Posts filed in: Life

This Was May

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This was May, though there were a lot more necklaces, paintings, flowers, books, getting cats out of trees, worry, and tears for the state of the world. A lot more tears. And helpless, seething anger and fear for our children's futures. Every night I fall asleep to a sleep story (right now, Humphrey in Rio) on my Calm app, taking big, deep breaths and listening to the traffic outside. In my head, when the story finishes and I'm not yet asleep, I throw imaginary pots on the potter's wheel, slowly centering clay, feeling it push against my hands, feeling myself attempt to steady and control it. I'm terrible at it, in fact. The clay spins and slumps.

The weather has been warm but still very rainy, generally speaking.  The sweetest thing is watching Agatha learn how to be outside. At times we're still unsure about this decision we've made to let her Out. But she, mostly with great caution, has been going outside for about a month or two now, ever since the weather has warmed up. The backyard is fenced and she mostly stays in it (though we did find her in the driveway a few weeks ago, which is why I say "mostly"). But mostly she literally creeps around the backyard, trying to move so no predators see her, apparently. She listens to the birds and sniffs the air and lays on the warm bricks in the sunshine, watching little bugs crawl in and out of the cracks. She sits on the back porch and tilts her face up toward the sun. She runs over to me, meowing loudly — it's genuinely like she's trying to talk to me, and tell me things about Outside — whenever I come out. She sits under the thick hood of climbing hydrangea against the wall when it rains. Three times she's run straight up the trees — twice up the apple and once up the dogwood, each time going way too high. Making the choice to run up a tree gets you a swift trip back into the house. (Andy and I look at each other, grimacing, picturing ladders and balancing and trying to grab a cat that is trying to stick every claw into you while you teeter precariously. Great.) We bring her in whenever we are done worrying about it for the day, or whenever we leave the house. But her joy — her absolute wonder and pure delight as she sprawls out, furry belly splayed on the hot wooden stair, listening to birdsong — you can literally sense it, and it makes me so happy. I wish you similar, simple joys.

Amelia and I have been spending several hours every week in the children's department at a suburban library. She gets her homework done and I sit in a big chair and read and read. I don't know why we didn't do this all year, but we only started a few weeks ago. It's really nice. She's motivated to finish the homework so she can go play on the library computer. I'm thrilled to have several hours of enforced reading time that I don't normally get/take. I've finished two books there since we started going (one was Northern Spy and one was The Secret Place; not sure I recommend either, actually). Not sure what I will read today.

Thank you very much for all the feedback about the books that Amelia is reading/listening to. I really appreciated the discussion about Anne with an E (and Harry Potter). I think I will watch that Anne myself sometime and save the Megan Follows version for Meems this summer. We are almost finished with reading Anne. And now I really have no idea what we should read this summer! I like reading the classics out loud to her because I know she probably wouldn't pick these up herself. But she really likes listening. Hrmmm. What next?

Last (and late): A Tender Year: May is finally now available. Thank you so much for all of the sweet ideas for this, and I'm so sorry for the delay. Hoping to have June finished before July, I swear.

Beauty1 web

Big Blossoms

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That exact lilac is sitting on my desk right now, the first I've picked of the season. It's actually my neighbor's bush that hangs over our fence. It's way in the back of their yard where they never go and I'm not even sure they know it's there. Last night we had a FROST warning. I'm so over it. It's just freezing cold and raining every single day. We broke a rainfall record for April. My car is leaking from somewhere onto the passenger-side floormat. It's perpetually wet. I had wanted to have a few girls over for pie under my apple tree. I thought of this about a month ago. I even bought a new tablecloth for the outside table. But there hasn't been one reliably clear day yet todo it. The garden is EXPLODING nevertheless. We kind of miss the show, however, as we run in our raincoats from the house to the car, trying to keep cold rain from hitting us in the face. My gosh, the flowers are so beautiful! The piiiiiiiiinks. I staunchly insist this is my favorite time of year but I won't lie I am freezing and kind of tired.

My May Tender Year design continues to be nowhere in sight, and I don't even have a drawing for it yet. It just doesn't feel like May! It feels like March. What things should I put in May? Help. I don't even have any ideas! If you're keeping up with me on these and you are waiting for May, feel free to yell at me. :| I know. I'm sorry. The days unroll in a scattering of pompoms and beads and blossom petals across the floor. I seem to be doing the bare minimum, somehow. Not sure why.

