Friday, June 29, 2007

The Good Ol' Days

I remember my mother telling a story of the summer she worked at a Piece Goods store to raise spending money for college. She learned to sew then, because the mannequins in the displays all wore garments made of in-stock fabrics and the employees were expected to know how to sew. Ahhh....does anyone out there long for that time?

I had a most unsucculent experience yesterday at a large chain fabric store. The employees might as well have been working in an ice-cream parlor, that is how little they knew about fabric, notions, and sewing. I think this is a trend in the larger fabric stores I frequent and it makes me sad. Maybe turnover is high or employee training is lacking, but it's always disheartening to visit a fabric store, so ripe with possibility and rich with sensory stimulation, only to see employees looking bored, often irritated, and worse of all - completely uninformed.

The obvious solution to this, of course, is to patronize small, locally-owned fabric shops staffed by active quilters and textile aficionados. And I do, with frequency. However, due to budget constraints, these sprees are largely limited to times when I am working on an extra-special project and am in need of only the finest fabrics. I really cannot afford to spend $9/yd on solids or interfacing, tempting as it is.

I think I am going to write these corporations and in my little voice encourage them to select and train their employees in a way that enhances the shoppers' experiences and just the general vibe of the store. There is actually one guy who works at said disappointing fabric store who is just *awesome* - so knowledgeable and passionate and helpful. He wasn't there yesterday and was obviously very missed.

ahhhhh...that feels better.

Goodwill, on the other hand, it a totally different story. I love it. I love, love it. I dabbled in some thrift shopping several years ago with great success, and for some reason took a break when we were in Manhattan. Now I'm addicted. Look at all of the beautiful things I found yesterday for less than $17!!! (2 exceptions in this picture : the pitcher was found at an antique show for $5, and I got the creamer/sugar on sale - they're Nigella's - at a local gourmet kitchen shop.) The little painted pitchers are Vietri and usually cost a pretty penny. When I saw them there for $1.98 my hands started to shake.

My sweet niece is coming to visit next week and I wanted to make her a little something (since I am her only crafty aunt!) and so I again attempted a project out of The Crafter's Companion and here it is - a little clutch designed by Lyn Roberts. She'll love it - if I don't keep it for myself!

I hope all of you have a most lovely weekend, filled with tender moments and little treasures.

Wednesday, June 27, 2007

Essential Reading

All my life I have felt called to particular books. A library is like a literary Ouija board for me...I walk the aisles aimlessly and inevitably the books I randomly choose seem to be exactly the book I was needing to read.

Although Anna Torborg's book The Crafter's Companion came into my life via recommendation rather than a karmic attraction, it is evidence none the less of books appearing in my life right when I'm ready.

I'm not going to go on about the lovely projects and photos (they speak for themselves), but I was so touched by the stories of the crafters featured in the book. What struck me about so many of them is that although they had always "had their hand in it", they weren't professional crafters out the was a place they arrived, instead of barreling forward to that career with blinders on. I can very much relate to that. I also felt inspired that so many of them had children at home. I've never felt more artistically prolific than I do now, but I do feel that having a small child around had really changed the way I work: no large blocks of time, my supplies get spread from one end of our home to the other, and I've had to become accustomed to interrupting a project mid-stitch. These crafters show that mothering and creating are beautifully linked and even just possible.

More than anything else, though, I was so moved by how candidly the artists spoke of their relationship with being a crafter. I struggle with my feelings of pursuing an outlet of expression so different than what I've been educated to do. When I was doing midwifery, I always felt very comfortable discussing it with anyone, but I find myself reluctant to tell people about Petite Toile and my other crafts. I was at the pool the other night and saw an acquaintance from the neighborhood. She has a son Andrew's age and went right back to work full-time after her son was about 3 months old. She's a really lovely woman, very sweet and smart. We chatted for a while and she asked me if I was working at all, and I said that I was still doing some shifts at the birth center, but I didn't tell her about my baby cloths. For some reason I suddenly felt timid and vulnerable about it. I'm working on letting myself share this part of my life with others...everyone I've ever told has been so incredibly supportive. I think that when one woman shares her dreams and passions, it shines light on those parts of the souls of other women.

