Pretty new sewing space

I have always been sheepish about sharing pictures of my sewing space, mainly because it wasn’t very pretty. (I tend to be kind of a messy sewer.) I have a spot in our basement where I keep my crapola stash and supplies, but I prefered to migrate my machine and whatever current project I was working on to the kitchen table so that I could be where the action was. It was never a pretty sight and clearing the table every night so we could eat, resulted in a pile of my stuff on the floor next to the kitchen table. Not a good look. And frequently my children’s friends would comment to my kids that their mom sure sewed A LOT.

This past fall I had one of those clever “a-hah” moments – which tend to be rare, so it was especially exciting. Our house happens to have a dining room open off the front room, which is the one room I try to keep tidy. A dining room was nice in theory, but we rarely use it for dining – even when we have people over. The only thing I consistently used that room for was photography, since it has two windows that face south and west with the best light in our house.

So my “a-hah” moment came when I finally realized that we could hang doors between the front room and the dining room (creating the ability to close-off the back room and thereby, hide my messes) and I could move my sewing machine in there. It has been fantastic! I’m right off the kitchen so I’m still where the action is, but it’s so nice to have a place to keep the machine set up, and to not have to re-clear the kitchen table every night. (I know what some of you are thinking, “Duh! What took you so long?!”)

We also did some painting before we made all the switcheroo and hauling fabric into the dining room. Our walls were a really brown-ish taupe and ready for an update. We ended up painting them blue and it is SO pretty and refreshing. It took me forever to pick the paint and then, I’ll admit, a little while longer to feel at peace about the shade of blue. (Sherwin-Williams Tidewater) I am the WORST about making those kind of decisions.
One other thing happened to spur me on to finally just make a commitment and paint. We had a leak in the bathroom above our front room which resulted in water dripping through the front-room ceiling. Which, ironically started happening the day I was leaving to teach at the Riley Blake fabric fest in Las Vegas. Of course. Ugh. I had no choice but to walk out the door to catch my flight with water dripping through a hole in my ceiling! (Ahh, such a glamorous life…) The one good thing about having to rip out part of your ceiling and repair it, is that it forces you to finally make a decision about paint…

So, three cheers for a fresh paint job and a simple fix like hanging some doors so that I could shut off this room and make it a usable space. We kept the refurbished china hutch in the room as it provides good storage and the table in the room so that things can be easily cleared and the room could be used for actual dining, if needed. But it’s sure getting a lot more use now and not just with my sewing. I put the kids craft supplies in another corner in the room opposite the china cabinet (not pretty at the moment, therefore, not photographed) and I love it when they come in and sit at the table while I sew and work on Perler beads or homework and doing things like sing songs from the Frozen soundtrack. I also LOVE having my design wall right next to my machine! It’s so handy.

To increase storage, I added an Ikea Hemnes Dresser which looks pretty and can hold projects while I’m working on them, helping to decrease the clutter. I love it! (And I’m proud to say, I even assembled it myself one weekend while my husband was out of town. Thank you.) Finishing the modern colorwheel dresden wall hanging was the perfect finish for this room. I’m so excited about how things turned out! Plus, it’s fun to have a pretty place to set up Big Bertha (the Bernina 710) and give her the space she needs.

I’d like to make a few more mini’s to hang on the walls. Right now I just have this little scrap-bag mini. Here’s a close up. (This scrappy little mini-quilt project is in the latest issue of Fat Quarterly online magazine – issue 16.)

I may take forever to finally get there, but it sure feels good to get this far. Now on to the rest of the house…could someone please come hold my hand and help me make decisions? Hopefully without a leaky upstairs bathroom to finally get me to take action.

Make It Work Halloween

Aaaand….we did it. Somehow I pulled off Halloween by the skin of my teeth. We finally bought pumpkins and started figuring out Halloween costumes on Monday. The pumpkins never got carved, we only used stuff we had on hand (except the football pants we borrowed from a neighbor), and duct tape was involved. Fortunately we had a killer Glinda costume on hand from the school play last spring, so we milked that option and threw together a quick Elphaba costume to go with it.

It was definitely a Make It Work Halloween. I think Tim Gunn would be proud.

Virtual Quilting Bee quilt assembly on the blog tomorrow. But it will probably be later in the day as I still have some prep to do for the post. A Halloween parade and two class parties today took precedence today.

