Making Something from Nothing


a special project (my “clock” is  tick-tick-tocking) for a very special someone…

Lots of frustration here on this end.  It has taken me far too long to “put away Christmas” this year.  Not sure why…maybe, “there is just no joy in it?”  The tree finally got out the door just last night!  (I have to admit, I always put that one part off until the very last…its twinkling lights in the dark nights are truly welcome until there is just nothing else left to be done.)

Undecorating is a solitary, lonely task…all the fun and anticipation is over.  None of that is helped by the freezing temperatures outside, the almost daily icy “mixes” falling from the bleak, gray skies…and the fact that half of our house has had no heat since we got home from our holidays…Frozen and burst pipes have led to all kinds of complications and messes.  We have been sleeping under piles of blankets…and of course, the studios have been too frigid to even consider spending much time there (no breaks for the diligent “un-decorator”!)

AND, to top it all off, my sewing machine will not sew!  The flywheel moans and strains, but no amount of gentle encouragement will get it spinning away.  The presser foot refuses to stay up!   Ugh. Nevertheless, I have struggled to “have my way with it”…but finally, I have surrendered.   It is packed up,  at the door, ready for the next venture out into the frozen tundra…hopefully, a good cleaning will get it going again…

leftover pieces from the top…”fodder” for some improvisation on the back!

Because I have “something” to make from “nothing”…clock is ticking…

Down to the Wire…

‘Tis the night before Christmas…and all through MY house, we are definitely “stirring” (probably, even the mouse).   Seventeen coming for dinner tomorrow…should be cooking…but instead, I have been doing the usual wrestling with camera and photo-editing to come up with some photos that truly convey how busy my Santa’s workshop has been!

This season’s ornaments are done.  The photos (as usual) do not tell the tale well.  I have an old dresser in my studio.  In it, I keep all the random stuff I find …it is a true treasure chest of inspiration.  The brass stampings, cloisonné disks, and vintage beads all came from there…the silk tassels and beaded chain were an unrelated, but totally fortuitous purchase from a summer rock show in Massachusetts…

The “black hole”  posted on Instagram a few weeks ago has been transformed by what seems like a million vintage sequins and pins into a wreath that just has to make one smile…I mean, really?

The house is well and truly decorated.

It will be a lively crowd.  Not too traditional…though, there WILL be ham.

Hopefully, a grand time will be had by all.

Savor this season full of family and good times…the new year will bring a fresh start and new work.  Enjoy and take care.




A Day to Play

Saved that blue Japanese one for 10 years!

Many things have changed in my daily life.  This is not a “woe is me” story.  But, it is very fair to say that how I now feel about the stuff I have been “saving for a truly special project” has definitely shifted.  I have a closet full of wonderful and unique fabric, awaiting to be sewn into the “perfect thing”…no surprise there, right?  I accept the fact that at this point I may simply be the curator of all this truly inspiring fabric for someone else’s use in the future.  In an odd way, this “fresh thinking” has freed me to actually use some of it!

Unexpected alliances ferreted out of the “sea” of fabric (should have had a photo of THAT pile!)

Case in point:  the pillowcases in the photos…such an ordinary use for such treasured cotton prints.  But, guess what happened?  Once I decided to use some,  I spent two wonderful and engaging afternoons pulling out “the good stuff”, pairing up interesting combinations, working with what I had (NO NEW PURCHASES ALLOWED)…”playing”, figuring it out, ripping, sewing, pinning, pressing…and ended up with a stack of very extraordinary versions of a very simple, useful thing: a pillowcase for my bed.

I have come to realize there was “more at play” in this activity than simply ending up with a stack of pillowcases.  I am using them (rather than saving them for “company”).   Each night, as I get in bed, I feel special savoring such a lovely (and ordinary) thing.  It is soft, it is pretty.  Each morning, as I make my bed, I get a little gift of “grace”:  “I did this for me…how nice.”  It is a  simply wonderful way to start my day.