There is a month or so left of school. Amelia will go back to in-person next year. I am both happy and sad, worried and relieved. Or something. I don't know what I am. I'm trying to savor this time without simultaneously wishing it would change. I can see her growing up before my eyes. At bedtime (or actually, several hours before bedtime, as it turns out) we do our usual routine where we go upstairs (this is early, at about 6:00 p.m.) and we change into nighties and brush teeth, etc., and then I read to her like we always have. We used to snuggle on the big bed in the big pillows and read picture books from the library. But now she likes to play with this pretty fabulous Calico Critter apartment complex she set up in my bookshelves. There are several floors of rooms. It's a hive of activity. So I sit on the bed. She plays and plays and I read chapter books out loud. (Then I go downstairs and she stays up and plays. I need my mommy-TV time.) Right now we're on Anne of Green Gables. I read a chapter or two a night, editing it on the fly (there is a lot of negative adoption talk, among other things). Every night we say, worriedly, delightedly, "Oh, I cannot wait to see what trouble Anne is going to get into today!" Amelia, the child who had more homemade dresses than she could wear, is perplexed by all the talk of puffed sleeves, and Marilla's unrelenting refusal to provide: "Why doesn't she just make her a dress with puffed sleeves?" Genuinely nonplussed. :) I have not watched the newest Netflix version and Amelia has not seen any of the TV series. Not sure which one we'll watch when we finish the book. We read The Borrowers this fall and watched The Secret Life of Arietty shortly after. I didn't really like it, I remember. I didn't realize there was an actual live-action Borrowers (from 1997, apparently) but maybe I'll check out that one. I do remember liking the Megan Follows Anne series when I was younger. I've heard the Netflix one is violent? Or something? Disturbing? Maybe I'll preview it. Amelia recently finished reading the first Harry Potter book to herself, so we are all watching the movie at dinnertime, a half-hour or so at a time. It's the first "big" book that she's read alone to herself so it's been fun to wait for her to finish to watch the movie. Believe it or not, I have never read the books and I guess I had watched the first movie twenty years ago but remember almost nothing about it. My most vivid memory of anything Harry Potter–related is inadvertently going to Costco for one of the first and last times (we just have never really been Costco shoppers; the stores are really far from our house) on the Saturday morning that one of the Harry Potter books had just been released (I don't remember which book it was; probably the third or fourth) and the store was literally filled with children sitting in shopping carts — like, in the actual cart part of the cart — reading big huge Harry Potter books as their parents pushed them around and tried to stuff groceries in the cart around them. Like, fifty different shopping carts, each with a reading kid in it. Isn't that a funny image? Lol. It seemed very meta, actually, like something I could picture happening at Hogwarts itself. It was so sweet. :)

I've been trying to think of and make some props for my jewelry pictures I want to take, so I spent the weekend crocheting little things and making a big Perler bead girl. Maybe I can style them to figure out how to include them in my pictures. I really enjoy doing Perler beads! They have the same meditative quality as designing or doing cross stitch except that you can do them with your kids. We tried dyeing some white Perler beads with Rit synthetic dye, which dyes plastic buttons really well. But the dye did not strike the Perler beads nearly as well as it did the buttons so I don't know if I will try that again. The were pretty, though. But like, the red dye turned the Perlers to peach, and I couldn't get anything darker than that no matter what I did. So it's only good for certain colors. The peach was pretty, though.

Okay, better go figure out what's for lunch. Anyone else have a hard time figuring out what's for lunch? I literally never have a clue what to make.

** Thank You **

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Thank you so much for all your kind words about Clover. We read every comment and were moved to tears several times. I am so touched that there are still so many of you who remembered when we got her back in 2007 (and even those of you who remembered Audrey). I find it just so touching that people take a little moment to think about a little dog they've never met in real life, and wish her well on the next part of her journey. Thank you for doing that, and sharing that with our family. It really helped me and I am grateful for your gentle kindnesses here. Thank you.

We have been working like crazy on our yard. I was sitting in the hot tub a few mornings ago just staring out at the backyard, feeling proud of what we have done. I realized that both the front and back yards felt a bit like the secret garden. We had kind of neglected the back yard, especially. Dead leaves, dead plants in pots, yucky hydrangeas covered in old brown blossoms, broken pots. A very gnarly porch rug covered in black stuff. Empty planter boxes on the porch. A ton of crabgrass in the front borders. Almost nothing but strawberries, a few calendulas, and a forget-me-not in the raised beds in the hellstrip. I mean, it happens, over the winter. This is all pretty standard. But it had been a while since we'd really done a thorough accounting of our plants, and really tried to get nice stuff (even a few perennials) into our many pots (I counted a total of 31), and had bought compost to mulch the beds. So we started cleaning out old pots, going to the nursery to get a few things every week to plant in them, moving strawberries from the raised bed into pots in the backyard, planting the planters with stuff that will be pretty in a month or two. We ordered two yards of compost and had it delivered to the driveway, and Andy spent the weekend covering the beds in brown paper bags to keep down the weeds and topping it all off with several inches of compost. Trimming back the ornamental grasses, which have grown monstrous and probably need to be divided. Planting a few clematises to replace our big one that looks mostly dead. (They often looks mostly dead in spring before they leaf out, but this one looks particularly dead.) Amelia and I started a new hobby of constantly checking NextDoor (neighborhood app) for new postings of free plants and, when we saw something good, jumping into the car and hauling across the neighborhood to be there first (and, we often are!) So far we've gotten a clump of pink phlox, a bleeding heart, and, yesterday, a whole bunch of purple alliums! That said, you get what you pay for sometimes — by the time we got to the bleeding hearts, the plant had been completely run over by a car and was smashed to smithereens. We still took it home and planted it. I even got that darling green table for twenty dollars! So, everything was looking so pretty. The apple and dogwood trees were about to bloom. The tulips were in full flush, the daffodils were finished, the magnolia was flowering, the hydrangeas are fully leafed out. And then at 3:30 a.m. I woke up to go to the bathroom and look at this:




