Sunday, July 29, 2007

art more tangible

My laptop has a cool function called "photo booth." This is my Waterlily Tank, in progress. The yarn is gorgeous, in the colorway called Monet. I started at the bottom hem and am nearing the twelve-inch mark, when the pattern makes its next shift. I've been close to the early stages of headache, and somehow the knitting soothes my hands and my spirit.

Tomorrow afternoon, my writing residency "merges" with an arts conference, and I'm eager to have more interplay between tangible arts (I know the calligrapher Timothy Botts is featured, as is the illustrator Barry Moser) and what writers do. And there will be music by songwriters I admire. And a chance to rub shoulders with the chair of the National Endowment of the Arts. I'm not eager to meet more people and learn more names, though, so I'll be continuing to attempt to lay low, for my own poor extroverted self's sake.

Still, tonight I met a sculptor over dinner and we began to discuss fiber arts, until the rest of our dinner table left us to our own discussion (oops.) I forgot to lay low, as happens, I suppose. I loaned her a spindle and some wool, and she passed me a free ticket to a noted Folk Arts museum in town. Tomorrow.

Wednesday, July 25, 2007

steam iron

The smell of the iron surprises me every time—such an old smell, a time-worn smell, and rare at my house. I love, love, love cotton, but I’m not fussy about pressing, at all, ever. I leave for Santa Fe tomorrow and the house is strung with my hand-laundry, Anokhi dresses and Anokhi tank tops drying over the bathroom drying rack and the backs of chairs, the hook for my children’s bathtowels on the back of the bathroom door. Indigo, garnet, black, apple green with outrageous red peonies, burgundy with pink peonies and Prussian blue foliage. Two dresses have an Asian asymmetry, with closures on the side. Two have side zippers and deep V-necks. Each dress is created from hand-crafted block prints, similar to batik. The tanks are pintucked or broomstick crinkled. The treehouse condo is a jungle of slightly damp color. Every garment is featherweight.

And precious, in hot weather, lighter than pajamas. The store went out of business this spring, so the owners can retire, so my small collection is important to me. I will leave two at home, in case of luggage catastrophe. I'll be wearing my favorite.

The iron raises no steam, but dries the damp edges so I can pack the things tonight.

But for now it’s time to drive the kids to daycamp, and stop by the computer store, and purchase sandwich bags so I can pack one with liquids for my carry-on…

Thursday, July 19, 2007

you probably want to see the handmade paper, don't you?

From the papermaking vats of ArtHarbor, here is the paper that granted me fame, if not exactly a fortune.

Do try this at home-- it's awfully fun and the resulting paper is very pretty. A four-year-old produces paper just as lovely as a forty-five year old.

Write for how-to's, if you need them-- plenty of instructions online, but I keep my process pretty simple.

So ends my weeks as Artist in Residence!

cleaning under the influence

At ten-thirty in the morning I suddenly come to my senses. One chair sits by the refrigerator, and the box labeled "charity" sits on the seat. Another chair indicates someone has been climbing in the children's closet. Below the attic entry is a stack of bagged items: two handmade decorative pillows that no longer match my bedroom, though they are crafted with great love. One quilted by me, the other smocked by my mother. They can wait in the attic for the someday when we need them. A wooden pirate ship and its inhabitants are bagged and ready, as is the hobby-horse who is actually a hobby-giraffe, a wooden ring-toss game and a "balancing moon" game. Sweaters stacked on the table (which one will make the best laptop sleeve? Which one will make the nicest cardigan for my kids?)

