Monday, February 8, 2021

Big Changes

Covid has done us a solid. When working from home, can home be anywhere? In our case, it turns out that the answer is yes.

The next question is huge. If home can be anywhere, where do you want to be? Somewhere warm? Somewhere on water? How about some land? Maybe a big city? For someone whose location has always been dictated by work, these are heady questions.

The answer was simple for me. If Covid's taught me anything, it's that I need my family. We went an entire year without seeing our grandchildren. It wasn't until we saw them at last at Christmas that I realized that home is where they are. Or at least a whole lot closer. Our kids are spread across the country, but they all still have ties to lower Michigan, so, come fall, that's where we're going to be also. We have absolutely loved living in Green Bay these past few years, it's a wonderful place to be, except for that darned big lake between us and our family.

The housing market is insane. Essentially, we're looking for space for our hobbies, with a kitchen and bedrooms. That's three car garage for Kent, and daylight studio space for me. After seeing house after house fly off the market in minutes, we decided to look into building what we want.

We found just the right place in Hastings, MI. It's a one acre lot. This picture is taken from near the back of the lot and shows the house across the street. Our lot backs up on a common area and a catchment basin that will never be built on. We'll have walkout daylight on the entire south side of the basement, and that will be my new studio space.

Last Friday, in the middle of the season's worst snowstorm, we made all of the choices for our home's finishes. All of them. Every freaking last one of them. My head still hurts.

We hope for this home to be our last until it's The Home for us. No pressure for making choices that we will live with for the next twenty years. We don't have an unlimited budget, so every choice can limit the next.

Some choices were easy. Builder's grade lighting and plumbing. I can change those fixtures at my leisure as I find the things I really love. Some were ridiculously hard, like door trim. Seriously, door and window trim broke my head. How is that hard?

Kitchen and flooring were also tough. I like all kinds of styles. I like wood, and I like painted. I like light counters, and dark, as long as they're not busy. We have a very busy countertop now and it's hard for a certain person (who cleans up after I cook) to remember to wipe it down. The only thing I really wanted was stone. I've had a granite countertop here in Green Bay, and I really love it.

We ended up with quartz with subtle veining in gray and tan. It should go with everything. And I have a sudden urge to weave a few brightly colored hand towels to liven up the place.

The hardest decision is when to sell our Green Bay home. Our new place won't be ready until October. Houses are selling very well right now, but where do we go for seven months? Home can be anywhere we can get a decent internet connection, right? Maybe even an RV. Or a house boat. Or a cabin in the woods.


Wednesday, January 27, 2021

Pandemic Pieces


So much about quilting is about making do, making the best of the scraps life gives us. Faced with a pile of batik scraps, leftovers from making masks last spring, what's a quilter to do?

When choosing fabric for a quilt, I think of them as guests at a dinner party. Each one needs to stand on its own, be interesting and add to the conversation, without fighting with anyone else. When choosing fabrics for masks, I was looking for quiet prints, somber even, suitable for men who live in blue jeans.

There certainly was a calming aspect to "crumb" piecing the top. Just pick up two pieces of fabric, right sides together and sew along the straightest edge. Trim, press and repeat. 

This is not how I usually work. I'm used to planning each step before I even look at fabric. I like to know where I'm going. I'm a researcher. I believe this might also be known as "control issues". Letting the quilt grow on it's own was a major leap of faith for me. I consoled myself by remembering that I was sewing with stuff that would have been tossed (no, I'm not a scrap saver), so nothing would be lost except for time, and we had plenty of that with the new lockdowns.

I have a bin of orphaned applique shapes, and jars of glue-basted circles. Continuing with the plan to use just leftovers, it was helpful to have a cache of applique shapes that didn't make it into the original project.

Still resisting an overall plan, it didn't take very long to stitch the applique bits in place.

It's been my goal for a while, to try to work outside my usual box. I'm too literal. I really admire abstract work, all while fighting the urge to straighten it up. This crazy quilt seemed to be a good place to play with embellishing just for the sake of doing it.