End of the day!


Truly EASY Instructions for Making a Pillowcase:

Choose two fabrics.  Rip the larger piece from selvage to selvage to get the edge aligned with the grain.  Measure 22 inches along the selvage and rip again.  This is the body of the case.  For the band, again rip from selvage to selvage to align the grain; measure 14 inches…and rip again.  

Fold the larger “body” piece in half, right sides together, aligning selvages.  Sew a half inch seam along each “long” side (and again, along these seamed edges with a zig-zag stitch to prevent fraying).   Turn right side out. Press seams flat.

Take the smaller “band” piece.  Stitch the short ends together.  Right sides together, stitch the band to the body, matching side seams.  Press a half inch “hem” along the remaining raw edge.  Turn pillowcase body wrong side out, fold up band to just cover sewn edge, matching side seams; ease as needed;  pin and sew (Do this on the “out” side of the case…this is where the stitching will show…if it is a little wonky on the inside (and it probably will be), it won’t ever show…no worries.  Voila.  Done.  Press well.  Sweet dreams ahead!

One small caveat:  All 45″ cotton fabrics do not actually measure a full 45 inches.  Sometimes the “band” fabric you have chosen will not be quite long enough for the “body”…I viewed this as an opportunity to insert one small piece of a third fabric!   To plan ahead…check the length of the ripped band against the stitched body edge, before pinning them together…and add whatever piece is needed.  Easy, truly.

Not So Random Thoughts…

I am thinking of this post as an experiment:  Can I actually get my thoughts and work “out there” once again?  After a while, the “maybe I will do that tomorrow” begins to feel a bit cowardly, right?

I am back in my studio in a somewhat regular way…both of them, actually.  ( I have the ultimate luxury of a space for “paper” and one for “fabric”, i.e….the two empty bedrooms).  After a long time of putting others first (for truly excellent reasons…no regrets, there),  I am now trying to once again engage in a daily, creative practice.   In the one spot, I am working on the Passacaglia…which is something of a “once in a lifetime” piece of work…more on that another day.  To counterbalance the awesomeness of that effort, I am also making tiny collages using up scraps from other work.    The little book in the photos below is a small 3″ x 5″ Moleskine.   Every day I try to do something in it…if I complete ONE page, it is “enough”.

The process, though, has become something more than simply cleaning up.  All of the paper is scrap…the under-papers created when making more “important” work.   And, therein lies the joy in the process.  Each page is just “something from nothing”…on a very small scale…using simple tools…ruler, scissors and glue.

The underlying “restriction” or challenge for all in the book is to create a small collage in which one can “see through” to what is going on underneath the top layer.    A secondary expectation is that each of the collages on a given open spread should relate to each other in some way.  That’s it.

In a very odd way, this book and its contents have become very important to me.  Each page is a reminder that I have given myself time.  I have fiddled with little pieces of paper until they make me happy.   Simple idea…it doesn’t always have to be hard.

In the “spirit” of the “thing”…

As is often the case, there is usually more going on “behind the scene” in any given circumstance.  My presence here (right this minute, on this page…with NO PHOTOS)  is a case in point.  Since our move to the Brandywine Valley, my life has changed often and in many ways.  Maybe it was doing that for years the entire time we lived in New York…after all, we were there for that final time for more than 20 years…with two kids…  “Hah!”, you think?  But, truly, looking back, it seems like it was one long continuum…same goals, constant, endearing friends, and ALWAYS my “work”,  striving…day after day, year after year:  a life “in a line”.

Poof!  it seems that our move shifted some sort of cosmic “kaleidoscope”…terrible things happened and wonderful things happened…there has been no “straight line” since we pulled out of our New York driveway for the very last time.  This is not a complaint;  just, an “observation”.   Once all the house renovations were done (not going into details here, let’s just say that life on a ladder and behind a sledge hammer isn’t everyone’s dream)…and then there were the sad and the tragic things that I guess happen to everyone, but when I looked up…it was three years later!  When I could finally go back into my studio with a free heart, I discovered  just how Sleeping Beauty must have felt.  OH!  OH!