I believe I started cleaning like a drunk woman in order to clear my desktop. Some technological shift requires me to move our telephone from The Place It's Always Been to my desktop. It will save us money, but I don't have to like it. The phone belongs near the calendar, in the kitchen, clearly. If anyone leaves a single ANYTHING on my desk… it won't be pretty. I need a place to stash the phone book out of sight, grrrr. Meanwhile I need yet another power strip to plug in a new vast array of power cords to routers and modems and answering machines…

As I'm trying to figure out a way around the nests of wires as my new decorating scheme, I recall my dad's desktop organizer, in the upper shelves of my closet. I believe Dad's father made it, or that's what I heard. This wooden set of "pigeonholes" was indispensable in college, filled with envelopes and stamps and index cards. Luckily, the items stacked atop the organizer slide right into place when I move it, dust flying. Thus the chair left by the opening of my own closet. And the dust needs removed, along with some ancient scotch tape. To the sink, to find the Murphy's Wood Oil Soap. Thus the cabinet door open. To discover the gunk spilled under the sink. Only a minor delay to clean the gunk, then to use the cleverly-placed chair in front of the frig to locate the shelf-lining paper I'd just seen up there…

At some point I repeat the cautionary mantra: wait, I'm cleaning like a drunk woman! WHY? Oh, yeah, I didn't have breakfast before I took kids to camp for the day, and I am out of my right mind. My "blood-sugar low" looks a lot like an alcohol-induced ADD. My house looks a lot like an alcohol-induced ADD, emphasis on the "disorder" part of the attention-deficit disorder. It takes some mighty will to pull away from all the projects and start some eggs and toast. I polish the wooden pigeon-holes with Murphy's while the eggs cook.

After my late breakfast, I roll the shelf-liner into place under the sink, and replace the roll in its home above the frig. I return all the stuff under the sink, leaving the grubby floor for later. I'm done in my closet, so I close it and return one dining chair to its home. The clean pigeon-hole organizer moves atop my desk, where the router fits in one slot, the phone whatcha-ma-who in another, the modem in another. I relocate the kids' board game collection to the top of their closet, making room for all the sets of plastic gizmos they claim important. I take the box of miscellaneous stuff from the top shelf and sure enough, nothing inside the box has been requested for three months—retired to the attic. Two chairs returned to the dining table.

I finish a quick visual sweep of the living room, looking for anything else I can shuttle to the attic without its being missed.

It's the last full day of camp for my children, and a good day to pick up what is scattered—my last day as "fiber artist in residence" was yesterday. Last week's paper-making supplies are tucked away, along with flosses for friendship bracelets and kumihimo braiding— in a moments generosity, Madeleine offered to wind bright flosses onto bobbins to make the project easier the next time. I still have quantities of loose wool and recycled sweater material to stash away, from wet-felting and hand-sewn treasure bag design. At camp yesterday, each group of kids lagged a little longer than the allotted time, trying to stay longer and sew more. I talked, while they worked, about setting up their own small sewing kits and finding recyclable sweaters for new projects. Some children told me they'd already sent their moms digging into closets for wool yarn, tapestry needles and shrunken sweaters. Consider these campers empowered.

The heddle loom remains on the windowsill, in case my kids and I are inspired to finish an Art Harbor banner begun by campers, for tomorrow's end-of-camp celebration.

Lest you think me possessed, I am leaving the "earthen scum" (Thank you, Louise Erdrich, see below) on the kitchen floor, and the celery (or whatever it is) rotting in the frig. The neglected baskets of clean laundry remain behind the couch. I still need to find a home for the small spinning wheel and the two bags of unprocessed wool fleece. I think I'll move it where my larger heddle loom is now, while I move my heddle loom to…

Before I find myself cleaning under the influence of drunken inspiration again, I go back to my desk, where I started, and pull out my laptop, which I need to get used to, and type a long memo for my blog. While eating breakfast, earlier, I began writing a story in my journal, with a pen, about cleaning like my mother who would always start in one place and end up with half the house disassembled, putting things away in the middle of the night...

All the chairs are returned to the dining table except the chair I'm sitting on, all the climbing done for today, I think, except for the climb up the attic stairs and the climb down three flights to the trash bin.

Summer is dreamy and good this year. Children are beautiful and happy. Weather is still unseasonably cool, which makes me happy. Scott uttered the words he hasn't said in years, "we sent the kids off the zipline today at school," which makes him happy. I'm tossing things into the wheeled duffle bag for my trip to Santa Fe, one week from today. So many things left to do and to arrange, and a few stories to write for a few magazines, too. But things are good, in the too-small treehouse condo by the sea. All the rest of life's hassles will work out over time, but the raspberries are thriving and a rogue watermelon vine sprung up from the compost we gave our downstairs neighbor—a huge melon ripens slowly on the front walkway. It's a good sign, fruitfulness from nothing, like the greenness and today's foggy mist.

