40 quail eggs (he keeps 12 quail) and offered some to Rebecca and her friend.

When she first showed them to me, and once I got over my disappointment that they weren't those chocolate eggs with the thin candy coating, I marveled at the mottling on them—the way each one was so different. Some had a shiny finish, some a matte shell.

Tonight she offered to make us an additional course for dinner and perused quail egg recipes on the web. Did you know it takes 24 quail eggs to make an omelet? Or that there is a site called

We decided against pickled quail eggs and deviled quail eggs and opted for an appetizer that involved toasting baguette slices and topping them with olive tapenade and a fried quail egg.

Rebecca took charge, and after a few difficulties toasting bread in the broiler, she turned out the cutest darned appetizers we'd ever seen. They were a ten on the adorableness scale.

Cracking the eggs was challenging—the membrane was tough and they were so tiny. But they fried up nicely. For the second batch she used a goat cheese and dill spread we'd gotten at Saturday's farmer's market instead of the tapenade and left the yokes a little softer. We voted these our favorites.

She reserved four quail eggs for tomorrow's breakfast—a mini-omelet, perhaps? With teeny toast? Bitty bacon?

Wednesday, July 7, 2010

Busy People, Busy Day

My daughter has assured me that a very few people will get the reference in this headline (except perhaps my other daughter). It's the slightly mangled title of of one of their much-loved childhood books by the author Tibor Gergeley. It's a phrase we've used for years, when we're getting, well, busy...

I'd promised to have Spain photos up, but I'll just put vacation photos off for awhile and continue chronicling the 4th of July activities. (Aren't three-day weekends just the best?) It was a busy weekend, in the best possible way.

After our fruit and veg extravaganza of Saturday, we spent Sunday a.m. at the Hansen's Grove antique show, an annual 4th of July event in Solon, Iowa. Dealers come from all around and as it's an outdoor show it's always a little dicey as to whether the weather will hold. This year, storms were predicted, but there wasn't much rain until the end of the day, so the sale went on as scheduled.

The number of vendors at Hanson's Grove was down this year, largely due to the fact that the field that previously served as an overflow sale area and parking lot was actually planted with corn. There was a shuttle bus that would take visitors to another part of town for the rest of the sale, but we opted out.

Still, there was plenty to see. These shows are always a mix of vendors who know just exactly what they've got and set their prices high and other vendors who focus their collecting on one particular area, but may not know quite how to price other things they may acquire along the way.

So while at first I thought the sale would largely just be an opportunity to look, but not buy, I did make a couple of purchases along the way that made me happy.

Although it's the dealers who don't put much thought into their displays that tend to have the best prices, I love it when vendors create enticing vignettes to show off their wares.

I'm drawn to furniture (although I need nothing and don't have room for anything else, even if I did buy), quilts, pottery, things depicting animals, and (what a surprise) the handmade, quirky items that show up now and again. I was also very taken with the small sewing machines below and other toys. And I love when things are used or displayed in unexpected ways, like this "graveyard" of pieces that belong on old harvesters and other farm machinery—so much more striking than if they were piled in a basket.

In the end, we purchased an Iowa dairy milk bottle to add to our collection; eight small bread plates in the Spode Tower pattern, a blue and white china I grew up eating on at my aunt's house that will go nicely with my plain blue and white Dansk dishes; and a present for someone who occasionally reads my I can't talk about that one. But all three were decently priced and I felt very pleased at noon, when we headed home.

The rest of the weekend included some heavy-duty gardening and a couple of trips to the Iowa City Jazz Festival, the best part of which was hearing Lake Street Dive, a fabulous band from (mostly) Brooklyn. The enormously talented bass player is the daughter of a close friend and plays in several bands (including Joy Kills Sorrow). Lake Street Dive is so much fun to listen to—the lead singer has an absolutely stunning voice and the songs are mostly original (except when they take the occasional Jackson Five song and turn it on its ear). They're also fun to watch because they're obviously having so much fun together.

As much as the music, I loved sitting in camp chairs under the trees with my husband and friends, just hanging out, taking in the people and the pups who strolled by. It was a totally relaxing way to spend several hours. Like I said in my previous post, three-day weekends are the absolute best!

Monday, July 5, 2010

The sweetness of summer

[We interrupt this textile blog for some important announcements about food.]

Between the Farmer's Market and grocery store's fresh offerings, I always become a little unhinged at this time of year. I buy tons of fresh produce and then my week becomes a mad meal-planning and cooking scramble to use up everything before the next market, when the cycle repeats itself all over again. If I were really brave I'd opt for a CSA, but I'm not really brave.

This Saturday's market resulted in a fridge full of broccoli (for steaming), cauliflower (which will be the basis of a long-time favorite: Mollie Katzen's Cauliflower with Cumin and Cheese), green beans (to accompany a Sumer Barley Salad from Cooking Light ), the first-of-the-season sweet corn, and beets (roasted an hour in the oven...I used to steam them, but no more).

After the market I came home and got Paul and we drove out to pick blueberries.

I grew up picking gajillions of blueberries each summer during out vacations in northern Minnesota—the tiny kind of berry on tiny bushes. As I've gotten older I confess that these high bushes with larger blueberries appeal to me much more—and they were just loaded and will be for weeks to come.

Paul and I picked more than 8 pounds (here you see the owner weighing our two buckets).

(Blueberry pie is also on the menu this week, along with blueberries on cereal and handfuls of berries every time the fridge is open.)

Then, it was on to Wilson's orchard, where they had fresh Michigan cherries and where I saw this lovely Queen Anne's lace overlooking the apple trees.

We got two pounds of each type of cherry...does anyone see a pattern here? Like, I'm nuts? Still, there's something about getting things so close to their growing location and season that makes me a little's an impulse I can't seem to control.

...and did I mention I've got half a watermelon in the fridge, too? It's leftover from making a salad, the recipe from an Austin Farmer's Market last summer while visiting my eldest daughter—there are a number of variations floating around—here's one. The remaining half melon is going to become watermelon sorbet...following in the footsteps of my rhubarb sorbet of earlier in the summer.