My summer as a pioneer

I referenced a few months ago that my kids and I volunteered this summer at a local State Park, called This is the Place Heritage Park in Salt Lake City.
Part of the park consists of a historically re-created village called, Deseret Village, similar in concept to Old Sturbridge Village in Massachusetts or Williamsburg in Virginia, only this village is a recreated mid-19th-century western frontier pioneer setting. (Think Little House on the Prairie era.) The buildings consist of both re-created and original structures built by early Mormon settlers in Utah that have been moved to the site. 
We’ve visited the village in summers past and my kids have always loved it. Last year we visited our cousins volunteering there and this summer my children begged to do the same.
This volunteering including dressing up in period-style clothes and greeting visitors for 4 hours, once a week. I have to admit I wasn’t as enthusiastic about the idea (hello, who’s the one that needs to track down those pioneer clothes!) as they were, but figured I’d better run with it since A) volunteering somewhere worthwhile together is a good thing and B) there probably won’t be many more summers where my kids ask to leave ipods, and computers, and the likes behind and dress like a pioneer. 
Well, it turned out to be an awesome experience to do together. First and foremost (and kind of obvious) getting away from all those tech-y distractions. I feel like so often in the summer I’m saying, “Okay, turn off the screens and go play outside” ad nauseum. (To myself included.) Here, no screens and hence, no need to tell anyone to turn them off. Perfect.
One of the surprising things I loved about the experience is that it gave my kids a lot of autonomy. When my kids were little, I didn’t like the idea of them roaming far from home alone. While that is totally reasonable for little kids, as they’ve grown bigger – esp my boys – I want to encourage them to do that more – go exploring with out me. I think that’s something that’s missing from many of our over-protected kids’ lives – the freedom to roam. Sadly, since we don’t live in Mayberry, it’s hard to just turn them loose all day.
But while we were volunteering at Deseret Village I could do that! (It was even encouraged by the staff because the cute kids in their pioneer garb roaming through the village added the sweetest ambiance to the place.) It was so great to let my kids roam a fairly large area and do what they wanted to do – without me hovering over them. Above is the house we were ‘stationed’ at. I spent most of the time on that front porch and my kids would go visit the animals at the petting farm, or “pan for gold” in the mountain-man camp, or go buy sweets at the mercantile store. All by themselves. It was this great little taste of Mayberry. And it has made them more confident in their explorations without me. And it has helped me have the courage to let them do it. :)

I was so lucky that the house we were assigned to has a quilting project going on every summer. Each year the volunteers at the house hand-piece a quilt top using worn-out pioneer costumes from years past. It felt pretty make-it-do authentic. This year we started paper-piecing these 9-patch diamonds. I loved it.

We also started hand-quilting the hexagon quilt the volunteers had pieced the summer before. Sitting on that shady porch hand-quilting, visiting with my sister-in-law who I rarely see, but enjoy so much, with my kids out roaming and exploring in the fresh air. It was so great! And so therapeutic as I was dealing with all my thyroid nonsense. (Plus it was fun to see that little guy so earnestly want to learn to quilt!)

It was a good reminder of why a slower paced life is a good thing. Granted, we weren’t trying to survive by the sweat of our brow – our main task was to great guests, explain the history of the house where we were, etc. But that was fun too! One of my favorite visitors was a woman from Italy who is a fellow quilter. All of it was a good reminder as to why a slower-paced life, not to mention visiting with old and new friends in real life, is a great thing for our well-being.

And now a payoff for wading through all those words: Quilts! I have some good ones to share. Also housed at the park is a museum of the Utah Quilt Guild with a wonderful library of antique quilts.

Obviously some beautiful treasures. There was also a quilt made with appliqued squirrel pelts. (I’m not making that up.) I took a picture but refrained from posting. :) (Don’t worry – it’s not as bad as it sounds. Think just the fur part of the squirrel.)

 I LOVED this star quilt. I think this is the inspiration for my next paper-piecing project!

Coincidentally, to enhance my pioneer experience this summer, I also got to pull a handcart on a 20 mile, 3-day “trek” through some dusty wilderness, re-enacting the 19th-century Mormon pioneer migration across the plains with a bunch of the greatest teenagers I’d ever met. This experience was to give these kids the opportunity to get away from electronic distractions, do something that pushed them out of their comfort zone a little, and give them an appreciation for sacrifices made for them by fore-bearers. And wow, those kids rose to the occasion. 
The reason we went is that my husband and I were asked to be a “Ma and Pa” for a “family” or group of kids. Our oldest daughter participated as well. I’ll be honest – it as hard. And we were nasty, sweaty, dirty by the end. But it was a great experience. I came away with a deepened appreciation for those who made sacrifices for their faith – my faith – from which I benefit every day. 

