Spate of Sewing

Besides my weekly quiltlets, I’ve been sewing other items as well. Before Christmas I ordered a bunch of knit fabric to make some things for my daughter. I began with brightly colored leggings.

oliver + s leggings at

I use the pattern that comes with the Oliver + S Playtime Tunic + Dress collection. G usually wears leggings and a dress or skirt, and she loves bright colors. It’s fun to make her leggings. I got a bit sidelined by the holidays, but then I began again with a tee shirt and leggings out of aqua polka dots.

oliver + s tee and leggings at

The tee pattern is also Oliver + S, from the Family Pack. The skirt she’s wearing isn’t handsewn, it’s purchased. She decided to go for a monochrome look here. We bought a couple of yards of the same fabric in pink; she asked for a tee and skirt from that.

tee + skirt at

I’d like to see her pair the pink skirt with the blue tee and leggings, but she’s in charge of what she wears, so. She wore this set with the multi-color polka dot leggings in the first photo and it looked adorable. The tee is the Oliver + S pattern again, and the skirt is just a basic skirt with an elastic casing.

Finally, I bought some Cloud9 knit fabric on sale at Joann with a coupon to make a wearable muslin of Seamwork’s Mesa pattern for me.

Mesa at

This is a size small, lengthened five inches because I wanted it to work as a dress. I’d like to make another version out of one of the Charley Harper Maritime Knits, and I think the next version will be lengthened by only three inches, extra-small neckline, small torso, and medium hips. Because while this one is definitely wearable, I’d like it a bit smaller along the neckline and a bit looser around the hips.

I still have two yards each of green and purple knit to make more leggings, tees, and/or skirts for G (I forget exactly what she “ordered”). And I’m sure there’s enough leftovers of various knits for me to make myself a long-sleeved shirt (maybe?). I reorganized my fabric earlier this week or maybe last week (days ran together; I had a sick child at home) and rediscovered a few yards of Tammis Keefe cats that I think should be a Dress No. 1. I’m also working on a sampler quilt in Lizzy House Natural History, but that needs its own post. In other words, I’m whipping through bobbins like they’re snacks over here.

In non-sewing news, we’re under a blizzard watch, which is hugely annoying as former, more northern home is only expecting 2-6″. Snow doesn’t make me anxious, but not knowing what to expect as far as power outages and infrastructure in a brand-new place that doesn’t seem to handle snow well does make me anxious. We had a two-hour school delay this week due to a dusting that didn’t even completely cover the pavement, so I don’t have much faith these folks know what to do with two feet of snow beyond flail in panic. Which is fine, you know, as long as we’re not freezing without heat in a rented house where it makes no sense for us to buy a generator. If the power goes out, I can’t sew, but I can knit until my fingers freeze. So we’ll wait and see.

Art Quiltlet: 3/52

Art quiltlet at

Finished art quiltlet 3/52. Reverse applique

This week I decided to try reverse appliqué and free motion quilting. My free motion quilting needs lots of work, but this is part of this whole challenge–getting better at various techniques. It would help if I’d remember to switch to the darning foot. It’s a process, people! This little quiltlet had a few steps.

First I gathered some brown material and cut and sewed strips, making two 8×10″ rectangles, one with horizontal strips and one with vertical. Then I cut and sewed a few times to make a block with various directional stripes. I layered my fabrics with the blue on top, then the pieced brown, then the batting (I’m using neutral flannel for these so far), then the back. With me so far? Because I didn’t take photos of the steps.

Next, I drew a tree onto the top blue layer, stitched outside the line, then cut on the line, revealing the brown pieced layer underneath.

Close up of reverse applique,

Colors are off here because it was under artificial light on the sewing table.

I neatened up the cut lines a little more after this was taken. Next step was to quilt, with my wonky free-motion quilting that needs so so much practice, and finally to crop. This is what it looked like before cropping (again with the off colors on the sewing table).

before cropping,

While I think about what I’m going to do beforehand, a bit, I like doing these all in one go, and this one was sewn start to finish Monday morning. I’m pretty sure this is the first time I’ve done reverse appliqué and the purpose of this is to get comfortable doing new things. Stretching! It’s good for the creative muscles.

Knit: Momoka

This was intended as a surprise Christmas gift for my daughter, who began ballet lessons this past fall. But I wrapped it up and gave it to her without sleeves, because the pattern was absolutely eating yarn and I had to order another ball and I wasn’t sure I’d get the same dye lot (I did, thank you, Jimmy Beans Wool!), so just in case I’d have alternated balls on the sleeves. But it’s just as well, because it was much easier to knit the sleeves with periodic tryings-on to check them. Anyway, let me back up a minute. The pattern is Momoka, and it’s knit in Classic Elite Song (in Ballerina, of course), and here it is, on the girl. (Ravelry notes here.)