SOB! Noooooooo! Oh my stars. Absolute chaos. I had heard rumors of this in the forecast but never thought it'd hit us here on the valley floor. It was literally 76 degrees three days ago! And now it's 36! We hardly get this much snow even in the middle of winter, let alone almost mid-April. So, school is canceled today, even online school for us, due to many power outages around town, and I know there are many downed big trees from the pictures I'm seeing on the news. I mean, many trees are fully leafed out or heavy with cherry blossoms or other blossoms right now so, oh my. They say we haven't seen this kind of thing in eighty years here. Quite unusual and I won't lie, I want it to melt immediately. I was absolutely and totally ready for and indulging in spring.

I have my April design for A Tender Year ready, and I just need to proofread it and then post it. I will do that tomorrow or Wednesday, I promise. I got behind in my work and Amelia got really behind in hers while Andy and I were busy with Clover, and it was a unique kind of challenge (I don't want to repeat) trying to get her caught back up. She was about eleven or twelve assignments behind and wow, that was a first. Do not recommend. Anyway, my April design is ready and has been photographed and I just need to get back in my swing. I was able to send another check (for $110 this time) to the Ukrainian Bible Church last week, so we altogether sent $360 to Ukraine for the month of March. The war continues to rage on in a horrendous way. It's just terrible. I pray for peace daily and it's just . . . absolutely heartbreaking.  I can't even find words.

I am reading The Blue Tattoo: The Life of Olive Oatman and it is very compelling. I am only about halfway through it. At night, I've been watching a lot of Monty and Gardener's World and also these two very light shows that I just absolutely love: One is Baby Ballroom, about little kids (and some tweens) who do ballroom dancing in England, and Old Enough!, about toddlers running their first errands in Japan. I think they are both on Netflix. If you can get a chance to watch Old Enough!, try to watch Season 1, Episode 7. Or also Episode 4. I'm only on Episode 16 myself (they're short, probably fifteen or twenty minutes each). Oh my gosssssh. I am fascinated.


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It hurts my heart to write this and tell you that Clover Meadow passed away last week. Andy took this picture of her and Agatha on the occasion of Agatha's first time in the yard just a few days before. Clover was almost fifteen years old. I know that some of you have been reading this blog that long and will remember when she was a puppy. Honestly, this is so hard to write. Amelia is sitting behind me at her desk about to start school and I'm afraid I am going to start crying again. I've been putting this off for days, hoping I won't. I am inadequate. She was the sweetest dog. The end was hard. Clover. I miss and love you. Rest in peace, my darling, sweet friend.

Spring Break

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It's spring break this week, and Amelia and I have been busy gym-shoe and other shopping for her. Shoe shopping is not what it was. I was longing for a Stride Rite or a Buster Brown, and a kindly salesman who would have had her take a seat so he could measure her foot on the metal measuring thing (because I honestly had no idea what size her feet were anymore), who would've come back with boxes of shoes and laced them up for her and then checked her toes to see how they fit, and have had her take a walk around the carpeted store for a test drive. We were hard-pressed to find an actual salesperson anywhere, even at Macy’s, on Day 1. Day 2 I printed out a kid's foot-measuring chart (turns out she's a US size 3.5 and an extra-wide width) and wound up at a massive DSW where I got her a new pair of Reebok tennis shoes and some running shoes (wow, I had no idea how expensive nice new shoes are, having bought almost everything secondhand for many years) because she wants to go jogging with her dad. She went on a carousel ride at the mall, got a Pink Drink and a cookie at Starbuck's, got a pink velour jogging suit, and picked out a new clematis for the front yard. In every moment I can feel my intentional buoyancy and yearning for “normal.” But the Target looked like a dump, crushed cereal and clothes all over the floors, and the up-escalators at the big mall were broken (well, the two we tried, anyway), and the salespeople were nowhere to be found, and these things are of course ridiculous as entire cities and millions of lives in Ukraine are laid to waste in mere days at the whim of one evil, murderous maniac. I can’t stop thinking, stupidly, helplessly, How could this be? Someone!?! My girl grows out of her clothes. Hold all of these things.