I love, love the part of the book where Amy Karol talks about how crafting to her is just as essential as eating or sleeping. She says that it's awkward when people ask her how she does so much stuff - it's just part of her being alive. I had a friend over they other day and when I showed her my embroidered pillowcases she said with a smile and exasperation, "How do you do all this? It must take up all your free time!". What I couldn't seem to articulate then was how it isn't work to me, it is my free time. I find this hard to explain to non-crafters.

Which brings me to my final comment on this book (for now - it's really a treasure trove), which is the importance of having a crafting community. I find most of my community online, in the form of my lovely readers and other blogs, but I also have a craft bosom-buddy of my very own. What I love about her (well, one of many things) is that she manages to balance a very active professional life (as a tax attorney) with a downright impressive domestic prowess. She's a fantastic baker and quilter and decorator and we talk for hours on end about chocolate tortes and fat-quarters. The irony is that we were college roommates and rarely ever did anything even remotely crafty together. We don't even live in the same town, but I am so amazed and pleased that we share this love of crafting and we continue to deepen our friendship in this way, all these years later.

So thank you to all my crafting inspirations and to Anna for compiling a delightful, essential book for my library.

ps: this is my first project out of the book, a sweet little pillow designed by Lisa Congdon. I'm just tickled pink with it.

Saturday, June 23, 2007

Who Knew?

Oh, sweet Durham neighbors...don't you love me no more? Why have you held out on me? Why did I have to hear about it from something as impersonal as a newspaper?

Well, the word is out about The Scrap Exchange in downtown Durham, one of those fantastic places that I could have only imagined in my wildest crafting fantasies. To borrow from their website, "The Scrap Exchange is a nonprofit organization that collects material donations from hundreds of individuals, businesses, industries, and municipal sources and distributes them through our Creative ReUse Center. The materials collected represent a snapshot of local industry and businesses. Our donors receive a tax-deductible donation receipt for the fair market value, the arts community has access to hard to find, affordable materials, and TSE prevents reusable items from entering the waste stream."

In other words, just unbelievable. I walked around for 1/2 an hour with my eyes bugging so far out of my head they began to ache. The Scrap Exchange completely embodies what I love so much about crafts...the ability and willingness to look at common objects and assimilate them into something interesting, and often useful. There were many items there whose use was immediately evident, like the vintage fabrics (for $1) and wooden boxes for Andrew's room. But the beauty of the Scrap Exchange is that it carries so many items which challenged me creatively, made me think about finding expression in objects I'd never considered before. Like glass pipettes and test tubes. Or huge old wood spindles. Or piles of 20-yr-old office supplies.

I had the feeling there that I experience infrequently, but always deliciously: the sensation that I'd stumbled upon a treasure right out in the open. I can't wait to go back.

Tuesday, June 19, 2007

Lucky Ducks

This weekend we were offered the vacation home of some friends of my parents in Wilmington, NC, right off the coast of Wrightsville Beach. It was a beautiful house in an even more beautiful development, full of multi-million dollar homes on huge manicured lots, each one deserving of a spread in Traditional Home or Architectural Digest. The Stepford-ness of it all prompted Pete to comment, "This does not look like the kind of neighborhood where people put their garbage for pick-up on the curb. In fact, this does not look like the kind of neighborhood where people even make garbage!". We did quite a bit of eating out, and stumbled upon this little gem, an Asian restaurant whose back patio made me covet.

It was a fabulous opportunity to spend some quality time with just my boys, and a wonderful place to celebrate Pete's 2nd Father's Day. Nothing that Pete does in terms of generosity of spirit surprises me, but I am continually amazed by his commitment to our marriage and to our son. I cannot imagine anything he could do to be a better father to Andrew, and my heart bursts when I am reminded of the obvious, that he is not just my husband and father to our son, but Andrew's dad. Our child is an incredibly fortunate little man.

Last week we were crawling into bed and out of nowhere Pete says to me, "Every night when I go to bed I have that great feeling like I used to have on Christmas Eve, knowing I get to wake up to Andrew in the morning."

I know the feeling.