Time to stop cleaning, and stop typing, and make a cool drink and some lunch, next, before I forget myself and begin to randomly clean anything I lay eyes on. I'm keeping the chairs at the table, where maybe they'll stick to the earthen floor while I go for a walk, before I pick up another thing to put away.

Monday, July 16, 2007

hotpads for two guys who don't cook

Sometimes you can't get a funny joke out of your mind-- this project was a little like that.

My dad LOVES popcorn. As a child I believe we ate popcorn every single night my family was at home. I wrote about it here

So when one of my felted sweaters became too shrunken and thick to sew easily, and Father's Day was near, I envisioned the purple and blue plaid as background for a popcorn-themed set of hotpads, one for PopPop, Scott's dad, and one for PaPaw, aka PopPaw for the sake of this project. The photos were not terribly clear, but there are dotted lines indicating that the popcorn is in motion.

Probably no one loves these hotpads as much as I do.

Fun to find this photo today-- I just walked fifteen kids through basic design and hand-stitching of drawstring treasure pouches, crafted from "re-purposed" shrunken sweaters. I asked one girl, Emma, how she liked her bag, cut from the sleeve section of a kelly green sweater. "I especially like that it's cashmere," she answered.

"How did you know it is cashmere? Because you're right, of course, it IS cashmere," I asked.

"Oh, I KNOW cashmere when I see it," she said. She is ten years old. They grow 'em different in New England.

I turned to the little girl on the my other side, who was not as confident a seamstress. "By the way, yours is cashmere, too."

"Cool!" she answered. "I just like the shape." Me too.

reversible bowler-- the blue sea side

Thursday, July 12, 2007

working portrait

My children and I sifted through just a few layers of The Finished Art Box-- the magical box where art "ages," and after a series of months it no longer holds the same emotional impact on the artist. The art-makers needed to find me a grocery bag full of shredded paper for Paper-Making in my fiber arts workshop at Art Camp. (Art Camp is very small, very zany, and my children are madly in love with all things Camp just now.)

A few inches into the crammed box, the grocery bag was quite full of shredded artworks and lovely scraps of origami paper, when we discovered this "journal entry"-- it's written from Brendan's perspective, but Madeleine obviously wrote it for him in the format her school uses for The Sentence of The Day.

That's me-- I'm the one connoted by dark curly hair. I'm working on a table covered by a white tray that collects water in a trough that drops below the edge of the table: see?

On the date noted here, Brendan and I crafted a reversible bowler hat by layering a small basketball with carded wool. The inside design is an orange sky with a bright bluebird singing over pink flowers, and the exterior design is an ocean of goldfish and purple fish, with bubbles and some seaweed. He wore the hat for a week, to church, to bed, everywhere, before he became so protective of it that it's no longer allowed to leave the house!

To craft the hat, the wool designs are topped with a stretched stocking, then the ball is rolled for a very long time in the tub, atop a layer of soapy water. Later when the ball is removed, there's still a lot of scrubbing to shrink the hat to a very hard felt. Brendan worked about an hour and a half on it, and I scrubbed after that.

The hat project is from Harrisville Designs-- the kit makes two hats if the wool is divided carefully. Harrisville writes terrific directions and I can't commend them enough.

Great project for a rainy day!

I'll try to find a photo of the blue bowler to add here...

Tuesday, July 10, 2007

weavers of rainbows

Photos to match earlier stories:

Weavers at work on a set of scarves for winter.

This is a well-crafted heddle loom for children, small and sturdy. The heddle lifts or lowers every other piece of yarn throughout the whole weaving, when pulled up or down with every other row, so no "over-under" calculations make for some really speedy weaving.

The bar nearest Madeleine winds the finished weaving in a roll, while the bar furthest away holds the rest of the warp, wound carefully and ready to be woven. It's an impressive little system! I like that the loom comes threaded, so the weavers can start without the hard part of learning to set it all up.