At home, I've been sewing a lot and have made several things, none of which actually fit very well after all (ha!) and I'll probably take them (a few shirred nightgowns that are too narrow and too short, a muslin that was also too straight, a muslin that was too big in the neck) to Goodwill. I liked this top (above, photo taken after I'd washed it to shrink it a bit, though it didn't really shrink), which I made patchwork sleeves for out of some squares in the stash that were originally cut for the sawtooth star quilt I decided not to make after all. I used Simplicity pattern #9193 (this seems to be out of print; I had it in my stash) and ultimately did an FBA (full bust adjustment), which worked brilliantly and was barely difficult after all. I used this tutorial for doing one on a raglan seam. There is a 5" difference between my upper bust and my full bust (whoa) so an FBA is really necessary — so, I need to go down two patterns sizes, and match the bust measurement on the pattern sizing to my upper bust (so that the neck and shoulders and armsceyes fit), not my full bust, and then do a significant FBA (added 2.5" to the bodice front [doubled, that's 5"]). Worked like a charm! Perfectly exciting! I also added about 1.5" to each of the side seams to make the shirt more A-line in general (it's cut pretty straight, too straight for comfort in quilting cotton). Anyway, the bust on my dress form still needs about 2" to fill it out all the way to 47". I tried to stuff it with polyfill and it just looked ridiculous and also mildly terrifying. I bought some bra inserts but they were still too small [laughing]. What can I say. G cup.


I am making this lovely cardigan in a women's size XS for Amelia out of hand-dyed (by me) Nature Spun worsted. I dyed the yarn a few weeks ago, dyed six 100g skeins with one teaspoon of Rit dye in Cocoa Brown. One teaspoon! I love the wonderful videos from Essence of Autumn yarns and this one, about dyeing solid colors, finally clued me in to adding my citric acid only after the yarn has been soaking in the dye water for a while. That slows down the dye striking, and allows you to get smoother and also lighter solid colors. It totally works. Also, kind of amazing that Cocoa Brown actually produces this luscious, warm pink, no? I am thinking about dyeing some spring colors to sell. I feel like I'm getting some really pretty colors lately. I've been knitting this sweater while bingeing Bad Vegan on Netflix (scary, eesh. Reminded me of The Tinder Swindler).


I'm realizing I only have a week to design and complete my April design for Tender Year and I haven't even started yet, so I might be a few days late. And oops: I meant to say last time I posted, a tutorial for wrapping your canvas with embroidery is now here. I have another $92.00 to donate to Ukraine so far — thank you again, so much, for that. Andy is home tomorrow and I'll have some time to work. Our yards need some serious cleanup. It's that time of year. Things are just starting to really froth out. The sun, when it shows itself, is glowing and low in the guest-room windows at dusk. At bedtime, I face this window from down the hall. Amelia plays with a three-story Calico Critter "house" that she's set up on my bookshelves while I read The Moorchild by Eloise McGraw out loud to her (and then she reads Harry Potter, which believe it or not I've never actually read, to me). The Moorchild is probably the most intense children's chapter book I have ever read. According to my Amazon, I purchased The Moorchild in April of 2017 but we're only just reading it now (the age range says 9-12). I have no idea why I bought it or if someone suggested it to me or if I saw it somewhere, but wow. I think it's one of the most creative and evocative and emotional books I've ever read, and the writing is stellar. That said, it's kind of a brutal kids' book, to be honest. I almost sobbed while reading it yesterday (we're almost at the end) and Amelia said her heart was racing at the end of the chapter. I'm actually surprised it's a kids' book but I guess I don't know that much about kids' books, really, or why this wouldn't be a kids' book. But it's just . . . like, the general premise (it's from the perspective of a changeling) kind of just destroys my heart from the get-go, and every main character is sympathetic, and, I don't know, the story is just mesmerizing to me. It is a Newbery Honor book from 1997. Who's read this, and what did you think?


Flower fairy wishing you a happy spring!

Deep in the Details

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Thank you from the bottom of my heart to every person who purchased A Tender Year: March embroidery pattern so far. I was able to send a check for $250 to the Ukrainian Bible Church aid fund on Tuesday and I will send another one for the balance of the total sales for this pattern at the end of the month. I am so grateful to all of you who helped with this donation. I expect that all of us are in state of utter sorrow and disbelief and helplessness over what the Ukrainian people are enduring right now. I pray for peace. I don’t know what to say or do.