At first there was great progress, as I embroidered and beaded the obvious choices. But it became clear to me that I was still constrained by the shapes. Don't get me wrong, I like what I've done here, but it doesn't feel very bold or adventurous. 

It's been languishing now for a couple of months. There comes a time in every project when I become too attached to it. I like what I've done so far, and each new step is fraught with the fear of messing it up. It's always dangerous when the work becomes too precious.

I've done the obvious things, the safe, inside the shape things. It's time to do the weird, wild and wonderful things that happen outside my box. It may be awful in the end, but if I learn something in the process, it can hardly be a wasted effort, right?

Monday, January 25, 2021

So I know I'm not working

I think I was maybe eight years old when I learned to knit. My mom was working on mittens. (With six girls, one of us was always a mitten short of a pair.) I was breathing down her neck, watching the magic of flashing sticks and string turning into warm and wonderful mittens.

She handed me a couple of needles and a ball of yarn and told me to stop bugging her. I blissfully toddled off to a corner, wrapped the yarn around a needle and made knitting motions until some of the stitches stuck. It was a raggedy mess, but it was knitting and I was smitten.

I'm pretty sure my mom never enjoyed making mittens because when she saw the opportunity to relegate the chore to me, I got a couple of quick lessons and I was off to the races.

Before long I was using finishing nails and crochet cotton to knit sweaters for my Barbie. As a young adult, I was always the first to know of impending baby showers so I would have plenty of time to knit a layette.

Then I learned to quilt, and it consumed me. It was the mathyness of it, I think, that first seduced me. And the relative permanence, given that I was a stay-at-home mom with four little boys who gleefully undid everything I did during the day. It's a lot harder to outgrow a quilt than a sweater. Before too long, quilting became not only my passion but my job. I had to figure out how to come home from work.

Knitting socks turned out to be the perfect distraction. They're a relatively small project. They're easy to fit, mostly by just making them longer or shorter. The architecture is endlessly fascinating. Knitters wax poetic over graceful heel-turns and gussets.

A few years back I learned about a sock knitting competition. Yeah, you read that right. Sock Madness is an annual sock knitting competition. Hosted on, it's honestly the most fun I've had with my clothes on.

There are few things that I enjoy more than learning new stuff, especially about fiber hobbies. One of the amazing things about Sock Madness is that it has introduced me to many new knitting techniques, all while trying to knit a pair of socks faster than anyone else. It's a testament to how well the patterns are written, which, as a pattern writer, I greatly admire.

Sock Madness is gearing up for this year's competition. It really is friendly towards knitters of all skill levels, and you can be as competitive as you want. (I'm only competitive when there's a contest. Two years ago I made it all the way to the final round!) It's fun and friendly, supportive and silly and a terrific way to be distracted from the insanity of the world outside.

One of these days I'll design a pair of socks on my own. I've resisted because that's how I ended up with a career in quilting. And there are just so many folks willing to so beautifully do the thinking for me. 


Thursday, January 14, 2021

The Dammit Doll

Perhaps the real title of this post should be "and then I lost patience." That seems to define so many of my choices lately. Diane Harris, of Stash Bandit Quilting, started it. She posted a picture of her pandemic doll, covered in writing, that she used to help work out some of her frustrations, what we've all felt over the last year. And I thought, what a great idea! After some angst about making a doll of my own, and how that felt like more work than I wanted to do, I remembered that I had blank dolls squirreled away in my fiber closet. (Of course I do, doesn't everyone?)

The problem was that she was flat white and that felt too harsh. I have fabric dyes, but that also seemed like too much work. I have tsukineko inks and pens, so I started with that. My plan was to sneak up on the color, diluting it in water, soaking the doll and getting a lovely peach tone. Well, then I lost patience. The ink wasn't taking. So I dragged out my Derwent Inktense blocks and started shaving them into the water. Now she has a sunburn and freckles.