I need to learn to do the set up on my own, now that we've finished that project.

The Signature Quilt, written about in the story about a coverlet to match, last month.

fiber arts goddess

I love how they enter the screen door, careless as a summer day and faces alight with wonder. The boys walk directly to the table, barely noting me other than to say a quick “hi.”

“What’s in there?” asks the first.

“Want to see? If you put your hand in that bin of cloudy water and stir, I think you’ll recognize what you see.” He looks at me, this complete stranger of a boy, to make sure I’m not joking. He trusts me, and plunges his hand to the bottom of the water, drawing up a handful of pulp.

“Is it paper? Paper in water?”

“Hmmm, very observant!” Other members of his group file in— a dozen ten and eleven year olds. “Anyone here know what paper is made from?”


“Yep. What else?”

“Other paper?”

“Yes. Tell me your name,” I say to the boy with his hand in the pulpy bin. Michael, he says. “Michael, can you tell me if you can recognize any of what’s in the paper pulp here?”

“I see some words, some drawings, some colored paper scraps in little pieces. You just put them in water?”

“Yep—this paper has been soaking overnight, and then I ran a bunch of the pulp through a blender, but you don’t have to. The water floats the fibers around, but when we remove the water again, the paper fibers will bond to each other again, and we’ll have some really interesting paper.”

“So we’re going to make paper?” I nod. “Cool!” I introduce myself, pick up a paper deckle, and we get started.

My job ended suddenly, the story of the past three summers, and a lunch date with my friend Diana found her suggesting, again, that I find a way to teach at ArtHarbor, a local daycamp for children. My kids can do the camp now—it is no longer a stretch for Brendan. He’s easily overwhelmed, some deep sensory challenge still rears its head now and then, but besides being as sometimes-impossible as most seven year old boys, he is fine and happy. I phoned the camp director. There were no positions open, she apologized. “But tell me what you do,” she added, and we began to talk, and without much further discussion we arrange a small barter, four days of teaching for ten days of camp for two children. I do fiber arts, and I love to teach in a “special event” context, so four days is about as much as I can manage over two weeks.

This camp is set in a green enclave, a retreat where dancers to perform later in the summer, within a stone’s throw from the ocean. A group of informal cottages houses the camp—forty campers, 5 adult artists and a dozen counselors. I know perhaps a fifth of the faces I see. I laughed at the term “artist-in-residence,” but sure enough I have my own large two-room cottage, in what is termed “the dining hall” but is more like a cross between a huge kitchen and a teacher’s lounge, surrounded by sunlit windows and green meadow, shade trees and granite out-croppings. It feels like a gingerbread house and I ought to be stepping outside with a pan of cookies—my work apron adds to the effect.

The deckle is an empty frame of wood and a fine meshed screen, held together by the person dipping the mold into the pulp. Grasp firmly on both sides, dropping one long edge into the vat, sliding it under the floating flakes of paper, slowly lifting with both hands. Water pours out beneath. The wood frame is removed and the paper holds the shape of a rectangle. The young man agrees to flip it over onto the felt pad, himself, where we sponge out more water, press out more water, then peel off the screen slowly. The guys say, “cool!” and line up to be next, to watch the next two paper-dippers. I pick up the felt with the handmade paper and flip it one more time onto a clear plastic tarp, where it will dry eventually and we will peel it off so campers can take a sheet home. A dozen boys finish, when their counselor brightly asks, “is there enough for me to do one too?” I nod and he has one of his boys talk him through the process again.

Out the door of my cottage they fly to the next event, leaving trails of water with bits of paper adhering to the floor, piles of wet towels, parts of my deckles covered with pulp and parts floating in the mix of paper and water. Their vibrant faces full of freckles and wonder make up for the work to tidy up. I peel the absorbent felt sheets from the paper drying on the tarp, so I can wring and iron the moisture out, for the next group, arriving in five minutes.

The day ends after four groups of children make paper, including the four-year-olds who seem far too young and in some form of post-truamatic stress disorder after their lunch hour. When they go, I arrange my tools, and shake the paper lint from the dishtowels and tablecloths, mop the floor and restore order to the kitchen. I pack up my zillion crates to take to the car. I begin to wonder when my nap hour comes, just as it’s time to greet the parents, hear about my children’s day, and consider dinner options.