I told my sister that I had been making a lot of quilts lately. (She said, I get it. Going back to the start.) I think I have made five or six in the past couple of months so far. I've actually lost count. I haven't photographed any of them finished yet. The making is the thing for me right now. Cutting and stitching and trimming and pressing, patch after patch after patch. Patching. Stitching and pressing. I'm almost finished unearthing and then ironing every scrap of fabric that I have. I have a lot. I don't even understand how someone can have so many "scraps." As I said, a lot of them are from quilt kits we've made for Posie in the past. But I also must have sewn a lot over the past twenty years. It makes me so nostalgic. I remember literally every fabric. It's weird. I sewed so many dresses and things for Amelia, and all of that sewing and knitting saved my life then. I loved every minute of it.


I still love it but I don't do it as much because at some point sewing started to really hurt my back. Years ago I even had an ergonomic specialist lady come out to my house and look at my sewing set-up and figure out what I was doing wrong that was causing me so much back pain when I sewed. It turned out that almost everything was too low for me, and I have a really long . . . top part of my leg. Thigh. Like, my waist is really high. I'm short-waisted but the length from my waist to my knee is really long, according to her. So we made a few adjustments, including raising my cutting table and raising the height of my chair. But to be honest, none of it really helped. Sewing still really hurt my back. I think it's because my back is weak and I don't sit up straight very often, so when I sit up straight to sew, those back-sewing muscles are pathetic. But, I just decided I didn't give a shit. I started sewing again. I've been sewing up everything in sight. And at night I put a heating pad behind my back on the sofa and . . . it actually helps. On top of that, I think the back muscles might actually be getting stronger these past few weeks. Either that or, I don't know, pain is relative anymore. It feels worth it because for the first time in a long time I have found some joy and peace in my studio. I have tried a lot of different crafts these past two years of Covid. There was clay and polymer clay and resin and jewelry making and beading and drawing and painting and tole painting and of course the usual, cross-stitch and embroidery and knitting and yarn dyeing. But lately, the sewing has been bringing me back to myself. And I want that. I want that back. I want to be in flow. I want to care about the silly little details, getting some stupid little thing just the way I want it to be, making something come together out of just some random idea, some thing that I saw that I wanted to create. I want to be deep in those things again.


In with the stacks of the fabric there were a few blouses that I must have cut out for myself several years ago and hadn't finished for whatever reason. (I finished them today. Inspired. No pattern I can find around here for this blue top, though I know I used one. I just don’t know what it was.) I thought about my pleating machine, on a shelf in the basement, unused for many years. I suddenly wanted to get a dress form and actually use it to make some clothes for myself. Use it to drape and fit. To come up with a few basic shapes and patterns that actually fit me the way I want them to and then use them to explore some ideas that I have to make some stuff to wear this summer.


Nothing earth-shattering but just clothes that I like and that feel like me and what I want to wear — loose clothes, peasant tops, floaty and full things, kaftans, skirts with pockets for my keys, phone, and wallet, stuff that you pull over your head, no buttons, no plackets, no facings, no zippers. Lots of things gathered on elastic. And Amelia needs clothes, too. I don't have much in the way of "apparel" fabric. I think of apparel fabric as cotton lawn or linens or cotton voiles, and I don't have much of that. But ohhh do I ever have a lot of vintage quilting fabric yardage. Ha! So I'll be the size 18 lady at the playground wearing an entire wardrobe made out of Joan Kessler and Peter Pan quilting calicos from 1983. Watch out.

Ukraine. I pray for peace for your families and your children. May you find shelter and safety in these dark days.

A Tender Year: March

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Cover beauty blog

I designed this piece a few weeks ago, when the daffodils were just starting to emerge and the threat of war against Ukraine was not yet a reality. As the days have unfolded in more and more fear, sorrow, and destruction, my heart is breaking for the people of Ukraine and their children. A Tender Year: March PDF pattern is now available and all proceeds from the sales of this pattern through the month of March will be donated to the Ukrainian Bible Church here in Fairview, Oregon, where my Ukrainian friends go to church and which is collecting funds to help Ukrainians who have been hurt and displaced by Putin's invasion. I pray for peace for these devastated families and wish you all peace and thank you sincerely for your help.

Fluff Pouf One

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Quite pleased with my fluff pouf!!! I decided to keep it! :) It fits right in here and is warm and soft and cozy and wrinkled and creamy and cushy and sweet. I used an Ikea Myskgras to fill it and tied it quite minimally with some Anchor perle cotton #8 that I had.


I got a question in Instagram when I posted a picture of the top about how I did this, so I thought I'd talk a little bit about it because maybe it will encourage someone else to make a quilt who might otherwise be intimidated.