When I was a little kid I loved making dolls. I always did their eyes last because I didn't want them looking at me while I was poking them. Having matured some since them, the face was the first to be embroidered. I toyed with buttons for the eyes, and then beads.

Diane's doll is quite primitive, covered with words of sadness and frustration. As cathartic as that seemed, I just couldn't bring myself to do it. Instead, I hope my doll is going to lead me back to my creative self with a little bit of sewing every day.

So, embroidered eyes it is. And of course they are green, because mine are. She's a little lopsided, but then, aren't we all? And there she sat for a few days, nekkid and bald, while I thought about how to do her hair.

After considering yarn, and wool appliqued flat to her head, I ultimately chose to tear strips of fabric. I haven't had my hair cut since right before the shutdowns last year. (I've decided to hold off until March this year to see how long it can really get before I lose my entire mind.) The torn strips were then sewn down to another strip of fabric, which is about an inch wide and about five inches long. There are three rows of strips so my dolly can have a luxurious mane, and give me more choices for styling.

After my last post I've been contacted by several quilt teachers who are also struggling with depression. People who, for all to see, look like they totally have their shit together and haven't a care in the world. Let's find our way back together. 

I challenge anyone who is struggling with their creative mojo to clear a space, even a little one, and do one thing each day. Sew one seam, just sew two random pieces of fabric together, no plan. Make a mark on one page, a letter, a swipe, a fingerprint. Thread a needle, make a knot and make a stitch, any stitch in any piece of fabric that comes to hand. If more happens, that's cool. We fell in love with our art one tiny step at a time. Let's do that again. We can do that again.

When I turned on my machine yesterday, for the first time in many months, this is how it greeted me. Yeah, I know, I programmed that in, but I'd completely forgotten about it. Now I'm thinking it's time to look for my tiara. It has to be here somewhere. You better bet my doll will get one.

Wednesday, January 13, 2021

The thing about sourdough

The thing about sourdough is that it takes a while.

It begins with a "starter", which is basically a concoction of flour, water and natural yeast. It has to be grown, nurtured with twice daily feedings of flour and water, and, as most newbies believe, magic.

Like most newbies, within days of the first stirring, I started asking "how about now?" I was plagued with doubt. Everyone who has baked a successful loaf is an expert and every expert has an opinion.

It took a good two months to get to a healthy starter. But that was a good thing for me. I needed a purpose.

It takes a couple of loaves to get the feel for the dough. Like so many things, until you understand the process, it seems unnecessarily complicated and arbitrary. There are all sorts of new concepts and terms to wrap your head around.

As frustrating as it was, because, you know, I've been baking since I was a little kid and how freaking hard can it be? It was also good for me. I was in a battle for my life last fall. Finding something to learn, to master, to nurture was the perfect way to get out of my head.

Each loaf takes a couple of days to make. The steps really aren't hard at all, and it's not like you're slaving over the dough the entire time. There is work to be done, and then it is time for the dough to rest. Each working of the dough both undoes the previous work, and builds upon it. A more perfect metaphor for my battle with depression I can not find.

I began my sourdough journey last fall when I was coming out of yet another round of major depression and needed a purpose. Feeding "the baby" every day gave me something to be responsible for.

Depression is different for everyone. For me, it is filled with self loathing, failure and unworthiness, anger turned inward, as they say. I've battled it my entire adult life, even as I've entertained thousands of quilters, taught hundreds of classes, written dozens of books, laughed with friends.

I feel that I can share this struggle with you now because I'm no longer active on the quilt teacher circuit. I mean, really, who wants to hire a depressed teacher? At last, I can be completely honest with you, and in doing so, perhaps someone reading this won't feel so terribly alone.

My life is completely deluxe. I am blessed in so many ways. Even knowing that doesn't prevent the monster from haunting me. Depression is a damned liar and a thief of joy. Once more I have wrestled it to the ground. This is more than a loaf of bread to me. It's been part of the pathway home. Be kind. You may never know the desperate private battles being waged.