“Fiber Art was voted the most popular encampment today!” Madeleine tells me. Brendan’s group will do papermaking later this week, so he is a little pouty about it, but his group worked with felt and he had such a good time that he doesn’t care too much. Tomorrow is “crazy hair day” at camp and he’s considering what he could do. I try to figure out how people teach every day like this, and I decide not to think about it too much. Four days over two weeks is a good amount of time, and I’d be hardpressed to do any more. Four days in the beautiful summer cottage with the sun streaming through the windows.

And six days, six days of relative quiet, at home working a little and enjoying the quiet.

Saturday, July 07, 2007

finished objects

I like to knit but I’m just learning the lingo, lingo necessary for any special craft. My favorite new term is FOs, or Finished Objects. I love the term even more when the item is truly, truly finished.

My children completed the weaving for one of the two rainbow neck scarves on the small heddle loom—theirs was long, and I wove the second plaid scarf, which ended up being short. I washed both of them together, rinsed and “blocked,” which is to stretch it into approximately the right shape. The short scarf curves a bit, more tightly woven on one side than the other, but with a button closure added, it will form sort of a rainbow “cravat,” and I knew immediately that Brendan would choose the “just right” one, which he did. Brendan wanted his fringe twisted, and Madeleine wanted her fringes long and knotted. Both are hanging on display atop the quilt on my bedroom wall, far away from Satchmo’s curiosity. When winter comes, I will add the button. Until then, I’m calling them finished objects.

The bedspread with the wavy scalloped edges is on the bed, needing five minutes of handsewing to protect the edging from tearing loose. But it’s on the bed, so I’m calling that a finished object, too.

Madeleine found a hat at our favorite yarn store that she NEEDED—the hat was a sample to show how Noro Kureyon wool knits up, and it was flecked with “thrums,” or bits of loose roving that make puffs on the inside of the hat. Though the puffs of wool cannot be seen, the thrums add an additional layer of insulation, and create a pattern of tiny blue hearts in the subtle stripes of magenta, orchid, orange and gold. She tried to walk out of the yarn store with the hat on her head, laughing when I caught her, and then she sniffled a bit, complaining that the hat was just perfect, Mom! I then found her stuffing the pretty hat behind a stack of Kureyon yarn—I explained that no one was going to buy the hat, and the hat needed to live where it can be seen, so people see how pretty the yarn is. And I ponied up and bought the skein of Japanese yarn—hats are not hard, and I’ve never allowed myself the pleasure of this expensive color-changing yarn. It’s customary to finish a hat with a crocheted edge, so it doesn’t roll or stretch too much, but Madeleine removed her favorite corduroy hat to place the hat, fresh off the needles, onto her head for the Fourth of July parade. The weather is cool this month, so she’s been sleeping in the hat, too. I know the warmth of her head will help shrink the wool just a little, so the hat will fit perfectly.

The hat could use a crocheted edge, still, but I can’t really get it back from her. I’m calling it a finished object.

A pair of socks I knit “for either child” turned out too small for Madeleine, and Brendan is happy to own them. Another finished object.

All these FOs help me to endure the plethora of UFOs in my closet—the shawl on the larger loom, the sock project I always carry. I don’t mind these being unfinished, and I look forward to working on them. I teach handcrafts, so I keep fifty projects onhand at all times. In addition to all my regular stuff, my friend Suzanne gave me an entire sheep fleece, which is a seriously, seriously Unfinished Object of Enormous Proportions. It came rolled up, but other than the rolling, the fleece is just as it was on the animal—full of straw and sheep sweat (otherwise known as lanolin), and just filled with DIRT. (You’d think these animals lived outside.) Why do I want it? I spin yarn, and this is prime Merino, a terrific spinning fiber. It would cost me sixteen to twenty dollars per pound to buy prepared Merino, ready to spin. There are three or four pounds, here, from Milo, a sheep I know personally. All that is left is to wash it, comb and card it, spin the fiber and then decide what to knit from it. The wash day takes all day, six washes to get half of the fiber clean. Half needs another day of six washes in nearly-boiling water. The kids and I set up an experiment to see if we can produce “combed top wool,” and we get through half of one bed-pillow’s worth of wool, using hair picks held upright with Brendan’s vise. Brendan cards the short fibers for another kind of yarn, then we all take turns with the tiny new spinning wheel. It’s not much yarn, but we learned a lot. Suzanne and I may rent a carding machine for a few days, which will move much faster. Suzanne gives so much kindness to the world, and she’s owned these sheep for five years—someday, I want her to own a rug, a hat, a scarf from her own sheep’s wool. If I have to spin the yarn myself!