I came from a sewing family but not a quilting family. I learned to sew at home with my mom, but she sewed clothes and not quilts. Sometime in the early 1980s we had a pattern and we were going to make a biscuit quilt out of mint green calicos and I think we even got as far as to cut everything out but then . . . I'm not sure what happened. It didn't get made. How I wish I had those squares now! The biscuit quilt is getting popular again. I saw a bunch of them on Pinterest and they are so cute.


When I was a junior in college I lived with my two best friends off-campus in a little white house on 8 1/2 Avenue. One night an older friend came over with a patchwork quilt she had been making for her sister for Christmas. She had cut a bunch 8-inch squares of all different kinds of fabrics (cottons but also corduroys and silky stuff) and had sewn them together and had put a border on it all and it was just gorgeous. (She was an artist so her color sense was awesome.) My friends and I were all inspired and I think all three of us decided to make quilts immediately. We didn't have a rotary cutter or self-healing mat and I'm sure we wouldn't have even known that those existed. But we did have a sewing machine and scissors, and we took a piece of cardboard and cut out a big square and traced it onto the backside of fabrics with a ballpoint pen and cut out all the squares with the scissors. We didn't have money so we went to the fabric store and bought bargain fabrics and calicos from JoAnn's or whatever fabric store we had back then in the Quad Cities; I don't remember what it was called but it wasn't fancy. At some point with a school field trip for religion class I went to a fabric store in a barn (I think?) outside of Kalona, Iowa, that was owned by Amish women. It was the best fabric store I've ever been to. They had Liberty Tana Lawn, and that was the first time I'd ever seen that fabric. They had so many beautiful fabrics. They had no electricity so it was really hard to see what you were getting. One time I bought fabric (I'm pretty sure now it was Lodden) that I thought was green and when I got it outside it was dark gray. I told my roommates about it and we went back several times over the next couple of years. So our quilts had bargain-table calicos and then pieces of exquisite Liberty lawn and that just makes me smile. Isn't life funny? I never dreamed I would be doing basically the same thing, thirty years later. (I've written about this Amish fabric store — I have no idea what it was called — before and someone mentioned that it went out of business long ago.)


Anyway, cut to thirty years later. . . .


My scrap basket overflows. I've made many things since I moved into this house in 2000. I've made clothes for myself and my daughter and quilts and I've made bags and aprons and other random stuff to sell and I've sold kits and, I don't know . . . I've made a lot of stuff out of fabric. I have a lot of yardage, still. But I have A LOT of scraps. I have a giant basket in my office and it is filled almost to the brim. I also had three big plastic bins into which we dumped out the giant basket a few times. The plastic boxes were in the attic but Andy brought them down for me a couple of weekends ago. I hadn’t thought about them in a long time but suddenly I wanted them. It was like opening a time capsule. I borrowed my neighbor's tabletop ironing board and put it on the sofa and ironed a bunch of scraps while watching TV in the living room.


That’s how these quilts (I've made two this week and have started a third, but these photos are of only the first one) started. I reached into the plastic box and I pulled out a scrap and I ironed it flat. Then I did it again (and again) and started building a stack. The scraps are pretty random — some of them are cray shapes that got leftover after cutting out pieces for making clothes. Some of them are strips that have one straight edge and one raw, crooked edge, and are the last, wonky cuts from the hundreds of 4.5" strips we have cut for Calicozy kits. Some are strips of other sizes. Some are just random rectangles or squares from I-don't-know-what — old projects, old quilts, stuff I've found on eBay and at estate sales, stuff someone found in their mom’s basement and sent to me. It doesn't matter what they are. I ironed them flat if they weren’t  already and just put them in a stack. I don't arrange them by size or color because I literally don't have room to store anything in a fancy way like that. It's all going back into the plastic box, ultimately — well, it's going back into the plastic box if it doesn't get "chosen" for the quilt that's about to get made.


When I'm about to actually make a quilt, I pull out part of a stack. I start going through it, piece by piece, and picking out the fabrics that I want. Sometimes I have a color-scheme in mind (the quilt pictured here was pretty random, but one I made after it was "purples, light blues, and creams"). The one I worked on today was pinks and greens (no blues). Inevitably, they all have pink, they don't have red or most primary colors (I just don't use a lot of those colors in what I sew), they usually have a few dark patches that ground them and just . . . I don't know . . . tie them into the stuff of the rest of the house. The doorknobs, the TV screen, the fireplace. Just a little bit of dark to hold them in place and give them some depth and dimension.