Momoka ballet sweater at

Front view

Momoka ballet sweater at

Back view

I admit to some frustration with this pattern, which was written in a bit of a wordy way and didn’t give an accurate estimate of how much yarn to buy (I bought more than listed, was on gauge, and still needed to get another skein). I changed the sleeve decreases too, from every 7th round to every 4th, so my girl didn’t look like she had wings. I’m glad I have the know-how to adjust patterns when necessary but more and more often I find I need to do that with a pattern I’ve purchased, and it annoys me every time, because if I’m buying a pattern, it’s because I didn’t want to have to think much about what I’m doing. I have the ability to create a sweater pattern, but I just wanted to knit one. Ah well. It’s done now and she’s happy with it, even if she’s only wearing it to class, not in class, because she’s a warm-blooded girl.

Art Quiltlet: 2/52

flowers @

One day last week my neighbor called to say her son had been placed on the school bus by accident; could I possibly get him until she was home in a half hour? Of course! It’s not the first time I’ve had him over during a gap, and this time she came over with flowers, telling me how grateful she was that she knew she could call me and it would be okay. Flowers were totally unnecessary, but so cheery and welcome on my table. I also used them for this week’s challenge quilt, in which I practiced drawing with thread.

flowers and finished quiltlet at

Finished quiltlet and inspiration.

I used natural muslin and black thread, because I wanted to emphasize the line. But when I was done, I decided to add a little color with colored pencils–I looked for crayons, but for all the many art supplies I have, I couldn’t find new, sharp crayons. This piece took far less time than last week’s, but I will probably return to this technique many times this year, as I’d like to get more confident with it.

Here’s a close-up:

finished quiltlet 2/52 at

I definitely need more practice!

Art Quiltlet: 1/52

1/52 art quiltlet at

Inspired by The Uncommon Quilter, I’m going to attempt one art quiltlet per week. I’ve chosen 6×8 inches and a whole cloth base (versus pieced), but anything else goes. It’s a small canvas on which to improve skills, play with ideas, or just plain play. It’s okay if the result isn’t great; I’ll make another one the following week. As we approached Christmas I was getting a bit frustrated at the way my time was disappearing into…what? The least I can do is set aside a few hours a week to let my creative self play.

This week I gathered together some green scraps for a study in green. While it’s much more green down here than I’m used to for January–there are even flowers blooming–it’s actually fairly frigid today, and I decided to counteract that with some leaves. I used fusible adhesive for the appliqued pieces and wasn’t quite brave enough to try free-motion quilting over them. (I’ll work on that! The year is young.) I appliqued only on the top layer but I think maybe I could have gone through all three. It would be a different look, anyway. I decided to bind it with a bright green piece of (slippery) ribbon I found in my ribbon bag simply because I liked how the colors spoke to each other. I would not bind an entire big quilt with slippery ribbon. Good to know!

One of the suggestions in The Uncommon Quilter is to cut a template for the size you’re aiming for and work just a little bit bigger. The template is, in my case, a 6×8″ window in a piece of cardboard. This is what the piece looked like when I was finished appliqueing and hadn’t cut it down to size. The template allows you to tilt and crop a bit, improving the composition.

in progress art quiltlet at

The white borders are my cutting lines. Color is truer in the first photo; this one was taken in artificial light.

Pretty neat how it changes, isn’t it?

I have not, historically, been good at keeping up with challenges to do something daily. Perhaps I can manage weekly more often than not. And as a side benefit, I’ll be posting every time I make one, so this space will be a little more active. My expectation, too, is that by working creative muscles and stretching with different techniques I’ll be a much more confident art quilter this time next year. We’ll see.

November + December Reading Lists

December sunset at

December sunset seen through my kitchen window. End of year. Et cetera.

I never posted November’s list, so here they are together. I’ve made it through an entire year of keeping track of what I read (!!). The grand total is 111 books, so you know where all my spare time has gone this year, and then some. Hmm. I might be more productive if I didn’t read so much. Something to think about. You can see every month’s list by clicking on the reading category tag.