Tuesday, June 12, 2007

Bonne Nuit

The last time I was home I went rummaging through my mother's linen closet and found a pair of pillowcases that my grandmother had embroidered for me when I was about 10:

I have very vivid memories of evenings spent at my grandparent's house, my grandmother and me sitting on her couch embroidering while watching ice-skating and eating popcorn with pecans. One of the first things I ever embroidered was on a little towel for my father. I carefully transferred and stitched a design of bowling balls and pins on the bottom corner of the linen. This is a funny gift to me now, since I have not even one memory of my father ever bowling.

The pillowcases stowawayed with me back to NC and the very same week Alicia posted an entry on her blog about the pillowcases she had done. Not to ignore a directive from the embroidery goddess, I immediately set to work gussying up my plain sheets and cases.

This is my first little project, for the sheets on my guest bed, and it turned out okay, I guess. I'd forgotten almost everything I'd ever learned about embroidering, like how many strands of thread to use and how to fashion a french knot, and these cases are Exhibit A of my learning curve.

This is my current project and I am really pleased with how it turned out. Isn't that just the sweetest little pattern? I have one down, one to go. There is just something so quaint yet sophisticated about sleeping on adorned with so many forms of art, improvement of the aesthetic can elevate a common event. Last night my dreams were filled with George Clooney, so something must be working.

Thursday, June 7, 2007


I think I neeeeeeeeed this book by Denyse Schmidt:

Has anyone bought it yet? Is it totally delicious?

I have so many lonely scraps that just sit around my studio languorously and I would love to be able to piece them into something dignified. The only quilt I've ever made is pretty but very formal-looking...a classic pinwheel design. I think if I do much more quilting I'd like to to be a bit more free-form, a la Gee's Bend.

This book looks nice because it seems to have some small projects that I could sit and do in a day and then feel gloriously triumphant in my accomplishment.

Tuesday, June 5, 2007

My 2 Cents

I have been to 3 universities for my 3 degrees, all private, all very expensive (just the thought of my $90,000 grad-school debt makes me throw up a little in my mouth). My first undergraduate degree (courtesy of my parents) was awarded to me by a prestigious southern college, an institution recognizable by its breathtaking and gated campus, old-south traditions, and a predominately Anglo student body with young adults who looked as if they had one foot in a J. Crew catalog and the other in a prestigious, stuffy law school.

It was its own unique type of hell.

It's hard for me to tease out my feelings about this school because even though I felt so screwed by it academically, financially and socially, I do count my friends from that place as among those very closest to my heart. (Some of those friends even survived the institution and subsequent prestigious law schools with a great amount of succulence intact.) I've been known to attend a few homecoming games and get a bit wistful when walking around campus (it is, after all, where I got engaged, many years later), but it has no real designs on my heart. I would not actively encourage my children to apply there.

Yesterday I received a large 8x10 envelope from the school, addressed to both me and my husband, who is not a graduate of said institution. The envelope was so large and somewhat grand that I had the fleeting fantasy that this might be an invitation of some sort. I've been known to do some guest lecturing on women's health there, so clearly they were granting me some honorary degree.

The contents turned out to be what I largely expected: fundraising propaganda. Let me preface this by saying 1)I know that schools are expected to do fundraising and that alumni should expect some degree of upper-echelon panhandling, and 2) I know that alumni gifts are credited with providing many opportunities for less-advantaged students. Even knowing these things I always bristle a bit at these requests. As the saying goes, you can't get blood from a turnip, and the way I see it, if Pete and I are able to scrape together a bit to give to a university, it will daggum sure be Andrew's future college, not the one who has already received a pretty penny from my parent's estate (to the tune of $100K +).

However, instead of just being able to shrug this off as yet another philanthropic opportunity for those graduates not living off a single, modest income, this year the institution urged us to consider ways that even the smallest donation could be a big help. And, in most cases, I believe this is true. We give to our church and other organizations not because we have a huge amount to give, but because I feel strongly that if everyone just gave a little, things could truly be improved for the human condition. Like famine. And health care. So I read on.

For example
, it said, $18 would buy a case of toilet paper - to roll the quad!!!!!!!

Oh my gosh! Why had I never considered this? How selfish of me!!! You mean for just $18, an amount that would provide a full course of vaccinations for an Ethiopian child, I could buy a whole case of toilet paper not to be used, but to decorate old Magnolia trees after our basketball team won a championship game???

Now that's where the little man can make a difference!!