The woman who is selling me the tiny spinning wheel sent what seems like a lifetime’s worth of fiber to play with, so I don’t really need this fleece. But I like the idea of it—if I teach Suzanne to spin, she can whip up all of this fleece each time the sheep are sheared.

I’ll be packing some fleece and my wheel to my kids’ summer camp next week, to show kids what fabric is made from, and how. It doesn’t need to be finished: it needs to be unfinished, on purpose, for them to see what the fleece looked like when it was attached to Milo.

My family just participated in a neighborhood-wide yard sale, and half of the stuff didn’t sell, so the house is layered with things to put away: things that were “too good” to pass on to the thrift shop, things that I hope to consign at the kids’ store in town, and stuff (God forbid) we paid good money for, from our neighbor’s sales. My house is the ultimate UnFinished Object in my collection. I hope tomorrow to tuck everything away. Just now I’m nursing a sprained foot in the bedroom, away from the UFO’s in the living room, resting on the new coverlet I finished—mostly finished! With my foot propped up on pillows. In a few hours we will finish the day with a dinner out at my neighbor’s Mexican Restaurant, whether things are complete or not, for the ultimate finished object of a good day in summer, no matter where things lay or what’s left to be done.

Monday, July 02, 2007

a scalloped edged coverlet of violet and green

My family steps out the door without me—without me!—and for the first time in two weeks I have a stretch of afternoon and evening to myself. Already I’ve entertained five different scenarios for the evening, playful options, necessary options. I dressed for gardening as they drew out the leaving process to an excruciating degree, spiraling louder and louder with the excitement of a minor league baseball game. I watered the plants in the backyard and on the porch, waiting for them to go and giving them distance. When they finally, finally leave, I tiptoe gingerly around the house for fifteen minutes or so, until I actually believe they will not return for something forgotten.

Then I exhale. It’s been a good beginning to break, with a five-day trip to Pennsylvania and numerous solo parenting days. Children have exhaled since school ended, sleeping late, lounging quietly over novels and baseball card collections, taking helmets to the parking lot for cycling and rollerblades. We’ve had a beach day and several beach evenings, plus several days too cold to consider being any closer to the icy Atlantic. I’ve done my online work for Ladies Home Journal in and around other activities. I’m preparing for grad school. They’ve let me do what I need to do for long stretches.

And now they need to go. Now.

I reach in the closet for my gardening shoes and look far into the top of the shelves: there sits my new floral coverlet, the one I hope to use as a bedspread. Except it’s too large, twice the size of my three-quarter width mattress on the Ginny Lind bedframe. I step back and consider for a moment. I don’t LIKE to sew. I know how, true, and that is why I bought a too-large coverlet on sale. The old-fashioned print of violet-colored roses and green leaves matches my vivid purple and white Signature Quilt, hanging on the sage green wall. I turn and look at the cheap shredded quilt on the bed—made in China of cotton so thin it will not hold up to four years of laundry, sigh. Underneath it is another heirloom quilt, too fragile for much more exposure to our kitty. Satchmo doesn’t claw the quilt on purpose—he just puts his claws out when he stretches, and that’s too much for the Star of David quilt my Grandma Mae crafted from scraps of favorite shirts and dresses.

I’d like the new bedspread I bought to actually fit the bed I bought it for. I step back in the closet and onto the step stool. It’s time to sew.