Primates of Park Avenue, Wednesday Martin
The Burned Bridges of Ward, Nebraska, Eileen Curtwright
How to Start a Fire, Lisa Lutz *
The Children’s Crusade, Ann Packer *
A Better Man, Leah McLaren
Unbroken, Laura Hillenbrand *
The Daylight Marriage, Heidi Pitlor
The Bishop’s Wife, Mette Ivie Harrison
Still Life With Breadcrumbs, Anna Quindlen *


Oranges Are the Only Fruit, Jeannette Winterson
Magnus Chase and the Sword of Summer, Rick Riordan
Fangirl, Rainbow Rowell *
The Obituary Writer, Ann Hood
The Boston Girl, Anita Diamant
Days of Awe, Lauren Fox *
Eight Hundred Grapes, Laura Dave
The Marriage of Opposites, Alice Hoffman *
Bastards, Mary Anna King
Attachments, Rainbow Rowell
Silver Linings Playbook, Matthew Quick

Knit: Arden Mitts

Arden mitts at

One of my new friends here in Annapolis, who also happens to be an artist, admired some knitting of mine and proposed a barter, pottery for knitting. I’ve never knit for money, but a barter sounded like a great idea. (Why won’t I knit for money? Because when you add up the cost of supplies and my time, I’d need to price it higher than most people would want to pay.) We talked about possible knits, and she decided upon fingerless mitts with long cuffs, to go with a three-quarter-sleeve coat she owns. After looking at several patterns and yarn possibilities, here’s the result–which she is modeling in the pottery studio, where I dropped them off to her. (She expressed concern about the state of her fingernails in this photo. However, those are hands that make. We love those kinds of hands, right?)


Pattern: Arden, knit pretty much as written.

Yarn: Madelintosh Tosh Vintage, colorway Red Phoenix, close to two skeins.

Needles: US 7.

This was a pay-attention sort of knit, just because of the cabling. But not overall difficult, and the result is gorgeous.

Working with Klee’s Intention

Materials: Watercolor paper, watercolors and brushes, oil pastels, copy of Paul Klee’s Intention as well as other works (as available) to discuss.

Last week I had the opportunity to facilitate some art-making with a group of fifth graders. My daughter’s elementary school has a program called “Guest Artist,” in which parent volunteers come into the class for forty minutes to present an artist and lead a project. Sadly, by the time I gained access to her classroom’s online signup, all the slots were taken, but I let the coordinator know I could fill in if other classes had empty slots. I really kind of love talking with kids about art.

Forty minutes for set-up, discussion, art-making, and clean-up is quite short, so that influenced this project. I also wanted to engage this age level, which is why I settled upon presenting Paul Klee’s painting Intention.

Page spread from Paul Klee for Children by Silke Vry

We began by looking at some of Klee’s artwork in general and I invited the kids to comment on what they noticed. There are no right or wrong answers here, of course. They observed that his lines were simple, he bordered on the abstract, and he didn’t seem too concerned with mistakes or perfection. He’s not one of those artists painting so realistically that it looks like a photograph (how freeing!). Then I talked to them about Intention (seen above), using Sike Vry’s book as a guide. We talked about how the shapes and symbols stood for things; what did we see? The figure separating the color blocks is a person. Everything behind the person is in the past, a memory or something left behind. Everything in front represents future plans, or intentions. I hung up a sheet with some definitions of the word from the dictionary:

Intention, n. 1. A determination to act in a certain way: RESOLVE
3. What one intends to do or bring about
(Merriam Webster’s Collegiate Dictionary, Tenth Edition)

I then explained the art-making.

Process: Each student received a 12″ x 18″ piece of watercolor paper and a black oil pastel. I showed my sample and explained they’d be making their own piece in the style of Klee’s Intention, with a figure representing themselves and symbols of both memories/past experiences and future plans.

sample of Klee activity at

My sample artwork.

I encouraged them to make marks with intention as well, to think about their symbols and make them confidently. Pencils weren’t allowed, both because it wouldn’t erase once the pastel went down, and because pencils encourage hesitant work (because of the option to erase and start over). Once the black pastel symbols were down, other pastel colors could be added for emphasis. Finally, the background colors could be painted in with watercolors, which would be resisted by the oil pastel, leaving those lines pure and vibrant while easily filling in the background.

students at work -

students at work

It was a great class to work with and I had loads of fun. The kids took to the process, thinking carefully about what to include and sharing with me the things they’d left behind. Getting to work with a group of kids in this way is a joy!

October Reading List

halloween still life at

We finally live in a trick-or-treating neighborhood after more than a decade, so we had some fun decorating for Halloween.