No matter what our heritage, there are people in our past who made sacrifices for us to have the comforts, freedoms, and opportunities that we have. It was an enriching thing for me, and my kids, to learn a more about and appreciate that heritage a little more. And to take some time to realize how enjoyable life is at a slower pace. So, whether we do it again or not (though I suspect we might), I’m so glad I learned to appreciate just turning off the gadgets, slowing down, and hanging out with the people I love most.

Doing what matters most

I had intended to write a blog post days ago. But with summer ending, school starting, a husband having knee surgery – I haven’t even touched the computer for a few days. We went away last week for a family trip and last hurrah of summer vacation. As always, it was good to get away and hang out together. We’re at a pretty awesome stage with our kids right now where they all like going on road trips all together. We’re milking it.
We liked Yellowstone so much last year, we decided to head that direction again. We stayed a few days in south-eastern Idaho first. It was absolutely beautiful – in a big-sky-western kind of way.

There was also a nice balance of kitsch to go with the scenery. I mean, who doesn’t want their own giant Teddy-Bear sofa?
And inside Yellowstone, the scenery is incredible. Driving through the beautiful surroundings felt so therapeutic for me.

I worked on some more orange peel blocks on our drive. I started this project on our summer family vacation 2 years ago! Perhaps one day I will have enough and actually put them together in a quilt.
This summer has been a busy one, and a somewhat more tiring one than usual. I have one of those thyroid glands that does not work as well as it should. For the past 15+ years I have taken synthetic thyroid medication to compensate, and for the most part it has done a good job. I tried a different medication this spring and it threw my body out of whack. I had to go off everything all together for a few weeks so we could retest my levels, and then have been gradually building those levels back up to ‘normal’. As a result I was frequently physically exhausted for most of the summer. I’m happy to report that I’m feeling tons better now. Yay for that.
Another perennial road-trip project: mini hexagons

On top of that, I was asked to take on a busy responsibility in my congregation at church. (Our faith has no paid ministry – all congregations are staffed by volunteers only, with leadership and service responsibilities rotating among the members.) This time it’s my turn. I enjoy it because I get to work with all the women in our congregation, particularly those who might be going through a hard time. It’s not something I asked for, and it’s demanding on my time, but I enjoy it because I love these sweet women.

Can you see the hexagons I was working on in the car, reflected in the window?
So summer has felt physically and emotionally taxing this year – even more so that usual. There are many emails that I didn’t respond to (my humblest apologies if you’re one of them), I never did my summer closet clean-outs, I did far less sewing, my sewing room is a disaster, we had fewer trips to the pool, etc.; but I keep reminding myself that I did do things that mattered in the bigger scheme of things: visiting hospitals, taking care of extra children, doing things with my kids. What mattered most got done. And it was great. I’m glad for that perspective.

And now school is back in session. I have a lot of catching-up to do, and classes to prepare for this fall. I haven’t touched my machine for weeks, but I just picked up these two quilts from the quilter. I think some binding sounds equally therapeutic right now. And then: something fun and finished to share.

Goodwill Toward Men

A jar of “warm fuzzies”

A little bit of a longer, more sentimental post today, but I think we’re all feeling a little more sentimental for various reasons these days. I don’t often wax philosophical, because frankly, it’s a lot harder to write something deep. It’s way easier to say, “Look at this pretty fabric…” and distract you that way. But I’ve had these thoughts for a while and felt like it was time to put them down on cyber “paper.” So bear with me on this one. And if it’s not your thing, I totally understand and I’ll be back next time with another crafty-quilty project.

I have to admit that about a month ago I was having a hard time getting excited for Christmas. Not an Ebeneezer-Scrooge-bah-humbug kind of disdain, but in more of a Charlie-Brown-sick-of-the-commercialism kind of way. I was walking through Target a few days before Thanksgiving and I just felt yuck. Too much hype about black friday deals or just buying stuff. It made me dread the Christmas season instead of being excited for it. Especially when I thought about my kids. They have enough stuff and I knew that stuff wasn’t going to make any of us any happier in the long run.