When the package is unzipped from it’s Liz Claiborne bag, I’m impressed once again with just how huge the Oversized King coverlet actually is. Measuring is easy—I place the right edge at the correct height from the floor, and smooth the coverlet over the bed. I fold it at the center wooden spindle of the footboard. The coverlet is edged with deep, wavy scallops. Three and a half scallops fall to the right of the center spindle, so I need seven scallops in all, across the foot of the bed. This leaves three scallop’s worth of fabric to be cut off one side—nearly a third of the blanket. I lift the coverlet from the bed and place it on the living room floor—the entire open space of the living room floor!—and fold it in half, at three and a half scallops.

Now comes the part where my mother would say to me, “you better go find a piece of chalk and mark that wavy cutting line before you pick up those sewing shears.” I glance left, and right, and my mother is nowhere to be seen. I could find the blue tailor’s chalk if I wanted to. I know where it is. Nah. I take a deep breath and plunge the scissors through the velvet bias tape at the edge of the blanket, and I begin cutting a large wavy line to match the opposite edge of the coverlet.

Does cut fabric have a scent? I swear it does, though I can’t imagine how it would. Is it simply the smell of something new, something that’s been sealed in a bag, in a store?

The wavy cut is completed and looks fine. Now for the tricky part—will the velvet bias tape tear free easily? Or will it shred when I remove the stitches with a seam ripper? I pull it apart a few stitches. It comes off the scrap of fabric perfectly, good. I will need it to cover the newly cut wavy edge of my blanket. I open every few inches with another snip and unfold the long strip of green velvet. It takes time. The time feels good.

An hour since the noisy crew left, I have the urge to lie down on the cut up pieces of blanket and listen to the quiet, smell the scent or non-scent of cut fabric. I think of my mother, the upholsterer, and all the practical skills I inherited, and how I miss her. I walk to the bedroom for my laptop—I’m getting accustomed to using it before my writing workshop in a few weeks—and bring the laptop onto my sewing project, on the floor. I type a few quick paragraphs, then tuck the computer away in its case again. The bias tape falls free. I admire the big strip of fabric left after all the cutting. My antique Signature Quilt is bold in color, and this fabric is so very subtle. They will compliment one another well. And there will be enough fabric for a few bolster pillows, a lucky bonus.

Back to the bedroom to unearth my mother’s old Singer sewing machine, and my daughter’s book of pins. For bias tape, the wrong side is sewn first, so I flip the coverlet to the all-white side, and begin to pin the velvet along the cut edge of scallops, overlapping the tape a bit on both ends. I switch on the lamp of the sewing machine knowing that smell will return me to my mother’s house once again. Lift the presser foot, position the fabric, just a moment’s hesitation to backstitch a half inch or so. Then push the foot pedal to the floor and follow the fabric’s edge. Done in a moment.

By now Garrison Keillor is hosting James Taylor at Tanglewood, on my radio, and I return to the floor to slowly pin the edge of green onto the right side of the coverlet. Somehow I’ve made no unforgivable mistakes in this process, and a song or two passes the time. One last set of backstitches and one more time remembering the “speeding tickets” I given to me in high school home ec class, rumbling along my dining table, also my mother’s, into the quiet night.

I finished the floral coverlet and quickly removed the tattered quilt and the Star of David quilt—one to the scrap pile and one to the cedar chest. Then I made the bed again, with the new delicate sprays of violet-colored roses and green leaves on a ground of white. From a distance no one can see the difference between my edge and the professional edge of the quilt. Up close, I still need to hand stitch two tiny sections of green velvet, so nothing can “catch” on each join and undo my work. Another day. I fold down the top hem of scallops and place a nest of pillows atop it, at the head of the bed. Nothing torn, now, and nothing too precious for the cat to rest on.

Back in the living room I fold up my scrap of quilt and tuck it away, then pour a glass of wine. The sun is still up, though the evening begins to cool. I sent them to the ballpark with jackets and socks, against their wills, but I’m sure they’ll return wearing the warm layers.