Fewer books than normal this month, I think. I abandoned more than one, for various reasons, and A Little Life is more than 700 pages. I didn’t even realize that when I requested it via Overdrive, and it’s a perfect use of a Kindle, in my opinion. I fell asleep reading it one night when my husband was traveling, and if I’d done that with the hard copy, I probably would have injured myself. Anyway, here’s October’s list–and honestly I’m amazed I’ve continued to keep track through ten whole months–with, as always, books I particularly liked marked with an asterisk.

The Woman Warrior, Maxine Hong Kingston
Life and Other Near Death Experiences, Camille Pagan *
The Wave, Todd Shasser (handed to me by my eldest, so of course I read it)
Why Be Happy When You Could Be Normal? Jeanette Winterson *
A Little Life, Hanya Yanagihara *
Who Do You Love, Jennifer Weiner
Two Sisters, Mary Hogan
The Death of Santini, Pat Conroy

Have you read anything good lately?

The Middle Years {And Adjusting}

creating space at

Quiet time together, creating a space for whatever needs to be shared.

“Can you pick us up after school?” my sixth grader asked. “I like to tell someone about my day right away.”

What parent would pass up that chance? It’s not really a hardship to drive ten minutes down Route 2 to pick them up. My middle child gets in the car and goes through his day period by period, telling me everything. My daughter, who just turned seven, often has me to herself when she gets off the bus, since her school releases earlier than her brothers’. My oldest has always been more reticent, but he, too, will share about his day, especially if he learned something he found interesting. We often critically analyze different ideas together. He’s been my main supermarket companion for several years now. He’s a really good helper, and it’s an opportunity to be together without any younger siblings around.

Parenting these children, not surprisingly, is no less involved than it was when they were babies, but instead of changing diapers and being attentive to signs of hunger or distress, I’m quietly monitoring the undercurrents and making sure I’m available when they need or want to talk. I’m making sure we’re not overscheduled, so we have space in our days for connecting. The boys participate in some after-school activities right at school. My daughter plays soccer and just began dance lessons. All of these are their choices. We still eat dinner together just about every night, because eating dinner together has always been a priority.

Last week my daughter complained of a headache and a stomachache. I looked closely and saw a tired-looking, overwrought child and decided she could stay home from school. We sat on the couch together, she reading, me knitting, the cat purring between us. Bit by bit, into the quiet space we’d created, she told me some of what was troubling her. Her new school is very different from her old school. Some of these differences are wonderful: a library, an art room, a room for PE and for eating lunch. But some things are harder to adjust to. The behavioral management charts—nonexistent in her old school—are causing anxiety. I learned details that concerned me. I spoke to guidance to get more information. I met with her teacher, which led to a meeting with the principal. Perhaps these concerns will spark change in the school. I believe in honoring children’s humanity, in believing they are doing the best they can, in helping them to feel invested in the success of the community, not shamed because their clip has moved backwards instead of forwards. I’m glad my daughter felt she could talk to me. I’m grateful we have the time and space to create the quiet necessary to talk about troubling things.

Meanwhile, my boys are getting letter grades for the first time. Our previous school didn’t use letter grades and, of course, my middle child has been homeschooled for the past three years. How does a homeschooler-at-heart adjust to grades, anyway? We’ve talked about them, how they’re not the be-all and end-all, that I don’t want them getting A’s but not engaging (which is certainly possible, as any smart student who’s figured out the game of school can attest). How I hope they’ll connect with their learning, go deeper, get involved. How if their best effort equals a C, that’s fine, but now that they’re in a system that uses grades, they can’t just ignore them, because they might need them for something. (My oldest, for instance, would like to apply to a high school magnet program, which requires minimum grades.) Honestly, A’s and B’s should be no problem for them, but I don’t want them in it just for the grades. The grades are a byproduct. We talk about this balance so they know: You are not your grades. Your grades are not your learning. But assess your goals, and be aware of what you need to do to reach them.

Which is all to say, being mother to these three children is a different sort of engagement than it was when they were small, strapped to my body or constantly by my side. It’s knowing when to step in and when to step back; when a stomachache is a stomachache and when it might be a symptom of something else. Being around and involved but not controlling. Being aware. I am so proud of these children, how they are adjusting, how they are conducting themselves. I am honored to hear their stories of school, to be allowed access, to hang with my boys at the bus stop when most middle school parents have been ordered away. I want each of them to feel they have me when they need me, with no distractions. It’s a sobering responsibility, to be present for these growing people, truly, wholly present. But what, really, is more important?