Picking up the pieces has been “interesting”.  I am “on my own” so far.   But, working again has been such a joy.  Getting this blog back seems somewhat of a miracle in itself (lots of behind the scenes work done there to recover all that was ravaged).   But, “where are the photos”?  Good question.  In the interim, updates have changed my software beyond recognition!  (and, understanding).    Working on it…promise.   Soon.  (she writes, with fingers crossed).

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Passacaglia Update

Not sure that this is truly the right moment to be trying to write a post…my camera is once again challenging my editing “skills”..(.more like the “lack thereof”)… I am WAY beyond frustrated.  My cogs are looking good on the table, but not on the screen.  I will keep trying; I think I need a new blogging strategy, but for today (since I know what the rest of the week looks like), I am going to just go with what I have.

img_6091The thing is moving along.  That is the true beauty of this quilt (and probably how most people manage to actually get it done).  There is always some part of it that can be moved forward…whether it is the tracing and cutting when one has the light and time to consider the interplay of colors and patterns; the basting, taking advantage of odd moments, here and there;  or, the actual hand-piecing of the rows of shapes.  (The stars are surprisingly fun to stitch!)

img_6084 I am working on multiple cogs at one time in an effort to have the final layout be “one song” rather than simply a compilation of pieces and parts (literally!!!)  That said, one has to truly pay attention to the working diagrams…which has led to some “waltzing” around of the circles/cogs I had already stitched; the big cog had one too many stars!  I have learned my lesson though…count twice, check again…THEN, stitch.

Time to Address the Mess

IMG_6056Sanded and painted my “Disney” cabinet in record time.  It is now in place in the “paper” studio, where everything that is not stitched gets worked on.  This room has also become the dumping ground for any and everything “not fabric” for the past three(!) years. The ten foot long table in there is a far-too-tempting flat surface for whatever is in hand…(a habit I hope to break in the very near future).

Before I spent most of Friday in there sorting things, finding spots in the cabinet for the things that “stay” and making piles just outside of the door for the things that don’t, I took photos (intending to impress with my organizational skills).   “Ah!  So many messes!  But look!  Presto!  a table is under there!”  But none of them even survived editing!   …the consequence of trying to move off of the AUTO  button (forgot that “one crime at a time” thing…blue photos, anyone?)

I had sorted and organized for hours.  The table got neater, outside of the door did not.  Hope reigns, though.


ps:  The observant reader will notice that there is no photo of the table top after those “hours of organizing”.  It is a bit of a work in progress.

Not Quite Sunday…

IMG_0581Saturday leads to Sunday; it is inevitable.  We spent last Saturday at a “mud auction” (think I have written about these before).  They are unique to our area…co-operative fund-raising efforts by the local fire companies and the Amish/Mennonite communities.  Early Spring and  “just-about-now” are mud-auction seasons (when it is either too muddy to be out in the fields, or when most of the harvesting is done).  On any given Saturday there will be at least one in a town nearby…Most everything (except for the yummy local food) is sold by auction: antiques, handmade birdhouses and yard “ornaments”, farm and carriage equipment,  random donated “stuff”…and plants.  The last are what entice us to spend a day outside under a tent.   We haven’t quite figured out the economics of it (are they donations?  consignments? not home-grown, but certainly local).  Vendors bring wagonloads of stock, set it all out for perusing and admiring…and then, auction it off.  A  few dollars can score a treasure!

We always have fun considering the possibilities, envisioning garden spaces full of color (in lieu of weeds).   Inevitably when driving home, the van is loaded with flats and pots, even the occasional tree!   But the excesses of Saturday bidding mean that Sunday is spent planting…and thus, no blogging.


