Swirlywhirl, and Slow

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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.


I was *just* thinking about you this morning as I have finally gotten off my kiester and am knitting the Sunshine Day Afghan. Went first thing this morning and bought all the yarn I needed! Your sampler looks so adorable. This one you just posted is so sweet because it's so personal. What a special thing for Amelia!! And these days where she is busy chattering must be so much fun for you all. I remember them well with my boys and how funny some of our conversations were. Such wonderful days for you. <3

If you please, I would like to be on the wait list for your Camp. I understand you don't run a camp, but it is my fervent hope that you will, someday, and I want to be sure I am in line. I would pack my bag with floss and hoops, with needles, and fabric bits, an apron, and a toothbrush, nightie etc... not much else. Thank you. It's just my day-dreamy way of saying... I would love to be in your company, learning, and sharing some of these swirlywhirl and slow days.

I swear I have that recipe, or one very similar, in an old cookbook from my husband's grandmother, one of those charity-group cookbooks with a spiral binding. The Desert Doves, a ladies' auxiliary group she belonged to in northern Arizona a long time ago. They had a winter home there. Your new sampler is so sweet. I look forward to seeing more of it. I'm about to start a Midsummer Sprigs over here and feeling a little nervous about the black linen but I see how well you're doing and I feel very inspired.

You are describing my daughter's life exactly, with her two year old girl, born right when Amelia was. In where else? Portland! Life is busy, happy, and never to be the same again. Enjoy this, I tell her. enjoy! Love the new sampler. I haven't embroidered much lately until the past few weeks and I enjoyed the feel of the needle through cloth again. Seeing the design emerge. Beautiful.

Oh I love that sampler so much! Thanks for sharing a progress picture with us. I have an almost 3 year old boy at home and I can sympathize with the whirling dervish that January brings!

oh my goodness … i loved all the close ups in this post … the rhythm of your life … in rows and zig-zagz … beautiful bits of color … all too wonderful … and i am with natalie (except i am not a cross-stitcher) i would love to share a bit of your world and insight in 'camp' :) … that little sampler is so darling, such a reflection of the love for your little one … just lovely!

I just adored this post. All of it. I have a 16 month old daughter and she is everywhere and chattering (making no sense to me but she is very excited about what she is saying). I just loved reading your January thoughts. Just thought I would tell you! Have a good day!

Susie Sears Taylor says: January 21, 2015 at 09:22 AM

You are doing everything right! Spending time with Miss A is the most important above all. She will be 12 soon enough :(

Damsonlily says: January 21, 2015 at 09:23 AM

As a grandparent of 6, (most of them boys) I have decided you can never have too much Peppa Pig. It's a bit like Winnie the Pooh; philosophical and with a bit of a moral twist. And unfailingly funny, lots to chuckle at. Things that small children see and things that only adults are meant to smile at. We are currently enjoying the latest offerings with Grandchild No. 5, (girl, nearly three) and listening to her interpretations.
Once children start school in the UK, Peppa Pig is put aside as being too babyish. They move onto other things and see life differently. "Why is that funny?" the eight year old asks, as we chuckle alongside her little sister.
Enjoy it while you can.

What a wonderful sampler! And what a wonderful idea to make frozen dinners so you can spend time creating! Thank you for sharing! The world is always so beautiful seen from your eyes. =D

Oh, this post makes me smile so much! :-) Actually, I was reading it with my little girl on my lap and she pointed out the onions and carrots and other familiar things in your lovely pics. Lots of words and sounds here, too! :-) A little girl imitating a lion - or dinosaur is just so funny! Your sampler looks so, so pretty already and your timing couldn't be more perfect for me. Just yesterday I finished my first cross-stitch project the Berry Border Pillow from your book and today I prepared the canvas for your Winterwoods ABCs. I think I'm ready now. For me, following instructions and making one small cross after another is just perfect right now. Also simple to pick up and lay down as life allows and requires. I'll let you know when I've got a pic of my Berry pillow! And I love that you'll be offering kits, so much more easy for me! :-) One day, I want to try designing something myself as well, but for now I'm very happy stitching your patterns! :-)

Cross-stitching is absolutely lovely. For some reason I'm only really satisfied when I have a very large project to work on; it makes a paradox of the teeny tiny stitch. I'm fond of the sweet, naive style of the French cross-stitch designer Prrette Samouiloff. Are you familiar with her work?

Enjoy your quiet January days with your adorable dynamic toddler.

Love it!

Laura from beautiful West Michigan says: January 21, 2015 at 10:30 AM

I know how you feel about telling us about your cross stitch designing adventures. I was so excited about some knitting I was doing and the only person around was my husband, so I babbled to him about it. Poor dear is very supportive, but it's like when he babbles about his new Tom Tom GPS to me - my eyes glaze over and it's an effort to look interested! By mutual agreement, when he goes into Best Buy, I go next door to Michael's!

I love your thoughts, nothing is too trivial. More, more, more, please don't stop. :)

T I N Y , but oh so adorable.

First, let me say that I am so jealous of your fabric stash! You have some beautiful fabric in there (and your quilts are gorgeous). We live in Seattle, so I can relate to the rain. I think growing up in the snow, I was outside so much more. I have a lot of guilt these days ~ and we have a lot of rainy walks and hikes (and stir craziness too). I've never tried cross stitching, but am now feeling inspired.

Hello! I have been reading for a while and I just love all of your projects and your sweet little girl! I would looove to do all of your kits and such but I can only cross stitch! No knitting or embroidery. So, I am loving this sampler and soooo hoping you will make the pattern available to us somehow!

The sauce makes me miss my dad, I love one of the fabrics in your stash, and your adorable baby has blossomed into a cute little girl.

Kristen from MA says: January 21, 2015 at 11:09 AM

Another Posie cross stitch sampler - YAY!!! I will wait patiently for you to finish it. :)

Adorable cross stitch! Time is going so quickly. I can't get over how big your sweet girl has gotten! Enjoy every minute:)

hi! i got to your site through your friend martha, and it's very lovely. speaking of clutter, I have a recommendation, the book The Life-Changing Magic of Tidying Up : The Japanese Art of Decluttering and Organizing by Marie Kondo. So fun to read and so, so inspiring!

Do I need another stitched sampler in my life and in my home? Yes. Yes, please. I do.

I will wait patiently for more details.

Such beautiful ordinary days. The year they are two is one of the best, I think ... but then, all the years are good :-)

Oh my gosh!!!!! I just read and laughed and laughed when I read the part where Mimi comes in with the Lenox tea cup cradled in her little hands and you have to give her the "non-chalant" oh here let mommy see that a minute before she realizes you're freaked out and definitely tosses it!!! Too funny!!!
And g for girl is a super drawn image of Mimi !!!! Xox

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About Alicia Paulson


My name is Alicia Paulson
and I love to make things. I live with my husband and daughter in Portland, Oregon, and design sewing, embroidery, knitting, and crochet patterns. See more about me at aliciapaulson.com