January. What would I do without you, specifically your frowsy second half, after the holidays and the birthdays and the outings? Because there are the lights . . . and the burnt-out lights and the only-half-put-away decorations and the only-half-put-away presents and all the things, things strewn here and there and everywhere, things that only appear here in the second half of January, somehow, and somehow my normally compulsive tidying impulse just drifts away like a little piece of fluff on the sodden winter wind. Bye-bye. There it goes! Instead I settle, and heavily, into the downy puff of calico on our sofa, let Amelia watch too much Peppa Pig (but she's so soft and snuggly, tucked under my big, soft arm where she fits so perfectly, when she's watching!), and cook giant batches of things to freeze for three more dinners, or twelve more breakfasts, all to minimize my time away from needle and thread. Because when I get an idea, especially in January, make way, all you other things I should be doing (cleaning! taxes! grocery shopping!). I must sew.
Could anything be more antithetical to my life right now than making tiny cross-stitches on 32-count linen? Oh my stars, it is slow, so slow, and so small. I couldn't decide if this was a good or a bad thing. For sure, it is stark relief against the background of days with a whirling, twirling toddler, who once again has started dragging the chair all over the house and getting into everything on every surface: the basket of punch cards and keys and stray coins we keep by the front door; my dish of extra buttons from new clothes, and jewelry, and random push pins (?) I apparently (though I had forgotten it, until she found it and strewed the contents around the room) keep on my dresser; the houseplants that are (leaf by leaf) being denuded of leaves; the Lenox wedding-china teacup she brought to me, holding it up in both hands as if presenting a rare bird. I gasped to see it and r u s h e d — you know the oxymoronic slow rush you must do so as not to completely freak her out and cause her to just wig, and throw it? — out of the kitchen to pluck the cup neatly from her little hands and try to determine how she managed to (silently) finagle the elaborate system of ponytail holders we have holding the china-cabinet doors closed (since the attempt at installing the baby lock on that door actually broke the door frame, etc., etc.). When her hair slides loose from its braids, and she is rushing from one of her work stations (the mail basket!) to the other (the dining-room lamp cords!), she looks like Animal from the Muppets (Andy's favorite childhood character, conveniently) in the midst of an epic drum solo. Our house is only so babyproofable. Not babyproofable enough, right now. Winter in Portland: You don't know what raining means until you have a careening, ambitious toddler that can't go to the park every day.
Nevertheless, oh my darling girl, how I love the torrent of language that is flowing from her lips. Almost constant chatter, and much of it starting to make sense, and the sense it makes is so sweet and so funny and so fascinating to me. Wow. The babble, the questions, the songs, the pretend noises (dinosaur! kitty!), the shouts, the calls, the exclamations (yuck-y! mine! no! yes!) the thrilling sentences ("I want to play with this one!"). A jumble of expression, numbers and colors and songs and letters like a burst of confetti thrown into the air every minute. How could I not make an alphabet sampler for my tiny love who is just learning, right at this very moment, the ABCs? I couldn't not. I have never had such fun designing anything, or done it in such a real-time way. Amelia takes the half-finished sampler from my hands, and names her world: apple, boat, kitty. Egg. Umbrella. Zebra!
I did the designing part quickly, like I do most everything else these days, rushing to finish plotting out every stitch on every single letter and image in one free afternoon. But then the stitching part — oh, that's the slow. And, well, now that I'm committed, it's a lovely, lovely slow. I had forgotten how lovely embroidering can be. I let myself completely settle in. It happens at night, after baby bedtime. Every night this month, by the white light of my hideous full-spectrum lamp, I stitch a motif, and a letter, and maybe half of a next one, drawing the thread through over and over again, finding it restorative after a season of so much activity — holidays, parties, events, trips, hikes, presents, people, etc., etc., etc. — and days of so much swirling, twirling toddlerness.
It's been a long time since I've designed a cross-stitch sampler, and I wanted to make this one a kit to use up the pretty substantial overstock of floss (from ornament kits, embroidery kits, and animal kits) that Stacey recently catalogued. There is a lot, and the palette is so pretty, I think. Most of the other cross-stitch pieces I've designed (and there have been quite a few that I never talked about here, because I did 1/3 of my second book on cross stitch, and none of those could be shared while in progress, which doesn't suit me) have been on 28-count linen. I thought it was my preferred. I do love it. But I couldn't get the color I wanted — Stone Gray, this sort of clay-colored, rosy gray — in 28-count (Cashel linen), only in 32 (Belfast linen). (To refresh your memory about cross-stitch counts, my tutorial on counted cross-stitch is here.) I pouted. I whined again about the cross-stitch industry (oh, fun!). I looked at and tested out about ten different colors. But I wanted Stone Gray. So I grudgingly started stitching on the 32-count, and I worked a few motifs on other colors of 28-count just to torture myself. And what happened was (you saw this coming, I know), I fell in love with the 32. Smaller, yes, but not even appreciably more "difficult" than stitching 28-count, and the motifs wind up looking tighter and brighter and more saturated, and that just feels right for this (rather large, in fact) piece. So now I love the 32! This almost never happens, but it did this time. Then the distributor called and said that Zweigart would custom dye, in Stone Gray, the yardage that I wanted for the kits in 28-count linen. And I said no. Now I'm sticking with the 32. So that's how that all went. And let's hope we can get this fabric.
Did you need to know all this? Probably not. But such is the exciting life of a cross-stitcher. I could hardly keep it to myself! And who else could I tell but you???
I love the design process so much, especially when it's not for a book, where there really isn't time to tweak the colors of the design. When I design on my own, I get to take my own time, and redo stuff until I'm happy. You don't know if colors are really "working" (that's relative) until you've stitched them. And they totally change depending on what background color (and, to a lesser degree, what count of fabric) you're using. I love all of that. I love working it out, and balancing it, and shifting it. I love obsessing about one color over another, changing the placement of an eye or mouth, or just swiftly rendering something to capture the feeling of energy that can't be belabored. You're seeing the first draft of it all here — these are not the final motifs or colors, but they're close. It's a funny life, in a way, to care about such little things in my few quiet hours of the day. It must provide some sort of weird balance, somehow. I don't even know. But it gives me something. It always has.
These are January thoughts, in the year that my baby girl is two.
***Answers to some questions here (more or less copied from the next post): The muffins were made from this recipe, and the Mammagetti is an old family recipe that came from my mom's mother. I think that's my sister's handwriting on the card. My mom said that when she was little she would often have ice-skating birthday parties and then everyone would come back to her house for Mammagetti. It is kind of a strange recipe — I made it for the first time last week in about ten years. There is an absolute ton of vegetables in this thing, so use a huge pot. My mom says that you really do HAVE to add the cheese. It totally changes it. And you really do have to cook it that long, I guess. As far as the "cheese container" size goes, I think the one I added was 8 oz. Re: the line in the recipe that says "fill to almost with water" [sic]: My mom says to just add 2 cups of water. Obviously, you can substitute fresh grated Parmesan or your own favorite spaghetti sauce for the Ragu, but this was the way we always made it in our family. It's a nostalgia thing. I love this but, ironically, my sister doesn't (anymore). I serve it over thin spaghetti with a big blob of ricotta and a big glass of milk. Sunday-night winter dinner. Yummy stuff.