That isn’t to say that nothing is getting done.  I think these will be rounds 5 and 6 in the first BIG rosette.  I vacillate between thinking the color switch is “great” and wondering if it is all too much.  Up to this point, most of my center rounds look pretty subdued…not sure if that is a “sophisticated” take on the pattern…or just  a “safe” one…


On a far more pressing issue:  Scored this quirky cabinet for $25.00 at the auction last Friday night!  I have been looking for a good (read that as “classy, and therefore, rather “sedate”) storage solution for the mountain of art supplies piled on top of the studio table.  Finally, gave up.  Bought this.  Have just finished sanding it.  Am going to paint it with Annie Sloan’s Chalk Paint.  The room is “somewhat” purple…am thinking “robin’s egg blue”…”sedate” is over-rated and probably has no business taking up space in the studio anyhow…headed out now…stay tuned…


Passacaglia Update

IMG_6025I am truly into it now.  That might be a somewhat optimistic view, given the over three thousand pieces in the finished quilt.  I probably have two thousand five hundred to go.  What you see above are just a few of the tiny pieces used for the FIRST row of stars and diamonds…

The process starts with a simple center of five diamonds.  Mine are cut from finely woven ikat cottons woven in Indonesia.  I have “embraced” the variations in the patterns, figuring they will only add to the quilt’s “charm”.


I have made many more of these than I will need…more on that later.  The next round are the elongated diamonds.  Originally, I thought to make them all with a pattern on a black ground.


But, as I started to figure out what I might do for the next round, the dark centers began to look too much alike…so I began “branching out” with some color (a slippery slope).


Round three, a ring of ten hexagons, is actually surprisingly fun to sew together.  I am using hand-marbled fabrics that have been hoarded for YEARS (too “special” to use?).  I “fussy” traced and cut each hexagon to be able to play with the movement of the colors within the shapes…


Changing in and out the center stars is entertaining…have made very few “commitments”.


Round four is a somewhat? intimidating ring of stars and diamonds.  This is when the construction of the rosette begins to get “interesting” (challenging???)  There are SO many variations possible in this row.  I really like the stars, though.  So not sure how much I will play with other possibilities.


To tally up my progress:  I have sewn together all of the 37 star centers, plus about ten more.  I have stitched most of “round two”; still have the “color” ones pending.  I know I will have far more than I need.  Maybe they can be used “here and there” on the border or the back?  About half of the pentagon rings are stitched.  I am beginning to wonder if having them all be made of marbled fabrics will be “boring”, or, if “boring” is even possible given this pattern…The star row in the photo above got plopped down on a “pink center” as stuff got pushed aside to make space to work…and it POPPED!  Stopped me mid-shove.  So, am considering that.  The last thing one wants to do when paper-piecing by hand is to have to rip anything out.  This is a quilt that requires COMMITMENT!

Which brings me to the question under-laying this post.  The way I have been working on this quilt is entirely unlike my usual process.  I like to make way too many of the chosen block/motif; to play with colors, stick them up on the design wall, move them around… and, tease the “vision” that inspired the work in the first place.   The Passacaglia is such a dynamic (and, brilliant) design.  But it proceeds slowly: very, very slowly.  It is stitched entirely by hand.  Each piece is traced one at a time to make the most of a fabric’s print or color; and then, pressed.  (I baste by hand, and the iron makes that work so much easier.  I know the current wisdom says “glue-basting is fine”;  but, I just can’t go there.)  The basted components are then hand-stitched together with  very small, and close overcasting stitches (making them extremely tedious to “un-sew”).  The goal is for very even stitching that doesn’t show on the front (a worthy goal, at least).  As the rings around the center star begin to radiate out, the number of pieces (and, pieced pieces…those little stars???) grows quickly.  By the final rows one might be tracing, cutting, pressing, basting and stitching together  more than 60 shapes to complete the ring.  How much experimentation does that process encourage?  What if I “guess wrong”?   More to the point, will it still be “fun”?

The jury is out.  As Jerry Jeff sings, “sometimes you have to trust your cape”.  Still flying; still playing…just a bit more thoughtfully.