Just out of curiosity I walk back into the bedroom to find a project I planned two months ago, a handbag to be constructed of boiled wool from a retired sweater. The pieces are cut already, and the wide shoulder strap is embellished with a needle-felted vine of green leaves on the charcoal background. All that is left is to cut a lining from the block print pillowcase I bought just for this bag, and to sew. And my sewing machine is all set up, on the dining table, with no disruptions in sight. The light is on, the bobbins are wound…

I don’t like to sew, at least not as much as I like seeing the finished project in my hands. I like knowing how to sew, how to construct things, how to use what is easy, convenient, priced right to craft what is perfect, what fits, what pulls everything together. I’m a designer at heart.

With just enough know-how. And a beautiful bed, if I do say so myself.

Oh! The Signature Quilt was crafted to celebrate my great-grandparent’s fiftieth wedding anniversary. Signature quilts were still a popular gift for special occasions when I lived in Farmland—each participant pays one dollar and signs a square of fabric. Each signature is embroidered onto the square. The fabric is then “pieced” into a quilt pattern—mine is in eight-pointed stars, surrounded by rings of squares, more diamonds and a few triangles—and then the entire blanket is hand-quilted at eight to ten hand-stitches per inch. The quilt is then given, along with the money raised, to the honored recipients.

My mother identified each of the 255 names on the startling purple-and-white quilt, including her own family’s block, with the names of her parents, her brothers and sisters embroidered in white on one of the purple “stars.” I never knew my great-grandparents, but I know many of the people named on my quilt—they must’ve been children, like my mother was, when the quilt was made. When I sleep under the quilt, I think of “the great cloud of witnesses” named in the Bible, and I think of the teachers who’ve told me “we stand on the shoulders of giants.” What giant’s names appear on this quilt, I don’t know, but my grandfather willed this quilt to me, and nothing, not a scrap of fabric to anyone else in my family including my mother, whom he loved a great deal. I saw him perhaps twenty times in my life, but we were similar, and we wrote letters. I loved God from the time I could think a single thought, though no one in my family told me my grandfather did, too. Grandma Mae was not really my grandmother, but she handstitched the rest of my quilt collection herself—a quilt embroidered with fifty state birds, and the Star of David quilt. I slept under those birds from the time my mother could trust me to treat it properly, in the Ginny Lind bed with the hand-turned spindles, in my bedroom under the eaves.

I think these stories through, all the cinderblock walls of all the apartments covered by these quilts over all the years of my adulthood, while I strategize the pockets and flaps of the charcoal wool handbag. The shoulder strap and the front flap are lined, and a pen pocket sewn in place by the time I hear footsteps rushing up the steps to my door. I feel like telling them I’ve been to Indiana in my mind, been singing with James Taylor through my college summers in Colorado, too, been to every place I’ve ever lived.

Instead I listen to an extended tale of a ballgame from one child, while the older child, less interested in baseball, must be pulled from the heap where she collapses, just inside the door. Five minutes later I find her in a similar heap on my new coverlet, on my bed. I whisper her out of the bed and through brushing her teeth while Brendan continues to talk at the speed of light, at the top of his small lungs, in the dark of the night. I made their beds while they were gone and Madeleine falls directly into hers. I find her lying across her bed crossways with her feet under the dresser, and lift her into her bed properly. I walk Brendan to his bed with a smooch, after he admires my new bedspread, and he tucks his autographed ball from the pitcher onto his shelf of special things. I unplug the sewing machine and wrap up the cords, placing it under the lower shelf in my bedroom, where the dust will gather on it until the next occasion. My wool messenger bag needs to be stitched by hand from here, I think, with a green yarn to match the vines on the shoulder strap. Away go the pins, the sewing shears, the scraps and threads, the empty wine glass. Scott will need to tell me stories, too, after the children are soundly asleep.

“How was your night?” he asks as he walks through his nightly routine.

“Quiet—deliciously quiet. Did you know I’ve been mostly alone with these two kids for two weeks? Until this break tonight. I’ve forgotten what this is like, summer with children.”

“Hey where’d you get the new blanket?” he asked. Time for the stories of my own. And time for sleep, next to the great cloud of witnesses, tucked under the scalloped edges of green velvet in the Ginny Lind bed, on a chilly night in June.