Cookies not from Martha Stewart Living
So I vowed that we would not have Christmas be about “what comes from a store” but make Christmas be about “a little bit more”. We needed to make Christmas about other people – specifically, loving our neighbor.
I’d had an experience a couple of months ago that taught me a profound lesson. I was going through a patch where I felt misjudged and misunderstood by some individuals and it totally made me grumpy, if not angry. One Monday morning I had just dropped my kids off at school and was thinking of the huge ‘to-do’ list I needed to tackle that day when I noticed my single, elderly neighbor across the street trying to rake her leaves. I looked at her and thought, “she needs help” but rationalized about how much I had to get done that day. 
And then my conscience worked on me some more and I set my list aside and went out to help bag leaves. By the time I got there – much later than I should have – another friend was already there helping. We got the leaves raked and bagged relatively quickly. It was a gorgeous fall morning and I thoroughly enjoyed that time visiting with my neighbors. My older neighbor was so happy and grateful we had offered to help. But I guarantee you, I was the one who benefited the most that morning. By far. When I came back home, it no longer mattered what other people thought and my frustration and burden were gone. I felt happy and back to myself again.
So I knew that helping my kids have experiences doing something for other people would make Christmas much more special for them than a new Lego set or an Itunes gift card. (Don’t get me wrong, I’m all for presents at Christmas time, I just don’t want it to only be about presents.)
As part of the motivation we started a Warm Fuzzy Jar (see top). This is by no means a new idea – I’ve heard it lots of places, but I share it in case it’s new to someone. I bought some fuzzy pompom balls from the craft supplies aisle and when someone does something good – even if it’s totally simple like saying Hi to an extra person at school or not calling their brother annoying – they get to put a ‘warm fuzzy’ into the jar. There are much cuter variations on this theme, like Calli’s felt heart ornaments, but if all you have time for is the fluorescent puffballs for 1.97 at Walmart, that’s good enough.
We also call this “giving presents to baby Jesus.” Because he is the Birthday boy after all. And since Jesus doesn’t really need a new bike, what he really wants is for people to love and help each other, those are the best presents we can give. Acts of love and kindness.
And then the events in Newton happened last week. Talk about putting life and what’s important in perspective. I’ll be honest, I can hardly even skim the news reports about that horrible event because it makes me so incredibly emotional. Even sitting here typing is making me tear up. It hits extra close to home because I have a 6-year-old in the first grade. I can’t even fathom the grief those parents and that community must be experiencing.  Just going to my own children’s school this week for their Christmas program, I kept getting weepy seeing those precious, innocent children and thinking about not only those whose lives were cut far too short, but those who will bear emotional scars for the rest of their lives.
“You are the beast teacher ever.”
And it’s especially sad to have happened right before Christmas. But ironically, it also puts Christmas in perspective. If Christmas is about sales and shopping and stuff then it sure feels pretty hollow right about now. But if Christmas, or Hanukkah, or any meaningful holiday, is about family, and kindness, and loving our neighbor, and “peace on earth, goodwill toward men” then it is definitely richer and more significant than ever. 
Thank you again my friends for visiting this blog. Whether you celebrate Christmas or other special traditions, I send you love and well wishes for a happy holiday season with those you love most.
And with that, I will share with you a video that has been my own version of Linus this Christmas season:

If you are looking for ways to support the Sandy Hook and Newton communities check out Sarah Jane as well as the the Quilter’s Corner in Connecticut and their pillowcase drive. If you are looking for a quick pillowcase tutorial visit Sew Deerly Loved. It’s so slick!

Bee Blocks + end of summer

Now that the end of summer vacation has come to a close, I’m starting to catch-up on a few bits of sewing, including a couple of Bee blocks. The one above is for Amy.  I LOVE the wild Echino prints that she sent. This will be such a bright, exuberant quilt!

This block is for Nedra.  The block comes from Allison’s Spin Cycle quilt.  I’ve always loved that quilt and it was such a fun block to assemble – I think I need to to make one of these.  Such a good way to bust some stash too.

And finally, school started this past Tuesday and my baby started first grade! He even wore his favorite Turtle shirt to impress his classmates. I assumed he’d miss me so much, being gone all day for the first time, so I walked up to the school to meet him on his way home. As he zoomed past me on his scooter he yelled, “See ya sucker!” Then when we got home and I tried to give him a big hug he said, “Mom! I’m not in Kindergarten anymore!”  So apparently my role as a mother is complete. (kidding)

I’m still in a state of disbelief that I’ve reached the stage of my life where all my children are in school all day. It doesn’t mean our life will be totally free of all craziness, but it does mean that I will have a chunk of uninterrupted time each day along with the remote possibility that our house will stay slightly less messy sometimes – or it could just mean that I won’t have anyone else to blame the mess on.

I do have to admit though, that whenever someone asks me what I’m going to do with my time and if I’m going to be ‘bored’ with my children gone all day, I want to laugh maniacally. My to-do list is so long, I don’t think I’ll have time to get bored for at least 20 years.