Then I will take that edited stack — and I just kind of eyeball how much I think I'll need for a quilt top (lately they've been a generous throw size, about 58" square) — and only then will I start trimming those pieces into the largest kind of rectangle or square I can get out of each piece. If it's a strip and it looks pretty even, I'll trim off the selvedges. Then I'll take that stack and throw it on the table next to my sewing machine, literally throw it, just all in a big, messy pile. To start sewing (I use cream-colored thread, or whatever's generally close to the color scheme, and I wind up a few bobbins because you need three or four to get through the whole thing), I just start looking for two smallish pieces that each have an edge that is roughly the same length. I sew those two edges together with a 1/4" seam. I'll finger-press the seam open and then look for another piece that has an edge that might work if it goes perpendicular to those two pieces. If it's a little bit bigger that's good, but if it's a little smaller I can always trim that first pair. When I get three or maybe four pieces put together this way, I'll take them over to the ironing board and press them all flat. I usually just press the seams to one side or the other, however they most want to fall.


Do you know how to make a log cabin quilt block? I do it the way my friend Susan taught me because you do it with strips, not fussy-cut pieces. I basically put "blocks" together using the same method. That is, I sew a few pieces together, and then just keep adding strips along the side. Sew on a strip, trim it (with scissors, if it's easy enough), press it. As the block (and, just to be clear, it's not really a block in that it's not going to be square — it's just going to be a piece that gets bigger and bigger) get bigger you can trim it with your rotary cutter so that it has nice straight sides and right angles. As the piece gets bigger (maybe a third of my "target" total width, or somewhere around there), I hang it up on my wall (which is in front of my sliding-glass door — that's the only empty wall I have in my studio) and let it rest there and start another one. When I get a few pieces, I measure them and see how wide they are together.


Once the pieces start getting bigger, you can shift them around and see how they work together. Think about whether you need a color, or a color value (dark/light) to go somewhere. Add strips or small collections of blocks to start building pieces that will be the same length, always keeping your target quilt length and width in mind. It gets a bit fussy as you get near these target measurements. You'll start doing more trimming (and your edges will get longer, so it's a bit tricky) and measuring. But before you know it, you'll have a quilt top. And you'll have very little wasted effort or fabric. Piece some stuff together from your pile and add a label in there (I cross-stitched mine, on gingham evenwweave fabric) to get a backing piece.


After I stuff and turn and tie it, I wash it in warm water and dry it in the dryer. I like it to get all wrinkled and smooshy and soft. It gets softer as it gets older. A few people over the years have asked me about the Myskgras and whether it can go in the dryer. I have dried mine many times and it comes out perfectly fine. It is polyester, so it's not a natural material, and if that's important to you I've found that wool batting can have a similar loft and be really wonderful and warm and awesome, though you'll probably have to tie it a lot more so that it doesn't come apart inside (the label on the batting will tell you how far apart you can quilt or tie). I use comforters as batting because I'm basically making a duvet with a non-removable cover — I don't like duvet covers shifting around everywhere and I do like the simplicity of comforters.


These are not the best pictures because I took most of them on my phone and the light has been pretty dim here lately. But you get the general idea. I'm making more and I'll have more pictures of them. If you have questions about this process just let me know and I will answer them.


I think this is a pretty good way to use up scraps, and I also think it's a good beginning project (though, obviously the way I do it does involve already having a lot of scraps, and if you're a beginner you might not have those yet). And if you're a beginner and you want to make a different kind of quilt, or one with an actual pattern, just don't be intimidated by quilting blogs. You will see they have a lot of advice and a lot of rules and might make you feel as if you can't take a piece of cardboard and trace around it and cut out some squares with scissors and sew them together if you want to. But you can. Don’t even worry. You really can.


Me, Martha, and Ann on 8 1/2 Avenue in Rock Island, Illinois. Taken by our friend Kurt, May of 1990.

New Year's Eve

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A Christmas wish came true when we got snow last week in the days after Christmas. It was just the perfect snow: big, fat flakes that swirled and stuck, no wind at all, temps not even that cold. We walked all over the neighborhood and then down to the bakery. It reminded me of the hundreds of times I walked there with Amelia in her stroller, warm under her Sunshine Day and in her little knitted boots. The sun came out and make everything sparkle. It was a wonderful present.

I know it's been a hard year for everyone, and it has been harder for me than I can even say. I pray that you have found blessings in the challenges and I pray that I can focus on the blessings, and appreciate them and cherish them, and even grow stronger from the challenges. I'm so grateful for every one of you who has been here this past year (and before that) with your kind words and your generous advice and your stories and your orders and your recipes and your pictures of crafts that you've made. Every single one of the ways you've shared support with me has been important to me, and I sincerely thank you for being here with me when so often I feel that I've lost myself, sifting through the days, looking for things to help and hold on to. I'm going to try to be here more on a regular basis to help me remember and honor the little things. I have every hope for a brighter year and I wish each of you good health and every happiness in 2022. Love always, Alicia, and Andy, Amelia, Clover Meadow, and Agatha Raisin Paulson

School Has Started!

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Yep! It's September! School has started! Amelia is behind me right now virtually presenting her "All About Me" report. She is reading it out loud to her class in the sweetest, most presenter-y voice. I wish I were recording this. "My favorite color is magenta." Agh, she's so sweet. They're all so sweet. I love these kids. Amelia has a gigantic pink gift-bow in her hair right now. It's on a wire and came on a present from someone at some point; I can't even remember who. It's about half the size of her head. She looks like a Victorian doll. But school (they are following the Florida Virtual School curriculum, for anyone interested) is going great so far. It's only been two weeks, of course. But the amount of stress that has been removed from my life now that only the teacher is asking her to do her work and I'm not asking her to do her work (as I was when we were doing Oak Meadow, which turned into a bit of a power struggle, and I hated that) is immeasurable. This seems better for both of us. I mean, I have no idea if this is a "better" education. I'm not saying that either way — I guess only time will tell and I really don't know. But she is happier, and I am happier, and it is just better for our relationship and that's worth a lot right now, so I would say it is a better education for her at this point. She had to answer some multiple-choice questions on the module that gives an overview the lesson set-up, and one of the questions asked what they liked best about learning; she enthusiastically chose “taking tests!” Her second was "doing worksheets." Which, like . . . I burst out laughing. Aren't they supposed to hate worksheets and tests, or . . . ? :) Ha! And I think Andy’s still planning on doing some special studies with her when he’s home. They really enjoyed that.

It's freezing in here! It was 44 degrees this morning. All the windows were open upstairs and the wind whipped through. I've been waking up way too early, like 4 a.m. When that happens I just chuck in any attempt to go back to sleep and get up, go downstairs and make a cup of coffee, and then come back up and get under the covers and surf Pinterest in the dark for a few hours. Surfing Pinterest makes things feel like the old days, when I decorated rooms and made clothes and cooked more. It makes me want to do those things again, so I like it. Still haven't done many of those things but I'm still trying. I don't mind getting up at 4:00 because it's very quiet (aside from Agatha meowing at me; she's a very meow-y cat) and I get some time to myself. I printed off a recipe for apple muffins this morning. That's on my list for the day. Maybe it will be a muffin lunch here.

Having Amelia occupied for part of the day has given me more time to work, and I am so happy to be working. Two new kits are in production right now; FedEx tells me that patterns should be here today. New assistant Anna is just amazing and is putting together all the kits, including two reprints (The Leaves by Hundreds Came and Things of Autumn — we'll re-launch those at the same time as the new ones), and making more lotion bars. Andy has pulled the floss for all four kits and that's all done. We found some stuff (Phyllis Mouse kits and Calicozy strips) in the attic that we didn't know we had so I've been putting some new-old things together as well. Amelia's desk is ready and Andy finished building the big shelf and we gave his old desk away. We've all been working nonstop for the past few weeks and are slowly catching up.

I started a new Porty Cardigan last winter. It's another thing I recently found. I picked it back up and have been knitting the body and am now trying to bind-off. I'm using Jamieson & Smith 2-ply jumper weight. It's probably the scratchiest yarn I've ever used and I really hope I like wearing it when it's all done. It has definitely not been my favorite yarn to knit with, though the colors are splendid. I also recently found and finished another Granny's Favourite in Woolfolk Far for Amelia. I apologize for the scanty info on these Ravelry entries; I don't seem to remember anything about them! Need to write things down more. A few nights ago I had this very old memory of a sweater vest I had when I was a kid — it was navy blue, just a crew-neck wool vest, but it had an intarsia autumn tree in red, yellow, and orange on the front. I remember that I wore it on a field trip to the Museum of Science and Industry in Chicago on a beautiful, beautiful fall day and I just loved that vest and that museum and that day. I remember riding the bus on I-290 and looking at the Congress El at rush hour. I found this pattern started it (without the fair isle) in Nature Spun sport and am planning to embroider a fall tree on the front in duplicate stitch for Amelia. I'm hoping to have it done by her birthday. I've been just knitting in circles every night as I watch This Farming Life. (I'm on Season Three, which is the last season for me as I started with Season Four, and I will be SO SAD when I get through it! I love this show so very much! Should I just start watching again? What do I do? I need more!)

For dinner, I made Creamy French Mustard Chicken and everyone here really liked it, including Amelia, which made me feel really good. I roasted some vegetables on the side and, I don't know, there really is nothing like cooking something autumnal that your child will eat to make you feel happy and accomplished.

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